There are so many things to do in Nicaragua, that you will never be done with it!
Talk to me for a few minutes and it won’t take you long to figure out that I am in love with Nicaragua. Known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, to many including myself this is the most interesting and beautiful country in Central America. I have been there 3 times already and crave to go again, for there still are places to discover.
With so many things to do in Nicaragua, you won’t have a hard time finding something to suit your interests: beautiful colonial cities; interesting culture and art; a complicated yet fascinating history; very friendly people; lush nature; great wildlife and volcanoes. Besides, Nicaragua beaches are gorgeous and lakes have a magnetic beauty. Corn Island Nicaragua is a slice of untouched Caribbean paradise. Finally, add to this an exchange rate that is very convenient and prices that are very cheap, and Nicaragua becomes the perfect country to visit.
Since I know the country quite well, I thought I’d put together a post to let you know about the places to visit and the things to do in Nicaragua, with tips on Nicaragua best beaches and – needless to say, some useful advice on how to prepare a trip to Nicaragua.
Things to do in Granada: go for a walk! – photo courtesy of Elaine Faith
33 Unmissable Things To Do In Nicaragua
Marvel at the colonial Granada
Granada usually is the starting point of a trip across Nicaragua. The city, located at just 1 hour drive from Managua, is one of the most famous Nicaragua tourist attractions, and for a good reason.
The weather in Granada is more pleasant than in other parts of the country because, while incredibly hot during the day, the breeze from Lake Nicaragua (known locally as Lake Cocibolca and through which the Nicaragua Canal should be built) cools it down a bit in the afternoon and evening.
You will fall in love with its architecture and splendor; with its bright colors and cobbled streets and with its slow paced life. This beautiful colonial city will make any photography lover go crazy with its elegance.
Spend a couple of days in Granada, where you should visit the Convento y Museo San Francisco. This is the oldest church in Central America: it was first built in 1585, then burnt to ground by pirates and later by William Walker, rebuilt in 1868 and finally restored in 1989. The blue facade is simply stunning.
The annexed museum, which is accessed through a small door on the right, exhibits a lot of indigenous art as well as a scale model of the city. The view of the lake and the volcanoes from the back patio is also a plus.
Another interesting place to discover is the Iglesia de la Merced, which was also destroyed by pirates and later on by Walker and eventually restored. The church is beautiful, but the best part of it is climbing the tower and enjoying the incredible 360° view of Granada, the surrounding volcanoes and the lake. The best time to access the tower is around 11 am.
The Cathedral of Granada, located in the Parque Central, is what comes to mind when thinking about Nicaragua tourist attractions – it makes for a perfect postcard picture.
On the side of the Cathedral, Calle La Calzada is the main pedestrian street in the city, packed with trendy bars, restaurants, and the best hotel in town (Hotel Darío, which takes its name from the most famous Nicaraguan poet). La calzada is very lively at night, when street artists and vendors populate it. Walking along it, you can get to the lake, about 1 km away from the centre. The view of the city on the way back from the lake is lovely, especially that of the Church of Guadalupe.
At about 9 blocks from the centre, the Old Train Station is a cool place to visit. You will find a few well preserved wagons on display. The station is right in front of Parque de los Poetas, which is dedicated to Nicaragua most important poets.
Finally, the market of Granada is a very lively place, so full of colors and interesting smells, and still very much local. Keep in mind it can get very crowded and there are pickpockets.
Where to stay in Granada
As the most touristic destination in the country, Granada caters for any budget. It is packed with upper scale hotels and good hostels. The best hotel in town is right on the Calle Calzada, and is the Darío. The position has its advantages, although the fact that it is on the busiest street in town means getting quite a bit of noise.
Hotel Colonial is very close to the main square and definitely gets less noise.
Where to eat in Granada
There are many restaurants and budget eateries in Granada. The ones on the Calzada are the most expensive ones. Tercer Ojo is in a very trendy location: it comes highly recommended on trip advisor, food is truly delicious, although it definitely isn’t local.
I also really like Café de las Sonrisas, which is run by a nonprofit organization and where all the staff is hearing impaired. There also is a lovely hammock shop right next door, where all the profits go to the organization in favor of disabled children.
Finally, Garden Café serves great salads, sandwiches and delicious smoothies are served in a beautiful patio, and there also is a book exchange which to me is always a bonus!
A boat tour of Las Isletas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua
Take a boat trip around Las Isletas
Taking a boat trip through Las Isletas is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These islands are really small. There are supposedly 365 islands, which were formed as a result of the eruption of volcano Mombacho, which can be seen from Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua).
TOP TIP: Go on an afternoon tour leaving at around 3:45 pm.
This is the perfect time to view as many birds as possible, including the weaving bird and king fisher, as well as the 3 different kinds of monkeys that live in the area, and on the way back the sunset view of the smoke capped volcano is simply spectacular.
These are two good guided boat tours of Las Isletas:
Hike Mombacho Volcano
Nicaragua is packed with volcanoes, and one of the things to do in Nicaragua is hiking a volcano up to the crater. Volcán Mombacho, which can be seen from the lake in Granada, is a fun one to go to. Although it has not erupted recently, it is very much active. I recommend going on a guided hike, as it is easy to get lost there. You can also try zip lining – there are 17 platforms from where you can fly. This Mombacho hike and canopy tour may be a good option.
Hiking Volcano Masaya is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
See the lava at Masaya Volcano
Volcán Masaya is perhaps the most active volcano in the country, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can walk along the Santiago crater, although smoke and steam come out of it and the sulfurous gases give a funny smell. Access to some of the view points is sometimes closed as there often are rumors that people jump in the crater! There are various hiking trails and it is also possible to rent a horse to go all the way to the crater to see the lava.
The best time to do it is at night, when the sight of the lava will be even clearer. You can book a guided tour here or enquire locally – it’s probably cheaper to book locally and you should expect to pay around $20 USD.
Go on a day trip to Masaya and Coyotepe
The entire Masaya area is actually very interesting to visit but you should go on a guided tour as it makes the various connections easier in terms of transportation. Besides a good guide can explain the facts of the region.
The Fortaleza de Coyotepe was built in 1893 on the Cerro de los Coyotes and it is where political prisoners were held during the Somoza dictatorship.
The Mercado de Artesanías of Masaya is also fun to visit, and make sure to finally stop in a family run pottery farm in Santo Domingo (my favorite is that of Duilio, who shows the entire process of making pottery and has some beautiful pieces for sale).
Here it is possible to book a good guided trip to Masaya online.
Spend a day (or more) at Laguna de Apoyo
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is chilling at Laguna de Apoyo. This can be easily accessed from Granada and many will go on a day trip, but I really recommend spending a couple of days there, as it truly is idyllic.
This crater lake is 175 meters deep and since there still is a lot of volcanic activity the water is really warm, making it pleasant to swim. Add to this the fact that motor boats aren’t allowed on the lake and that the water is incredibly pristine, and you will definitely want to jump in! Another fun thing to do there is renting a kayak or a SUP to explore the lake. There are various places where you can rent one for around $10 USD.
Visiting Leon is a must-do!
Walk around León
Visiting León is one of the things to do in Nicaragua, perhaps the best. There is an all Nicaraguan debate that tourists are often asked to join, where locals may ask you to express a preference for either León or Granada. To give you an idea of my preference, just know that I was meant to spend 3 days in Leon and ended up staying there for 3 weeks.
At little over one hour by bus from Managua, León is the most intensely political city of the country. It buzzes with energy, it is lively, full of young people (it is a university city and in fact Nicaragua’s first university was founded here in 1912), packed with interesting museums and murals, and gorgeous in a decadent kind of way. León served as the capital of Nicaragua during colonial times.
It also the hottest city in the country, and I don’t just mean politically. Temperatures stay well over 30° C throughout the year. No wonder the day start so early here: an air raid kind of alarm rings several times a day, the first one at 7 am, which is when the city comes to full life.
I recommend joining a walking tour of Leon to see all the city highlights before going into a more detailed visit of what the city has to offer. The best one is this Leon guided walking tour including entrance fees.
Try to also make it to Barrio Subtiava, a lovely neighborhood, around 12 blocks from the city centre, pleasant to walk around and very pretty. There is a market too, and this is where the buses to the nearest beaches leave from.
Where to stay in León
There is an entire street in town that is packed with hostels and backpackers bars – up to you if you want to hang out there or not. My go to place is Posada La Gordita, not far from the La Colonia upscale grocery store, a great place and a very good budget option. Rooms are plain and simple and the place is kept spotless and very safe.
Hotel El Convento, on the other hand, is the most expensive one in town. The spacious rooms are lined around a gorgeous garden. The hotel is actually located in what really used to be a convent, so there is much of a museum feeling to it.
Where to eat in León
My favorite place in town is Asados Pelibuey, a comedor that is a favorite of the locals. It serves Nicaraguan staples in a friendly and relaxed environment. The average price of a full meal is an unbeatable $3 USD! On the more expensive side there is Al Carbón. The house specialty is meat. The food is good, but service is not the best, especially with larger groups.
Leon cathedral is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua
Visit the largest Cathedral of Central America
The Cathedral of León is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua. This is the largest cathedral in Central America, and it is said that the church was actually meant to be built in Lima, Peru. It is a massive building, that offers repair from the heat. The tomb of poet Ruben Darío is here. A fun thing to do inside the cathedral is trying to find the hidden eyes, which are triangles (representing the holy trinity) containing an eye inside and which are well hidden with the rest of the artwork. In my many visits, I have only been able to spot 3 but there are 7, apparently.
The roof of the cathedral has been recently restored and it can be visited for a small fee. The view from up there is spectacular, but I recommend to wear socks and sunglasses: everything has been painted white and you will be asked to take your shoes off, and the white paint reflects the light in a blinding way.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another cool church in León is the Iglesia de la Recolección, which has a beautiful yellow baroque facade.
Pay respect to the revolution fighters
Right on the opposite side of the main square from the cathedral, the Museo de la Revolución is a great one, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. The museum is entirely run by veterans of the revolution, who will take you around the exhibit for a small fee, but keep in mind they only speak Spanish.
For each print, picture and document they have a story to tell, and they often proudly show the scars they got during battles. The building used to be the telecommunication company headquarters that the revolution forces conquered in battle. It is run down yet charming and it is possible to get to the roof for a great view of León and its surroundings.
The gorgeous patio of the museum
Marvel at art at Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián
Some of the best museums in Nicaragua are in León. One you shouldn’t miss is the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián, perhaps the best museum of contemporary art in Central America. There are pieces of famous Cuban, Peruvian and other Latin American artists; there are several Picassos, Rubens, Chagalls, Boteros and Diego Riveras. The museum is located in two beautiful colonial buildings facing each other, with lovely patios and fountains. The bonus? It is open even on Sundays.
Learn about Nicaragua traditions at the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones
Another interesting museum in León is the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. It may appear tacky at first but it is very entertaining and it explains a lot about the culture of Nicaragua. It is located in what is known as La XXI (the 21st Garrison), a former prison, and along with the life size figures of people from Leónese history, there also are murals which depict the methods of torture used by the Guardia Nacional on the prisoners. To make sense of it, you really need a guide – you can get one directly at the museum for a really small fee.
Go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro
Nicaragua is the land of lakes and volcanoes, so one of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike. But Volcán Cerro Negro will give you a whole different experience, because after the hike you can go volcano boarding.
The hike itself would not be hard, were it not for the incessant wind and for the fact that you have to carry the wooden sled all the way to the top. As it is a difficult place to reach, and you need boards which you aren’t likely going to carry around during your trip, this experience can really only be tried on guided tours.
These two are the best ones:
Check out my post “What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua” for more information.
The stunning view from the top of Cerro Negro
Spend the night on an active volcano
If you aren’t tired of volcanoes yet (I assume you know I love them!), one of the coolest things to do in Nicaragua is spending the night on top of an active volcano. Telica is by far the best, as it offers the most incredible views that span all the way to the Pacific and to the nearby volcanoes. As this is an active volcano, you will be able to see smoke coming out from it all the time, but there isn’t as much lava as in Masaya.
The hike may be a bit of a technical one, and since it is easy to get lost in the area, you really should opt for a guided tour such as this Telica Volcano at twilight.
Leon Vieja is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Diana Facile
Go to Léon Vieja
León Vieja can be visited on a day trip from León. It takes about one hour to get there on public transportation. The ruins of the old capital lie at the foot of Volcán Momotombo. The city was founded in 1524 and abandoned a century later after being destroyed by a series of earthquakes. The site isn’t certainly the most amazing one you will see, but the place is quiet and breezy, a guide is included in the entry fee making the visit more interesting and it is overall worth going.
Swim through Somoto Canyon
There is little doubt that one of the top things to do in Nicaragua is going to Somoto Canyon. This is one of the country’s best kept secrets. It’s a place where you will find a series of natural pools with clear waters, all surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs from where you can jump.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though you can visit Somoto Canyon independently, it’s much better and easier to go there on a guided tour departing from Leon. Ask at your hostel or hotel to organize the trip for you!
Spend a day at the beach
Some of the best Nicaragua beaches are near León. At about 30 minutes by bus it is possible to reach Poneloya and Las Peñitas. One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is catching an amazing sunset on the Pacific Ocean and these beaches are just perfect for that.
While Poneloya is a local beach where you won’t find much in terms of services, Las Peñitas is a surfers’ hub so you will find more in terms of services as well as restaurants and kiosks where you can rent all sort of equipment and have a bite or a drink.
Visit Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado
The Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado is a lovely place to visit not far from León, and a paradise for bird watchers. Depending on the season, turtles lay their eggs on the beach so it may be possible to participate in a tour to observe them.
Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua
Visit a rum factory
Not far from León ,Flor de Caña distillery is where the most well known rum in the country is made and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can learn how rum is made and then try samples of various kinds offer samples! You can book a tour to Flor de Caña distillery here.
And a coffee farm
Not many know, but Nicaragua actually produces coffee and it’s actually really good. The most interesting coffee plantation tours are in Isla de Ometepe (more about it below), but the highlands of Matagalpa are also good places for that. You may want to try to go to Selva Negra, where there usually are two daily tours for around $20 USD.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Selva Negra from Matagalpa, take a chicken bus towards Jinotega and just get off at Selva Negra. It’s just 12 km but keep in mind that chicken buses are slow!
The view of the old cathedral of Managua, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Most people who visit Nicaragua skip the capital Managua altogether. I say that visiting Managua is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. Sure, you may not want to spend a week there, but I think that it is worth going for at least half a day, maybe making a stop when going from Granada to León.
The centre of town is lined with some huge yellow metal trees, following a project of Nicaragua first lady. There are 100 of these trees in Managua. They are an adaptation of a famous drawing of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Each tree has costed $20000 USD, certainly causing concern in a country plagued by poverty. Yet, they are interesting to see.
Plaza de la Revolución, not far from Lake Managua, is a huge square where the Sandinista commander Carlos Fonseca tomb is located. This is also where the old cathedral is – it is now close to public, as it was shattered by the 1972 earthquake that destroyed much of the city.The clock on the tower has stopped at the exact time of the earthquake.
The Palacio de la Cultura is right next to the old cathedral, and exhibits lots of artifacts from the pre-colonial times.
One of the landmarks of Managua and among the interesting places to visit in Nicaragua is the Parque Historico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa. Right on top of the hill there is a huge statue of the national hero Sandino. The view from the Loma de Tiscapa is stunning.
Huellas de Acahualinca is a small archeological site in Managua, and perhaps its most interesting attraction. So including a visit during the trip is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These ancient footprints used to be buried under compacted volcanic material and the tracks have been discovered by some workers in 1874.
There are 10 sets of prints, all dated back to around 6000 years ago, and all pace towards the lake – showing that people were leaving the area following a volcanic eruption. It is thought there are many more prints still to be found. The site is closed on Sundays.
The Nueva Catedral is not exactly the most beautiful church you will ever see, and visiting may hardly be one of the unmissable things to do in Nicaragua, I bet you will like it. It is a very big building, colorful inside and very airy thanks to the many windows and 63 domes that supposedly provide structural support in case of earthquakes.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Isla de Ometepe
Hang out in Isla de Ometepe
There is no doubt that visiting Isla the Ometepe is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.
Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which hosts two active volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas). Vegetation is lush, there are nice small beaches, a lagoon, archeological sites, and incredible wildlife. And most of all, it just is so relaxing. The two biggest settlements in the island are Altagracia and Moyogalpa, both located at the bottom of Volcán Concepción. They are more geared to tourism than the rest of the villages. However, I think the best part of the island is that around Volcán Maderas.
Balgüe is perhaps the smallest village on the island, yet the most charming, no more than a few houses along the main road, no internet access, no ATM and only a few local shops. Life is slow paced, people are welcoming.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike, and Isla de Ometepe is perfect for that! Both volcanoes can be hiked. Maderas is less challenging, but still a tough 8 hours hike due to the muddy terrain and the thick vegetation of the cloud forest. Make sure to get a guide if you intend to hike, as it’s easy to get lost! Hiking trips usually leave from Finca Magdalena, in Balgüe.
Volcán Concepción is even harder to hike (10 to 12 hours) on trails that start either in Altagracia or Moyagalpa. You can also hike to the 35 meters high waterfall of San Ramón, leaving on a bike from Balgüe.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe can be reached by ferry from Granada, San Jorge (near Rivas) and San Carlos (on the border with Costa Rica). I don’t recommend doing so, but if you are tight on time you can go on a full day trip to Ometepe Island departing from Granada.
Where to stay and where to eat in Ometepe
On my last visit of Ometepe, I stayed in Balgüe, at Finca Magdalena. This is off the main road, at about 1.5 km which I had to hike, backpack and all, because no cars or buses get there. The Finca is a huge wooden hut with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. All around there are coffee plantations which you can visit on a guided tour. The accommodation is extremely basic, but the location makes it perfect. Meals are available too.
A better place to stay in Balgüe is Totoco Ecolodge, which has spectacular views and a fantastic swimming pool to hang out and relax.
The best restaurant in the area is Café Campestre. The English owner is a really great host, who has brought some variety in what is otherwise available on the island. I was delighted to find falafel and curry dishes there.
Unmissable: Nicaragua beaches near San Juan del Sur – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
Catch the waves in San Juan del Sur
As far as Nicaragua beaches, San Juan del Sur is hard to beat. What used to be a fishing village has developed into a bigger place that is well geared to tourism, with lots of accommodations and restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. San Juan del Sur is a favorite of surfers and backpackers and is also a great place to catch a wonderful Pacific sunset – definitely one of the things to do in Nicaragua.
South of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua beaches can’t really get much better than Playa El Coco, a great stretch of beautiful sand and cliffs.
GOOD TO KNOW: If admiring local wildlife is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua, make sure to go to the wildlife refuge Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, which is at about 20 km south of San Juan del Sur. It’s a place where turtles lay their eggs – between 9:00 pm and 2:00 am, between July and January. It can be visited on a guided tour leaving from San Juan del Sur.
One of the best places to stay in San Juan del Sur is the Rancho Chilamate Horse Ranch. The surroundings are just amazing!
Discover Tola Beaches and Maderas Beaches
Tola beaches are among the best Nicaragua beaches, and they retain that feeling of a lost paradise.
Playa Maderas, which is North of San Juan del Sur, is one of the most stunning Nicaragua beaches. It is a lovely sandy beach perfect for sunbathing and has rocky expanses that offer great tide pooling.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Corn Island – photo courtesy of Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner
Relax in the Corn Islands
Caribbean paradise couldn’t get much better than this. Visiting the Corn Islands is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These two small islands that have little bays, coves and underwater caves are located 70 km away from the east coast of Nicaragua.
Great Corn is the biggest of the two and is populated by Creoles living in colorful wooden houses. Little Corn is tiny, only 500 people live on this small island where there are no cars and which is a real jewel for diving enthusiasts.
Life is slow in the Corn Islands: these are the places to visit in Nicaragua to relax, snorkel, dive, lay at the beach, eat some amazing seafood and feel in paradise. Most people tend to opt for the quieter Little Corn but during the high season it may well be the case that there are more tourists than locals.
There are some guesthouses, hotels and bungalows on the island – my favorite is Yemaya Island Hideway & Spa – and restaurants (the most popular one is Habana Libre) offer great fresh seafood and fish as well as some of the Nicaraguan staples. Tranquilo café has great burgers!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: In order to get to Great Corn Island, catch a flight from Managua via Bluefields or a boat ride from Bluefields. Another boat (locally called panga) is then needed to get from Great Corn to Little Corn: it may get really rough on the way there, and often passengers get soaking wet so it is a good precaution to carry garbage bags to cover the luggage.
Places to visit in Nicaragua: Rio San Juan – photo courtesy of Chiara
Get lost in Río San Juan
The river that signals the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica runs for almost 200 km from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean sea. Río San Juan has often been a cause of tension between the two countries. Visiting Río San Juan is one of the things to do in Nicaragua if you love nature, wildlife (including caymans) and bird watching.
The best starting point to visit Río San Juan is Boca de Sábalos, a town set at the confluence between Río San Juan and Río Sábalos, where there are various accommodation options. You can get there by boat from San Carlos, on Lake Nicaragua.
From Boca de Sábalos it is possible to visit the Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, one of the most impressive rainforests in Central America. The reserve is hardly penetrable until the village of San Juan del Norte, a small town that is surrounded by lagoons, dense rainforest and some great Nicaragua beaches on the Caribbean coast.
This is a great starting point to visit the indigenous communities or to explore the ruins of Greytown, a British outpost across the bay that has been abandoned and has been swallowed by the jungle. Definitely one of the places to visit in Nicaragua.
Go to El Castillo
Easily reached from Boca de Sábalos or San Carlos, and on the way to Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, El Castillo makes for a nice stop. It is a fortress built by the Spaniards in 1675 to stop the pirates going to Granada. It was sacked many times, including once by Horatio Nelson.
Discover Solentiname Archipelago
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is visiting Solentiname Archipelago. This is made of 36 small islands and located on the southern shores of Lake Nicaragua and it became famous as the place where the priest Ernesto Cardenal founded a rural community in the 1960s. It is a great place for bird-watching, hiking, and just meeting the interesting local community.
The main island is Mancarron, and there you will be able to visit Cardenal chapel, which is decorated with paintings by Roger Perez de la Rocha.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: you can get to Solentiname by boat from San Carlos.
Eating gallo pinto for breakfast is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Christel Stol
Try all the local specialties
Nicaragua produces some amazing fruit and is actually one of the biggest producers of beef in Central America: in fact beef is delicious here. It is also common to find lamb (locally called pelibuey) and lots of fresh fish and seafood along the coast.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is having a fresh juice. Needless to say, fruit in Nicaragua is delicious, and fruit juice is always made from scratch: just lots of juice, purified water and ice, a hint of sugar and at most some yogurt.
It is very common to find fresh fruit stalls in the streets and squares: vendors peel and cut the fruit and sell it for a very cheap price. It’s a really healthy snack! Other common snacks are fried yucca and plantain.
While the local cuisine is not internationally famous, you won’t have troubles finding good eats. Gallo pinto (rice and beans) is the national staple, and chances are you’ll have it for every meal.
Other local favorites include patacones (fried plantain croquettes, which can be accompanied by queso, a mild local cheese); vigoron, a dish made of a cabbage salad, yucca and chicharrones (pork scratchings) served on a banana leaf. Quesillos are delicious, filling and a real cholesterol bomb: a freshly baked corn tortilla is filled with two thin slices of a mild cheese, similar to mozzarella, then a salad made of onions and tomatoes and seasoned with vinegar is added, everything is wrapped together, salted and a lot of cream is poured on them. They are messy to eat, and thus served on plastic wraps. Not for the health conscious!
Local alcoholic drinks include rum – the most popular and best one is Flor de Caña – and light beers such as Toña and Victoria, which can be found also in bottles of 1 liter. There even is Nicaraguan wine, but you can honestly pass on that! Coffee on the other hand is very good.
The cheapest places to eat in Nicaragua are fritangas, which are street food stalls usually serving home cooked meals such as gallo pinto and also have a barbecue where they grill meat or chicken. Market stalls are also very cheap. Comedores or cafetínes are the Nicaraguan version of budget eateries.
They pretty much serve the same food that fritangas offer, and in fact most of them used to be fritangas which then became popular and expanded their business. A meal in a comedor usually costs no more than $4 USD. There also are some lovely international and fusion restaurants in the country, especially in the most touristy destinations.
GOOD TO KNOW: Water is supposedly safe to drink in some places in Nicaragua, but it’s probably best to avoid tap water and opt for bottled one or bring a filter with you. Restaurants and bars use purified water for ice and to prepare food, so it usually is safe to eat and drink.
Go to Estelì
If you are exhausted from the heat of Nicaragua, pack your bags and head straight to Estelì for a change. I bet you will enjoy having to cover with a blanket to sleep!
To be fair, the city is nothing special. But the surroundings are packed with beautiful places and it is worth making the effort to go. The best thing to do in the area is visiting the waterfalls. The most famous one is Tisey Estanzuela, which you can reach on a cheap taxi ride.
GOOD TO KNOW: Other further away waterfalls are Colocondo and Quiabuc Las Brisas, but these require a bit more of an effort to go – and possible a guided day trip.
Visit a tobacco plantation
Chances are that if you think of tobacco and cigars, the first country that comes to your mind is Cuba. But – check this out – Nicaragua actually has its very own tobacco plantations, and the know-how to grow tobacco was actually brought to the country by Cubans who fled the revolution.
Not far from Estelì, you will find several cigar factories that you can visit for a few dollars. You will obviously be able to buy cigars (but keep in mind they need humidity and to be refrigerated in order to last) and you can even have a go at rolling one yourself.
Visit Reserva Natural Miraflor
Close to Estelì, this nature reserve is a paradise for bird-watching, hiking, horse riding and more waterfalls. You will be able to spot orchids, various species of birds, and even howler monkeys. As the reserve is run by the local community, you will also have the chance to experience a stay with a local family – it’s one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.
Marvel at the Cliff Carvings of El Tisey
North of Estelì you will find El Tisey, a place where Alberto Gutiérrez Jirón spent 30 years carving all sorts of figures on the side of a cliff located in his family coffee plantation. The place is overall very pleasant to visit – and the experience definitely enhanced by the presence of Alberto, who will take you around his open air gallery. You can visit on your way back from Estanzuela waterfall.
Enjoy nature at Bosawas Biosphere Reserve
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve is a massive rainforest home to an incredible variety of wildlife. Though spotting the jaguar is practically mission impossible, you can still admire several species of birds and monkeys.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You need a guide and a permit to visit the reserve, as it really is a remote place and easy to get lost. Expeditions need to be properly arranged as you’ll have to plan for food and drinks, and you really must go there well equipped in terms of clothing and prepared for a high level of discomfort. The reserve is at about 350 km north of Managua, and best accessed from Siuna, where you will find a Bosawas Office.
Visit Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Nicaragua
Deciding when to visit Nicaragua
The good news is that the weather in Nicaragua is always hot – at times unbearably so, actually. There are a few places to visit in Nicaragua where the temperatures are a bit milder. I bet you are thinking that you don’t mind the heat too much, but trust me: you will end up sweating so much that you won’t think about visiting Estelì and the surrounding mountains twice, just to have a break.
The best time to visit Nicaragua is during its dry season, from November to March or April: the sunny days and dry weather, however, attract more people (but Nicaragua is never too crowded).
The rainy season starts at the end of March, and this is when the country is as green as it gets. I hardly recommend going between September and November: prices may be much cheaper, but it is the tail of the hurricane season and floods and rain may really ruin the trip.
Things to do in Nicaragua: enjoy amazing sunsets
Arriving in Nicaragua
The only international airport in Nicaragua is Managua. There is a $10 USD entry fee that all visitors have to pay (it’s just $2 USD if you cross by land). Customs is really easy to clear, but some officers may ask a proof of onward travel to a different country.
Nicaragua is part of the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement, a treaty that also includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and that allows the free movement across borders between the four countries. In practice, this means that when you are entering one of the four countries you get a 90-days visa and in order to renew that it will be necessary to travel outside of them (ie in Costa Rica, Mexico or Belize).
Crossing the border to Nicaragua
You can cross the border between Nicaragua and Honduras at Las Manos, El Espino or El Guasule. There is also a boat service crossing the Gulf of Fonseca and connecting Potosí in Nicaragua to La Union in El Salvador, where you have to pay a $2 USD exit fee.
Not many people actually use this crossing, and in fact I recommend not to as well (and that’s because I have done it myself a couple of times). The tide changes dramatically within a few hours, the waves make the crossing a difficult one, and what is often described as a leisurely trip is in fact a bumpy crossing where you may get soaking wet.
The border with Costa Rica can be crossed at Peñas Blancas or by boat via Los Chiles. Costa Rican authorities require anybody entering the country to show proof of onward travel, in the form of either a bus or a plane ticket.
Make sure to read my post “Latin America Border Crossing: What You Need To Know.”
Things to do in Nicaragua: meeting the lovely locals – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Currency in Nicaragua
The Nicaraguan currency is the Cordoba. The exchange rate is around 35 Cordobas for one US Dollar at the moment. Dollars are widely accepted, and in any case you can exchange them at any bank.
Furthermore, money can be exchanged even in the street. At any corner in the center of cities and near a bank there are men, usually wearing a badge, who exchange money at the official rate. It is completely safe to do so – just make sure to count how much you need to change and calculate how much you should expect in return.
People sometimes ask me if it is safe to visit Nicaragua. You will probably hear stories of people being robbed, but I have always felt safe there even as a solo female traveller. In fact, I find it to be one of the safest countries in Latin America.
The safety measures you need to adopt are the usual one: keep an eye on my belongings and avoid walking alone and in the dark in areas that are not considered safe, but other than that, you shouldn’t have any problems even when taking the bus.
Make sure to get a good travel insurance before traveling. You can find a good one here. Obviously, being able to effectively communicate in Spanish helps. Only the people who work in tourism really speak English!
Moving around Nicaragua
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is traveling by chicken bus. Chicken buses are old American school buses that have been driven all the way to Central America, their engine substituted, and they are now used for public transportation. They are very cheap, if only a bit uncomfortable: they only leave when full – and by full, I mean packed to the point you may really feel like chickens in a cage.
I still think they are fun: they are a great part of the culture of the country, locals widely use them, and you even get to see the odd chicken every now and then. And in the middle of all those people, the ticket man goes around to collect the fares, and street vendors get on board to sell whatever goods – from fruit to drinks, from pens to medicines.
Things to do in Nicaragua: ride a chicken bus – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
The buses follow a fixed route, but there aren’t real bus stops. So, as long as on the route, people can get on and off the bus continuously, which means that the bus stops every minute or so and that trips that would normally take 30 minutes may take even over one hour.
Stations are actually fun places to visit in Nicaragua: while the drivers wait for the buses to fill in, the ticket men go around the station calling the destination and looking for passengers. It makes the place very lively and noisy, as well as colorful. Some buses have been beautifully restored: newly painted and decorated, the ones that cover longer distances even have flat screen tv and a good sound system.
Taxis in Nicaragua are very cheap, and usually have a fixed price per area. Make sure to ask how much it will be to go to your destination before getting on board, and if you are traveling long distance barter a bit – but drivers tend to be honest. Taxis are shared, which means that even if there’s already someone on board, the taxi will stop to pick up other passengers, as long as they are going in the same direction. A good way to meet local people.
Hitching rides is common, but use your good judgement before doing so.
What to pack for a trip to Nicaragua
One of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua is traveling with a backpack rather than a suitcase. The road conditions are such that it is hard to carry around a suitcase. As for a backpack, I recommend the Osprey Ariel 65, because it fits well and carries just the right amount of stuff. Another good one is the Berghaus Wilderness 65+15, but keep in mind it is much larger.
This is what I recommend packing:
- Hiking boots – one of the most fun things to do in Nicaragua is hiking, and they will be needed.
- A pair of Havianas– perfect to go to the beach and walk around in the city.
- Walking shoes – I love Converse All Stars. Otherwise, take a pair of good sandals.
- One or two pair of shorts.
- Hiking pants, or leggings – if planning to hike.
- A pair of jeans if going to the mountains, where it is cooler.
- A sun dress and a skirt.
- A few t-shirts and tops.
- A fleece sweater – it may get chilly in the mountains in the evening. Also carry a light scarf.
- A waterproof jacket, because it may rain. I love the one by The North Face.
- A bikini, for those beach days.
- A toiletry bag with shampoo and conditioner, a soap or shower gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, a good sunblock, deodorant, and mosquito repellent.
- Pharmaceuticals – prescriptions drugs as well as off the counter paracetamol, motion sickness pills and Imodium.
- A quick dry towel – this is one of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua, as some hostels don’t provide towels.
Also bring a day pack to carry sunglasses, camera, powerbank, wallet and travel documents, and even a travel guide book (you can’t really rely on the internet).
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There are several nice hikes in Guyana. The most famous and challenging one is a 5 day hike to Kaieteur Falls. Most people who visit this beautiful country in South America do so in order to enjoy its nature and wildlife, and hiking is a great way to get closer to nature. The country, famous for its thick rainforest, does have some nice mountains that make for some great hikes. Roraima, with its 2810 meters and marking the border with Brazil and Venezuela, is the most famous one – though the hike can officially only be done via Venezuela.
To discover more about Guyana, head over to my post “13 Amazing Things To Do In Guyana.” And if you care to find out more about its wildlife, read my post “The Most Amazing Wildlife in Guyana.”
You know me, and how much I love hiking. I try to do that wherever I go. Sure enough, I didn’t want to miss on the opportunity to go hiking in Guyana, and despite the terrible heat and humidity I made the most of it and truly enjoyed the experience.
This post highlights 3 nice, short yet challenging hikes in Guyana that I have the chance to do when I visited, and provides some tips to make the most of the experience.
The sunset view from Awarmie Mountain makes this one of the top hikes in Guyana
3 Short Yet Challenging And Rewarding Hikes In Guyana
Awarmie Mountain Hike
The one to Awarmie Mountain is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana, and a classic for anybody who visits the North Rupununi region. The overall hike is about 1.7 km long – which isn’t much at all; and the peak is located at around 300 meters above sea level – which, again, isn’t much at all.
Yet between the heat and the humidity, the steepness of the trail and the muddy, uneven terrain (which apparently is the normality when hiking in Guyana), I found this hike as hard as some of the hikes I have done at a good altitude, such as the hikes in the Dolomites I did last summer.
The trail starts at the bottom of the mountain, and it is fairly easy to follow. It goes through some agricultural land where some people of the Rewa community live and work – here it is possible to see how they cultivate cassava and how they prepare farine.
Most of the trail is in the shade, as it goes through the thick forest – but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t hot! The initial part of the trail is quite flat, but soon after crossing the indigenous settlement the trail becomes steep, and on several points it is necessary to to hold on to the railings.
The first view point, from where there is a stunning view of the river, is at about 20 minutes walk from the starting point. After that, the only other view is from the top. Once the view opens up, it becomes clear why this is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana. It is simply splendid!
It shouldn’t take more than one hour and 15 minutes from the starting point to the peak. It took me around 50 – but I sprinted up a bit because I was really looking forward to the view, which was nothing short of stunning (easy to see why to me this is one of the must do hikes in Guyana!). In one direction, there are uninterrupted views of the Rupununi River and the Kanaku Mountains in the distance. In the other direction, the view goes all the way to the Iwokrama Mountains in the distance, and the Makarapan Mountain, much closer.
Important things to note when hiking Awarmie Mountain
Classified as a moderate hike, this (as many of the hikes in Guyana) turns out to be more on the difficult side for anyone who is not accustomed to the heat of this part of the world. The overall hike (there and back) takes little over 2 hours.
Rewa Ecolodge organizes guided hikes to Awarmie Mountain, providing transportation (a boat ride) to the starting point; setting up a camp (hammocks, mosquito nets and a dug out toilet) at the top, so it is possible to spend the night there and waking up to a magnificent sunrise; and providing meals and water to drink. The overall experience is amazing, making this one of the most beautiful hikes in Guyana.
How to reach Awarmie Mountain
The best starting point to hike Awarmie Mountain is Rewa Ecolodge. From there, it is a short boat ride (around 20 minutes).
As far as hiking in Guyana, Surama is one of the best!
Surama Mountain Hike
When visiting Surama, it is pretty much a must to hike Surama Mountain. It is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana. The trail is longer than the one to Awarmie Mountain – a total of a bit less than 7 km there and back; but like Awarmie, the peak (well, at least the highest point that can be reached on the trail) sits at a bit less than 300 meters above sea level.
Once again, between the heat, the steepness and the terrain the hike can be rather difficult. Virtually all of the hike is in the shade, as it goes through the forest. The first part of the hike is nice and flat, though the terrain is rather uneven as it follows a creek (where there is no water during the dry season).
However, at about one third of the way the path starts going uphill, and it becomes steep and more difficult as it is necessary to climb over several unsteady rocks, and there isn’t much to hold on to.
As opposed to other hikes in Guyana, such as Awarmie Mountain, there are no in between view points here. In order to get a view it is necessary to go all the way to the top. Once there, this opens up all the way to Surama, showing the village and the mountains in the distance.
Important things to note when hiking Surama Mountain
Like most hikes in Guyana, the hike to Surama Mountain is classified as a moderate difficulty one. Once again, it is the heat that causes most of the difficulty. The top can be reached in around one hour and 10 minutes, and it takes just as much to get back to the starting point (so calculate around 2 and a half hours for the entire hike).
Once at the top, there is a very limited space from where to enjoy the view and it is not possible to camp overnight.
As it is necessary to walk all the way back, make sure to keep track of the timing as there isn’t much light in the forest even well before the sun goes down. Make sure to carry a torch or a headlamp to be on the safe side.
How to reach Surama Mountain
The best starting point to hike Surama Mountain is Surama Ecolodge, where it is possible to hire a guide (it’s probably a good idea, because the forest is so thick that it is easy to get lost) and from where it is possible to catch a ride to the beginning of the trail.
Iwokrama is one of the nicest nature walks in Guyana
Iwokrama Forest Trail
The Iwokrama Forest Trail is more a nature walk than an actual hike. However, since there is a steep part that requires some puffing up a hill, I like to mention it among the hikes in Guyana.
The trail goes through the forest to reach Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, and it is a fantastic way to appreciate the thick jungle of Guyana. It isn’t a difficult trail at all, save for the 160 steps that must be climbed to reach the starting point of the Canopy Walkway, and for the fact that the area tends to be very wet and muddy.
The trail is about 1 km long from its starting point at Atta Lodge to the beginning of the Canopy Walkway, though the actual trail goes on for much longer into the forest. I would have gladly walked some more of it, where it not for the fact that I was caught in a thunderstorm the minute I made it to the Canopy Walkway and had to run back to the lodge for shelter.
The trail is a great place to observe more of the local flora and fauna, with several kinds of trees clearly signaled for visitors.
Important things to note when walking in Iwokrama Forest
This is more a leisurely walk than a real hike, but the terrain gets muddy so it is easy to slip and fall. Wearing good boots is a must! The trail is fairly easy to follow, but keep in mind that as the forest is very thick, there isn’t much light as soon as the sun starts to go down. It’s better to carry a torch.
How to reach Iwokrama Forest
Iwokrama Forest can be easily reached from Atta Lodge, one of nicest community lodges in Guyana, which is actually set right in the middle of it.
The best time to set for hiking in Guyana is the early morning
The Best Time For Hiking in Guyana
Guyana knows two season: the dry one is between September and December, and the rainy one in December and January and May to July. The main difficulty when hiking in Guyana is the terrible heat, and there is no way to avoid it. The best time to go hiking in Guyana, then, is during the dry season, when there are less chances of rain.
Tips For Hiking In Guyana
Go early in the day (or later in the afternoon)
The hikes in Guyana that I have mentioned can all be walked in a couple of hours or little more. As I have said before, the best time for hiking in Guyana is during the dry season. Either way, however, it will be hot. Having said so, even though the heat in Guyana is pretty much incessant, I still recommend avoiding the central hours of the day, when there is no escaping the sun. Make sure to go either early in the morning, or in the late afternoon.
Though one may be tempted to wear tank tops and shorts to get a little break from the terrible heat of Guyana, it is important to note that in this country malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other insects such as ticks and chiggers are an issue. It’s better to wear long pants, a light cotton long sleeve shirt, and good hiking boots that hold the ankle. Make sure to also wear a hat, and regularly apply sunblock and mosquito repellent.
Read my post on what to pack for Guyana, which includes plenty of tips on what you should carry should you intend to hike.
Drink lots of water
In the heat of Guyana, it is easy to get dehydrated. Make sure to drink lots of water during a hike – carry at least a liter even on shorter hikes, more for longer ones. Water gets warm quite fast because of the heat, so a flask that holds the temperature may be the best solution.
Other tips for hiking in Guyana
Most of the hikes in Guyana that I have described in this post are on the easy side for anyone used to hiking. However, save for Iwokrama, the trails aren’t well marked and between that and the fact that the forest is very thick, it is easy to get lost. I recommend hiring the services of a local guide to take you around, and to give back to the local community.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Guyana during my visit, and wish to thank them for the wonderful welcome and the incredible experiences. The views expressed in this post remain my own.
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Hiking the Poon Hill Trek, in Nepal, was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
If you, like me, never miss a chance to hike and think that this is a fantastic way to get close to nature, to learn more about the history, culture and way of life of a country, and even to meet other travelers, and enjoy long distance hikes, you will love the Poon Hill trek.
In this post, I explain everything you should know about the Poon Hill trek – from a detailed day by day description, to all the things you need to know to properly plan it.
The lovely Pokhara is the typical starting point of the Poon Hill Trek
Why You Should Hike The Poon Hill Trek
Nepal is hiking paradise. If you love hiking as much as I do you will end up going to Nepal at some point. The Annapurna Base Camp and the Everest Base Camp are the most popular hikes, for obvious reasons, but they to require a high level of fitness (which I may have) and a long time to be walked.
The Poon Hill Trek, an incredibly scenic and somewhat challenging multi-day hike that starts in Nayapul and goes through the tiny mountain villages of Tirkhedunga, Ghorepani, Tadapani, to eventually reach the lovely Ghandruk and then lead back to Nayapul.
The Poon Hill trek goes through a variety of climates and landscapes (from temperate forest to rice terraces and alpine region), and it gives the opportunity to encounter different cultures and ethnicities. More importantly so, throughout the hike the views of the Annapurna South are spectacular.
It is a challenging yet rewarding hike. On some days, the hike is almost completely uphill, which is hard on the lungs and on the quadriceps. On others, there are a lot of downhills, which on the other hand is hard on the knees. Add to this that it may (and will) rain and the trail becomes incredibly muddy, and it’s easy to imagine how hard it is.
Hiking the Poon Hill trek was a fantastic experience. Continue reading to discover what you need to know about it.
The lake in Pokhara is splendid at sunset
A Day By Day Itinerary Of The Poon Hill Trek
Day 0: from Kathmandu to Pokhara
Pokhara is the typical starting point of hiking and adventure expeditions in Nepal. It can be reached by bus from Kathmandu, on a ride that can take anything between 5 and 9 hours; or by plane, on a flight that lasts no more than 30 minutes and that offers spectacular views of the Himalayas.
Pokhara is thought to be the adventure and tourism capital of Nepal. It is located at around 900 meters above sea level, and with a population of roughly 450000 people.
Unless you are flying there, the best way to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara is by breaking the trip to do some fun activities along the way. You can go rafting in the Trishuli river, starting in Charaudi (about 3 hours drive from Kathmandu). Between the actual rafting and the jumping in the river, you are bound to have a real blast.
Pokhara is a pleasant place where to spend a few days in preparation for the hike (there’s many shops to stock on gear for the hike) – or to go back to afterwards. It’s main attractions are a beautiful lake, that offers splendid sunset views and where it is pleasant to walk around; the International Mountain Museum, which has a great exhibit that takes visitors through the most famous expeditions on the Himalayas, as well as the flora, fauna and cultures of Nepal; and the World Peace Pagoda.
Where to sleep and eat in Pokhara
Being such a major tourist hub, there’s a great selection of places to stay and eat in Pokhara. I slept at Swapna Bagh Hotel, which has good sized rooms with comfortable beds and powerful showers, a small but nice pool, and a good onsite restaurant. Moondance is one of the best restaurants in town, with a great selection of local and international dishes (think burgers, steaks and fabulous desserts).
Lovely sights along the first day of Poon Hill trek
Day 1: from Pokhara to Tirkhedunga
The first two hours of the day 1 of the Poon Hill trek are spent driving from Pokhara to Nayapul, the actual starting point of the hike, which is located at around 1000 meters above sea level. Nayapul if where everyone stops to get the permits to hike.
Once past the bridge, the real walking starts, first to Birethanti, which is at 1065 meters above sea level; and then all the way to Tirkhedunga, which is at over 1500 meters above sea level. The hike around around 4 to 5 and it is a combination of flat and slight to steep uphill walk.
The views on the first day of the Poon Hill trek are lovely, though by far not nearly as spectacular as those of the other days. The mighty peaks of the Himalayas make a couple of appearances, but they look like a far away dream.
The trail initially follows a dirt road, so it is not uncommon to cross paths with motorbikes, jeeps, trucks and local people on their daily errands. It then goes through beautiful bamboo forests and pasture land (cows and buffaloes are a common sight). For a while, it follows the banks of Bhurungdi Khola river, which is quite a sight with lovely natural pools where kids jump to cool down.
Eventually, the trail goes past a beautiful large waterfall and it finally reaches the tiny Tirkhedunga, a lovely village to rest after a hard day of walking.
What to expect
As I have said before, the sights on the first day of the Poon Hill trek are pretty, but not nearly as spectacular as they get the following days.
Depending on the season, you will meet very few tourists along the trail. I walked the Poon Hill trek at the very end of May, which is supposed to be the start of the monsoon season and hence low season for tourism.
The first day of the Poon Hill trek is supposed to be the shortest and easiest, yet it may be the hardest. While the climb and the walk are technically easy, the heat can be almost unbearable. It may well be a seasonal thing. Either way, be prepared with lots of sunblock, a hat, and lots of water.
Where to sleep and eat
Ramghai Evergreen Hotel is a good place for lunch. It has a lovely terrace overlooking the river, and while waiting for lunch to be ready, it is possible to relax in the beautiful garden or to walk all the way to the river to soak the feet in the incredibly clear water. Food is plain, but good – expect a selection of international dishes such as fried rice, and local ones such as the unmissable dahl baht.
Laxmi is a good tea house to sleep and eat in Tirkhedunga. It is very basic – as the rest of the tea houses along the way. There are various very basic twin rooms, with electricity (but no sockets, so batteries have to be charged at reception); a toilet on the upper floor, and one on the ground floor, where there’s also a shower with hot water.
Posing triumphantly after finally reaching Ghorepani
Day 2: from Tirkhedunga to Ghorepani
On the second day of the Poon Hill trek you will be climbing all the way to Ghorepani, going from an elevation of 1500 meters above sea level to one of almost 2900 meters above sea level. That should already explain a lot about the difficulty of the day. It takes about 7 hours to hike the entire way, including the breaks.
Leaving bright and early from Tirkhedunga, the first 10 minutes of the hike are spent walking downhill. Then, past a bridge and having crossed the Bhurungdi Khola river, begins the climb uphill to the Magar village of Ulleri, where groups generally stop for a well deserved break.
The next break is for lunch, and after that, it is once again uphill walking all the way to Ghorepani.
Descriptions of the second day of the Poon Hill trek talk of around 3800 steps uphill. That is a massive underestimation: you will be climbing well over 5000.
Finally, on day 2 of the Poon Hill trek, the views open up to reveal the peaks of the Annapurna South. The pastures and cultivated fields you have seen the day before soon give way to an incredibly thick forest of oaks and rhododendrons.
The area seems to be too steep for villages to be built, but there are a few houses spread here and there – proof is that there’s a few locals that go up and down the stairs, carrying weights or leading a bunch of mules. There must be a school too, for in the early morning children are running all over in what seem to be school uniforms.
What to expect
The second day of the Poon Hill trek is hard – to many, it is painfully difficult. But I actually think it is totally doable – and it is not nearly as hot as on the first day. It does take a decent level of fitness, but more importantly what is needed is will power.
The good thing of hiking the Poon Hill trek in a group and with a guide is that members of the group support each other, and the guide is always ready to help, and to give information on what to expect next.
GOOD TO KNOW: Because of the increase in the altitude (almost 1400 meters difference from the starting point), altitude sickness symptoms may occur once in Ghorepani.
Where to sleep and eat
Green View Lodge in the village of Banthati is a good spot for lunch. They have a nice terrace with tables outside, as well as seatings inside in case of rain. The food is ok – pretty much the same variety and standard as throughout the rest of the hike.
In Ghorepani, Hotel See You is a good tea house with comfortable large rooms – mine had a huge double bed and windows on two sides, so I had an incredible view of the mountains. Rooms even have sockets to charge batteries. The toilets are on the upper floor (there are both regular ones and squat toilets) and hot showers are downstairs.
Hotel See You has a fantastic common room, incredibly cozy and with large windows for great views. There’s also nice stove that heats around which guests can sit, and a couple of cats that roam around, much to my entertainment (I love cats!). There is a good menu (which includes pancakes for breakfast).
This was the view once the rain cleared in Tadapani
Day 3: from Ghorepani to Tadapani
The third day of the Poon Hill trek is the best one in terms of sights. You will have to wake up at 3:30 am and start walking at 4:00 am, for a steady uphill hike of one hour to finally reach Poon Hill.
Once at the top, at an elevation of 3200 meters above sea level, you will be able to admire a fantastic sunrise over the Annapurna South range. There’s even a kiosk that serves tea, coffee and masala chai – which will be needed, to warm up against the bitter cold.
After about an hour at the viewpoint, the walk back to Ghorepani begins (around 45 minutes downhill), in order to have breakfast, pack the bags and start walking to Tadapani, which is at about 2650 meters above sea level.
Although the difference in elevation between Ghorepani and Tadapani is minimal, the first part of the day is spent walking uphill, and after lunch begins a steady downhill walk. The walk from Ghorepani to Tadapani takes around 6 hours.
The sights on the third day of the Poon Hill trek are simply spectacular: you will “wow” several times. You will have a chance to admire the entire Annapurna South Range, from various points of view – first and foremost that of Poon Hill.
Poon Hill is often actually completely covered in haze, and the view may be completely blocked. Apparently, it is like that most of the time, and on certain occasions it rains too. There are only 25% chances for the haze to clear.
The view remains beautiful for the rest of the morning if the weather is nice. Once in Tadapani, the views continue being incredible.
What to expect
The third day of the Poon Hill trek is hard due to the incredibly early wake up call (after an almost sleepless night due to the altitude), the steady uphill walk for the first part of the day and the incessant rain that makes it almost impossible to recognize the trail.
After lunch, you will begin a steep downhill walk which is made all the more difficult under the heavy rain. You really need good rain gear to make sure you don’t get soaked.
The third day is also the one during which you meet more people: there is quite a crowd (not even remotely overwhelming) in Poon Hill.
Where to sleep and eat
You can have lunch at the Tranquility Hotel in Naghethati. The menu was no different from that offered in other tea houses, and the service too (painfully slow when hungry). The place is actually very cozy, and the food good.
In Tadapani, you can stay at Fishtail View Top Lodge, a plain tea house with simple twin rooms set around a nice courtyard, and toilets and showers (actually piping hot) outside. The dining room at Fishtail View is nice and cozy, with a stove against which everyone hangs their wet clothes. There’s also a cat that roams the area and that enjoys a bit of attention.
Food at Fishtail View is good – the menu is the same one of other tea houses on the Poon Hill trek. The good news, however, is that real filter organic coffee is available here – as opposed to all other tea houses which only offer instant coffee. To a coffee lover like me, it was a real treat.
Ghandruk is one of the nicest villages along the Poon Hill circuit
Day 4: from Tadapani to Ghandruk
The fourth day of the Poon Hill trek is an easy one compared to the others. Walking time is about 3 hours, and most of the walk is downhill. After an initial short climb through the thick forest, the trail pushes along to offer more incredible views and it eventually reaches Ghandruk, which is at 1950 meters above sea level.
Most people reach Ghandruk by lunch time. Once there, you will have to walk through the village and eventually hike all the way up to where most of the tea houses are located. The bonus is the possibility of actually visiting a village (one of the largest in the area).
The day starts with the incredible view of the Annapurna South from Tadapani. If it rains you won’t get to see the sunrise, but it is just as well.
The trail moves along beautiful flatlands, forests inhabited by monkeys (keep quiet and look up so as to spot them) and agricultural fields. It then crosses a suspension bridge over Khumnu Khola, and there are beautiful views of the creek. It also goes through an incredibly scenic tea plantation.
Yet the most interesting part of day 4 of the Poon Hill trek is the possibility of visiting Ghandruk and getting to know more about its people, its tradition and its culture. Ghandruk is a Gurung village famous for the leading role of women. These assumed leading positions in the every day life and in the political and social aspects of the village once the village men had joined the British army.
In the village, there is a lovely small museum and a nice temple.
Smiling faces in Ghandruk
What to expect
The fourth day of the Poon Hill trek is an easy one. It is mostly downhill (save for the bits inside the village). It is a short hike (only 3 hours) after which the rest of the day is spent chilling in the tea house admiring the view of the mountains, reading, chatting, eating, sipping tea and eventually stepping out to visit Ghandruk.
Where to sleep and eat
In Ghandruk, you can eat and sleep at Snowland Lodge. The place actually is a gorgeous traditional building and the views from the garden are just unreal.
You will have a small basic twin room with electricity located on the first floor, which you can reach via a narrow, rickety wooden staircase. There also are larger rooms that fit up to 5 people on the ground floor. Toilets (only squat) and showers with hot water are outside.
There also is a nice dining room, with meals cooked to order. The menu is similar to those offered by other places along the hike.
The view from the tea house in Ghandruk was just jaw dropping
Day 5: from Ghandruk to Kimche
On the last day of the Poon Hill trek you will have to walk from Ghandruk to Kimche. Officially, the trail goes all the way back to Nayapul but most companies will have everything arranged so that a jeep will meet your group in Kimche and drive you all the way back to Pokhara.
After 4 full days of hiking, the one hour walk to Kimche literally feels like a walk in the park. The views are still very pretty, needless to say.
As the sun finally made an appearance on the Annapurna, I had to pose for a picture
General Tips And Information For Hiking The Poon Hill Trek
When to hike the Poon Hill trek
I hiked the Poon Hill trek at the very end of May, which is the beginning of the monsoon season and probably not the smartest time to hike. If you decide to do the same, beware that you will get wet in the rain and at times the clouds obstruct the view – though to be fair, every time they clear the view was spectacular. The other side of the coin, however, is that it was never too cold, even at night, and that there aren’t many people on the trail as it is the end of shoulder season.
Having said so, March and April in the spring, and September, October and November in the fall are probably the best months to hike the Poon Hill trek, as the chances of rain are much less – however, especially in November and in March, it may get really cold (below zero) especially at night.
How to organize the Poon Hill trek
If you wish to walk the Poon Hill trek independently you will be glad to know that it is completely doable, and relatively easy to walk. Of course, it is necessary to first get to Pokhara from Kathmandu. You can either take the bus on a ride that lasts around 8 hours or a short flight that last just 25 minutes.
To book a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, click here.
For direct flights from Kathmandu to Pokhara, click here.
Once you are in Pokhara, you have to then arrange transportation from Pokhara to the starting point in Nayapul and back; arrange the hiking permits (two passport size photos are required for this, and depending on the season there may be a line at the office); and if walking in peak season you may find it hard to find a place to sleep (the tea houses can’t be booked in advance, as they don’t appear in any booking engine).
The trail is mostly well marked, but there are some spots where you may get confused, take the wrong turn and end up being lost. Which is why I wholeheartedly recommend not to hike the Poon Hill trek alone (in fact, I never recommend hiking alone: you can read why here).
For the costs, these are some rough calculations:
- around 300 to 600 Rupees per night for a bed (on the basis of shared or private room);
- 100 Rupees for a hot shower;
- 100 Rupees to charge the phone and batteries;
- 100 Rupees for wifi (though it hardly ever works);
- between 200 and 400 Rupees for each meal
- between 50 and 100 Rupees for a liter of water (the costs increase with the altitude);
- between 400 and 500 Rupees for a half liter bottle of beer
Considering that the exchange rate is around 115 Rupees to $1 USD, the estimated daily cost of the Poon Hill Circuit hike can be anywhere between $15 USD and $30 USD per day, and of anything between $75 USD and $150 USD for the hike, to which the transportation and permit costs, as well as those of accommodation and food in Pokhara should be added.
I got to share my experience of hiking the Poon Hill trek with a fantastic group of people
On an organized hiking expedition
For the sake of making things easy, I would recommend walking the Poon Hill trek on a guided expedition. I did it with a company called Royal Mountain, with 2 English speaking guides (one of them always walked at the front of the group, and the other at the back), and three lovely, funny and incredibly helpful porters.
The entire trip costed $600 USD, which may seem a lot compared to the minimal costs of doing the hike independently. But keep in mind that these $600 include airport transfers, accommodation in Kathmandu and Pokhara, transportation to and from the starting point of the hike, meals, guides and porters.
You will have to add some extra money for water and whatever other drinks you may want along the hike.
You will never have to worry about where you will spend the night, and you will have the comfort of two competent guides who can communicate with the locals; of porters who can carry your stuff (no more than 10 kg per person) – because trust me, the hike is hard enough without weight on the back; and the company of an incredibly fun and supportive group.
These are some excellent guided Poon Hill treks:
If you’d rather join an organized trip to Nepal that also includes a lot of hiking (as well as the Poon Hill trek), G Adventures has some excellent ones:
- Annapurna Sanctuary: an incredible tour of Nepal that starts and ends in Kathmandu and included the Poon Hill trek and the Annapurna base camp. Perfect for hiking junkies.
- Annapurna Circuit Trek: similar to the previous tour, but with even more hiking!
What to pack for the Poon Hill trek
My advice for doing the Poon Hill trek is to pack as little as possible. This is not an occasion to show off any cool outfit, but to rejoice with nature and take a break from the stresses of daily life. And even when getting a porter, it is simply considerate to take as little as possible and making his life easier.
Having said so, spread between the daypack and the duffel bag the porters carried, I suggest carrying the following:
- A pair of really good hiking boots: I saw people walking in running shoes, but it does get slippery when it rains and having the extra ankle support helps.
- A pair of flip flops: they were essential to rest my feet after the hike, and to shower.
- Two pair of hiking pants: one of them was a pair of Kuhl quick dry pants; the other a plain pair of comfortable Kuhl pants.
- A pair of leggings I could change into at night. They were ok to go to dinner, and to sleep in.
- Three or four t-shirts: I had two colorful Kuhl cotton t-shirts as well as a couple in more technical material that dried quickly.
- A long sleeves t-shirt I used at night.
- Socks: I mostly carried cotton socks and I was ok since it wasn’t cold, but I also added a pair of hiking socks that had extra padding.
- A light sweater: I wore it at night, and when I walked to Poon Hill at sunrise.
- A rain proof jacket: I was sure that the one I had was water proof, but it wasn’t. It may have protected me against some light rain, but in the thick monsoon rain I ended being soaked to the bone. Make triple sure that the jacket is indeed water proof and carry an extra rain poncho just for good measure.
- My beauty case included the basics, to which I added a good sunblock(which I especially needed on the first day when there wasn’t much shade) and any possible drug I may need (I have asthma) and which I luckily didn’t need at all.
Other items you should carry are:
- Toilet paper and wet wipes: it is not available in tea houses.
- A refillable water bottle: in an effort to reduce plastic waste, the Nepalese government encourages everybody to drink water that has been boiled and filtered.
- A sleeping bag: although all tea houses have blankets, they don’t always have clean sheets so a sleeping back, or at least a sleeping sheet give some extra comfort.
- A quick dry towel
- A power bank
- Snacks: I had some protein bars; others in my group had trail mix or cereal bars.
Also, don’t forget to take some cash. There are no ATMs at all along the trail, and cash will be needed to pay for drinks and, at the end of the hike, to tip the guides and the porters (trust me, they will deserve it!).
Curious to know what I normally pack? Head over to read “My Ultimate Packing List.”
For a detailed guide on what to pack for a long term hike, check out my post “The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek.”
Tea houses are very basic but incredibly cozy
Accommodation and food along the Poon Hill trek
Throughout the Poon Hill trek, trekkers eat and sleep in tea houses – called bhatti in Nepalese. These are very basic guest houses with plain rooms – think two twin beds, and a small bed side table. There’s a light in the room but no socket for electricity. Toilets (usually squat) and showers (with an additional fee for hot water) are usually outside. There’s wifi for an extra fee, but it hardly works so it may be a good time to detox from internet and social media (unless carrying a local SIM card that receives well in the mountains too).
Despite being so modest, the tea houses are incredibly cozy.
Tea houses also cook meals. Food is surprisingly good given the conditions, and there’s actually a really good selection of dishes. The only thing that may be missing is good coffee. It may be a good idea to bring some ground coffee from home and just ask for hot water to brew it.
Dahl Bhat power, 24 hours quickly became our motto along the trail
Soon after starting to hike on day 2, someone in my group noticed some weird looking bugs on the ground. We immediately realized they were leeches. We kept seeing them throughout the rest of the hike – they come out more with the rain.
TIP: Always stay on the trail and bang your feet on the ground if you stop in a place where they may be leeches long enough for them to crawl on you. It’s amazing how those little things can crawl on the legs without being noticed, and once they suck on the blood, they release a substance that doesn’t allow it to coagulate. Wearing hiking boots (rather than shoes), long socks and pants is generally a good idea to protect against them.
Altitude sickness is hardly an issue on the Poon Hill trek. The elevation never gets extreme. Yet, it is a good idea to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and to take notice of any issues such as nausea or strong headaches and warn the guides if that is the case.
With the lovely guides and porters during my Poon Hill trek
Final remarks and recommendations
Hiking the Poon Hill trek is not a race. It is a great occasion to take in the gorgeous mountain views, the beautiful nature of Nepal, and to get to know the local culture a bit better. It has to be an enjoyable experience, and it surely was to me.
I always recommend people to hike at their own pace, and once they find a suitable rhythm, keep at it.
Finally, make sure to get a good travel insurance before you travel. Get a quote for a good travel insurance here.
I am sure you will enjoy every minute of your Poon Hill trek.
Looking to do more hiking? Make sure to check out the following posts:
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Nepal and PATA during my visit to Nepal. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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Hiking the Jesus Trail in Israel is a fun thing to do – even if you are not religious at all.
This is one of Israel’s most fun trails; a 4 to 7 days hike (depending on how long you walk each day) during which you can admire some of the most beautiful landscapes of Galilee, and learn more about the history and the culture of Israel.
Going from village to village, lost in the nature and often not crossing paths with anybody for an entire day, you will be able to appreciate one of the most unique regions of the country.
If you enjoy long distance hiking, you are bound to enjoy the Jesus Trail.
In this post, I highlight everything you should know before walking the Jesus Trail – from the itinerary to a few tips that will help you make the most of it. Before I do so, however, let me share a bit of background information about the trail itself.
Hiking is a great way to get closer to nature
Some Background Information About The Jesus Trail
Israel is packed with good hiking trails. The most famous one is the Israel Trail, which cuts through the country, all the way from the border with Lebanon to the south, through the Negev desert and to Eilat. It takes roughly 8 weeks to walk its full length.
The Jesus Trail is another incredible multi-day hike. You can do it for religious and spiritual reasons or – much like I did – for the simple pleasure of walking. It goes through a region of Israel where you can combine beautiful views with interesting cultural and historical aspects of the country.
The Jesus Trail is a 62 km long walk that can be covered in the space of 4 days. It starts in Nazareth, known as the city where Jesus grew up, and goes all the way to Capernaum via Zippori, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi, Moshav Arbel and Mount of Beatitudes. It pretty much crosses the entire region of Galilee, thought to be a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for trade since humans have been living there.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus – literally
Although it remains to be proved whether or not Jesus actually walked this trail, most of the sites the trail goes through have been identified as places visited by Jesus in the New Testament. What is certain is that Jesus walked this region.
Interestingly though, the Jesus Trail actually goes well beyond Christian holy sites, as it goes through Arab towns, Jewish archeological sites, Muslim shrines and even Crusader battlefields. An added bonus is the landscape of olive groves, hills, nature reserves and at the end of it the Sea of Galilee.
The idea of the trail was conceived in 2007 and the first group of hikers ventured on the trail in 2008. In 2009 the trail was officially recognized and fully marked with signs – incidentally, the same year Pope Benedict XVI visited Nazareth.
You can easily walk the Jesus Trail alone – though it may require a bit of planning. Alternatively, you can opt for a Jesus Trail pre-packaged tour which you can do with or without a guide. You can even bike it if you want. One thing for sure, I don’t recommend hiking it alone (you can read more about why I think that hiking alone is a bad idea in this post).
I did a self-guided tour which included all accommodation and meal reservations (breakfast and dinner); a Jesus Trail detailed guide book (which literally became our Bible) and updates on the trail (which we soon learned were very much needed); briefing before I actually started and regular support before and during the trail.
Hiking the Jesus Trail was an incredible experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it if you love hiking. Continue reading for a detailed itinerary and for tips to make the most of it.
Splendid views along the Jesus Trail
A 5 Day Itinerary To Hike Jesus Trail From Nazareth To The Sea Of Galilee
Day 0 – Tel Aviv to Nazareth
Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It is fairly easy to reach via bus from Tel Aviv old bus station, where there are both direct buses and shared mini vans. It takes around 3 and a half hour to get there. Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go to the Old City, so it is a bit of a walk from the final bus stop to hostels located in the centre.
Nazareth is the main city in the Galilee region. Around 70000 people live there, and pretty much 100% of the population is Israeli Arab (or rather, Palestinian), divided among Christians and Muslims. Due to its connection to Christianity, Nazareth is a major tourist spot for groups of pilgrims.
The Old City of Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail
Nazareth is an interesting city, though a bit more chaotic than you’d like. The Old City boasts a beautiful market, though most shops have been closed as a result of the renovation works and owners haven’t moved back.
There are a few historical homes in Nazareth – the most interesting one is the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful traditional Arab home with a gorgeous living room and high ceilings that is currently being used as a guest house. The best part of it is that it also is a hotel!
Other places of interest are the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is the largest church in the Middle East, and Mary’s Well and Ancient Bathhouse. A place I am sure you will love and where you will end up spening hours in is Elbabour: this amazing old mill sells all sorts of spices, teas and coffee, dry fruits and nuts. Make sure to try the za’atar, which is a mixture of herbs (mostly oregano and thyme) that is mixed with olive oil and spread on traditional Arab bread.
Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth
The best place to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn. There’s a range of private rooms with private bathroom (though they are not cheap) and of dorms with shared bathrooms. The place is incredibly charming, and quiet. The breakfast is good, the kitchen perfectly equipped and they even do occasional traditional cooking classes.
Having a good kitchen is a plus, considering that there aren’t many good options for food in Nazareth that are budget friendly. I tried Rosemary, a restaurant near Mary’s Well and the food was good and not too pricey. Other options are the various kebab places around the square – cheap and filling.
Day 1 – from Nazareth to Cana
During the first day of the Jesus Trail you will be walking out of Nazareth and (literally) finding the way to Cana. The trail starts in Nazareth Old City, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, and goes through the Market, where it is well marked: it leads to a flight of over 400 steps that take to a nice viewpoint from where the city can be admired.
Once there, the trail it goes through a suburb of the city to eventually lead to Zippori village and Zippori National Park, Mash’had Village and eventually to Cana. It pretty much feels like an urban hike for almost the entire way.
The lovely view of Cana from a distance
The views around Nazareth Old City are pretty: narrow alleys with the odd cat walking by, or children playing football; back yards with lemon trees and pouring bouganvillea flowers. From the Promenade of Nazareth the view opens up to the rest of the city below.
From Zippori National Park (for which there is an entrance fee) you will get access to Old Zippori Village, with excavations of buildings from different time periods and which include a Roman Villa from around 200 CE and various mosaics.
TIP: If you are keen to visit Zippori make sure to leave Nazareth really early.
Once past the National Park, the trail goes through a forest until it reaches Mash’had, a small town of around 7000 people, who are mostly Muslim. There, the main point of interest is the Central Mosque.
From Mash’had it is a shorter walk to Cana (known in Israel as Kfar Cana), the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. The main attraction in Cana is the Franciscan Wedding Church, where it often happens that already married Christian couples go renew their vows.
Cana, a tranquil village, is also known for its pomegranates, whose seeds are pressed into a delicious juice or used in various recipes.
The Franciscan Church is the main sight of Cana
What to expect
The walk from Nazareth to Cana is by far not the longest of the Jesus Trail – it’s only 13.6 km. It shouldn’t even be the most difficult one, because it mostly goes through small cities and villages. Yet, for some reason, it is.
The main difficulty during the first day of the Jesus Trail is in finding the way out of the city. Once on the promenade, the signs to follow are not easily visible and the constant road works imply regular changes to the actual route.
Once you get to the promenade you have to take a left turn. If not, you will end up going around in a circle and found yourself back in the Old City, having to walk up the over 400 steps again.
The good thing is that the locals you meet on the way are all really friendly.
One thing that I suspect you won’t enjoy so much on the first day of the Jesus Trail is the amount of garbage you’ll on the side of the road on the suburb areas of Nazareth and as you leave the city, and at times thrown right between the bushes and under the trees near Zippori National Park. I am not talking about a plastic bottle here and there. I am talking about literally heaps of garbage, which at times included furniture and even home appliances.
It is really sad to see that a place that would be otherwise beautiful is ruined by garbage.
The garbage was one of the bad sights of day 1 of the Jesus Trail
Where to sleep and eat in Cana
There aren’t many sleeping options in Cana. I recommend staying at Cana Wedding Guest House. There are male and female dorms and also double rooms. It’s a nice, clean place and the hosts are really caring. They have a small communal kitchen for guests use, and they serve an incredible home cooked dinner for the guests for an additional charge.
Day 2 – from Cana to Ilaniya
On the second day of the Jesus Trail you will be walking from Cana to Ilanya. From the main church in Cana, right by Cana Wedding Guest House, the trail exits the village past a lovely mosque and then goes down on a dirt road with views of the Tur’an Valley and of Tur’an town and through the forest of Beit Keshet.
It then borders an army base pretty much following the road, and takes a small detour to reach the lovely and peaceful Ilanya village.
Catching my breath after falling on day 2 of the Jesus Trail
Once leaving Cana, the path at first goes steeply downhill through the countryside. The views of Tur’an and the valley below are very pretty. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful, with nobody in sight. Once at the bottom, it becomes more gentle, with lovely hills and the Beit Keshet forest providing lots of shade.
The ending point of the second day of the Jesus Trail is usually the village of Ilaniya, a tiny community of no more than 500 people founded originally in 1899 with the name of Sejera.
It was one of the earliest model farms founded by the Jewish Colonization Association during the First Aliyah – the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Ilaniya was briefly home to David Ben Gurion, famous Zionist who later became the first prime minister of Israel.
Solitary walking on the second day of the Jesus Trail
What to expect
The walk from Cana to Ilaniya is around 11 km, and mostly downhill. Getting out of Cana is easy, but once in the countryside it’s not so easy to actually follow the trail as in some parts the signs are missing. Do keep an eye out for them. In any case, Tur’an can always be seen in the distance so it is virtually impossible to get lost.
The good news is that once at the bottom of the hill, the forest offers a lot of shade, hence being a nice break from the strong sun.
Other than in Cana, there are no shops and no water fountains along the trail so buy snacks, lunch and water before you start hiking.
Crossing beautiful green fields during the Jesus Trail
Where to sleep and eat in Ilaniya
The best place to stay in Ilaniya is Yarok Oz Ecolodge and Organic Goat Farm. It’s a family run business where they grow organic fruit and vegetables and they have a few goats and sheep that are used to produce milk and cheese. There are even a couple of lovely cats and dogs that roam around the farm.
At Yarok Oz there are some very big huts with beds inside, which are also air conditioned, and they also have places to pitch tents. Toilets and showers are shared and there’s a super equipped common kitchen that guests can use. Alternatively, you can enjoy a cooked vegetarian dinner and breakfast which are both delicious.
Other sleeping and eating options are further along towards Lavi (which is passed on day 3 of the Jesus Trail), in Lavi Forest where there is a free campground where it is possible to pitch a tent, there are picnic tables, water and bathrooms (sometimes locked, however); and at Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.
Day 3 – from Ilaniya to Arbel
The third day of the Jesus Trail is great, despite being by far the longest. You will have to walk from the village of Ilaniya, walking back to the main trail, all the way to Arbel. Walk on the underpass to Road 66 at the Golani Junction, then Road 77 and follow the old Roman Road to pass right behind Kibbutz Lavi.
You will then have to follow the trail to the Nebi Shu’eib and to the Horns of Hattin and eventually cross some ancient olive groves to reach the lovely village of Moshav Arbel, where you will spend the night.
The view of the Horns of Hattin from a distance
What makes day 3 of the Jesus Trail even better than the rest is the amount of interesting sights that you will see. Right after the Golani Junction, there are the ruins of an old Roman Road that used to connect Acre to Tiberias.
Close to Kibbutz Lavi there are the remains of ancient wine presses and a cemetery and holocaust memorial. Pushing further along, the Horns of Hattin can be seen from a distance. It is a double volcanic formation that resembles the horns of a bull and from where there’s a fantastic view of the entire Jesus Trail. The Battle of Hattin took place right below the Horns in 1187: the forces of the Crusader army faced the Muslim ones under Saladin.
Another place of interest on day 3 of the Jesus Trail is Nebi Shu’eib, a building which houses the tomb of Jethro, father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition.
Not far from Nebi Shu’eib, there used to be the Palestinian village of Hittin. This was one of the more than 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed and abandoned right after the 1948 war. The remains of these villages are not immediately visible – quite often, the abandoned villages have been buried and forests were planted over the ruins.
The Horns of Hattin were one of my favorite sights throughout the Jesus Trail
What to expect
The walk from Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel is around 20 km, making it the longest day on the Jesus Trail. The path is a mixture of smooth uphill and downhill. The main difficulty is the long distance and the fact that for most of the trail there is little shade (there’s some at the Horns of Hattin).
The only place to get food and water is at Golani Junction, where there’s a gas station and a small shop, and at a fountain near the ancient wine presses. Other than that, there’s nothing on the trail and you will hardly meet a soul. So make sure to refill water bottles and get food before getting on the actual trail.
Another difficulty is that the trail isn’t clearly marked in some places. The good thing is that Moshav Arbel is actually visible from the hills around the Horns of Hattin, so you may cut through the olive groves to reach the village for the night.
Where to sleep and eat in Arbel
There are a few sleeping options in Arbel. Arbel Holiday Homes (Konowitz Family) is likely to be the best stay during the entire Jesus Trail. You can have whole cabin to yourself, with a cozy bedroom, a living room with a huge couch, a well equipped kitchen and a fabulous bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. The owners also serve a fantastic home cooked dinner and breakfast.
From Moshav Arbel ancient synagogue there’s a lovely view of Mount Arbel
Day 4 – from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee
On the fourth day of the Jesus Trail you will have to walk from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee. The trail actually continues to Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes, and from it is possible to actually continue to walk around the Sea of Galilee.
The sights and the views on the fourth day of the trail are amazing. You will visit an ancient synagogue; walk up to Mount Arbel and from there admire the Sea of Galilee, and eventually make it all the way there.
The view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel is simply stunning
Right outside the village of Moshav Arbel there are the ruins of an ancient synagogue which dates back to the 4th century. It’s a beautiful site, and not many people visit so you will have the place to yourself.
From the synagogue, the view of Mount Arbel is simply spectacular. You will have to exit the site from the back entrance, and from the parking lot take the paved road that goes steeply uphill until it reaches Arbel National Park (for which there’s a fee to pay).
The view of the Sea of Galilee and of the valley (including of the village of Wadi Hamam) from the top of Mount Arbel is breathtaking.
Walking from Mount Arbel down to Wadi Hamam, you will pass several ancient cave fortresses – some are actually being used by cows who take advantage of the shade!
Right at the exit of Arbel National Park, a few trees, some bushes and a creek offer a good break from the sun. You will have to eventually cross the road 90 to get to the Sea of Galilee.
Once on the Sea of Galilee, the trail leads to several small beaches where it is possible to relax and swim.
Taking in the view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel
What to expect
On the final day of the Jesus Trail you will have to walk around 13 km. It’s an extra 5 km to get all the way to Mount of Beatitudes. The walk from Moshav Arbel to Arbel National Park is a short but steep uphill, and from there to Wadi Hamam a steep and somewhat difficult downhill.
There are several paths to get down from Mount Arbel to Wadi Hamam. The shortest one is the one that people afraid of heights should not take. It’s also possible to walk back to the main road and follow that to the village.
I walked down a trail that leads all the way to the village. I had to go down an incredibly steep trail (there are some very useful rails to hold on to) until the very narrow path got a bit easier and I could follow it all the way to the bottom where there’s a small creek and from there to the village.
Once down, the path is actually nice and flat until the Sea of Galilee.
GOOD TO KNOW: Please note that from Mount Arbel the Jesus Trail follows the path (and the signs) of the Israeli Trail until the entrance of Nakhal Amud, before Tabgha.
On the final day of the trail, you may actually meet more people – either tourists on Mount Arbel, or other people hiking bits of the trail, and depending on the season even families spending the day at the Sea of Galilee.
Where to sleep and eat around Tiberias
Once down from Mount Arbel and past Wadi Hamam, the trail goes right by a village called Migdal. Right on the main trail there is a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and meals such as schnitzel or falafel sandwiches and fries and salads.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Ginosar Village, Tabgha, Capernaum and Tiberias.
General Tips For Hiking The Jesus Trail
When to hike the Jesus Trail
I hiked the Jesus Trail in mid April, right after Pessach (Passover). I had perfect, dry and sunny weather throughout. I would not recommend starting it any later than that, as it does get really hot. The temperature in April is around 24 degrees during the day, and you will definitely sweat a lot between walking and carrying a backpack.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jesus Trail
My packing and clothing tips for the Jesus Trail are meant to be applicable to any multi-day hike.
My first recommendation is to pack as light as possible. Anything over 30 liters and more than 5 kg is going to be heavy to carry around, bound to cause back and leg pain in the long run. It is also important to make sure that the backpack fits nicely to the body, properly sitting on the hips.
Essential items for the Jesus Trail are: good hiking boots with proper ankle support; a pair of hiking pants (or anyways, comfortable pants), and a pair of shorts (because the weather does get really hot). Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are very comfortable and lightweight – the top choice is the ones that have the zipper so that they can turn into shorts.
T-shirts and tank tops are a must. Kuhl has some light, colorful and comfortable ones. Summer hiking socks keep the feet comfortable and give extra padding which is a good way to obviate the pain that walking for a long time causes. I had a rain proof jacket and a light sweater too, which I only used at night. I also recommend wearing a hat to protect the head and face from the sun and heat.
As for the beauty items, I carried the basics: and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, deodorant and quite importantly so a good sunblock I realized on the second day of the hike that my arms – to which I had forgotten to apply sunblock – were completely sunburnt!
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antiseptic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
Read my guide on what to pack for long distance hikes.
Comfortably dressed for the Jesus Trail in my Kuhl clothes
Budgeting for the Jesus Trail and other general tips
The Jesus trail is completely doable without a guide – but you will need to read maps, use a GPS, and rely on the very few locals you’ll encounter for directions. It is possible to sleep in local guest houses or camping grounds and eat at local eateries or take advantage of the food cooked by the hosts of the guest houses for a small fee.
Water is free in all of Israel. Whenever there is a tap, the water is drinkable.
The Jesus Trail isn’t a strenuous hike. Provided that you pay attention at the sign and properly read the map it’s easy to follow and can even be done alone. There aren’t many people on the trail. So this certainly isn’t the kind of thing you should do if you are keen on meeting other people should do.
More information on the Jesus Trail is available on the Jesus Trail official website.
Further readings about Israel and Jordan
Finally, here’s a few more readings for you:
Have you hiked the Jesus Trail? What was your experience?
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours throughout my Jesus Trail. They kindly provided accommodation and meals during the 4 days hike, and offered the incredibly useful Hiking The Jesus Trail book. Eyal and I hiked completely alone and all the views expressed are my own.
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Hiking the Jordan Trail is an incredible experience.
If you love hiking, enjoy the physical fatigue, the puffing, sweating, and even the cursing until you reach the final point of the hike, you will enjoy the Jordan Trail.
If you appreciate being close to nature; admiring the views along the way; stopping to catch your breath; having a packed lunch in the middle of nowhere and taking out a stove and making coffee; appreciate the power naps in the shade under a tree, before you start walking again, and think that the hot shower at the end of the day is pure bliss, hiking is definitely your thing.
To me, all hikes are good – whether I get mountain views, sea views, or I walk through the forest or in the desert. But put an archeological site at the end of a strenuous hike, and my sense of achievement will be completely fulfilled. That’s why I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, in Peru and why I plan to hike to the Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. And that’s what drove me to hike the Jordan Trail.
To read more about the Inca Trail, check my post “Inca Trail dos and donts.”
In this post, I highlight a 3 day itinerary that is part of the Jordan Trail and share some practical tips that will help you plan your hike.
Taking in the gorgeous views on the Jordan Trail
Some Background Information About The Jordan Trail
If you are traveling to Jordan as part of a longer trip to the Middle East, you may find out about the Jordan Trail. This is a hike that requires over 5 weeks of walking. It starts in the North of the country, in Um Qais, and goes all the way South, to the Red Sea, crossing places such as the tiny village of Dana and Dana Nature Reserve, and the more famous Petra and Wadi Rum.
If you have no time to hike the entire trail, you will be happy to know that you can walk the most exciting section: the 76 km walk from Dana to Petra, which takes 5 full days.
You can walk parts of this 5 days trail by yourself, and sleep in guest houses and lodges along the way. But for other bits a guide is required, as there is no real trail to follow, and the weather conditions may change suddenly causing flooding and requiring change of itineraries.
The only company that does guided hikes in this part of the country is the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan, an NGO whose work strives to protect the local environment and to help the local communities. If you are planning a trip to Jordan, and walk to walk the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra, make sure to get in touch with them.
Hiking the Jordan Trail is an overall great experience. Unfortunately for me, an accident along the way cut my adventure short and I had to change my plans. Hoping that other people who wish to hike the Jordan Trail from Dana to Petra don’t go through my same ordeal, I have decided to share some tips to plan your hike and a detailed itinerary.
The Jordan Trail is only for expert hikers and real adventure lovers
A 3 Day Itinerary For Hiking The Jordan Trail From Dana To Petra
Day 0 – from Amman to Dana
The starting point of this portion of the Jordan Trail is Dana, a small village at about 3 hours drive from Amman. Dana was founded in the 15th century and it is nowadays virtually abandoned. Only 3 families still live there, while the rest of its inhabitants have moved to the nearby Tafila.
There are very few foreign visitors there – most tourists are local students on a school trip, families who gather in the picnic area at weekends. You can safely assume that during the week there are even less people.
Check out my post “13 Cool Things To Do In Amman.”
Dana village is one of the wonderful sightings along the Jordan Trail
Dana is a lovely village, despite the fact that most of the buildings there have collapsed as a result of time and complete lack of maintenance. The only ongoing project to restore it to its original splendor is run by USAID.
It won’t take you long to explore the village. After climbing some collapsed fences, you can get to viewpoint from where you can admire the valley. That’s Dana Nature Reserve. No more than 50 Bedouin families still live there: they can only herd their livestock in certain times of year, so that the vegetation in the area can recover.
You will also spot a very steep dirt road that goes along the edge of the mountain. It seems to be the only way to the valley: that’s where you will be hiking the following day.
TIP: Make sure to go to Dana Guesthouse in time for sunset. The views are stunning!
Perks of the Jordan Trail: fabulous sunsets like the one I saw in Dana
Where to sleep and eat in Dana
There are three hotels in Dana. I stayed at Dana Guesthouse, which is run by the RSCN. It is a gorgeous structure, and all rooms have a balcony and views over the valley. It’s reviews are spot on. There are standard rooms, which are simple but cozy, with shared bathrooms; and superior rooms, which are incredibly large and comfortable, and have a private bathroom with a shower with a view.
You can eat your meals at Dana Guesthouse. Dinner and breakfast are served buffet style and there is an incredibly wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes – so perfect even for vegetarians and vegans. Dana Guesthouse also provides packed lunches for guests who are hiking.
The only people I met on my hike from Dana to Feynan, along the Jordan Trail
Day 1 – from Dana to Feynan
You will start walking this portion of the Jordan Trail in Dana, from where you will head towards Feynan, along Dana Nature Reserve, considered to be one of Jordan’s hidden jem. This is the largest reserve in the country. The altitude here varies from the 1500 meters above sea level of Dana, where it actually gets quite chilly at night, to the 50 meters below sea level in Wadi Araba.
Dana Nature Reserve is home to some 600 species of plants, 180 species of birds and over 45 species of mammals. It is scattered with archaeological sites, such as the Copper Mines.
Feynan is a Bedouin village, with camps that get moved along the valley depending on the season, and no more than a handful of houses scattered around the school. It has a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and the surroundings are gorgeous.
The views along the walk from Dana to Feynan are stunning. Picture mountains all around, scattered with vegetation that is thicker in some areas, and sparser in others, when walking more into the desert. There are virtually no trees on the first part of the hike, but then more start appearing.
The silence is occasionally broken by the growling of a camel, by a donkey and by the bells of goats left free to herd. Towards the end of the hike, there are a few Bedouin camps. Children run after the visitors, to welcome them: they are always keen to pose for pictures.
A short hike from Feynan village takes to a viewpoint from where to enjoy one of the most amazing sunsets one could imagine. The setting is gorgeous too: imagine a local bedouin guide preparing a fragrant mint tea, and sipping this while the sun sets.
And at night, if the sky is clear, since it is so dark it is possible to go star gazing.
The sunset from Feynan, along the Jordan Trail, was stunning
What to expect
The walk from Dana to Feynan is around 14 km, that can be covered in roughly 4 to 5 hours. The time you take really depends on how often you stop for photos and breaks.
The walk would qualify as easy, though to be fair it is not nearly as easy as it looks and by the end of the day most people wish they had worn thicker socks. For the first hour or so, it is a steep downhill following a dirt road, and it then becomes a bit more gentle. There is virtually no shade along the way – so wearing a hat, sunblock and drinking lots of water is vital. The weather is very dry and the sun unforgiving.
If you are lucky you may be able to see lots of lizards, some of them turning blue during mating season.
You won’t really meet many people on this portion of the hike. I met two shepherds right outside of Dana, and nobody else until I was getting close to Feynan and crossed a few Bedouin camps.
Where to sleep and eat in Feynan
The only accommodation option in Feynan is Feynan Ecolodge. This is run by the RSCN, and it lives up to its name: only solar power is used to warm the water used for the showers, and no electricity is available in the beautiful, stylish rooms – just in the showers and in the reception area. When it gets dark, candles are lit to illuminate the passageways, the rooms and the beautiful dining room.
Dinner is served buffet style, and it is only vegetarian – meat needs to be refrigerated and this would take too much electricity, which is against the sustainability mission of the ecolodge. No alcohol is served on the property, so don’t hope for a beer at the end of a day of hiking. But there is plenty of good cold water and delicious lemonade and ginger.
Feynan also provides packed lunches for those hiking.
Worth the trip: Feynan Ecolodge is one of the places to visit in Jordan and a real jem along the Jordan Trail
Day 2 – from Feynan to Al Bustan
If you read a little bit about the Jordan Trail you will see that the second day of hiking will be a tough one. At times, people have to take alternative trails to the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail one, that don’t go through the canyon – that’s done to avoid floods when it rains heavily. I had to do that – as per the guide instructions – and the trail we followed was hard. The fact that I injured myself certainly did not help.
The alternative trail isn’t much of a trail at all. You will walk along the side of the river, cross it to find places where it is easier to walk, climb over boulders, and all of this for a steady 8 hours.
The Jordan Trail became truly hard on my second day of hiking – there was no trail at all
Keep in mind that there is no phone reception at all in this part of the trail, so you need to go properly prepared, including with some first aid kit and skills (read this post by Bemused Backpacker for more). There is no way of calling for help if anything happens – which is why you absolutely have to go with someone, possibly a guide.
The finishing point for this trail is Al Bustan camp, which is close to Shobak – a lovely small town with a beautiful castle. The camp is very basic. All you get is a mattress and blankets to sleep on. No toilet, no sink and no way of even washing your hands.
Unfortunately, due to my injury this is where I had to stop my hike – I spent the night Shobak, which by the way is one of the nicest places to visit in Jordan, and got some much needed rest at Montreal Hotel. I then sought medical help in Jerusalem a few days later.
To read more about what to visit in Jordan, check my post “All the places to visit in Jordan.”
Shobak represented the end of my Jordan Trail
After visiting Shobak and resting for a couple of days, I made my way to Petra, where I hiked the entire site.
To read more about Petra, check my post “11 things to know before visiting Petra.”
The views along the (alternative) Wadi Al Nakheel Trail are beautiful. The first part of the walk is pretty much in the desert, and nobody is in sight except the odd Bedouin and a herd of sheep.
Eventually, the desert gives way to a creek that runs through a canyon, and the vegetation becomes a bit thicker: bushes, trees, palm trees and some very interesting rock formation.
Towards the end of the hike, there are some hot springs. They are incredibly difficult to reach, so hardly anybody goes. There were maybe two persons when I was there.
Dana Nature Reserve is a gorgeous place to visit along the Jordan Trail
What to expect
I can only speak for the alternative trail, and not for the Wadi Al Nakheel Trail I was meant to follow. I don’t hike every single day of my life, but hiking is quite a thing in Sardinia, where I am from, and I have done several hikes, a few multi-day ones, and some very technical ones, where the issue wasn’t the altitude or the actual drop (which I can actually endure), but the terrain. I am quite fit (I swim 4 times per week and I take every opportunity to exercise) and I don’t mind physical fatigue.
Having said so, I found this to be one of the most challenging hikes I have ever done. The lack of an actual trail, the constant change of terrain – from rocky, to sandy, to actually having to cross the river and walk inside a creek; the steep uphill and downhill: I won’t deny that it was hard.
Where to sleep and eat
There literally is nowhere in terms of accommodation and food along this portion of the Jordan Trail. I carried a packed lunch and lots of water (I recommend a minimum of two liters) with me from Feynan and I had planned to sleep in Al Bustan, a Bedouin style camp that was put up for the occasion.
The setting is quite simple: a large tent, with blankets and carpets being used as walls and thus creating 3 smaller “rooms;” each of them had a mattress on the floor and blankets for the night. The camp has no facilities – no toilet and no sink.
A fire is been lit to boil water and cook the meals.
General Tips For Hiking The Jordan Trail
When to hike the Jordan Trail
With cold winters and incredibly hot summers, there is no doubt that the best time to hike the Jordan Trail – or at least the portions of it that I did – is in the spring time. I walked it at the beginning of April, and the days were dry, if only a bit overcast.
In terms of temperatures, at that time of year they are pleasant during the day – although obviously, walking and working out, the body does feel warmer than it would otherwise. The temperatures drop at night, especially in Dana which is at around 1500 meters above sea level, and in Shobak.
Guided treks from Dana to Petra
There aren’t many reliable companies that run the entire Jordan Trail. If you are interested in walking the portion from Dana to Petra – which is the one I have described here and the most interesting one in my opinion – you may join the tour led by Monkeys and Mountains. You can find more information and book it here.
What to pack and what to wear for the Jordan Trail
Once again, I can only speak for those parts of the Jordan Trail I actually hiked, but the tips I am about to provide will generally be applicable to any multi-day hike.
The first recommendation I have if you are hiking the Dana to Petra portion of the Jordan Trail is to pack as light as possible. Don’t carry any backpack over 30 liters, and even then make sure that the backpack – which has to fit nicely to the body – doesn’t weight more than 4 or 5 kgs, including the water for the hike.
Essential items for this portion of the Jordan Trail are: good hiking boots that hold the ankles properly; a good pair of hiking pants, and a pair of shorts, just in case the weather gets really hot. I find that Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are incredibly comfortable, performing and lightweight. I also recommend taking a couple of t-shirts.
Dressing comfortably is key on the Jordan Trail
Kuhl cotton shirts are light, colorful and comfortable. I would take a thermal t-shirt too, which helps keep the body temperature even when sweaty. Hiking socks are necessary: with all the walking, keeping the feet comfortable and having that extra padding is important. Finally, a wind and rain proof jacket and a light sweater (it does get chilly at night) and a hat against the sun and heat are a must.
Other than the basic toothbrush and toothpaste, make sure to carry some laundry soap which can be used to wash clothes (whenever water is available) and to shower; a good sunblock is fundamental unless planning to get sunburnt.
Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antiseptic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.
To find out more about what’s in my backpack, read my post “My ultimate packing list.”
Read my guide on what to pack for long distance hikes.
Final tips for hiking the Jordan Trail
Hiking the Jordan Trail isn’t a walk in the park. If you plan to walk it, make sure to research as much as possible about it, and plan it carefully. It requires a good sense of adventure and an even better willingness to adapt to the sometimes harsh conditions and to the physical fatigue.
My recommendation is to also not do it alone. I don’t just mean to hire the services of a guide: that goes without saying, because some of the trails are virtually impossible to find, and there is no phone network and no way to talk to anybody if lost.
What I do mean, is to plan to hike the Jordan Trail in a small group of friends, for companionship, and to have someone to talk to and entertain each other, and to support one another during the hardest bits. In any case, I hardly recommend hiking alone anywhere (you can read more about it in this post).
Have you hiked the Jordan Trail? What was your experience?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Jordan Tourism Board, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.