Backpacking Mexico City's Historic Center: The Zócalo on Independence Day

A First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Mexico City

Backpacking Mexico City Travel Tips: The Ultimate Mexico City Guide for First-Timers

Backpacking Mexico City Travel Tips: 7 Mexico City Neighborhoods Worth Visiting

Backpacking Mexico City Travel Tips: 7 Unique Foods to try in Mexico City

I’ve had an itch to do a long trip around Mexico for years. Back in 2011, I heard about a few Spanish language schools in Oaxaca and became convinced that that was where I wanted to go. And then I learned about Hierve el Agua, the surfing and mountains along the Pacific coast, the ruins in the Yucatan and, of course, the food– and next thing I knew, I was harboring a full-on fantasy. Backpacking around Mexico for a couple months cemented itself pretty high up on my dream trip list.

So, by the time I landed in Mexico City, I had been thinking about this trip for years. The problem was, I’d fantasized about this trip so much that I was intimidated to actually take it– I didn’t want to go until I had every stop planned out perfectly. But thanks to a last-minute change of plans in Lima, I found myself with two months to spare and just one obligation: get to Cozumel, Mexico by early October. That pretty much settled it– between the cold, grey weather in Lima and my general hankering for sunshine and tacos, I decided to finally take The Trip; I was finally going to solo travel Mexico.

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The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
Mexico, Peru, South America

2018 in Review: From Pittsburgh to Peru

I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear around here, but I am truly a sucker for a good list. (Okay, I’m a sucker for any quality of list.) I’ll jump at any opportunity to write a travel-related list– and what better opportunity than the start of a new year?

Before I jump into mapping out my 2019 plans, I wanted to take some time to reflect on 2018– a year that brought me around the country and to another continent, through canyons and mountain passes. This year also brought a whole lot of firsts, from my first experience traveling as half of a couple to my first attempts at surfing.

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Packing for Peru: A Backpacking Peru Packing List
Peru, South America, Travel Planning

Peru in Review: A (Revised) Packing List

Anyone who’s seen me hoist up my 65L backpack at baggage claim could tell you: I’m not the person to go to for “packing light” advice. When it comes to negotiating what to take and what to leave behind, I tend to cut back in all the wrong areas. Example: I packed around a dozen crossword puzzles for Peru— actually taken from newspapers, so each one came with the entire page— but thought eh, who needs a sweater?

That said, I’m a sucker for a good list. Traditionally, I spend the week or so leading up to a trip excitedly writing and rewriting my entire packing list, right down to how many socks I plan on bringing. I even get weirdly into reading other people’s packing lists. I couldn’t tell you why, but I truly love packing. (And yes, I do feel a little #blessed for that.) Continue Reading

Peru, South America

Month in Review: August 2018

August was an incredible month.

I’ve tried to come up with some more writerly adjectives to describe it— awesome, bonkers and dope all come to mind— but nothing else really fits. And for a month that took me from the bottom of the world’s second-deepest canyon to the top of a glacial pass, I think “incredible” is a pretty fitting descriptor. So, after publishing 13 posts covering 11 destinations in Peru, I’m pausing to reflect on a truly incredible month.

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Things to do in Barranco - Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs)
Peru, South America

Back in Barranco: Ceviche and Street Art in Lima

After a whirlwind month through southern Peru— and just one day after hiking to Machu Picchu— I was back in Lima, in one of my favorite spots in Peru: the capital’s Barranco district.

While neighboring Miraflores is known for its highrises and shopping centers, Barranco has a reputation as a home for the arts. This district boasts some of Lima’s best street art, restaurants, and more than a few of its most popular museums. So, when I came back here with over a week to spare, I settled right into a routine that almost daily took me past some of Barranco’s best spots.

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Salkantay Trek Packing List: Hiking to Machu Picchu
Hiking, Peru, South America, Travel Planning

Hiking the Salkantay Trek, Pt. 3: Machu Picchu

This is my last post in a three-part series documenting my Salkantay Trek tour, wrapping things up at Machu Picchu. Want to start from the beginning? Head to Part 1 and Part 2I’ve condensed my tips for the trek into this, my final post on reaching Machu Picchu. If you’re looking for facts and figures, scroll down for my Salkantay Trek packing list, tips, and information on what it costs.

By the end of our fourth day on the Salkantay Trek, we had seen so many beautiful landscapes that I had almost forgotten what lay at the end of the trek. But on the morning of our fifth and final day, that changed. It started to sink in: we were going to Machu Picchu.

Not many things could get me to happily roll out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and spend the next two hours sitting on the sidewalk. But if anything makes that list, it’s Machu Picchu.

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Hiking from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on the Salkantay Trek
Hiking, Peru, South America

Hiking the Salkantay Trek, Pt. 2: Santa Teresa & Aguas Calientes

After our second day of hiking the Salkantay Trek, we were finally in the jungle. And from Challway, where we started Day 3, it was (almost) all downhill.

The previous two days had taken us from the famous Humantay Lake all the way up to the Salkantay Pass, at a lung-straining 15,200 feet. And on the second day alone, the scenery was enough to make me forget all about Machu Picchu; we had walked from the glacial lake at Salkantay Pass down through the cloud forest and into the jungle at Challway in one, long stretch. By our third morning, we had already seen more than I could’ve imagined– and we still had two days of hiking left.

On the itinerary for Day 3: hike from Challway to Playa Sahuayaco, and then on to our camp near the small town of Santa Teresa.

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Hiking from Soraypampa to Humantay Lake: Hiking the Salkantay Trek with Inca Trail Trekking Company
Hiking, Peru, South America

Hiking the Salkantay Trek, Pt. 1: Humantay Lake and Salkantay Pass

In my mind, it’s unavoidable: if it’s your first trip to Peru, you go to Machu Picchu. It’s part of why Nick and I chose Peru over any other destination in Latin America, and it’s the reason we traveled in August, at the end of Peru’s high season. (Which, by the by, explains why the weather was so dismal in Lima; high season for hiking is the greyest time of year to visit the coast.)

But, while I was giddy about seeing a wonder of the world, I wasn’t eager to hike the Inca Trail. Instead, I went for an alternative: the Salkantay Trek.

The Salkantay Trek is just one of many that eventually leads to Machu Picchu. I’ll write more in-depth about why we chose it in another post. For now, suffice it to say there were a few benefits: it’s less popular, significantly less expensive, and easier to book than the Inca Trail. And besides all that, it just seemed quieter. I was looking for a challenging trek that would let me marvel at completely new-to-me scenery without the distraction of other tour groups. On that front— on every front— it was a total success.

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Best Budget Hostels in Peru: Upcycled Hostel in Huacachina, Peru
Peru, South America

Where to Stay in Peru: Six Budget-Friendly Hostels

For as much bad luck as I had in some stretches of my Peru trip, I got really lucky when it came to finding good hostels. I had my share of duds, but for the most part, I lucked out with finding comfortable, clean, and affordable hostels everywhere from Lima to the Colca Canyon. So, as I wrap up writing about my month in Peru, I’m reflecting on some of my favorite hostels from my trip.

The six hostels in this post trace a pretty common path through southern Peru: Lima, Huacachina, Arequipa, and the Colca Canyon. They range from $8 per night to $25, although I found the average cost to be more like $12. And, of course, they’re all clean, comfy, and budget-friendly— with the exception of the $25/night stay, which I think is well worth the splurge.  Continue Reading

Tips for Hiking the Colca Canyon Solo
Hiking, Peru, South America

10 Tips for Hiking the Colca Canyon Without a Guide

Hiking the Colca Canyon turned out to be one of the most memorable, challenging things I did in Peru. I passed through landscapes I had never seen before, hiked at an altitude I had never experienced, and stayed in an incredible mini-jungle in Sangalle. All in all, it was one of the coolest hikes I’ve done, and I’m so glad to have done it without a guide— but I could’ve been way more prepared.

As I mentioned in my last post, I found it surprisingly difficult to dig up detailed information about hiking the Colca Canyon online. Presumably, that’s because so many people see it with a tour group, an option that didn’t really appeal to me. It’s totally possible to hike the Colca Canyon independently — provided you take care of the research and preparation up front. Continue Reading