10 Day Morocco Itinerary

From the vibrant city of Marrakech to the serene Sahara Desert, Morocco is a diverse country for exploring. To avoid the crowds and intense heat, we traveled to Morocco in January. The weather was perfect with daily highs around 70F and daily lows around 50F.

Morocco Itinerary

Day 1 and 2: Marrakech (2 nights)

The only accommodation for this trip booked in advance was our first night in Marrakech. We booked online and scheduled an airport pickup service. The driver dropped us off in a roundabout where another gentlemen walked us through the winding alleyways of the Medina. The Medina is extremely hard to navigate so we were lucky to have local help in navigating our way to the Riad.

We spent 2 days wandering the maze that is the medina, eating tagine, browsing the souks, relaxing in Jardin Marjorelle and admiring the tile work at Bahia Palace. We were itching to explore more of the country so the wonderful gentleman of Riad Houdou assisted us in renting a car. For about $400USD +gas, we were able to rent a car for the remainder of our stay and discover Morocco on our own schedule.

Highlights:

  • Getting lost in the medina
  • Eating slow roasted lamb in Mechoui Alley
  • Bahia Palace
  • Jardin Marjorelle
  • Snake charmers in the Medina
  • The liveliness of Jamaa el Fna after dark

Day 3: Ouarzazate (1 night)

The drive to Ouarzazate from Marrakech took us over some of the highest peaks in Africa through the High Atlas Mountains. The long, windy road through Tizi N’Tichka pass to Ouarzazate took about 4 hours. The landscape changed vastly as we drove up and over the mountains, making a stop at the fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah at dusk.

Highlights:

Day 4: Merzouga (1 night)

Early the next morning, we began our 5 hour journey to the Sahara. We arrived in Merzouga just in time to book a camel trek into the Erg Chebbi Dunes. For $120USD, we booked a night in the desert including camel ride both ways, accommodation, dinner, breakfast and shower back at the hotel in the morning. I would recommend booking in advance as we had some trouble finding an opening last minute.

We mounted our camels at dusk and road for about an hour into the depths of the dunes. We arrived at a lovely camp complete with sleeping tents, dining tent, restroom and campfire. After eating a delicious tagine dinner, we roamed the dunes in the darkness with the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way lighting our way. Upon return to the camp, our Berber hosts treated us to some mint tea and played traditional music as we huddled around the fire. We went to bed in our tents made of rugs wearing every layer we had available and still ended up freezing all night!

Morocco

Early the next morning, we packed up and rode our camels back to Merzouga. There was a traditional breakfast waiting for us and we were allowed to use the hotel facilities for a quick shower. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and camels and set off on our way to Fes.

Day 5 and 6: Fes (2 nights)

After a 7 hour drive, we finally arrived in Fes. Exhausted, we found our Riad and went straight to bed. Early the next morning, we had a delicious Moroccan breakfast and headed to the Medina.

For about $5USD we found a local to give us a private tour of the Tannery, including a climb up the terrace for an incredible view. Despite the pungent smell, the technique and care that goes into creating the leather products from start to finish was fascinating.

After the tannery tour, we spent the rest of the day exploring all the Medina has to offer including the beautiful Attarin Medersa, incredible city views from rooftops and Bab Boujloud- the gorgeous blue gate that welcomes you to the city of Fes.

Fes

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Riad Fes Aicha
  • Tannery tour
  • Walking the Medina
  • Attarin Medersa (Entrance fee roughly $1USD)
  • Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate)
  • Rooftop views of the city

Day 7: Chefchaouen (1 night)

A “quick” 3.5 hour drive from Fes turned into a stressful drive through the windy roads of the mountains. There is a highway that goes from Fes to Chefchaouen, but on the map it looked farther so we opted for the more “direct” route. Lesson learned…always, ALWAYS take the highway!

After a strenuous drive, we arrived in the enchanted city of Chefchaouen, known for its blue hue. Chefchaouen is a small, quaint town with not much to do other than marvel at the extraordinary color that paints the town. So 1 day here was more than enough. We strolled through the square, wandered the maze of alleys and admired the many shades of blues.

To get a bird’s-eye view of the blue city, we took a short 20 minute hike to the top of a hill nearby. We exited the medina near The Hotel Atlas  and walked uphill to the Spanish Mosque perched above the town. Even on a rainy day, the blue of the city brightened the sky.

Chefchaouen

Highlights:

Day 8: Tetouan-Tangier (1 night)

The next day, we took a short 2 hour drive to Tangier, a port town known as the gateway to Europe. On the way, we stopped at the small town of Tetouan to explore the markets and eat a delicious lunch at Blanco Riad.

Stepping into the city of Tangier was like stepping into another country completely. Right away, you could see the European influences and energy brought from the influx of travelers from across the Strait of Gibraltar. We spent the night and hopped on the first ferry to Spain in the morning.

Highlights:

Day 9: Gibraltar (1 night)

First thing in the morning, we parked the car at the ferry station (free) and took the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa (1 hr). Once in Tarifa, we hopped on a  free shuttle to Algeciras (30 min, show your ferry ticket).  From Algeciras, we took a short taxi ride to La Linea ($25USD) where we walked across the border (which happens to be an airport runway) to Gibraltar.  Once in Gibraltar, there is a local bus, but we decided to walk so we could explore. For dinner, we hopped back over the border to Spain and enjoyed some tapas before heading back to Gibraltar for a good nights rest.

First thing in the morning, we decided to hike the mediterranean steps to the “top of the rock”. The steps, built by british military start at Jew’s Gate cemetery and run along the eastern side of the rock. The hour-long, grueling hike was well worth the struggle with incredible views beyond imagination.

Monkey

The Rock

At the top of the rock, we toured the battery before walking down to the Military Tunnels and St. Michael’s Cave. We ended the day from a secret spot we found inside the rock where we watched the sunset over the water with Morocco in the distance.

Gibraltar

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Rock Hotel
  • Where to eat: La Chimenea
  • For a less strenuous approach to “the top of the rock”, there are several options including the cable car, bus or private tour.
  • The only food/refreshment on the rock is located near St. Michaels Cave.
  • Plan to spend an entire day exploring the rock.
  • If hiking, take plenty of water.
  • The temperature drops drastically at the top of the rock so plan to bring a warmer jacket.

Day 10: Safi (1 night) 

Arriving late in the evening to Tangier, we decided to get right on the road and begin our 7 hour drive to Safi along the African coastline. We made brief  stops along the way in Rabat and Casablanca before arriving in the beautiful town of Safi at sunset.

We spent our last day in Morocco walking the coastline and exploring the small Medina in Safi, one of the smallest, most local towns we visited. We stood on the cliffs watching the sunset, wishing we had more time in this beautiful country before we drove back to Marrakech to catch our flights back home.

Highlights:

Morocco Travel Tips:

  • Money: Most places are cash only and ATMs are hard to find. Plan on bringing enough cash for the entire trip, including accommodations.
  • Dress: Women should plan to dress modestly, but it is not necessary to cover your head.
  • PDA: Avoid kissing, hugging, holding hands etc with your significant other in public. This is considered inappropriate and you will likely get some dirty looks.
  • Access: Non-Muslims are typically not allowed in the Mosques. If you are unsure, it’s best to ask before entering.
  • Accommodation: Stay in a Riad (traditional Moroccan house). We learned the hard way that it’s best to book accommodation in advance if you can!
  • Tipping: Carry small change. You will need to tip often for everything from directions to parking and on your restaurant bill.
  • Tours: Do not pay “guides” that offer you tours on the streets in the Medina. Instead, go to a tour office or ask at your accommodation.
  • Haggling: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices for everything from cabs to souvenirs.
  • Stay in Touch: Likely, your cell phone will not work here, but you can purchase a local sim card. We used Maroc Telecom which was a bit spotty, but worked for our needs.
  • Driving: When driving, roads are not marked well (ie: It will not say N1 or N10), so look for the name of the city you are heading towards as these will be the only “directional” markers you will see.
  • Checkpoints: Driving through Morocco, you will pass through many checkpoints. They may ask for your passport, but typically we were not even stopped.
  • Women Driving: While you may get a weird look or two, I had no issues as a woman driving in Morocco.
  • Filling Your Tank: Gas stations are few and far between outside of the main cities so make sure you fill up when you see one. Stations are full service and take only cash. Unlike in the states, where pumps have a sensor and stop filling when the tank is full, the attendant looks down into the tank and takes a guess whether it is full or not. Check for yourself and make sure your tank is full before leaving.
  • Avoid Getting Lost: When navigating the Medinas, look for permanent landmarks to mark your way such as doors or shop signs. If for example, you say “turn right at the shoe stand to get back to the riad”, the shop may be closed on your way back and you will not be able to tell where the shoes were.
  • Plan for Closures: Friday is a holy day so be prepared for shops and establishments to be closed.
  • Health: Drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick.
  • Communication: A variety of languages are spoken across Morocco including: French, Moroccan Arabic, Berber and English.
  • Sanitation: Take your own TP! Most public toilets in Morocco do not have TP so it’s best to bring your own, just in case. I’d also recommend hand sanitizer!
  • Drink: Develop a liking for mint tea as you will be drinking a lot of it!
  • Eat: If you see a lamb hanging by its feet on the side of the road, STOP! This means the meat is fresh. We had some of the most amazing lamb of our lives on the side of the road in Morocco. Covered in cumin and grilled, you won’t want to miss it!

 

M*A*S*H Site Hike

The Mission: Hike to the site where the hit show M*A*S*H was filmed.

The Prep: I parked on Mulholland Drive to avoid the parking fee and started from the trail head along the road. You can also park at the main parking area for $12. There are restrooms and water fountains in the parking lot.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Hydration pack
Hat

The Execution:
I grew up watching reruns of the hit show M*A*S*H on television and couldn’t resist the opportunity to hike out to the site where the show was filmed. I arrived early enough to find street parking and avoid paying the fee at the park entrance. I entered the park through a trail head on Mulholland Drive and was quickly met with myriad forks in the road. I didn’t have a trail map so I pulled out my phone and looked for “Crags Road”. The actual site lies on this road so it was a good directional reference point.

A short way down the path, I ran into a lot of families heading towards the swimming hole. It seemed as though the majority of the people I saw were not here to hike, but rather to picnic and swim. I came to a fork in the road where the majority of the crowd veered to the left towards the water and I stayed right towards the M*A*S*H trail. The scenic hike took me up a short hill with expansive views of the canyon and mountains in the distance. As I descended, I was met with more trail heads in a variety of directions, I continued straight on hoping I was still on the correct path.

Eventually I was met with the sign above, and relieve washed over me as I realized I hadn’t strayed from my course. I crossed over a small bridge that was desperately trying to hide the smelly, stagnant water below. As the path grew narrower, I continued through the trees until the trail opened up to reveal the site I had been waiting for.

I strolled around the site admiring relics of a past life that were now overgrown and rusted. Informational plaques dotted the area offering a glimpse into the bustling past of the secluded site. It was hard to imagine this dense, dry habitat as a former home of Hollywood magic. I sat at a picnic table to enjoy my lunch and bask in the history and drama of the scene before leaving my old television memories to the past and heading home.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Trail is mainly exposed so it gets quite hot. Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
  • Trails are not well-marked, but if you have your phone, use google maps to ensure you are heading towards or on Crags Road.
  • Park address: 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Malibu Creek State Park, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Solstice Canyon Loop

The Mission: Explore the ruins of Solstice Canyon.

The Prep: Once you turn onto Corral Canyon Rd, turn left into the parking area. There are very few parking spaces here so continue on over the one lane bridge to additional parking. This is also where the trail heads, bathrooms and trail maps can be found.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Hiking shorts
Tank top
Hydration pack
Shades
Sunscreen
Trail map

The Execution:

I had read about Solstice Canyon and the “eerie abandoned ruins” as a must see so I decided to check it out for myself. Upon arriving at the park, I saw multiple trail heads so I grabbed a map and scouted out the Solstice Canyon trail head. The trail started out easy, flat and with plenty of tree coverage. As I continued on, I was met with several forks in the road and no trail signs. I consulted my trail map only to be more confused. I decided to continue straight on and went up and down a few inclines before I reached “the ruins”.

I walked up a few stairs to an old, demolished building now covered in graffiti and overgrown with foliage. A few old chimneys stood tall and an old stove lay idle in a corner, but otherwise the site was unrecognizable as a former home. As disappointment sent in, I heard someone talking about a waterfall close by. My excitement grew as I climbed the steps to the “falls”. I was met with a trickle of water cascading down boulders looking thirsty and aching for its’ former glory to be restored to pre-drought conditions. As I descended the falls, past the crowds that had amassed, I yearned for a quieter hike back and decided to connect to the Rising Sun trail to loop back to the parking lot.

CALI

The Rising Sun trail started out on a fairly steep incline and continued up, and up and up. Most hikers go out and back on the Solstice Canyon trail and already I was relieved to shed the crowds and enjoy the serene peacefulness of the Rising Sun. The trail was completely exposed with no tree cover and became very hot very quickly. I stopped a few times to hydrate and look back down at the ruins I had just explored and take in the sweeping canyon views.

As I continued on, I was met with an amazing panoramic view. Ocean on one side, canyon on the other. By this point, the trail had leveled off and I was able to stroll along easily while taking in the views. Eventually I reached the TRW overlook trail, from here you can take the TRW loop the long way (to the right) back to the parking lot or the short way (to the left) back to the parking lot. I chose to go left, went down a steep grade and then descended some stairs before arriving back at my original starting point.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Many parts of the trail are exposed and can be very hot, pack enough water and sunscreen.
  • Trails are not marked well so be sure to grab a trail map before beginning your hike.
  • Restrooms and water fountains available at trail head.

Moraine State Park

The Mission: Take a day trip to Moraine State Park.

The Prep: Packed a picnic lunch and strapped my bike to the car.

The Gear:
Shades
Sunscreen
Bike/helmet
Picnic lunch
Water
Sandals
Beach towel
Walking shoes

The Execution:
Growing up in Pittsburgh, my family would often take a day trip to Moraine State Park. An easy 45 minute drive from the city, the park has a gorgeous lake, bike and hiking trails, disc golf and even a beach. I decided to relive my childhood and spend the day at my beloved lake. I packed a cooler with water and a picnic lunch, strapped my bike to the car and headed north to the park.

I decided to start my day on the lake with some kayaking so I headed towards the South Shore. I put on my sandals and shades and rented a kayak at Crescent Bay boat rental. Canoes, boats and SUP are also available for rental here.

Out on the water, boats cruised by, fisherman made the catch of the day and my skin fried to a crisp. I paddled around a small island, over to the opposite shore and through some passing sailboats before my arms were completely worn out and I headed back to shore. All in all, I spent about an hour out on the water which was more than enough for my arms.

PA

After a morning on the lake, I stopped by one of the many picnic areas in the park to enjoy my lunch before heading to the bike trail on the North Shore. I brought my own bike and helmet for the day, but there is a bike rental area at the trail head if you don’t have your own.

The 14 mile RT trail weaves in and out through the trees offering glimpses of the lake. Along the trail there are several picnic areas, benches, restrooms and even a camp site. At the 7 mile marker, the trail ends with a great view of the lake. I stopped here to hydrate and rest my legs before heading back. This trail is NOT a loop; the trail is 7 miles each direction and there are many hills and curves. On my return, I stopped by the “beach” to cool my feet off in the ice-cold water before I continued my journey. There is a parking area at the beach if you decide to drive out after your ride. The actual beach is rather tiny, but there is a large grassy area, picnic benches and even a disc golf course. After my stop at the beach, I finished my 14 mile ride and headed back towards Pittsburgh utterly exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Photo ID and cash or credit deposit is needed for all rentals.
  • You will have to drive from the South Shore to North Shore- this is not walking distance.
  • Trail maps are available at the bike rental center.

The Steps to Elephant Mountain

TAIWAN

The Mission: Hike Elephant Mountain for a stunning view of downtown Taipei.

The Prep:
Take the metro to Xiangshan station and leave through exit #2. Follow the path next to the park and turn left at the park’s end. You will walk up a small hill and make a right where you will see the steps to the entrance of the trail.

The Gear:
Comfortable walking shoes
Raincoat
Water
Camera

The Execution:
Taipei 101, an immense skyscraper in downtown Taipei dominates the skyline. I had heard that the best way to see this tower was from Elephant Mountain. Unfortunately, this was my last day in Taipei and it happened to be raining, but I decided to go for it anyway. After finding the entrance, I realized I should have spent some more time on the step machine at the gym. The trail starts with some steps, continues with some steps and leads to, you guessed it…more steps. There was a small overlook platform to stop and take in the view before continuing on to the “real view”. Here there were several large boulders that other visitors were climbing on to get the ultimate photo. With the heavy rain and my ultimate clumsiness, I decided to forego the climbing and walk a little further. I continued up the trail until I saw a small path off to the left. This I believe was the best viewing area. From here I could see the clouds rolling by offering me short glimpses of that giant skyscraper, Taipei 101. Even in the rain, the view was incredible. I continued up the path a bit, but I had no idea where it led so I eventually turned around and headed back down the slippery stairs in the pouring rain.

The Highlights: 

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • When you reach the fork in the path, I suggest taking the route to the left. It’s a little less intense.
  • If you go in the rain like myself, watch your footing as it was quite slippery.

Biking the Coastal Trail in Anchorage

anchorage

The Mission: Bike 22 miles from downtown Anchorage to the chalet at Kincaid Park.

The Prep: 
No need to reserve in advance. Head to the Downtown Bicycle Rental  shop and pick up your bike, lock, helmet and directions. The trip should take roughly 3 hours. Bike rental is $16 for the first 3 hours. You will be charged upon return for any additional time you keep the bike.

The Gear:
Light layers as the wind can be chilly on the bike
Water
Sunscreen
Comfortable shoes

The Execution:
We started the day early and picked up our bikes at the rental shop where we received detailed instructions from the staff on how to get to the entrance of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We pedaled through town to the trail entrance where we followed the coast of Cook Inlet. We encountered sweeping views of far off mountain ranges and a glimpse of bald eagle soaring high above us. The trail proceeds to parallel the train tracks for a bit before weaving back into the lush greenery. There were a few rest areas where we stopped to take in the view of Anchorage,snap some photos and grab a snack. You can choose to stop and turnaround at any point on the trail, but we continued on to the end (11 miles) and then turned around to head back to town- 22 miles in total. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a ton of wildlife on our ride, but it was still a beautiful and relaxing ride- a great introduction to Alaska and a must do if you visit Anchorage!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual to moderate
  • If you’re not up for a bike ride, it’s a nice trail for a casual walk.
  • Keep your eye out for wildlife!
  • Wear bug spray- lots of mosquitoes.

Navigating Nha Trang

The Mission: Explore Nha Trang, Vietnam on my own terms.

The Prep: Do some research and decide what attractions you can’t miss and check out a few local tour agencies to compare prices.

The Gear:
Shades
Sunscreen
Bathing suit
Comfortable shoes
Water

The Execution:
Nha Trang- a beautiful beach town with blue skies and sparkling waters. From HCM you can either take an 8 hour train ride or a one hour flight into Nha Trang. I opted to fly via Vietjet for an incredible price of $50 USD roundtrip.

Nha Trang is known for its beaches, but I had read about some beautiful waterfalls up in the mountains and was eager to do some hiking. There were many tour companies along the main roads so I took a stroll to check out some of my options. I could rent a motorbike and cruise the area myself, but I’m terrified to drive one of those things so I decided I would hire a driver for the day. Most companies offer tour packages that take you to many of the most popular sites, but I wanted something a bit different. I spoke with the tour operator and listed the areas I wanted to see. After a bit of negotiating, we came to an agreement that the driver would take me to my listed destinations over a period of 6 hours for $20 USD.

I met my driver, strapped on my helmet and saddled up for a day of exploring Nha Trang. Our first stop was Long Son Pagoda with the famous sleeping Buddha. I was warned by my driver upon entry that there were many scam artists in the area and not to speak to anyone. As I started to explore the area, I was approached by a number of people trying to sell me things and begging for money. My driver, being a bit protective, took notice and escorted me through the grounds for the remainder of my time there. After hiking the steps to see Sleeping Buddha and taking photos with the giant White Buddha, we were off. We stopped at a local home where I learned how to weave a rug, stopped by the fishing village, explored the Po Nagar Temple, cruised down the coast and through the rice fields on the way to Ba Ho Waterfall.

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Once at the park, my driver took to his hammock as I hiked towards the falls. The trail up follows the stream and is covered by trees. I hiked until I came to a fork in the road with a few women selling food and beverages. They pointed me in the right direction and I eventually saw the red arrows painted on the rocks. I followed the arrows up, around and over the rocks until I reached the falls. While not overly impressive, the hike was a lovely and refreshing change from the bustle of HCM where I had been the previous week. I wandered around for a bit and took a quick dip in the pools to cool down from my hike before I headed back down to find my driver and head back to town.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the tour companies and get the experience you want for the price you can afford.

A Day at Sun Moon Lake

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The Mission: Cycle and Hike in one day!

The Prep:
From Taipei, take a train to Taichung. When you arrive at Taichung, stay in the building, but go all the way downstairs where you will see a counter to purchase bus tickets. Ask for a ticket on the Nan-Tou bus to Sun Moon Lake and which station to wait at. The bus ride will take approximately 90 minutes.

The Gear:
Comfortable shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Light layers
Lots of water

The Execution:
The bus dropped me off near a 7-11 in town at Sun Moon Lake. I walked down the main road where I saw several places to rent bikes. I surrendered my photo ID and a cash deposit to rent a bike asked for directions to the Yuetan bike path. I chose to do the 8km trail, but you can also opt to do the full 30km around the lake!

The trail started out paved, crossing a bridge and weaving in and out through the trees before opening up parallel to a main road. Here the trail turned into an elevated boardwalk with vast open views of the lake. I continued on through the trees, over abstract bridges, around meticulously landscaped gardens and out to an overlook. I passed the visitor center and came to a fork in the road, I opted to ride up the ramp and eventually down along the lake again. After riding sever more kilometers, I realized I was no longer on the trail I had intended to do, but continuing further on. Since I planned on hiking later in the day, I opted to turn around and head back to along the trail to town. I was amazed by the variety of vantage points along the trail that provided a different perspective of the lake from every angle.

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With only one day at Sun Moon Lake, I decided to follow up my bike ride with a hike to Xuanzhuang Temple. After dropping off my bike, I went down to the pier and took a shuttle boat for $NT100 across the lake. the Mt. Shueisheda trail is approximately 5.6km and got rather steep in certain areas. It was a beautiful hike with lovely foliage, but not many tourists tend to hike that far back so it was not nearly as crowded as many of the other trails. I hiked the steps and reached the main road where I finally saw the temple. After touring the temple and the grounds, I stopped at a lovely covered sitting/picnic area and enjoyed the great view of the lake. After my legs recovered, I headed back down the trail and took the shuttle back to the other side of the lake.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Grab a lock from the bike rental company so you can stop and explore.
  • Take your camera for this scenic route!
  • The bike rental company will charge you by the hour so make sure to time your ride if you are trying to stick to a certain budget.
  • Take plenty of water for your hike, there are steep areas including a section of steps.

Exploring Taroko Gorge

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The Mission: Marvel the marble at Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.

The Prep: 
This was my first tour I’ve booked through Viator. The $149 USD tour included pick-up, flight to Hualien, lunch, and train ride return to Taipei.

The Gear:
Walking shoes are a must, but hiking boots were not necessary.
Shades
Rain jacket for another rainy day!

The Execution:
The adventure began with an excruciating 6am pick up time. The driver took me directly to the airport where I met up with the others who would join the tour. The driver left us with our tickets and directions and we hopped on a quick flight to Hualien. When we arrived at Hualien, our tour guide was waiting to take our group to Taroko Gorge.

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The trip wasn’t quite what I expected. The van took us through the park, stopping occasionally to take in the sites  or have a coffee break with each stop being somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes long. I was hoping to explore more trails so a fellow passenger and I decided to take make the most of each stop and hike the trails in the area in the time allotted; which, on occasion, included sprinting back to the van so we didn’t get left behind!

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We stopped for lunch at a hotel in the park where we had the opportunity to hike up to a temple before we ate. After lunch, we had an extended stop at the Eternal Spring Shrine. My new friend and I decided to hike the 2.2km including the “sky ladder” stairs up to the Bell Tower.  From the top of the Bell Tower, we had an exclusive view of the canyon and falls below. We didn’t have much time so we sprinted down the steps, through the tunnels and back to the van before we got left behind. We left the park and the day ended with a stop at the beach.  The day was miserably cold and windy so we didn’t stay long. We all hopped back into the van and headed to the train station back to Taipei where we met our original driver to get dropped at our hotels.

The Highlights: 

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Although the park is beautiful, I don’t think the tour is worth the price tag.
  • The full day tour takes around 13 hours so be prepared for a long day.
  • If you want to see a lot of the park without doing a lot of walking this tour is for you. If you want to do more hiking, speak to your guide as I did and get recommendations to go off the beaten path and see more of the park.

Ice Climbing in Seward

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The Mission: Scale the crevasses of Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska.

The Prep: 
Tourist season in Alaska is short-lived so making reservations in advance is recommended. After much research, I decided on Exit Glacier Guides- reservations can be easily made on their website. The trip is a bit pricey at $185, but well worth it!

The Gear: 
Exit Glacier Guides graciously provides all climbing gear. Check out their website for a list of what you’ll need:
http://www.exitglacierguides.com/trip_information

The Execution:
We arrived at the shop early and immediately felt comfortable with the staff who helped outfit us with crampons and a pack! Once we were fitted and packed, our small group hopped in the van for the short ride to the park. We moved at a fairly quick pace as we hiked to the trail to the glacier in order to optimize our climbing time. The hike took about an hour and a half with little to no stopping. I was happy with my decision to wear multiple layers as I got quite hot on the hike, but once at the glacier the wind was absolutely freezing!

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When we arrived at the glacier, the guides helped us strap on our crampons and ran us through safety and the basics on walking on the glacier. After a short introduction to climbing basics, we practiced our skills on an easy route to get used to the motions and using the crampons and ice picks. Taking turns climbing and resting was a great way to not only to catch our breath, but to watch and learn from the others in the group.

After a few practice climbs, we moved on to the crevasses! The guides would set up two routes at each crevasse throughout the day- one easier and one more difficult. After picking my route and getting hooked up to my belayer guide, I took my first plunge into a crevasse. The guide slowly lowered me to the bottom, talking me through the process to ensure I was comfortable. Once at the bottom of the crevasse, my guide directed me on how to initiate the climb- reaching and hammering my picks into the ice, pulling myself up and kicking my crampons into the ice to gain my footing. This took much more arm strength than I anticipated and by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted, but thrilled with my accomplishment. We had the opportunity to climb several crevasses before we had to break and hike back exhausted and basking in the glory of our accomplishments.

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The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • The guides made the trip. They were very knowledgeable, friendly, and made the trip a ton of fun!
  • Wear layers! The temperature varies dramatically from the hike to the glacier.
  • The hike to the glacier is fast paced and you will be wearing a pack. Make sure you are physically prepared for this.
  • The only bathroom is at the bottom of the mountain. Bring TP and be ready to go behind a rock if need be.
  • Sunglasses are recommended, the sun reflecting off the ice can really hurt the eyes.
  • This is an all day tour. Be ready to commit to an 8 hour day.
  • This was one of my favorite experiences, but if you’re not ready to climb, they also offer glacier hikes that are not as rigorous.