The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona

The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona

I was honestly, yet very pleasantly caught by surprise by all the things to do in Girona.

Bridges, cobbled alleys, a mighty looking cathedral, fantastic restaurants and lovely small cafés, and an infinity of small boutiques that will be the blessing (or the curse, depending on how you see it!) for shopaholics: Girona, the main city of Costa Brava, in Catalonia is a gem, and frankly underrated.

You see, most people who visit Catalonia completely ignore Girona. I bet you are one of those, too. You fly to Girona on a budget airline and you immediately jump on a train or bus, headed to Barcelona which is only one hour away. And if you eventually decide to visit Girona, you go there on a day trip at most.

What a shame! With all the things to do in Girona, it’s actually a pity not to spend a few days there and I strongly advise you to pick Girona over Barcelona during your trip to Catalonia.

Girona was the starting point of my trip to Garrotxa, and I got the chance to visit it thoroughly. So, I thought I’d put together a guide on the nicest things to do in Girona, and a few tips to plan your visit.

Planning to spend longer in the region? Make sure to read my posts 17 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region of Catalonia, La Garrotxa and The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.

Check out these tours of Girona:

what to do in Girona

One of the things to do in Girona is walking all the bridges. Pictured is the Pont de Ferro

20 Fantastic Things To Do In Girona, Spain

Cross all the bridges

Whenever I think of Girona I imagine the colorful buildings set along the Onyar river and the bridges to cross the river. It’s one of the most iconic pictures of Girona. There are eleven bridges that connect the two sides of the river, each of them different, and each of them giving a different perspective and slightly different view of the city. Needless to say, one of the things to do in Girona is walking its bridges.

Among the unmissable ones there is the Pont de Pedra, a beautiful stone bridge with three arches; and the famous Pont de Ferro, also known as Eiffel Bridge because it was planned by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1877, only two years after the construction of the Eiffel tower. If you are looking for what to see in Girona, this is definitely a must!

Then walk the city walls

If you want to get beautiful views of Girona other than those along the river, walk the city walls – it’s one of the ultimate things to do in Girona. A walk along the Passeig de la Muralla affords you views of both the Old City and of the newest part of town, and you can even see the Pyrenees in the distance.

There are three access points, one at the gardens behind the Cathedral of Girona, another by the Spanish Civil War Memorial, and the last one by the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants. You can start in one and finish on the other. It takes between one and two hours to walk the walls, depending on how often you stop.

The walls are part Roman and part dating to the 14th century, and there are various watchtowers along them, from where you can get even better views. The best time to walk along the walls is the early morning or the late afternoon – so that you can either enjoy sunrise or the beautiful sunset light.

TIP: Once you get to the Cathedral, make sure to continue walking to get all the way to the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants, on the last section of the walls: there are way less people on this section, and the views are stunning. You won’t regret lingering a little longer: it’s one of the nicest things to do in Girona.

Go to the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants

Visiting Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants is one of the best things to do in Girona. This is a fantastic example of Romanesque style architecture, as there are many in Catalonia. It was built in the 12th century, though there is evidence that the original structure was actually built in the 10th century.

what to do in Girona

The beautiful Cathedral of Girona is a must see. The nearby tower is that of Sant Feliu Basilica.

Visit the Cathedral

The Catedral de Santa Maria is one of the landmarks of Girona. It was built between 11th and the 18th century in a mix of styles which include Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. 90 steps lead to the Cathedral, and a lot of people love taking photos of them and on them.

Inside the church there are beautiful stained glasses and the Cathedral Treasury Museum, where the masterpiece is the Tapís de la Creació (Tapestry of Creation), a Romanesque embroidered panel dating back to the 11th century that is incredibly well preserved.

With so much to see outside and inside the church, it’s hardly surprising that visiting the Cathedral is one of the things to do in Girona.

Then the Basilica de Sant Feliu

Right next to the Cathedral there’s the beautiful Basilica de Sant Feliu, which used to be Girona’s cathedral until the current one was built. It’s a good mix of Gothic and Baroque styles. Since it’s so close to the Cathedral, visiting is one of the things to do in Girona.

Go to the Convent of Sant Domenec

One of the first Gothic buildings of Catalonia was the Convent of Sant Domenec, built between the 13th and the 14th century. Nowadays, parts of the Convent are used by the University.

what to do in Girona

Walking around the Jewish Quarter is one of the things to do in Girona

Explore the Jewish Quarter

Girona used to have one of the largest Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula. Here, much like in Besalú, they contributed to the development and wealth of the region. Visiting the Jewish Quarter is one of the things to do in Girona. Located inside the Força Vella and dating back to between the 12th and 15th century, this is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys where you will enjoy getting lost and taking endless amounts of photos.

You can even go on a guided tour of Girona and Besalu that takes you through their Jewish history – you can book it here.

To learn more about Besalú, read my post “11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain.”

Visit the Museums

One of the nicest things to do in Girona if you get stuck in the rain – like it happened to me – is spending some time in one (or all) of the excellent museums. Here are my favorite ones:

The Jewish History Museum: if you are a fan of history, then visiting the Jewish History Museum is what to do in Girona. This nicely details the history of the Jewish community of Catalonia and Aragon between the 9th and 15th century.

TIP: Don’t skip the lovely courtyard at the back of the museum!

The Archeology Museum of Catalonia: housed in part of the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants and the church of San Nicolau, you can visit after you are done with the monastery. It has a good exhibit witnessing human activity in the region until Roman time.

The Art Museum: housed in the old Episcopal Palace, it’s a good art museum with pieces that date back from the Romanesque period until the 20th century.

The Museum of Cinema: Girona became a more popular tourist destination when it started being the set of films and tv series. Visiting this museum is what to do in Girona if you want to learn about the history of film and the techniques used in cinema.

Discover the Game of Thrones Locations

For all the fans of Game of Thrones, one of the unmissable things to do in Girona is visiting the filming locations of the sixth series that are scattered around Girona. After seeing some GoT filming locations in the Basque Country, I was pleased to see more in Catalonia.

There even are Game of Thrones walking tours of Girona:

things to do in Girona

Make sure to walk around – Girona is very pedestrian friendly!

Walk around the Old Quarter

One of the top things to do in Girona is going for a walk in the Old Quarter in search of the many hidden gems. You’ll get to enjoy the cobbled alleys, the archways and the many pretty corners of this beautiful city.

Check out the Arab baths

The Arab baths of Girona were built in the 12th century. Their design was inspired by both Roman and Arab influences. They were in use until the 14th century, and can now be visited for a mere €2 – one of the nicest (and most budget friendly) things to do in Girona.

TIP: Apparently the Arab baths also were a Game of Thrones filming location!

Kiss the Lion’s bottom

Lots of peple – visitors and locals alike – stop at the statue of a lion and kiss its bottom. Apparently doing it means that you’ll go back to Girona. I suppose it works, since I have already been twice! Anyways, this is one of the ultimate things to do in Girona, apparently – so much so that they even have steps to reach it more easily.

Chill at Plaça Independencia

This is the biggest square in Girona, and from there you can easily cross the river and walk towards the Old Quarter. It’s a large, airy square with lots of nice cafés where you can have lunch for a real steal. Locals love to go there in the late afternoon, to chill and have a drink. Hanging out here is what to do in Girona to catch a bit of local action.

TIP: Together with the rambla, right on the other side of the river, Plaça Independencia is one of the best areas in town for a night walk.

You can even take a night tour of Girona. Book it here.

Visit Casa Masó

Of the lovely, colorful buildings that cling on the banks of the Onyar river, Casa Masó is one of the very few you can actually visit. It used to be the house of Rafael Masó, one of the most famous Catalan architects of the 20th century. Everything in the house is still set up as it used to be when Masó lived there.

Go to the Hospital de Santa Caterina

Now housing part of the offices of the Catalan government, this was a working hospital between the 17th and the 20th century, and one of the best preserved historical hospitals of Southern Europe. If you have some extra time in town, this is one of the places to visit in Girona.

TIP: You can book a guided tour of the Hospital de Santa Caterina through the Art Museum.

Chill (or run) at Parc de la Devesa

One of the things to do in Girona is you want to mingle with the locals is going for a run or a walk at Parc de la Devesa. It’s the largest urban park in Catalonia. You’ll definitely pass by it on your way to Plaça Independencia.

things to do in Girona Spain

Breakfast or brunch at La Fabrica – one of the things to do in Girona

Have breakfast or brunch at La Fabrica

One of the things to do in Girona is eating at La Fabrica, located in one of the many tiny squares in town, near yet another flight of stairs. This lovely café is known in town as the best hang out for cycling fans. It was established by a Canadian couple – Christian Meier, who used to be a professional cyclist, and his wife Amber. It’s the kind of place where you are likely to find other cyclists, see bikes outside (and even inside, to be fair) and you may have a chance to discuss the Giro.

For the non-cyclists, the good news is that La Fabrica is a fabulous place to have breakfast, brunch or a light lunch. For a healthy yet tasty breakfast opt for the breakfast bowl with lots of oats, coconut flakes, honey and fresh fruit.

Then get a gelato at Rocambolesc

Eating gelato is one of the best things to do in Girona in the summer. Come to think of it, why keep it seasonal? This is really what to do in Girona any time you feel like a treat. Rocambolesc is the place to go – if you trust the Italian here, you’ll end up eating one of the best gelati out there.

Rocambolesc was founded by Jordi Roca, who in 2014 was recognized as the World’s Best Pastry Chef. The choice of flavors is great – though they change daily, apparently. They even have lactose free and vegan ice cream!

Dine in one of the fabulous restaurants

One of the best things to do in Girona is eating. Girona is one of the food capitals of the world, home to El Celler de Can Roca, one of the best restaurants in the world. Should you not be able to get a table at this restaurant – founded by the Roca brothers, including the same Jordi Roca of Rocambolesc, Joan Roca who is the head chef, and Josep Roca who is the sommelier, and for which you will need to make reservations in advance – worry not: Girona is packed with excellent bistrot were you can dine like a king.

If you happen to visit Girona in the spring or summer, you’ll be happy to dine al fresco: this is what to do in Girona to enjoy a delicious meal and continue taking in the lovely views. And if you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of options for you – my favorite is vegan restaurant is Bionéctar.

TIP: For lunch, do like the locals and opt to get a fixed menu. With something between €12 and €15 you’ll get an appetizer, a main course, a dessert and a drink.

You can even take a Girona walking tour and tapas dinner. Book it here.

Go shopping

Girona is packed with lovely small shops and boutiques were you will love rummaging to find the item you didn’t even know you needed. Whether you are looking for souvenirs to bring to your family and friends, or just want something nice for yourself, rest assured that you’ll have plenty of opportunities here: shopping is one of the things to do in Girona.

things to do in Girona

Girona has some of the best restaurants in the world!

Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Girona

How To Get To Girona

Girona is incredibly easy and cheap to reach from pretty much anywhere in Europe, as it is a hub for budget airlines. From there, you have various options to get to the city.

By car

From the airport, you can easily get to Girona by car. It’s just a 20 minutes drive. You can get a quote for car rental here.

By public bus

Sagalés operates buses from Girona airport to Girona city center. You can take bus n. 605 or 607. The ticket costs €2.75 and the journey lasts about 20 minutes. The bus timings follows the arrival and departure schedule of Ryanair flights.

By taxi or private transfer

A taxi from Girona airport to the center costs around €30. You can also book a private transfer for more or less the same price here or here.

From Barcelona

It takes about one hour to drive from Barcelona to Girona. Alternatively, you can opt for the train. The fast train takes a mere 35 minutes, but there also is a slower one that makes various stops and takes 90 minutes.

On a guided tour

Should you – despite all I have said – still decide to visit Girona for a day trip, you can opt to take a guided tour departing from Barcelona.

Here’s a selection of the best guided tours of Girona departing from Barcelona:

Where To Stay In Girona

For a small city, Girona has some good accommodation options. Hotels in Girona tend to be pricey in the peak season, and hostels only have dorms. Apartments may be a good compromise. With a bit of research you should be able to find the perfect place for you.

Below is a selection of places to stay in Girona, arranged by hotels, hostels and self catering apartments.

Best hotels in Girona

Best hostels in Girona

Best self catering apartments in Girona:

Things to do in Girona

A walk along the river is one of the things to do in Girona

Other Things To Know Before You Visit Girona

When to visit Girona

Any time is a good time to visit Girona, if you ask me. I went in July for the first time, and it was hot, though it rained quite a bit one day. I went again in October, and the temperatures were pleasant, but again it rained one day.

Spring and summer are generally good seasons to visit Girona, but keep in mind that the Temps de Flors festival in May, and the Sant Joan festival in June mean the city is incredibly busy and imply you’ll have to book well in advance.

How to move around Girona

Good news! One of the best things to do in Girona to fully discover it is walking around, and the city is truly pedestrian friendly. Besides, Girona is actually quite small so you can easily walk to all the main attractions and points of interest.

Business times

Don’t expect to shop or eat whenever you want in Girona. This is a city that still observes the working times of southern Europe for the most part, so shops and businesses close between 2:00 and 4:00 or 5:00 pm.

Dinner time won’t be before 8:00 pm. If you are hungry before then, do what the locals do: have a merienda, or a snack. Even better, have a gelato at Rocambolesc!

Language

The official languages in Girona are Catalan and Spanish, and what you’ll hear the locals speak is Catalan. Everyone does speak Spanish, and most people in the business and tourism industry speaks English, so you’ll be able to get by without any issue. Menus at restaurants are usually in Catalan, but most of them have an English copy as well.

Legal Disclaimer:  I was a guest of the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona during my second trip to Girona, and wish to thank them for helping me out with the organization. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own. 

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Discover what to do in Girona, Spain - via @clautavani

11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain

11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain

Besalú is a lovely, beautifully preserved small town in Garrotxa, part of Catalonia. It’s about half way between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, and right at the edge of La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. In medieval times it was the capital of an independent state.

Nowadays, Besalu has lost its status of independence but it remains a real gem. It is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys and beautifully kept building, set against the background of two placid rivers (the Capellades to the north, and the Fluvià to the south) and the volcanic landscape of Garrotxa.

Of all the villages in Garrotxa, I find Besalú to be the prettiest. I have visited for a day when I traveled to Garrotxa. It marked the ending point of my one week hike, and it quite easily was the cherry on the cake. Needless to say, I fell in love with it.

Interested in hiking through Garrotxa? Check out my post “The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.”

To do Besalu complete justice, you’d have to spend more than one day there, so that you’d get to enjoy its atmosphere and have dinner in one of the lovely restaurants. But if you are tight on time, you’ll be happy to know that Besalú can be easily visited on a day trip from Girona and even Barcelona.

Pressed with time? Visit Besalú on a guided tour of Garrotxa from either Barcelona or Girona. Here’s a selection of the best tours:

This post highlights the things to see and do in Besalú, either on a day trip or in a couple of days, and shares some tips to plan your trip there.

For more reasons to visit Garrotxa other than Besalu, read my post “The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.” And if you are visiting Girona, make sure to read my post “The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona.”

Besalu, Spain

The iconic Pont Vell of Besalu

A Guide To The Nicest Attractions In Besalu, Spain

Besalú gorgeous medieval bridge

Besalú medieval village is the obvious starting point of a visit. It’s the trademark of this lovely small town, and allows you to cross the River Fluvia to get into town. Pont Vell, as it is called in Catalan, was first built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. There are seven arches on the bridge, and two towers, and from there you’ll get a splendid view of Besalu.

TIP: Before actually crossing Pont Vell, make sure to walk down the stairs to reach the bank of the river. The views of the bridge and of Besalu from there are splendid!

The church of Sant Vicente de Besalu

Besalu has a few nice churches. If you decide to visit just one, make it this! Much like many other churches in Garrotxa, this church was built in Romanesque style, though there are also Gothic features. It dates back to 977, when the parish was first created.

This church is what made Besalú a famous pilgrimage site: the remains of the True Cross of the Christian faith are allegedly held there.

Besalu Spain

The monastery of Sant Pere in the beautiful central square of Besalu

The Monastery of Sant Pere

One of the unmissable things to see in Besalú is the Monastery of Sant Pere. To be fair, most of the monastery is not visible anymore, but the church annexed to it still is. It used to be a Benedictine order monastery, founded in 977. The church that was annexed to it however dates from the 11th century. It’s a fairly big church, in a nice airy square with some other buildings you’ll want to visit (more about those soon) and a few nice places to stop by for a drink or a meal.

The Casa Cornellà (also known as Casa Llaudes)

In the same square as the Monastery of Sant Pere, Casa Cornellà is one of Besalu’s landmarks. It was built by the Cornellà family in the 12th century: at the time, they were one of the most important families in the area. This is thought to be one of the best preserved examples of Romanesque style civil buildings in Catalonia. Llaudes is the name of the family that acquired the building in the 15th century.

The Hospital of Sant Julià

The Hospital of Sant Julià dates back to the 12th century and actually used to be a pilgrims’ hostel built by the counts of Besalu. The only original bit is the facade, which is truly impressive.

The Jewish mikveh baths

Girona and Garrotxa used to have a large Jewish community, which inevitably left its mark: the same is found in Besalú. Jewish people arrived in the area as early as the 9th century, and as a result there are a few buildings that testimony the Jewish history of this beautiful small town. The most important one is the mikveh, or the Jewish baths used in religious ceremonies, that were built in the 12th century.

The Jewish quarter

Though the Jewish community in Besalú mixed up with the Christians, there are traces of a small Jewish quarter near the mikveh. This is also where the synagogue used to be.

Besalu Spain

A gorgeous view of Besalu

The Museum of Miniatures and Microminiatures

One of the quirkiest places to visit in Besalu is the Museum of Miniatures. There is a full collection of miniatures on display, that you’ll have to observe with a magnifying lens. This will show you the level of detail that was put into these works!

Sagrat Cor Chapel

A bit outside Besalu there is the lovely chapel of Sagrat Cor. It’s on a hill from where there are lovely views of the village, and the hike there is pleasant one.

Besalu Spain

The Humble Chair on the bank of the river Fluvia, in Besalu

Go on a walk along the Fluvia river

I have already suggested to head down the bank of the Fluvia to get a nice view of Pont Vell and of Besalú. After exploring the village, I also recommend walking along the other bank. The views of the bridge are impressive from that side, and it is a nice, pleasant place to walk away from the crowds that at times get into town.

On this side of the river, you’ll also get to see “the humble chair,” a piece of artwork that comes from a collaboration between people living in Besalu and local artists.

Shop for souvenirs

The presence of so many souvenir shops in Besalú, as opposed to other medieval villages in Garrotxa, only goes to show how it became a popular tourist destination in recent years. The good news is that most shops sell locally produced stuff, so it’s a good place to get some small presents to bring home with you.

Besalu Spain

The lovely souvenirs shop in Besalu

Practical Information To Plan Your Visit To Besalu

How to get to Besalú

Besalu is easy to reach from both Barcelona and Girona. It takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive there from Barcelona, and little over half hour to drive there from Girona. You can rent a car here.

If you plan to drive to Besalu, you’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty of free parking on the south side of the village, with a parking lot located near the Pont Vell. That’s also where the Information Office is located – so you can stop there for information and maps before you actually head to explore.

Should you prefer to use public transportation, Teisa has regular buses from Barcelona and Girona to Besalu.

Another option is to visit Besalú on a guided tour, departing from either Barcelona or Girona.

Guided tours to Besalu

Most tours to Besalu are part of day trips departing from either Barcelona or Girona, and that include visits to also other places in Garrotxa.

These are the best tours departing from Barcelona:

And these are the best tours departing from Girona

Besalu, Spain

A different perspective of Pont Vell, the symbol of Besalu

Where to eat and sleep in Besalú

If you plan to sleep in Besalú, you’ll be happy to know that there are some excellent accommodation and dining options.

Here’s a selection of best places to sleep in Besalú:

Castell de Besalú is one of the best restaurants in Besalu. Pont Vell is a stylish, cozy place that serves dishes prepared with local ingredients. Finally, Can Quei is another excellent restaurant serving local food.

Further information

More information on Besalu can be found on the website of the tourism board of Garrotxa.

Have you ever been to Besalu, Spain? What did you like the most about it?

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona during my trip to La Garrotxa for the #InPyrenees #LaGarrotxa #lagarrotxatotlany and #itinerannia campaign, and wish to thank them for helping me out with the organization. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own. 

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Discover the things to see and do in Besalu

The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek

The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek

This hiking packing list for a long distance trek has everything you need to take with you to make the most of your trip.

I have become quite an expert on packing, to the point that I am usually packed for any trip in under one hour. And with time, I have learned to pack so light that I travel hand luggage only. I have managed to keep my backpack for a trip the the jungle of Guyana at less than 10 kg!

Read what I carried to Guyana in my post “Jungle Clothes And More: Everything You Should Include In Your Amazon Packing List.”

My skills in packing definitely helped when it came to creating the perfect hiking packing list for a multi-day trek, like the one I did in Garrotxa. A few things have to be kept in mind when packing for long distance hiking.

For a great hiking itinerary in Garrotxa, read my post The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary.”

In this post, I highlight all the things you should know before you pack for long distance hiking, and I write down the best hiking packing list with all the trekking gear and other essentials you need to carry.

hiking packing list

If you are hiking long term, you need to keep your hiking packing list short!

5 Things To Keep In Mind When Packing For A Multi Day Trek

You need to pack light

A key factor when going on a multi day trek like the many I have done in the past is to keep the hiking packing list essential and to travel as light as possible, as chances are you may have to carry your backpack with you, even on the longest hikes and even when you are puffing up a mountain.

You have to be prepared for the rain

I have been on many multi-day treks and the only time I was lucky enough not to get any rain was when I hiked the Jesus Trail in Israel. For every other long distance hike I have done, I encountered rain at some point (and every single day in the case of Poon Hill, in Nepal). This is to say: regardless of where you go for your multi-day trek, you may get rain at some point. Be prepared for that, with appropriate trekking gear that is suitable for rainy conditions.

You have to wear layers

This is actually true for any hike, whether it is a short day hike or a multi-day trek. Unless you are hiking in the summer, I generally recommend to wear layers, starting with a good thermal or quick dry shirt as the under layer, a good fleece and then a wind and rain proof jacket. You’ll inevitably get warm and sweat as you walk, especially if uphill, and you’ll need to take layers off, but as soon as the sun starts to set the temperatures will drop and you’ll need to layer up again.

Quick dry items are your best choice

With the amount of walking you’ll be doing when hiking long distance, and changing accommodation almost every day, you need to have quick dry items that you can easily wash at night and will be dry the morning after, by the time you set to hike again.

Keep your accommodation options in mind

Are you planning to stay in camping sites or in hotels? This is an important thing to note when planning your long distance hiking trip and when compiling your hiking packing list, as what you’ll carry will inevitably change, and if you have to include a tent, a sleeping bag and a towel, you’ll have to keep the list of other items even more essential.

Keep in mind that this hiking packing list is meant to be for accommodated trips, whereby you’ll be having an actual room with a bed and a bathroom.

hiking packing list

A good backpack is a key factor when packing for a long distance hike

What You Need To Include In Your Long Distance Hiking Packing List

Hiking Essentials and Unmissable Trekking Gear

Backpack

Keep in mind you want to keep the weight down as much as possible, so try not to go for a backpack that packs more than 40 liters for women, or 50 for men. The backpack has to be lightweight, but also sturdy and either waterproof or with a cover that you can put on it in case of rain. More thank anything else, it needs to be comfortable and adapt to your body, sitting nice and easy on your hips rather than pulling the weight down your shoulders. Make sure it has side compartments where you can place your water bottles, and that it opens from both the top and the bottom, so that you can easily reach any item you may need.

I am a fan of Osprey packs, but other brands have some excellent ones too. These are the best 40 and 50 liters backpacks that will carry all the items in your hiking packing list:

  • Osprey Tempest – for women: his is an excellent 40 liters backpack.
  • Osprey Stratos – for men: a good 50 liters option.
  • Osprey Aura 50 – for women: it’s a bit larger than what I recommend, but it’s very comfortable and spreads the weight quite well.
  • Osprey Talon 44 – a good compromise if you feel you need to carry a bit more.
  • Berghaus Freeflow – suitable for men and women.

Hiking Clothes

Your list of hiking clothes should include:

  • 2 pairs of loose fitting hiking pants in neutral colors. One you wear, the other goes in the backpack. I am a fan of Kuhl Cliffside Convertible pants and Kuhl Hykr pants. Convertible pants are a great solution if you hike in the warmest months!
  • 2 long or short sleeves t-shirts, depending on the time of year. I generally prefer cotton in the summer and cotton mixed with wool in the winter, but you may want a thermal or technical shirt instead. I love the Kuhl Sora t-shirt, which I have in several colors, and the Kuhl Wunderer shirt, both long sleeves. For short sleeves I like the Kuhl Kyra and Kuhl Sora.
  • A comfortable t-shirt that you can wear to go to bed. Takes less room than a whole pajama.
  • 1 tank-top to wear on warmer days. I love kuhl Karisma.
  • A sweater, or preferably a micro fleece – these are usually lightweight. I am a fan of Kuhl Alska and as an extra I often take Kuhl Lea Pullover.
  • 3 pairs of very comfortable underwear and the same amount of hiking socks – you’ll have to wash your underwear and socks every night in the sink.
  • 2 sports bras for the ladies: make sure they are comfortable and quick dry if possible.
  • A rain and wind proof jacket. Add a poncho too – you can get one of those super light weight ones. I love the windproof Kuhl Airstorm rain jacket.
hiking packing list

Make sure to carry a rain proof jacket. This is by Kuhl.

Hiking Boots

A long distance hiking packing list is bound to include a pair of hiking boots. These are essential to make any hiking trip successful. You want your feet to be warm in the winter, to be protected from water, and you want to make sure that you have proper ankle support. You also need to make sure that the boots have a good grip on the soil, for those trails that may be rocky or muddy.

I have an old pair of Dolomites with which I hiked the Inca Trail, the Jordan Trail, the short hikes in the Dolomites of Trentino and much more.

TIP: Once you get a good pair of hiking boots you love wearing, don’t change them! It’s probably better to have them resoled than getting a new pair your feet have to adjust to.

These are some highly recommended hiking boots:

Remember to also include a pair of flip flops or light sandals in your hiking packing list. At the end of a long walking day, you’ll just want to give your feet a break!

hiking packing list

Pack a camera, or at the very least a good smart phone!

Other Items To Add To Your Hiking Packing List

Camera Gear

If you are into photography as much as I am, you’ll want to take a good camera on your trip. If not, a good smartphone will do.

This is the camera gear I normally take with me:

  • A good DSLR camera. I have a Nikon D3300 which is nice and easy to use.
  • A couple of good lenses. I normally carry a 18-105 millimeters, good for landscape photography, and a 70-300 millimeters one in case I may come across some wildlife.
  • I have an iPhone 6s Plus, but you can opt for newer models such as the iPhone X with double lens. It’s a good compromise if you don’t feel like carrying the weight of a DSLR.
  • A power bank, which I normally use to charge my phone on the go.

Alternatively, you can take:

  • A go-pro, if you plan to do anything more adventurous than just hiking.
  • A compact camera that is nice and easy to use. To be fair, though, if you have a very good smartphone with a great camera, you may just want to stick to that.

Beauty And Personal Care Items

A proper hiking packing list includes some essential items for personal hygiene. For all of them, you can easily get travel size to minimize weight. I am adding the extra ones you may need to consider adding to this list.

  • Sunscreen, best if high SPF.
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • All purpose biodegradable soap bar: it’s perfect to wash your clothes in the sink, and you can even use it as a body wash or a shampoo if needed.
  • Tea tree oil: I love the fact that I can use it to medicate minor cuts, and to even apply it on insect bites to ease the itch.
  • Toilet paper or tissues.

First Aid Kit

A good hiking packing list, especially for a long distance trek, needs to include a first aid kit and a few medications. Make sure to take these basic items:

  • basic pain relief medicines such as paracetamol.
  • imodium or any other diarrhea medication.
  • bandaids and other bandages.
  • antiseptic wipes and cream.
  • cortizone cream.
  • steristrips.
hiking packing list

A beanie is a light extra to add to your hiking packing list

Miscellaneous Stuff To Add To Your Hiking Packing List

Other things you may want to include in your hiking packing list are

  • A hat to protect against the sun in the warmest months, or a beanie to keep you warm in the coldest ones.
  • Leggings that you can layer under your hiking pants on the colder days. Icebreaker makes excellent ones.
  • Gloves, if you plan to hike in cold weather.
  • Sunglasses: they protect from both the sun and the wind.
  • A power bank: you’ll need it to charge your phone, whose battery will inevitably burn out if you use it for photos or to run apps that help you follow the trails.
  • A GPS device.
  • A compass: it will help you navigate the trails, especially if all else fails.
  • A water bottle that you can refill: be nice, save plastic!
  • A water filter: it’s especially handy if you don’t have access to potable water.
  • A head lamp or a flashlight: always keep it handy, as you may walk through a forest where light is scarce, or may end up walking for longer than expected.
  • Snacks: if you are running out of energy, you need something quick that gives you a boost until lunch or dinner time.

Travel Insurance

Wherever you plan to go on your long distance hiking trip, make sure to get a good travel insurance. I recommend using Allianz Travel Insurance. You can get a quote here.

Final Notes

A long distance hiking trip is about having fun, enjoying nature and challenging yourself. You don’t have to look pretty: you have to be comfortable, stay hydrated, and always eat healthy food that gives you plenty of energy to hike even the toughest mountain!

What items do you always include in your hiking packing list?

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Discover what to include in your long distance hiking packing list - via @clautavani

The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary

The Most Beautiful Hikes In Garrotxa: A One Week Itinerary

There are some incredible hikes in Garrotxa – it’d be silly to miss them!

Hiking in Garrotxa is a fantastic way to discover this beautiful region. Come to think of it, hiking is a great way of discovering any place. That’s why I regularly go on long distance hikes, and end up walking for a week at times. I find it to be the best way to get close to nature; learn more about the history of a place; meet the local communities and have an overall good time.

Set between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, located in the province of Girona and part of the Girona Pyrenees region, Garrotxa is completely landlocked, and for the most part lies under 600 meters above sea level, though there are peaks that go well over 1500 meters. It is one of the pretties regions of Catalonia. For as pretty as it is, Garrotxa has yet to be discovered by mass international tourism.

With its volcanic landscape (there are more than 40 volcanoes in Garrotxa) and lava flows, the gorgeous forests and being right on the Pyrenees, Garrotxa is the perfect place for hiking. Adding to this already great scenario, there are the beautiful small medieval villages and the hidden Romanesque churches, some at the very top of mountains or at the center of the craters of extinguished volcanoes, and only visible to those who make the effort to hike there.

I visited a bunch of those hidden churches, explored several of those villages, and walked through many of those forests. Indeed – you guessed it right – I spent 9 days in Garrotxa, 7 of which hiking my way around, following the trails of Itinerannia. I truly enjoyed my time there – though I admit it was hardly enough to fully appreciate all that it has to offer.

In case you are still wondering, let me clarify this: if you like nature, hiking and quaint medieval villages as much as I do, you have to visit Garrotxa. For you, I have put together this post, so that you will you have a better idea of what to expect and how to organize your trip around this incredible part of Catalonia, and how to make the most of the hikes in Garrotxa.

If you are looking for more things to do and more reasons to visit Garrotxa, read my post “17 Reasons To Visit The Volcanic Region of Catalonia, La Garrotxa.”

Before I go on to describe my hiking itinerary, however, I’ll share a bit of background information on Itinerannia, the network of hiking trails in Garrotxa.

hiking in Garrotxa

Hikes in Garrotxa afford beautiful views

The Coolest Hikes In Garrotxa: Walking The Itinerannia Trails

During my trip to Garrotxa, I mostly followed the hikes in Garrotxa in the Itinerannia network of trails. The network consists of more than 2500 km of paths. The trails recover the old trails found in Garrotxa, L’Alt Empordà and El Ripollès, and connect the towns of the Pyrenees to those of the Mediterranean. The idea with all the trails of Itinerannia is that the hiker can pick and choose whichever ones he wants to walk so as to design its route to move around the region and visit the places he is interested in.

For more hikes in the Pyrenees, read my post “The Most Amazing Hiking In The Pyrenees” and if you want to find out what the best hikes in Spain are, check out my post “Where To Find The Most Amazing Hikes In Spain.”

Itinerannia trails are marked in yellow, by way of vertical signs at crossroads, which indicate the nearest villages and the walking distance to them (yellow sign with red tip), or the thematic itinerary (yellow sign with green tip); or horizontal signs by way of yellow marks painted on tree trunks or rocks.

At times, Itinerannia trails coincide with those of the GR – an abbreviation of Gran Recorregut, which indicates long distance trails usually longer than 50 km and which is an extensive network of trails across Europe. GR trails are usually marked in red and white.

Itinerannia has hiking trails of any difficulty level. Some are perfect for family with children looking to spend a day out in the nature; while others are significantly more challenging and for more experienced hikers.

What I like the most about Itinerannia trails is that each of them combines a walk in the nature with incredible views and a visit to a place of historical or cultural significance. In other words, they all combine the things I enjoy the most when traveling.

hikes in Garrotxa

Views of the mountains along one of the hikes in Garrotxa

Walking The Top Hikes In Garrotxa: A 7 Days Itinerary

Day 0 – Sant Feliu de Pallerols

Sant Feliu de Pallerols, and more precisely the rectory of Sant Miquel de Pineda, was my starting point to enjoy all the hikes in Garrotxa. The village is at around 45 minutes drive from Girona and Girona airport, and it’s another 10 minutes drive (or a 45 minutes walk) to reach Sant Miquel de Pineda.

The sights

Sant Feliu is one of the nicest medieval villages in Garrotxa, with beautifully kept bridges on the river Brugent, antique homes, a mill and even Art Nouveau buildings. From there, it’s possible to see the laval flows from the eruption of volcano El Traiter along the Brugent river, and to reach Volcano Sant Marc, which is at just 20 minutes walk from the center. Several itineraries, departing from the center of Sant Feliu, cover the most interesting places to visit in the village and its municipality.

San Miquel de Pineda is a lovely Romanesque church, now part of the architectural heritage of Catalonia. Right by it, there is the rector’s house, which has recently been completely restored and turned into a beautiful boutique hotel.

Where to sleep and eat in Sant Feliu de Pallerols and Sant Miquel de Pineda

Sant Feliu is one of the smallest villages in Garrotxa, with very few restaurants. If you stay there, your best bet for food is to either cook yourself or go to Olot, at about 20 minutes drive. There are a few good accommodation options, most of them allowing self catering and a few with meals included. Here is a selection of them:

How to get to Sant Feliu de Pallerols and Sant Miquel de Pineda

Teisa has buses to Sant Feliu de Pallerols from Barcelona (3 times a day) and Girona (6 times a day). If you take the bus from Barcelona, you have to pick the service to Olot via Amer. The bus from Girona leaves at Carrer de Pierre Vilar.

Sant Miquel de Pineda is on the Olot – Girona Via Verda route. It can be reached from Sant Feliu on foot or by bike. Another option is to take the Teisa bus from Barcelona or Girona. You have to get off at Sant Miquel de Pineda and from there it is a 10 minutes walk to La Rectoria.

hikes in Garrotxa

One of the villages visited when hiking in Garrotxa is Sant Esteve d’en Bas

Day 1 from to Sant Miquel de Pineda to Joanetes

The first day on this hiking itinerary in Garrotxa is spent walking from Sant Miquel de Pineda to Joanetes. The trail starts right outside La Rectoria in Sant Miquel de Pineda, and goes through the forest following the Via Verda to Sant’Esteve d’en Bas and Hostalets.

The walking time between La Rectoria and Hostalets is about 2 hours.

Once in Hostalets, you have to walk through the pretty, tiny village on the main road until you reach the church and have the option of going left or right. Go right, and follow the signs to the old cemetery. From there, follow the G63 trail to Sant Miquel de Falgars until reaching a sign that points to Sant Miquel de Castelló.

When you get to Sant Miquel de Castelló, you should follow the red and white signs (the GR2 trail) towards Joanetes. It takes about one hour to get back down from the mountain, and then another half hour to get to the village, depending on where you will be staying for the night.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 16.4 km

Overall walking time: depending on your walking speed, around 5.5 hours, without breaks.

Highest point: 942 meters above sea level

Lunch break: You will find some restaurants along the way, so there is no need to pack lunch. However, make sure to carry enough water. Hostalets is the perfect spot for a lunch break as it’s right in the middle. The best place to eat there is Ca l’Esteve. It’s a very popular post with the locals, that serves a set menu for a mere €12 euro – you can pick an appetizer, a main course and a desert, and have a drink and coffee included in your meal. The food is very good and the portions are huge!

The sights

Much like throughout Garrotxa, on the way from Sant Miquel to Joanetes, the sights are nothing short of amazing. The first part of the trail is through the forest, and you will be walking next to some pastural land and by some old country houses that are actually quite impressive to see.

You will walk through Sant Esteve d’en Bas, one of the many medieval villages of Garrotxa. The view of the village from a distance is beautiful (and even more so from a hot air balloon!).

For as tiny as it is, Els Hostalets d’en Bas is lovely – so much so that it’s been declared a National Historic-Artistic Monument. The nicest sights in the village are the wooden balconies full of colorful flowers on the main street, and the church.

The Hermitage of Sant Miquel de Castelló is impressive. The church, which used to be the chapel of the castle of the Viscount of Bas and of which the first mention dates back to the 14th century, is usually closed, so chances are you will only be able to see it from outside. Yet it’s quite a sight, especially because of the incredible location. The view of the Vall d’en Bas from there is simply breathtaking.

hikes in Garrotxa

The one to Sant Miquel de Castello is one of the most rewarding hikes in Garrotxa

What to expect

This is one of the nicest hikes in Garrotxa. The first part of the walk, from Sant Miquel de Pineda to Hostalets, is fairly easy. You will be waking along a well kept and well marked trail, like it usually is in Garrotxa, and by some fields. You will occasionally meet locals walking their dogs, or biking (I even met a whole primary school class that was out for a day trip!). Locals are always available and happy to help with directions and other information.

The second part is more challenging, and you will have to pay attention to where you go, especially as chances are you won’t meet anybody along the way. The terrain is not as good as during the first part of the walk, as it can be slippery and muddy. It’s completely uphill on the way to the Hermitage, and downhill on the way to Joanetes.

TIP: Make sure to have an early start during the fall and winter months, so that you can reach Sant Miquel de Castelló in full daylight and get a fantastic view of the valley, and still have plenty of time to walk to the village.

TIP: On this day, you’ll have to carry your backpack with you, or arrange to have it taken to your hotel in Joanetes.

Where to sleep and eat in Joanetes

For as small as it is, Joanetes has some good accommodation options. Both the ones I mention below also offer meals.

hikes in Garrotxa

The area of Puigsacalm has some of the best hikes in Garrotxa

Day 2 from Joanetes to Joanetes, via Santa Magdalena (Camí dels Ganxos)

Of all the hikes in Garrotxa that I walked, this is by far the hardest. The hike is meant to be a circular one, starting in Joanetes, going all the way up to the Hermitage of Santa Magdalena on Les Agulles mountain, and then walking back down to the village via a different route, through the forest. I was unable to follow the route back and had to take an alternative path to Joanetes, so my instructions will be based on my experience.

The trail starts just outside Joanetes and goes all the way up to the Hermitage of Santa Magdalena, one of the nicest in Garrotxa, via the Camí dels Ganxos, via the Puig del Soi (Puig means Mountain in Catalan) and El Barret. Past that, it reaches a footbridge with a railing and the “ganxos” (hooks) that allow you to go up the vertical wall and eventually take you to the Canal Fosca (Dark Channel) from where you can reach a viewpoint of the Vall d’en Bas and, past a wooden fence, the Hermitage of Santa Magdalena del Mont.

The overall climbing is no more than 100 meters it is quite challenging, especially if going alone (which I don’t recommend).

The way back to Joanetes is via a steep path that follows the G61 trail to Sant Privat d’en Bas. I didn’t take this route, but followed the Puigsacalm Pas dels Burros trail, for what is one of the nicest hikes in Garrotxa, making stops at Puig dels Llops for beautiful views of Garrotxa, and then heading down via the Pas dels Burros, which actually goes around the Puigsacalm and takes to more hooks which however are easier to climb down thanks to the presence of an iron rail.

Past the hooks, the trail goes to El Barret and the Puig del Soi again, from where it’s an easy (if only a bit steep) way back down to Joanetes.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 14.4 km if following the official circular route; 15.5 km on the alternative route I followed.

Overall walking time: depending on your walking speed, around 7 to 8 hours, for either routes.

Highest point: 1514 meters above sea level

Lunch break: There are no coffee shops, restaurants and kiosks along the way to buy food or water, so you will have to pack whatever food and drink you think you’ll need for the day. Make sure to carry at least 2 liters of water.

The sights

The views of Garrotxa on the Santa Magdalena / Camí dels Ganxos are breathtaking. A big part of the hike goes through a thick forest, and if you walk it in the fall, you’ll have a chance to see the beautiful foliage.

The views of the valley from the various panoramic points are stunning, and provide an excellent reward for all the challenging moments, which you’ll have no shortage of.

The cherry on the cake is the lovely Hermitage of Santa Magdalena del Mont, which was founded by the monks of Sant Mary of Besalú between 977 and 988. This is one of the nicest hermitages of Garrotxa. At the moment, the church is administered by the municipality of Sant Privat d’en Bas.

hiking in Garrotxa

The hermita of Santa Magdalena is reached via one of the most strenuous hikes in Garrotxa

What to expect

Officially a medium difficulty hike, this actually is one of the most challenging hikes in Garrotxa, with difficult terrain – uneven, incredibly muddy and slippery after the rain; very steep. The trail isn’t always easy to follow, and it is often necessary to stop and look for the yellow marks which at times are not easily visible. There are parts, like the hooks, that you won’t easily go through without the help of others. I wholeheartedly recommend joining a group and hiring the services of a guide to follow this trail for safety reasons.

Read why I think hiking alone is a bad idea.

Keep in mind that the timings given by the vertical signs and even on the website of the local tourism boards are significantly underestimated. They suggest an overall walking time of 5 and a half hours, whichever combination of trails you decide to follow, but the actual walking distance is more in the range of 7 to 8 hours, even if you are fit. A local guide I have met told me he regularly walks it and he never takes less than 7 and a half hours.

TIP: Give yourself plenty of time to complete the hike, and start walking as early as possible to make sure that you complete it in daylight.

TIP: If, despite my recommendations against it, you decide to walk this hike alone, make sure to properly research the hike and the terrain before you go – provided you find information in English other than this post – and to be fully equipped in terms of gear (make sure you take a torch and a power-bank, in case you get stuck in the dark) and of food and drinks.

hikes in Garrotxa

The view of Olot from the top of Montsacopa, makes this one of the most rewarding hiking trails in Garrotxa

Day 3 from Les Preses to Olot City Center, via Montsacopa and Montolivet

This is one of the most pleasant hikes in Garrotxa. The starting point of the walk on the third day of this hiking itinerary through Garrotxa is the Church of Sant Pere de les Preses, from where, in about an hour and a half, you will reach Olot to hike the two volcanoes (Montsacopa and Montolivet) and where you will be spending the night.

The trail to Olot is actually quite easy, on easy terrain. You have to follow the signs to Olot Pocafarina that go behind the municipal pool, and soon you’ll find yourself on the crater of El Racó volcano. Going down from that you’ll reach Pocafarina, and continue walking along the nicest lava flows of Garrotxa and the dry-stone walls made of volcanic rocks, in an area known as El Bosc de Tosca.

You’ll enter Olot via the Parc Nou, one of the nicest parks in Garrotxa, and from the city center you’ll easily reach the trail to Volcan Montsacopa. There are two routes that both reach the crater, and you can walk one up and the other back down. I suggest taking the trail that goes through the old city to the crater (it takes around 20 minutes) and back down by the cemetery (another 20 minutes).

From there, it is an easy walk to the church of Sant Pere Martir, which you’ll recognize thanks to the saint’s head carved into the façade. Behind the church, there is a nice square and the trail to Volcan Montolivet begins.

From Montolivet, you’ll come back down and end up walking by the river, through an area known as El Tossols and to the Font de la Gruta. From there, you can easily reach the city center.

Practical information

Download the tracks on Wikiloc: Les Preses to Olot and Montsacopa Montolivet Circular Route.

Overall walking distance: 15 km

Overall walking time: around 4 hours if you walk at a leisurely pace

Highest point: 527 meters above sea level

Lunch break: The good news is that this trail goes right through Olot, where there are some of the best restaurants in Garrotxa. Depending on what time you leave in the morning, you’ll get in Olot right by lunch time and you can have lunch in one of the local restaurants, and try the famous “cuina volcanica.”

The sights

The beautiful views along the way make this one of the nicest hikes in Garrotxa. Walking through the shadowy forest that now covers the crater of El Racó is incredibly pleasant. You’ll get to visit Parc Nou, one of the nicest parks in Garrotxa, and walk through the center of Olot, where I recommend spending at least a full day to explore its museums and admire the lovely buildings.

Entering Olot after walking on Montolivet, you’ll enjoy the pleasant sound of the river flowing and the sight of old buildings right by it, including a beautiful bridge.

Yet, the highlight of the day is the lovely views of Olot you’ll get from Volcan Montsacopa crater, as well as those you’ll get from the viewpoint of Plaça de Sant Pere Martir. These qualify as some of the best views of Garrotxa.

hikes in Garrotxa

The view of the river on the way back to Olot from Montolivet

What to expect

The combination of various trails make this one of the longest hikes in Garrotxa on the Itinerannia network, but it’s actually easy, especially compared to the previous day’s walk to Santa Magdalena hermitage, which on the other hand is one of the most challenging hikes in Garrotxa. The only minor challenge will be walking up the craters of the volcanoes, but it’s completely doable.

The trail is mostly easy to follow, with clear vertical signs. The only place where the directions get a bit confusing and you may want to use your GPS or consult Wikiloc or other walking apps is on top of Volcan Montolivet – the way to get back to town isn’t marked as well as the rest.

Much like in the rest of Garrotxa, the terrain is generally good, though it can get quite muddy in the forest after the rain.

TIP: As the starting point is at quite a distance from Joanetes, you need to arrange transportation to get to Sant Pere de les Preses. Ask your hotel to do this for you.

TIP: Unless you arrange to have your backpack taken to your hotel in Olot, you’ll have to walk with it. Once you get to Olot, however, you can make a quick stop at your hotel to drop the backpack before hiking Montsacopa and Montolivet.

Where to sleep and eat in Olot

Olot has a really good selection of hotels and some of the best restaurants in Garrotxa.

These are the best hotels in Olot:

And these are some incredible restaurants where you can try local dishes of Garrotxa:

La Quinta Justa, in a gorgeous building in the center of Olot, adheres to the Volcanic Cuisine movement. Food is delicious, with a regular menu, daily specials and even daily menus. It’s better to make reservations at weekends.

La Deu is actually a bit outside Olot. The food is local – make sure to try olot potatoes, one of the most famous dishes of Garrotxa. The portions are huge.

La Cuina del Mercat is a lovely small restaurant in the center of Olot, next to the covered market. Food is good, service friendly. It’s a popular place with the locals.

hikes in Garrotxa

One of the many surprises of the hikes in Garrotxa is the lovely Romanesque churches

Day 4 La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Among the nicest hikes in Garrotxa, there are those in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. The park has 40 volcanic cones and more than 20 lava flows. I visited on my way from Olot to Santa Pau, one of the nicest medieval villages of Garrotxa.

The park, which is actually mostly private land, has a good number of walking routes, many of them joining those of Itinerannia. Most of them are of medium difficulty and some quite easy and suitable for families with children. You can mix and match several trails in just one visit, and get to see a good portion of the park this way.

I followed a circular route that started at Can Serra, one of the two parking lots that allow access to the park, and took me to the Fageda d’en Jorda, Santa Margarida Volcano and Croscat Volcano, and afforded me views of Puig de la Costa Volcano too. You can even start in the Santa Margarida area.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 13 km; 19 km if you decide to walk all the way to Santa Pau

Overall walking time: around 4 hours and 30 minutes at a leisurely pace

Highest point: 439 meters above sea level

Lunch break: There are a couple of restaurants in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park where you can eat lunch. They are called Restaurant de Santa Margarida and Restaurant Masnou. My advice, however, is to pack some lunch – sandwiches, fruits, snacks – and plenty of water to make the most of the park. There’s a couple of rest areas with bathrooms, fountains and tables and benches that are ideal for lunch.

The sights

The sights in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park are splendid throughout. Among the places visited on this hike, there is the Fageda d’en Jorda, which sits on the lava flows of the Volcano Croscat. This is a beautiful beech forest with several volcanic hummocks (tossols) that originate from the volcano. It’s a gorgeous forest to walk through, especially in the fall months with the beautiful foliage colors.

At the center of the Fageda d’en Jorda there is a nice dairy factory where you can stop by for a quick visit and to buy some organic yogurt and other dairies. It’s a favorite stop for families with children.

The trail also takes to Santa Margarida volcano, a volcano which had several eruptive phases of both the strombolian and the freatomagmatic kind. The highlight of Santa Margarida volcano was walking all the way down to the crater, at the center of which there is a lovely Romanesque church – Santa Margarida de Sacot. The church, which to me is the most special of Garrotxa, was destroyed during the earthquakes of 1427-1428 and finally rebuilt in 1865. It’s only open for special functions.

Another lovely church in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park is that of Sant Miquel de Sacot, a well preserved Romanesque Church that was enlarged in the 18th century in a more neoclassical style.

One of the most interesting sights is that of Croscat volcano, a strombolian volcano that reaches an elevation of 160 meters above sea level and that, according to researches, is the youngest one of La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. For a long time, one of the sides of Croscat has been used as a quarry to extract volcanic material. Extractions have stopped now, and the massive cut on its side can be seen clearly.

hikes in Garrotxa

Sant Miquel de Sacot can be seen when hiking in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

What to expect

This is a pleasant walking day, with easy to follow trails (trails in La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park are signaled by way of vertical signs, which are cream colored with a purple tip) and good hiking terrain. You will mostly be walking through the forest and in the shade.

TIP: You will need to arrange transportation to one of the car parks that mark the entrance to the park. Teisa has buses that go from the center of Olot to both Can Serra and Santa Margarida parking lots, and from there to Santa Pau.

TIP: You can download hiking itineraries for La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park on the website of the tourism board of Garrotxa, though keep in mind that information is only available in Catalan. This is the one I followed.

All the trails around the park are suitable for mountain bikes too – but keep in mind that you won’t be able to bike through certain areas.

You can also visit La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park via guided day tours that depart from Barcelona or Girona.

This is a selection of the best tours:

Where to sleep and eat in Santa Pau

Santa Pau is one of the smallest medieval villages of Garrotxa, and the accommodation and restaurant options are actually quite limited.

This is a selection of places to stay:

With regards to restaurants, keep in mind that most are closed on Sunday or Monday night, so unless you have a car and can go to Olot or other villages nearby, you may be better off grabbing some food from the local supermarket (which closes at 8:00 pm).

Cal Fesol is a nice restaurants that serves local specialties such as the famous white beans of Santa Pau.

Cal Sastre serves dishes of the culinary tradition of Garrotxa in a gorgeous setting. It’s in the main square.

hikes in Garrotxa

Santa Pau is one of the prettiest medieval villages in Garrotxa

Day 5 from Santa Pau to Santa Pau (Ruta dels Gorgs)

Santa Pau is the starting point for some of the nicest hikes in Garrotxa. The Ruta dels Gorgs and Ruta de les Fonts leave right from the center of the village, and take to some lovely natural pools which provide a refreshing break from the heat in the summer months.

Both trails are circular routes that start and end in Santa Pau.

Ruta dels Gorgs, which is the one I followed, goes to some of the nicest and most scenic spots in Garrotxa. Not many people follow this trail during the week (I literally met only two!) so it’s perfect if you need some peace and quiet.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 8 km

Overall walking time: no more than 3 hours, including various stops.

Highest point: 491 meters above sea level

Lunch break: This is a rather short hike, but you may want to spend a little extra time relaxing at the natural pools. If that’s the case, make sure to bring water and some food with you. You’ll find a basic coffee shop at a camping site in Cal Paxtet (no more than a few houses!). Alternatively, you can walk back to the village and have lunch in one of the restaurants there.

The sights

Despite being short, this hike offers some of the nicest views of Garrotxa. The name of the trail (Rutas dels Gorgs) should be an indication of what you can expect along the trail. Indeed, gorgs in Catalan means “pool.”

Among the natural pools you’ll be able to enjoy there are the Gorg de Caga Rates and the Gorg Blau. Gorg de Can Cutilla is right by the camping site of Cal Patxet.

On the way back to Santa Pau, the Santuari dels Arcs is a lovely sight. This small countryside church, whose origins are still uncertain (some sources date it to 496 AC, others to the 9th century), is actually one of the prettiest of Garrotxa.

Santa Pau remains the highlight of the day. One of the nicest medieval villages of Garrotxa, it was built around a Baron’s castle from the 13th century. Unfortunately the castle can’t be visited, but a walk around the medieval center at the end of the hike will show all the prettiest buildings, and lead to the porticoed square where the gothic church of Santa Maria is located.

TIP: If you want a great view of the old center of Santa Pau, head to the terrace right next to a coffee shop called Can Pauet.

La Garrotxa

The views of La Garrotxa from a hot air balloon are breathtaking

What to expect

The trail is easy to follow for the most part, and the walk is pleasant. The terrain is mostly good, but keep in mind that you have to cross the river in a few places and the stones can get slippery.

Beware that the trail does get confusing once you get close to the camping site of Cal Patxet – that’s where the signs stops and you’ll need a good GPS and a bit of patience to make your way to the last pool.

TIP: As this is a short hike that you can easily do in a couple of hours, you may want to add some other activities to your day. I wholeheartedly recommend going on a sunrise hot air balloon tour with Vol del Coloms for incredible views of the Volcanic Region of Garrotxa. It’s pricey, but worth every penny, and you’ll enjoy a scrumptious brunch at the end of the flight which will keep you energized until dinner time.

There are the best hot air balloon rides in Garrotxa:

hikes in Garrotxa

The beautiful hermitage of Santa Margarida de Bianya is one of the nicest in Garrotxa

Day 6 Santa Margarida de Bianya – Sant Pere Despuig circular route

The starting point of this trail, one of the shortest hikes in Garrotxa, is the church of Santa Margarida de Bianya. It is a lovely short walk that goes through a beautiful forest, and around some of the prettiest countryside in Garrotxa.

The trail starts right behind the church, and soon enters an ancient oak forest to then reach a lovely manor house and soon another. It doesn’t take long to reach the main road again, and after a turn walk along more farms to reach the church of Santa Margarida de Bianya again.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 2.5 km

Overall walking time: 1 hour

Highest point: 480 meters above sea level

Lunch break: For this short hike, all you’ll need is enough water.

The sights

For as short as it is, this is one of the prettiest hikes in Garrotxa. The views of the Pyrenees from the hermitage of Santa Margarida are gorgeous.

The walk goes through one of the oldest forests of Garrotxa, to then reach a working manor house that is blissfully isolated, and where the in house very sweet dogs and cats welcome (and occasionally follow!) any passersby.

The church of Sant Pere Despuig comes as a pleasant surprise. Dating to the 10th century, this is a beautiful Romanesque church, one of the many that can be found in Garrotxa. It has a beautiful bell tower

The church of Santa Margarida, where the trail starts, looks even better from a distance. You’ll get to fully appreciate this once you make your way back up the hill where it is located. It dates back to the 10th century, though it was first documented in the 12th. The rectory next to it has been turned into a beautiful boutique hotel, which is the perfect place to spend the night.

hikes in Garrotxa

Hiking in Garrotxa, you come across some nice farms where the in house cats and dogs will welcome you!

What to expect

This is a nice, short and easy trail on beautiful terrain and for the most part in the pleasant shade of the forest. There aren’t many signs along the way, but you can ask the hotel for a map, which is fairly easy to follow, or download the track on Wikiloc.

TIP: As this trail and that of the Ruta dels Gorgs are quite short, you may want to combine them and do them in just one day (including the balloon ride, if you want). Alternatively, once you are done with the hike you can either head to Hostalnou, which is one of the many lovely villages in Garrotxa, and is only 15 minutes walk from Santa Margarida de Bianya, and to Vall de Bianya.

TIP: There is no direct connecting Santa Pau with Hostalnou de la Vall de Bianya. You will have to take a bus to Olot, and then another one to Vall de Bianya, making sure to ask the driver to drop you off at Hostalnou. You can find the bus timetable on the website of Teisa. Alternatively, you can ask your hotel to arrange a pick up.

Where to sleep and eat in l’Hostalnou de la Vall de Bianya

Much like in the other small villages of Garrotxa, the accommodation options in Hostalnou are limited but there are some incredible places to stay. I have selected a couple:

hikes in Garrotxa

The lovely church of Sant Andreu del Torn can be seen when hiking in Garrotxa

Day 7 from El Torn to Besalú 

On the final day of this hiking itinerary through Garrotxa, you’ll be walking from El Torn, a small village of houses built around the church of Sant Andreu del Torn, to Besalú, the most famous village in Garrotxa.

On this day, the Itinerannia trail you’ll be following coincides with that of the GR2, so you’ll be seeing both the yellow marks of Itinerannia that you can find throughout Garrotxa, and the white and red ones of the GR trails.

For little more than 2 km the trail goes along the river El Ser. It then reaches the 10th century church of Sant Fruitós d’Ossinyà. From there, the trail follows a dirt road through the forest and then reaches the Urbanització Comtal – nothing more than a few houses and goes all the way down to Besalú.

Practical information

Download the track on Wikiloc here.

Overall walking distance: 11 km

Overall walking time: 3.5 hours

Highest point: 368 meters above sea level

Lunch break: There are plenty of lovely restaurants where you can have lunch in Besalú. Castell de Besalù is a great one. For the purpose of the hike, make sure to take plenty of water and some snacks.

The sights 

This is one of the prettiest hikes in Garrotxa, thanks to the sights. The prettiest throughout the hike is the church of Sant Fruitós d’Ossinyà – yet another Romanesque style church of Garrotxa. This dates back to the 10th century, and like most of the Romanesque church remains completely isolated in the countryside. In this specific case, there is a farm at the back, so chances are you may meet someone who’s working in the farm and his animals – I saw the pretty donkeys and was accompanied by their friendly dog for a while, until I summoned her to walk back home.

The highlight is quite obviously Besalú, considered the prettiest medieval village in Garrotxa. You’ll enter the village from the parking lot right outside the visitors’ center, from where you can cross the beautiful bridge that made the village famous. I also recommend walking down the stairs to get a view of the bridge from below, and one of the village from the bank of the river.

For more information about Besalu, check out my post “11 Fantastic Attractions In Besalu, Spain.”

hikes in Garrotxa

One of the nicest hikes in Garrotxa goes all the way to Besalu

What to expect

This is a pleasant, relaxing hike whereby you’ll be walking through the forest pretty much until you can see Besalú from a distance. The terrain is good, with no major difficulties, and the trail well signaled and easy to follow.

TIP: There is no public transportation between Hostalnou and El Torn, so you’ll have to arrange a private transfer to the starting point of the hike. It takes about 30 minutes by car. 

Where to eat and sleep in Besalú

As one of the most visited villages of Garrotxa, Besalú has some excellent accommodation and dining options.

Here’s a selection of places to sleep in Besalú:

If you are looking for a real treat, Castell de Besalú is the best dining option in the village. Pont Vell serves dishes prepared with local ingredients in a beautiful environment. Finally, Can Quei is another lovely restaurant serving traditional dishes of Garrotxa.

How to get from Besalú to Girona or Barcelona

Getting from Besalú to Girona or Barcelona by public transportation is actually quite easy. Direct buses from Besalú to Girona leave roughly every 45 minutes. There are 4 direct buses per day to Barcelona.

hikes in Garrotxa

Hiking in Garrotxa, you’ll come across some lovely natural pools

General tips to enjoy the hikes in Garrotxa

The best piece of advice I can give you if you plan to spend some time hiking in Garrotxa is to give yourself enough time in the region. In order to complete all the hikes mentioned in this post, I actually spent 10 days in Garrotxa – I often had to reschedule the hike I had planned to do due to bad weather.

Chances are that, if you are super lucky with the weather, you can then use the extra time available to see and do other things around Garrotxa, or even go to Girona.

Check out my post The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona.”

I suggest you join a group for the most challenging hikes – specifically, the Camí dels Ganxos. It’s a long, challenging trail and you’ll be better off with the company of others, who’ll encourage you (as well as help you) to overcome the most difficult parts. A guide will also help making sure you stay on the path.

Make sure you always wear good hiking boots with ankle support – some parts will be rocky, others muddy, and you’ll thank your shoes for supporting you! Other gear you will need is: a water bottle, a headlamp or torch, a power-bank.

Read my guide on what to pack for long distance hikes. 

Last, but definitely not least, do get a good map of all the trails you want to follow – local tourism offices should be able to provide them, and sometimes even hotels have them available. Even better try to download the tracks and upload them on ViewRanger or Wikiloc. This app literally saved me a bunch of times when I thought I was lost; it works offline which is perfect if you are in a place where there is no reception; and it’s very easy to use.

Getting To Garrotxa

Garrotxa is well connected to Europe and the rest of the world thanks to two airports. While Barcelona El Prat is the second biggest airport in the country, connected by way of regular and budget airlines, Girona is mainly served by budget airlines.

From Barcelona or Girona, you can make your way to Garrotxa by car (either a rental or a private transfer) or public transportation. Teisa has buses that go from either Barcelona and Girona to Olot and other villages in Garrotxa.

There are no trains to any of the villages and small cities of Garrotxa.

When to go hiking in Garrotxa

Autumn and spring are the best seasons for hiking in Garrotxa, especially as the days are longer (so you’ll have more light and time to spend walking) and there is less people around.

I went hiking in Garrotxa in mid October, and had alternate weather conditions, with beautiful sunny and mild days and others when it literally poured.

TIP: Regardless of when you decide to go hiking in Garrotxa, make sure to carry some rain gear and water proof hiking boots, and this part of the country gets quite a bit of rain throughout the year.

Guided multi-day tours of Garrotxa

I have scouted the web for hiking tours of Garrotxa but very few companies offer them. This guide should provide enough information to organize your trip, but should you still prefer to join a guided tour, you may have to opt for a cycling one. Here’s a selection of what’s available.

A good local company you can contact to help you plan your trip is Trescàlia, which is based in Olot.

Final remarks

I always recommend getting a good travel insurance, even more so if you are planning to go hiking! You can get a reliable travel insurance here.

Read why I never travel without travel insurance.

You can find more information on Garrotxa on the website of the local tourism board. Cities and villages usually have their website, but the information is often not up to date and at times it is only available in Catalan and Spanish.

Have you been on any of the hikes in Garrotxa, or do you plan to? Feel free to leave a comment with your questions!

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona during my trip to La Garrotxa for the #InPyrenees #LaGarrotxa #lagarrotxatotlany and #itinerannia campaign, and wish to thank them for helping me out with the organization. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own. 

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11 Reasons Why You’ll Love Phinda Game Reserve

11 Reasons Why You’ll Love Phinda Game Reserve

If you do just one safari in South Africa, do it at Phinda Game Reserve.

As many of you have probably realized by now, I have a new favorite country – South Africa. I have already been three times, and there’s a likely fourth coming up sooner than I thought. The last time I’ve been there was November, when I went there for a 3 weeks holiday with my sister. The highlight of our trip was by far the safari we did in Phinda Game Reserve, in KwaZulu Natal.

Run by the luxury and responsible tour operator And Beyond, Phinda Game Reserve was created in 1991 on what previously used to be farmland, and it soon became an award winning safari destination thanks to its efforts in wildlife and environment conservation. It is the site of the black rhino range expansion project, and rhinos are also donated for translocation to other countries (they are regularly dehorned to prevent poaching). At Phinda you’ll find some of the biggest cheetah populations in South Africa – I admit I went there almost exclusively because I wanted to see cheetahs!

Phinda definitely qualifies as one of the unmissable places to visit in South Africa, and one of the best destinations to see wildlife in the continent, especially if you love nature and you care to see wildlife in its natural environment and in a completely responsible way.

Looking for more places to visit in South Africa? Check out this post

Chances are that if you visit Phinda Game Reserve you will fall in love with it, and like many do, will end up going again. After all, the meaning of Phinda in Zulu means “return.” Sure enough I am hoping to pay it another visit on my next trip to South Africa.

In this post, I will highlight all the reasons why you’ll love Phinda Private Game Reserve.

Phinda Game Reserve

The landscape at Phinda Game Reserve is very varied

11 Things That Will Make You Fall In Love With Phinda Game Reserve

It’s very diverse

One of the things I appreciated the most about Phinda, and which I am sure will make you fall in love with it, is how diverse it is. Driving through the reserve and moving from one lodge to the other, I grasped how varied the landscape is, and how it changes entirely from one part of the reserve to the other.

Indeed, Phinda Private Game Reserve is huge – so much so that there are seven different ecosystems there. This means that there are incredibly varied landscapes, going from woodland to grassland, wetland to forest, and even mountain ranges within the reserve. The foothills of the Lebombo Mountains are located on the south of the reserve.

There are two rivers running through the Phinda Game Reserve, which create a fertile marshland.

Phinda is also home to the rare dry sand forest, a gorgeous forest of large trees, cacti, ferns and orchids; and to 3 different types of savannah (in case you ever thought that there’s only one kind!).

Finally, Phinda is close to the beautiful beaches and marine reefs of the Indian Ocean, so that those who visit have the possibility of mix and match bush and marine adventures.

Phinda Game Reserve

This was one of my favorite sightings at Phinda Game Reserve

The wildlife is incredible

The varied landscape of Phinda Game Reserve means the best possible thing when speaking of safaris: variety of wildlife! If you stay at different lodges (for example one in the south of the reserve, and one in the north) and move around the reserve, like my sister and I did, you’ll have a different wildlife experience.

I thought I had seen it all when I have visited Botswana, but I have to say that Phinda is one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five; and there you’ll have a chance to see the black rhino.

Read more about my experience in Botswana in my post “Where To See Wildlife In Botswana.”

There are lions – and if you are lucky enough like I was, you will also see them mating. My sister and I got to see leopards, though it was quite a search to find them and by the time we finally got to admire a female with her cubs at a water hole we had almost lost hope. We got to see hyenas in what was one of the most thrilling moments of our safari: a cub of about 10 months came very close to the jeep, as curious about us, as we were about him.

Phinda is home to various species of antelopes – the are the tiny red duiker, and the suni; as well as kudus, impalas and nyalas. There are elephants, zebras, giraffes and hippos.

Phinda Game Reserve is famous for its large population of cheetahs. We were extremely lucky to see a hunting scene, where 2 seemingly relaxed cheetahs spotted a lone impala in the distance and successfully hunted him. It was an absolutely incredible experience, one that doesn’t happen often!

As Phinda is a private game reserve, the number of cars moving around is monitored and there are strict limitations to the number of jeeps that can be in the same spot at the same time. This means that animals are completely respected and that the game viewing experience is more exclusive than in other places.

Guests at Phinda Game Reserve are usually taken on two game drives per day, one in the early morning starting as soon as the sun rises, and the other in the afternoon, after 4:00 pm, and going on well after sunset for enhanced possibility of spotting nocturnal animals.

Phinda Private Game Reserve

Birdwatching is great in Phinda

And the birdwatching too

I am hardly into birdwatching, to be honest. I just like seeing pretty, colorful birds but I’d lie if I said that I’d travel to places to see a particular species. I know Phinda Private Game Reserve is an excellent place for birdwatching, with 436 species of birds living in the area. There was another guest in my group that went around with a booklet with pictures of birds, and she kept pointing out to the various one she was excited to see. I have to say I had fun too, taking shots of the nicest, smallest species around.

Phinda Game Reserve

One of my favorite experiences while in Phinda was visiting a local community

You can get out to see a local village

Apart from the incredible wildlife of Phinda Game Reserve, one of the reasons I truly enjoyed about it is that, for as far as you may feel from civilization, this is right next door. During our time in Phinda, my sister and I had a chance to visit a local community, making stops at a local school created thanks to the effort of an NGO called Africa Foundation.

There, we had the headmaster taking us around, telling us the story of how the school came about, the challenges and the issues she had to overcome, and showing us, with a lot of well deserved pride, all that she and the local community have managed to achieve.

Unlike many other tours of “local communities” I have done, this was a completely spontaneous, un-staged one. Children played around the school yard, running after each other. The headmaster told them off each time she spotted them dropping a piece of paper. Some kids were eager to see us, others appeared more shy. It was a truly genuine experience, and a welcome back-to-reality moment.

As well as the primary school, the local community tour with Africa Foundation also included a visit to the kindergarten, to the local crafts market and to the community health center, all of them running thanks to the help of the NGO. I am sure you can see why, as a former human rights lawyer, I was happy to see that the work and efforts of an NGO to empower local communities are being successful.

And even go to the beach

My sister and I didn’t have time to go to the beach when we visited Phinda Game Reserve. Well, actually we did, but we decided to spend a few hours relaxing in our gorgeous rooms for a change. Anyways, this is to say that one of the things that make Phinda special is that you can easily get to the beach to enjoy the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. If you want, you can even dive in Sodwana Bay!

It’s easy to reach

Phinda Game Reserve can be easily reached from other parts of South Africa. There are flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town that land in Phinda’s private airstrip, and it’s only a 3 hours drive from Durban. My sister and I drove there from Durban, and the drive was actually quite pleasant – especially once we got to the reserve and realized we were immersed in nature and immediately started spotting zebras and giraffes along the way!

Are you visiting Johannesburg or Cape Town before or after your safari in Phinda? You may want to read my post “Three Unmissable Things To Do In Johannesburg – On A 24 Hours Layover.” and “15 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town.” for more information.

Phinda

Did you know you can see the Big Five in Phinda Game Reserve?

The lodges are fabulous

There are 6 lodges in Phinda, all of them gorgeous and all of them completely immersed in nature. Though they all reflect the style of And Beyond, which runs the reserve, each lodge is different from the other.

Since the lodges are located in different parts of the reserve, the wildlife experience you may get varies depending on which lodges you stay at. That’s why I recommend staying for 4 days or more, and at two different lodges!

My sister and I spent our first two days in Phinda Game Reserve at Forest Lodge. We had a fabulous room completely surrounded by the forest, with a gorgeous porch where we could relax, and the most luxurious bathroom. Each morning, we had to wait for the baboons to move away before we could leave our room to go to the dining area!

We then moved to Mountain Lodge, where the views from the common areas are simply stunning. Once again, we had a marvelous, incredibly large, cozy and comfortable room. At Mountain Lodge we had our own private plunge pool, which inevitably attracted the animals that roam free around the property. We regularly had a family of nyala visiting, and they didn’t mind our presence in the least. Apparently, some guests that were there a few days before us were woken up in the middle of the night by an elephant drinking from their pool!

Phinda Game Reserve

Food in any of the lodges of Phinda Game Reserve is delicious

And so is the food

Food is hardly a concern of mine when I travel, but I was incredibly pleased to realize that it is really good pretty much anywhere in South Africa. Meals at the lodges of Phinda Game Reserve were always delicious, with breakfast being scrumptious to say the least, and lunch and dinner absolutely fabulous.

Each meal was a great combination of South African food – we truly liked the bobotie, a Cape Malay dish; international cuisine – the barbecued pork ribs were mouthwatering; and a feast of vegetables, salads and fruits. At breakfast, guests have a choice of different varieties of coffee, all of them from Africa and ethically produced.

The atmosphere is chilled

Come to think of it, chilled probably isn’t the best way to describe the atmosphere at Phinda Game Reserve. I’d probably use the word “dreamy” to refer to how my sister and I (and by the look of it, all other guests) felt when we visited Phinda.

We could relax completely in our rooms, in the dining areas, at the pool. We breathed in the clean air of the reserve. And we experienced al fresco dining, being served the most delicious meal in the middle of the forest, on candle lit tables. It was absolutely perfect! 

The staff goes above & beyond 

Everyone at Phinda Game Reserve is welcoming and professional. From the director of the reserve, whom we had the pleasure to meet and have a nice chat to about conservation and nature in general; to the excellent rangers that take guests on game drives and ensure that they have the best wildlife experience; from the chef who kindly shared the bobotie recipe so that we can try to cook it at home; to the guest relations officer who sorted our flights back to Cape Town when the airline seemed to have lost our reservations, everyone is always incredibly kind and pleasant to talk to.

Phinda Game Reserve

This beautiful nyala always came to drink at our plunge pool at Phinda Mountain Lodge

It’s run responsibly

Phinda Game Reserve is run in a completely responsible way, with an eye to the local wildlife and the environment, as well as the local communities.

Rangers always put the safety and wellbeing of the wildlife at the reserve first, no matter how much a guest wants to get close to an animal. A great effort is done to ensure that the delicate ecosystem of Phinda is preserved, both in terms of flora and fauna.

The lodges are eco-friendly, with little to no waste of water and food. Members of the local community are employed to work in the reserve, as staff at the lodges or as rangers and trackers.

Last, but not least, thanks to Africa Foundation, the area around Phinda Game Reserve receives international support and financial aid for responsible community projects.

Phinda Private Game Reserve

A close encounter with a hyena and her cub at Phinda Game Reserve

5 Tips To Make The Most Of Your Safari At Phinda Game Reserve

A safari in Phinda is an incredible experience and if you plan to visit South Africa, it’ll be the cherry on the cake of your trip. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience there.

Give yourself enough time

Most guests stay in Phinda for 3 or 4 nights. I have met some that only spent 2 nights, but they are people who live in Durban and regularly go when they need a quick getaway in the bush.

4 days is just about the right amount of time you will need to make the most of Phinda Game Reserve, see all the incredible wildlife and relax and unwind completely. You will also have time to visit the local communities. If you have an extra day to spare, you can even plan a day trip to the beach.

My sister and I spent 4 days in Phinda Game Reserve, we got to see pretty much all the wildlife that lives in the area, but we could have honestly gone for more!

Learn the art of patience

A safari in Phinda Game Reserve is a thrilling experience, but there will be occasions during which your ranger will drive around for hours and the most you’ll see will be a few impalas. It can be frustrating, but it’s all part of the experience. Learn to make the most of it, and take this opportunity to admire the beautiful African sky, or even to chat with the other guests!

Phinda Game Reserve

Rangers at Phinda Game Reserve guarantee you have a great experience.

Talk to the rangers, and listen to what they say

Different people have different interests when it comes to wildlife. Some dream of seeing rhinos and elephants, others want to see lions. I went to Phinda to see cheetahs and was keen on seeing hyenas, and my sister dreamt of seeing leopards. Rangers at Phinda Game Reserve meet newly arrived guests and ask them what they are hoping to see: this is your chance to express your wishes!

Also make sure to listen to the rangers instructions regarding game drives: don’t move around the car, don’t stand and don’t get off, unless he says it’s ok to do so. Don’t make noises to the animals and don’t try to call them, as they may be bothered by it.

By all means, remember that rangers are the best source of information about the animals and the flora at Phinda Game Reserve, so ask them any question that pops to your mind!

Dress for success

Being appropriately dressed for a safari is important. You need to wear clothes that make you blend in with the colors of the bush, and you have to make sure that they are comfortable, because you will be sitting in them all day.

Make sure to wear neutral colors, and to layer up with a long sleeves t-shirt, a sweater and a jacket: mornings are cold in the bush, but it gets warm during the day.

Check out my post “What To Wear On Safari – The Ultimate Packing List For Africa” for more ideas on what you should pack for your trip to Phinda.

Pack the right camera gear

One of things I enjoy the most about a safari is that it’s an incredible photographic experience. In Phinda, you’ll have plenty of chances to take incredible photos of wildlife, so make sure to take (and learn how to use) a good DSLR or full frame camera with a good lens. I recommend a 70 – 300 mm as a minimum. A mirrorless camera won’t give you enough lens length to catch the animals in the distance, or their detailed patterns.

Make sure to also pack a pair of good binoculars, especially if you are into bird watching.

Phinda Game Reserve

Right before hunting, in Phinda Game Reserve

When To Visit Phinda

Any time is good to visit Phinda Game Reserve. My sister and I visited Phinda in mid November, at the beginning of the summer, and we enjoyed sunny, dry and warm days and chilly nights. Summer months are great for spotting young animals; whereas the winter months are great as with the lower temperatures more animals come out of the bush.

Have you ever been to Phinda Game Reserve? What did you enjoy the most about it?

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