Thursday 26 June 2014

A Day (or Rather Morning) on Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands

Straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca (pronounced "Lake Titihaha" by locals) is said to be the original birthplace of the Incans. It's the world's highest navigable body of water and won its infamy by its hilariously fun-to-pronounce name.

The morning is the best time to visit the lake and the Uros Floating Islands that sit in the middle of it - usually you can catch great lighting and good weather. Riding the reed boat is only ~10 soles, so hop on to get great pictures riding on the lake and bring your passport! You'll be able to get an official Lake Titicaca stamp on the second island. 

Many of the Uros people also sell souvenirs to tourists and are open to showing you their home (and letting you take pictures) as well.

Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands are worth the morning visit if you can spare it!

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Inti Raymi, The Inca Festival of the Sun at Sacsayhuaman, Peru

Princesses, male virgins, llama sacrifices, and fire. What more do you need?

Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun, enacts 500-year-old traditions of the Incan empire. Though the festival has become more touristy in recent years, it was once considered the most important ceremony carried out in Cuzco. This June 24th festival celebrates the Incan New Year and winter solstice when the sun is furthest from this side of the planet. Thus, the Incans would perform for the Sun God in order for him to come back.

There are two choices you can make leading up to the festival at Sacsayhuaman (3km from Cusco): 1) Walk the route with the paraders from the town to the hill or 2) Get to Sacsayhuaman early and secure a seat on the hill for a good view. It's highly recommended to go to Sacsayhuaman on another day when the ruins are opened, as it's one of the few ruins you can literally "slide" down!

As our hostel worker, tour guide, and waiter all gave us different start times the night before, we decided to hike up before 9am. Note: You can also take the scenic walk on the right side or no steps on the left side. Dealer's choice!

Admission is only 20 soles to sit on chairs on the same level of the festival, but for a more local experience, you can "tailgate" with community members by sitting overlooking everything. Luckily, we were able to secure front-row seats between the nicest families where we spent the next six hours or so enjoying the festival.

Though the show didn't start until 1pm, we had a blast with everyone in the crowd. Snacks were sold like a baseball game and everyone was more than happy to trade food back and forth.


Inti Raymi, the Incan Festival of the Sun, at Sacsayhuaman

After the sacrifice of the black llama, we headed next door as there was another festival going on with street food and even a bounce house. Tip: At any restaurant you go to, make sure you ask for "the menu." We paid 10-15 soles (even cheaper in most places) for a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, a soup, the meal, and a drink - delicious!

Take a close look as the brown llama is kissing Lindsey!

Monday 23 June 2014

One Day Trek to Machu Picchu!

As the #1 tourist destination in South America, Machu Picchu draws over one million tourists annually. Though built around 1450, the Incan site was not discovered until 1911. Machu Picchu is one of world’s most iconic archaeological sites and in 2007, the site was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of World.

For the more hard-core outdoorsy folks, you can hike the multi-day 26-mile Inca Trail covering mountain, cloud-forest, sub-tropical jungle, Inca paving stones, ruins, and tunnels. It's quite an experience, but reservations typically need to be made up to 6 months (or more) in advance given that permits are only issued for 200 trekkers a day.

You can also look into one-day hikes to Huayna Picchu (as long as you book at least 2-3 days in advance or get up extremely early as it's restricted to 400 people/day) which allows you to hike to the peak that looks down on Machu Picchu. 

We did the simple one-day tour (thank goodness due to my altitude sickness!) with a 5:30am pickup from Cusco and a 6:20am Vistadome Train to Aguas Calientes, the base of where you catch half-hour buses to Machu Picchu. Orignally debating between the Backpacker train or the Vistadome Train, we were glad the former seats were sold out! With the comfy seats and breakfast and snacks of pancakes, grapes, jam, quiche, etc., the 3.5 hour train ride was a perfect experience with Vistadome. There is also an infamous fashion show by the staff of the train on the evening returns which is quite an entertaining experience in itself!

Note: Don't be so preoccupied with photos that you leave your bag (with passport, money, and return train tickets!) at the Temple of the Sun like me. You'll likely get it back as the security at Machu Picchu is quite good, but it'll be a stressful situation. 
Rise and shine on the Vistadome Train!

Machu Picchu it all its glory. Check off the life to-see list! :)

Sunday 22 June 2014

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Peru

If you happen to find yourself in the Sacred Valley of Peru and need to do some shopping, head no further than Pisac! A small Peruvian village at the Willkanuta River, Pisac holds a large market every Sunday and is well-known for its ruins that sit atop a hill. Just an hour and a half from Cusco by bus, it's worth a stop over on your way to Ollantaytambo or even just an afternoon trip.

For anyone looking to alpaca meat, head on over to the street of Calle bolognesi. Ayahuasca Arte Cafe is not only delicious, but credit card accepted and TripAdvisor approved!

A note for travelers is to take it easy given that Cusco is 11,150 foot above sea level meaning that altitude sickness affects up to 70 % of people. That night, that statistic included me!  At about 36 degrees Fahrenheit, I woke up freezing cold with shallow breathes. Bundling up with another jacket significantly helped, so make sure to stay warm, drink plenty of water, and take it easy to acclimate!  
Lindsey Dattels and me exploring Pisac from the Mercado to the Ruins

Saturday 21 June 2014

5 Things to Do in Lima, Peru

After last year's adventure to Ecuador, I was excited to return to South America to Peru, a traveler's top destination. After a night's sleep from a late night airport arrival, the day was spent exploring the capital city before heading off to Cusco for the one and only Macchu Picchu. If you're up for running around the largest city of Peru, here are five things you can do with a day in Lima:

1. Watch the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show at Parque de la Reserva

Parque de la Reserva has easily become my new favorite place. More than a dozen fountains colorfully and even interactively light up a downtown park. Paid for by the Lima municipal government, the treasure of the night is the Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua) in which water and light shoot into the sky against a background of music. Well worth the $1.50 admission and open after sundown Wednesdays-Sundays.  Truly magical!

A magical night watching the Magic Water Circuit Fountain Show!

2. Paraglide over Lima

This one is for all the adventure seekers out there! At Parque del Amor ("Love Park"), you can grab a parachute and literally...jump off a cliff!  For ten minutes, you'll glide over between Larcomar, a multi-level shopping complex, and the Pacific Ocean. Most of the guides only speak Spanish, so good luck if you don't (I don't either!). The ride and a DVD with a few photos will cost 205 soles (~$70US). Do this at your own discretion...some may consider the ride a bit sketchy!

 Paragliding over Lima. I'm much more scared that I look!

3. Explore Miraflores

The Miraflores District is the upscale neighborhood of Lima know for shopping, gardens, beaches and flower-filled parks. Think of it as the Beverly Hills (I was lucky to have a friend living here). Take some time to explore Parque Kennedy, Miraflores' central plaza, with its regular flea markets and art exhibitions and if you're up for a night out, head out to Calle de las Pizzas ("Pizza Street") once the sun sets.

Miraflores District. Photo courtesy of A Flâneur Abroad

4. Walk Around the Huaca Pucllana Ruins

It's the greatest juxtaposition to be in a city standing on top of ruins from 200AD. Huaca Pucllana, Quechu for "a place for ritual games" is built from staggered platforms out of adobe and clay. The ruins served as an important ceremonial and administrative center for the Lima Culture Society with eventual use by the Wari Culture. If you bring along a student ID, entrance is only 5 soles (~$1.50US).

 Monica Dykas and I take a tour of Huaca Pucllana

5. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

For a less touristy crowd, take a bus to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though it only has 3 rooms, the current exhibition of the intersections between locals and tourists in Cusco proves a solid visit. Again, bring along a student ID as admission is only 2 soles (~$.50US).

Outside the MCA

Lima's a great place to explore, so enjoy it all! What are your top five things to do in Lima? 

Sunday 11 May 2014

5 Ways to Make Extra Money to Travel the World

"How do you have money to travel?"

This is a question that I frequently get asked. As a lifelong nonprofit professional and a millennial with student loan debt, any discretionary income is a luxury. Beyond being diligent about budgeting and saving, I've had several side businesses throughout the years that helped to fund my travels.  

Here are five of my favorite "side hustles" that will get you extra cash to help finance that next trip!

 I wish I could sit on piles of money like this woman! Courtesy of
1) Provide Referrals

This is an such an overlooked way to get extra cash and requires little time. Companies are always looking to hire good people and the best way to do that is through its own employees. Check with your HR to see how much you can earn by referring a friend or contact to an open position - your friend gets a job and you can snag anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars!

Company doesn't offer anything?  Recruit for other companies that do! For example, Vecna pays you $4000 for a good referral whether you work there or not!  

Finished a professional development class?  Enjoyed a tour? Love your dentist?  As a client yourself, likely those businesses and services you've already paid for have referral bonuses. I've racked up a list of my own Deals & Discounts of my satisfied customer experiences here.

2) Participate in Research Studies

I love this one. When I was in college, graduate students and professors were always looking for subjects for their research. Usually, this consists of playing computer games and answering surveys typically paying $20/hour or more. I would do these between classes fairly easily and hey, you are contributing to research! Personally, I don't do anything evasive (like blood tests), but to each their own.

Studies are sometimes very general (such as healthy adults between the ages of 18-45) or very specific (right-handed females who drink an energy drink a day), but can be lucrative. The most recent one I did was for McLean Hospital - $200 for a day of playing games and a free MRI scan.  

Beyond online research databases, check your university newspapers, community boards, and even public transportation ads.

3) Launch a Side Business or Freelance 

This is my favorite type of side hustling. Outside of your day job, what are you passionate about? Or at least hey, what can you do outside the 9-5? Maybe it's graphic design or pet-sitting. Maybe you promote networking or nightlife events and get people to attend. Try things out and see what works for you!

For me, I always had a knack for resume writing and getting jobs. As part of a new year's resolution, I launched my career consulting website aimed at helping young professionals jobs - go side hustling!
Looking for your dream job? Let's talk!
4) Sell Old and Unnecessary Stuff

This one is pretty typical. I've found that travelers typically have less material possessions that the average person (except for their storage boxes of souvenirs of course!) and selling is the way to go to de-clutter and get extra cash.

Got old textbooks? Send them in with free shipping to Textbook Rush or Chegg. Clutter around the house? Have a garage sale on a sunny day. Got unused giftcards? Exchange them for cash with Gift Card Rescue.

I often enter event raffles as the prizes far exceed the ticket value. $1 for a snowboard?  If I win, that snowboard's getting sold!

5) Work as a Brand or Event Ambassador

This is a great way to not only get entry into cool events, but earn a decent cash flow typically anywhere from $12-$25 an hour. I worked the U.S. Open of Surfing years ago manning a keychain-making booth and earned $400 over the 4-day beach festival. In Boston, I managed a talent casting call for a weekend for $230. Not too shabby!

Gigs can be found on sites such as Craigslist or local promotion agencies. What is nice is that if a company likes you, they'll often keep calling you back. Also note that you should never need to front money for membership or access to these events.

Of course, use proper discretion when working side businesses as you should only do whatever you are comfortable with. From some or all combination of these side hustles, you could earn yourself a nice vacation!

Monday 10 March 2014

7 Things Every Female Traveler Needs to Pack

Note to reader: This post was originally featured on There D Goes, a lifestyle blog for women.

If you know me, you know I love to travel. I’ve gone all over the world on all different types of trips from relaxing, luxurious vacations to to “I can’t believe I did that” adventurous, budget backpacking trips and everywhere in between. But no matter where you go, there are always a few “must haves” for women travelers. Luckily, Krystina Nguyen at the travel blog, C’est La Vie, was willing to share her packing tips and recommendations. Enjoy! 

It’s your moment. You’ve booked the ticket and have the vacation time blocked for the next week, weeks, or if you’re lucky enough, months. You’ve run around the last few days finishing up work projects or school assignments. In a few hours, you’ll jump on that jet plane to backpack Europe, sip piña coladas on Caribbean beaches, or trek from temple to temple in Southeast Asia.

But wait…what are you going to pack?

When I took a Contiki trip in 2008, my 42 other travel buddies voted me “Best Packer.” Before every trip, I research what’s culturally and weather-appropriate and grab my Ziploc bag full of 3oz. toiletries that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. However, whether I’m traveling for work, Couchsurfing, getting lost in the Amazon, or taking a girls trip, I’ve come to learn there are essential things that can make the life of young female much easier on her adventures!

A photo of Krystina with her backpack  
I live by the philosophy, “Take no more than you can carry” which for my petite self means minimal baggage!

1) Quick Dry Towel
Unless I’m staying with friends or at a fancy hotel, my quick dry towel is one of the first things to go into my backpack. Though extremely light, it can absorb up to 8 times its weight in water and then wrings out dry in just minutes in airy temperatures or a few hours in more humid conditions. As its super compact and folds up neatly into a pouch, I love traveling with this – great for the gym too!

A photo of quick dry towels from REI 

2) Long Scarf or Shawl
A long scarf or shawl serves as a variety of functions from keeping you comfy on cold airplanes to serving as a barrier against questionable hostel bed sheets to hiding a purse at a crowded street market. If you forget to pack one, then buying one is a great souvenir to have.

Krystina on a hike with a scarf for sun protection  
Need sun protection when you’re hiking 15 miles across Dogon Country in Mali? Long scarf to the rescue!

3) Ciprofloxacin a.k.a. Cipro (for those just in case situations)
You’ll need to see a doctor or visit a travel clinic for this one. Cipro cures both traveler’s diarrhea and UTIs. No further explanation needed.

4) Non-locking Carabiners
This simple tool has saved me on so many occasions. I’m not a fan of having a million locks on my bags, but a carabiner can make it difficult for anyone to jiggle my backpack open and prevents my backpack from opening on itself since I packed too many clothes. It’s also a great space saver to attach shoes or water bottles!

Krystina's backpack with carabiners
5) Pocket Knife
Yes! Empowering and useful, a pocket knife is any girl’s best friend. You never know when you’ll need to peel an avocado or cut open…well anything! I personally prefer the SwissCard style pocket knives as they’re shaped like credit cards and can fit into a wallet, but see what you prefer.

Krystina's Pocket Knife
6) Health and Property Travel Insurance
This is particularly important for international travelers. You never know when the worst-case scenario can happen and you always want to be prepared. Travel credit cards often offer benefits for cardholders, so make sure you know what’s available to you. For those 26 or younger, as well as teachers and students, STA Travel can provide the International Youth Travel Card which provides basic sickness and accident travel insurance for international trips for just $25. I was able to get travel medical insurance for three weeks in Ecuador for just $36 and property insurance for a year for my DSLR camera (including theft and accidents) for $99 with International SOS is popular as well. Whatever you choose, be prepared!

7) Travel Journal
Last and for me, most important, is a travel journal! While so many moments will take your breath away, jotting down a few notes on how you felt and what you did will let you reflect on how truly amazing the experience is. After you get back, you’ll want to remember that name of the incredibly delicious gelato shop or the generous tour guide that you want all your future friends to request on their journeys. Trust me. Years down the line and after the trip is over, you’ll thank me for this one!

Those are my seven. What are some of your “must packs?”

Krystina Nguyen is a career consultant and nonprofit professional living in Boston.  Her previous travel adventures include being spat on by an elephant in Vietnam, repelling down waterfalls in the Andes, and mistakenly crossing the Chadian border only to end up doing event set up at a wedding.  You can follow Krystina’s adventures on Twitter @Krystina_Nguyen and read her travel blog, C’est La Vie.

Monday 24 February 2014

Top 10 Things to Do In Costa Rica

In 2007, I took my first international trip to Costa Rica and fell in love, not only with the country, but the adventure of traveling itself. I started C'est La Vie a few months after that trip so it was never documented on this blog, but I've always wanted to share the attractiveness of the country as it still sits as one of my Top 5 Countries. Lucky enough, Devon DeMars of There D Goes, just came back from the land of "Pura Vida" and I couldn't agree more with her list of things to do. Enjoy!

Planning for (or daydreaming about) a trip to Costa Rica? It’s a popular destination for those looking for adventure and leisure alike, but there are some definite “must-do’s” when going to this Central American country. 

  1) Go ziplining

You’ve probably heard about this before, as it is a popular activity in Costa Rica. There are several different zipline companies in different areas of the country, but one fun place to do it is in Monteverde where you will be able to glide down several different ziplines over the lush cloud forest. One zipline company I recommend is Costa Rica Sky Adventures.  

Snapped a picture of my mom’s nervous smile before our first zipline!

  2)   Grab some coconut water 

Costa Rica can be warm and humid, and you’ll want to stay hydrated, so do it with one of the freshest and healthiest drinks available – a coconut! They are inexpensive and easy to find, generally at a stand on the side of the road, where the merchant will machete chop it open for you then and there. So refreshing!

  3)   Explore the cloud forest              

The Costa Rican cloud forest is famous for its numerous flora & fauna species. It’s best to explore with a guide who can point out all the interesting plant and animal life that you might not have noticed without a trained eye. (Trust me on this.) You can often find monkeys, sloths, bats, lizards, birds and butterflies in their natural habitat and snap amazing photos.

  4) Visit the Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano and surrounding town of La Fortuna is a highlight of many tourists’ trips. With a lush tropical climate, the scenery is beautiful and the imposing view of volcano is impressive. La Fortuna is a small town with several restaurant choices, shops, and things to do.

  5)  Dip in the natural hot springs

While you’re near the Arenal Volcano, stop by a natural hot spring! Most of these hot springs have been turned into beautiful pools, where guests can relax and test out the different temperatures of the pools before enjoying a traditional Costa Rican dinner.

  6)  Take a “Tico Tour”

A “Tico Tour” is a day trip to a small, local village where you can explore the lifestyle of small-town Costa Rica. Many Tico Tours include a guided nature walk, a traditional “campesino” style meal, swimming and/or fishing, horseback riding, and information about the town and local way of life. Check out the Santa Juana Mountain Adventure tour if this type of day trip sounds right up your alley.

After all the day’s activities of hiking, swimming, horseback riding and fishing, this meal and view were the perfect way to end the tour

  7)  Learn about local farming and agriculture

Costa Rica has several coffee and vanilla or chocolate plantations that are interesting to tourists. Visit one to learn how coffee, vanilla, chocolate or other items are harvested and get a new appreciation for your cup of joe!
Henry, owner of Villa Vanilla, explains how chocolate is created from cocoa beans

  8)  Sit back and relax

When visiting a beach town, take some time to relax and soak up the sun by the pool or ocean. Costa Rica is a beautiful place to kick back, but don’t forget to wear your sunscreen! The country is very close to the equator, and the sun’s rays are likely much stronger then what you are used to. 

  9)  Rent a moped

Many small tourist towns can be explored on foot or by cab, but another way is by moped! If you are an adventurous soul, you can rent a moped for the day or week and use it to get around town. You’ll feel like a local and make memories as you won’t forget zipping around town.

  10) Go surfing

Tamarindo Bay and other areas of Costa Rica are famous surf spots that you won’t want to miss if you love water sports. There are several places to rent surf or boogie boards. If you don’t want to surf, you can’t go wrong with just exploring the habitat along the beaches and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Devon DeMars is a lifestyle blogger at There D Goes writing about fitness, beauty and travel adventures. When she’s not blogging you’ll find her always on-the-go exploring her town of San Diego, day dreaming about her next adventure, training for her first marathon, finding a new favorite wine, or visiting her friends and family across the country. You can see what she’s up to on her lifestyle blog or on Twitter at @ThereDGoes.