What To Expect When Hiking Poon Hill, Nepal

What To Expect When Hiking Poon Hill, Nepal

Hiking the Poon Hill Circuit, in Nepal, was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

I never miss an opportunity to hike. It is a fantastic way to get close to nature, to learn more about the history, culture and way of life of a country, and even to meet other travelers. I have spent most of the first half of 2017 hiking. More than that, I have done several multi-day hikes.

First, I walked part of the Jordan Trail, trying to go from Dana all the way to Petra. It was meant to be a 7 day hike that I sadly had to cut short due to an injury.

Then, I walked the Jesus Trail in Israel, an experience I got to share with my friend Eyal. It was a great adventure, despite the fact that we kept getting lost – but that’s part of the experience, right?

Finally, I went to Luxembourg to walk and bike the Mullerthal trail, and realized that this country has a lot more to offer than what most people might think.

And when I was not traveling, I was doing day hikes around Sardinia, where I live, to get spectacular views over beaches that couldn’t otherwise be reached.

Anybody else would have been quite happy with this amount of hiking, but I am always looking for more. So when I was given the chance to go hike in Nepal last May, I didn’t think about it twice and next thing I knew I was boarding a flight to Kathmandu. After all, everyone kept telling me that 2017 is the year to travel to Nepal.

Poon Hill Circuit

The lovely Pokhara is the typical starting point of the Poon Hill Circuit hike

The Poon Hill Circuit

Nepal is hiking paradise. Anybody who loves hiking as much as I do will end up going to Nepal at some point. The Annapurna Base Camp and the Everest Base Camp are the most popular hikes, for obvious reasons, but they to require a high level of fitness (which I may have) and a long time to be walked. I am dreaming of walking them, but I didn’t have much time to do so this time around.

I was glad to walk the Poon Hill Circuit, an incredibly scenic and somewhat challenging multi-day hike that starts in Nayapul and goes through the tiny mountain villages of Tirkhedunga, Ghorepani, Tadapani, to eventually reach the lovely Ghandruk and then lead back to Nayapul.

The Poon Hill Circuit hike goes through a variety of climates and landscapes (from temperate forest to rice terraces and alpine region), and it gives the opportunity to encounter different cultures and ethnicities. More importantly so, throughout the hike the views of the Annapurna South are spectacular.

It is a challenging yet rewarding hike. On some days, the hike is almost completely uphill, which is hard on the lungs and on the quadriceps. On others, there are a lot of downhills, which on the other hand is hard on the knees. Add to this that it may (and will) rain and the trail becomes incredibly muddy, and it’s easy to imagine how hard it is.

Poon Hill Circuit

A lovely river to cool down on day one of the Poon Hill trek

In a way, the experience reminded me of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in terms of climate variations and walking, although the sleeping and eating arrangements on the Poon Hill Circuit hike are ten times better (more on that later). Even the companionship that was quickly created among the members of the group was similar to that experienced on the Inca Trail.

To find out more about the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, check my post “Inca Trail Dos and Donts.”

Hiking the Poon Hill Circuit was a fantastic experience. I am glad I’ve done it and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody who enjoys hiking. The following is a report of my experience. There also are some tips for those who are planning to go.

Hiking the Poon Hill Circuit

Day 0: from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Pokhara is the typical starting point of hiking and adventure expeditions in Nepal. It can be reached by bus from Kathmandu, on a ride that can take anything between 5 and 9 hours; or by plane, on a flight that lasts no more than 30 minutes and that offers spectacular views of the Himalayas.

Pokhara is thought to be the adventure and tourism capital of Nepal. It is located at around 900 meters above sea level, and with a population of roughly 450000 people.

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The lake in Pokhara is splendid at sunset

The sights

Unless catching a flight, the best way to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara is by breaking the trip to do some fun activities along the way. I went rafting in the Trishuli river, starting in Charaudi (about 3 hours drive from Kathmandu). Between the actual rafting and the jumping in the river, I had a real blast.

Pokhara is a pleasant place where to spend a few days in preparation for the hike (there’s many shops to stock on gear for the hike) – or to go back to afterwards. It’s main attractions are a beautiful lake, that offers splendid sunset views and where it is pleasant to walk around; the International Mountain Museum, which has a great exhibit that takes visitors through the most famous expeditions on the Himalayas, as well as the flora, fauna and cultures of Nepal; and the World Peace Pagoda.

Where to sleep and eat in Pokhara

Being such a major tourist hub, there’s a great selection of places to stay and eat in Pokhara. I slept at Swapna Bagh Hotel, which has good sized rooms with comfortable beds and powerful showers, a small but nice pool, and a good onsite restaurant. Moondance is one of the best restaurants in town, with a great selection of local and international dishes (think burgers, steaks and fabulous desserts).

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On day 1 of the Poon Hill Circuit hike, we met a few locals coming from the other direction

Day 1: from Pokhara to Tirkhedunga

The first two hours of the day 1 of the Poon Hill Circuit hike are spent driving from Pokhara to Nayapul, the actual starting point of the hike, which is located at around 1000 meters above sea level. Nayapul if where everyone stops to get the permits to hike.

Once past the bridge, the real walking starts, first to Birethanti, which is at 1065 meters above sea level; and then all the way to Tirkhedunga, which is at over 1500 meters above sea level. The hike around around 4 to 5 and it is a combination of flat and slight to steep uphill walk.

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Lovely sights along the first day of Poon Hill Circuit hike

The sights

The views on the first day of the Poon Hill Circuit are lovely, though by far not nearly as spectacular as those of the other days. The mighty peaks of the Himalayas make a couple of appearances, but they look like a far away dream.

The trail initially follows a dirt road, so it is not uncommon to cross paths with motorbikes, jeeps, trucks and local people on their daily errands. It then goes through beautiful bamboo forests and pasture land (cows and buffaloes are a common sight). For a while, it follows the banks of Bhurungdi Khola river, which is quite a sight with lovely natural pools where kids jump to cool down.

Eventually, the trail goes past a beautiful large waterfall and it finally reaches the tiny Tirkhedunga, a lovely village to rest after a hard day of walking.

What to expect

As I have said before, the sights on the first day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike are pretty, but not nearly as spectacular as they get the following days.

During my hike, there weren’t many people on the trail. My group and I occasionally met a local going to the opposite direction, and very few tourists along the trail. This may well be due to the season – I walked the Poon Hill Circuit at the very end of May, which is supposed to be the start of the monsoon season and hence low season for tourism.

The first day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is supposed to be the shortest and easiest, yet it was the hardest one for me. While the climb and the walk were technically easy, the heat was almost unbearable. I am not sure it is like that the rest of the year – it may well be a seasonal thing. Either way, be prepared with lots of sunblock, a hat, and lots of water.

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As we arrived in Tirkhedunga, it just started to rain

Where to sleep and eat

Ramghai Evergreen Hotel is a good place for lunch. It has a lovely terrace overlooking the river, and while waiting for lunch to be ready, it is possible to relax in the beautiful garden or to walk all the way to the river to soak the feet in the incredibly clear water. Food is plain, but good – expect a selection of international dishes such as fried rice, and local ones such as the unmissable dahl baht.

Laxmi is a good tea house to sleep and eat in Tirkhedunga. It is very basic – as the rest of the tea houses along the way. There’s various very basic twin rooms, with electricity (but no sockets, so batteries have to be charged at reception); a toilet on the upper floor, and one on the ground floor, where there’s also a shower with hot water.

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A first glimpse of the mighty mountains

Day 2: from Tirkhedunga to Ghorepani

The second day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is spent climbing all the way to Ghorepani, going from an elevation of 1500 meters above sea level to one of almost 2900 meters above sea level. That should already explain a lot about the difficulty of the day. It takes about 7 hours to hike the entire way, including the breaks.

Leaving bright and early from Tirkhedunga, the first 10 minutes of the hike are spent walking downhill. Then, past a bridge and having crossed the Bhurungdi Khola river, begins the climb uphill to the Magar village of Ulleri, where groups generally stop for a well deserved break.

The next break is for lunch, and after that, it is once again uphill walking all the way to Ghorepani.

Descriptions of the second day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike talk of around 3800 steps uphill. Someone in my group decided to count them, and by the time we reached Ghorepani she had reached well over 5000.

The sights

Finally, on day 2 of the Poon Hill Circuit hike, the views open up to reveal the peaks of the Annapurna South. The pastures and cultivated fields I saw the day before soon give way to an incredibly thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons.

The area seems to be too steep for villages to be built, but there are a few houses spread here and there – proof is that there’s a few locals that go up and down the stairs, carrying weights or leading a bunch of mules. There must be a school too, for in the early morning children are running all over in what seem to be school uniforms.

Poon Hill

Posing triumphantly after finally reaching Ghorepani

What to expect

The second day of the Poon Hill Circuit is hard – to many, it is painfully difficult. But I actually think it is totally doable – and it is not nearly as hot as on the first day. I always say that if I could do it, anybody can. It does take a decent level of fitness, but more importantly what is needed is will power. In other words: I am stubborn and there was no way I would not make it to the top.

The good thing of hiking the Poon Hill Circuit in a group and with a guide is that members of the group support each other, and the guide is always ready to help, and to give information on what to expect next. I was really lucky with my group: we were all exhausted, but we joked about it, we cheered each other up, we shared snacks and stories that made us forget the pain of walking over 5000 steps uphill.

I walked the last bit of the trail on my second day under the rain, and made it to my tea house just in time before a storm raged and it started pouring. At the end of May, rain can be expected at any time, every day.

Because of the increase in the altitude (almost 1400 meters difference from the starting point), altitude sickness symptoms may occur once in Ghorepani. I was lucky enough to only experience a bit of lack of appetite, and I didn’t sleep too well that night. Others in my group experienced nausea and headaches.

Where to sleep and eat

Green View Lodge in the village of Banthati is a good spot for lunch. They have a nice terrace with tables outside, as well as seatings inside in case of rain. The food is ok – pretty much the same variety and standard as throughout the rest of the hike.

In Ghorepani, Hotel See You is a good tea house with comfortable large rooms – mine had a huge double bed and windows on two sides, so I had an incredible view of the mountains. Rooms even have sockets to charge batteries. The toilets are on the upper floor (there’s both regular ones and squat toilets) and hot showers are downstairs.

Hotel See You has a fantastic common room, incredibly cozy and with large windows for great views. There’s also nice stove that heats around which guests can sit, and a couple of cats that roam around, much to my entertainment (I love cats!). There is a good menu (which includes pancakes for breakfast).

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The splendid sunrise on the Annapurna South as seen from Poon Hill

Day 3: from Ghorepani to Tadapani

The third day of the Poon Hill Circuit is the best one in terms of sights. On this day, I had to wake up at 3:30 am and set to walk at 4:00 am, for a steady uphill hike of one hour to finally reach Poon Hill.

Once at the top, at an elevation of 3200 meters above sea level, it is possible to admire a fantastic sunrise over the Annapurna South range. There’s even a kiosk that serves tea, coffee and masala chai – which will be needed, to warm up against the bitter cold.

After about an hour at the viewpoint, the walk back to Ghorepani begins (around 45 minutes downhill), in order to have breakfast, pack the bags and start walking to Tadapani, which is at about 2650 meters above sea level.

Although the difference in elevation between Ghorepani and Tadapani is minimal, the first part of the day is spent walking uphill, and after lunch begins a steady downhill walk. The walk from Ghorepani to Tadapani takes around 6 hours.

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The views on day 3 of the hike were simply splendid

The sights

The sights on the third day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike are simply spectacular, and had me going “wow” several times. This is when I finally got to admire the entire Annapurna South Range, from various points of view – first and foremost that of Poon Hill.

Poon Hill was actually completely covered in haze when I arrived, and the view completely blocked. Apparently, it is like that most of the time, and on certain occasions it rains too. I know that a friend that started her hike just a day after I did, did not even walk uo as it was pouring rain.

My guide Sanjaya actually explained that there are only 25% chances for the haze to clear. I guess I was lucky, the haze quickly dispersed to reveal the most incredible mountains.

The view remained beautiful for the rest of the morning – I continued to admire the mountains until I walked through the forest to reach the tiny village where I had lunch. By the time I got there, however, it was pouring. It kept raining until I made it to Tadapani.

Once in Tadapani, the rain continued for a good while, until it cleared for a couple of hours and I went out to admire the incredible view once again.

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This was the view once the rain cleared in Tadapani

What to expect

The third day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is hard due to the incredibly early wake up call (after an almost sleepless night due to the altitude), the steady uphill walk for the first part of the day and the incessant rain that makes it almost impossible to recognize the trail – at times I felt like I was actually walking on a creek.

After lunch, begins a steep downhill walk which is made all the more difficult under the heavy rain. Despite wearing appropriate gear (hiking boots, rain proof jacket, etc) by the time I made it to Tadapani I was completely soaked.

The third day is also the one during which I met more people: there was quite a crowd (not even remotely overwhelming) in Poon Hill, and I met a few people hiking in the opposite direction – they must have made Ghandruk their first stop on the hike.

Where to sleep and eat

I had lunch at the Tranquility Hotel in Naghethati. The menu was no different from that offered in other tea houses, and the service too (painfully slow when hungry). The place is actually very cozy, and the food good.

In Tadapani, I stayed at Fishtail View Top Lodge, a plain tea house with simple twin rooms set around a nice courtyard, and toilets and showers (actually piping hot) outside. The dining room at Fishtail View is nice and cozy, with a stove against which everyone hangs their wet clothes. There’s also a cat that roams the area and that enjoys a bit of attention.

Food at Fishtail View is good – the menu is the same one of other tea houses on the Poon Hill Circuit. The good news, however, is that real filter organic coffee is available here – as opposed to all other tea houses which only offer instant coffee. To a coffee lover like me, it was a real treat.

Poon Hill

The beautiful Ghandruk was one of the highlights of the Poon Hill Circuit hike

Day 4: from Tadapani to Ghandruk

The fourth day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is an easy one compared to the others. Walking time is about 3 hours, and most of the walk is downhill. After an initial short climb through the thick forest, the trail pushes along to offer more incredible views and it eventually reaches Ghandruk, which is at 1950 meters above sea level.

Ghandruk is generally reached by lunch time. Once there, it is necessary to walk through the village and eventually hike all the way up to where most of the tea houses are located. The bonus is the possibility of actually visiting a village (one of the largest in the area).

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Crossing tea plantations on the way to Ghandruk

The sights

The day starts with the incredible view of the Annapurna South from Tadapani. The day I was there, it rained throughout the night so I didn’t get to see the sunrise – which would have required to literally just walk out the door to the terrace.

The trail moves along beautiful flatlands, forests inhabited by monkeys (keep quiet and look up so as to spot them) and agricultural fields (I spotted some rice patties and some cabbage patches). It then crosses a suspension bridge over Khumnu Khola, and there are beautiful views of the creek. It also goes through an incredibly scenic tea plantation.

Yet the most interesting part of day 4 of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is the possibility of visiting Ghandruk and getting to know more about its people, its tradition and its culture. Ghandruk is a Gurung village famous for the leading role of women. These assumed leading positions in the every day life and in the political and social aspects of the village once the village men had joined the British army.

In the village, there is a lovely small museum and a nice temple.

Poon Hill

Smiling faces in Ghandruk

What to expect

The fourth day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike is an easy one. It is mostly downhill (save for the bits inside the village). Personally, I prefer to hike uphill as I find it much easier on my legs and once I get into the rhythm of it I can keep a steady pace. But at least it is a short hike (only 3 hours) after which the rest of the day is spent chilling in the tea house admiring the view of the mountains, reading, chatting, eating, sipping tea and eventually stepping out to visit Ghandruk.

Where to sleep and eat

In Ghandruk, I ate all my meals and slept at Snowland Lodge. The place actually is a gorgeous traditional building and the views from the garden are just unreal.

I had a small basic twin room with electricity located on the first floor, which I could reach via a narrow, rickety wooden staircase. There also are larger rooms that fit up to 5 people. Toilets (only squat) and showers with hot water are outside.

There also is a nice dining room, with meals cooked to order. The menu is similar to those offered by other places along the hike.

What makes Snowland Lodge an incredible place to stay, aside from the spectacular views over the Annapurna South, is the incredibly kind staff. Everyone there is most welcoming, to the point that they organized a small party for my group, where we were all invited to dance and sing. It was actually quite fun to dance to traditional and international tunes, in the middle of the mountains of Nepal – an experience I will never forget.

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The view from the tea house in Ghandruk was just jaw dropping

Day 5: from Ghandruk to Kimche

On the last day of the Poon Hill Circuit hike I walked from Ghandruk to Kimche. Officially, the trail goes all the way back to Nayapul but the company that organized my hike had everything arranged so that a jeep would meet me and the rest of the group in Kimche and drive us all the way back to Pokhara.

After 4 full days of hiking, the one hour walk to Kimche literally felt like a walk in the park. The views were still very pretty, needless to say. The jeep ride afterwards may well be the bumpiest one I have ever taken.

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As the sun finally made an appearance on the Annapurna, I had to pose for a picture

General tips and information for hiking the Poon Hill Circuit

When to hike the Poon Hill Circuit

I hiked the Poon Hill Circuit at the very end of May, which is the beginning of the monsoon season and probably not the smartest time to hike. I kept getting wet in the rain and at times the clouds obstructed the view – though to be fair, every time they cleared the view was spectacular. The other side of the coin, however, was that it was never too cold, even at night, and that there weren’t many people on the trail as it was the end of shoulder season.

Having said so, March and April in the spring, and September, October and November in the fall are probably the best months to hike the Poon Hill Circuit, as the chances of rain are much less – however, especially in November and in March, it may get really cold (below zero) especially at night.

How to organize the Poon Hill Circuit hike

Independently

Those who wish to walk the Poon Hill Circuit independently may be glad to know that it is completely doable, and relatively easy to walk. Of course, it is necessary to arrange transportation from Pokhara to the starting point in Nayapul and back; arrange the hiking permits (two passport size photos are required for this, and depending on the season there may be a line at the office); and if walking in peak season it may be hard to find a place to sleep (the tea houses can’t be booked in advance, as they don’t appear in any booking engine).

The trail is mostly well marked, but there are some spots where one may get confused, take the wrong turn and ending up being lost. Which is why I wholeheartedly recommend not to hike the Poon Hill Circuit alone.

For the costs, these are some rough calculations:

  • around 300 to 600 Rupees per night for a bed (on the basis of shared or private room);
  • 100 Rupees for a hot shower;
  • 100 Rupees to charge the phone and batteries;
  • 100 Rupees for wifi (though it hardly ever works);
  • between 200 and 400 Rupees for each meal
  • between 50 and 100 Rupees for a liter of water (the costs increase with the altitude);
  • between 400 and 500 Rupees for a half liter bottle of beer

Considering that the exchange rate is around 100 Rupees to $1 USD, the estimated daily cost of the Poon Hill Circuit hike can be anywhere between $15 USD and $30 USD per day, and of anything between $75 USD and $150 USD for the hike, to which the transportation and permit costs, as well as those of accommodation and food in Pokhara should be added.

Poon Hill Nepal

I got to share my experience of hiking the Poon Hill Circuit with a fantastic group of people

On an organized hiking expedition

For the sake of making things easy, I would recommend walking the Poon Hill Circuit on a guided expedition. I did it with a company called Royal Mountain, with a lovely group of a total of 9 tourists (including myself), 2 English speaking guides (one of them always walked at the front of the group, and the other at the back), and three lovely, funny and incredibly helpful porters.

The entire trip costed $600 USD, which may seem a lot compared to the minimal costs of doing the hike independently. But keep in mind that these $600 include airport transfers, accommodation in Kathmandu and Pokhara, transportation to and from the starting point of the hike, meals, guides and porters.

I only had to add some extra money for water and whatever other drinks I may want along the hike.

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Good hiking gear is important when hiking the Poon Hill Circuit

I never had to worry about where I’d spend the night, and I had the comfort of two competent guides who can communicate with the locals (extremely important for me, with all my food allergies); of porters who carried my stuff (no more than 10 kg per person) – because trust me, the hike is hard enough without weight on the back; and the company of an incredibly fun and supportive group.

What to pack for the Poon Hill Circuit hike

My advice to anybody embarking on the Poon Hill Circuit hike is to pack as little as possible. This is not an occasion to show off any cool outfit, but to rejoice with nature and take a break from the stresses of daily life. And even when getting a porter, it is simply considerate to take as little as possible and making his life easier.

Having said so, spread between the daypack that I carried, and the duffel bag the porters carried, my packing list was as follows:

  • A pair of really good hiking boots: I saw people walking in running shoes, but it does get slippery when it rains and having the extra ankle support helps.
  • A pair of flip flops: they were essential to rest my feet after the hike, and to shower.
  • Two pair of hiking pants: one of them was a pair of Kuhl quick dry pants; the other a plain pair of comfortable Kuhl pants.
  • A pair of leggins I could change into at night. They were ok to go to dinner, and to sleep in.
  • Three or four t-shirts: I had two colorful Kuhl cotton t-shirts as well as a couple in more technical material that dried quickly.
  • A long sleeves t-shirt I used at night.
  • Socks: I mostly carried cotton socks and I was ok since it wasn’t cold, but I also added a pair of hiking socks that had extra padding.
  • A light sweater: I wore it at night, and when I walked to Poon Hill at sunrise.
  • A rain proof jacket: I was sure that the one I had was water proof, but it wasn’t. It may have protected me against some light rain, but in the thick monsoon rain I ended being soaked to the bone. Make triple sure that the jacket is indeed water proof and carry an extra rain poncho just for good measure.
  • My beauty case included the basics, to which I added a good sunblock(which I especially needed on the first day when there wasn’t much shade) and any possible drug I may need (I have asthma) and which I luckily didn’t need at all.

Other items I carried were:

  • Toilet paper and wet wipes: it is not available in tea houses.
  • A refillable water bottle: in an effort to reduce plastic waste, the Nepalese government encourages everybody to drink water that has been boiled and filtered.
  • A sleeping bag: although all tea houses have blankets, they don’t always have clean sheets so a sleeping back, or at least a sleeping sheet, give some extra comfort.
  • A quick dry towel
  • A power bank
  • Snacks: I had some protein bars; others in my group had trail mix or cereal bars.

Also, don’t forget to take some cash. There’s no ATM at all along the trail, and cash will be needed to pay for drinks and, at the end of the hike, to tip the guides and the porters (trust me, they will deserve it!).

Curious to know what I normally pack? Head over to read “My Ultimate Packing List.”

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Tea houses are very basic but incredibly cozy

Accommodation and food along the Poon Hill Circuit

Throughout the Poon Hill Circuit hike, trekkers eat and sleep in tea houses – called bhatti in Nepalese. These are very basic guest houses with plain rooms – think two twin beds, and a small bed side table. There’s a light in the room but no socket for electricity. Toilets (usually squat) and showers (with an additional fee for hot water) are usually outside. There’s wifi for an extra fee, but it hardly works so it may be a good time to detox from internet and social media (unless carrying a local SIM card that receives well in the mountains too).

Interestingly, despite being so modest, the tea houses are incredibly cozy. It may be that by the time one reaches the room nothing matters other than having a hot shower and a bed to crash on; it may be the lovely atmosphere with the group – to me, everything was just as good as it could be.

Poon Hill

Dahl Bhat power, 24 hours quickly became our motto along the trail

Tea houses also cook meals. I was actually terrified that the food may be gross, too spicy, or that it may cause me some bad stomach infection. None of that happened – in fact, nobody in my group ever got sick.

Food is surprisingly good given the conditions, and there’s actually a really good selection of dishes. I often had the dahl baht; but other things on offer were fried rice, eggs, grilled chicken, soups, mac and cheese, pancakes to name just a few. It was luxury! The only thing that was missing for me was good coffee (I only had it in Tadapani). It may be a good idea to bring some ground coffee from home and just ask for hot water to brew it.

Possible nuisances

Leeches

Soon after starting to hike on day 2, someone in my group noticed some weird looking bugs on the ground. We immediately realized they were leeches. We kept seeing them throughout the rest of the hike – it seems they come out more with the rain.

I was lucky none got on me, but following the advice of my guide Sanjaya, I always stayed on the trail and I banged my feet on the ground if I stopped in a place where they may be leeches long enough for them to crawl on me. It’s amazing how those little things can crawl on the legs without being noticed, and once they suck on the blood, they release a substance that doesn’t allow it to coagulate. Wearing hiking boots (rather than shoes), long socks and pants is generally a good idea to protect against them.

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness is hardly an issue on the Poon Hill Circuit hike. The elevation never gets extreme. I wasn’t bothered at all. Yet, it is a good idea to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and to take notice of any issues such as nausea or strong headaches and warn the guides if that is the case.

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With the lovely guides and porters on Poon Hill

Final remarks and recommendations

Hiking the Poon Hill Circuit is not a race. It is a great occasion to take in the gorgeous mountain views, the beautiful nature of Nepal, and to get to know the local culture a bit better. It has to be an enjoyable experience, and it surely was to me.

I always recommend people to hike at their own pace, and once they find a suitable rhythm, keep at it. I am generally a fast walker, so I was always at the front of the group. But just as well, I would have not pushed myself to go any faster than I was going just for the sake of “getting there first.”

I enjoyed every minute of my Poon Hill Circuit hike, and I feel extremely lucky to have shared it with an incredible group of people: my experience was made much better by Aleah, Anna, Cathi, Nina, Staci, Charles, Dave and Tim.

Have you hiked the Poon Hill Circuit? What was your experience?

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Nepal and PATA during my visit to Nepal. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

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How to find heaven on earth: visit Komodo and Rinca Islands, Indonesia

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Read more about my misadventures while sailing on my post “Sailing San Blas.”

Looking wistfully at the dramatic wedges of rock jutting out of the turquoise sea

Staring in the distance at the dramatic scenery – photo courtesy of Jeremy Goh @g0ldeng0h

Then, after two hours of navigation, we arrived to Rinca island. 

Spotting the Komodo Dragons in Rinca – it’s no monkey business!

Koh Kima is the hidden dock of Rinca, from where a trail starts, taking visitors to the base camp of Loh Buaya. It did not take us long to spot the first of the multitudes of Komodo Dragons who literally own the island (around 2000 live on the archipelago of Komodo, Rinca, Gila Motang and Flores), as he (or was it a she?) rested “peacefully” under a tree.

Komodo

Don’t worry, he’s resting – and looks almost harmless

Those komodos look so scary that it is said that the legend of the Chinese Dragon takes after them. And scary indeed they are. These giant lizards, locally known as ora, can reach a whooping length of 3 meters and weight up to 170 kg, and feed on the insects as well as the buffaloes, goats, monkeys, boars and deers that also live on the island. They are proper predators, who patiently hide to ambush their prey. So determined they are in their hunt, that they wait around till their meal of choice dies from the strong bacteria transmitted through their saliva once they bite.

hunting komodo

Sticking his forked tongue out, hunting for food – komodos are scary!

Don’t be fooled by how lazy the dragons look when they slowly walk around, sticking their forked tongue out. That is a sign that they are smelling around for food, and knowing that they can ran as fast as 40 km per hour should be a good enough deterrent to keep at a good distance. Indeed, although the komodos prey of choice are buffaloes and deers, incidents have been reported during which humans have been attacked.

komodo

Watch out – komodo hunting

One of the victims of such attacks was one of our guides, Rino, who took us around one of the various trails to show us the local wildlife – including a number of nests where female komodos lay their eggs – and who bravely recollected how he had to literally climb a tree for life and then seek immediate help against the bites. It’s little wonder then that all visitors must hire the services of a guide carrying a wooden forked pole to keep the dragons at bay and properly instruct tourists on each move they may or may not take.

it's no monkey business

Waving us goodbye at the dock, the monkeys of Rinca island

On the way back to the dock, before we boarded our boat again heading to Komodo Island, we got a quick yet cute reminder that if komodos rule in Rinca, monkeys may provide as excellent competitors in getting the attention of visitors. A multitude of monkeys waved us goodbye as we got on our boats, jumping from one branch to the other, playing around and threatening to steal our cameras, phones, water bottles and even our sunglasses. 

In search of the perfect view in Komodo

We then set sail towards Komodo Island, which we reached after about 30 minutes. Walking on the long wooden dock towards the camp site of Loh Liang, I embraced the view in front of me and immediately knew I was in love with this remote place. There, we could again see a few komodos – these ones were bumming on the beach, taking in the sun. And what a mighty sight they were!

Komodo

Turquoise waters, a dock and more islands in the distance: this is Komodo

As if Komodo was not perfect enough already, accompanied by our guide we started hiking in search of more wildlife and even more stunning views. There are a number of hiking trails around the island, all starting from Loh Liang and varying in length and difficulty – from the 1 hour easy trek through mostly flat trails and in good shade, to one that takes roughly 4 hours and is a bit more difficult, if anything because of the blistering heat and completely exposed to the sun.

Komodo National Park

The blistering sun didn’t keep us from hiking to the top

We felt particularly fit that day (besides, hiking really is one of my favorite things to do) and decided to climb the steep hill of Gunung Ara, the island’s highest peak at 538 meters above sea level, and challenge the sun and heat. We were thus rewarded with amazing views of the beautiful landscape, spotting the odd komodo as well as other wildlife on the way to the top, where we finally got to enjoy an incredible panorama over a small cove with really blue waters and a docked boat.

Gunung Ara

The rewarding view from Gunung Ara

We were so in awe of the view that it was not an easy task for the guide to finally convince us to leave and go back to the base camp, where lunch as well as a multitude of komodo dragons were waiting for us (come to think of it, they may well have thought that we were their lunch).

spot the photographer

Try to convince us to leave this paradise!

Finding Nemo

Just as a proper cherry on a delicious cake, our final stop for the day was the Pink Beach, or Pantai Merah, at about 30 minutes boat ride from Komodo island. Before getting there, the question was whether the so-called Pink Beach actually is pink. And I was also secretly asking myself if I, a girl from the beautiful island of Sardinia, would find a beach that could bare the comparison to what I am used to. The conclusion? Well, yes: the Pink Beach really is pink. Tiny coral fragments mixed with the golden powdery sand give it a slight pink color. What makes the place even more beautiful is its complete isolation (there are no buildings on this small island) and the shallow yet pristine water that have perfect visibility and that really are a paradise for snorkeling. So, the Pink Beach fully passed the tough Sardinian test!

Pink Beach

Do we look happy?

It took me a total of 15 seconds from the moment we set foot on the beach to take my clothes off and jump in those transparent waters, jumping around in happiness at the beauty of it. It really felt like heaven. Then, I sported some snorkeling gear and went in search of Nemo, and along with him I found many other fishes and corals. So we swam, relaxed and took pictures just before getting back on the boat that would take us back to Labuan Bajo, not before enjoying yet another gorgeous sunset, as only Indonesia seems to have.

Nemo

Nemo lives on the Pink Beach

I was happy: I found my tropical paradise. So, whatever happens, please do whatever it takes to protect Komodo and Rinca Islands and make sure they stay the same so that when I make my way back there, they will still shine in all their splendor.

Practical Facts

The Komodo National Park is one of the places to visit in Indonesia. Tours to Komodo National Park normally start in Labuan Bajo (Flores), with departures in the early hours. It is a full, yet pleasant and eventful day and visitors should expect to stay out for a good 10 to 12 hours. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, hiking shoes, a hat and a swim suit if planning to snorkel, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, which is common in such hot weather.

Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”

Those who wish to spend a bit longer exploring the island can sleep in the modest facilities available in both Rinca and Komodo – wooden huts and bungalows that have plain rooms, with shared bathrooms and a dining area that offers simple yet delicious local staples like nasi and mie goreng. What makes sleeping on the islands so special is the feeling of closeness to nature that one only gets here.

Komodo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such there are several fees to be paid for its protection and maintenance. They are as follows:

Entrance Fee – used for the conservation of the area: 20,000 Indonesian Rupiah (roughly $1.5 USD)

Local Area Tax – goes to the local community: 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah (less than $4 USD)

Snorkeling Fee – for trips inside the national park: 60,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $4.50 USD)

Camera Fee – 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah

Local Guide – hiring a local guide is compulsory for reasons of safety and protection of the territory: around 80,000 per group (less than $6 USD)

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ring of Fire or Circle of Hell? Crossing Dante’s Inferno on Mount Bromo

Ring of Fire or Circle of Hell? Crossing Dante’s Inferno on Mount Bromo

All hope abandon, ye who enter here! (Dante Alighieri, Inferno)

Limbo: forgive me for I am a pagan

Mount Bromo is located at about 4 hours drive from Surabaya, the capital of East Java, in Indonesia and it is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. It is considered one of the top bucket list destinations in Indonesia, one of the places to visit in Indonesia. I suppose it deserves to be one of them.

Read more about Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”

But despite my best efforts and almost complete lack of expectations, I could not warm to it. In fact, I doubt I will ever want to give it a second chance, not until I know for a fact that things over there have changed, that this attraction is managed differently and in what to me is a more enjoyable way.

Don’t get me wrong, Mount Bromo is a site of amazing natural beauty and I think in the right conditions it would be quite enjoyable, but as things stand at the moment, and based on my experience, I did not enjoy it one bit.

visit Mount Bromo

This pretty picture is pretty much the only good memory I have of Mount Bromo

What I faced in Mount Bromo was the biggest cultural and personal clash I have ever experienced in my many years of living abroad and traveling to countries near and far (actually, very far) from home. I do believe that traveling is much more about self discovery than about the actual discovery of a destination. Sure enough, I understood many things about myself when I visited Mount Bromo.

It has been an enlightening experience as it made me come to terms with some aspects of myself that I did not know where so deeply rooted, and it made me realize that I am much more sensible than I perhaps like to show. It made me understand that different people will see the same thing differently. It also made me understand how important responsible tourism is to me and that it is the only way I want to travel, and that I want to become an advocate for it. And it finally made me decide that I can’t and won’t ever tolerate animal cruelty, no matter what, no matter where, no matter the excuse.

You see, I am an atheist and hardly a believer that heaven and hell exist. Yet, if I have to describe my experience in Mount Bromo, the first thing that comes to my mind are the Nine Circles of Hell of Dante’s Inferno. Much like Dante’s journey through hell, accompanied by his guide Virgil, I felt that I was also going through the nine circles, although in my case there was no real guide in sight but just other members of the tour group.

Each step that took me closer to the crater of Mount Bromo was a step into one of the nine circles, each nastier, scarier and more painful and sorrowful and than the previous one. My first circle was Limbo, the one that pagans, non-believers, deserve – for a pagan I was, as (shame on me!) I had close to zero knowledge of Mount Bromo before visiting. But that was soon to change, as I made my way through the other circles.

Lust: or, rise and (don’t) shine

My visit to Mount Bromo was included in a guided group tour of Indonesia to which I took part. I was glad it was one of the included destinations on the tour, because I really do enjoy volcanoes and generally they are the highlight of any of my trips. Little did I know that this time it would be the other way around. The night before visiting the trip organisers gave us instructions to wake up at 2:00 am and told us that, as this was a popular attraction among Indonesians, there would be even more people on a Sunday. I had no idea what to expect – but I soon learned that my definition of “a lot of people” surely isn’t the same as that of Indonesians.

Read why I like taking guided tours on this post.

I didn’t mind having to wake up so early though. In fact, I remembered the many early rises during my long term travels, to see amazing places, and I was greateful I’d get to experience this. There is a special light at sunrise. There is the feeling of exclusivity, of being one of a few that has the chance to enjoy something special; that of being close to nature as the day starts and the first rays of light come through the sky, finally making the surroundings visible and glowing.

It was pitch dark when at 2:30 am I met the rest of the group and left to reach Mount Bromo so that we could admire the sunrise. I was sleepy and a bit lost – most of us were – but eager to go. As soon as I got to the meeting point, together with other 4 persons I got wisked on a jeep, although we eventually only left at 2:50 – not bad given the relaxed standards of Indonesia that are so hard to deal with for us Europeans. The minute we left, I knew that this would be a long day. I kept my thoughts to myself and tagged along, trying to push any negativity away. 

Gluttony: it’s so slushy out there

The mayhem began immediately afterwards. A rather silent driver joined a race we didn’t know we were taking part in, against any other jeep also going to Mount Bromo. It felt like being on the Paris-Dakar, with the difference that we were not in the desert, breathing just dust and clean air. We were somewhere in the middle of Indonesia and the dust was mixed to the exhaust fumes, making it hard to breathe. The jeeps sped like mad in the foggy and pitch black night, passing each other on all sides, making many of us think that at each turn we’d actually go on a straight line and that would be the end of our visit to the country.

Then, our jeep stopped. In a broken English the driver told us he would not go any further and we’d have to just walk our way to the entrance of the site. There was too much traffic for him to keep going and he’d be unable to park. He told us he’d wait for us, no indication of an exact time (not that it would matter). So we started making walking.

What I happened next was so intensely scary, so frustrating, so thoroughly annoying that at the end of that misadventure I was ready to leave the country for good, never to return again.   Masks on our noses and mouth in a failed attempt to protect ourselves from the thick fumes, we started walking up, trying to keep an eye on each other so as to not get lost in that madness (there was no way we’d find each other again, in the dark, among thousands of other people); not sure which direction to go but relying on the flow which was only going one way.

Mount Bromo

Is the view of Mount Bromo really worth going through all that trouble?

It was pitch dark. It was noisy. It was frightening. Traffic was mad. In what could be best described as a scene of Apocalypse Now, oblivious to the traffic and the pedestrians, jeeps kept making their way to the top, dropping people off and then coming down again. They were everywhere. They completely disregarded the pedestrians who had to jump on the side of the road, in the very limited space (and remember, it was dark!) to avoid being hit.

To add to this already burning hell, a multitude of motorbikes kept zipping their way up and down the hill, again hardly bothered by the presence of pedestrians unless it was for stopping them to offer a ride for as cheap as 10000 Rupiahs, no helmets involved, no guarantee of survival, no strings attached. So unbothered were they by the people that in fact a few times they just about hit us, and we had to scream from the top of our lungs to be heard above the loud noise so that they would avoid us.

I felt hopeless. I could not understand why human beings could be so careless and uncivil to the environment; so disrespectful of human life. I was angry at them, for killing every little bit of positive energy I had when I woke up. Energy that I had to use in order to stay alive, to yell at them to move away, to scream to please leave me alone, to please not hit me with their motorbikes. I could only see unsensible, unreasonable people that, for the sake of (actually very little) money, were ruining the environment and what was meant to be one of the most beautiful natural sights in Indonesia. And they were doing it with the tacit consent of the authorities.

Greed and anger: because after going through the slush, I really really wanted to see that volcano and not just more slush

Then, we finally made it to the pedestrians only area. What literally were hordes of people were all going up, to the view point, to see the seeminly amazing sunrise on Mount Bromo. We eventually made it to the top to just find out that the actual smart ones had taken all the best front row “seats” – they had camped there the night before. Selfie sticks out, these multitudes all waited cheerfully (and noisily, so as to kill any magic left in the air) as we on the other hand tried to find a spot were we could stand and brace ourselves against the bitter cold (now, being cold is actually as unique an experience as one gets in Indonesia!) till the sun would come out and showed us Mount Bromo in all its mighty beauty.

Visit Mount Bromo

Bracing ourselves against the cold during our visit of Mount Bromo

So we waited. And waited. And waited. And theoretically the sun came out, but some thick clouds covered Mount Bromo so we did not get to see it. There is nothing one can do when nature rebels against his or her wishes, so we just decided to leave, cameras safely stored again and eyes unsatisfied as any hope of getting a view of the sunrise on Mount Bromo had now gone.

The mayhem started again. The crowds that a couple of hours earlier were all trying to reach the viewpoint now all moved towards the improvised parking lot, aka the road where the jeeps had casually dropped us off. Once again, we had to put our best efforts to avoid the jeeps and motorbikes that risked hitting us; we had to stop and jump for our lives to the side of the street, in the little space that was left among the parked jeeps. The noise was deafening, the exhaust fumes once more thick. The only difference was that now we were at least able to see where we were going.

Heresy: I should have seen this coming

After miraculously finding our jeep and silent driver among what seemed to be like a million jeeps, we started making our (much too fast) way down towards the desert, from where we were meant to ride horses up to the crater of Bromo. However, a quick turn and the view opened up for us. There stood Mount Bromo, in front of our eyes, mighty and spiteful and making fun of us and of all our efforts – the early wake up call, the walk through “the slush”, the risking our lives, the screaming, the anger, the fright, the tripod placing, the hopeless waiting.

There was our opportunity to shoot a good photo, to have proper proof that yes, we had been to Mount Bromo. We could not miss it. We jumped off the jeep, and, used to the noise, the traffic, the pollution, the cars and motorbikes’ careless driving, we crossed the road to fight our way among the (actually lesser) crowd, to get to a good spot where we could finally catch on camera the spectacular view and hope that nobody else but us and Mount Bromo would be in the picture. It took quite a bit of effort, but I must admit that it worked. Mount Bromo looked pretty. I almost bought it. Almost.

Mount Bromo

Signs of distress are already showing on my face after I had to go through a lot of trouble to get to Mount Bromo

Violence, Fraud and Treachery: if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t

My love affair with Mount Bromo was not meant to be. I should have known it, since our relationship got off on a really bad start and it did all it could to put me off. And I felt a bit cheated. I soon learned that what I thought was Mount Bromo was in fact Mount Batok. Mount Bromo was right behind, having a good smoke.

Getting back on the jeep once again, we finally set off to cross the sand desert. I was baffled. I could not fully grasp what I was seeing. Among the jeeps that sped their way through the sand, lifting a great deal of dust to mix in with the exhaust fumes, the last thing I expected to see were motorbikes. Not cross country motorbikes, though. Not the kind that can go on any sort of terrain. Proper, small city motorbikes. And each of them carried two and even three persons, in proper Indonesian style. None of the passengers wore helmets but “bravely” fought the forces of nature, sliding in the sand, lifting more dust as they tried to push the motorbike (which unsurprisingly silted) forward.

At this point, I did not let the dust, the noise and the once again almost apocalyptic scene bother me. I was just amused by it, and at most puzzled. I suppose I got it figured out then: people in Indonesia have an idea of fun which consists in challenging life as often as possible, that involves motorbikes and which implies having as many people around as are available. Talk about cultural differences.

Mount Bromo

Our jeep crew. There were many more around, all set to visit Mount Bromo – photo courtesy of Kuan Ju

Despite the mask, the thick sand got in my throat, causing me to cough strongly. By then, my throat was hurting. But the pain in my throat, the difficulty to breathe were soon going to be the least of my problems. According to the program, we were meant to ride horses to the top of Mount Bromo, so that we’d be able to see the crater and the thick sulfuric smoke coming out of it. Horses had already been arranged for the group. On paper, this sounded like an amazing experience.

Pity is that the minute we got off the jeep, in the middle of the sand desert, I saw the horses that we had been provided. I immediately felt that what had so far been a challenging day was taking a turn for the worst. To anybody that has an even minimum interest in animal welfare, it was easily visible that those horses were not exactly cared for. There was no mistake that those animals were malnourished; there was little question that they were distressed. They showed all signs: ribs painfully sticking out of the thin bodies; foam at the mouth; chewing the bridels; stamping nervously.

visit Mount Bromo

I was supposed to ride this horse to the crater of Mount Bromo – I refused

I had tears in my eyes; my throat tightened; my stomach tensed. It took me about a split second to decide that I would not contribute to their suffering and that I would not ride any of those horses. Only 3 others refused to ride the horses. The rest of the group, on the other hand, went on the ride on those very same horses that were unfit to carry heavy weights, and although they did notice that the horses didn’t look too well, they didn’t make much of it and joyfully rode them (to then realize that the poor animals could not carry them all the way to the top and that, when they summoned the owner to get down and just walk, this whipped the poor animal harder so that it kept moving).

Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t blame the others for not behaving like I did. In fact, in a way I envy them for being able to toughen up, block any negative emotions, put up a brave face (something that I was completely unable to do – in fact, I cried for about one hour) and manage to appreciate the beauty of Mount Bromo and understand the cultural differences between their country and this one.

I couldn’t and my experience was pretty much ruined, as now whenever I think of Mount Bromo all I can see are the images of those poor horses, whipped and starved; of the immense crowds, selfie sticks out, oblivious to the pollution and the damage to the environment they were contributing to. And all I can remember was hiking up to the crater, seeing the poor horses around me, pushing my way through the crowd, tears rolling down my cheeks.

Mount Bromo

The smokey crater of Mount Bromo – I got to see it even without riding a horse: the walk is perfectly doable.

I know I am perhaps overly sensible to animal welfare issues. I have been since I was a child, since that time my elementary teacher took my class to the circus and I thought it wasn’t really that much fun watching lions in cages being forced to act unnaturally. As I got to my room that night after visiting Mount Bromo, and for the following days (actually, for the following weeks and even now, as I write), I have tried to make sense of what I saw and of why I have felt that way. The words “culture” and “poverty” have come up often in conversations, with people telling me that some countries don’t have such a great culture in caring for animals, or it is their culture to behave in a certain way.

But I don’t think that culture should be used as an alibi for the mistreatment of animals or for the fearceless exploitation of the environment. You see, I have spent most of my previous working life researching and writing on topics such as culture and cultural identity. While I have been an advocate for the protection of the right to cultural identity and the right of people to live their lives according to their (more or less) traditions, I can’t in any way use the cultural argument to justify cruelty and suffering, whether it is referred to human beings or to animals. I refuse to label an activity as cultural and then just accept it as it is, if the results are hurtful. I find it unethical. And I know through years and years of studies that culture is not a fixed, never changing concept.

Indeed, culture changes with time, it evolves, and that doesn’t in any way make it “less cultural”. Traditional activities and occupations remain traditional even when they are practiced through modern means. One good example is that of people whose traditional occupation is in sheep-farming. Nobody expects them to still milk the sheep by hand for the activity to remain traditional. Not even the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has taken a clear stand in saying that culture is not static and it may actually develop without losing its protected character. So really, there is no way that I will ever justify the mistreatment of animals by saying that “it is the culture of the country”. I won’t just close my eyes, shut my mouth and pretend that all is good and move on with my life, because my conscience won’t allow me to and I feel I have a duty to inform, for as small as my voice is, and to contribute to change.

The road to redemption: a few tips for visitors and management

I would like to stress that the way each one of us experiences a place is always a matter of his or her own personality, and many other factors are involved. I have indeed said on another post of mine that what may be hell to some of us, may well be heaven to others – and the fact that some of the others on my group truly enjoyed their experience on Mount Bromo, taken on the exact same day and exact same means, is proof of this. All in all, I think that each experience we have as we travel is enriching, even the ones we consider bad – because in a way they lead us to understand more about ourselves, to question ourselves, to test our limits.

I don’t want to entirely rule out Mount Bromo from the list of places to visit in Indonesia. And But I would like to see changes before I recommend it to other travelers, and before I ever give it a second chance. Many things can be done to make sure that tourism in the area becomes more responsible and sustainable and some of them are fairly easily enforceable. Mount Bromo, indeed, although at the moment is so mismanaged that it makes various travelers end up holding horrible memories of it, has the potential of becoming an iconic attraction of Indonesia, and of South East Asia as well.

visit Mount Bromo

This pretty picture is pretty much the only good memory I have of Mount Bromo

If things stay as they are, my recommendation for anybody who is keen on visiting Mount Bromo is to make sure not to go during the weekend and to take alternative tours that don’t go to the viewpoint at sunrise, as this is what most people do. This is an extremely popular attraction among the locals, and they crowd the place in such a way that it completely loses its wild character and charme. Going during the week may be a better option, as it is bound to be at least less crowded.

Picking a good tour operator to organize the guided tour is also a key factor. It is important to have a good guide that speaks English (or whatever other language one may understand); that fully explains how the activities will evolve throughout the day; that will follow the group at all times and guide it through the crowds so that it doesn’t get lost and that can provide meaningful insights on the attraction, on its significance in natural and cultural or religious terms.

When picking the operator that will provide the services, it is important to make sure that the cars used are properly kept and equipped, and that if riding horses is an option, they outsource to locals who do feed their horses well and properly provide for them and don’t abuse them.

Ask questions, such as: Are we going to have a guide with us at all times? How does the day develop, and what does the tour include? Is there a meeting point in case we get lost? Who should I contact in case of emergency? Are the horses we are going to ride well fed? Where are they kept? How many hours per day do they work? Try to make sure that the answers are not evasive, because that may well be a sign that the operator isn’t reliable and that it is outsourcing its services to the cheapest provider, which will keep the costs down at the expenses of the environment and the animals.

Mount Bromo

If horses on Mount Bromo look like this, refuse to ride them.

A more sustainable and responsible approach to tourism in Mount Bromo may imply limiting the number of daily visitors, something that has been done to several key attractions around the world, in order to protect their cultural, natural and historic relevance and uniqueness. It may be necessary to implement a system of online reservations to access the attraction, but nowadays setting up a website and a reservations system is easy and the benefits for the preservation of the natural beauty of Mount Bromo would be countless: cleaner environment including cleaner air; less people and thus less cars meaning less pollution and traffic; and the fewer visitors could count on a more thorough, enjoyable and all encompassing experience.

Another advice would be that of closely monitoring the horse dealers at the feet of Mount Bromo, and require that before providing their services of renting horses they meet at least some minimum standards in terms of animal welfare. Horses need to be properly fed and must have plenty of water when working; the number of working hours should be limited and even the amount of weight they can carry should be based on their own size.

The main point here is trying to ensure that Mount Bromo is not completely exploited and consequentially ruined by mass tourism for the sake of easy and short term money, but that it becomes the avant-guarde in terms of careful management of a natural attraction, one that should be proudly protected and that will eventually lead to a more steady, durable revenue. The authorities of Indonesia have proved on other occasions, in other places (such as on Komodo National Park) that if they want they can take responsible tourism and protection of the environment and the wildlife of the country quite seriously. It would be good to see that the same is being done on Mount Bromo. It would be great to see its real beauty blossom.

Read more about Komodo National Park on my post “How to find Heaven on Earth.”

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.

 

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to visit Nicaragua

Nicaragua

The flag of Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Everybody knows I am in love with anything Latin America. But those who have the privilege of talking to me, quickly find out I have an obsession for Nicaragua. I have been there 3 times, and I hope to visit Nicaragua again soon. Yes, it is my favourite country in Central America, so much so that when people contact me to ask about other countries such as Costa Rica or Panama, I end up suggesting visiting Nicaragua instead.

What makes it so special to me? It simply is an amazing country, that has so much to offer to travellers. Beautiful colonial cities

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua

A turbulent yet fascinating history

Leon, Nicaragua

Museo de la Revolucion, Leon

Incredible nature and wildlife.

Las Isletas, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua

Panchito lives on La Isla de los Monos, at Las Isletas: one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Lakes and volcanoes.

Masaya, one of the tourist attractions in Nicaragua

Volcanoes are among the tourist attractions in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

Amazing beaches.

Poneloya, one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Kind and warm people.

Nicaragua

La cara de Nicaragua, the face of Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon

And, something that backpackers should never underestimate, this beautiful country is still unspoilt by mass tourism (but hurry! This will change, it is such an incredible place), it is very safe to travel even for solo female travellers, and it actually is the cheapest country in the continent: my dollars could get me a long way here.

Not convinced yet? Perhaps these amazing sunsets will do the trick and prove it is time to plan a trip to Nicaragua.

Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to travel to Nicaragua

Granada and Las Isletas:

Anybody visiting the country will take a side in the local argument over which city is better, Leon or Granada? Many will say colonial Granada, is the prettiest one among Nicaragua attractions. I must admit my heart beats for Leon, but the most touristic destination in the country (which for some reason reminds me of Trinidad, in Cuba) is indeed picture perfect, and the waterfront of Lake Granada or a boat ride across Las Isletas offer fantastic opportunities to photography lovers. Snapping a good picture is one of the things to do in Nicaragua.

Las Isletas, one of Nicaragua attractions

Nicaragua tours can’t skip a stop at Las Isletas

Mombacho, Nicaragua

Volcano Mombacho – view from Las Isletas

Poneloya and Las Peñitas

A half hour ride on a chicken bus from Sutiava, Leon, these two Nicaragua beaches are more than a surfer’s paradise. Lay in the sun, challenge the waves, go for a walk, enjoy a cold beer and by all means, do not miss the amazing Pacific sunset.

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua beaches

Catching the waves at Las Peñitas, one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

Las Peñitas

Volcan Cerro Negro

About one hour drive from Leon, Cerro Negro is a great, short and windy hike. I could practice volcano boarding here and get covered in sand. And, let’s not forget that the view from the top is simply stunning. I absolutely did not want to miss a volcano on my Nicaragua vacation.

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua vacation

It’s not a Nicaragua vacation if it doesn’t feature a volcano: view from top of Cerro Negro

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Storm in the distance – sunset from Cerro Negro

Isla de Ometepe

Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which, despite the presence of two active volcanoes, is peaceful, remote, and offers great hikes, wildlife and spectacular views. Among Nicaragua attractions, it may well be my favourite.

Volcano Madera, Isla de Ometepe

That’s one smokey volcano!

Corn Islands Nicaragua

Whether I feel like relaxing under the Caribbean sun, snorkelling in the clear waters, diving or just want to walk around to explore the island, Isla de Maiz won’t disappoint me. And here, I can be treated to a beautiful, almost stereotypical sunset.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Little Corn Island – courtesy of Nomad Kiwis

Care to know about more things to do in Nicaragua? Stay tuned for more posts!

Things to do in Colombia: coffee tasting and mud hiking in Salento

Things to do in Colombia: coffee tasting and mud hiking in Salento

Colombia is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The quality of the coffee beans is excellent – after all, the climate and altitude are perfect for growing coffee. I thus expected coffee boutiques everywhere, millions of ways to prepare coffee, coffee shops and tastings. But this was not necessarily the case: more often than not, I had to make do with Juan Valdez, which is pretty much like the Starbucks of Colombia, or with the “taza sucia” (literally, dirty cup) that I could have at the many stands in the street.

The best coffee beans are exported and what is left to the locals is a lower quality coffee, which incredibly is imported from Ecuador. Thus, interestingly, when I travelled to Colombia I wasn’t be able to really have anything more than just decent coffee and often had to make do with tinto (a small cup of weak black coffee) or other coffee based drinks. I am a coffee puritan, I like my coffee with no milk and most importantly with no sugar, so to me the most horrifying coffee I tried was the one made with agua de panela, unrefined sugar melted in hot water – which gives coffee a tremendously sweet taste. One may like it if having a seriously sweet tooth though.

Things to do in Colombia

Having this in mind, one of the things to do in Colombia is visiting the Eje Cafetero. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia and will allow visitors to see at least one of the many coffee fincas in the country, where they will be able to experience the full process of coffee production, from picking to toasting and sipping.

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

Places to visit in Colombia: Eje Cafetero, or else the Colombian version of Switzerland

The best starting point for a visit of the Eje Cafetero is Salento, located at 1800 meters above sea level and one of Colombia tourist attractions in itself. This is a picturesque village, where colonial architecture meets the paisà style. It is a lovely, small and colourful colonial town surrounded by hills and forest, with a main street full of artesania shops, many relaxing bars, a chilled atmosphere, making it one of the places to visit in Colombia. From here, it is possible to visit a number of fincas.

Salento is also very close to the gorgeous Valle de Cocora, perhaps the very best of Colombia attractions. One of the top things to do in Colombia is hiking the Valle de Cocora. This is a lush, tropical valley surrounded by high peaks and cloud forest. Jeeps leave several times a day from the main square of Salento to take intrepid travelers to the valley. Arriving well early before departure, may ensure getting a seat. I leave things last minute so my I had to stand: getting to the valley thus turned into yet another adventure.

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Things to do in Colombia: ride on the back of a jeep

Once in Cocora, most people rent wellies. I surely did and I highly recommend it, along with carrying a good rain jacket as it does rain a lot there! Visitors then embark on a difficult, muddy hike that offers gorgeous views of the spectacular palma de cera (wax palms), some of which are as tall as 70 meters.

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

Things to do in Colombia: renting wellies to go on a hike in Valle de Cocora

What I loved the most about it was that it really looked like a tropical kind of Switzerland – weird and amazing at the same time. Everything is green – many different shades of green. There are cows happily chewing grass everywhere. And there is a thick fog that covers the palm trees and the mountains, giving it a mysterious aura. It just is magical. A tiring hike (imagine getting deep in the mud!), but definitely one of the most amazing things to do in Colombia.

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

Valle de Cocora is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Colombia

There is one main path that takes hikers to the beautiful hummingbird reserve (there is an admission fee of about 2 dollars which includes a drink), where it is possible to spot thousands of hummingbirds zipping by. On the way back, it is possible to also take an alternative path that takes visitors closer to the palm trees and to the Finca de la Montaña, where Don Luis Alberto and his family will give them a warm welcome and a good cup of coffee and from where the entire valley can be admired.

How to get to Salento

From Bogota, it is possible to take a bus to Pereira or Armenia. It takes about 9 hours to drive the 350 km, as the road cuts through the mountains and thus it is curvy; there is also lot of traffic. However the views are spectacular. It is best to carry some motion sickness tablets. I definitely needed them. Once in Armenia or Pereira, a local bus will take about an hour to reach Salento.

Where to sleep, eat and drink

There are many hostels in town, some better than others. I enjoyed my stay at Hotel Las Palmas, a family run guesthouse whose owner is a lovely, caring lady. Breakfast is included in the price and all rooms have a private bathroom with good hot showers. There are also two lovely cats in the house, which to me is always a bonus.

During the weekend, I ate in one of the many stalls in the main square. Otherwise, a good option is La Funda de los Arreiros. The local specialty is trout, which can be prepared in many ways and is usually served with a huge patacon (fried plantain, which here is pressed to make it thin and crispy). The local trout gave me a good break from the otherwise slightly monotonous food I ended up having while traveling.

For a drink, I went to Billar Danubio Hall. It really can’t be missed: located on the main shopping street, this is a huge bar with many pool tables, and is packed with locals playing pool, sipping beer or aguardiente and singing famous Colombian traditional songs. At some point while there I was the only woman in the entire bar. But everybody was so friendly that it never was a problem.

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Colombia tourist attractions: Salento

Looking for more places to visit in Colombia? Click here.

Click for a more detailed Colombia Travel Guide.