First Impression: Busy, bustling city, it was a bit intense stepping off the bus as there were about 30 safari touts waiting there for tourists. 

Where I stayed: Couch surfing with local guys.  Safari camp.

What to wear: Comfortable light fabric but cover your knees.

What I did: Kilimanjaro view and Marangu Waterfall, 3-day safari to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire. I would definitely recommend Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro but Tarangire was basically empty of animals and we ended up leaving early. Ate Chips Mayai (eggs with fries) and Mishkaki (grilled meat).

Practical tidbits:

-I can’t remember the name of the Safari company I went with but I can recommend my friend’s safari company Unique Pathways and Getaway Adventures. At the time I was there they hadn’t fully established their company but I was fortunate to be able to couch surf at their home and had an incredibly fun time hanging out in Arusha.  They are really fun and kind guys with a ton of energy, if I were to go on safari again I would 100% go with them.  I know they arrange other types of tours in the area as well as trekking excursions.

-Safari is dusty and bumpy, wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and closed toe shoes.  Watch your stuff around the monkeys-they are thieves.

-Marangu Waterfall is so so cold. Bring your own snacks and drinks to picnic there.

Off the beaten path: Dancing in Arusha, Marangu Waterfall and Village.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  Would have stayed in Moshi and tried to see better views of Kilimanjaro and I would like to go to Serengeti.  If I had more time I also would have tried to see Lake Natron.

I occasionally get asked what items I cannot travel without and though that list will vary based on the length and location of the trip, I thought I’d put together a list of items I have found very useful over the years, for backpacking trips but also sometimes come in handy for easy little trips.  My criteria for backpacking trips is obviously ‘is it compact?’, ‘is it useful?’, and if a textile item, ‘does it dry quickly?’

Grayl-Water bottle :

This magical bottle is a MUST have for all travellers, I can fill it up anywhere and drink the water straight away because it both filters and purifies my water.  It saves me from having to buy bottled water which in addition to being inconvenient is both economically and ecologically unfriendly.  I did have to order it from the USA which cost a bit in shipping (to UAE) and to get cartridge replacements from abroad can be annoying but you just have to plan ahead.  I’ve used it in Nepal, Costa Rica, KenyaRwandaDRC,Uganda, Tanzania, Thailand.

*During my Nepal trek, I bought a crochet water bottle holder that wraps around me like a purse, it was an excellent purchase for the Grayl.

Nikon D3300 kit and telephoto lens:

I am not a photographer by any means but since I travel so much I wanted a quality camera.  This is an entry level DSLR and it is perfect for me.  I mostly use the kit lens but at times the telephoto lens comes in handy (safari, boat trips, and Nyiragongo Volcano).  I would like a wide angle lens since I take so many landscape photos but I haven’t had the money to spend on it lately.

Iphone and LifeProof Case:

I don’t normally travel with a laptop unless I am gone for more than a few weeks.  Thus my iPhone is essential.  Basically any phone with a quality camera is important for me.  I usually mix my trips between urban and rural adventure so my phone camera is very important for city photography (unless at a specific tourist site (Palace in Bangkok for example).  Obviously taking a DSLR around the city makes you a target.  I also always have a LifeProof case on my iPhone because I am the biggest klutz and have been known to go through a smart phone every few months.  The LifeProof case also somewhat disguises the type of phone you have making you less of a target as well.

Kobo Ereader:

There are a bunch of different brands out there, this is just the one I’ve had forever.  I was super happy with the book selection until recently when they opened a UAE site and thus title availability appears to be restricted and I can’t use the thousands of points I’ve accumulated over the years.  It’s an old model so it doesn’t light up, I solve this problem by using my iPhone flashlight.  During a 3 week trip I’ve been known to go through at least 5 books; it would be very cumbersome to carry 5 books in my pack but I also love that if I don’t like a book or need a new one, I can buy one anywhere I have wifi.  I still read paperbacks from time to time.

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Jack WolfskinSide Bag:

I like this bag a lot and have used it for city biking, day treks, and general travelling around.  It has a few compartments with zippers, I can clip my wallet on the inside and it has enough room to carry my essentials including, Grayl and Nikon.  You can also unzip the bottom to expand it when you need to carry more.  It’s certainly not the fashionable choice but it’s definitely pickpocket proof, durable, and practical.  I often bring a tiny little embroidered purse I got in Thailand for nights out so I can be both fashionable and less encumbered.

Gregory BackPack50-55L (at least a week trip):

I’ve had this pack for about 8 years and while it looks like it’s been through a lot (it has), it’s still tough as nails.  The only regret is that it doesn’t have a bottom zip.  I have lived out of this bag for 1-2 months at a time with a basic wardrobe and small toiletries. But during those long trips I always have to take the dreaded smaller backpack (wearing it on my front) so that I can bring along my laptop.  Solutions to this dilemna are welcome, do they make packs with safe-easy to access laptop compartments now?

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Me and my pack in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

LululemonWunderUnder Leggings and/or Girlfriend Collectiveleggings:

Regardless of what brand of leggings you like or how you feel about the trend; I find the garment incredibly versatile and convenient for travel; think long plane rides, all manners of physical activities, and if they are plain enough, under a dress or skirt for a day/night out.  The best part is they take up minimal luggage space, are easy to wash by hand, and dry quickly (unless in the mountains of Nepal-then nothing dries, EVER).

Whether you love or hate them, everyone knows Lululemon, I’m not getting paid to promote the brand but I will say that  I have had a pair of their leggings for 8 years and only in the last year have they become inappropriate for public viewing.

I love all my Lululemon leggings but the most comfortable and convenient for travel are their WunderUnder (Fullux) leggings for the following reasons: they can be worn for an impromptu yoga class, to trek up a mountain, or under a casual dress for city walkabouts.

A rather new company, Girlfriend Collective, has been producing exercise clothes that are simple and super well made at a slightly cheaper price than Lululemon.  All of their garments are made from recycled plastics in an ethical and sustainable factory in Vietnam.  The material compresses your legs and butt in a very flattering way; although these days, with my ever growing baby bump, getting them on can be a workout in and of itself.  If I had a choice, 99% of my leggings and exercise gear would come from this company.

Last I checked Girlfriend Collective had a limited shipping range, so I had my Mom order me a new pair to bring when she meets me in Prague this August. Thanks Maman!

Sea to Summit Quick Dry Towel:

I had another brand of quick dry towel before but it was thick and did not actually dry quickly in humid places.  I found the Sea to Summit towel right before going to Costa Rica (a very humid place) and will never take the other one anywhere again-in fact it has been relegated to the gym towel pile.  I have the medium size towel, which I would not use to cover myself to go to and from a shared bathroom (I use a sarong for that) but it’s the perfect size to sop up the moisture and dry within a few hours so you can pack it away for the next leg of your journey,

Quick Dry Underwear:I like to bring minimal clothing so I do end up doing laundry throughout my trips.  Quick Dry underwear are marvellous because for instance; you  forget that you’ve run out of underwear on your way to breakfast one morning, so you quickly wash a pair in the sink throw them out in the sun for an hour while at breakfast and voila!  Fresh panties!

In terms of brands, UnderArmour used to make these amazing thin and breathable pair that adequately covered my butt cheeks and don’t ride up but sadly they switched to another material which I find simply offensive-they go straight up your bum which is no good for any kind of activity.  Lululemon sells underwear that dry quickly and are quite comfortable.  I intend to try Patagonia’s panties but the brand is not available in my current country of residence.

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Desperate times-Desperate measures.

Combination Lock:

I often stay in hostel/backpackers accommodations but usually in a private room.  Normally, even the private rooms don’t come with a safe but hostels do ordinarily have lockers, you just need to have your own lock-you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been the only one of my group with a lock!

Sarong:

This, most versatile article of clothing can be worn to the beach, can be your beach towel, can be your communal-shower cover up; your airplane, bus, or train blanket, and if you’re desperate, a towel.  You can also use it as a cover up for temples or a head scarf for mosques.  The sarong also dries quickly!

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My husband and I in the Seychelles

Clif or Luna Bars or other similar types of bars:

When I know I am going to be stuck on a bus for a day and probably won’t have reliable access to food or if I am trekking a lot,  than I pack a few of these bars with me for those days.  They were a lifesaver when I took a 14 hour bus ride from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi.

Reusable Travel bottles (shampoo, conditioner, etc)

I always use the reusable travel bottles for toiletries for the following reasons: Firsly, the products I like usually don’t come in travel size and I make a few of my own things. Secondly, because why buy an extra thing when you can just bring what you already have. Finally, because it is much more earth friendly to reuse the same small bottles rather than buy new travel size things every time.  I used to buy the cheap ones from the dollar store or Daiso but after a few uses they would eventually break.  I bought my current set at Muji which is an amazing Japanese concept store, they have loads of useful and useless stuff for travel. Their travel bottles appear to be more durable than the dollar store version and my lotion set comes with a tiny spatula!

 

These items are a personal selection and I have not been paid to advertise for these companies, I just truly believe these products are useful and worth the money.  Brands vary and everyone has their favourites.  If you’re a first time backpacker, I probably wouldn’t go out and purchase all this stuff at once but some things-like the Quick Dry Towel are incredibly handy and you really won’t regret the purchase.

What are some of your travel essentials?  I am always on the lookout for products and tips that will improve the backpacking experience; I would love to hear from you, so leave a comment or send me a private message.

 

 

Stone Town and Paje

Stone Town:

First Impression: Feels like walking back in time,

Where I stayed: Coco De Mer; apart from it’s excellent location and kind staff, it did not have any other redeeming qualities. The bathroom was full of mold to which I am very allergic (but once I entered the damage was done), there was a very dirty/dusty house fan and the room was sweltering in April.

What to wear: Cool light fabrics but nothing revealing as it is a predominately Muslim place, beach wear on the beach is fine though.

What I did: I went to the beach in the late afternoon which was fun to watch the football games erupt up and down the beach.  There is a beach cafe near the beach which I enjoyed for lunch, the food was fresh, simple, and perfect for the heat.  There is a book café across from the post office with a good selection of Africa themed books and other knickknacks.  Taperia, a  wine bar was a great option for the evening post dinner drink, I recall good music, and a nice breeze coming through large windows.  I went to the Double Tree Hilton for an overpriced dinner mostly because I needed air-conditioning and I was a little lost in the Stone Town maze. I went to Freddie Mercury Bar for 2 reasons; 1 because of the name and 2 because it is conveniently located near the ferry docks and I needed a place to chill before my ferry left.

Practical tidbits:

  • Stone Town is generally safe but the streets are hard to navigate, so after dark you might want to make sure you know exactly how to get from point A to point B. The Hilton doorman actually guided through the streets to the wine bar.  If you ask a local for help, do tip them for the help.
  • Be sure to research your hotel because I wildly overpaid for my moldy room with only a dusty old fan to cool-it was like a furnace in there. Reading the reviews post-stay I definitely would not have stayed there and would have spent more money on a better hotel.

Off the beaten path:

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  I just want to go exploring again and look for antiques.

Paje, Zanzibar

First Impression:  Now this is paradise, the drive from Stone Town takes about 45 minutes and after you clear the city, there is nothing but greenery all the way to Paje.  Paje is a small town with one main roundabout and few shops selling food and tourist items along the main roads.  Off the roads are hotels and backpackers that are attached to the beach and all along the beach are bars and restaurants.

Where I stayed: New Teddy’s Place, the first time, I stayed in the dorm as it was the only space left. The dorms have about 8 beds, each separated with a shelf and each with an electrical outlet.  I wouldn’t mind staying in the dorm again if I had to as I didn’t feel crowded as I do in most dorms.  The second time I stayed in a hut for 3 people with 2 of my friends.  It was the perfect size for 3 of us (2 sharing a king size bed), with 2 fans and enough shelf space for all our stuff, and a veranda with a couch and clothes line.  It takes about 1 minute to walk to the beach.  The bar and restaurant area is a great place to relax and there are plenty of hammocks.  We also stayed 1 night at Summer Dream Lodge in their massive dorm, it was clean enough but a bit of a walk to the beach and the common area was much smaller.

What to wear: It is hot and the sun is fierce, you will need a lot of sunscreen. I generally go barefoot for days in Paje and wear my bathing suit and a sundress during the day and beach party clothes at night (shorts/skirt and a tank top).

What I did: Beach, hammock, party, repeat.  We went on the Blue Safari, you can also go on a Spice Tour and Jozani Forest Tour if you wish.

Practical tidbits:

  • Sunscreeeeeen!!!!!
  • Budget about 2 hours for meal times, everything is freshly prepared-fast food does not exist in Zanzibar.
  • Drink Passion fruit everything!

Off the beaten path: Paje has been gaining in popularity in recent years therefore I don’t think I can call it off the beaten path anymore as it’s a Mecca for kite surfers and partiers looking for a less expensive and crowded time than what is on offer on the North end of the island.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  Next time I will go to Pemba and I’ve heard you can get to Comoros from Pemba.

Zanzibar is my favourite place in the world and I hope to one day retire on the island. (Hopefully early retirement!!!)

 

Paris, France (excluding major tourist attractions)

First Impression: It is hard to have a first impression of such a famous city that isn’t skewed by expectation and prior knowledge.  I had a nasty head cold and wasn’t able to check in to my hotel until 4pm-I’d arrived at 7am; it was cold and rainy so I spent much of the day wandering around Pigalle and Montmartre.

Where I stayed: Hostel Le Regent Montmartre.  I originally booked a dorm room but because I wasn’t feeling well I switched to a private (90euro/night).  The front desk lady felt sorry for me I think and so booked me into a room on the top floor with the best view of Sacre Coeur.  I fell asleep around 5pm and woke up in the middle of the night to the Basilica all lit up.  The room was small and basic but clean and there was a little balcony to sit on for afternoon wine.

What to wear: Wear whatever you want; of course Paris is fashionable but as a tourist, walking 10-20 km a day, you want to be comfortable. I wore good walking shoes and leggings with a casual dress during the day, and smart casual (jeans and shirt) for evenings out.  Coming from 40/50 degree heat in the Middle East, I found Paris chilly and kept a sweater with me day and night.

What I did: Context-Coming from the UAE, I had been stuck inside for about 2 ½ months due to the heat so I was excited to be outside and did not want to stand in lines to spend time inside museums.  For 5 days I pretty much just walked, I would pick an area and wander for hours, ducking into shops, cafes, restaurants, sitting in the parks, and taking photographs.  I did go into the Erotic Art Museum one day because it was raining and there were no lines.  I rented a bike for a day and with my paper map, explored the city and the tourist zone (Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs D’Elysees, and La Seine).  The worst meal I had was in this area; it was like a gas station sandwich but cost 15 euro. I did eat it in the park with my sketchbook though so…

Practical tidbits:

  • Don’t eat in the tourist area but also don’t be bothered with famous restaurants as every single meal I had outside the tourist zone was awesome!
  • Buy a bottle of wine and hang out next to Canal Saint Martin.  Go on a street art tour (self guided or otherwise)
  • Check out the vintage and 2ndhand shops near Bastille. Exact location unknown-but I know that I was walking east of Place Bastille through streets of chain stores when I found a few Consignment shops.
  • Buy cheese, fresh produce, and baguettes, at a market and make your own lunch in the park or at your hotel.
  • Walk and bike as much as possible.
  • We randomly checked meetup.com and found a pub crawl one night-we joined and met a bunch of Parisian expats as well as locals.
  • Do realize that the French are generally a reserved culture and that is why they are not overly friendly and can come off as rude (same thing in most of Quebec).  I speak French fluently so I did not experience any of the ‘rudeness’ Parisians are famous for.

Off the beaten path: Wander through La Goutte D’Or Area (next to Pigalle/Montmartre). It is the African Hub of Paris and has an open air market, Marche DeJean. There are also some great bars and cafes in the area and a lively vibe for a fun walkabout.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  No regrets on not going to any of the museums but next time I will make a genuine effort to go to Versailles, the Louvre, and perhaps a few other places.

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Quick Guide Entebbe

First Impression: So much more peaceful than Kampala and in our state of mind we were happy to get out of the city and spend a few days lakeside relaxing.

Where I stayed:  The first day we splurged for Christmas Day on a resort.  Imperial Resort Beach Hotel.  While the room and location next to the beach was awesome, their wifi sucked-like barely existent, breakfast was the worst of the trip so far and room service was lacking in everyway.  Definitely don’t recommend the splurge.  For the next 2 nights we stayed at Entebbe Backpackers, a very cheap, bare bones place with excellent wifi in the common area, better food and service, and nice wide bunk beds, a great little room and patio.   I absolutely loved this cozy little place and we were able to walk wherever we needed to go.

What to wear: It was nice and warm but we did a lot of walking, so I wore leggings and a long camisole most of the time.

What I did: Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary, Lake Victoria, Reggae beach fest, Java House next to Imperial Mall for “African coffee”. The Craft Market (next to Imperial Mall) ask for a painter named Kevin, I have one of his awesome paintings!  We were recommended a local restaurant but it was closed during the holidays so we ended up at Anna’s Corner for dinner 2 nights in a row. I recommend the cassava chips and the beautiful garden ambience but otherwise it’s mainly western style food and nothing special.  The restaurant does however, have rooms full of mid-high end arts and crafts from all over Africa, I still regret not buying a pair of sandals and maxing out my credit cards on the Benin sculptures.

Practical tidbits:

  • Entebbe is quite spread out so if short on time, take a boda-boda but we had plenty of time and the weather was beautiful, so we walked.

Off the beaten path:   Any Music event you come across, both nights we were the only non-locals there but we had a blast dancing on the beach.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”: Day trip to the Chimpanzee sanctuary.

First Impression: Stunning mountain landscape and seaside paradise. No one spoke French with me but all the road signs are in French….found this odd.

Where I stayed: L’Echo des Vagues, across the street from a beautiful little beach and about a 10-minute walk to town where there are restaurants, a larger beach, food stalls, and tourist shops.  The grocery stores and atms are another 10minute walk from there. The apartments themselves are very basic but clean and there is a full fridge and kitchenette as well as a nice balcony where you can sit with a beer and watch the most glorious sunsets of your life. Our room’s aircon worked fine but my friend’s had the larger room and the aircon seemed to be struggling.

There was no one at the accommodation to welcome us and they did not send the promised airport pickup, therefore when we arrived we in a random taxi we were lucky our driver stuck around to make sure we got in ok and then called the owner who informed him our room numbers and that the keys were under the mat, otherwise we would have been standing around shit out of luck.  Otherwise they were really helpful throughout the rest of the stay.

What to wear:Whatever you want, it’s hot as balls, obviously beach stuff.

What I did: Beach, beach, more beach, and Bay Ternay Marine Park, got married!

Our wedding company was called Dream Weddings and Honeymoons and it was so easy to book through them, they arranged everything and did all the necessary paperwork for us.

Practical tidbits:

  • Having a self-catering apartment means saving tons of money of food. We made breakfast everyday and ate only 1 meal a day out.
  • Down by the beach in Beau-Vallon there are food stalls where you can get a full meal for a fraction of the restaurant prices and quality is the same. (Paid 70 SCR for fish and rice and chapatti while it was 250 for the same meal at a restaurant).

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:   Wildly overpriced beach holiday; absolutely beautiful but I would prefer Zanzibar every time even if money wasn’t a factor as it’s a little boring in Seychelles, not much going on it seems.  Take food and beer to the Marine Park and if you’re trying to save money you can get a taxi boat to take you there instead of going on a tourist boat.  Rent a car and self-drive.  Don’t go during the hottest months, I was perpetually sweaty.

I wish we had gone market shopping in Victoria and made a day trip to Morne National Park but because of the heat we were not in the mood for hopping on public buses around the island and did not have the money to hire a car.

There is a lot of information on the interwebs about Petra, Jordan but from my perspective who, as a traveller ranges between over-prepared (check out these quick dry undies) to not at all prepared (I don’t remember the name of my hotel, have the address, or have access to the internet); here is a list of things I wish I knew about Petra before going to Petra.  You can check out my complete post on Jordan )Amman, Petra, and the Dead Sea for a complete account of my trip.

  1. The Accommodation Situation

I stayed at 7 Wonders Bedouin Camp,which was its own wonderful experience and they offered pick up and drop off for a reasonable fee, but it was far outside of town and felt a little isolating for a solo traveller.  The other guests were either couples or families and were not the most sociable. I would have preferred to stay in town. For the 2ndnight I stayed in the town of Wadi Musa.  It was a bit far from Petra and as such I had to take a taxi back to the hotel.  There are a number of budget hotels within walking distance of Petra that are good quality. Some friends stayed at Sharah Mountain Hoteland were very pleased with their choice for price, quality and convenience.

  1. $$$

The dinar exchange is high,like the euro, and taxis are expensive.  You can rent a car as it is easy to drive around Jordan.  I took a mini bus from Amman because I was too late to take the coach bus there.  Around Wadi Musa they will charge you more for taxis than getting around Amman hence, staying within walking distance.  Petra entry fee is 50 JD for 1 day but only 55 JD for 2, I felt it was totally worth it but I know a lot of people who complained about the fee.

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  1. Trouble in Paradise

The hotels in Jordan are generally very strict about unmarried couples staying together in the same room.  If you do not have a marriage license, they will give you trouble.  Although a friend told me that online bookings were easier to manage than walk-ins and usually larger chain hotels are less strict than smaller, independently owned lodging.

  1. The Season Matters

Obviously it’s important to check the climate before travelling but with Petra, the sheer size of it and the climbing up of hundreds of steps, makes it important to check the seasonal temperatures.  Whether or not you can handle the heat of August or need the cooler temperatures of Autumn is a major consideration.  I went in October and it was perfect, but a friend went in August and ended up with heat exhaustion by the end of the day.

  1. FOOD

There are a few little cafes throughout Petra where you can get some small bites to eat and restock up on water but if you don’t want to waste time stopping for food, bring snacks that are easy to carry and will give you energy to power up to the Monastery and back to the entrance at the end of a long, sweaty, dusty day.  Once I reached the monastery I was more than happy to sit down for a fresh lemon mint juice and relax but I definitely could have used a granola bar or two along the way.

  1. Bathroom Breaks

There are not many bathrooms around Petra so take the chance when you get it.  The reality though, is that it is so dry there that I barely ever had to go, even though I drank at least 4 litres of water throughout the day…where did it go?!

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  1. Physicality

Petra is huge and there is a lot of climbing which can be very difficult for anyone with physical impairments or low level of fitness. There are horses, camels, and mules you can rent from the Bedouins but the animals are generally not well cared for; unless you really need help, try to practice climbing stairs and get your cardio up to par before going.  Your sense of accomplishment will be greater and you’ll have the added benefit of ending the day with exercise endorphins pumping through your veins.  If you’re like me, who is a regular gym junkie but lives in a flat area, your calf muscles will be screaming at you the next day. Further more, to see Petra without feeling rushed, opt for a day and a half instead of doing it all in a day.  I spent the first half day exploring the upper areas and the High Place of Sacrifice.  The second day I walked faster through the upper areas and explored the main part and climbed up to the Monastery.  When I came back down, I took my time wandering around the sites off the main road and was able to just sit and enjoy the views and ruins.  Another thing to consider is that if you are afraid of heights there are some daunting places and there are no railings to steady yourself.

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  1. Getting Around

I knew about the history of Petra but I did not know specifics about the layout and features, I also didn’t stop at the visitor’s center or get a map the first day.  Luckily some people I met on the bus had picked up a map and I was able to follow them around. I would never have known about the High Place of Sacrifice which was one of the highlights of my visit.   At the entrance they may try to tell you that a guide is necessary; depending on personal preference you may opt for a guide but if you’d rather go it alone, know that a guide is unnecessary, you can absolutely wander Petra on your own, going at your own pace.  The people at the information desk will provide you with a map and the crucial information you need.

  1. Battery Operated

This seems like an obvious one but do learn from my mistake, make sure your camera battery is FULLY charged before going in or take an extra battery with you, there is no where to plug anything in.  I had stayed at a Bedouin Camp so I wasn’t able to charge my battery the night before either.  My camera battery died right before I climbed 800+ steps to the monastery and my phone camera at the time was garbage so I missed out on a lot of wonderful shots.  Luckily when I reached the top, some friendly tourists let me use their battery to capture a few images of the monastery.

  1. A little knowledge goes a long way

I have heard people comment about their visit to Petra, that they didn’t think it was all that interesting or impressive and while normally your opinion is your own and I respect that, in this circumstance I have to argue that those people are simply wrong!  They must not have known much or anything about the history of Petra and therefore could not appreciate what they were seeing.  I am by no means a history expert but to appreciate many historical sites you need have a basis of knowledge that will help you understand why it is a world wonder.  Technologically speaking, the feat of carving such enormous and intricate structures out of rock with rudimentary tools is impressive enough on its own.  Throughout my visit I would sit down away from the crowds (it was by no means crowded) and imagine what it must have looked and sounded like all those years ago when people actually lived there. Lucky me withmy imagination, I was rewarded with fascinating imagery! To those planning to visit Petra, I recommend doing a little light research so that you can truly appreciate where you are standing.

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**Bonus: If you’re looking to go to the Dead Sea after Petra, there is no bus to get there.  I didn’t have much time so I ended up hiring a driver for 60 dinar (2014), while everyone else was charging 70-80 JD.  I lucked out and 2 women staying at my hotel needed a lift too so we split the cost.  It was an awesome decision in the end because the scenery was unbelievably stunning; and the driver, Hussain, was so sweet he stopped and bought us fresh falafels, roadside cucumbers, and fruit and answered all of my questions with incredible patience and kindness.  When I was there Hussain was driving for the 7 Wonders Bedouin Camp so perhaps you can get in touch with him through them or The Rocky Mountain Hotel.

 

 

Diani Beach, Kenya. + (1 night in Mombasa)

First Impression: The traffic from Mombasa to Diani Beach was horrendous mostly due to the ferry crossing. Mombasa City appears quite run down when driving through but Diani Beach is obviously cleaned up for the tourists. Diani Beach is littered with fancy resorts and it’s a bit difficult to find an affordable place on the beach.

Where I stayed: We stayed at Simba-Oryx Beach Cottages on Galu Beach, it’s a bit out of the way of the big resorts and clubs but easily accessible by tuk tuk.  Honestly this was one of my favourite places I’ve stayed.  We had a 1 bedroom cottage with a terrace, and kitchen/dining room.  They put a bed in the dining room since our friend decided to join us last minute. The place was very quiet as there is no bar and restaurant on site.  You can however, walk 2 minutes down the road and buy fresh food or 2 minutes down the beach to eat the best calamari of your life! The owner is so lovely and helpful.  Budget an extra 50-60$ for airport transfer.

We stayed in Mombasa for 1 night and honestly, I wish we hadn’t, I wish we had just got up at some ridiculous early hour to make the trip into the airport.  We stayed at Coast Gate Hotel which is just in the middle of nowhere and we were hard pressed to find a decent place to eat. My friend was covered in mosquito bites the next morning (somehow I was not).

What to wear: Beach wear at the beach, casual conservative in Mombasa.  I’m sure many tone deaf tourists do it but I think it would be quite rude to go wandering around town shopping in your bathing suit so do wear a cover up.

 

What I did: Beach!  Every morning after making a lovely breakfast, we walked down the beach to an awesome little spot on the beach at the Blue Marlin Beach Hotel, for a really good cappuccino-usually 2.  Then we would swim and lay about for a bit and eventually go wander and do some shopping, reading, napping, journaling, etc. We shopped around town, nowhere truly special as every stall on the road had the same stuff as the next one.  The people at the stalls next to Diani Beach Shopping Center were very aggressive and kept following us around as we were trying to get groceries and have lunch at Colubus Café.  At first we said we’d go see their stuff but after the 4thtime of being followed by the same man we tried to escape with notice in a tuk tuk and he actually tried to chase it down on foot.

Colubus Café was a lovely cool spot for a nice cocktail and sandwich.  Around the corner from the shopping center there is a local outdoor eatery serving up Mishkaki and Naan which is so good I even ignored (somewhat) the giant roosters milling about.  Just ask the tuk tuk driver for Mishkaki.

We also ate dinner at Sundowner, my friends seemed to enjoy their meal but mine was so salty I could barely eat it.

We ate New Years dinner at Lymington’s Beach Bar and Restaurant-do make reservations if you are there during New Years-I think we got the last table in Diani Beach. The food was amazing-lobster, prawns, and other seafood perfectly grilled with a bottle of champagne.

We spent our last night at Bidi Badu a local bar and restaurant on the beach that is quite the experience.

Mvureni Beach Bar has the best calamari but their other food is awesome and the staff extremely friendly.

I strongly suggest you avoid the hotel bars for drinks as they are both boring and well overpriced, also Forty Theives Beach bar, the food was blah and the owner a straight asshole.  They charge cover starting at 9pm so if you’re late going to eat, you have to pay cover to eat.  Then you can watch as all the sweaty tourists grind up on each other…really not a nice place for a night out.

Nairobi and Masai Mara, Kenya

First Impression: I’ve been to Nairobi 3 times, the first time I couchsurfed and stayed with a local guy in Umoja and I can attest to that being a unique AF experience, but I can’t recommend anything from that trip because it would be unwise to suggest you go to that area as an unaccompanied tourist.

The second time was after a few days on safari in Masai Mara, I was with 2 friends, we stayed near enough to downtown to be able to walk and walking there was indeed a fun experience; except when we got lost and wandered into the wrong part of downtown Nairobi and had to be rescued by a 70 something year old man who very nicely said; “you ladies shouldn’t be here”.

Where I stayed: Khweza Bed and Breakfast.  Quaint, cozy rooms, everything is very clean, breakfast is quite good and the rooftop restaurant is a great place to chill after safari. They also arranged our safari.

What to wear: In the city, dress casual but shorts are not recommended-they bring unwanted attention; “Hey you!  I like your short pants!” Dress up for a night out, dress in comfy clothes for safari. There really is no need to go around in beige safari gear for a few days in Masai Mara-its dusty as hell so you will look disgusting after a day long game drive no matter what you wear.  If I had to do it again, I’d wear Tom’s or canvas closed toe shoes, linen or cotton pants and a t-shirt.

What I did: In Nairobi I wandered, went dancing, drank coffee. My third time in Nairobi (long layover), I went to the Masai Market (it moves daily), they have some gorgeous stuff-fabric, sandals, jewelry, carvings, I really can’t get enough of the crafts and art in East Africa.  In Masai Mara, I went on safari bought some crafts and visited the Masai Village and School.  At the safari camp we drank big beers, ate delicious food, and played cards. On the way to Masai Mara, we stopped at The Great Rift Valley lookout point.

Practical tidbits:

  • Download the google map of the city and study the “off-limit” areas to make sure you don’t end up there.
  • Take Boda-bodas around the city
  • Keep your bag close and your valuables locked inside your hotel room.
  • If going to Arusha by bus, I took a minibus there and it was quite comfortable and safe.

Off the beaten path: Reggae dancing in downtown Nairobi.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  If I went back to Nairobi I’d probably try to hit up some museums and the animal sanctuary. While I abhor zoos, animal sanctuaries protect and care for orphaned animals or those that can’t survive in the wild, so I don’t mind giving my money to them.

Quick Guide Kampala

Kampala, Uganda

First Impression: We arrived by bus from Kigali and the bus station was a very dark and dingy looking place.  We met a lovely young guy on our bus who had a Ugandan Sim Card and had a number for a taxi driver so he called him and helped us get to our hotel which was ideal because we didn’t have any Ugandan shillings, it was late, and we couldn’t’ seem to find a taxi around.

Where I stayed: Prestige Hotel Suites, the room was big and clean, nothing too fancy but after our insane week in Kigali, DRC, and the bus ride from hell the L shaped sofa and TV was all we wanted in the world.  We woke up too late for breakfast the next day but the hotel staff came upstairs to inform us that the kitchen staff were waiting for us. They were so accommodating and lovely at this hotel.  The breakfast was pretty good too!  The front desk actually had someone go get me a 2L bottle of wine from an Italian restaurant down the street because they didn’t want us wandering around after dark. The only thing that we felt was not great was that they charged us an extra 25$ for a 2ndperson which is weird because ordinarily the base rate is for 2 people.

What to wear:Like all East African countries, its best to keep your knees covered and err on the side of conservatism but I wore a camisole dress over leggings and carried a light cardigan, as it did get a bit chilly in the shade.  At night I recommend a sweater, especially if you’re going to be taking motorcycle taxis.

What I did:I have never been so lazy in a new city but honestly, other than venture out for food, and go to the Gaddafi Mosque, we stayed in the hotel room getting heavily involved with Indian Soap Operas.  To this day we wonder what happened to Urmi and Krishi…  We contemplated going to Jinja but it was Christmas.  Also in the middle of the second night I started getting stomach cramps and vomiting sooo for Christmas breakfast I had bread and mint tea.  We did find a lovely café, Karveli, down the street from the Prestige Hotel Suites.

Practical tidbits:

  • Don’t spend much time in Kampala.
  • Exchange some cash at the border if coming overland because it was a bit difficult at the bus station.
  • Beware the Pterodactyls that fly over the city.

Off the beaten path: Luwum Street shopping-honestly too f&*cking many people but an experience nonetheless.

Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:  Kampala was my least favourite place in East Africa, the streets were overcrowded with people, boda-bodas, dalla-dallas, people yelling Muzungu at us and children following us for money.  Honestly, just felt overwhelming and we were too tired for it.

I do wish we had made it to Jinja and gone to see the Chimpanzees.