Five Incredible Adventures And Where to Experience Them

Five Incredible Adventures And Where to Experience Them

2017 has been a fantastic year packed with incredible adventures for me, and it will be hard to top it in 2018 (though watch this space, I will sure try to!). I have visited some beautiful places where I had been craving to go; returned to others that I already knew and loved; and did a bunch of things that pushed me beyond what I thought were my limits.

Sharing My Adventures With Family And Friends

Those who follow my blog and my social media, especially my Instagram, have surely seen all the beautiful photos I have taken in 2017. I wish could also show them to my family and friends who don’t use social media, though.

I have always found that sending postcards is a nice, old fashioned way to share my travels with people I care about. But sometimes postcards are just so impersonal. Besides, I don’t have time to look for good ones, and then find a post office to send them.

That’s why I am thankful for apps such as MyPostcard, which are incredibly easy to use. MyPostcard allows me to create beautiful and very personable postcards using my photos in just a few click, and have them shipped anywhere in the world.

I wish I had known about it when I was lost in the mountains of Nepal, or when I was baking in the sun in the Maldives!

Here is a round up of the most amazing adventures I have had in 2017, with just a few tips for those who wish to live similar experiences in 2018.

Five Incredible Adventures And Where to Experience Them

Admiring Petra Treasury From Above (Jordan)

I had been wanting to visit Petra since I saw the Indiana Jones movie when I was a child. In April 2017, I finally managed to go. The minute I got there, I realized that the site is much larger than what people can imagine, not to mention crowded.

The view of the Treasury from the groun is stunning, and that of the Monastery breathtaking. Yet, the best view in Petra is that of the Treasury from above. Getting to the viewpoint isn’t easy peasy, though. While most of the trails on the site are well marked, the one to the viewpoint isn’t, and it is easy to get lost.

In order to go there, I had to hire a local guide (and pay dearly for that). The hike took about one hour, and the view at the top, the complete lack of tourists (I was the only person there, save from the guide and two Bedouls who had a tiny tea shop there) and silence made every penny I paid worth it.

Tip: hiring an official guide to go to the viewpoint of the Tresury and then around the rest of the site costs the equivalent of $120 USD. That’s expensive, I know. But I was traveling alone and had no time to wait around and see if I could put together a group to share the costs. So I had to pay the full price.

However, keep in mind that the larger the group, the lesser the price. The information office on the site, the office of the tour guides in Petra or even just the hotel or hostel are good places to ask around and see if anybody wants to share the costs of a guide.

Another option is hiring one of the local Bedouls, who know the area well. Their prices can be haggled, but keep in mind they are not official guides so won’t be able to give insightful and historical information. I don’t recommend this option to women traveling alone.

For more tips on visiting Petra, check my post “11 Things To Know Before Visiting Petra.”

Hiking The Poon Hill Circuit (Nepal)

There is no doubt that Nepal is hikers’ paradise. And in case this isn’t clear yet, I love hiking. Needless to say, I was thrilled to visit Nepal last May.

Hiking the Poon Hill Circuit was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The hike lasted 5 days, during which I endured sun and heat on day one; over 5000 steps uphill on day 2; high altitude; rain pretty much every day after lunch time; and accommodation that was rustic at best.

Yet, all my efforts were repaid by the spectacular views of the mountains – as majestic as I had never seen in my life. I was also extremely lucky to be hiking with a fantastic group, which made my experience even more special.

Tip: the Poon Hill Circuit can be hiked independently and with a relatively low budget. However, joining a guided expedition means having a guide that arranges all accommodation (which is especially useful in high season, when the “tea houses” get packed), porters that carry lugguage (but either way, pack light!) and the company of a group.

Dressing appropriately for the hike is fundamental. Ankle high hiking boots provide extra protection from leeches; and give good support to the feet and ankles. Wearing long pants is also a good idea, for the same reason. Layers and a good rain jacket or a poncho are necessary because it does get cold and it rains often.

For more tips on how to hike the Poon Hill Circuit, check my post “What To Expect When Hiking Poon Hill.”

 

Finally Diving For The First Time (Maldives)

Sometimes dreams are meant to come true. I had been drooling over pictures of the Maldives for years. I considered the possibility of going in September, but reading around it looked like it would not be a good season to go. So, I opted to go to Sri Lanka instead.

But the Maldives are so close to Sri Lanka, that it felt like a pity not to take that short flight and visit. So I did, and it possibly was the best decision I took this year. And in my week there, it didn’t rain once.

The Maldives are as close to my idea of paradise as it gets: tiny islands with beautiful white beaches ringed by palm trees; a light breeze that makes the weather incredibly pleasant; some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, and marine life galore – so much so, that I decided to go diving for the first time in my life.

The minute I went under water, I regretted not having done it sooner. It was absolutely incredible, and it opened a completely new world for me.

Tip: most people thing the Maldives are a luxury destination for a few privileged travelers. While this has been the case for a long time, and luxury accommodation options are the majority in the country, it is now also possible to find budget guest houses and to visit the Maldives on a lower budget. Before ruling out this paradise as too expensive, do a bit of research to find out what the options are!

If you are a solo traveler like me, check out my post on “10 Things To Do In Maldives That Aren’t Necessarily For Couples.”

Hiking An Active Volcano (Sicily)

As I have said many times, I love hiking. Coastal trails, mountain trails, forest trails – I like them all. But hiking an active volcano? Now, that is something different!

In 2017, I visited Sicily and hiked 3 active volcanoes in 5 days. One of them was Stromboli, in the Aeolian Islands and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It was an absolutely exhilarating experience.

The views throughout the hike were splendid: up until a certain point I could see the village below, and the dark blue of the sea. I made it to the peak in time to admire a beautiful sunset and only then realized that my experience would go well beyond seeing.

I actually heard, and also felt the volcano. I spent around 30 minutes sitting at the top, looking down at one of the various craters, and listening to the intermittent explosions. It was an absolutely thrilling experience.

Tip: only guided groups are allowed on Mount Stromboli. Expeditions usually start in the afternoon and come down after sunset. It can be quite hot on the way up, but it is windy at the top and it gets chilly as soon as the sun goes down: do carry an extra sweater and a good wind jacket.

Hiking a volcano is no piece of cake. The terrain is sandy, and the walk can be quite strenuous. Do not underestimate the effort it requires and do dress appropriately, because really, a mere pair of running shoes, though comfortable, won’t provide that much needed ankle support.

To read more about my experience on Mount Stromboli, check my post “Why Mount Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike.”

Visiting Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine)

When I received an email with an invitation to visit Chernobyl my first reaction was to think that was a joke. In my mind, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remained completely off limits, and no visitors would be allowed.

A quick research and I realized that actually, guided tours of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have been allowed for the past few years and there’s virtually no radiation risk for visitors. And of course I would be interested to visit: I have some very clear memories of the accident, although I was only a child when it happened.

I visited Chernobyl Excluzion Zone last February, when it was completely covered in snow. The white blanket added to the eerieness of the place, muffling any sound around. The area is completely desolated, but fascinating.

Tip: while visiting Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in February means dealing with snow and extremely cold temperatures, it is good to know that snow acts as a blanket, preventing radioactive particles to fly. Needless to say, dressing properly is a must: I wore ski pants and jacket, plenty of layers underneath, hat and gloves.

To read more about my experience in Chernobyl, check my post “I Did Visit Chernobyl, And It Was Truly Worth It.”

What adventures are you planning for 2018? How are you going to share them with your family and friends at home? Let me know in the comments below!

This post is written in partnership with MyPostcard.

11 things to know before visiting Petra, Jordan

11 things to know before visiting Petra, Jordan

I had been dreaming to visit Petra since I was 14, and my father and I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the cinema (this gives you an idea of how old I am!). Although this is one of the most famous places to visit in Jordan, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the site and I had little time to properly inform myself about it before visiting (that’s the curse of the travel blogger: I travel so much now that I hardly have time to read about the places I am visiting).

Find out more about what it’s really like to be a travel blogger on my post “13 things I learned about travel blogging.”

Petra, Jordan

The Treasury is the most iconic building in Petra

The few things I knew about Petra were limited to the fact that there’s a building called the Treasury. I also knew that Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Everything else, I learned once I was there. My visit to Petra went really smooth though I had hardly planned it, but I believe it is important to go in with at least some basic knowledge to make the most of it.

So, here’s eleven things to know before visiting Petra.

Eleven things to know before visiting Petra

Petra is huge

My original plan was to spend just half a day in Petra. I intended to arrive there via a 7 days hike from Dana, spend a few hours on the site and then make my way to Wadi Araba border crossing to go back to Jerusalem on the same day. Things didn’t go as planned during the hike: I injured myself on the third day and was forced to change plans (I’ll be writing more about the hike soon).

Learn more about Jerusalem on my post “Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”

Petra, Jordan

The area of Petra is actually huge

So I decided to spend 3 nights in Wadi Musa (Petra port of access), and to get a 2-days pass to the site. A one day pass is 50 Jordanian Dinars (JD), which is around $ 70 USD; a two day pass is JD 55, around $78 USD. Keep in mind that Petra is one of the attractions included in the Jordan Pass, which can be bought online allowing to save money and time and also allows to wave the tourist entry visa fees and spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights in Jordan.

I realized as soon as I entered the site, that I had taken the right decision. The entire area where Petra is located is 264 square kilometers and there’s no way it can be possibly visited in a few hours. On my second day I saw lots of people coming from cruise ships and wondered how they’d manage to visit the site in only a few hours.

There are many trails

Aside from the main trail, which measures around 8 km (one way) and goes to the main points of interest, there are many other trails in Petra, of various levels of difficulty. I walked at least 20 km on my first day: the 8 km of the main trail; the hike to the Monastery and that to the High Altar of Sacrifice (both of them are all uphill). On my second day I only walked to the view point of the Treasury.

Petra, Jordan

The Monastery is worth the hike

Keep in mind I am a fast walker, so someone who isn’t may need a full day just to walk the main trail and the Monastery trail; and a second one for the High Altar of Sacrifice and other trails.

It’s better to get a guide (especially if planning to walk some lesser known trail)

Most of the trails in Petra are well marked. The main trail is really self evident, as is the one to the Monastery. The hike to the High Altar of Sacrifice marked, though I admit I was glad to find a local to ask for directions at some point.

On my second day, I wanted to walk all the way to the view point of the Treasury and I was glad to have hired a guide as the path was pretty much unmarked and I would have gotten lost otherwise. The roundtrip took me around 2 hours, and I literally met nobody on the way, nor at the view point (aside from two locals who apparently had a shop there, and who offered me a highly sugared tea to welcome me there). Once there, I could see the crowds below. In any case, a guided tour of Petra helps making the experience truly meaningful.

Petra, Jordan

The view of the Treasury from above, and away from all the crowds, is worth the effort and the money

It is not always hot

I realized Petra is at an elevation (around 900 meters above sea level) when I arrived there. A chilled wind was blowing and it surely wasn’t as hot as I would have imagined. When I asked the locals in Wadi Musa (the city that is used at the main port of access to Petra) about the typical weather, they showed me photos of Petra under the snow!

It’s important to dress modestly

Petra is a major tourist site, with lots of Westerners visiting every day. Yet, it is in Jordan, and for as open minded as they are, here most people still dress quite conservatively. I dressed modestly, by which I don’t mean that I covered my head. I just didn’t wear shorts or a mini-dress, besides it wasn’t so hot that I’d want to.

Petra, Jordan

I wore comfortable clothes and hiking boots (the kitty approved of my attire)

Besides, Petra is so huge and there’s so much hiking, that dressing comfortably is a key factor. I wore a pair of hiking pants, a colorful cotton t-shirt, and carried a light sweater and a wind-proof jacket for the evening, when the temperatures start dropping. I also suggest reading a guide to some fabulous, modest dresses for the most conservative countries.

Find out what’s in my backpack on my post “My ultimate packing List.”

It’s better to wear hiking boots

As it wasn’t as hot as I had expected, I opted to wear hiking boots to walk around Petra. I later realized that, unknowingly, I had taken the best decision. There’s a lot of walking to be done in Petra, on often uneven pavements and gravel roads. I would have killed my feet if I wore flip flops or sandals. Wearing hiking boots made me feel comfortable and I was able to hike the various trails.

There’s lot of animals…

Aside from the many cats, the odd dog, and the goats that can be spotted round the site, Petra is packed with working animals. Horse carriages take around tourists; horse, donkey and mule rides are offered; and needless to say there’s even camels. The Tourism Board of Jordan invites only those that are physically unable to walk to use the animals, and encourages to report episodes of animal abuse.

Petra, Jordan

Please don’t contribute to the exploitation of animals in Petra

However, I have seen many people happily riding the carriages, the donkeys or the mules, and a few owners pushing their animals to go faster. I was regularly offered rides (the common pick up line is “do you want to ride my Ferrari?”). I generally ignored, or muttered a la, shukran (no, thank you). And when the owner kept insisting, asking why I wouldn’t want to ride, I’d say “because I am able to walk.”

As I have stated in my post “The use of animals in tourist attractions,” I can’t stand the idea that animals may be exploited for the enjoyment of tourists. I hope that more efforts are made by the tourism board to ensure that animals are never exploited in Petra, and that tourists (and owners) who do so are duly fined.

… and even people living on the site

Before visiting Petra, my guide told me that the people that once lived in the site had been moved to a nearby city specifically built for them. I would have never thought that anybody could live in Petra anyways, but upon further explorations, I realized that some still do. I saw some caves that did look like someone was living in them; and on a couple of occasions I even spotted a family.

Drinking lots of water is vital…

Between the sun, the dry air, the altitude and all the walking, dehydration may be an issue when visiting Petra. I carried around two bottles of water and sipped regularly. The good news is that there are many local vendors spread around the site that sell cold water. A good water bottle may be a good idea to keep the water cold.

… as is wearing sunblock (and a hat)

With such strong sun, it is easy to get sunburnt in Petra. I wore lots of sunblock and reapplied it throughout the day. Wearing a hat may also be a good idea.

Petra by Night is stunning

A Petra by Night show takes place at the Treasury 3 nights per week. It costs JD 17 ($ 24 USD) to see it, and tickets can be bought at the visitors centre. The show starts at around 9:00 pm and ends at around 10:00 pm, but consider that it takes a good 30 minutes to walk all the way to the Treasury. The path and the Treasury are illuminated by candles, and traditional music is played for a truly enchanting experience.

Petra, Jordan

The view of Petra by Night is spectacular

Solo female travelers are a target for scams (and more)

Jordan is generally a really safe country to visit. A few precautions will help women traveling across Jordan to have a good time. One thing that is important to know before visiting, is that women are a target in Petra.

When the owner of the Sharah Mountains Hotel where I stayed in Wadi Musa recommended not to trust anyone in Petra, I just assumed that, as in any other major tourist spot in the world, scams would be common in Petra and he was referring to that. Nevertheless, I asked him what I meant. He said not to trust the Bdouls – a local tribe. I told him that I was quite expert in scams, after having visited Cuba. Without going into much details, he clarified that the Bdouls “look for women.”

My visit of Petra went nice and smooth – save from the typical offer to ride a donkey, and I had actually completely forgotten about the warning not to trust the Bdouls. Quite satisfied with the long day of exploration, I was making my way towards the exit when a Jack Sparrow looking guy (as most of the Bdouls, he was wearing kohl so that his eyes and stare were even more intense) approached me, once again offering a donkey ride. Once again, I said no: I was leaving anyways.

Petra, Jordan

A lovely guy I shared tea with when I reached the view point to the Treasury: my experience was 100% positive

That’s when he started inviting me for tea, coffee and even dinner. Again, I thanked him and refused, only to hear him say “I’ll show you my cave.” I swear I couldn’t stop laughing. I could picture a cave man, only covered in fur of sort and holding a club, waiting for me outside a cave.

I shrugged it off as harmless flirting, and anyways I was too tired to even consider any of his invitations. So I went back to my hotel, and only when I posted on my Facebook profile that a guy approached me with the funniest pick up line ever, and my contacts started commenting, I realized that I had actually been quite close to danger.

Apparently, the Bdouls like targeting solo female travelers. They invite them to walk around the side, to discover the hidden parts and to enjoy a full local experience, which includes drinks of Arak, the local liquor, and dinners in front of a fire. There have been allegations that drinks have been spiked and that assaults and rapes have occurred.

My recommendation to all solo female travelers is to keep safe, and to politely but firmly refuse any invitation to follow a local to his cave or home.

What was your experience in Petra? Do you have any further advice for those who plan to visit?

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.

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Learn all the things to know before visiting Petra, Jordan - via @clautavani