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What to look for in a quality Nepal trek

There's more to choosing your Nepal trek than just the destination and date and navigating all the options can be daunting. To make sure your trip best lives up to your expectations, here are eight things to consider when trekking in Nepal so your adventure holiday is a seamless one.

Minimal impact accommodation

Eco-friendly? Tick. Comfort? Tick. Privacy? Tick. Warmth? Tick. Superb views? Tick! Eco camping offers this and much more.

Campsite setup at Landruk |  <i>Joe Kennedy</i> Sunshine over campsite setup at Landruk |  <i>Joe Kennedy</i> Stay at our exclusive private eco campsite at Landruk in the Annapurna region |  <i>Mark Tipple</i> Stay at our comfortable semi-permanent campsites in Nepal's Everest region |  <i>Mark Tipple</i> Client rearranging his bedding to catch the sunshine |  <i>Heike Krumm</i> Yaks grazing at Dole private eco campsite |  <i>Ayla Rowe</i> Relaxing in the mess tent while on a remote trek in Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

There's nothing like unwinding in the comfort of one of our scenically located eco campsites in the Everest and Annapurna regions, and I'm sure after a good day’s trek all you want to do is sit back, relax and put your feet up.

Opting for an eco camping experience minimises your environmental footprint with campsites using yak or cow dung to fuel heaters, kerosene is used to cook meals and boil water, as well as utilizing rainwater tanks, composting and septic toilets and incinerators to burn paper and non-toxic plastic waste.

World Expeditions trekkers enjoy exclusive use of private eco campsites located in secluded plots that offer a tranquil camping experience with exceptional views of the Himalaya. It wins out on sustainability for a back to nature experience that doesn't spare on your comfort and supports local people and its Nepali mountain communities.

With standing height tents, off-the-ground beds, clean mattresses and pillows, heated dining areas for meals and 'down time', and western-style toilets, there's plenty to love about choosing an eco camp experience over a tea house trek.

 

Porter Protection

Mountain porters are an integral part of each trekking or mountaineering adventure in Nepal, so choosing a reputable company that takes care of their staff is a must. On a trek or climb, the entire group – travellers, guides and porters alike – are a team who share the same needs for safety in the unpredictable mountain environment.

We couldn’t get off the beaten path without them, and the self-sufficiency of camping is a style of trekking that is enabled by mountain porters. World Expeditions take porter protection seriously, implementing a Porter Welfare Code of Conduct to ensure safe working conditions for the Nepal porters employed.

 

Our porters are provided with a good working wage (regulated by the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal and the Labor Union of Nepal), life insurance, income protection insurance, trekking gear and accessories, three meals a day, accommodation, access to the same first aid care that our travellers receive – including emergency helicopter evacuation if required, and have a 30kg weight restriction when carrying goods.

Safety at altitude

Trekkers' safety and well-being should be top priority, which is why World Expeditions follow stringent safety procedures and standards. A comprehensive medical kit travels with every group and on all trips, should the need arise. Naturally, our guides have received first aid training.

We carry a comprehensive medical kit on all treks |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

On all trips that take you to 4000 metres and above, World Expeditions carry a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC). This assures you that when needed, we can quickly treat you for high altitude illness. The PAC is an Australian product and is a lightweight hyperbaric chamber that can be easily carried by our porters.

All high altitude treks carry a Portable Altitude Chamber |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

Trained guides

The leaders in the field are the key to a successful expedition and being led by highly trained local guides means you will be well looked after. At the same time, travellers can hugely benefit from the authentic experience they deliver.

A defining attribute to World Expeditions’ success in pioneering Nepal treks since 1975 is the team in Nepal. Our Nepalese guides are real experts with plenty of years experience and who aim to enhance your experience with their enthusiasm and local knowledge.

By training and empowering our guides, we are able to create positive employment opportunities and secure income for them.

Our experienced leaders will provide regular briefings to keep you informed about your itinerary |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

From Tim Macartney-Snape, who with Greg Mortimer completed the first Australian summit of Mount Everest, to Bir Singh, one of Nepal's most experienced local guides, our leaders are the key to our success as they strive to make your experience exceptional. We’re very proud of our staff and guides and, judging by all the positive feedback we receive on Nepal, so are our past travellers.

Avoid the single supplement cost

Planning to travel alone by choice and want to enjoy the adventure ahead without being through a curveball of extra charges for wanting to go solo? Joining a small group of like-minded travellers is a great way to waive the single supplement costs.

If you join a World Expeditions adventure as a solo traveller, you'll be matched you with someone of the same gender and won’t pay more. If you, however, want a guaranteed single occupancy, we can also arrange that for a small additional charge.

Thoughtful Travel Practices

When choosing an adventure company to trek with, seeing how their values align with yours is important, such as its responsible tourism practice and their commitment to supporting local communities at every level of the operation. Ask questions like: In what ways do they protect the destination's natural environments and wildlife? How do they minimise the impact of their presence? Are their itineraries sustainable?

Since World Expeditions' inception in 1975, offering BIG adventures with a small environmental footprint is at the heart of every program. Often these sustainable itineraries translate to real costs, but by integrating these practices into in-country operations we are adopting a style of travel that makes the world a better place.

A particular project we run is the 10 Pieces litter collection initiative, which aims to keep the trails in Nepal litter-free. On our treks in Nepal, we ask you to sign up to collect 10 pieces (or more!) of paper or plastic that you find on the trail each day.

Help us keep the places that inspire us clean by taking part in our 10 Pieces litter initiative |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

Your crew will collect the litter at the end of the day and dispose of it responsibly. Leading by example, your actions educate mountain communities that litter is not aesthetically desirable and is also detrimental to health of wildlife and humans alike. Learn more about our responsible travel initiatives.

Healthy and hearty meals

Unlike most companies, having a full meal service as part of the trip prices has its benefits. There are important reasons for this as it lowers the risk of you getting sick on trek with an assigned cook, ensuring that food is prepared to strict hygiene standards so you stay healthy and eat well.

 

The price of meals in tea houses or lodges across the Himalaya invariably costs around US$45 per day, often with limited choices and a lot of fried foods – and the higher you go, the pricier it will get. Those meals are often cooked on wood stoves, which contribute to the depletion of forests that are under threat.

On all World Expeditions treks in Nepal, a cook and kitchen crew accompany the group so you can sit back, relax and enjoy a freshly cooked meal. Health, value for money, convenience and positively contributing to Nepali mountain communities, are just some of the reasons why you'll want to enjoy three wholesome and freshly prepared meals a day – with clean drinking water supplied – when on trek with us.

Enjoy three fresh meals a day, prepared by our cooks, when on trek |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> We include freshly prepared, nutritious meals three times a day while on trek in Nepal. |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Breakfast at altitude in Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Our cooks will prepare fresh meals for you while on trek |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Enjoy freshly prepared meals, three times a day, when on trek in Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> We include freshly prepared, nutritious meals three times a day while on trek in Nepal. |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Our highly trained team will add another level of comfort to your adventure in Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Our team will keep you well hydrated on the trail |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i> Enjoying tea and tang in Gokyo Valley |  <i>Angela Parajo</i>

Quality equipment

We all want excellent value for our money and when it comes to trekking in remote and high altitude regions, so it pays to have virtually everything included in your adventure.

For World Expeditions, with exceptional camping service comes quality equipment. You’ll be issued with a trek pack which is free for use during the duration of your Nepal trip. Meaning, you don’t have to carry these items from home and that you don’t have to make the investment yourself.

A typical trek pack includes a:
 •  Duffle kit bag: your personal belongings carried by our porters during the trek
 •  Down or fibre-fill jacket: repels the cool Himalayan evenings and mornings
 •  Sleeping bag: warm sleeping bag to keep you cosy at night
 •  Sleeping liner or insulated mat: enjoy the added insulation for a more restful night.

Receive a souvenir World Expeditions kit bag on all Nepal trek |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>


Know that your BIG adventure is leaving a positive impact to conserve local environments and support local communities at every level of the operation, including the porters. Start browsing our Nepal trekking adventures and see why we've been the leaders in Himalayan trekking for over four decades >

Cocktails at 10am in the High Andes

When I first embarked on this journey, never did I think I would be sitting in a bar at 10 o’clock in the morning with a cocktail in hand and nothing to do but watch the world go by.

The last 20 days have been go, go, go, taking in and exploring all that Peru has to offer, all the must do experiences that many have on their adventure lists. The iconic sights of the Peruvian tick list as many would see it, squeezed into less than three weeks.

Sitting here with a Chilcano in hand, is like taking a huge sigh of relief. Originally not on my Peruvian tick list, but added on recommendation, here I am now reflecting on the journey so far and enjoying a fabulous cocktail to boot.

A stop at La Raya 4335 metres, the highest point on the Cusco to Puno Train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>

This particular day started when we were transferred to Wanchaq Station in Cusco and boarded the Titicaca train bound for Puno at 6.40am. When I first learnt of this train journey, all I knew was that it travelled through the High Andes. It was an alternative to travelling on the local bus and was deemed “fabulous” and “a highlight” by those that had gone before me. It lived to these expectations and so much more.

As I sit here, I feel like I am in a Michelin star restaurant on wheels with ever changing spectacular scenery going past the window. The service is impeccable from the moment we first arrive at the station in Cusco to the time we depart the train at the other end in Puno some 10 hours later.

Main meal is served. Fresh, local Peruvian cuisine |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>

Everyone on-board provides you with the most attentive service from remembering your food allergies, to what coffee you like, to taking orders for several tables at a time without writing anything down. Just like a fine-dining restaurant.

The bar car at the back of the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>

On-board, the carriages are bright, spacious and plush, exuding that little bit of romantic luxury and transporting you to another era. What I would imagine of the Andean Explorer.

There is a bar carriage where drinks and snacks are served (the best banana chips and crisp corn kernels you will possibly taste) and where at 10am and again in the afternoon, there is dancing, singing and fabulous entertainment by local dancers and a great local Peruvian fusion band (think Peruvian flute music combined with classic rock).

Morning entertainment on the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i> Orient Express Andean Explorer train travels from Cusco to Puno |  <i>Tambo Treks</i> The bar car at the back of the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>
 

There is also a viewing carriage at the back of the train where you can park up as you please to take in the spectacular scenery of the High Andes.

The journey also comes with a complete meal service which yes, will rival most top restaurants of the world, serving up a delicious entrée, main and dessert. Even the fussiest eaters of our group were well impressed.

All this was topped off with an afternoon tea service complete with petit fours and delicious tea.

Along the way the scenery out the window was nothing short of spectacular. Up here in the High Andes, the mountains are so close, you feel you can reach out and touch them.

The train rolled through local farms and villages where everyday life was on display, and made a stop at the highest point on our journey at 4335 metres at La Raya where everyone took the opportunity to stretch their legs, take in the crisp clean air and see what was on display at the local market.

The colours of the landscape changed at every bend, from fresh greens in the valley, to white peaks of the Andes ranges, to pink and yellow hues of the Peruvian farms.

What I didn’t expect to see on this journey of luxury and relaxation was chaos. But rolling into the city of Juliaca provided just that - along with a multitude of laughs and photo opportunities.

Andean boy and his little friend in La Raya |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>

It seems that the train line rolls right through the busy Juliaca market and right through the middle of stalls that sell everything you could possibly think of - from books, to car parts, to buckets and everything in between.

Then you head through the busy main streets and over what probably is the Juliaca bakery, with its fresh bread in baskets lying on the train tracks as our train hurtles across the top of it. It is the thing of TV documentaries, yet here we are having a laugh in the midst of it, not quite believing our eyes but also thinking, only in Peru.

Sunrise on Lake Titicaca |  <i>Nigel Leadbitter</i>

As dusk settles in, we round the banks of the famous Lake Titicaca, seeing outlines of boats permanently moored with the low waters of the lake, and the setting sun casting shadows across the reed islands.

With our journey drawing to a close in Puno, on the edge of Lake Titicaca, you realise that what started off as a long ten-hour day, has ended in the best way: living in the moment high up in the Andes.

Words by Natalie Tambolash who travelled from west to east across Peru. You can add this train journey to your Peru itinerary or opt for a train upgrade from Cusco to Puno.

#SaveTheAmazon: Amazon Forest Appeal

We all need the Amazon. Now it needs you. Donate to this appeal to protect the forest, its wildlife and local communities affected.

Fires are raging through the Amazon rainforest, primarily in the Brazilian Amazon, gripped by its most vigorous fire season since 2010. The media images we are seeing are devastating, showing the extent of the fires and the subsequent smoke which is impacting Brazil and its neighbours.

NASA reports that, “while drought has played a large role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought.” Studies show that the rainforest is at tipping point, with large fragmented sections at risk of transforming into a drier ecosystem which could result in the severe loss of species, the acceleration of climate change and spell disaster for the indigenous populations who call the forest home.

Home to a million people and three times as many wildlife, the Amazon is also the largest piece of rainforest in the world.

Often referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’, scientists warn that the extent of this year’s Amazon forest fires will make the Paris climate target more difficult to achieve as tree cover loss from forests is estimated to account for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions, while trees are also said to provide more than 20% of climate solutions. Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide, they also then lock carbon away.

How you can help

Want to support those working to arrest the damage? Donate to the World Expeditions Foundation’s Amazon Forest Appeal and 100% of your donation will be directed to Earth Alliance to be distributed to local partners and indigenous communities working to protect the forest and its wildlife and to mitigate fire and its effects on local communities.

Earth Alliance is an environmental foundation created by climate change crusader Leonardo DiCaprio and his philanthropic friends.

Travel advisory information

The scale of the region is so large that the areas where we operate our jungle trips are not affected by the fires and there is no risk to our travellers or our traveller’s experience on any of our trips in Peru or Ecuador. We will continue to monitor the situation and contingency plans will be enacted if required.

As always, the safety of our travellers is our foremost priority and one we will not compromise on. We will continue to support the preservation of this vital wilderness and those who live and work in it.

Published 30 August 2019.

Why you should go to Uganda now

Uganda is home to the largest population of mountain gorillas in the world and the only way to see them is to trek through their natural habitat of densely packed, mystical cloud forests.

More and more international travellers and wildlife aficionados are shifting their focus to Uganda, where the more affordable permits reportedly can sell out often months in advance. But if you plan to track gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild, you'll want to book sooner rather than later with permit prices set to increase up to US$150 in 2020.

In addition, a series of new developments are set to put the ‘Pearl of Africa’ on the tourist map, so you'll want to visit Uganda before the crowds arrive.

Permit price increases: what you need to know

Gorilla and Chimp permit fees in Uganda will increase from July 1, 2020, so if you plan your gorilla and chimpanzee jungle trek before this date you will save US$150. The Uganda Wildlife Authority recently released cost changes to Gorilla permits from US$600 to US$700 per person, in both Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga National Park, and Chimpanzee permits to be increased from US$150 to US$200 in Kibale National Park.

However, Gorilla and Chimp permits often sell out four to six months in advance, so the earlier you book the greater chance you will be able to travel on your chosen day.

Why Uganda? What about Rwanda?

With the gorilla permits in Rwanda now costing US$1,500 per person, Uganda remains competitively priced with permits more than 50% cheaper than its neighbour. So, it's no surprise that travellers are heading to Uganda, blessed with volcanic mountains, lush valleys, vast lakes and a wealth of flora and fauna – including half of the world's mountain gorilla population.

Kitendara Lake Uganda

Beat the crowds

Best known for its gorilla tracking safaris, Uganda is a well-established wildlife haven and a series of new developments is set to put the ‘Pearl of Africa’ on the tourist map. Plans were unveiled for a new war museum that will explore its long history of conflicts and Uganda Airlines, the former national carrier, is set to commence operations at the end of August 2019.

While construction of a brand new international airport in the western region is currently underway, a new highway opened in June 2018 linking Entebbe airport with Lake Victoria; all of which should further add to its credentials as a tourist-friendly destination.

Before the crowds start building up in Uganda, here are some of the best ways to experience this landlocked country.

Top Uganda experiences

The whirlwind experience

If you're stretched for time, a short fly-in safari is a memorable way to access the elusive Mountain Gorillas in their natural environment via return scenic flights over western Uganda.

Regulations allow only one hour with mountain gorillas and a close encounter with these shy primates is one of life’s bucket list experiences!

A family of gorilla's in Bwindi National Park |  <i>Ian Williams</i>

After the scenic flight, you'll trek through the wilds of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest but be prepared for rain, mud and giant stinging nettles. Long trousers, gloves and a waterproof jacket are a must. View trip >

For animal lovers

In addition to heading to the forest to track mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in their natural habitat, Uganda's diverse ecosystem offers plenty of options when it comes to encountering wildlife.

Search for the famous tree-climbing lions in the scenic savannah plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the country’s most visited national park. Why not cruise along the tropical Kazinga Channel teeming with one of the world’s largest concentration of hippos, or enjoy some of the best bird watching in Africa with over 1,000 different species? View safari >


For adventurers

The Rwenzori Mountains, or the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, are located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Isolated, rarely visited, often enveloped in clouds and permanently snow-capped, they are in an extremely humid area that contains no less than five different vegetation zones.

From tropical rainforest through alpine valleys to glaciers, reaching Margherita Peak (5,109m) is known for its demanding ascent and a very early start – but you will be rewarded as you watch the sun peeping over the horizon from Africa’s third highest mountain!  View trek >

If you're up for a triple summit challenge, join renowned mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape on a exploratory trek in the Rwenzori Mountains through giant lobelia forests along the remote Kilembe Trail, before roping up and using crampons on glacial landscapes. Post-trip, you can also include an optional Gorilla wildlife safari extension. View expedition >

Giant Groundsels and Lobelia Giants in Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains |  <i>Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH</i> High in the Afro alpine zone of the Rwenzori National Park |  <i>Morgan Trimble</i> Rwenzori peaks Uganda
 

Experience all the highlights

After a tour that has it all? Our Best of Uganda adventure encompasses some of the country's most memorable wildlife encounters. From a jungle trek to see mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the evergreen Kibale National Park to cruising along the Nile, it's easy to agree with Winston Churchill's description of Uganda as the "Pearl of Africa". The journey to the foot of the Murchison Falls will be a story to tell as Africa’s longest river squeezes through a seven-metre gap at the top with enormous Nile Crocodiles basking at the bottom!

A pair of hippopotamus enjoy the afternoon sun on the banks of the Kazinga Channel in Uganda. Photo: Udo Orgas

For those with a bit more time to explore, go on our adventure that encompasses the highlights of east Africa. From Tanzania’s world famous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park to the renowned Masai Mara National Reserve and Amboseli National Park in Kenya, you'll witness an endless series of spectacular wild animal sightings. View all Uganda adventures >

What other African destinations are on your travel radar?

Information last updated 28 August 2019.

What we're doing about the plastic problem

Have you heard the great news? Nepal has stepped up in banning single-use plastics in the Everest region, which will take effect in January 2020 in the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu province. All plastic drinking bottles and plastics of less than 30 microns in width will be banned in the area. 

With plastic packaging accounting for about half of the plastic waste in the world, here's how we are leading the way in eliminating its use on our treks.

Fast facts: How big is our plastic problem?

  Humans buy around 1 million plastic bottles per minute.
  Half a million straws are used in the world every day.
  It is estimated that almost 10 million plastic bags are consumed worldwide per minute.
  79% of all the plastics ever produced have now been discarded. Only 21% of plastics are still in active use.
  Each year, about 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean, with reports warning that there will be more plastic than marine life in the oceans by 2050.
  By 2050, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
  Because plastic is long lasting and durable, most do not biodegrade; only certain types of plastic waste can be recycled. Plastic waste is therefore either destroyed, converted to fuel or energy via incineration or pyrolysis, disposed of in waste management systems or discarded where it ends up in the natural environment.
  Single-use-plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill.

Worst plastic offenders

1. Plastic bags

2. Coffee cups and lids

3. Straws

4. Single-use bottles

Other offenders: balloons and their sticks and ribbons, chip and snack packets, food containers, plastic cutlery and sanitary products.

What can we do about it?

Making the switch from plastic to sustainable alternatives, as well as making responsible travel choices – such as bringing along a refillable water bottle, can make a positive investment in the future of our environment. Read these eight ways to avoid plastic when you travel.

Travel sustainably: how World Expeditions is eliminating plastic

Leading the way in responsible travel, our latest green initiatives in Nepal allow travellers to avoid the use of disposable and single-use plastic throughout their Nepal trip. The Kathmandu hotel we use has a water dispenser with potable water available to World Expeditions travellers to refill their reusable bottles, so that travellers aren't contributing to the plastic problem in the poor, landlocked country.

“While water on the treks has been boiled and provided to trekkers for many years, we are delighted to totally eliminate the need for plastic bottles from the moment the client arrives at the hotel.”

“Providing our clients with access to potable water throughout their Nepal experience is the final step in giving our clients the confidence to know that they are travelling green in Nepal,” says World Expeditions Responsible Travel Manager, Donna Lawrence.

In addition to phasing out single-use plastic bottles, our Nepali kitchen crew are trained to minimise plastic waste in trek kitchens, which is especially important in remote regions, when responsible disposal becomes more difficult.  We minimize the use of plastic by buying fresh produce from local farmers whenever possible, which has the dual benefit of creating income for subsistence communities and reducing the need of packaging and excess plastic.

Our credentials in eco tourism in Nepal are unrivalled:  We're proud to follow the seven principles of  Leave No Trace on all our treks and we're the founding partner of the 10 Pieces environmental initiative, which encourages trekkers to pick up 10 pieces of plastic or paper (or more!) to help reduce the litter problem through their collective effort.

Looking for more inspiration?

Download our free Thoughtful Traveller ebook and learn how you can be a responsible traveller.  Read our latest initiatives in Nepal where we've gone plastic-free!

Do you choose a travel company based on their sustainable practices? Let us know in the comments below.


Sources: Cleaseas.org, Earthday.org, Report from Science Advances, 2018 Outlook report from UN Environment.

Walking the Inca Trail FAQs

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has been coined in many guidebooks as the ‘best short trek in the world’ and with a bit of training, almost anyone can walk the Inca Trail, but only with a permit.

Specialising in high quality treks along the Inca Trail and to Machu Picchu for over three decades, here’s everything you need to know about hiking the Inca Trail, with bonus tips from our adventure experts.

Jump to a section:
How difficult is it to walk the Inca Trail? What is the terrain like?
How can I prepare for the trek?
How many hours a day do you walk?
How can I avoid altitude sickness?
Can I walk the Inca Trail myself? How can I get a permit?
Why do I need a permit?
What if I can't get a permit?
Can I visit the Sun Gate without having to hike the Inca Trail?
How can I avoid the crowds?
I want to visit Machu Picchu but want to try a different trek to the classic Inca Trail. What are some alternatives?
When is the best time to walk the Inca Trail?
What climates can I expect?
What gear should I bring with me?
How much time can I spend at the Machu Picchu sanctuary?
What can I do at the Machu Picchu sanctuary?
What can’t be brought into the Machu Picchu sanctuary?
What will I eat along the trail?
What is the accommodation like?
How does World Expeditions do the Inca Trail differently?
Which trail should I choose?

How difficult is it to walk the Inca Trail? What is the terrain like?

It’s not our most challenging trek, but you will be walking over hilly and rugged terrain with lots of stairs. Expect some long, steep ascents too. Most of the walking is on fairly well-defined tracks, including some remarkable sections of ancient Inca stone "highways". There are some river crossings but no sections where scrambling is involved. It is recommended that you stay on the stone path at all times and keep well away from the edge.

With the help of porters carrying your personal gear, you’ll only need to worry about carrying a day pack of around 5-8kg including your water, camera and clothing layers.

How can I prepare for the Inca Trail trek?

The more training you do beforehand, the more you will enjoy your trek. We recommend 30 minutes of cardio activities 3-4 times a week in the 2-3 months leading up to your departure. Take every opportunity to walk up and down stairs or hills for leg strengthening and aerobic fitness.

Inca Trail Peru Sharing the view with a new friend. Image: Bette Andrews

How many hours a day do you walk on the Inca Trail?

The trekking day very much depends on the condition of the trails, the weather and the fitness of the group but expect to walk for 6-7 hours a day.

The morning's walk usually lasts from about 8 am to 12.30 pm and allows for numerous rest and photo stops. After a post lunch siesta, we set off for the afternoon's hike – usually 2-3 hours to the camp.

How can I avoid altitude sickness on the Inca Trail?

Altitude is also an important factor to consider, with the highest point of the trail at 4200 metres. The effects of altitude sickness can vary for different individuals, but some key things to keep in mind is to take it easy and ascend slowly.

Staff tip: Have plenty of fluids – hydration is so important when acclimatising.

Our itinerary is very well paced to ensure you acclimatise safely – so ideal for first timers, where you’ll walk through impressive Inca sites of the Sacred Valley before undertaking the Inca Trail trek.

Can I walk the Inca Trail myself? How can I get a permit?

No, you need a permit to walk the Inca Trail. Only approved tour operators, like World Expeditions, can obtain a permit.

Joining a small group to travel with a licensed operator means you can experience the comfort, seamless organisation and security of an active holiday. World Expeditions have all necessities taken care of, including hearty meals prepared by trained cooks, quality two-person tents erected in scenic wilderness, a lighter pack thanks to our team of porters, as well as use of a sleeping bag, thermarest and fibre-filled jacket.

Not to mention, having an expert bilingual guide adds to the experience as they share the history about the Incan empire and sites you visit, with their own tales of fascinating cultural and travel experiences.

Why do I need an Inca Trail permit?

Machu Picchu stands much the same as it did hundreds of years ago due to its superior architecture and carefully managed conservation programs. To protect Machu Picchu from the impact of its popularity, Peruvian authorities have implemented entry restrictions where only 500 permits are issued each day to walk the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu.

By the time permits are issued to porters, guides and other support staff, this leaves a limited amount of permits available for trekkers. Permits always sell out in high season, so it is highly recommended to book months in advance to secure a permit.

What if I can't get an Inca Trail permit?

If you miss out on a permit, World Expeditions has developed several brilliant Inca Trail alternatives to ensure you can experience the magic of trekking through the Andes and the Sacred Valley of the Incas to behold the wondrous Machu Picchu as the finale.

Travellers can still book on our Inca Trail itineraries but if Inca Permits are sold out already, we offer the Salcantay trek instead at no additional cost on many of our Inca Trail trips.


 

Can I visit the Sun Gate without having to hike the Inca Trail?

Yes, everyone who has an entrance ticket for Machu Picchu can walk up to the Inti Punku 'Sun Gate', which is approximately a 45-minute walk.

Staff tip: It’s important to note that to make it to the Sun Gate for the sunrise you must first have to catch a bus, queue to get into Machu Picchu and then walk about 45 minutes.

How can I avoid the crowds on the Inca Trail?

The increasing popularity of the Inca Trail does mean it is frequently visited by trekkers but on our Inca Trail Explorer trek, you stay at quieter and scenic wilderness grounds. So, you can relax and enjoy fully supported camping away from the Inca crowds.

I want to visit Machu Picchu but want to try a different trek to the classic Inca Trail. What are some alternatives?

The classic Inca Trail is a quintessential Peruvian trek, however, hiking this iconic route is not the only way to get to Machu Picchu.

There are other treks you can hike that are no less spectacular, including the alternate Salcantay trek, with a scenic train journey to Machu Picchu town after the trek; or choose the Salcantay Base Camp trek which joins the classic Inca Trail on the final day.

A particular staff favourite is the Inca Rivers Trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu that take you to rare and incredible views of Machu Picchu. This is a more remote trek, which is moderate to challenging, but offers a more varied trail away from the crowds to other spectacular Inca Ruin sites, such as Choquequirao, through the sublime Vilcabamba mountain range and between two sacred Inca Rivers.

Panoramic view of the 'lost' Inca ruins of Choquequirao |  <i>Yuri Zvezdny</i>

When is the best time to walk the Inca Trail?

The main trekking season in Peru lasts from late April to mid-October. This is the dry but 'cold' period, with the best mountain views and all passes open.

What climates can I expect on the Inca Trail?

Variance in latitude, elevation and local winds all factor into the wide range of climates experienced in the central Sierra/Andean mountain region. Average temperatures in the Sierra vary little between seasons, but there is dramatic daily variance. While the average daily temperature may only vary a few degrees Celsius between January and July, the diurnal (daily) temperature range is often huge. You can expect daytime temperatures in the highlands to be in the range of 10-25°C (50-77 °F), falling as low as -10 °C (14°F) at night.

What gear should I bring with me on the Inca Trail?

Essential trekking gear include merino socks (add in some extras), an anti-blister kit, warm clothes, waterproofs, worn-in boots, sunglasses, sunscreen, camera and trekking poles.

We provide a comprehensive gear list as part our traveller’s pre-departure kit and gear such as sleeping mats, sleeping bags and a fibre-filled jacket are available for use for trekkers.

How much time can I spend at the Machu Picchu sanctuary?

There are three time slots in which patrons can enter Machu Picchu for a maximum of four hours and must follow one of three predetermined routes. Admission is not allowed after 4pm. Additionally, all visitors must always be accompanied by a guide.

To ensure you get the most of your Machu Picchu experience regardless of these restrictions, most of our Inca Trail trips include an extra visit to Machu Picchu, with an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes, to fully appreciate this new world wonder.

Staff tip: The early morning is one of the best times to savour the views and atmosphere of Machu Picchu. The mystical morning light over the enigmatic sites are spectacular. Try and catch the sunrise at the sanctuary, you won’t regret the early wakeup call!

What can I do at the Machu Picchu sanctuary?

On many of our Inca Trail trips, travellers are treated to a unique second visit to Machu Picchu, which includes a tour by a local guide in this colossal sanctuary. Your guide will take you through the different sectors, bringing alive the history and stories of these ancient and iconic ruins. You’ll feel like you’re taking a step back in time as you soak up the astonishing views, expert knowledge, and impressive ruins.

For the more adventurous, you can climb one of the two mountains in the Machu Picchu sanctuary by purchasing a Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain permit and forego the guided tour of Machu Picchu. Both climbs are a minimum of three hours return and are very steep, with many small and narrow steps, and can be slippery and are very exposed with vertiginous drops.

What can’t be brought into the Machu Picchu sanctuary?

The following items are prohibited in Machu Picchu: drones, selfie sticks, tripod for cameras, walking stick without rubber tip, backpacks that exceeds 40cm x 35cm x 20cm, aerosol spray, sharp objects, banners or posters.

As of December 2018, single-use plastic bottles and any other single-use plastics (bags, cups, straws, etc) are prohibited in the sanctuary, on the Inca Trail and all other protected natural areas in Peru. This regulation was established by the Ministry of Environment, following the Sustainable Tourism Regulation which aims to conserve these protected natural areas. Please ensure to bring your reusable water bottle on all our Peru trips.

Water refill stations have been installed in areas near Machu Picchu and other national parks. Your guide will brief you where you can refill your water bottles with drinking water.

What will I eat along the Inca Trail?

We provide a full service while on trek, including three hearty meals a day. Typically, you can expect breakfast to consist of muesli or cereal, eggs, local breads and pancakes and hot drinks.

Chef in Lima

Lunch will generally be vegetables, salads, bread, cheese pasta style dishes, tinned fish and meats and are normally eaten picnic style. Dinner is always three courses and includes soup, seasonal vegetables, meat, rice or pasta and bread with some local specialities also in the mix. All evening meals are followed by desserts and hot beverages, of course!

Our cooks are trained to provide excellent food for vegetarians and anyone who has a limited diet including those who are lactose or gluten intolerant.

What is the accommodation like on the Inca Trail trek?

In cities or large towns, you will be accommodated in three to four-star properties that are centrally located, atmospheric and commodious. In smaller towns and villages hotel options are often limited with more basic accommodation used, however you can be assured of clean, comfortable and well-located lodgings.

Blue skies over camp along the Inca Trail in Peru

During the trekking section, enjoy our fully supported camping experience in quality two person tents with plenty of personal space and storage for your luggage. Our team are on hand to ensure your comfort and safety with a dining tent, separate cooking tent and where appropriate, toilet tent erected.

How does World Expeditions do the Inca Trail differently?

 • The Classic Inca Trail trek ensures you are well acclimatised to the altitude with day walks through impressive Inca sites of the Sacred Valley before the Inca Trail trek. With at least 2 or more days of acclimatisation built into all our itineraries before the start of the Inca Trail, the high passes and altitude experience on the trek will be easier to conquer.

 • Enjoy fully supported camping with gear included! Each trekker is equipped with a kit bag which include a sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping mat and fibre filled jacket.

 • To appreciate the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu, an extra visit to the famous sanctuary is also included.

 
 • We tread lightly and thoughfully in the places we visit for minimal environmental impact. We have a zero-litter policy, utilise eco toilet system at our campsites, and have innovative schemes to reduce waste on trek, including our 10 Pieces waste collection program.

 • You can travel to less frequented campsites on our Inca Trail Explorer trek.

Which Inca Trail trip should I choose?

Jungle trails, cloud forests and panoramic views of Andean peaks will inspire you as you follow in the footsteps of the Incas on your way to Machu Picchu. The only question now is, which trip should you take? View our complete list of Inca Trail and Machu Picchu adventures >

Information last updated on 21 August 2019.

Traveller stories: the world's southernmost hike

The trail was rough, yet pristine. It was rigorous, yet rewarding and I was able to connect with nature in an entirely new way.

The Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island or Dientes de Navarino was a hike that was on the top of my must-do adventures, a route that leads travelers to some of the most remote and magical spots of Chilean Patagonia.

I was staying in the town of Puerto Williams (the southernmost town on earth), which is not far from Dientes de Navarino. The town offered many adventure activities, such as kayaking, biking, horseback riding and, of course, trekking.

The Dientes de Navarino circuit was four days long and is recommended for hikers who are physically fit and mentally strong. Fair warning: it's possible to experience vertigo on this hike and therefore it’s important that trekkers come fully prepared and up for a challenge.

Beautiful lake views on the Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

But it was such a wonderful and fulfulling challenge for me. The adventure began in a forest full of Nothofagus, native trees of the region. They stood tall and proud around me as I marvelled at their beauty.

We walked through the forest at a brisk pace, travelling uphill towards Cerro La Bandera. At the top, we were welcomed by a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the Beagle Channel, Puerto Williams and Argentina's Ushuaia.

We spent some time taking in this fabulous scenery before pushing on to Laguna el Salto, where we made camp next to a beautiful waterfall.

The next morning, we began our climb to the top of another hill and a viewpoint of the Cape Horn archipelago. We passed by Paso Australia and Paso Los Dientes, finally arriving at Laguna Escondida where we camped for our second night. This overnight stay was a beautiful back to nature experience, surrounded by ñire trees and a stunning view of Cerro Gabriel.

Vibrant colours trekking Los Dientes de Navarino circuit in Patagonia |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

The following two days were the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. We travelled to Paso Ventarron, a spot with strong winds and navy blue lagoons. We also hiked to the front of the Lindenmayer Mounts, ending at Lake Martillo where we camped for the last night for a well-deserved rest.

On our final day, we reached a steep slope which we descended from with the help of our guides. To my relief, I managed to get down without any problems.

After a long and challenging journey, we finally made it back to our driver, who greeted us with enthusiasm and a refreshing beer.

This adventure was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I will never forget. I was surrounded by all types of special creatures and plant life, such as condors, magellanic woodpeckers, beavers, lichens, miniature forests of mosses and liverworts.

Trekking the pristine Los Dientes de Navarino circuit in Patagonia |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

It’s crazy how small you feel when surrounded by such an enormous piece of paradise. I highly recommend this trek for any fellow nature lovers and trekkers out there, it was a fantastic and refreshing experience, both physically and mentally!

From its jagged summits to its mysterious lagoons and mossy pathways, Dientes de Navarino is one trek that just can’t be missed.

Words by Keila who travelled on the Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island.

K2 trek in photos: Baltoro Glacier, Concordia & Gondogoro La

Home to the highest concentration of 8000-metre peaks on the planet, the Karakoram ranges have captured the imagination of trekkers and mountaineers for decades.

Having recently completed our K2 exploratory trek, mountaineering guide Soren Kruse Ledet shared spectacular shots from his expedition in Pakistan.

Baltoro glacier |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

His group traversed the Baltoro glacier, crossed the famed Gondogoro La (5585m), admired an amphitheatre of 8000 and 7000-metre peaks, and trekked to the base of the world's second highest mountain, K2, which stands at an impressive 8611 metres.

Campsite in the Karakoram mountain ranges |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

Soren was the best leader you could ever expect to have. Simply outstanding," said fellow trekker Pat from Australia. "Staff and porters did an amazing job and couldn't have been more helpful. Organisation was first class.

Trekking through the Karakoram mountain ranges |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

Karakoram mountain ranges |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

Travelling with an experienced mountaineer like Soren, and hearing the stories they have to tell, whilst in this environment adds additional richness to the experience," said Michael from Australia.

"Fantastic destination, itinerary and logistical support make this truly one of the great experiences of a lifetime. Speaking to other trekkers in the area it was obvious that World Expeditions is a great company to travel with if you want to achieve your goals in this region, avoid unwanted surprises and have unavoidable logistical challenges managed effectively with minimal disruption to the trip.

Wildlife in the Karakoram ranges |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

From the "Throne Room of the Mountain Gods" to the Baltoro glacier, it's not hard to see why this is considered of the finest high altitude scenic treks on offer anywhere in the world. Trekking through this rugged and wild region of Pakistan, nestled between China and India, truly offers a challenging and rewarding experience like no other.

Trekkers dining with a mountainous backdrop |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

Karakoram mountain ranges |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>

Photos by Soren Kruse Ledet.

Feeling inspired? View our K2 and Karakoram expeditions >

10 lesser-known hiking trails that avoid the crowds

The sound of nature is calling – a gushing river you can hear but are yet to see, mountains silently standing, birds singing among treetops, and the wind that carries that distinct alpine smell as it whispers through the forest. What you do not expect to hear is the number of boots trudging on the same trail. You don't mind the company, but you find that the numerous chatter in the distance disrupts your peace.

If you want to steer away from the crowds and find your own pocket of solitude in nature, here are 10 trails you’ve probably never heard of and should be on your adventure bucket list. The best part? These guided and self-guided treks take care of all the hard logistics and planning while caring for the natural environments visited. All you need to do is be open to the adventure and enjoy the impressive hike ahead.

Damodar Saribung, Nepal

Trekkers on our Damodar Saribung Traverse trip |  <i>Dan Beacom</i>

What makes it special? Seldom visited by tourists, the Damodar Himal is one of the last frontiers close to the Tibetan border. From the upper Mustang region to the Annapurnas, you’ll leave behind “classic” Mustang and enter vast and wild valley, following a route used by pilgrims that afford spectacular views of Dhaulagiri.

From desert trails to glacial terrain, enjoy varied scenery as you cross numerous high passes and follow ridgelines for awe-inspiring vistas of the Tibetan Plateau.

Pass through villages written with Tibetan culture and reach the highest point of the trek, the physically demanding and snow-covered trail to Saribung Pass (6042m).

Ideal for: The seasoned trekker who is looking to experience a more challenging traverse through the rugged Himalayan. Also suitable for adventures wanting to step into the realm of mountaineering.

When to go: August to September, April to May.


Dientes Circuit, Chile

What makes it special? It’s the world’s most southernly hike, camping in true wilderness style and trekking over varied terrain. The 42-kilometre remote circuit, completed by a few trekkers, is found in Navarino Island on the far end of South America.

Blue skies overhead trekking Los Dientes de Navarino circuit |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

Passing alpine lakes, glaciers and jagged rock pinnacles, each day will be demanding, but the scenically arresting landscapes you cross makes each step worth it.

Take in stunning views of jagged mountain peaks, the Beagle Channel, the town of Puerto Williams in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina, Nassau Bay, the Wollaston archipelago and the mythical archipelago of Cape Horn.

Ideal for: Trekkers wanting to get off the beaten track in Patagonia. But come prepared with an open mind; it’s a challenging adventure where you’ll be required to carry a full pack of 15 kilograms. Expect rocky and steep trails with chances of scree, snow or ice cover, as well as exhilarating river crossings.

When to go: November to March

Charlevoix Traverse, Canada

What makes it special? It’s one of the best long-distance trails in the enchanting hinterlands of UNESCO-designated Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve in Quebec. How long exactly? 105 kilometres (60 miles) from start to finish over seven days. It’s rugged, verdant, it’s teeming with wildlife.

Keep an eye out for the rare caribou North American reindeer and beavers by the dam and follow side trails to awesome viewpoints.

Mont Du Four is accessible as a day hike from Squirrel Hut on the Charlevoix Traverse |  <i>Tourisme Charlevoix, BESIDE</i>

The trail will lead you to over-the-edge views of an impact crater created by a meteorite some 360 million years ago, and the lookouts you’ll hike to will offer the perfect photos that take in surrounding mountains and panoramic valleys.

Ideal for: Outdoor enthusiast who love travelling through forest scenery and vast lakes views. If you prefer hiking at their own pace, this self-guided trek means you can enjoy the flexibility and sense of accomplishment without compromising on the security and organisation of a guided tour.

When to go: June to October

Ak-Suu Turkestan, Kyrgyzstan

Trekker enjoying a rest in the upper reaches of the Ak-Mechet gorge

What makes it special? You’ll be among the first to trek on this newly opened mountain trail, which can be likened to an 'Asian Patagonia'.

Picture: deep canyons, stunning gorges, glacier fed streams and lakes, alpine meadows, grazing yaks, lush fir tree forests, sheer granite towers and rugged peaks crowned with snow.

The path takes you into the remote mountain ranges of Turkestan where nature thrives. The key word here is remote, with a true sense of wilderness, camping in our scenically located semi-permanent campsites. There’s even a tented sauna at one of our camps, perfect to relax in after a day’s walk!

Ideal for: Those who enjoyed Patagonia or love wilderness camping. It’s one of our toughest Central Asia treks, so you best be prepared for occasional rough terrain and several ascents and descents of 500 metres or more.

When to go: July to September

Parang La Traverse, India

What makes it special? Appreciate the scale and grandeur of the commanding Indus Valley, ancient monasteries, snow-capped peaks, beautiful azure lakes and the solitude this region has to offer.

Gain impressive views of the host of 6000 metres peaks from Parang La (5590m) while panoramic views extend to distant ridges that form the borderlands of Tibet.

It’s wild and off the beaten path trekking, which follows the traditional trade route between the people of Spiti, Changthang and Tibet through high arid plains and remote villages. You’ll also encounter local Champa nomads.

The view over the Indus River, at the start point of our Markha Valley Trek |  <i>Bruce Gray</i>

Ideal for: Trekkers wanting to explore a different side of the Himalayas – the lesser visited regions of India.

When to go: July to August

Moonlight Trail, New Zealand

What makes it special? You’ll want to pull out your camera for this hike with breathtaking views of the Southern Alps as you climb along a ridgeline which separates the Shotover River and Moonlight River valleys.

Views over Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain Range from Ben Lomond Station |  <i>Colin Monteath</i>

Tucked behind Queenstown, step into some of New Zealand’s best and least-known country scenery that ventures far from the crowds.

Deep into beech forests, traverse deep valleys, golden tussock slopes and explore mountain streams and waterfalls. Discover the remnants of the gold mining times whilst walking along the historical water races and Moonlight Creek where a cooling swim and scenic picnic is possible.

A highlight is the overnight stay in a beautifully appointed lodge in the Moonlight Valley, positioned to take in sweeping alp views.

Ideal for: Active people who love the back country and want to spend quality time in nature. 

When to go: November to March

Mountains of the Moon, Uganda

What makes it special? It’s Africa’s best kept trekking secret located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’ is isolated, rarely visited and showcases the country’s beautiful and diverse climactic zones – from remote alpine valleys, montane rainforests (lots of monkeys!), moorland with giant lobelias and even glacial landscapes. (You probably wouldn’t have guessed it, but this national park contains much of Africa’s permanent ice.)

Kitendara Lake Uganda

Up the Stanley range and going higher than any other guided group, challenge yourself on an exhilarating climb to Africa’s third highest peak, Margherita (5109m) for rewarding vistas of the huge Rwenzori mountainous expanse and across to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ideal for: Trekkers looking for their next big adventure in a biodiversity hotspot. If you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, this incredible trek should be on your list for impressive scenery at every turn.

When to go: August to September, December to February, June to July.

Transcaucasian Trail, Georgia

Trekkers enjoying the expansive mountain scenery in Georgia.


What makes it special?
Be among the first to walk this new trail that will connect more than 20 national parks and endless UNESCO listed sites. Delight in the scenic panoramas of mountains, alpine meadows, rivers and glaciers that await you in historic Georgia.

The Georgian Transcaucasian Trail could very well be the new Silk Road, travelling through some of the world’s oldest cities against a jaw-dropping mountainous backdrop. At times, it will feel like time has stood still.

While the full route is still being developed, you can now walk sections of the trail with us in Georgia through the stunningly rugged and remote Svaneti region.

Ideal for: Walkers who enjoy a charming blend of natural beauty, historical sites, thousand-year-old churches and countryside scenery.

When to go: May to September

Ha Giang Villager's Trail, Vietnam

What makes it special? Escape the Sapa and Mai Chau crowds and explore Vietnam’s “final frontier” in an untouched region in the far north bordering China. Between the Tay Con Linh and the Song Chay mountain ranges, hike through quiet farming villages and wild, rustic landscapes of granite mountains, pine forests, lush valleys and beautiful rice terraces.

The famous rice field terraces of Northern Vietnam

The highlight? The local’s warm and embracing nature. You’ll experience rural hospitality at memorable homestays along the way – they’re simple, but provide an authentic cultural experience.

Ideal for: Those who want to get off the beaten track with barely any tourists in sight. Great for bushwalkers and day hikers looking to explore natural and social environments.

When to go: October to April

Jatbula Trail, Australia

What makes it special? It’s Australia’s Top End hidden gem with only a handful of other visitors in sight.

 

Bushwalk between pristine waterfalls and swimming holes along the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment. You’ll also gain a deeper understanding of the local Indigenous culture with visits to ancient rock art sites.

When the sun sets, the evening sky will provide a remarkable display of speckled stars as you camp in true wilderness.

Ideal for: For walkers who love the tropics, outdoor picnics and an impromptu swim in waterholes – don’t worry, they’re croc-free!

When to go: June to August

Browse more trekking and hiking adventures >

Wildlife photography tips from a pro | Alex Cearns

One of the best parts of travelling is re-living the experience through your photos when you get home. And though a photo of a sunset transports you to that sublime moment of the sun sinking into the horizon, or your pictures of the ancient ruins reminds you of the history and culture of a place, mastering photos of animals in their natural habitats is a whole different skill.

Internationally renowned animal photographer, Alex Cearns and Creative Director of Houndstooth Studio spills the beans on her top wildlife photography tips that will put you in the right frame of mind when capturing your next wildlife adventure on camera.

Do your homework

Before leaving home, think about the sorts of animals you may encounter, then try to learn as much as you can about their behaviours. Are they more active at certain times? Do they have a specific breeding season? Does their behavior follow certain patterns? Can they be dangerous? Do they live alone or in a pack? Would we be seen by them as prey? The information you find will make it quicker and easier to locate your subject and enable you to determine the safest way to photograph them when you do.

Be a storyteller

You’re more likely to capture the shots you need if you plan the story you want to tell or the message you want to convey. Think about what you want to shoot and why that angle or scene might be interesting. Will  a certain point of view help others to understand your vision in that moment?  When photographing wildlife, it’s our aim as the photographer to capture the poses we see as great images and through them, tell a story.

Compose your image

I love to zoom in close and crop my subject, showing little environment and filling the frame with them. Sometimes though, there’s a need to add some of the habitat and environment into images. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, so you are free to find your own flow with the type of images you like to take.

Focus on the eyes

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul and this is no different for animals. Animals express a lot of emotion and character through their eyes. Capture your subjects eyes in sharp focus if you are chasing eye contact in your resulting image.

Choose good light

Outdoor photography is a challenge as you cannot control the lighting conditions. Overcast days with a light sky are ideal outdoor photography conditions, but figuring out the times of day that provide the best light will help you perfect your exposures. Try to get up early with the sun and photograph in the lovely soft light of dawn, or at dusk, where you may score a stunning sunset as your backdrop.

Anticipation and timing

Capturing that split second moment you see as a perfect photo opportunity requires anticipation and timing. Once you see the image you want to capture, you may need to work as quickly as you can to get it, and the shot you miss could be the shot that never comes around again. The more you practice, and the more photos you take, the faster you will get at capturing that perfect moment . The beauty of digital cameras is that they enable us to take thousands of images in one sitting, so take full advantage of this to get the photos you are after.

Patience

Learning to be patient is a crucial factor when taking portraits of your wildlife. Sometimes the shots you want will come instantly, while others could take hours. Sometimes you'll have to choose which shots to sit tight for and when to move on. Being prepared to wait for an image to present itself pays off when you get that top shot.

 

BY FIONA OS
About Alex Cearns

Alex's images have won a multitude of awards and have been published widely across Australian, even in an Australia Post stamp collection. Inspired by the joy of working with animals, Alex’s philanthropy and passionate advocacy for animal rescue has earned her high regard among Australia’s animal lovers and a strong following on social media. She is a popular tour leader with World Expeditions and escorts global animal adventure tours to various regions of the world. Alex lives with two rescue dogs, Pip and Pixel, and one rescue cat, Macy, and claims that animals are her “favourite kind of people.”

Join Alex on her next wildlife photography adventure to Laos, supporting bears affected by illegal wildlife trade. Find out more >

UNESCO's newest World Heritage sites: how to see them differently

UNESCO has inscribed 29 new places on the World Heritage list for 2019, among these are Bagan’s monumental architecture and a beautiful Italian vineyard region.

The prestigious list has come a long way, with 1,121 cultural and natural sites now tagged as World Heritage-listed. In comparison, the very first World Heritage list in 1978 featured only 12.

We list five of the most exciting additions and ways to explore them differently.

Vatnajökull National Park | Iceland

It's a mega park that encompasses almost 14 per cent of Iceland. It's volcanic, ice cap scenery is spectacularly varied with sub-glacial lakes, jagged mountain ranges, and active volcanoes, that haven't erupted in many years.

UNESCO describes the landscape as an "interaction between volcanoes and the rifts that underlie the Vatnajökull ice cap takes many forms, the most spectacular of which is the jökulhlaup – a sudden flood caused by the breach of the margin of a glacier during an eruption.”

Go there on a Iceland Northern Lights experience. Explore an ice cave in the heart of Vatnajökull for a spectacular winter experience before retiring in a comfortable hotel literally in the middle of nowhere, to maximise your chance to view the extraordinary coloured lights streaming through the northern sky, the Aurora Borealis.

Aurora Borealis over Iceland |  <i>Tim Gallantree</i>

Jaipur City, Rajasthan | India

Known for its iconic architectural legacy and vibrant culture, India's Pink City of Jaipur recently made its entry into the UNESCO World Heritage list. The walled city's finest monuments include the City Palace, Amber Fort and the iconic Hawa Mahal.

“The city’s urban planning shows an exchange of ideas from ancient Hindu and modern Mughal as well as Western cultures," states UNESCO. "The grid plan is a model that prevails in the West, while the organization of the different districts refers to traditional Hindu concepts. Designed to be a commercial capital, the city has maintained its local commercial, artisanal and cooperative traditions.”

Go there on a Rajasthan Cycle adventure which departs weekly from October to March. At Jaipur, you'll visit the City Palace, bazaars of the Old City and the Palace of the Winds, originally built as part of the City Palace. You'll then cycle the outskirts of Jaipur to your next destination to savour a way of life that is still in harmony with the seasons.

The Palace of Winds in Jaipur is located in the city and is a stunning example of Rajput architecture and artistry with its pink delicately honeycombed 953 sandstone windows known as 'jharokhas' |  <i>Fiona Windon</i>

Bagan | Myanmar

No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to Bagan, a sacred landscape of Buddhist art and architecture, as well as archaeological greats. Find some Southeast Asia's finest collection of temples and stupas dating back to the 11th-13th centuries.

Mist rises over the enchanting Bagan, Myanmar

From monasteries and places of pilgrimage to frescoes and sculptures, UNESCO featured the city on its heritage list as it "bears spectacular testimony to the peak of Bagan civilization. This ensemble of monumental architecture reflects the strength of religious devotion of an early Buddhist empire.”

Go there on an all-encompassing Myanmar Adventure which departs on various dates year round. Explore the ancient Bagan temples by bike, before relaxing in the serene Minnanthu area for a scenic picnic lunch in this historical setting.

Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene | Italy

You can probably guess by the name of this Italian region is known for it's wine and beautiful vineyards.

As described by UNESCO, its landscape is "characterized by ‘hogback’ hills, ciglioni – small plots of vines on narrow grassy terraces – forests, small villages and farmland. For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man. Since the 17th century, the use of ciglioni has created a particular chequerboard landscape consisting of rows of vines parallel and vertical to the slopes.”

Vineyards of Prosecco

Go there on a Prosecco Wine Cycle trip which departs between April and October. Cycle in the heart of the Veneto and through the picturesque and romantic hills of Prosecco. The gorgeous views of the almost never-ending grapevines will certainly build a craving to sample the world famous sparkling wine from local vineyards.

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, Braga | Portugal

Reach this hilltop sanctuary via a 575-stepped staircase that leads you to an impressive a biblical landing of allegorical sculptures, picturesque gardens, ornate fountains and multiple chapels expressive of Via Crucis.

UNESCO says this pilgrimage site is a "sanctuary was developed over a period of more than 600 years and illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti (sacred mountains), promoted by the Catholic Church in reaction to the Protestant Reformation."

Go there on the Best of the Portuguese Way tour which depart in April, May, September and October. The visit to Braga will give you the chance to explore the historic town on special pilgrimage walk, the Portuguese Way. Second only to the Camino Francés in popularity with modern day walkers and pilgrims, it extends from the capital Lisbon across to Santiago.

Published on 18 July 2019.

In Hillary’s footsteps: my Everest Base Camp journey

I look to the left and can just see the tip of Mount Everest peering over the frozen ridge, the familiar plumes of powdered snow escaping like smoke signals from her summit.

From this direction she looks much more innocent than she really is. She’s just another mountain, but her intimidating allure draws hundreds of climbers worldwide every year.

The upside-down rainbow above fascinates me and I stand here for almost too long until I need to leave it behind and move on. I'm not there yet.

My booted feet move surely over the maze of boulders by the edge of the track; these flat feet that caused me no end of problems over the last sixty years have taken to hiking boots surprisingly well.

We are walking very slowly, the altitude and exhaustion taking their toll but none of us are going to be stopped on this day.

Every day I’ve been up here I’ve asked myself the same question: how the hell did I get here? When I would peer out of my little orange tent each morning and see the backdrop of mountains sparkling in the crisp morning air, when I looked down - admittedly rarely - from the swinging suspension bridges as we crossed deep river gorges, when I struggled to hold my breath and keep my trousers out of the quagmire that I've had to use as toilets, when I lay face down with my bloodied nose planted in the Himalayan dust, and when I congratulated myself each evening on making it through yet another day, I ask myself the same thing: how the hell did I get here?

Only a few minutes short of Base Camp I catch up with Meryl, one of the trekkers in my group who has been walking a little way in front of me all morning.

"Are you okay?" I ask, she was sitting on a rock. There are tears in her eyes and exhaustion on her face, her body is crumbling.

"Not really," she answers, "I can’t go any further. I just can’t." There isn’t much I can do for her. I am having enough trouble keeping my own spirits up.

Yangjin, our guide, comes up to us, she takes Meryl’s water bottle from her pack and hands it to her. Meryl is in good hands now, so I move on.

Admiring the Himalayan mountains towering over while on trek |  <i>Pamela Lynch</i>

It is just after 11.00am when I reach the end of the ridge, it simply doesn’t go any further, and I follow the track as it veers to the right. My footsteps crunch across the last few metres, and to my left I hear another chunk of ice crack from its anchoring and hit the freezing water, its fate sealed. The mountains are silent around me, a few wispy clouds slide across their summits and pyramids of ice at their base stand sentinel.

I walk slowly into the small clearing, its rough cairn of rocks indicating I can go no further. What little breath I have left is held, then slowly released; my mind empties and just for an instant I am sure there is nothing in there to impede this sensory concoction and feeling of elation.

I made it. I have walked where Edmund Hillary walked sixty years ago on his way to the top of the world.

The pile of prayer flags on the cairn, some rather tattered, others put there recently, mark the end of the line for us. In the distance, by the edge of the icefall, we can see a few remaining brightly coloured tents belonging to this season’s climbers. It's the end of the season and many have already left, the few remaining are in the process of packing up.

We’ve been watching helicopters constantly flying backwards and forwards today ferrying those prepared to pay the money back to Lukla. There are many though who can’t afford the luxury and we’d been passing them on the track for the last few days, stopping them to ask how they’d gone.

Most of them had made it to the top. Their sunken eyes told the story, they were weary, they wore the marks of the struggle they’d gone through, but their sense of achievement was evident. Without exception they were humble and, unless we asked, they weren’t about to shout about what they’d achieved.

Our major hurdle today are the yaks, loaded with gas canisters, tents, refrigerators, and climbing equipment, taking the dismantled camp back down the mountains. We constantly stop and press ourselves into the rocks on the inside of the track to allow them to pass.

Our ears are now attuned to the distant clang of the bells they wear around their necks and our eyes search for safe passing spots long before we meet them.

From our vantage point here at Base Camp you can’t see Mount Everest, she’s hiding behind her neighbours, but there's the Khumbu Glacier that I’d come to know from watching many a documentary about Everest and those who attempt her daunting challenge.

I'm sitting on a rock at Everest Base Camp thinking about where I am and what I’ve just achieved, and tears start to prickle behind my eyes.

In two months’ time I turn sixty, no doubt there will be celebrations with family and friends and there will be food and drink and general merry making, because that’s what my family does for birthdays. And I’d have a great time.

But this moment encapsulates for me my journey through those sixty years. It shows me that whatever I’ve done and wherever I’ve been throughout my life has given me the desire, the strength, and the perseverance to succeed.

Prasant, my trek leader, walks over, bends down and gives me a hug, he realises what this means to me.

I look up from the hug and grin at Meryl who is just crossing the ridge to join the rest of us. She’s found something extra within herself, she’s grabbed onto that extra bit of strength and she’s made it.

Time to leave my rock. The solitary bit is over, there are hugs and high fives all round as we celebrate.

Jenny, my fellow trekker, clutches her mobile phone in her hand and dials the number that will connect her to her seriously ill father thousands of miles away in Scotland. She did this trek for both of them.

Photographs in their dozens will remind us all in the years to come.

We’ll close our eyes and we’ll be back here, on this sunny May morning standing here at Everest Base Camp in awe of what we’ve done.

Book cover - How the hell did i get here?
This is an edited extract from How The Hell Did I Get Here? by Pamela Lynch. Pamela’s memoir recounts her two treks through the green foothills of the Himalayas to the grey monotone moonscape of Everest Base Camp and the time when the major earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015. Purchase a copy at www.pamlynch.com.au.


About the author

From her journeys in Nepal, Pamela Lynch transformed from the shy, young mother of years gone by, to the confident trekker, author and motivational speaker of today. Pamela trekked to Everest Base Camp with World Expeditions in 2013 to celebrate her 60th birthday, a journey which became an impetus for change within herself and her outlook on life. Two years later she returned to take on a more challenging trek, heading over the Cho La Pass to Everest Base Camp.

 

Inspired to experience your own milestone adventure? View our range of Himalayan treks >

Your ultimate African safari guide

If you’re planning a long awaited and highly worthwhile safari trip to Africa, you might have noticed there are about as many locations and safari styles as there are breakfast cereals on the supermarket shelf. After all, being such a large continent, Africa is made up of strikingly different and diverse countries, cultures and environment, with each region offering a stunning array of scenery, landscape, culture and, of course, animals!

Gazelles on an African Safari

There are plenty of safari options to choose from: from the sprawling, wildlife-rich landscapes of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, to an authentic safari experience in the majestic parks and reserves in South Africa, to trekking the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda in search of mountain gorillas. Yes, that’s right, contrary to what many believe, no two safaris are the same, and you can get a whole different experience depending on where you go!

From regions rich in diversity, or places fun for the whole family, or parks and reserves that are a photographers dream – or even the classic safaris guaranteed to give you a good time, we’ve got you covered.

Flamingos on an African Safari

Perfect for first timers: Kenya

Why? Perfect for first timers, Kenya’s long-standing reputation in the safari scene is built upon its diverse wildlife, wide range of safari options for all budgets, and, of course, the fact that seeing the Big 5 is fairly likely!

How? With over 26 different safari parks and reserves, Kenya has a huge range of different safari options, which mean a higher likelihood to see the animals you want. To get the best introduction in the Safari scene, find a safari that incorporates the Masai Mara and Nakuru. These classic safari parks are home to the Big 5, and with opportunities to see the wildebeest migration and flocks of flamingos depending on the season.

Combine these parks with somewhere like Amboseli, which are a little off-the-beaten track, and also feature the Big 5.

Zebras on African Safari

When? To avoid the rainy seasons, we suggest travelling between December and February, or June to October for prime viewing months.

While you’re there: A fantastic addition to your trip is to set aside a week or so to climb Mount Kenya. It’s the second highest mountain in Africa, with only one-tenth of the climbers that Mount Kilimanjaro has, and even more picturesque than Kili with an opportunity to spot wildlife.

Highlights: Huge herds of wildebeest and zebra cross into the Masai Mara from July to September. Also there’s nothing better than watching flamingos perched on Lake Nakuru while the sun sets. Or keep an eye out for the Masai Mara’s black-maned lion. The males can grow up to three metres long, and are fairly common in Southern Kenya.

Next stop? If you’re still hungry for adventure, consider making your way to Tanzania’s Northern Circuit or South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

Elephants on African Safari in Namibia

Best for photographers: Namibia

Why? Known for its desert habitat, the harsh environment of Namibia forms one of the most stunning backdrops for a unique and different safari. Though animal populations are smaller, the sightings are hugely rewarding, particularly with the contrasting colours of the land, sky, salt plains and waterholes. In essence, it’s a photographers dream.

How?  The 13 vastly different parks and reserves provide a number of safari options. We recommend spending a couple of days at Etosha National Park, renowned for its excellent wildlife viewing during the dry season, as well as Sossusvlei, home to incredible giant red sand dunes.

When? You’ll no doubt take some incredible photos year round, however if you are particularly interested in wildlife viewing, head there between July to late October.

Rhinos on an African Safari

While you’re there: Be sure to take some time out to visit the famous Skeleton Coast – a majestic stretch of beach strewn with rusted shipwrecks and bleached whale bones. For one of the most impressive natural beauties Namibia has to offer, head to Fish River Canyon – you won’t be disappointed.

Highlights: Keep an eye out for the elusive black rhino, hordes of gemsbok and of course, the endearing meerkat.

Next stop? Take a flight to Madagascar, once labelled as the world's most photogenic country with one of the world's richest ecosystems that boasts 90% of the known species of lemur. An encounter with the majestic mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda is one of life's most amazing experiences. Or if interested in other photographic opportunities, the dramatic mountains and fascinating tribal groups of Ethiopia will be sure to delight.

Cheetah on African Safari

Best for families: South Africa

Why? Aside from the huge bonus that South Africa is malaria-free, you’ll also find South Africa has a huge range of additional activities that can make for an incredible varied holiday. The family-friendly game reserves, beautiful beaches and vibrant cities make it a perfect destination to get your safari fix along with a truly South African holiday experience.

How? Kruger is the flagship park, not only because it has a huge variety of wildlife, but also because it’s the size of a small country. You’ll see the Big 5 in large numbers here, but ensure you stay long enough to get the most out of this beautiful area.

When? Unlike some of the other parks, you can take a safari in South Africa year round. Whether you love or loath summer, keep in mind that between November and March it's the hottest and sunniest months to visit.

African Safari WIlderbeest

While you’re there: Don’t miss a trip to Cape Town, home of the famous Table Mountain! Other must-visit areas include the African continent's most southwesterly tip at the Cape of Good Hope, a nostalgic trip to Robben Island, and a journey along the stunningly beautiful Garden Route. For those short on time, a Cape Township tour is a great introduction to this pleasant, intriguing and ultimately inspiring town.

Highlights: Without a doubt, seeing the Big 5 will make for a unforgettable trip with memories to last a lifetime. Marine life lovers will also be captivated at Boulders Bay, home to a colony of penguins.

Next stop? A trip in Africa is never complete without visiting Tanzania, home to the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro. Also consider Namibia, famous for its desert landscape and incredible photography opportunities.

African Safari Lion

Best for diversity: Tanzania

Why? In a nutshell, Tanzania is the top wildlife destination in Africa. The wildlife-rich areas of the Northern Circuit, Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater offer a classic safari that is almost unbeatable with regards to diversity of animals. As an added bonus, the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro is a perfect backdrop for photographers, and the annual wildebeest migration is not to be missed.

How? A spare two weeks can get you into the Northern Safari Circuit, which will take you through the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.

When? If you’re busting to see the annual migration, head to the northern areas of Tanzania between May and July and late October to November. Otherwise, you won’t be disappointed with the Serengeti from December to February or May to October – it’s absolutely teeming with wildlife.

Wilderbeest on African Safari

While you’re there: Why not climb Mount Kilimanjaro - the tallest freestanding mountain in the world? Also, Tanzania’s ultimate coastal island is Zanzibar – renowned for its stunning beaches and historical “old town”.

Highlights: The Serengeti’s annual migration is an unforgettable sight and not to be missed. Just picture: two million wilderbeest and zebra blanketing the African plains.

Next stop? Take a trip along the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta or a walking safari in Botswana. For a completely different vibe, visit the stark saltpans of the Kalahari, recognised for its moon-like landscape. Or combine with the Masai Mara in Kenya, and the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys in Rwanda for an unforgettable East Africa safari experience.

Giraffes on African Safari

Why you should avoid Mongolia's Eagle Hunting Festival

As part of our continued drive to ensure our adventures adhere to the strictest standards of animal welfare, we have removed the eagle hunting festival from our Mongolia program.

The decision was taken in consultation with World Animal Protection, the leading organisation that assists in our company’s comprehensive Animal Welfare Code of Conduct.

Although it is not our place to pass judgement on the long-held cultural tradition of eagle hunting in Mongolia, it is our place to remove tourism activities from our program that do not adhere to the principals of animal welfare,

World Expeditions Responsible Travel Manager, Donna Lawrence, says.

"The eagle hunting festival is a spectacle for tourists and the welfare of the eagles and their prey at the festival does not adhere to the universally accepted ‘Five Freedoms’ of animal welfare on which our animal welfare Code of Conduct is based."

Although the concept of the eagle hunting has cultural origins, the festival was first conceived in 1999 with the purpose of boosting tourism, according to World Animal Protection Senior Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor, Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach.

“The festival is a comparatively new event designed to attract tourism and the commercial aspect of the festival has unfortunately led to negative impacts on the welfare and the conservation of the eagles.”

A local eagle hunter, Mongolia |  <i>Cam Cope</i>Eagles are often used for hunting in Mongolia's steppe. Image: Cam Cope

How to experience Mongolia responsibly

Mongolia's expansive landscapes, rich history and cultural diversity makes the country a unique and magnetic place to explore. From the remote corners of the Gobi Desert to steppe grasslands, here are ways you can still enjoy your big adventure with a small footprint:

 •  Encounter diverse nomad communities and stay overnight in a family's ger, a circular felt tent used by nomadic people, for a fantastic cultural experience. In line with our Thoughtful Travel practices, we provide opportunities for travellers to interact with local people, so that knowledge is shared and the culture is understood and appreciated.

 •  Catch a performance of traditional Mongolian folk dance, music and throat singing in Ulaanbaatar

 •  Don’t miss the Naadam Festival, the country’s biggest annual party, where you can experience traditional costumes, dance, music, food and religious ceremonies, as well as watch local men and women compete in a huge two-day tournament of the country’s traditional sports.

 •  Camp under the stars in the open steppe and mountains on a fully supported trek. This is a great way to avoid overtourism hot spots, to immerse in nature and to seek a more remote adventure.

 •  Travel to remote frontiers by bike or on foot and learn about the nomadic culture in Western Mongolia. Know that the carbon footprint from your trip in Mongolia will be offset at no additional cost to you to support Positive Impact Projects that protect wildlife and help provide clean energy for communities. 

 •  Get back to nature and discover the Altai Mountain region, tracking and spotting wild mountain goats.

 •  Visit Khustain National Park, home of the takhi (Mongolian wild horse), or the Terelj National Park for horseback riding or a day hike. Instances where horses and camels are used, make sure they are hired from local people who manage the care and welfare of the animals. Our programs adhere to these as per our Animal Welfare Code of Conduct.

 •  Explore the ruins of Karakorum, the 13th century capital of Genghis Khan's Mongol empire and a significant city in the history of the Silk Road. It is set in the beautiful Orkhon Valley.

 •  Visit a wealth of petroglyphs, standing stones, and grave sites from the ancient past.

 

 

Authentic and realistic insight into Mongolia's open spaces and nomadic lifestyle lend themselves to an unforgettable outdoor experience. View our Mongolia adventures >

Published 19 June 2019.

Traveller stories: Vietnam to Laos by bike

Cycling close to 500km, it was 10 days of encountering locals, soaking in the tranquillity of the countryside and immersing in the enchanting village life of Laotians. Getting there by bike added to a fun and rewarding experience, but it did prove to be strenuous at times. (Thankfully a support vehicle was nearby which we used to our advantage!)

Here are my day-to-day accounts from my two-wheel adventure from Hanoi to Luang Prabang.

Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam – a welcoming dinner

After a short briefing with our World Expeditions tour guide, Hang, we left for dinner in the home of a local family who lived near the central rail station in an area once heavily bombed during the war. The food was excellent and copious – spring rolls, cha ca fish (a Hanoi speciality), tofu, fried chicken, and something a bit like dolmades, as well as some home brewed rice spirit.

Our host clearly loved entertaining visitors (our guide translated), where they played their homemade instruments and sang for us. It was a real treat, and a taste of things to come.

Cyclists geared up and ready to set off from Hanoi to remote villages |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

Day 2: Hanoi to Ba Vi National Park – leaving the bustling city behind

We were fitted with our mountain bikes with its 27 gears and set off at a fast pace following Hang along the dyke road through a populated area of Hanoi. Not surprisingly, we had two close calls – one where we were almost side swiped by a motorbike coming from a side street, and another where one of the cyclists knocked a bamboo tray of food out of the hands of a woman walking out of a doorway without looking.

In no time at all, we left the busy part of the city behind and continued towards the west on the main road. We passed through a village known as a carpenters’ village. It seemed quite flat, but as we were going mostly along the banks of the Red River, it was a continuous and gentle incline. It was so nice to be outside Hanoi, but the landscape was flat and not very inspiring. The villages were interesting though.

We stopped for lunch in a village café, enjoying noodles and vegetables. Kristen, my fellow traveller, demonstrated her adeptness at communicating with locals and very soon had the owner of the restaurant ready to marry her off to a local! The owner’s late husband had served during the war and had been absent for 10 years as he was exposed to agent Orange, the aftereffects of which were evident in one of her four sons.

We continued the almost flat road for approximately 55 kilometres until we reached a national park. Though it was a pretty steep climb!

It was five kilometres up to head to our accommodation located inside the park, but we managed about one and a half kilometres before putting our bikes on the truck and driving up the rest of the way. The Ba Vi Resort (a popular pick for the locals in the wet season) was set in a backdrop of beautiful trees, but the resort’s French/Soviet style was dated.

Day 3: Ba Vi to Da Bia – a scenic reservoir and 60km of hard biking

We drove down the hill and along a busy road to the river, where the truck and van let us set of on our own two wheels along the river for about 20 kilometres, before hopping on a little long boat to cross the river. We climbed from the boat landing up to a village and then continued our way – mostly uphill. It proved to be a very hard day with lots of hills and we were not well prepared for them, but the truck and van were there to support us, and we took advantage.

Biking around a reservoir that reminded us of Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand, but with no tourists or tourist facilities, I felt that we were truly isolated and remote. It was lovely to pass friendly villagers with young ones greeting, ‘Hello’. The biking was hard but scenic.

Enjoying scenic water views in isolated parts of Da Bia |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

After about 60 kilometres of hard biking, everyone got in the van as we were at least 20 kilometres away from our night’s accommodation, a home stay next to a huge reservoir. Here, we were amongst the Muang people and stayed in a typical Muang house – wooden, very open, on stilts with living downstairs and sleeping upstairs. Dinner was cooked by the family and consisted of a variety of dishes – fish (deep fried and overcooked), tofu, chicken pieces, vegetables, French fries, squash and rice.

Staying at a traditional Muong house by a host family |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

The home stay was in a lovely location, but the sleeping floor upstairs was a little cramped. With another tour group, approximately 13 people slept in a room, with mattresses laid on the floor under mosquito nets. Roosters seemed to crow all night, and of course there were snorers.

Day 4: Da Bia to Pu Luong – a valley carpeted in rice fields

We started the day with an hour’s transfer in a long boat to the other side of the reservoir, enjoying the stunning scenery of layered hills, which looked blue in the hazy light and passed an island where locals were harvesting tapioca.

Boat transfer across the river to cycle Laos' backroads |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

After the boat ride, we climbed up and up as we left the reservoir behind. We reached the top of the hill near a busy town and intersection, from there we headed downhill for about four kilometres along a busy road before turning off into a paradise of limestone karsts, rice paddies, and tidy villages of wooden houses on stilts.

We were led by Hang along small country roads, through villages and rice paddy borders, and passed communal clothes washing and bathing areas.

We stopped at a wooden house and Hang organised for us to be invited in. Our host was a 91-year-old woman who sat ably on the floor. Her teeth were lacquered black, but her eyes were bright, and she seemed alert.

Her home where she lives with her husband, daughter and grandchildren had a big room upstairs for sleeping and a kitchen area to the side with an open fireplace for cooking, but no running water inside nor a fridge. There were two TVs in the big living/sleeping area though.

After our village and rice paddy detour, we arrived at Mai Chau. Cottages were hemmed in the hills, with many shops selling souvenirs and restaurants aplenty – and tourists.
We stopped at a bar with a lookout over the karsts and rice paddies and had drinks – a beer and a mango and papaya smoothie (with a taste of condensed milk).

Then we were off again. Initially we went on a cross country track past some cows, hotels under construction and a cement works, however we then got back onto a very muddy country road where there was some road repairs and trucks. We knew the last part of the day was a long climb, so as soon as an ascent started, we decided to stop biking and take the van. It was indeed a long climb and very high.

At the top, we travelled on our bikes again for a great descent through villages to our remote resort for the night, part way down the mountain.

Our accommodation had a dining area – all open, a swimming pool and numerous cabins for sleeping. It also had an extraordinary view of the mountain hills. Our cabin was like the home stay – upstairs in a wooden house on stilts and a common sleeping room, but much more spacious with curtain dividers and the toilets and showers were closer to our accommodation and more numerous (four toilets and four showers). The design of the bathrooms and the cleanliness was impressive. After showering and washing some clothes, we had a drink with Hang. It seemed strange and was sad that our Vietnam leg of the tour was almost finished.

Day 5: Pu Luong to Vieng Xai, Laos – the hidden route through scenic landscapes

After a reasonable night’s sleep – no roosters but a bit of snoring – we got up for our last day of cycling in Vietnam, taking off with speed. We had 20 kilometres to do for the day and Hang was under pressure to get us to the border by midday.

The first part, of about seven kilometres, was downhill through magical sceneries of villages and layers of karsts above a mist. Such a pity to go so fast. The remainder of the journey was relatively flat but fast – we must have been doing about 25 kilometres per hour.

Saying our goodbyes to our truck driver, who had been super helpful and cheerful, we hopped in the van for the border.

The drive is about 2 hours, but it took longer due to some roadworks. Once we made it to the immigration border, we had our passports stamped and bid adieu to Hang and our van driver. Hang is a terrific guide and it was sad to say thanks and goodbye.

We then crossed no man’s land – a long walk over a bridge with about 200 metres on each side. I was worried that the Laotian immigration wouldn’t be open, and we would be stuck in no man’s land, but an official came running across to the office when we appeared and started the process of organising our visas on arrival. This took about 15-20 minutes, after the payment of $36 USD each – one dollar more than anticipated as it was the weekend.

We met our guide, Lee and driver, Mr Sit and made our way to Vieng Xai on the worst road I’ve ever experienced. We were remote – almost no villages, but the road was so rough due to lots of landslides.

That night we went to dinner at the local Indian restaurant run by a Bengali man and his wife. The food was excellent and enjoyed a nice change from noodles, eggs and fried rice. We had aubergine curry, fish curry and dahl, topped with an excellent cardamom rice pudding dessert.

The owners had been in Laos for 10 years after his mining job finished, running the restaurant in an old wooden shack. The husband’s eyes lit up when I asked about the Indian cricket team currently playing in Australia. I was overwhelmed at their bravery and persistence. It was sad to leave Vietnam and the Vietnamese team, but we were ready for our Laotian adventure.

Day 6: Vieng Xai to Sam Nuea – exploring Cave City

We toured the caves used by the Pathet Lao (The red army of Laos) during the bombing by the Americans. It was a great tour, highly informative and distressing at the same time. More bombs were dropped on Laos by the Americans than were dropped during the Second World War! The Laotians called it the secret war. Today still, one Laotian dies per day from unexploded ordnances.

Cave tour in Vieng Xai |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

We visited three caves: that of the Red Prince, that of the army commander and future prime minister, and the infantry cave. The last one was enormous, with three big bomb craters outside. The first two had lovely gardens with lots of begonias, frangipanis and fig trees.

After our tour, we got fitted for our bikes and took off. Our first day of biking in Laos was a ‘rest day’, so we had only 35 kilometres to do, but it was hard biking. We got to our destination early afternoon and had lunch in a cafe near the bridge. The hotel was nice – quite new, lots of shiny tiles and interesting decor.

I spent the afternoon exploring the area, walking through the market, and went across a rickety pedestrian bridge to find an ATM and the Vietnamese restaurant which had been recommended. More fried rice and two big bottles of beer came to approximately $10.

Day 7:  Sam Nuea to Muang Hiem – entering Laos’ ethnically diverse area

Post-breakfast – which was eggs (oh yes, more eggs), a bit of cheese, 3- in-1 coffee, bread rolls and bananas – we had a quick tour of the market. Dead rats and squirrels for sale.

Local village markets in Laos |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

We had a huge distance to cover this day – mostly by driving. The biking was challenging, very mountainous but beautiful. The best part was passing through villages and all the children waving and saying ‘sabadee’.

We stopped for lunch on the side of the road at the top of a pass, sitting on the ground and having noodles, salad with a coconut milk sauce and barbequed eggplants. The team ate buffalo bits (tripe and bones bits). They travelled with their own rice cooker, and like all Laotians loved sticky rice.

Lunch stop en route to Muang Hiem |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

We arrived in our guest house about 5pm and it was away from the main street and overlooking some fields. It was okay, but it had the usual dodgy plumbing of Southeast Asia where some of the waste from the sink went onto the floor.

Across the road we had dinner – more fried rice, eggs and beer. The owner’s children were in a corner watching nursery rhymes in English including ‘Jingle Bells’. We sang along and it was a nice reminder of Christmas back home.

Day 8: Muang Hiem to Muang Viengkham – local encounters

This was another long day of biking and long-distance driving. We passed more mountains, villagers, buffalo, cows and villages. We were getting tired. The scenery was still special though and the villages remote and poor.

The villagers were fascinated by our bikes, especially Kristen’s as she uses cleats.

After a lot of hard biking, we got in the van to finish the distance to the night’s accommodation on rough road. We arrived at a nice, clean guesthouse with a decent bathroom guesthouse at about 5pm. We had dinner cooked by the guesthouse owner, a very elegant Laotian woman. The food was good, but it was the usual noodles and eggs – and Laotian beer.

Day 9: Muang Viengkham to Nong Khiaw – the best mountain scenery and a luxurious night’s stay

We started our day with lovely breakfast on the terrace outside our rooms, enjoying fruit, green soybean cakes and rice flour omelette with a sweet sauce.
I have to say, today had the best scenery of the trip, but also had the longest climb of about 30 kilometres. We set out thinking that we would do as much as possible after all we had done well in the hill climbs the previous day.

We amazingly managed 25 kilometres. I was so pleased and wish I’d persisted and finished it.

Just before we finished, I had two little boys on their way home from school at lunchtime running up the hill beside me and at one stage pushing me by hitting my back wheel.

Taking a break while chatting with the locals |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

Lower on the mountains, we were among the Kmeu tribe. Higher up, we were back among Hmong people, who do not have windows in their houses due to the high altitude. Both tribal groups live in wooden houses on stilts.

Our lunch stop at Hmong had some interesting sights, including a young girl carrying a few dead rats on a string. There were some for sale in the shops too.

After lunch, we took off downhill and stopped at a spectacular lookout over the surrounding mountains.

Enjoying stunning vistas before heading into a small town in Laos |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

As we got closer to our final destination for the night, Nong Khiaw, a popular tourist destination. The environment changed – more traffic, better houses and some swimming pools for tourists.

Driving up to our accommodation at the Viewpoint Hotel, World Expeditions certainly saved the best for last – we were in luxury! It was a new hotel with a spectacular vista of the river, town and mountainscapes. We enjoyed happy hour in town and went to an Indian restaurant, the Chennai, for thali. The local Lao Lao whiskey helped us walk easily up the hill to get to our hotel (or maybe we were just really fit after all the biking).

Day 10: Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang – the final day

We headed off for a 60-kilometre ride before lunch. My bum and hips hurt after the exertion of the previous day. The ride was simple though – down a valley, close to the river and undulating.

Taking in stunning views from above |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

We had coffee in a café near the turn-off to the main road that goes between Laos and Vietnam. It was clear that we were back in civilisation with enormous trucks on the road.

After our 60kms, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and had some exceptional noodles – one that the team had bought at a market and some really spicy handmade pho. We then said goodbye to our truck driver and our bikes, and with Mr Sit and Lee, we continued to drive by the river, Nam Om towards the Mekong.

The road was a mess as the Chinese are building dams along the river, including near Mr Sit’s childhood home. Many houses and villages will be lost to the flooding.

We arrived at a weaving village, Ban Nayang, and went straight to our long boat to cross the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou cave (which means mouth of the river). The caves are interesting but the boat ride on the Mekong was magnificent, especially when it was close to sunset.

Mekong River crossing |  <i>Sandra Hopkins</i>

At Luang Prabang, we were driven to our accommodation and said our sad goodbyes to Mr Sit and Lee. What a magical journey and what a privilege to access villages and locals in remote Laos!

Words and photos by Sandra Hopkins who travelled on our Hanoi to Luang Prabang by Bike trip in December 2018. Follow more of Sandra’s recent travels at her blog.

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