Roatan for the Win!

My family and I decided we’d do Christmas differently this year (er, last year, 2015) and planned a Caribbean getaway to the beautiful island of Roatan–the largest of the Honduran bay islands. We live in the Washington, DC area and were able to fly United from Dulles to Houston, Houston to Roatan.

At first sight, I was hooked…

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As we walked into the airport, an American expat greeted everyone and helped to organize the lines. She was a volunteer because she claimed “you can’t spend every day at the beach,” though I’m not convinced of that. After clearing customs, we were scooped up by our van driver and taken to Eldon’s Market for booze food and supplies. The store has a good selection of food, alcohol, and other necessities. If you’re renting a house or condo, this is a smart/essential stop to make.

As for rental houses, I did hours of research. Hours. Being our first visit to the island, I thought it would be nice to stay somewhere between West Bay and West End–two popular areas among visitors. Our house, The Pink Orchid, was nestled on a hill between them. I thought I did my due diligence in lodging research, but even I was pleasantly surprised by the house. The kitchen, for starters, was better equipped than my own (minus the Vitamix), the owners–on account of their variety of vessels from which to consume alcohol–could definitely be my friends, and the house was clean, comfortable, and charming… with this view:

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Pink Orchid deck hammock

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Pink Orchid sunset

If you’re trying to view the house website from an apple mobile device (without flash), try their VRBO site here. There is a dock just below The Pink Orchid where you can float, swim, or flag down a water taxi to take you either to West Bay or West End. The reef beyond the dock, which is an easy kayak to the buoy, is intact and teeming with sea life. Oh yeah, and the house comes with two 2-person kayaks.

If you’re interested in a similar area, but prefer a hotel, check out Xbalanque. We walked by it each time we went to West Bay Beach and it is quite chic, serene, and beautiful.

If staying in a town is more your speed, look no further than Caribe Tesoro. Seriously. We happened upon this gem of a B & B each time we walked from The Pink Orchid to West Bay Beach, remarking on its beauty with each pass. Quite unfortunately, it took until our last day to stop in. As far as I can tell, they are the only place with a beachside pool, which also has a little island with hammocks, a water slide, and a swim-up bar. The friendly staff and beautiful view are a nice addition to an already fabulous spot. After touring a few of the B & B rooms, as well as their 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo, I know a stay there is in my future. We spent one day of leisure at Caribe Tesoro, and were smitten with the place–enough to book dinner on their dock for that (our last) night. My next Roatan post will be more food/activity-focused, but I must mention that LeΓ±a Parilla, the CT restaurant is well worth a try.

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Caribe Tesoro in late afternoon light

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Shea ladies enjoying the swim-up bar

 

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The stunning water of West Bay

There are some un-touristy places to stay, that I did not visit, and can only mention by name, should you care to dig deeper:

-Sandy Bay is an area where many locals live, but also has rentals available.

-Even quieter, yet reportedly stunning, is Palmetto Bay (see 2 beautiful rentals I found here and here).

-Pristine Bay is home to the only luxury golf resort and 5 star restaurant.

As always, I recommend bringing meds to cover all sorts of potential ailments (primarily gastrointestinal in nature). See here for info.

More to come!

 

Machu Picchu on a Budget

I took this trip several years ago, but think the information is useful enough to go ahead with a delayed post of it. I shared the details with a friend, who used the same hotel and trek company, more recently, and loved it. Whether or not you plan to hike some version of the Inca Trail, visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu are so worth it. I did this for quite a reasonable price considering the level of service received… naturally, I want to share the info.

You’ll most likely fly into Lima, then connect to Cusco.

Tip: schedule the flight to Cusco early in the morning, when the chance of cancellation for wind conditions is less likely.

Less wind over the Andes = less scary

Cusco is a beautiful little city, set at a gentle 11,000+ feet (3,400 m) of elevation. If you don’t live at that altitude, you WILL feel this. You might even wonder, “how the hell will I walk for 4 days like this?” It is possible to have that thought and still complete the Inca Trail hike. Diamox also helps with the elevation (see here for some drug info).

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Beautiful Cusco

I stayed at a quaint hotel, called Encantada, on the outskirts of downtown Cusco. It was quiet, comfortable, and cozy, with warm and helpful staff. The location keeps you off the noisy streets of the city and also allows some time to practice walking up hills at a higher than normal elevation.

Breakfast is offered every morning and coca tea is always available in the lobby, which is more like an idyllic living room (with fireplace) than a hotel lobby.

There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and day hikes to keep you occupied and happy in Cusco for days. My main goal was to hike the Inca Trail, so I only planned for the “required” 2 days of acclimation before setting off. I wish I’d had more time to explore.

The hike

If you are relatively active and fit, you can do this hike… and should. I’m referring to the 3 night/4 day Inca Trail trek. There are tons of guide companies, of varying cost and amenities, from which to choose. After hours of reading reviews, I went with Llama Path–a porter and eco-friendly company that seemed to have smaller groups, happy customers, and were reasonably priced.

Our group of 8 also had 1 guide, a chef, and whole staff of porters tasked with carrying (and setting up/breaking down) camp. We saw other groups out there with at least 20 people in them. 8 was nice.

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Our small group + our “red army”

At times, I felt as though I couldn’t take another step, even with the mound of coca leaves in my cheek, but we all made our way up countless steps, over an almost 14,000 foot pass (Dead Woman’s Pass–named because the mountain looks like a woman in repose, not because they’re terribly sexist), down through the jungle, only to go up again, and finally to Machu Picchu.

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Day 2 is definitely the most trying with 2 high altitude passes

Somehow, the food they serve is actually really good. Perhaps it’s the combination of altitude and exhaustion, but I swear it was delicious, relatively speaking.Β  Each morning you’re awoken by one of the staff members bringing coca leaf tea to your tent in an effort to help with the altitude. It may or may not work.

The views are stunning and the hike is a wonderful experience which ends (obviously) at the breathtaking site of Machu Picchu. Once you’ve walked 4 days to get there, you do feel ever so slightly more entitled to it than the folks who took the train in, but there’s nothing to be done about them. When we arrived, however, the Machu Picchu from all the famous photos was not who greeted us…

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A cloud-masked Machu Picchu

There is another peak to climb, called Huayna Picchu, that requires a separate ticket and does sell out. I missed the opportunity when I went, but heard the views are spectacular. If you want to walk up another hill, buy that ticket as soon as you can upon arrival.

I highly recommend doing this hike if you’re physically able. Walking through such a beautiful part of the world, en route to the magical place of Machu Picchu is quite rewarding… and worth it. You’ll pass many Inca sites along the trail as well. After touring MP, a bus takes the group to Aguas Calientes, where you can explore, eat, and wait for your scheduled train back to the bus, which takes you to Cusco. The last day is a long one, worth it, but long.

Without further adieu, more pictures:

 

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Day 1

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Dead Woman’s Pass did not harm this woman!

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Day 3 Inca ruins

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The alpacas are adorable and everywhere

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Who doesn’t do yoga at MP?

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A far less dangerous perch than it appears

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The End!

Happy New Year!!

Wishing everyone, near and far, a happy, prosperous new year! I

have some great Roatan information in the works as well as a vintage Machu Picchu post. Stay tuned. In the meantime, and in the spirit of the Beatles…