This quaint town in the middle of Illinois is one of the best replicas of life in the 1850’s. Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, this small town has homes fully restored with volunteers that re-enact the times of Pioneers. There are pioneer crafts, games, horse-drawn wagon rides, and live entertainment. Explore the Pioneer History in Nauvoo Illinois.
Located just across the Mississippi River from Fort Madison, this historic town is the location of the a former U.S. Military outpost, Fort Madison. This was an active trading post between the US Military and the Native Americans between 1808 and 1813.
It was also the site of the Chief Blackhawk’s first battle against the U.S. troops. This fort was one of three Army posts established to maintain control over the Louisiana area. There were so many trade disputes between the natives, especially the Sauk Tribe, that the trade treaty of 1804 was considered invalid. The quality of goods that were being offered from the Fort vs what was being offered by Britain and France were considered to be far inferior.
The Blackhawk’s Biography relayed their point of view of this military settlement as follows:
“A number of people immediately went down to see what was going on, myself among them. On our arrival we found they were building a fort. The soldiers were busily engaged in cutting timber, and I observed that they took their arms with them when they went into the woods. The whole party acted as they would do in an enemy’s country. The chiefs held a council with the officers, or head men of the party, which I did not attend, but understood from them that the war chief had said that they were building homes for a trader who was coming there to live, and would sell us goods very cheap, and the soldiers were to remain to keep him company. We were pleased at this information and hoped that it was all true, but we were not so credulous as to believe that all these buildings were intended merely for the accommodations of a trader. Being distrustful of their intentions, we were anxious for them to leave off building and go back down river.”
The Fort location was a poor choice due to being at the base of a bluff where the local natives could safely fire at it from a distance. After multiple attacks, attempted seiges, threat of cannon fire against the natives. The War of 1812 expanded, British allied with the Sauk and other tribes in an effort to eradicate the Americans and regain control of the important trade along this major river.
Conditions became so dangerous that bodies of the dead were left outside the fort, and troops were unable to leave the fort to recover lost supplies. Instead of allowing nearby towers to fall to the natives, they were instead…burned. The Army eventually abandoned the post in 1813 and burned it to the grown as they left.
The early setters built around the ruins of this fort and a large monument was erected in the early 20th century where you can see how these early forts were built and manned.
Mississipi River Boat Tours
For those wanting to sail along the Mississippi there are several river boat cruises available. Here are a few options:
After a brief interlude in Fort Madison, head over to the Nauvoo Visitors Center. There are several things I want to mention before you do though. The basis of this town is from when the Mormon Pioneers (or Latter-Day Saint Pioneers) settled in the area. Because of the religious significance this town has for them, it has been well preserved and very well restored.
While some may be aversed to visiting a place with such religious significance, I would like to persuade you otherwise. It has been said that it is the best restored Pioneer type village you will see in the United States. Here is where you will learn how trade happened for the community here along the Missisippi River. There are multiple shops where uplifting messages are shared on how people during that time survived. There are restored blacksmith shops, where they are still used in the same fashion they were used during that time. There is a Brick Masons yard where they explain the different types of bricks. An Apothecary shop that shows how illness was signaled to neighbors to not visit, herbs were used, and how bees were caught.
The messages provided are uplifting, and teach nothing of hard argumentative doctrine of their religion. I found the community to be warm, kind, helpful and most of all inspiring.
If you start out at the Visitors Center; it will give you an overview of who these people were and how they cleared the swampy area to make it into a thriving trade community.
This Mormon Temple has been restored to it’s grand and original design. A Temple to the Mormon’s is a house in which they believe the Spirit of God resides if those who enter are worthy. There are prayers offered within this building, and a reverence in which it’s members talk about it because of the peace they feel when entering this Temple.
I feel the reverence in which they talk about this building is compounded by the fact that despite it being destroyed by mobs so long ago; the original structure has been fully restored and is fully operational for their worship. It is thought as sort of a memorial in addition to a place of worship for those who sacrificed so much for what they believed in, in the mid 1800’s.
While those who are not members of the Mormon, or rather the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are not allowed to enter. There are plenty of their members who have black name tags pinned to their shirts to show you what the inside looks like and answer questions about what goes on inside. They want me to emphasize, that while they do not wish to exclude anyone or make those who are not members feel like there are secrets being withheld from them; there is a certain sacred nature that needs to be upheld for those who come there to worship instead of it being a tourist center.
To learn about the struggle the founding members of this church experienced when trying to establish their community and build their temple. Be sure to stay for the free shows offered during the summer. These include the story of their Prophet Joseph Smith, and about those who immigrated from overseas to this city and then how they were forced out by angry mobs.
Joseph Smith Historic Properties
Learning about another religion can be a touchy subject for many, but it is important when understanding where another person’s point of view comes from. The history that shaped them, and how to explain things in ways that they can relate to and understand.
So for those who would like to know more about the Latter-Day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith; be sure to visit the homes where he and his family stayed. They are the original height, size, and layout of the home. It shows how meat was stored, where they went to the loo, and how they preserved food.
The town’s gathering place where square dancing, sermons, and now nightly shows of the city during its ‘Golden Age’ occur. If you go up to the second floor of this building you can see a pioneer quilt museum. Learn about the different patterns, how they made their fabrics, and what a pioneer bedroom set would have looked like.
It was fun to imagine the room full of shy young women and men who were attempting to dance around here. The show was quaint but entertaining, and I was very grateful to let my feet rest for a bit and escape the humid summer air.
Family Living Center
You can learn how to make rope and barrels at the Family Living center as they did in the day of the American Pioneers, who trekked across the great plains. You can also get a recipe for pioneer bread, and make your own candlestick and so much more
I was surprised at how much I felt like a child discovering something for the first time when I was here. Participating in these activities, learning how to be self sustaining during a time when technology didn’t run their lives. How they entertained themselves. But what struck me the most, was how much of their day was dedicated to creating, and survival for the winter months. Volunteers are there to help, dressed in time period clothing and full of historical knowledge of how things were done and made during the early 1800’s.
The best part is that you get a free memento in this shop, where you get to take home the rope that you make and a slice of the bread.
Jonathan Browning Gun Shop
Jonathan Browning was a Tennessee native, who started out as a Blacksmith and then later started to make guns. It wasn’t that he just made guns, but invented different types and mechanisms of the gun. His most notable inventions were the sliding breech repeating rifle, or the Harmonica gun. The army took note of his invention and utilized his guns for many years. Each one of the Harmonica guns took 2 weeks to make, and sold for $24 (today this would equate to $456.96 per gun).
Some of his guns are on display here, and you can also see how rifle barrels in the 1800’s were made.
Lyon Drug Store and Herb Garden
Medical care before 1820 was mostly by trial and error, with apprenticeships passing down knowledge increased and collected year after year. Medical schools didn’t emerge until the 1840’s, and so most of the medicines used were strictly herbal.
So for common ailments or for symptoms of a disease process that is more insidious, any member of the community could come into the Drug Store or Apothecary and request a concoction to help alleviate certain symptoms.
There were, however, some very interesting concoctions that were used then that are quite shocking to us today – now that we have science to back up the dilitirous effects. One of these concoctions was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, used to sooth teething toddlers. What was the key ingredient? Morphine. Opium was commonly used to treat coughing fits and diarrhea – it was used as an all purpose drug back in the day. It was also common to treat syphilis with arsenic and mercury. Blood letting was used to break fevers, and calomel was used to induce vomiting that would help expel the bad blood and toxins from the body.
Much of what you see in this Drug Store is herbal based; though these would often be mixed with water or alcohol.
This store was by far the most fascinating for me, given my medical background. It made me chuckle and at the same time horrified what the people here likely endured. To be situated right near the Mississippi River, where Malarial mosquitos roamed during that time. Yet I was thouroghly impressed at how they made due with the resources and knowledge they had during that period of time.
Brick making will never be so fascinating as when you visit this shop. You have to enter a small room where a brick mason will show you how bricks are made, how they were cooked, how much they cost, and how long it would take to build a home in the 1800’s.
I didn’t realize that the different color of bricks signified their relative strength due to the placement in the fire. The sturdier bricks also cost more and possessed more color. If you are the type that likes to watch the show ‘How it’s made’ then Historic Nauvoo is the place for you!
Once you are done learning about how the bricks are made, you are given a brick, made in the ovens at this location with a memorial stamp on it for free. Just one more free memento of the plethora here.
Walking into the Blacksmith shop was VERY warm, as it should be when your trying to bend and melt metal. An elderly gentleman was there with little children crowding up in the front, curious and enthralled by the metal working and instruction. He captivated the children, by telling them (and the other adults in the room) how hot the metal had to be in order for it to bend, what types of things can cause impurities in the metal, and what types of things they would utilize a Blacksmith’s shop for back then.
He then told us a story of how young men who were wanting to wed, but did not have the money for a gold ring would use an old silver nail to propose to their brides. The ring they would use to propose is lovingly called a ‘Prairie Diamond’. Each single woman was invited to come up and receive one of these fire forged rings (thrown in Lord of Rings Meme here), and leave with a smile on her face.
After boiling in the Blacksmith shop, head over to another cook off at the Scovil Bakery. This is a rather small shop, but you get to see how a Bakery was set up, where they would cook items that could be purchased by the community – and they even offer a home baked treat. The Scovil cookies are delicious and packed full of love from the elderly women in this store. Best part is, the cookies are free!
Trail of Hope
Once called the trail of tears, you walk along a dirt road leading from the town to the river. Every ten feet or so is a new sign, with a story of how the pioneers of that time were persecuted by mobs for their beliefs. For those who are part of this Latter Day Saint Religion, this is a very moving trail – as it tells a story of courage, loss, and ultimately hope for a future free of torture, death, and constant re-establishment in new country.
This town for them, was the last town before making the trek out of the – at the time- United States to a land out west. Through storms, rain, snow, starvation, disease, and summiting mountain passes with wooden wagons and handcarts – they were able to live in freedom, and peace in a place now called Utah.
No matter if you are a member of this religion or not, their story of courage in the face of adversity is inspiring. With so much hate then, and even now – it is important to remember the lessons of our past – and learn from them.
So if you find yourself in Illinois on a road trip, or want to see how the West was truly won and explored. Visit Nauvoo Illinois and see just how courage in the hearts of Americans was truly forged.
Sleep can be elusive for many people throughout the world. It tends to be even more elusive when you are traveling, due to being in a new environment. I see this in my elderly patients all the time who are admitted to the hospital. A new environment can disturb your sleep patterns due to noise, ambient light, bed width or firmness even in the best of circumstances. Yet there are a few over the counter sleep aids that I commonly recommend to patient’s and that I frequently use during my travels. I would highly recommend trialing these at home first and checking with your primary care provider before trailing any of the recommended sleep aids below.
While this is a supplement, it is commonly used as a sleep aid by many. It tends to work in those individuals who may have too much ambient light in their room. This chemical is released in the brain at night, when in complete darkness. There was a study that was looking at Night Shift workers and their release of melatonin, and if it was somehow related to having an increased propensity to breast cancer.
This is also an over-the-counter supplement utilized to help both sleep and mood. Emotional distress or high levels of cortisol released when traveling can disturb sleep and this supplement can help calm the body and aid in more restful sleep. 5-HTP is made from L-tryptophan, a substance absorbed from our food; after being absorbed it is converted into 5-HTP which helps regulate the serotonin cycles within our bodies. Seratonin is a chemical that helps with mood regulation and in turn sleep patterns.
3: Sleep Mask and Ear Plugs
This may be tailored to the individual, but having a sleep mask to block out ambient light, and earplugs to block out noise can greatly improve the quality of sleep an individual could get on a plane, in a hotel, or other accommodation.
I recently purchased this sleep mask that had eye pockets that are velcro adjustable. The eye pockets are elevated from the strap so your eyelashes don’t brush against the cloth. This particular velcro doesn’t catch my hair in it and pull it all out either, which makes it really nice when you wake up and don’t have to pull out half of your hair to take it off. I really like the adjust-ability that this eye mask has; each eye pocket can be taken off put either closer together or farther apart depending on the width between your eyes. While on my Red Eye flight to Florida I used this eye mask, and just felt as if I was tucking my eyes in under a warm blanket. It almost felt like I was getting ready for a spa treatment 20,000 feet in the air.
The only things I would say about this eye mask is that if you are a side sleeper it presses on the side of the face and can become a little uncomfortable when you try it for the first time. The other part, which could be good or bad for you is that it does get warm if you pull the strap too tight. I have a warmer body temperature at baseline, so I adjusted the strap accordingly and had a little more airflow coming to my face. Although, on my red-eye flight it was very nice to have the extra warmth on my face because the plane tends to get quite cold when it reaches cruising altitude.
Now I can’t travel anywhere without using this sleep mask. This sleep mask seems to meet all my needs, and exceed them with the adjustability with the eye width, complete light blocking ability, and won’t make me bald from the Velcro catching my hair. So should you need a sleep mask, may I humbly suggest purchasing this one.
4: Checking Hormone Levels
While this isn’t an over the counter supplement per se, it is imperative that if you have changes in your sleep patterns to see your Primary Care Physician. Low Progesterone levels in Pre-menopausal women can lead to anxiety. Hypo or HyperThyroidism can affect mood and in turn sleep as well. Low Testosterone can make you overly fatigued, causing you to feel you need to take more naps and then interrupt the circadian rhythms your body has. Lack of sleep can also affect your mood, appetite, and even your hormones.
ginger tea with mint and lemon
5: Herbal Tea
There are a plethora of teas out there that are both natural and soothing. Having a warm beverage with these calming herbs can help you sleep better at night. I personally use Sleepy Time Tea, Yogi’s Breathe Tea, and Peppermint Tea.
6: Turkey Dinner and Warm Milk
For those Omnivores out there, Turkey has a substance called Tryptophan – which as I mentioned before (see above) can help with your sleep cycle and sense of well being. The same thing can be said of warm milk. While I’m not personally a fan of warm milk alone, a good cup of hot cocoa for those who are not diabetic could be an option for a non-pill form sleep aid.
7: Warm Foot Bath or Shower
Changing temperatures from cool to hot has a natural effect of relaxation on the body. A study on Taiwanese individuals showed that increasing the blood flow through a warm (40 degrees Celcius) foot bath one hour before bed helped improve the skin’s blood flow through the entire body and in turn resulted in a better night sleep for individuals.
8: Keep Your Routine
The bedtime rituals that you have at home are imperative when traveling. If you tend to read a book, do yoga, or do a crossword puzzle before bed then try and do what your particular ritual is, right before bed. It helps let your brain know that you are in a safe place, that things are normal. It tends to relax me to keep my nightly ritual as I call it. I get ready for bed in the same sequence every night, and in the same way.
9: Avoid TV or Phone Use About 1 Hour Before You Sleep
Blue light blocking devices are becoming more popular with research indicating that the blue light can stimulate certain areas of your brain that stimulate wakefulness. Using a salt lamp, installing blue light blocking filters, or traveling with Amber Colored glasses can help with minimizing the blue light effect.
Exercise while traveling to help improve your quality of sleep. While most people argue that, ‘I’m on vacation, I don’t want to exercise’. I promise that you will enjoy your vacation more if you have a proper night’s rest – especially with Jet Lag. We all know the health benefits of exercise for mental health, and physical health, but did you know it can help regulate insulin levels as well? It is a natural way to help improve blood flow, relax those aching muscles after a long flight or ride and will allow you to enter REM sleep more readily while traveling.
11: Don’t Eat A Large Meal At Least 2 Hours Before Bed
Eating a large meal right before bed can decrease your quality of sleep especially while traveling. It can deter blood flow from the brain, from the skin, and goes to where you’re telling the body it is needed…..the stomach. It can also exacerbate issues like GERD or Gastroesophageal reflux disease which can disturb sleep.
12: Essential Oils
While there is a huge debate in the medical community on the utility and use of essential oils; I always tell my patients that if they feel it works then keep using it. I find that with my Asthma, having Eucyluptus essential oils with me helps my breathing at night (even if it is a sugar pill effect), it calms me and I tend to sleep easier. Lavender has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for sleep maladies and calming emotions. Popping in a tiny two-ounce bottle of essential oils to rub on my pillow at night helps to create an environment that smells like my home.
13: Check with Your Doctor
If you still have trouble sleeping, frequently wake at night, have high blood pressure, or sleep better with several pillows propping you up or have to sleep in a chair – I would recommend going to your Primary Care Doctor and getting a sleep study as these could be signs of medical conditions that require intervention. The key to sleeping well while your traveling is to create an environment that feels like home, make sure you exercise, get a balanced diet, and then supplement with a sleep aid when you can.
14: Play an Audible Book
This is one that is a personal preference but essentially functions in the same way that white noise does. It helps me to sleep by giving me something familiar to listen to when I’m not used to the new environment. I turn on an audible audiobook, and then close my eyes, letting the imagination of the authors slowly lull me into an imaginative sleep.
15: Write Down Everything On Your Mind
As human beings, we try to do so many things while the sun is up. Even stretch the night out as long as we can to finish just ‘one more project’. It becomes harder and harder for our minds to just relax and unwind.
I’m sure you have experienced it, where you are on vacation, and yet you can’t seem to let go of the stress of work. You find yourself sitting on a beach chair, with the ocean waves crashing beautifully into the shore with a vibrant sunset; yet you feel a little anxiety really letting yourself ENJOY the moment. If you have never experience this, then you have found that state of Zen that 90% of the world hasn’t.
For the rest of us who have experienced this, may I suggest bringing a little notebook with you. Write down your worries, your to-do lists, people you want to call when you get home, projects you want to check on when you get home. It helps to purge the thoughts, worries, and to-do lists and helps you enjoy the moment more. I would even venture to suggest that you turn your phone off. This is the only time that you can really disconnect from the daily grind, so take advantage of it.
Bonus: Avoid Caffeine After Noon, and the latest research to support this.
Avoid Caffeine afternoon is a tip I give my patients all the time. It is commonly known to have an effect on mental alertness. Did you know that it also has a direct effect on the stress hormone cortisol, the neurotransmitter dopamine and can induce a catecholamine response that elevates blood pressure?
At a baseline, cortisol helps regulate your sleep cycle, helps consolidate your memory during sleep, affects the function of your kidneys and regulates your energy balances. If you continue to consume caffeine past the time when your natural peak of cortisol happens, it can disturb your sleep cycle by directly altering your diurnal cycle or sleep patterns.
Some may say that they have developed a ‘tolerance’ to caffeine consumption, but research says otherwise. While you may develop a tolerance to be able to go to sleep even if consuming caffeine after noon; research shows that the effect of caffeine on blood pressure never diminishes. A friend of mine had a stroke at the age of 27, he was fit, healthy, and worked in construction. After consuming two red bulls, and a cup of coffee, and didn’t consume much water on a hot day in Nevada. He ended up having a stroke and now has deficits he will live with for the rest of his life.
Having elevated blood pressure, a spike in your stress hormones and neurological function right before you are headed to bed – doesn’t exactly make for a restful night of sleep. So skip the caffeinated beverages and swap it for your non-caffeinated herbal teas I mentioned before.
Goodnight, Sleep Tight
With all of these tips, and the tips I offered previously on How To Combat Jet Lag; I am confident that you will have a good night sleep, or at the very least see an improvement in the quality of your sleep.
If you have any additional tips on how to get a good night sleep or would like to share your night-time routine with the community – please leave a comment below. Happy travels Culture Trekkers.
Searching online for hours on end, I finally decided on the neighborhoods I wanted to visit; the museums and shopping I wanted to see while in Santiago. Preparation is always key when planning a vacation, yet I only had 24 hours in Santiago Chile. There are so many things to do in Santiago Chile, I truly didn’t have enough time to see or do them all.
For those of you here on a shore excursion from your cruise in Santiago, here are a few things to do in Santiago in less than 24 hours. I was able to tour Santiago for $15, and that included food and a few treats.
Gen Hotel in Santiago Chile
My friend Breanna and I had just arrived in Santiago after a 16-day cruise along the coast of Central and South America. We arranged for a taxi from the port of San Antonio to Santiago (about an hour and a half drive), you can also take the bus/metro but this takes 2 1/2 hours. The taxi drivers near the ship wanted to charge $375 to take us into the city.
Luckily, we were able to call for an Uber that would cost us about $87 total (approx $45 per person). While it is ok to take an Uber from the San Antonio Port into Santiago, I wouldn’t recommend utilizing Uber within the city. I was given this warning from the manager at Gen Hotel, who told us that there are a lot of Uber drivers who are not legal. They take their riders to different places than they are supposed to, and then rob them and leave them there. If the cops catch you using an Uber, the fine can be up to $1000 USD, they are really cracking down on illegal taxi’s within the city of Santiago.
The concierge offered to take my friend to the airport for about the same amount that an Uber driver would cost, which I thought was very kind of him. He also changed our money for us (per our calculation based on the current exchange rate). He then suggested a few changes to the itinerary on things to do in Santiago for the short amount of time we would be there.
While Gen Hotel may not be the BEST place to stay in Santiago, only because it is about 20 minute walk to the Plaza De Armas, I would still recommend staying here. The A/C was so nice to have, the room was relatively clean, there is a 24 hour desk, and luggage storage if you need it. I reserved my room via AirBnb and felt like the staff watched out for me like they were my Uncle’s and Aunt’s.
This is not a sponsored promotion of this hotel, or for the Airbnb. I didn’t receive any discount for promoting this, I genuinely appreciated their kindness and quick communication. Even though they didn’t speak English, they utilized Google translate speech to text and we were able to communicate very clearly.
Centro Artesnal Shopping Center
This is a highly suggested place to shop for your souvenirs. A couple we met on the ship, Carlos and Maria, who are both from Santiago recommended a few things. There is a stone, Lapiz La Luz, a blue stone with white marbled flecks in it that is unique to Chile. I was told on multiple occasions that a blue stone with gold flecks in it was the real Lapiz La Luz, I later found out that these stones are cheaper for the seller and are actually from Afghanistan. The Lapiz La Luz is what you see within these penguins, a sapphire type blue with white marble looks flecks in it.
Another tip on what to buy in Santiago is Alpaca fur EVERYTHING! The cost of souvenirs in this market is comparable to other parts, and very reasonable considering it is right across Santa Lucia Hill. There are several types of Alpaca that are sold, and you can only tell which is which by touching it. The soft yet coarse fur is the mama Alpaca Fur, the incredibly soft fur is baby Alpaca.
Santa Lucia Hill
This is one of the best things to do in Santiago, visiting Santa Lucia Hill. Although calling this a Hill is a gross understatement, yet this is what the country calls this fortress/ancient volcano/park with memorials, multiple exits, and fountains etc..
I could have easily spent an entire day exploring this place, and all of its beautiful nooks and crannies. With almost 16 acres of park, rising 230 feet over the city to give you a 360-degree view of Santiago.
You start out by signing into the park, so that the city can keep track of who goes in and who goes out. Likely necessary due to homeless in the area who like to camp in the park, or vandals who go up to these historic sites and scrape graffiti into the walls.
Once you sign in, you head up to Neptune’s Fountain – something that looks like it should be in Italy. It is very intricate, yellow, and beautifully complimented by weeping willows that hanging down like a Chilean secret garden for the glamours and fabulous!
Make your way around the hill until you see signs for Santa Lucia Hill. Follow the steps all the way to the top, you may even get a little lucky and be greeted by some traditional music and a smog free skyline to see the Andean mountains in the distance.
The climb is worth it, but if you have a fear of heights, have balance issues or bad knees please do not attempt these steps. They are very steep, have minimal rails along the sides, and for those with big feet….well….it’s hard to get your foot properly on the step and feel safe.
As you make your way down from the summit of this hill, please be careful, and pay attention to each step. Do not stop in the middle of the staircase on the way down as it causes a traffic jam; step aside, let the people behind you pass, and then take your desired photos.
Reaching the main walkway from the top of the hill, you will run into Castle Hidalgo. This is the old fort that was used to protect the citizens from invaders. If you can’t make it to the top of Santa Lucia Hill, then go to the castles Tower of Santiago, where you can rent binoculars for 100 pesos and avoid the crowds.
Wander around the entire hill and you will find places like the Japanese Garden the Caupolican Terrance, and the memorial to Charles Darwin. There are so many outdoor attractions that I challenge you to find all 31 statues on this hillside and 416 vases of flowers procured for the beutification of Santa Lucia.
Museums are something that, after years of traveling, have become less interesting to me- yet I was thoroughly impressed with The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. The amount of South American history of the indigenous Amazonian people who migrated to the south after the Spanish invasions was incredibly enlightening.
The Museum is laid out in layers, I would suggest starting in the basement where artifacts from before Chile was Chile. There are a few statues there that reminded me of those on Easter Island. They are called Chemamulles, or wooden men that are said to reflect the spirits of the men buried there. They were placed on the graves of those who died. There are also massive ceramic bases and bowls, each with different shapes, patterns, and meanings.
Many of the ceramics, knives, woven textiles are decorated with animals, those things that revere nature and its bounty. There are also a collection of strings, that appear as if they are intricate necklaces but are in fact the way that they kept track of debts, shipments, payments etc. Knots of different sizes, types, and position on the strings indicated certain things.
There are also hats that were worn by these ancient people and indicated their status in the respective communities they were in.
After browsing the belly of this museum, in the cool basement, away from the heat of the city we wandered up each set of stairs. Each floor is an ascension into a different part of Pre-columbian life, where you will see how society was run and how it has shaped the culture of Chile to what it is today.
Be sure to stop by their exhibits, they do change, but when we were there we were able to see the meaning behind the Incan Calendar that was often put into textile form. The Incan calendar was used to track the changing of the seasons when to harvest when to plant etc. It also shows you how they make the textiles dye the wool, and how much talent is involved in making something so delicately beautiful and functional.
Plaza De Armas
This place is an absolute MADHOUSE during the day! Granted I visited just a few days before the Christmas Holiday here so that likely didn’t help, but I couldn’t believe the sea of people! Even the street vendors were running out of food and drink to give the people on the streets.
Ceasar, a gentleman on our cruise who lived in Santiago, was raving about a particular drink/street food item called Mote con Huseillo. It is a drink sold mainly in the summer that has sweet nectar made from soaking dried peaches, then cooked, cooled and husked wheat called mote is added and makes for a very filling treat to help coold down while touring Santiago.
The Plaza De Armas has many of the important governmental buildings, including a beautiful Post Office. This is the congregating place for many individuals to come and shop, tourists, come to see the churches and museums.
As I am not the type to love crowded areas of a city, we quickly moved through this section of the city and went down a nearby alleyway towards the Santiago Municipal Cathedral.
Santiago Municipal Cathedral
You could easily spend over an hour in this Cathedral. As with most Cathedrals it is gilded in gold, with pink marble inlaid into the pillars and beautiful religious paintings adorning the ceilings.
This is the church for the Archdioceses of Chile, and is dedicated to the assumption of Mary. The history of this Cathedral dates back to the 15th century, which I was thoroughly impressed with how new it felt, and how large it was.
It is common to feel small and insignificant in churches like this. Maybe this is a way to help the masses that come to worship in the halls here to humble themselves.
The geometric patterns of the naves, crypts, frescoes, and several alters all combine to make this a beautiful church and place of worship.
Getting to and from the airport
Avoid taking any unofficial cabs (ie/ Uber or Lyft) from the airport and wave down a ‘Taxi Oficial’. Agree on a price before you get in the cab, if they do not agree, or try to change the rate on the meter – get out of the cab and find another one. A fair price is around 15,000 Chilean pesos or US $30. Alternatively, if you’re feeling bold and thrifty, the bus costs even less and stops a few blocks away from the Plaza De Armas.
Getting around Santiago
If you plan to stay for more than a few days in Santiago, a savvy way to save money is to buy a Bip card at any of the local metro stations. It is a reloadable card that you can use for both the metro station and buses. You can also buy tickets from Pullman, Tur Bus or Condor. Buses in Chile can take you anywhere, and there are many roads that provide fantastic views of both the countryside and mountains.
Don’t forget your Travel Insurance which will protect you during your more adventurous activities, electronics, repatriation and more that your personal insurance may not cover. I recommend World Nomad Insurance as I have researched their coverage extensively, and find it extremely customizable and affordable.
Getting off of my cruise from LA to Santiago put me so close to Argentina I couldn’t help but visit. However, 36-hours in Buenos Aires Argentina is not enough time for this colorful and vibrant city.
I arrived at the airport and was immediately impressed with the organization of it, the amenities available and how streamlined their border control was. There was a Starbucks and a McDonald’s as well as some BBQ in the lobby after you left the border control.
I wasn’t meeting my guide until the next day and had accidentally put the incorrect day in the pickup time from the airport to the city center so had to wait for about an hour and a half. This gave me just enough time to stand in a massive line to exchange money from Chilean pesos to Argentinian currency.
We drove into the city center, my Airbnb host met me within 5-10 minutes of notifying her I was on my way. I dropped my luggage off in my room, freshened up, grabbed some coffee at a store down the street right before they closed at 8pm! Then headed over to Virtua Tango Club.
Dance the Tango with Locals
La Viruta Tango Dance Club is in the Armenian Cultural Centre and one of the most authentic experiences I had while in Argentina. I stayed in a fabulous Airbnb, across from a quaint little church. This club is within a 6-minute walk of the Airbnb, the neighborhood is very safe with police regularly controlling the area.
It is a 550 Argentinian Pesos cover charge to get in, and I would recommend having exact change in Argentinian I would call beforehand and reserve a table, as many of the tables are reserved after midnight. Before midnight is when a lot of the dance instruction happens, and around 2am is when the party really gets started.
There are dancing teachers from the local universities that come and give dance instruction to those wanting to learn the tango. If you are a woman, be prepared to be pulled from the audience to learn as the men in Argentina LOVE to learn this passionate dance.
Having experienced many salsa dancing clubs in Texas, line dancing and two-step dancing in Utah and Nevada. This was different in the fact that no matter what size, shape, intelligence level or physical ability you are – there is a place for you on the dance floor. It isn’t that people pair off and then you are left the ‘last pick of the litter’ for a dancing partner. You stand in three different circles depending on your level of experience in tango. Then rotate around to different partners after the completion of each new step introduced and practiced.
Trying local flavors is a great way to really immerse yourself into a culture. Not only does it help you experience something authentic, it also will improve your own home cooking styles. Empanadas Argentinian style are so delicious with the beef, veggies, and type of dough they use.
La Virtua Tango Club has some great Empanadas, which is perfect to eat right before a night of dancing. If you can’t get to Argentina, try this Argentinian Empanada Recipe.
Memory Park or Parque de la Memoria
This was one of the most moving, startling, and horrifying things I have witnessed in my travels so far. The message of this park comes in second to the Holocaust Museum in Israel, with the impact it had on me.
The park was built for the 30,000 Argentinian nationals who were being massacred during the ‘Dirty War’. Bodies were burned under bridges in day-light with cars being able to drive by and see this happening. Small graves now line the area in memory of those who were killed. Those who asked questions about the Presidents brutal dictatorship were taken and tortured in various areas around Buenos Aires.
Torture rooms were found within a mile of the university, where students would suddenly disappear. The students were taken for no other reason than they would ask questions, or were intelligent and sought an education. The church at the time was just as corrupt as the government and would be paid for their silence. The CIA of the United States knew what was happening, and Argentinians feel they partially contributed to it. We don’t learn about this history in the United States, but maybe we should – so we can learn from our mistakes of the past. Learn how to hold a government accountable that contributes to terrorism instead of defends against it.
They are still finding individuals who were killed during this dirty war, where the president sponsored his terrorism with the State money. The only reason that it was discovered that this was happening was when the World Cup was held in Buenos Aires. There was a subdued tone to the city, people didn’t want to talk to the reporters for fear of being taken. Reporters started to hear things mentioned, rumors, and then the investigations into disappearances started.
If you are in Argentina on a Sunday, I would suggest joining locals on the side of the road to drink Mate, eat BBQ and Alfajours. As you drive down the freeway you will see hundreds of cars, families and people on the side of the roads eating, talking and drinking Mate. Mate is a drink that is traditionally consumed with just hot water. It is Yerba plant tea leaves, with some caffeine and hot water served with a metal straw and a traditional ceramic cup.
Where ever you go you might see ‘hot water’ or ‘aqua calor‘ at the pop up food stands, even in the heat of summer they sell hot water. This is for this very popular and traditional drink they believe originated from the indiginous people of the Amazon, when they were fleeing Spanish invadors and migrated sout. I had the opportunity to try some while in Argentina and the mix of herbs used for this drink was very refreshing and relaxing – even on the hot day.
We had just finished at Memory park, and saw a couple on the side of the road, under a tree with their shirts off. Howard walked up to them, asked them if they were drinking Mate, and asked if I could try some as I was a tourist. They looked at me, smiled, finished off the remaining water and poured me a full cup. I thanked them both and sipped gingerly on the drink. It was refreshing, warm, like drinking a mild mint tea but without the mint flavor – more of an earthy warm flavor. It was very good, and I couldn’t believe how warm and kind the people were – even just randomly walking up to them and asking them for a spot of tea.
BBQ is part of the food pyramid of most Argentinians. BBQ there is an art form. Anywhere you go in Argentina there is a soft delicious smell of BBQ being cooked. I don’t want to recommend any ONE particular place, because part of the joy of traveling is trying new things and making mistakes. So get on Yelp when your in Argentina, look at reviews, and see where the locals recommend you go based on where your staying.
Alfajours are another delectable delight to try while your in Argentina. It is a type of cookie that is frequently eaten for both breakfast and for dessert. It is like a sugar cookie chocolate filled Oreo, that is either dipped in chocolate, or rolled in coconut/sugar or something else. This is also a great gift idea to bring home to loved ones or friends.
Take a dip in Holy Waters at Tierra Santa
While I didn’t have time to personally go to this spot, it is such a unique place that I couldn’t help but put it on this list. This is the only Christian Water Park in the world. The entire place is geared towards teaching the children that come to play about all things to do with Christianity. Including having Christ rise up out of the waters from the mountain and pour water down to the children below.
The outside of the park is decorated in the manger, the three wise men and the shepherds of the field. An angel stands guard over the entrance, and the current Pope is displayed for all to enter to say a prayer of thanks and thanksgiving.
So if you want to be able to say you have stepped foot into Holy Waters, stop by Tierra Santa water park.
Stroll through Bosques de Palermo – the Central Park of Buenos Aires
Have your guide take you to Basques de Palermo, a 1,000-acre park in the center of Buenos Aires. This is where their New Years concerts and celebrations take place. This is also where they hold plays, create hybrid roses and where most Quinciera and wedding photos are taken.
This park had a little bit of everything, for all types of travelers. We started off just outside the poet/writer sculpture park (really a circle of statues of famous writers/poet’s. Grabbing some water from Howard (my guide’s friend) as a precaution, because of the hot day in December.
Walking towards the heart of the park, we saw the stages being set up for their New Year’s Celebration, and headed towards the rose garden, or Rosedal de Palermo. There are over 18,000 roses in the park from 93 different species of roses. I could have spent at least 3 hours here smelling the roses. I secretly wished they had a perfume parlor there where you could bring the name of the rose smell you liked the most to a booth and then had that perfume made for you. What was really interesting was that the hybrid roses don’t actually have any smell to them, only the natural roses had the most plesant smells.
Walking through the roses we came to a small lake with the cutest ducks that were so excited to see Howard. Whenever he brings clients to this park, he always brings them bread, and he lovingly calls them ‘his ducks’. It was so fun to see the ducks compete with the fish in the pond for the bread that he dropped in there.
Moving along we came to several statues, gazebos laced with flowers, and then saw the small outdoor theater on a pond where plays are performed year round. During the warm summer months they perform tango in the theatre on the small lake. Keep in mind that on Mondays the park is closed for pruning.
I found out later that anyone can rent a paddle boat, roller blades, bikes etc.. in the park. I would suggest that if you have more than 48 hours in Buenos Aires, that you bring a picnic and do all three activities.
Recoleta Cemetery or Cemetario de la Recoleta
This cemetery, established in 1822, with 4,691 vaults (with anywhere from 1 to 200 coffins inside). There is over 14 acres of this labyrinth cemetery, and definitely requires a guide if you want to know the stories behind the families here. It is also recommended to have a guide because of how confusing it can get wandering around this place, it is easy to get lost, it gets very hot because of all the stone work reflecting the heat, and if you needed to use the restroom facilities your out of luck.
There is also the trouble of being able to see the more popular graves that really put this Cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood on the map. Two of these graves are Napolean’s Grand-daughter and Eva Peron’s Vault. Eva Peron’s Vault is still worshiped and revered by so many Argentinians that there’s often a line in order to get a photo, and the people behind you only allow time for a quick photo before badgering you to move on.
I highly recommend utilizing Buenos Aires Taxi’s, the gentlemen that run this company are locals, have been taking visitors on tours for years and are highly reliable and reasonably priced. While I did receive a very small discount when utilizing their services, I would not recommend them if I did not feel they would take (not just great) but EXCELLENT care of you.
Tigre is a town on the Prana Delta that was once used to hunt Jaguar’s, and thus was named Tiger (Tigre). Now it is a main tourist destination for water activities like rowing, fishing, naval museum, and plenty of waterways and boat tours.
There are plenty of antique shops, a fruit market, restaurants, picnic areas and luxury cabins you can rent out. Buenos Aires Taxis’ also do tours in this area, and can pick you up anywhere in the city.
Plaza de Mayo and La Casa Rosada
As with most cities in South America, this Plaza was formerly the Plaza de Armas, and Recova building was demolished creating the massive Plaza Mayor.
This is where most of the national banks, federal agencies are located and also where many demonstrations have taken place since the 15th century. The most notable of these buildings is the Casa Rosada, or the pink house of the Argentinian President. The arched balcony on the left is where Evita gave her famous speech to the citizens of Argentina.
It is still used for government functions to this day, but is open for tours on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays but it requires you to reserve a tour online prior to coming to the building. There is a Museum located at the back of this house, that resides on the site of the former fort for the Plaza.
Corrientes Avenue and Avenue 9 De Julio
Avenue 9 DeJulio is the widest in the world with 18 lanes it is one of the largest avenues in the world, and stop lights at every block. It looks like a massive freeway lined with ice cream shops, massive monuments with twisting bodies encircling it, buildings with advertisements and even one with the face of Evita Peron on it where they held her funeral. This is where millions of Argentinians, especially the poor who she gave a voice to, lined this street to pay their respects.
Corrientes Avenue is the Broadway street of Argentina, where you can go to see plays, theatres, shows and so much more. In the spring, you will get a special spectacle of purple when the trees lining this avenue bloom and create a stunning setting for a perfect Sunday drive. If you look closely on each of the 40 blocks of this thoroughfare, there are plaques that commemorate notable people that contributed to the history of Tango in Argentina.
You can come to this part of town at any time of night and it will look just as busy as it did during the day. If Buenos Aires is the City of the Night, then Corrientes Avenue is the Street that never sleeps.
Stroll through La Boca Neighborhood in El Caminito
This is by far the biggest tourist attraction in Buenos Aires, the colorful neighborhood of La Boca. It is the perfect area to buy trinkets, souviners, gifts, the famous Argentinian leather, and even your own Mate cup and metal straw.
This is another area that you can watch people tango on the streets, grab a drink or a meal. Just be careful when looking for a place to rest your feet, as the restaurants have a table charge for even sitting down at a table to drink some water. This is so they can pay for the performers, the rent here and the staff – but Howard took me around to a local BBQ hideout that is typically filled with people.
The BBQ is cooked over briquette fires and you can pick out the type of meat you would like before you even sit down. They provide salad, some bread sticks, dipping sauces, salad, and water. The water does cost money, but with how much you walk around here you won’t care. I think after the whirlwind of 36 hours in Buenos Aires I was so parched I drank four bottled waters.
Book a Tour with Buenos Aires Taxis
The things I listed here are not even all the things I was able to visit of my tour with Buenos Aires Taxis. Howard and John were and are such wonderful hosts, answered all my questions and helped me understand just how resilient the people of Buenos Aires are despite what their country has been through in recent years.
I received a minimal discount to take a tour with their company; but I can say with all the confidence in the world that I have never felt more safe, educated, and informed than I did when I took a tour with them.
Where to Stay in Buenos Aires
Useful Words for Buenos Aires
Please know that if you speak Spanish, it will be difficult for you to understand their slang pronunciations. A good rule of thumb is that if you hear a ‘jah’ sound this usually indicates they are using it in place of the traditional sound of ‘ya’ or ll in Spanish spelling.
Lima Peru is a city that you either love it or you hate it. It was hard for me to write about this city objectively because I had two terrible experiences while there and it gave me an unsavory opinion of the city. That being said, I only spent 36 hours in the city which isn’t truly enough time to properly explore. While I tend to not embellish the foodie side of destinations, this is a place that would be a foodie lovers dream. There is a mix of Oriental, Spanish, and Italian there that makes for some of the best restaurants in the world. If you really want to settle into the culture and have a tour of the foodie capital of South America; then you need more than 36 hours in this city to experience that. For those who may be limited time or are just passing through her are a few Things to See in Lima Peru.
Plaza Mayor and Presedential Palace
This Plaza is centrally located, like many other cities in South America, it was created as a place of gathering to protect citizens against threats or raids. The Central Plaza was a place where the armory was, allowing for maximum protection, and also why it is called Plaza de Armas. This is where you will find a 16th-century fountain that on special occasions is used as a Pisco Sour fountain that celebratory masses can come and take shots from.
There are colorful yellow and white buildings surrounding the Plaza, including the presedential palace, the archbishops palace of Lima, Cathedral de Lima, casa de oidor, municipal palace of Lima, and several others that are basically governmental buildings now.
You are allowed into the presidential palace as a foreign visitor, but you have to make a reservation in advance. Those who are Peruvian citizens are not allowed to enter the building, for security reasons. So if you hire a local guide, they will not be able to come inside this building.
Be sure to be outside around noon for the changing of the guard in front of the Presedential Palace. It is a bit of a tourist trap, so be prepared to be crowded out in an effort to see behind the gate.
Cathedral de Lima
This Cathedral has undergone many reconstructions, but dates back to the 15th-century when much of Lima was conquered. The man who conquered the Inca empire was Fransisco Pizarro and his tomb is located in this building.
There are several different chapels, aisles, and nooks that I encourage you to explore while there. We didn’t get to go into this cathedral because it was closed for the Christmas holiday festivities. So if you go to Lima, try to avoid going in December as many sites are closed (this is a theme throughout South America due to their religious devotion).
The Panchacama Ruins are some of the best preserved Inca ruins because of minimal rainfall in Lima. Lima itself only gets about three inches of rainfall per year. Many of the buildings being excavated here still have the plaster on them, some have needed to be reconstructed because of housing that was built on top of them illegally. As more tourists visit, more funding is allowed for these ruins to be excavated and restored for more touring. There are also many artifacts that were found in this area that are now in the Lima Archeological museum.
The best preserved ruins are those of the Sun Temple and the Moon Temple. I enjoyed seeing the Moon temple the most as this is where you could really see the trapezoidal shapes of the windows which are classic Inca shapes. The temples of the Inca’s were always themed around nature, the sun and the moon being of the highest importance, and then the mountains, rivers, and ocean.
To get here you need to hire a taxi driver, but make sure they are a legitimate taxi driver. Their car should be in fairly good condition (no ripped seats), there should be a sticker on the right hand side of the front window with a seal. The cost of the trip should be printed on a card for you to look at. You can typically negotiate with them to get a discounted price, but anywhere from $35-$45 for about 4 hours at Panchacama or city tour should be a fair deal for both you and them. Cost of living is just as expensive in Lima (believe it or not) as it is in the United States, they just get paid much much less.
There were two contacts in the Lima and Pisco area that I would recommend as I felt they were honest, and accomodating and spoke enough broken English to get to where I needed to go. If they are unable to take care of you, then they will arrange something for you.
Juan Carlos Verde Vargas (CoCo)
on Facebook as Juan Carlos Verde Vargas
Tours available via Taxi (three people max): Lima City Center, Museums, Panachacama and Caral Ruins, Airport Transportation services, Water Park (famous night time water fountain), and Pisco/Paracas Preserve
Carlos Gallegos Guillen
Telephone: WhatsApp & Telephone (+51)975 011 830
Personal email: email@example.com
Work email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tours available via car, van, mini bus: Caral and Panchacama Ruins, Nazaca Lines, City Tours, 24/7 service, Huacachina, Water Park, airport and ground transportation
Basilica y Convento de San Francisco or Saint Francis Monastary
This church and convent were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991 and was my favorite part of Lima. At first glance, it looks like a small unassuming church, but after spending nearly an hour in this church and convent I realized how large it was. If you want to see the crypts, be sure to reserve your ticket in advance and be aware that you have to have special permission to take photos within the crypts.
As you head down the isles of this church you will be surrounded by intricate gold arches and checkered flooring. It instantly made me immediately compare it to the Hall of Versailles. There were so many tidbits that are precious to the Peruvian people here. Being just before Christmas, the confessions lines were quite long, with red lights indicating when a priest was busy consoling or taking confessions. It helped me see how dedicated and devoted the people are to their religion here, and left a positive impression because of the devotees.
Winding around the building admiring the large tombs, with relics at each juncture that were brought over by the Spanish. It was hard to imagine how a church like this was built and how much money went into making this.
The Library here holds over 25,000 books printed overseas and brought here rest on the shelves that line a soccer field sized room full of shelves. The security here is minimal, but a sign near the exit deters anyone from trying anything in this room; the sign reads, ‘If a book is taken from this room, you will be immediately excommunicated from the church’. The literary antiques are well preserved and cared for by all of its citizens, and can only be seen if accompanied by a guide.
Balcones de Lima
The balconies are a major symbolic heritage for the city from the Spanish colonial era. I didn’t really understand why they were so important until I saw them in person. The balconies are a lot more ornate than you can see in any photograph. They are still made from the original wood from the 15th and 17th centuries. I was stunned at this historical tidbit, and had to ask our guide twice on if there was any restoration at all that had been done. He smiled and denied any restoration having altered the original wood, ‘It is incredible how well preserved they are, isn’t it. You can’t even tell they are old’, I had to agree with him. On the whole I think this is true of Lima, it is hard to tell that it is an old and ancient city because you cannot see the wear and tear of time on the structures.
Against the backdrop of blue, pink, and yellow buildings the dark balconies make for beautiful streets in the center of Lima (and perfect photo opportunities). These were another integral part into why the city center was named a UNESCO heritage site.
National Museum of Archaeology Anthropology and History
There is so much in this building that helped me understand the rich cultural heritage that Peru has. The history goes beyond just the famous Inca Ruins in Macchu Picchu. This will show you how they kept records of shipments, what accounts were owed, how different hats represented different social statuses, what other tribes lived in the area and how they contributed to such a stable empire.
I was thoroughly impressed with this museum, but felt sad that a whole wing was destroyed in 2008 from an earthquake that they are still rebuilding from. The museum itself is free, but I would recommend making a donation of some type to help them rebuild if you feel so inclined.
Monastery of Santo Domingo in Lima
It is worth it to hire a guide as they will take you up into the Bell Tower with a fabulous overview of the city. In the Bell Tower, you are able to see the Red stadium where bullfighting once took place, a map of the old city on the way up to the Bell Tower, and about 500 steep steps to the top (to work up an appetite for ceviche for later).
Finish off the tour at the central garden where there is plenty of opportunities for photos. In the center of it is a fountain and a rose garden with a perfect view of the Bell Tower from below.
Church and Sanctuary of Saint Rose of Lima
Iglesia y Santuario de Santa Rosa de Lima or the Sanctuary of Saint Rose of Lima is an important church for the people of Peru. She is the Patron Saint of both Peru and the Philippines. This incredibly dedicated sister set up, a hospital within her parents home to help care for the poor and needy.
With so many souls migrating from Venezuela and other neighboring countries this church is frequently visited for supplication to God through this Saint. Santa Rosa de Lima was the first person in the South Americas that was cannonized as a saint.
As a young girl, she worshiped Saint Catherine of Siena, fasted three times per week and would administer severe penances upon herself in secret. It is said that a servant saw her playing in the garden one day and swore that she saw her transform into a rose. With these two stories in mind, this is why you often see this Saint with a crown of thorned roses on her head, with drops of blood dripping down her forehead.
Iglesia y Convento La Merced
This is the Church and Convent of Mercy, mainly due to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, the patroness for the Peruvian armed forces is venerated in the Basilica.
This church is located along a busy shopping area between Plaza Mayor and Plaza Martin. It can be a quick stop to enjoy some time out of the heat; or it can be a nice spot to enjoy a bit of quiet time from the busy shopping streets.
Indian market for the Souvenirs
There are many markets in Lima, even a giant mall with all of the usual high end and brand name clothing and purse companies. The Indian market is where I would suggest going for a more culturally authentic experience.
Here is where you will find all the alpaca fur you could want for those cold winter days. The better quality fur that is not as easily damaged, stained or matted is the baby alpaca; which is more expensive – but you can feel the difference in the fur. I like to pretend that they just shave the animal’s furs and don’t use their hides to make the hats – but I will leave it up to you if you would like to buy them or not. Sometimes buying these things is the only way that the locals can feed their families or keep a roof over their head. So before you give them (or me) a lecture, just try to think about that.
They only accept cash in these markets, and some cards if you are lucky. If you need an ATM, there is a hotel a short walk down the street (a two story black building) that has an ATM in the lobby where you can withdraw local currency from it.
Palacio de Torre Tagle
This is a Spanish Baroque Palace it is a couple of blocks east of the Plaza de Armas. The palace currently is home to the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hosts more of the famous wooden balconies.
Don Jose Bernardo de Tagle y Bracho is the one who commissioned this palace in 1715 for his own personal use. I guess being the treasurer of the Royal Spanish Fleet would have allowed him to build himself a private palace.
If you are with a guide, the policemen will let you come inside for a quick look. It is a two story building with an open center plan, and Moorish stylized wood cut into the 2nd floor balconies. Although the outside is pink, the interior is a rich yellow. As you leave the interior there will be a small alcove on the side where the original carriage Don Jose Bernardo used in the 17th century behind glass.
Peruvian Prancing Horses & Dancers
Right next to Panchacama ruins at Hacienda Mamacona which is a bar, restaurant, horse arena and dance exhibition. This is where the Peruvian Prancing Horses and traditional dancers will enthrall you with food, drink and a show. The dancers were my favorite part, showing us the marriage dances, the dance of the devil (diablo) and several other traditional dances of the Peruvian people.
The Peruvian Horses put on a grand show for us. They have a unique gait where each foot is placed at different times on the ground; this allows the rider to barely feel any jolting and can ride evenly, even at a canter.
You are able to ride one of the horses if you wish (at an extra cost), but due to time constraints, we were unable to do so. The Lunch Buffet was good, and very filling and can also be provided along with a Pisco Sour. Please be advised that the Pisco Sour drink is VERY strong, so if you drink more than two you will feel tipsy. There is a saying in Peru: One Pisco is relaxing, Two is a good time, Three you’re on the floor, Four you don’t remember anymore.
Miraflores and the Costa Verde
This is the posh side of Peru, and where you will have the best views of the Green Coast. Walls are lined with vines placed there by the city to help with erosion that sprout purple flowers in the spring and summer. You can go to the Parque de Amore, to see some local PDA and get some fabulous photos of the art installments there.
Traveling Solo? Try your hand at paragliding along the coast, or suit up for some of the best surfing in South America. There are international surfing competitions that are held here every year.
This area seems to be the Hollywood Blvd of Peru, and the cost of the apartments here are astronomical to the Peruvian budget at least. Apartments here can cost anywhere from $1800 to $2700 a month. Given that the prices of apartments are so high, this is generally a very safe area to relax and explore.
Lima is not the city for me personally, I didn’t like how terrible the traffic was (20 minutes per one mile – and I’m not exaggerating). In addition to the traffic, I had two different people try to scam me which made me feel unsafe, and it really ruined my trip. On the other hand, I only had 36 hours in Lima, I didn’t go to any of the top restaurants, and wasn’t able to see Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos-Cochas like I wanted to.
The part that really made me have a sour mentality towards Lima was while at Hacienda Mamacona for the Peruvian Prancing Horses. A woman blocked a blind man and woman (my friends) I was traveling with from going into the bathroom. There is nothing that makes me more upset in this world that people being downright rude to those who are disabled.
I asked her in Spanish why she would not let my friends enter the restroom and she told me that our tour group was disturbing her party. After this explanation from her, I helped my friends shove past her and ignored her protests. While I know this was just one individual, and I shouldn’t judge the city as a whole based on her actions. It is very hard for me not to when someone is so unkind and rude for no reason to me and my disabled friends. The mother bear in me seems to come out when my friends are mistreated. I have patient’s who are disabled and I KNOW how much courage it takes to not just get out of the house – but to travel on their own.
I don’t think I will ever return to Lima Peru because my first impression was downright frustrating, to be honest. For those of you who may be visiting or passing through Lima, I think 24-48 hours is the maximum amount of time I would recommend and would HIGHLY suggest hiring a legitimate tour company so that you won’t get scammed by tour guides or taxies.
I tried VERY hard to like this city, so I hope you will be able to have a wonderful time there given the suggestions I have outlined here. Be sure to find a Hibachi grill, ceviche and of course a Pisco Sour. After touring Lima I would suggest heading on to Cusco or Pisco for a more authentic and culturally rich place to tour.
Useful Words and Phrases in Lima
Donde esta es el bano? = Where is the bathroom?
Como te llamas? = What is your name?
Cuanta costa este? = How much is this?
Habla Ingles? = Do you speak English?
Donde es ___________? = Where is ______________?
Por Favor = Please
Gracias = Thank You
Queiro este para mi comida = I would like this for my meal
Different people have different tolerance levels to risk, some are more comfortable than others with risk. Then there are those that can walk into a room full of tigers with a steak and not fear, while others see dragons waiting around every corner.
I feel that there are some companies that take advantage of fear, and utilize it to lure customers into using theirover priced services. While there are other situations where that fear may be warranted and proper precautions should be taken. It was overly present on the cruise I was just on through South America, and it made my blood boil that people were not more aware that it was happening. The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to become educated.
Traveling solo can be a scary thing for females, but there are a few tried and true methods that I do on a regular basis. I also outline the steps I took when confronted with a scary situation that could have escalated to something more dire very quickly had I not taken these steps.
Please feel free to add your own tips and tricks or standard precautions for safety below. I would like this to become a good resource for our community.
Standard Precautions While Traveling Solo:
1- Don’t Drink Alcohol While Traveling Solo
We all know how Alcohol blunts the self-preservation side of ourselves, weather it be socially, emotionally or even physically. So why would you drink outside of your hotel/hostel while traveling solo? You could lose a lot more than just your memory of that night. I won’t get into the gritty details of all the things that could happen when doing this, but just don’t drink if you are traveling solo.
If you really like to have a glass to wind down, then do as many other solo travelers do. BRING IT BACK TO YOUR ACCOMMODATION! All you need to do is ask a local where they would suggest getting your preferred beverage, and bring it back to the hotel/hostel. Unless you have a trusted friend who is willing to trade off on the not so sober nights with you, just don’t drink….please…..trust me….it’s not worth the risk. Any frequent solo female traveler (and even some male solo travelers) that would say the same thing.
2- Minimize What You Carry With You
One of the first things that was suggested to me when visiting Santiago, was to minimize what I was carrying with me. The gentleman at Gen Hotel, said to not carry backpacks around in the major parts of the city as it is really easy for someone taller than me (I’m 5’4″ or 162.6 cm) to grab the bottom, pull it over my head, throw me off balance and run off with my valuables. I realized after years of travel how much I had been setting myself up for something like that.
He also suggested to not bring my phone or camera with me…..which is what I use to help bring this content to the Culture Trekking Community….that wasn’t an option.
The point is, look at what your carrying, think like the criminal – try to think of ways someone could rob you and prepare for it. If you want to bring something with you, then make a conscious decision to risk losing it. So if the worst scenario comes to pass, then at least you can console yourself in knowing it was a risk you were willing to take and won’t feel so violated knowing it was a possibility.
3- Keep a Copy of Your Passport and License
Keep a copy in the safe with your passport, keep a copy at home, give a copy to someone trusted, and keep a copy when your going around the city. If the hotel or accommodation doesn’t have a safe or doesn’t seem totally secure, then carry the passport with you in a bag or a place that it won’t easily be stolen from you.
That is your ticket home, don’t risk it, it isn’t worth the headache it would cause by not having it.
4- Give a copy of your hotels/itinerary/cards to a trusted loved one at home
It isn’t just a copy of your passport that you should give to a loved one or trusted friend at home, but also a copy of your major credit cards. I know some will consider this a risk in and of itself. Let me try and explain why I do this though; let’s say you are in an underdeveloped country and are having a hard time looking up the phone numbers to call the card companies. What if you are in the middle of no where, with just a satellite phone? You can call your friend at home, and ask them to call all credit card companies, and the social security numbers to help protect you; or at the very least give you the correct numbers so that you can call.
5- Take a Walk in Daylight to Get a Feel of the City
There is a certain vibe to every city that I visit. Some I feel more dangerous than others. I look at where locals congregate, how busy the area is, if there are a lot of homeless people, a lot of beggars, people talking on the phones or looking quiet. I also look to see if there are street patrols in the area. If you spot a cop, you are usually in a safe part of town. If there are no cops, and loads of people approaching you asking you to ‘come on the tour’, ‘I have special price’, or ‘do you need money exchanged’ – then I typically don’t consider that area safe.
Being able to ‘read the vibe of a city’ is something that comes with practice, but I gave you a few tips above that will help you see what I’m talking about on your next trip. If your gut tells you to be paranoid, or you feel nervous about the city AT ALL then make a rule you are back in your sleeping accommodation before dark. If not, just take a reputable taxi or uber to and from your desired destination or to the train station. Your concierge, or host should be able to direct you in how to look for reputable transport.
6- Don’t Set Your Bag Down
It doesn’t matter if you have a small purse, a large backpack, or a stroller. Don’t stop in the middle of a crowded street and set your bag down or take it off your shoulders. This opens it up for anyone that passes by to reach down and grab your items and run off to get lost in the crowd.
Make sure that if you are trying to get into your bag, even in a store that you take your bag to a corner, an alleyway that is still in view of the street but not directly in the line of the crowds and THEN pull out your money. Think of trying to light a match in the wind, that is how you should guard the visual on your money.
Not only does practicing this make it safe from people grabbing your bag and taking off; it also protects where you put the majority of your money back so people watching the tourists don’t know which pocket to target when attempting to pick-pocket you.
7- Learn Some of the Basic Words While Traveling
This has helped me more times than I can count in many different situations. I try and learn the following phrases:
What is your name?
How much does this cost? Can you put it in my phone?
Can you point me to where I’m going?
Do you take Credit Card or Cash?
Where is the Bathroom?
Can I have this?
Do you have water? (or other beverage of choice)
Where do I find? Can you Draw it on a map how to get there?
If I don’t have the phrase already in my phone notes, then I will pull out Google Translate and use a little data to get messages across. I also keep a pad of paper on me, and try to draw a picture of what I’m looking for (stick figures are fine if you can’t draw well).
8- Look Up What the Destinations You Want to Visit in the Local Language.
This is something I learned when visiting South America. While I do speak Spanish, it was difficult for me to know the EXACT spelling of the museum, destination, or eatery that was recommended in THEIR language. If you punch in the wrong name in the search bar in your navigator, it might lead you to the wrong place or cost an expensive trip to the wrong location.
9- Carry a Fake Wallet or a Belt Wallet
I use a fake wallet more than I use anything else. For the ladies, a good tip I use is by carrying the larger bills in my menstrual cycle pads. I think even just writing ‘menstrual’ I lost about half the male readers. There is just something about talking about that stuff that really turns guys into flibbity gibbities when you mention anything about it. Can you imagine if one saw a pad? Doesn’t matter the country your in, that is a taboo thing. There is also an unspoken rule with females that you just don’t mess with that stuff unless someone asks for it in the stall next to you. Bottom-line, it is a GREAT hiding place. You can also use cardboard tampons as hiding places.
The fake wallet is for bartering in the markets, I will put scope out the shops, and if I see something I like – I put the price I’m willing to pay for it in the fake wallet in an alley. Then I return to the shop and negotiate the appropriate price, unless it is far too expensive.
10- Stand Away From The Crowd
Street scams are on the rise, from the vendors claiming to give you a good rate on cash exchange. To people advertising good housing for a deposit. Or the unexpected street performance, with the accomplice in the back checking out your unguarded back pockets or purses. It is worth the effort to do a two minute search on ‘Scams in ______’.
One instance my parents had while traveling was when my Mom forgot to put her hidden purse inside the front of her shirt. While at a cross-walk in Europe, she was waiting to cross the street with my Father. There were several other people around and a girl with a newspaper kept bumping into her. She thought it was just the way that people did things in this particular area of the world. As they were crossing the street she heard yelling, and a man with his wife ripping the shirt up over the head of one of the girls. There was a lot of cash and passports that fell out. My Mom looked down to find her purse empty, her passport gone, along with the cash that she so recently had ‘safely hidden away’. She admitted that she had been tired, and felt safe enough in this particular destination that she didn’t think she needed to take such precautions anymore.
The man who caught the two female thieves, came up to my parents and gave them back their passports. If they would have lost those passports, they would have been stuck in that city with no backup and ruining their vacation at the US Embassy trying to find a way back home. (Getting a Passport re-instated, even if temporary can be costly, time consuming and puts people in dire conditions more often than you would think).
Moral of the story, avoid crowds, leave the passport in the safe in the hotel. Don’t get comfortable and make a mistake that could cost you more than you can afford.
11- Carry Your Back Pack in Front
This is a tip a Moroccan local taught me, to always carry your backpack in front of you with your arms tightly around it in the crowded markets or in front of street performers.
If you are seated at a restaurant, don’t hang your purse off the edge of a seat/table. Keep it at your feet or string your foot through one of the loops. Who cares if you look paranoid! It is better to be safe than sorry, as I always say.
12- Get Appropriate Vaccines and Carry Medication for Common Ailments
I took a course in college in Tropical Medicine and Parisitology. There are flies that can bite you and cause itching so bad you have to be sedated. Other larva that can burrow into the nether regions and cause infertility if you aren’t careful. Parasites that cause blindness, Malaria, burrow in your lungs etc.. Tropical diseases that will have diarrhea so bad you have to lie in a bed with a hole in it; will cause major heart disease when you are older, burrow into your brain or muscles and many other really fascinating but debilitating diseases.
Vaccines have a lot of controversy around them due to a study that was falsified and is no longer recognized as fact by the medical community. So be careful in refusing to get these vaccines for Typhoid, Yellow Fever, or the medication for Malaria. Be sure you visit the Center for Disease Control, or other government organization within your country to find out what is recommended for you. Each country has their own recommendations based off the diseases that their citizens have already been vaccinated for, or are known to be susceptible to based on their geographical location or ethnicity.
A good rule of thumb I make for myself when eating in other countries is that if I can’t peel it, cook it, or it isn’t fresh meat and the bathrooms aren’t clean. I choose to not eat there and keep a granola bar in my purse if my stomach starts to eat itself in hunger.
13- Carry a Back-up Charger for Your Phone, Don’t Keep it in Your Back Pocket
I NEVER keep my phone in my back pocket while traveling. I rely on the navigation in my phone so much when traveling I would be a sitting duck if I didn’t have it with me. This is why I keep it attached to my stabilizer, or I keep it in a deep pocket somewhere in a bag or in my bra (ladies will know what I mean).
Carrying a backup charger is essential for me when traveling, because of how much I use my phone for video, navigation, taking voice memos, and posting IG stories when I find a good Wifi to let people know I’m safe at home. It also helps me create a digital footprint, so should I go missing, or have something happen to me- someone will always know where the last place I was.
For those with high profile Instagram or Facebook accounts, you may want to create a private one that just updates family. The reason is, because I have had some of my friends say that they had people start to follow them on their vacation and make them nervous. So just keep that in mind.
14- Blend in With Your Outfits
Don’t wear an ‘I’m from Harvard’ in Europe, don’t wear a Rolex with a Gucci bag in South America. Didn’t everyone learn from when Kim Kardashian was robbed from flashing her bling around online? It is the same idea when you are traveling. If you go around in bright red or yellow flowy dresses, or leave your camera out on a tripod unattended…you are screaming to everyone there ‘ROB ME’! Be smart, or agree to the risks beforehand and take precautions.
Traveling Solo can be hard to take those enviable photos, and I am working on an article for the community on how to take those photos safely. Just ask another tourist to take the photo (if you can spot them, then the locals can spot them as well). If they are snapping selfies, rest assured they probably are tourists as well. You have to pick the oriental tourists though, they are MASTERS when it comes to taking the good photos (well the girls are anyway). I had one lady I asked take my photo and it turned into a full on photo shoot! Some people just really love helping others, and making your memory as good as you would have done it yourself. Asking other tourists is a good way to meet people you can collab with on touring the city with as well, and get discounts.
15- Be Vigilant and Defensive When It Comes To Crossing Streets in Developing Countries
Some 25,000 foreign tourists died in road accidents in 2009, don’t become a statistic. Stay at the back of the crowd crossing the street, always wait an extra 3 seconds to make sure no cars are running the red light. Follow the locals, observe how traffic patterns are functioning. Again, get travel insurance…it will save you should tragedy strike.
16- RESPECT Your Surroundings
Victoria Falls death, Bell tower death, agitating animals for photos, touching wildlife while diving.
How many times as a kid did you see the sign, “Don’t feed the bears” or any other animals. In Utah there is a constant reminder from the friendly Smoky the Bear encouraging kids from young age, ‘Only YOU can prevent forest fires’. Yet there are still those people that have not grown up, and try to push the boundaries with the thought that, ‘I’ll be fine, I’m not like them, I know what I’m doing’. Even I have fell prey to this during the wild flower festival in Alta Utah. While there were no ropes per se, there were clear paths. I decided to stray into a pretty wild flower patch to take some photos. I was then approached by the park ranger educating me on how I was ruining the experience for future generations. Apparently when you walk on the dirt where the wild flowers are, the ground gets packed down, preventing the wildflowers from growing. He said that it can take up to a decade for the natural (not artificial) growth of the wild flowers to come back because they need the certain type of soil to grow in.
So just because you think it is ok to cross that line, veer off the path, carve the name in the tree, hang off that rope or balcony, get closer to the edge for the best picture doesn’t always mean that it is the safest, nor the right thing to do.
What to Do in an Uncomfortable Situation or in an Emergency
1- Know the Telephone Numbers for an Emergency Personell
This is something I forget to do all the time before visiting a country. What if something did happen though? What if you were hit by a car and couldn’t get up? What if your friend falls down a ravine while hiking, or off a waterfall onto a rocky outcrop and you couldn’t get to them? Who would you call? How would you tell the services that you needed help?
This is where knowing the numbers for Police, Ambulance, and Rescue teams comes into play. Whatever activity you plan on doing, at least know the number to call for an Ambulance.
With terrorist attacks, accidents, and those Culture Trekkers who love adventure like I do….it is vital for not just you, but for those you leave at home that care about you that you know these numbers.
2- Know How to Ask for Help and How to Describe Your Location
This conicides with number one. If you are in a new country, are not completely fluent in the language – I suggest knowing at least the basics of how not just to call for help, but describe what is going on.
Know how to say, ‘I’m hurt and need help. I don’t speak the language. I’m located here. Do you speak English, German, Spanish, French or whatever your native language is. You might be bilingual, I don’t know, but the brain is hardwired to forget the language that you may not be fluent in during a crisis situation.
3- Learn How to Say ‘Stop’ Your Making Me Uncomfortable, and How to Say NO.
I had a man on a train get very close and personal with me in a very uncomfortable way. I tried to shove him off and look for help from fellow passengers, but because I didn’t speak the language – he was able to play it off that we were a couple just having an argument.
This is why learning how to say STOP, your making me uncomfortable in whatever language the country your visiting speaks is vital. Also being able to ask the fellow passengers, ‘Can you point me to the direction of help, to make this person stop harassing me would be’.
4- Go to a Museum
Sometimes even asking for help, or saying ‘STOP’ to the harasser will not dissuade them from following you. If this is the case, or you meet someone on the street, or someone is following you and your gut tells you it might be dangerous….LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCTS!! It is better to be safe than sorry.
The man mentioned in item three, changed his plans, tried to follow me through the city. Attempted to pull me into an alley, and I knew that twisting my hand towards his thumb forcefully would break his grasp. I continued to twist, turn, cross streets to distract him; it was very early in the morning and there was no one on the streets I could ask for help.
I decided to go into a museum, and that is when he became desperate. He grabbed my coat, asked me to not go, I twisted, and ran the rest of the way into the building. Talking to the Musuem guard/police, I asked them to keep an eye out for this person (who I snapped a photo of, just in case something happened). They made sure the coast was clear, and I took a different route on a main road to the next destination.
It put me on edge for the rest of the trip, but now know that entering a place where artifacts, art, or any other major tourist attraction is — will always have guards somewhere that you can ask to help you. They would probably welcome the distraction and help.
I know this mostly applies to females, as men would likely just punch him til he left them alone. Females who choose to travel solo, it is always good to have a plan, so if your instincts are screaming at you to run or be afraid – I can’t stress it enough….listen to them.
5- Get Travel Insurance
I have never considered getting travel insurance in the past, until this last year when I attended a travel conference. This is when I was able to sit down with Allianz Travel, and World Nomads Travel Insurance and ask them what they cover versus my Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Insurance I have.
So I called Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), and with my medical background, having worked in both the Intensive Care Unit and in the Operating Room – I know what worst case scenarios look like and how much that can cost.
For the most part, BCBS covers most of what they would cover for an ‘out-of-network’ provider, should I need to have a visit to the Emergency Room, or end up in the hospital for whatever reason.
What they don’t cover is repatriation, or bringing your body back, should you suffer a deadly accident (or get caught up in a disease outbreak like they had in Africa). The problem with them not covering this, is that your family or loved ones will not get closure. You don’t know what that country will do with your body, and the cost of repatriation (at least in the United States) can be upwards of $10,000 dollars due to the special requirements for transporting back into a country are.
If your saying, ‘well I will be dead, so who cares’; here is the other thing that Travel Insurance covers though: stolen cameras, computers, emergency evacuations, cancelled trips, delayed baggage, delayed flights, dental emergencies, search and rescue should you have an accident with diving (which I’m doing more of now) and over 200 other adventure activities that you don’t even think of when visiting a foreign country.
Now I don’t travel without it, it is better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Many of my fellow travel savvy friends use World Nomad Insurance, as it seems to have the best coverage for the price, but you can also look at Allianz Travel Insurance and compare the two. Pick the one that will fit both your budget and what you plan to do.
6- Call the Embassy
If you are feeling extremely threatened and fear for your safety due to riots or unstable local situations, get incarcerated by a ‘dirty cop’ or for doing something stupid, lose or have your passport stolen. These are all examples of situations that you would need to call the Embassy for your country for. Be sure you know where they are located, and the best way to get there should the local situation become unstable.
As Always…Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and I’ll See YOU on the Flip Side.
Visiting Scotland for the second time in less than two years allowed me to delve a little more into the adventures available. One of the more interesting road trips that locals are taking more often is along the NC500 Coastline. I wasn’t able to complete the entire road trip of the Upper Scottish Highlands, but definitely would love to return to complete this trip in its entirety. Here is what to see on the NC500 Coastline in Scotland should you venture to do as locals do, and take this road trip in the most beautiful country I have seen.
Inverness for Easy of Arrival and a Starting Point with History
While Inverness isn’t technically part of the NC500 coastline road trip, it is a good starting point. This characteristically charming town has an airport, rental cars, Airbnb’s and all the amenities that you may need to start your journey.
The Scottish Highlands are known for their over abundance of Bed & Breakfasts, as a supplemental income for the aging population. Should you find yourself staying in one, you are sure to have the classic Scottish breakfast of ham, eggs, black pudding, beans, and rice.
When starting in Inverness, be sure to stop by Culloden – an integral part of the Scottish History and basis of which the popular show Outlander has driven hoards of Kilt loving fans to this off the beaten path place. A short drive away you will find Clava Cairns, where you learn of the Standing stones and Scottish folklore traditions. The last stop of this day should be Inverness Castle before making the one hour thirty minute drive out to Dunrobin.
Dunrobin a Unique French Chateau
There is a small stretch of houses surrounding the French Chateau inspired Dunrobin Castle. Be transported to France in this Disney like Scottish Castle, where you will learn of its colorful history and warm hospitality.
It started as a single great tower in the 14th century then expanded in the late 18th century to how it looks today. Undergoing transformations with each Lord that occupied it, including becoming a boy’s school and a Naval hospital.
If you are more into animals, gardens and nature, then take a stroll out back where a falconry display will thrill you with delight. Here you will see some of the most magnificent birds of prey in the whole of Scotland including a Great Owl, Golden Eagle, and a variety of Falcons.
Whaligoe Steps the History of the Locals
When driving the NC500 north, there is a unique place called the Whaligoe steps. For those who love history of the locals, this is commonly where fishing boats would dock. Fish were cured here, and hauled up the steps.
The main sources of food for the locals in this part of Scotland in the 17th century was from barley, oats, beans, and peas. Some other foods such as kale and porridge were also eaten during this time period. When the Vikings came in the 8th century fishing became a major source of protein for locals. They needed their cows and sheep for milk, and wool – both essential to survival in the bitter winds of winter.
Ale, cheese, butter were considered to be niceties for gatherings and festivals. Meat, wines, and quality beers were saved for the occasional luxury or to impress clans, or visitors.
Sinclair Girnigoe Castle for the unique location of these ruins
Perched on the edge of a cliff. these castle ruins are far more unique than any other ruins I have visited. Sinclair Girnigoe Castle that was built with an internal dry moat for added protection, a private entrance from the sea if they were surrounded. This castle withstood several sieges until finally succumbing to British forces after the Battle for Culloden.
If you do visit, be sure to climb down to the secret shore that helps protect the castle even more. This area is filled with black rocks, a white sandy beach, and the bluest, cleanest waters I have seen.
John O’Groats (aka At World’s End)
Visiting John O’Groats stirred the Viking DNA within me, and made me want to jump in a boat and explore the vast ocean in the midst of the storm before me.
You can also visit several other islands from this location. There is a luxury hotel here called Natural Retreats, that is so Instagrammable I cannot believe it hasn’t been visited more often. There is a sign that you have to stand in front of, turn around twice and lay a kiss on it. It is good luck for your future travels, just like throwing a quarter over your left shoulder into the Trevi Fountain in Italy. This is to guarantee your return to Scotland, wishing for things at Land’s End. The Edge of the world.
The oncoming storm was absolutely stunning to witness here, with the roiling ocean beyond. I did not envy those who were boarding ships to visit the other Islands.
Be sure to read about the odd statue/art installment that represents how strong the ocean currents are in this area. Where the current is said to move boulders up to 500 lbs through this area.
Dunscasby Head Stacks for the hike
This hike can take up to 45 minutes to complete. It is not a difficult hike, and provides a quiet calming landscape next to beautiful ocean views. The Dunscansby Head Stacks are a few rock formations just off the coast of Northern Scottish Highlands that are a right of passage to hike to for all those that travel the NC500 coastline.
Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey for history
This was the property of Queen Mother Queen Elizabeth from 1952 to 1996 until she gifted it over to a Trust to take care of. Originally built by George, the 4th Earl of Caithness for his son William Sinclair. William was visiting his older brother John at Castle Girnigoe, where he had been imprisioned for quite some time and revealed to William he was planning an escape. William forbade it and planned to tell his father, so John ended up killing him.
The castle went to his third sone George Sinclair of Mey. The Castle became the seat of the Earls of Caithness for the next 100 years. The fifteenth earl died at age 30 without family or children of his own. Eventually the castle was sold to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1952.
RSPB Dunnet Head Coastline Views & Sea Birds
Here you will find a nature reserve, a lighthouse, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes (birds that live in this protected area).
It is a grassland on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. In the spring you might see the sea birds courting, summer the chicks are born and the parents are frantically gathering food, and the fall the birds have migrated leaving a cool yet peaceful calm to those wishing to take in the remote and beautiful beauty of the Scottish Coastline.
Thurso for the Rural Scottish Feeling
This is the Northern most town of the United Kingdom. It was one of the most important Norse fishing ports, and still retains its charming rural Scottish feeling. Including Old St Peters Church that dates back to 1125.
With the powerful ocean swells coming into Thurso, it is known for it’s excellent surfing and ocean kayaking adventures. There are international surfing championship events regularly. There is also an annual raft race hosted by the North Coast Branch of Coastguard Association.
Durness for Smoo Cave
After doing some surfing in Thurso, head to Durness for a round of golf that could be challenging for you given the ocean winds. The Beaches here could rival those in the carribean because of the pristine blue (although cold) waters.
If you don’t like to have cold feet, then head to Cnocbreac where there are the remains of two parallel turf dykes of Neolithic origin. It amazes me when modern technology fails constantly, yet the engineering feats of those thousands of years before still stand today.
If you want a truly unique experience, head to Smoo Cave. This is by far the main attraction of the area. It is an ocean cave, used by the Norse, Viking and clear back to the Mesolithic era as a place of hiding. The site is protected and can only be entered (due to safety reasons) if guided. The cave is quite large, with a fresh water waterfall dropping into the cave at nearly 66 feet high (20 metres).
Plan to stay a few days at the SYHA Hostel, or the campgrounds situated above the beach. The Hostel is converted army barracks that are perfect for protection from wind and help keep in the warmth.
If you plan your trip carefully, you could also visit the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival, a celebration of music, poetry, theatre and other cultural activities. John Lennon and Yoko Ono would take their summer vacations here with their children.
Scourie for the Fish
Fishing here is quite popular due to all the fresh water lochs in this area. While the official population is only 132 people, there are several Bed and Breakfasts open throughout the year here. There are camping spots available here, but only during the spring/summer and fall.
If you stay in Scourie, be sure to pop on over to the Handa nature reserve for all my fellow bird watching enthusiasts. You will see more puffins, skuas, guillemots and razorbills that you could count.
Ullapool for the Unique Festivals
This is where the Northern Atlantic Drift passes, and creates warmer temperatures throughout the year. You also see palm trees, well techically they are New Zealand cabbage trees, but are often mistaken as palm trees.
It is oddly paired as a major herring port as well. So be sure to grab some pickled herring while you are there.
If you plan it right, you can also take part in the book festival. It is a unique cultural event, as there are writers throughout the world that come to this festival to share their writings in both English and Gaelic.
If reading isn’t your thing, then try October, when the Ullapool Guitar Festival takes place. There is also the Loopallu Festival that is a major regional annual event.
Dingwall for Dingwall Castle
This town holds a very old clan castle, dating back to the 12th century. It belonged to the Clan Mackay. It was once the largest castle north of Stirling Castle, but only the Dovecote remains.
While it is a quaint town, with little to see in the way of ancient history. It is your last stop before heading back to Inverness or down to the Isle of Skye. So be sure to grab something warm to drink, fill up the car with gas (or petrol) and go home with memories to last a lifetime.
As Always….Happy Travels….Happy Tales… See YOU on the Flip Side.
Be sure to find a rental car that you are familiar with as the roads winding and long. If you are used to driving a manual transmission, there are very few manual transmissions in the U.K. to rent, so rent your car early. Automatic transmissions are plentiful to rent, so you can wait for a good deal or sale to rent one.
It is also a good idea to ask for a GPS for the car for back up should you not have cellphone service. For the truly remote areas, use the GPS to get close, then Google Maps with GPS coordinates to find the exact location.
Taking a road trip in Scotland is still one of my favorite things I have done while traveling. One of the highlights on this road trip was racing from Portree on the Isle of Skye to Neist Point Lighthouse.
Driving to Neist Point from Portree takes around one hour to drive. The roads to Neist Point Lighthouse felt like I was on a rural race car track, or a Scottish Mario cart. Winding frantically through the Isle of Skye countryside, racing the sunset, honking for the tiny lambs frolicking to a fro across the road with green hills as far as you could see. There were no cautionary signs like the states, and you don’t dare try to blaze your own trail because large pockets of moss hide the pitfalls and potholes. I was so determined to see this place though, no one died, and I stayed within the respective speed limits (insert cough).
Choose Your Path
We reached the small parking lot, and there was a dilapidated looking shack with a wooden beam blocking any drivers from attempting to drive to the Neist Point Outlook.
From here you can either veer left to take the steep concrete path towards the lighthouse. Proceed with caution in a rainstorm as the stairs can get quite slick. Also remember the rule of hiking, where you hike down to, you must be able to hike up from.
Veering to the right after you pass the former toll booth is the path we decided to take, as it leads you to an outcropping with a perfect view of the sweeping cliffs near the lighthouse with all of the birds that nest on its stony pillars.
The Hike to the cliffs is easy, I completed it in flip flop sandals. I would, however, recommend that you wear something that covers your whole foot with a warm windbreaker. The cold ocean winds can penetrate into you, so it takes hours for you to warm up after waiting for the sun to set and the lighthouse to turn on.
More Than Just A Photo
Waiting for the sun to set, it was fascinating to watch the other people on the edge of these cliffs. There was a sense of community, kindness, professional photographers perfecting their evening shots. After running around all over the Scottish Highlands seeing the sights, it was nice to arrive here at nine o’clock at night. The sun slowly changes the landscape and cliffs from the Golden Hour to the brilliant reds, oranges, pinks. The birds on the cliff face, slow their flight and settle into their nests.
A hush falls over the crowd, and the lighthouse comes to life. The light beams out over the vast ocean, guiding the ships to harbor as it has traditionally done since the early 1900’s.
Unique Wildlife Near Neist Point
While I’m not a bird watching type, I am fascinated by birds in flight and there were plenty here to become entranced by. The cliffs near the lighthouse were teeming with sea-birds frolicking in the ocean winds blasting the coast. The most common sea birds in this area are gannets, black guillemots, razor bills and shags.
It isn’t just birds who find the frigid waters near this coastline pleasant. Whales , dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks are commonly seen migrating around this area, and are frequented by brave scuba divers.
Fishing around the Isle of Skye is how most of the people in this area supplement their income during the off season. Just in this area, there are fourteen different species of fish that can be caught in Moonen Bay.
Claim to Fame and Future Plans for Neist Point
Neist Point was used for a number of scenes in the movie Breaking The Waves in 1996, starring Emily Watson.
It was also featured in 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves, filmed on the headland at Neist in October 2012.
In 2013 there was talk of opening a small souvenir shop near Neist point, it was approved, but because of the relaxed nature of the Scottish Highlands – the building process has not happened yet.
Situated on the cliffs of Caithness stood the main castles of the powerful Sinclair family for over 300 yrs. This 14th-century building was built upon by the Sinclair family for nearly 200 years. Then the wicked 5th Earl George Sinclair was constantly bickering with his neighbors the Clan Gun. This eventually led to an attack that lasted as a 12-day siege attempt until they finally withdrew. The Earl was forced to flee Sinclair Grinigoe Castle because of the mounting debts he had accumulated.
British Invasion of Sinclair Girnigoe Castle
In 1651 Oliver Cromwell (an English Lord) moved in with his men resulting in massive damage to the castle from all the skirmishes and squabbles between the English regiment and the local clans.
The English troops were run out of the castle, and the 6th Earl sold the castle to Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy. George Sinclair claimed the castle should have been passed to him, so he went in with a band of loyalist and removed all furniture, flooring, doors and the roof.
The Last Battle
The last battle over the castle right was at Altimarlach where the Campbells emerged triumphant. In 1681 the Sinclairs regained the Earldom after which the castle fell into disrepair. The battering of the waves and ocean wind took the castle down stone by stone. Parts of the castle have since fallen into the sea.
A Sinclair family charity has taken over on rebuilding the castle to it’s former glory which is ongoing and arduous. Located on the narrow peninsula of Sinclair Bay and the North Sea is the only castle in Scotland listed on the World Monuments Fund list as one of the 100 most endangered heritage sites in the world.
Sinclair Girnigoe Castle Structure Navigation
There is a stony passage that you walk into the main courtyard of the buildings. There was was a drawbridge over a once internal dry moat of the tower house. This tower house rises three stories from the bottom, you can find the remains of the tower house on the east side of the courtyard.
If you follow the remnants of the buildings to the edge of the cliff face, you will find a windows with a view of the sea beyond. There is also a stony staircase that descends to a secure area that was used to enter the castle, but yet protected from direct enemy fire (also called a sally point).
The stories of this castle say that the Sinclair portion of the castle, was built for the beautification, and the Girnigoe portion was built for the fortification and strength of the castle. The Girnigoe portion is considered the Tower House, the West gate and the chimney stack are considered the Sinclair portion. While some historians dispute that there was ever two different castles built, it has been called Castle Sinclair Girnigoe for the last 300 years despite a parliamentary declaration it should just be called Castle Sinclair.
The main buildings that you see today are under preservation and reconstruction, but the original tower was built around the 15th-century. Be sure to take a photo of the plaque that deems this so, and what historians base the dating of the castle off of.
The rocks themselves are built from red sand stone rock and Cathiness slate, giving it a beautiful complimentary coloring to the green grasses surrounding it.
The most unique part of this castle is that it is the only castle in Scotland that is listed on the World Monuments Fund. This deems this castle as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World.
The Rocky Cove
The Sea inlet Goe, is a Norse word meaning a rocky inlet. When you approach the castle, it is not immediately visible, but creates a natural barricade to entering the castle.
Walking near the inlet is not safe, so please don’t attempt it as it is a far drop onto the rocky ground below. Looking down into the inlet, you see that it is covered in perfectly rounded black rocks with a beautifully contrasting white beach at the bottom. I imagined it was the perfect area for docking rowboats from the storms that frequent this area of Scotland.
Where is Sinclair Girnigoe Castle Located?
The castle is separated from the mainland by an arm of the sea known as goe, a norse word meaning cave. There is a dry moat on one side which allows for a drawbridge, and added protection for the castle from mainland attacks.
Sinclair Girnigoe Castle GPS coordinates, 58°28’33.0″N 3°03’29.0″W, were extremely helpful when making our way there. If you have AT&T you won’t get great service in this corner of the world, but those with T-mobile do get better service so using google maps is an option. Another option is to download the google map onto your phone for this area, to be able to use it offline.
This is surely not a castle to be missed while traveling the NC500. I know that visiting every castle in the UK can be not only daunting, but by the end tiresome. This is one that is quite unique due to being on the edge of the northern most point of the UK and it is easy to imagine how life would have been in the castle. So when you visit Scotland be sure to slip this castle into your itinerary.
How to Get to Sinclair Girnigoe Castle
Take the road north of Wick headed towards Noss Head. Park at the large parking area before the Noss Head Lighthouse and follow the sign post to the castle along the path.
It is about a 15-20 minute walk along a gated road to the castle itself. The castle ruins seem safe and stable as long as you do not cross the safety ropes, lines, or gates.
There are some signs at the castle itself with historical information. There no signs that point to the castle. So utilizing the GPS coordinates above is a great way to navigate there.