Rudy Trekker camp

The Ultimate Rinjani Trekking Experience

Welcome to the ultimate Mount Rinjani trekking guide! This guide will give you a detailed account of the trek, which for us is one of our most epic adventures, with some of the most incredible landscapes we’ve ever witnessed!

A Mount Rinjani trek it is not for the faint-hearted, it’s gruelling and physically intense, but if you’re up to it, the rewards are breathtaking.

In this guide to Mount Rinjani trekking, we’ll cover:

1. Each day of the Mount Rinjani trekking experience

2. What to pack for trekking Mount Rinjani

3. Our top tips to help you through the trek

4. Where to go (with accommodation recommendation) to recover after you complete your trek

You can also click on any of these points to go directly to that section of the guide.

1. Daily review of the Mount Rinjani trekking experience

This is a full, no holds barred account of our 3 nights and 4 days on Mount Rinjani with Rudy Trekker. It’s a long read (over 7,000 words!), but if you want the most comprehensive write-up of the Rinjani trekking experience, alongside some essential top tips (all of which we’ve summarised at the end), then this is the article for you! For the record, some of the views on this trek are the best we have ever seen in all of our travels!

First, have a look at our documentary highlights video before you dive into the story of our trek (it’s only 2 minutes long)!

We began with clear blue skies. Ahead of us, dominating the skyline, and everything around it, was the epic and awe-inspiring Mount Rinjani. A simple sign pointed us in the right direction, a wooden stick and piece of cardboard stuck out of the ground in sharp contrast to the dominating sight of Mount Rinjani in the distance. This is where it all begins. 

Rinjani trekking

Rinjani trekking
Eyeing up our target!

There are few treks where the scale of the challenge is laid out so obviously. Ahead of us lay 4 days and 3 nights of Mount Rinjani trekking and hiking, culminating with a 2am summit attempt at 3,726 metres altitude. We didn’t know it then, but the next 4 days would be some of the most difficult and challenging trekking we have ever attempted. The next 4 days would also provide some of the most rewarding experiences and epic landscapes we have ever seen! And no, we’re not exaggerating.

Our Rinjani Trekking Experience

Rinjani Trekking Day 1 (Sembalun Village 1,150m – Sembalun Crater Rim 2,639m)

The day started innocently enough. A hearty buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and tea at Rudy Trekker HQ (you can see all the food we ate in our practical trekking Rinjani review). We’d booked a private tour, not because we’re unsociable, but more as a tacit acknowledgement that we were more than likely to be slower than most people attempting the climb, so we wanted to go at our own pace and not annoy anyone who wanted to go faster. This decision would prove wise as the trek unfolded.

Mount Rinjani trek

Rinjani trekking

After signing in at the national park checkpoint, we lugged our backpacks onto our backs, and began our trek. It was 8.30am when we started, but already the sun was beating down on us, the temperature rising with every step.

The first couple of hours were simple and leisurely. We walked through a barren land, scorched in places by the intense heat of the sun as the path gently snaked up and down the hills, guiding us on our way. For these first few hours, the mighty Mount Rinjani towered above us, the deep blue morning sky punctured now by wisps of white cloud gathering around the summit. This was the easy part.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Mount Rinjani trek

Mt Rinjani trek
Checkpoint 1, Day 1
Rinjani trekking
A STRONG porter!

After a couple of hours, we stopped for a hearty lunch. Our guide, Hans, pulled out two foldaway chairs to sit on as the porters prepared our lunch. We were the envy of many other groups as they sat on the floor without chairs! Lunch was magnificent, just what we needed to fuel our day of trekking. A salad to start with, followed by a large plate of chicken, rice, egg, fried noodles and tofu. To finish, some fresh watermelon, apples, pineapple and oranges. This lunch would set the tone for the rest of the trek, delicious and filling.

After lunch, we began the proper climbing. The first part was through wide open plains we’d grown accustomed to, but as we climbed higher we entered the forest. The temperature and mood changed significantly, the bright blue skies gave way to grey, miserable clouds above us. Our mood reflected this, as we went from cheery and excitable to quieter and more focused on getting up the side of the volcano before night fall.

Mount Rinjani trek day 1

Monkey on Mount Rinjani trek

After a further couple of hours, the temperature dropped even further as we left behind the baking hot sun drenched plains and began to move through the cloud line, and into the clouds themselves. Seeing clouds close in around you is an amazing experience, and it happened as we leaned against a tree having a break. To our left, small wisps of white and grey appeared, followed at great pace by the clouds rolling down the mountain and over us. In a matter of minutes, we went from blue skies and sunshine to grey, wet nothingness all around us. This trek just got serious!

Rinjani trek

For the next few hours, we continued to climb through the clouds, the water in the air occasionally ‘raining’ on us as we climbed higher. The wet conditions made the climb a little treacherous, as we avoided climbing on the thousands of tree roots that stood between us and the ridge. We kept our heads down, and pushed on.

Mount Rinjani trek

After 6-7 hours of climbing, our guide Hans called back to us:

“Almost there!” He shouted, with quiet indifference. 

We stopped to look up, and there it was! Perhaps 20 minutes above us, the top of the ‘ridge’ (our summit for the day) was in sight at last! With renewed vigour, we laboured on hoping for our first view of the Rinjani crater lake. However after 7 hours or so of climbing and much effort, we were rewarded with a view of…wait for it…NOTHING! 

Yep that’s right, visibility was limited to a few metres in front of us due to the incessant clouds we’d spent the last few hours climbing through. Dammit!

Mount Rinjani trek Sembalun crater rim
Sembalun Crater Rim (Pelawangan Sembalun) 2,639m altitude

We found our campsite and settled down, happy to have made it to base camp but disappointed with the cloud cover. It was cold now at the ridge summit, and we piled on our fleeces, waterproof jackets, gloves and woolly hats to stay warm. Perched on our foldaway seats, we looked straight out at what seemed like a white, black canvas in front of us, the clouds completely blocking out the sun and the view below. We ate our dinner and sat quietly for half an hour or so, and then, a gap in the clouds appeared!

Mount Rinjani trek Camp Night 1
Our night 1 campsite & Laura eating dinner with a view!

For the next couple of hours, the clouds swirled below us, occasionally giving us a glimpse of the lake and crater. At the time we were pretty disappointed with the weather, but looking back now, given that we had almost perfect weather the rest of our trek, we can’t really complain about the first night’s weather. 

RInjani trek crater lake
Our first view of Rinjani’s caldera lake (Segara Anak)

After dinner, we also got our first glimpse of our route to the summit, which we would be attempting in pitch darkness at 2am the following morning. Seeing this was not good for our motivation, the summit was still a long way away, and would take at least 4 hours for us, giving us an arrival time at the summit of 6am. Tomorrow morning was going to be rough!

Mount Rinjani trek summit view
The imposing summit view from Sembalun crater rim (night 1)

Sunset that evening was spectacular, made all the more epic by our camping location!

rinjani trek sembalun crater camp day 1

We went to bed around 8pm that night, readying ourselves for the 2am wake up call, and our night-time ascent attempt to the summit. We slept fitfully, nervous about what the next day would bring.

Rinjani Trekking Day 2 Morning (Sembalun Crater Rim 2,639m – Rinjani Summit 3,726m)

It was 01:45, and we could hear our porters and guide moving about outside their tent. It was still completely dark, aside from the millions of stars lighting up the night sky. If we weren’t so nervous about the climb, we may have stood in awe and quiet reflection of the beautiful night sky. It looked truly magnificent. Alas, we couldn’t enjoy it – our minds were elsewhere. We were mentally gearing up for our attack on the summit.

Hans (our patient guide) called for us from outside the tent, and we tentatively poked our heads out to receive our omelette and some tea. As we sat there, group after group trudged passed our tent, each beginning their own attempt at the summit. We pulled on every layer we had, flicked on our headlamps, grabbed our walking poles, and began.

At 02:30, it was time for us to leave.

This might all sound a bit dramatic. After all, we were hardly attempting the summit of Everest. But to us, with almost no sleep from the night before, and total darkness affording us no view of our path, it was nerve-wracking.

The next two hours would be gruelling. We began by ascending the steep side of the ridge, which would take 2 hours to reach the top of the ridge. From there, it would take another 2 hours to walk along the ridge and ascend the final section to the summit (3,726m).

The first 20 minutes or so were relatively comfortable, as we clambered up and down small peaks as we slowly made our way upwards. But after this trekking aperitif, it was time for the main course.

Beneath our feet, the rocks and mud we had grown accustomed to gave way to volcanic dust. Imagine trying to climb an incredibly steep sand dune, except it isn’t a sunny warm day, and you’re not even on a beach. On no, in fact, your trying to climb this sand dune at 03:00 in the morning, it’s dark, it’s cold, you’re 3,000 metres up the side of a volcano, and it’s going to take you 4 hours! Yeh, sounds great.

If you could put yourself in our dust covered shoes for a moment, your morale may have been as low as ours was at that point.

Hans reached into his bag at this point and handed us a dust mask each to wear over our mouths and noses. We wrapped these around us, and looked up. Although we could see nothing of the climb in the dark, in the distance we could see the twinkle of headlamps way up the ridge. Sometimes there would only be 2. Must be a pair of climbers. Sometimes there was a train of 5 or 6 lights, like a trail of fluorescent ants on a black canvas. Each light provided us with a guide marker in the distance of where we had to go. What we would have given to swap places with those climbers at that point!

We soldiered on, and as we climbed we were passed by a few faster groups making their way to the summit, each battling their own inner demons as they climbed. Every now and then, a pair of climbers would pass us coming down the ridge. Evidently deciding the task was too tough for them.

This brought with it conflicting emotions for us. In part it spurred us on to know there were others struggling worse than us, but in part it made us battle our own thoughts of turning back. But we didn’t, we pushed on.

Two steps forward, one step back. That was the routine in the volcanic dust. The route at our feet was relatively clear to us with our headlamps, but the darkness either side of the path worried us. All sorts of visions and questions were running through our heads:

“Are we clambering alongside steep edges into the volcano?”

“What if we slip now? Are we doomed?”

We had no idea, it was frightening and exhilarating in equal measure. But we trusted our guide and we trusted our tour company wouldn’t put us in great harm. Sure, trekking up a volcano is more dangerous than staying at home, but as we always do in these circumstances, we put our trust in the hands of the experts, they know what they’re doing.

It’s at these points on our adventures where we are reassured by our decisions to trek with local experts. We saw a few groups go up without a guide, and fair play to them, everyone has their own level of experience and confidence. But we always prefer to have a guide with us, and they have been critical to us a few times on our adventures, including when we were stranded in a Saharan sandstorm, or when we climbed Mount Toubkal in freezing temperatures. Our advice is clear, always research and pick your tour company and guide carefully. If things go wrong, they might just save your life.

Anyway, back to our Mount Rinjani summit attempt.

After around another hour or so, we stopped for a short break. We were 3/4 of the way up the ridge wall, and another 20 minutes would see us reach the top of the ridge. As we sat there, slumped on the sandy volcanic dust we had been battling for the last hour, way below us we could make out the twinkling of fires at our campsite below. It was one of those moments that seemed completely unreal both at the time, and looking back.

We’re not the most ardent trekkers or walkers, and I dare say we don’t enjoy every moment of a trek. But there is something about trekking that brings out the best in us, and our relationship. To go through a challenge so exhausting together, and to achieve something many people don’t, is the reason we take on these climbs. As was when we climbed Mount Toubkal in winter in Morocco, and Villarrica volcano in Chile, the most memorable of experiences come from the most trying of circumstances.

And these circumstances were certainly trying. As more campfires flickered into life below us, it was time to turn our backs on our temporary home and get ourselves to the ridge. We hustled ourselves up off the volcanic dust, and pushed ourselves on. One foot forward, slide back a bit. Other foot forward, slide back a bit. All the while the light of our head torches capturing the thousands of tiny dust particles kicked up with every step.

25 minutes later we made it to the top of the ridge. A cool gust of wind flowed over and around us. We stopped for a moment to get our bearings. In front of us, laid out in pitch darkness, was the crater lake of Mount Rinjani (Segara Anak), resplendent with its jewel in the crown, Gunung Barujari, a post-caldera cone that lies within it. Although it was pitch darkness, we could make out the caldera rim encircling the lake, and to our left we could see our route to the summit.

Hans (our guide) shouted above the wind:

“2.5 hours to the summit!”

He told us this partly as information, but probably mostly as a warning. Our interpretation of this statement?

The worst was yet to come.

We began walking along the ridge, tentatively putting one foot in front of the other. Some parts of the ridge were wide, some narrow with frighteningly steep slopes into the caldera. We proceeded with extreme caution.

After 30 minutes, a slow realisation began creeping over us. It was 04:30, and we had another 2 hours of climbing to complete to the summit. At this rate, we would be somewhere up the ridge as the sun rose. Basically we would miss the sunrise. I was also absolutely exhausted, and worried about the fact we still had 3 days of trekking to complete, even after this morning summit ascent (including a further 4 hours today).

Our attack on the summit was fading, but what to do? Sunrise was still an hour and a half away, and it was cold. Without any other real options, we decided to continue climbing, without any real plan in place. Perhaps we might find somewhere sheltered where we could hunker down for sunrise. Or find a rock to crouch behind. Either way, we ploughed on.

It was at this point that something remarkable happened. Something so perfectly fitting for our situation that it all made sense. One of those moments that occur when travelling where you can’t help but smile at the way the universe conspires to provide you with a solution.

mount rinjani trek night

Up ahead, perhaps 100 metres away, there was a small glow on the ridge. As we trekked closer, it became clear that there was a small campfire right on the ridge of the volcano! Sat next to it was an older guide, warming his hands in the darkness. This is going to sound cheesy, but at the time, it was one of the most beautiful things we have ever seen.

Imagine the emotions. We’ve just spent a day and a half climbing up a volcano, much of it in the middle of the night, in pitch darkness. We’re covered in dust, exhausted, and cold. We’re pretty sure we’re not going to achieve our goal of the summit, yet there seemingly isn’t any other option available to us.

And then, in front of us, is a kind old guide of 25 years experience, beckoning us over to join him by his fire. We looked at each other, and the decision was made. We would sit here, chat with our guides, and watch the sunrise from here. And so we sat, and munched on cookies on the rim of an active volcano, warming our hands by the fire as the sun rose.

It was truly one of our happiest travel moments.

Rinjani trek fire
Our kind and friendly guide companions

Sometimes in life you just have to be honest with yourself, and do what you feel is right at that moment. Yes of course we wanted to conquer Mount Rinjani, and we were so close. Another 2 hours and we would have our summit bagged. But sometimes you have to think about what you would enjoy and remember more.

We had a choice, endure the pain and frustration of clambering up a ridge as the sun rose out of sight from us, or sit by a fire with new friends and soak up the moment. For us there was no question. Egos left us, and we soaked up this once in a lifetime moment.

As we sat by our fire, the stars in the sky slowly disappeared, one by one being drowned out by the impending rise of the sun. Only the moon was still visible. In the distance, on the horizon, the darkness gave way to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges, as a thin line of colour punctured the darkness.

Mount Rinjani trek sunrise
First glimpse of sunrise over Rinjani

Then the sun rose behind Rinjani, and with a bed of clouds lying below us in the distance, the silhouette of Rinjani projected itself over the island of Lombok. It was remarkable to see, and reminded us of just how epic the mountain was. Can you see the shadow of Rinjani spread out in the distance?

Mount Rinjani trek shadow
Rinjani’s towering shadow over Segara Anak Lake

We huddled together and soaked it all in. The sky around us grew in colour as reds turned to oranges and yellows, and finally blues. We got our first glimpse of Gunung Barujari volcano, nestled in the caldera lake below.

Mount Rinjani trek caldera

It was incredible to witness. We left the guides by the fire and climbed a little further up the trail, and stood in awe of the view below us. We were completely alone, and stood for a few minutes as more and more of the crater was revealed to us.

We may not have made it to the summit, but spending an hour and a half sitting on the ridge of a volcano as the sun rose was pretty special for us.

At around 06:30, we began to make our way back to camp from the ridge. We bid our farewells to our camp fire friend, and walked back down the route we had come up. This was the first time we were able to see our route from earlier in the morning. With the crater rim snaking out in front of us, narrow parts gave way to shear drops in parts, but in general the route was clear and safe. Our darkness visions of what lay around us proved to be, for the most part, wildly exaggerated.

Heading down, we stopped for one last view of the caldera of the lake and volcano below. We may not have reached the summit, but we had a memory that will stay with us forever.

Rinjani trek caldera lake view

The journey back to base camp was easy and enjoyable, the loose volcanic dust that had been such a hindrance for us on the way up, became a fun and soft way to launch our way back down the ridge, and we took huge strides as the soft under footing allowed us to jog down in some places.

Descending Mount Rinjani

Within 45 minutes we were back at base camp, and our porters were ready with a hot cup of tea and our second breakfast of the day. This is where our porters really came into their own. Not only did they carry all our tents, food and cooking equipment, they were also experts at rustling up incredible meals for us.

So as we sat outside our tent at 08:00 in the morning, our guide Hans came over with our second breakfast, a burger with cheese, egg, salad and chips! How do they do it? From a small camping stove our porters created remarkable dishes. Never mind that it was the earliest we had ever eaten a burger, we scoffed it down in our tent. The hardest part of the four day trek was behind us, and we were relieved.

After an hour or so of resting, it was time to make our way down the side of the caldera and into the heart of the volcano. We packed up our bags, loaded up on water and biscuits, and left camp behind.

Rinjani Trekking Day 2 Late Morning (Sembalun Crater Rim 2,639m – Segara Anak Lake and Hot Springs 2,008m)

Our plan was simple. We were to spend the next 3.5 hours clambering down the side of the caldera, finishing up on the shore of the lake way below us, where we would camp for the evening. The lake looked tantalisingly close, but it was an onerous climb down the side of the volcano to make it there.

Rinjani trek caldera lake view
Descending 600m from Sembalun crater rim to Segara Anak lake, Day 2

This part of the trek was relatively simple, we stepped, jumped and clambered over huge boulders and rocks on our way down. 2.5 hours later we had reached the valley floor, and from here it was around 1 hour to the lake. It was 11:30 at this point, and getting very hot. We buckled down and moved across the valley without a word between us, stopping only to take on water and a biscuit every now and then.

Rinjani trek
Beautiful valley view on our descent

After a short pause to admire the beautiful valley view below, we kept moving. It had already been a very long day (2am to lunchtime) and we just wanted to reach the lake, and the fabled hot springs.

Yes, you read that correctly. Natural, volcanically heated hot springs awaited us at our destination!

If that didn’t spur us on, nothing would.

The last half an hour was really tough, with the intense heat and our now aching feet pushing our limits. However, we pushed on through the exhaustion and made it to the shore of the lake. And boy was it worth it!

Mount Rinjani trek lake view

For some reason, we both hadn’t really considered what it would be like to be down by the lake. We’d talked about what the views would be like at the summit and on the ridge, but neither of us had any thought to the view we would have from the lake.

Perhaps that’s why we were so blown away by the view in front of us.

Mount Rinjani trek lake
Rinjani’s caldera lake of Segara Anak (2,008m altitude)

It’s hard to really articulate how it felt to be there. We’d already trekked for 2 days to reach this point, but more than that was the fact we’d travelled halfway around the world in the first place, with the Mount Rinjani trek being one of the main reasons drawing us back to Indonesia. To finally be here, and witness this incredible view was so very special.

As we stood on the waters edge, it gently lapping against the shore, we watched the porters cast rudimentary fishing lines into the lake, which they had baited. And then they waited. It was a calming and serene scene.

Porters hunkered down in crouched positions, laughing and talking with each other on the shore. As we cast the focus of our eyes further into the distance, the lake spread out in front of us, a dark blue shimmering body which drew the eyes further away until the imposing shape of Gunung Barujari volcano appeared, quite literally growing out of the centre of the lake.

Rinjani trek post-caldera cone
Smoking hot Gunung Barujari volcano (inside Rinjani)

This volcano was truly remarkable, and it’s worth repeating that the small volcano you see here, sits in the middle of the caldera lake of another, larger volcano. Before we had heard of Mount Rinjani, we had no idea that a place so beautiful and awe-inspiring could exist!

Without wishing to sound dramatic, it was the most incredible natural landscape we have ever witnessed, above even the places we saw in Antarctica and South America.

It was truly mind blowing.

As we sat on the lake edge, our lunch was delivered to us, and we sat and ate as various gases and steam were slowly released from the volcano in front of us. It was almost like the volcano was resting just as we were, recovering and waiting before going again.

Gunung Barujari in Mount Rinjani

This beautiful vista was only tainted by one thing, the sheer exhaustion inside both of us. I (Barry) in particular was struggling, I felt incredibly dehydrated, dizzy, hot and tired. As we sat on the lake edge, I guzzled down various rehydration salts, ibuprofen and food to sort me out. It was a rough couple of hours by that lake as I tried to pull myself together.

After lunch and a rest, it was time to hit the hot springs and miraculously heal our aching muscles. We trekked the 10 minutes from the lake’s edge to the springs, and dipped ourselves in the hot waters.

RInjani trek Hot Springs

Mount Rinjani trek Hot Springs
Soaking away our aches and pains in the hot springs

We soaked our weary muscles for half an hour, before it was time to make our way to our tent.

We hauled our weary bodies back up the steep path we’d descended to reach the springs and hoped it wasn’t too far to reach our final resting place for the day. At this point, all we wanted was to collapse in our tent!  But alas it turned out that we had some more hiking to do yet. It was incredibly disheartening to walk passed tent after tent, every time hoping the next one would be ours.

We’ll admit that we quietly cursed under our breaths at our porters and guide’s decision on where to camp at this point. Why couldn’t they just camp nearby? We are exhausted!

“10 more minutes!”, Hans shouted from up ahead.

Just where the heck were we camping? All we wanted to do was stop walking, after all every other group was already relaxing by their tents. And we had to walk passed them all too. We were very frustrated! 

All our cursing abruptly ended a minute later however. Our guide and porters had arranged something very special for us.

We reached the lake edge, and in the distance, along the shore, we could see one solitary yellow tent pitched on the water’s edge. As we got closer, we realised the amazing effort our guides had gone to. They had raced to the lake to arrive before any other porters, and set us up on our own private beach with a direct view of the volcano. The emotions of it all were almost too much. We lay in our tent and couldn’t quite believe where we were.

Mount Rinjani trek caldera lake view
Camping with a view on night 2!

I just wish we felt better than we did at this point. We guzzled down various rehydration sachets and sugary drinks, and lay prone for most of the afternoon in the tent. Occasionally we would both sit up and admire the view again before laying back down. This view from our tent was incredibly special, and will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

That night, we wolfed down a bowl of noodle soup (again, delicious) and hit the sack around 7pm. It had been a rollercoaster day. We’d began trekking at 2am, attempted the summit which now towered above us, and made our way down and across the massive valley to where we were now. We were physically wrecked. 

Rinjani trek summit view
Mount Rinjani summit in the distance

Hans came over to our tent that evening:

“Hardest day done. Tomorrow, only 3 hours up to Senaru crater rim. Leave at 8.”

We slept deeply that night, and awoke around 6am. Gone was the exhaustion from the day before. We were well hydrated, we felt well and we were ready for our third day on our Mount Rinjani trek!

Rinjani Trek Day 3 (Segara Anak Lake 2,008m – Senaru Crater Rim 2,641m)

What a difference a day makes. Half a day of resting in our tent the day before, followed by a good night’s sleep, and we were ready to climb up the other side of the caldera. As we were on a 3 night/4 day trek, we were afforded the luxury of only a 3 hour climb up the caldera side today. If we were on a 2 night/3 day trek, we would have to climb the caldera and then descend the 5 hours back to Senaru village (601m) all in the same day. This is a big decision, and if you have time, take the 3 night option as it gives you more time to recover on the third day, plus you get to camp on the caldera rim again and enjoy the views rather than stop for a break and then leave it all behind! 

Hans and our porters gave us a choice of when to begin trekking, and we opted for an 8am start as we would usually wake around 6am anyway, and we didn’t want to trek in the midday sun.

So we ate breakfast, packed our bags and began our climb to the top of the Senaru crater rim.

Taking in our view of the lake one more time, we turned and began our climb, first through the forest which surrounded the lake, the shade of the trees providing respite from the already hot, beating sun. After an hour and a half, we left behind the forest and began the much harder, steeper ascent to the crater summit.

Mount Rinjani trek view day 3 trekking

This was where it became necessary in places to essentially climb up rocks and boulders, using our hands to pull ourselves up. In some places, there were rudimentary metal hand rails to pull ourselves up, but most of the time we basically found hand and footholds in the rock, and pulled ourselves up.

This part of the trek provides the most stunning views of the whole Mount Rinjani trek experience, so be sure to stop and take in the view at various points on the way up. 

Mount Rinjani trek Caldera Lake View Day 3
Mount Rinjani Caldera Lake Panoramic View, Day 3

If you’re a keen photographer, the views of the lake halfway up are much better than the view from the top, so don’t wait until the top to snap some iconic photos.

Rinjani trek Caldera Lake View
The best view we have ever witnessed!

After 3.5 hours, we reached the top of the crater, and boy were we happy!

It was almost midday at this point, and the sun was at its ferocious best, beating down on us. Our camp was once again perched in the best location, right on the crater rim and completely alone, but also completely exposed to the midday sun. There was literally nowhere to escape the intense heat.

The inside of our tent was like a furnace, outside was not much better. Now we could see why our guide offered to begin climbing after lunch, to avoid this intense heat at the top. But the way we saw it, we could either bare the brunt of the heat at the top, or climb up the volcano in the same heat. Either way we were going to be hot!

Our only solution was to lie just outside our tent, with our heads in the shade of our tent awning to avoid the sun on our faces. We lay there for an hour before all of a sudden the sun disappeared from above – the clouds were back!

Mount Rinjani trek clouds

This time, instead of being disappointed, we were elated! Over the next hour, the clouds whipped over us, bringing the temperature down, and then, from nowhere, the heavens opened and the rain lashed against the outside of our tent. Once again we were right in the middle of the clouds, the rain beating down on our tent.

We huddled inside our tent, thankful for the respite from the heat. After half an hour, the clouds partially cleared and the rain stopped.

By this point, Laura had fallen asleep, as had the porters and our guide. It was only 3pm, so the other groups coming up from Senaru hadn’t arrived at the crater summit yet. I clambered out of the tent, took my fold away seat and sat looking out on the lake below. I felt completely alone on the ridge, my only company was a handful of birds swooping around our tent, almost like they were playing a game of who could get close to the tent without hitting it.

The game quickly became, let’s see how close we can swoop onto Barry’s hat! Perhaps they thought it was a nest, perhaps they just saw the inherent fashionista styling of my hat and wanted it for themselves. Who knows. What I do know is that over the course of the next 15 minutes, they got more and more confident in swooping down on me, an almost silent whoosh accompanying the closest of fly bys.

It was a serene experience to sit atop the crater rim edge, and look out below. The volcano eerily silent, not even one other human to be seen. I sat there and pondered all that had occurred over the last couple of days, from our tough first day climb, to our failed summit attempt, to the campfire on the ridge, to the lake and our view from our tent, to the toughness of the trek and how ill I had felt the previous day.

All of this washed over me as I sat on the ridge.

After a while, Laura woke and joined me on the peak. We watched as our guide and porters stirred, and as the first groups who were only just beginning their treks began arriving from Senaru at their first night campsite. The groups we would share the ridge with that night were doing our route in the opposite direction.

We watched as they arrived after their first day, still clean and full of energy. We looked at ourselves, almost 4 days into our trek, covered head to toe in dust, bedraggled after all our trekking, the smiles on our faces beaming. Yes we were exhausted and dusty, but we were almost done! These guys still had it all to do.

Sunset that evening was a mixed occasion. For much of the early evening, the clouds covered the lake and our site, but every now and again, the clouds would clear, and the results were spectacular.

Mount Rinjani trek Camp Night 3

Our third campsite was just as epic as the previous two.

Mount Rinjani trek camp sunset
Night 3 camp sunset

As the sun dipped behind the horizon, the sky once again lit up around us.

Mount RInjani trek camp 3
Eating dinner with a view!

We sat and ate our fried rice, egg and crackers as the temperature plummeted around us, before retiring to our tent for the evening. We slept soundly again that evening, excited we had made it this far, and knowing the end of our trek was 4 hours away, down the outer side of the caldera and through the jungle tomorrow. All being well, we’d be back in Senaru village and our guesthouse by the early afternoon.

This was all the motivation we needed for our final push the next day.

Rinjani Trek Day 4 (Senaru Crater Rim 2,641m – Senaru Village 601m) 

After another deep sleep in our trusty tent, we awoke to our 5am alarm. We didn’t want to miss our final opportunity to witness sunrise over the mountain, especially from our favourite view so far. As usual our guide and dedicated porters were already up and busy preparing our final breakfast of eggs and toast. Not once did they let us down with our meals, what a team!

mount rinjani trek sunrise

The sunrise didn’t disappoint either.

rinjani trekking trek sunrise

It was a fittingly beautiful start to our final day on the mountain and we had a great sense of joy running through our bodies that day. We had a long descent ahead of us (2,000m in total!) but we were safe in the knowledge that there was a hot shower and thick mattress waiting for us at the end! It gave us all the motivation we needed to push through for a final 4 hours or so.

As always Hans briefed us on the route and difficulty for the day. We like expectations setting. He’d warned us that the first hour or so was the hardest consisting of a steep descent down volcanic ash and large rocks, but that we would be rewarded by an easier 3-4 hours of final descent through thick jungle. Jungle?! We were delighted to hear it. One of the hardest elements of the last 3 days had been the nature of the open plains often fully exposed to the intense heat of the sun, so to hear we would be protected by trees and jungle for a few hours today was music to our ears.

Mount Rinjani trek jungle section

Mount Rinjani trek Day 4

The jungle was a refreshing change and an extremely enjoyable way to end our Rinjani trek. We found ourselves with enough energy to practically skip through it, jumping over large tree roots all along the route. Our surprisingly fast descent afforded us with plenty time for mini-breaks along the way to enjoy our natural surroundings. We would just sit quietly appreciating the beautiful greenery, plants, fruits and grasshopper sounds of the jungle whilst sipping on our remaining water and cookie supplies.

It was during this time we realised and appreciated how wise our choice had been in choosing to trek the route from Sembalun to Senaru, rather than the other way around. Finishing our arduous 4 days of trekking in the cooler climate of the shaded jungle was great! And made all the more special and rewarding when we reached the famous Rinjani national park signpost in Senaru…

Mount Rinjani trek national park entrance
Our wonderful Rudy Trekker team!

We had finally completed our 4 day trek! We couldn’t believe it and a great sense of joy and relief washed over us as we were welcomed to celebratory high fives and hugs from our now close Indonesian trekking companions from Rudy Trekker, our wonderful guide Hans and his awesome team of porters. We couldn’t have done it without them!

All that was left was to make a final descent to Senaru village where our jeep awaited our pick up and transfer back to Rudy Trekker HQ where our long awaited hot shower waited for us. We couldn’t wait to get back now!

There’s no doubt it had been an extremely gruelling 4 days of trekking, exceeding our expectations in all kinds of ways. We’d challenged our bodies to their limits, suffered from all sorts of exhaustion, dehydration and mental doubts along the way, but we’d also been rewarded with some of the most stunning natural scenery we have ever witnessed and an experience we’d never forget. We were stronger for it and delighted we’d taken on the challenge. We just might not be signing up for another trek for a while however! It was time to recover and take stock on what had been an incredible adventure.

2. What to pack for trekking Mount Rinjani

  • We used our first aid kit a lot during our trek, especially rehydration sachets (to add to water), ibuprofen, paracetamol, bite relief cream (hydrocortisone), blister plasters and tiger balm to rub on our aching limbs each night.
  • Warm clothing layers for the evenings as it gets chilly at the high altitude locations of the campsites (we used thermal layers plus fleece, trousers, jacket, woolly hat & gloves).
  • We recommend wearing trekking trousers for all days as opposed to shorts to protect your legs from the rocks, sun, insect bites and just to save them from getting really dirty! (After all you can’t take a shower for 4 days!) Take plenty of clean socks too as your feet get REALLY dirty!
  • We used our Salomon walking shoes which were fine but high-sided walking boots would be better for ankle protection.
  • Ask for or rent walking poles. I had 2 and Barry had 1 and we found these extremely helpful especially for the steep and slippy or rocky descents (of which there are many!) and also for hauling ourselves up the steep climbing sections and the shifting volcanic ash near the summit!
  • High factor sunscreen and long-sleeved breathable trekking tops as the sun is very powerful up there and the last thing you need to worry about is sunburn (on top of potential heat exhaustion!).
  • A good sun hat with string band to keep it on in the wind!
  • Thin gloves – these were handy for the cold nights but also for trekking to avoid sunburnt hands and rubbing on walking poles.
  • Our earplugs were very useful when we wanted to get to sleep earlier than other groups(!) or for taking a nap on arrival to your campsite.
  • Good head torches & breathable face masks for the early morning ascent to the summit (important for the very dusty sections) – our company provided these but not all companies do!
  • Plenty of tissues and wet wipes!
  • Earphones to listen to music in the evening.
  • We liked having some juice sachets for an occasional change from water (as you drink so much!) however our company also provided the occasional coke, sprite or orange juice which was nice!

3. Our top tips to help you through the trek

  • Choose your route carefully. Starting in Sembalun and ending in Senaru is easier if you are aiming to bag the summit because you tackle the summit earlier when you have more energy! On this route you tackle it on the morning of day 2 rather than the morning of day 3 or 4 (depending on your trek length). It is also a little easier if you spread the trek over 4 days/3 nights rather than just 3 days/2 to reduce the distances to trek on days 3 & 4 (which is especially good when you’re tired and recovering from climbing the summit!)
  • The BEST view of the Crater Lake and Mount Rinjani peak is from the Senaru crater side! So if like us, you are more passionate about the view and capturing great photos rather than summit bagging (and perhaps don’t have time for the full 4 day trek), a good shorter option would be a 2 or 3 day trek from Senaru village up to the Senaru crater (and if time descending to the crater lake too) then returning by the same route to Senaru as you can enjoy the best view without needing to tackle the summit. Or, still trek the loop from Sembalun to Senaru but don’t stress about summiting for the best view! J
  • We captured our best photos around half way up the inside of the Senaru crater from the lake so make sure to stop on the way up (or the way down depending on your route) to get your best shots!
  • Do your research and pick a good company (even if you have to pay a little more!) We saw a huge difference in terms of quality of service, quality and volume of food/water supplies, tent quality and locations and level of English spoken by guides across the different companies along the way. We felt like we got 5 star service from the company we chose (Rudy Trekker) and would highly recommend them to anyone. (We even had a toilet tent which many other groups didn’t.)

4. Where to go (with accommodation recommendation) to recover after you complete your trek

FINALLY, and MOST IMPORTANTLY…make sure you budget in some time to do nothing and relax after your trek as your body will need it! It took us a couple of days to fully recover from our trek so we really appreciated having a few days booked on Gili Air to do this! We stayed here, but you can also search for other options using the search box below! We always use agoda.com to book accommodation in Asia, it has the best selection of accommodation and prices! Check out your options below and look forward to your reward!

rinjani trekking
rinjani trekking

So we’d highly recommend this, and a great bonus is that Rudy Trekker will provide transportation direct to the island from their office in Senaru (included in your tour price) which includes a ride in their private speed boat! Yes it’s very cool!

Disclaimer: We received a discount from Rudy Trekker, but all our opinions in this article remain our own!

Get Your Trip Organised!

Book Your Train/Bus/Ferry Tickets Online!

We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!

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Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

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Cruising The Irrawaddy River From Mandalay To Bagan

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Still shrouded in darkness, our old taxi navigated its way through the quiet dusty streets of Mandalay. It was nearing 6am and sunrise was still a couple of hours away. We were a little tired after only landing in Myanmar the previous day, but despite the early start, we were curious and excited for the journey ahead. 9 hours of cruising down the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay to Bagan, Myanmar’s mecca of temples.

Our taxi soon reached the riverside, where despite the early hour, there was a buzz of activity in the shadows of the bare light bulbs. Men loading various baskets and large boxes of produce onto the boat, crew starting up the engine, and lots of fellow travellers eagerly queuing (or perhaps anxiously is a more appropriate word) to carefully walk the rather narrow gangplank to get onboard. As we got closer, I gave Barry a knowing look. The gangplank was only around 20-25 inches wide, it was going to require some very careful balancing with our heavy backpacks!

mandalay to bagan slow boat

mandalay to bagan slow boat

Like everyone else, we made it safely aboard and quickly found ourselves some comfortable seats to settle down for the long journey ahead. We hadn’t been sure of what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect to have so much space and a whole bench to ourselves! I guess the boat wasn’t at maximum capacity that day. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was how chilly it was that early in the morning. As I looked around at my fellow passengers, a great mix of foreigners, I quickly spotted the locals as they snuggled under their big blankets. I wished I’d brought one too, or at least a fleece, but by now our backpacks were well buried beneath the teak floorboards in the lowest compartment of the boat. Oh well I thought, I knew it wasn’t long until sunrise so we got as comfortable as possible and patiently awaited the sunrise to heat us up.

It was almost 7am by the time we set off and got slowly on our way. I stared out into the darkness and pondered the next 9 hours on my bench. Backache and boredom seemed a strong possibility, despite my usual optimism.

slow boat myanmar

slow boat to bagan myanmar

But soon after we waved goodbye to the shores of Mandalay, the sun began to rise and a fresh cup of hot tea and bread with jam was on offer. Amazing! Things were looking up.

mandalay to bagan boat

mandalay to bagan boat sunrise

As we held onto our warm cups of tea, sipping them slowly in order to keep as much warm liquid in the cups as possible to heat our cold hands, I gave Barry another knowing glance. There was a lovely air of calm and peace. The boat was so quiet, its engine almost silent, incredible given how old it probably was. Though our very slow pace probably helped. As we gently sailed along, enjoying the changing light, we came across our first passing ‘traffic’ on the Irrawaddy river.

Irrawaddy river boat trip

mandalay to bagan

mandalay to bagan journey

From simple canoes, to little fishing boats and makeshift home rafts, it was fascinating to observe early morning local life on the river. And it wasn’t long before we witnessed our first beautiful Myanmar sunrise.

sunrise over the irrawaddy river

As if it was planned timing (maybe it was!), just as the sun rose, I smiled as we spotted the steeple of a striking gold-leafed pagoda in the distance.

Pagodas on the Irrawaddy river

And then there were more. What an incredible sight! We’d reached Sagaing, an important religious centre on the outskirts of Mandalay brimming full of Buddhist monasteries and beautiful pagodas.

Irrawaddy river pagodas

In fact the gold steeples just kept coming. And that’s when I lost all sense of time as I sat thinking, is 9 hours going to be enough? I don’t think I ever want to get off this boat.

Mandalay To Bagan Journey

mandalay to bagan boat trip

mandalay to bagan slow boat

As we passed by the distant temples, old stupas, basic bamboo houses and rustic canoes, it also occurred to me that I’ve never seen anything like this before. Despite lots of travel around other parts of Southeast Asia, this felt different, and almost like we’d been transported back to a completely different era.
irrawaddy river cruise

Back on onboard, the temperature had heated up nicely and we’d even looked out the sunscreen in preparation for our jaunt to the top deck.

mandalay to bagan slow boat

Slow boat to Bagan

However after enjoying the sunshine for a while, the sun and heat had turned up a level, and with so little shade available, we were relieved to retreat back to our shady bench position downstairs. Especially as there was a waft of lunch being prepared…!

It was a simple choice of fried egg with noodles or rice, and a little veg on the side so we opted for one of each and shared. Both were hot and delicious which was impressive given the basic kitchen facilities!

After lunch, we resumed our people watching, which was just as interesting as the landscape.

mandalay to bagan people

mandalay to bagan

mandalay to bagan

irrawaddy river life 
You may notice from these photos that most Burmese men and women wear long wrapped–like skirts knotted in front (known as ‘longyis’), usually accompanied with rubber flip-flops. And for woman, it’s also common to wear wrapped turban-like cloth around their heads. The most distinctive feature of all Burmese fashion however is the common use of ‘thanaka’, a pale yellow paste made from ground tree bark, that is painted on the face. We learned this is partly used for beauty purposes like a make–up and partly used as a sun block, and is applied in a variety of ways but often as square patches or designed like the impression of a leaf on the cheeks with a single dot on the nose. Other times it’s just smeared across the face in a haphazard fashion, but it’s been a strong Burmese feature for the past 2,000 years and is still a unique visual symbol of Myanmar today.

burmese thanaka

Burmese thanaka

We’ve mentioned it in our other Myanmar articles, the Burmese people are extremely welcoming and friendly, and eager to greet foreigners. We got this feeling immediately after arriving to the country and especially during this boat trip as we sailed onboard with some locals from Mandalay to Bagan. The tourists most definitely outweighed the locals, yet they were happy as always to engage in a friendly “mingalaba” (good day) or more if they were confident in english (which many were).

On route we also passed lots of local trade boats carrying logs or produce, a common sight on the river.

irrawaddy river cruise

mandalay to bagan

And further down the famous Irrawaddy river, we sailed under the huge arches of the impressive new Sagaing Bridge after waving to some friendly passing by crew!

mandalay to bagan bridge

mandalay to bagan cruise

It wasn’t long before the sun began to set on our long slow journey to Bagan, which was when I began to realise we’d been sailing for more than 10 hours by this point (already an hour longer than planned) with no final destination in sight just yet…

mandalay to bagan sunset

mandalay to bagan

mandalay to bagan

So with absolutely no idea about how much longer we had until our arrival to Bagan (and no inclination to try to find out!), we decided just to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful sunset views reflecting on the calm water of the Irrawaddy river. After all, when would we get this opportunity again.

irrawaddy river sunset

irrawaddy river sunset

The ‘golden hour’ seemed to last forever and the view just got better and better as we savoured the last few moments of the day’s sun. It was a fitting end to a magical journey.

mandalay to bagan sunset

It was dark again when we finally reached Nuang U, the port of Bagan. We could just see a faint glimpse of the silhouettes of bell-shaped temples. A reassuring comfort that we were in the right place. Our boat slowed and carefully manovered sideways to slip alongside the wooden dock. A group of around 20 people were waiting for us, ready to pounce as soon as our gangplank was in place (oh no I’d forgotten about that extra challenge), offering their taxi services or some bag carrying for a few extra kyat. It was a little chaotic, exaggerated by the darkness and late hour.

Our journey had ended up being almost 12 hours (as opposed to the expected 9) so we were a little weary by now and keen to get off and find our way to our guesthouse. Unfortunately we hadn’t planned ahead as we normally would by arranging a pick up from our guesthouse, so we had to go through the taxi negotiation process. Not ideal given the probably desperate look on our faces and ratio of fewer taxi drivers to tourists. Our bargaining was somewhat weakened so we probably got a little ripped off, but hey we didn’t care much at this point and just wanted to get safely to our guesthouse.

It was around a 20 minute drive through Nuang U and Old Bagan before we reached finally reached it and our long journey was over. Delighted, we tipped our overpriced taxi and made our way in for a warm Burmese welcome. It was just the start of an awesome adventure around The Captivating Bagan Temples Of Myanmar. We couldn’t wait to explore this magical sacred place, but not before some much needed rest.

We took this journey with a company called Malikha River Cruises and arranged our tickets through our hotel in Mandalay. I believe there are a number of ferry companies offering this route (as well as even slower government boat options which are probably a little cheaper if you’re on a tight budget) however despite our journey taking longer than expected, we would happily recommend Malikha. We had comfortable seats, friendly service, simple but decent food and good toilet facilities. The boat was extremely relaxing too!

Looking For Accommodation In Myanmar?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Mandalay, Bagan or elsewhere in Myanmar, we recommend you check out Agoda.com. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Mandalay or Bagan, or anywhere else in Myanmar, check out the options below!

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

Looking for more Myanmar inspiration? Click here.

Or enjoy boat trips and looking to discover new inspiration? Take a look at our amazing experience cruising the stunning waters of the spectacular Bacuit Archipelago of El Nido in the Philippines and find out all our tips on El Nido Tours here.


Conquering The Mighty Jebel Toubkal In Winter

Laura and I huddled ourselves in front of the only fire in the refuge, leaving behind the 100 km/h winds and freezing temperatures outside. It was a moment of tranquility after our epic and eventful Jebel Toubkal winter ascent.

Moments later, the peace and tranquility of the refuge was shattered. From nowhere, the doors to our right crashed open as a poor soul on a stretcher was brought hurriedly into the refuge room. We recognised him immediately.

A couple of hours earlier, we had met him on our own journey down the mountain. There he was, perched in the middle of the valley, a small black dot on a crisp white canvas. He was an anomaly in the epic scene in front of us. As we got closer, our guide approached him to query why he was sitting in the valley all alone. A minute later we had our answer:

 “Broken leg – wait there.”

Laura and I let out another sigh after a long two days. The fact that someone had broken their leg on this mountain did not surprise us, given the dangerous conditions we’d faced over the last few hours. With winds of 100 km/h and temperatures plunging to -28°C with wind chill, it was inevitable that there would be casualties that day. In fact, the weather became so treacherous that the mountain was eventually closed for a few days after our climb to let the bad weather pass. As we reached the summit, it became clear that there was no way we should have been on Jebel Toubkal that day.

It had all started innocently enough.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal winter

jebel toubkal winter ascent

Conquering Jebel Toubkal

We’d arrived in Imlil two days previously, a small village nestled at the base of the Atlas Mountains, and a popular starting point for our epic Jebel Toubkal climb. The next morning, we began our trek to the base camp of Mount Toubkal, a 4 – 5 hour journey that took us from the dusty orange hills surrounding Imlil, through the snow line and onwards to base camp, at 3,207m (10,521 ft). It was a far cry from our sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, or our volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, as we swapped lush, warm climates for a cold and unforgiving landscape.

jebel toubkal winter climb

The first day was simple enough and very enjoyable, and there isn’t much to say except that the views, especially in winter are outstanding. It was almost as though this day felt like a nice stroll through some beautiful scenery. We even had time to stop at a makeshift ‘cafe’ and sip a cold Fanta and take in the views. It was an absolute delight, and a world away from what was to hit us the following day.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal

mt toubkal

mt toubkal climb

The refuge, however, was humble and cold. With only one room with a fire, we huddled together with the handful of other hardy souls who’d decided to take on Mount Toubkal in winter. Even an EPIC sunset couldn’t lighten the mood, and that night we slept fitfully in our cold dormitory, anxious about the climb ahead.

jebel toubkal sunset

Morning came, and it was time to make our final ascent to the peak of Mount Toubkal. Toubkal is the tallest peak in North Africa, and the third highest in Africa, towering over the continent at 4,167m (13,671ft). It is now the highest peak we have conquered in our travels, and it’s fair to say it was also the toughest and most dangerous, especially given the amount of injuries and, sadly, deaths on the mountain.

Only a few months prior, a girl had fallen from the summit and lost her life, information we found out AFTER our climb. We were under no illusions as to the challenge that lay ahead of us, especially given this was a winter ascent, through the snow and ice. The route ahead reminded us of our snow and ice covered ascent of Volcan Villarrica in Chile, another incredibly tough climb that we’ve taken on. 

mt toubkal

On went every layer of clothing we had, we slipped into our walking boots and trudged out to the entrance where we clamped on our crampons, grabbed our walking sticks and ice axes, and trudged outside into the burgeoning morning mountain light. To our left, the scale of our challenge was clear to us, and we could make out a group which had set off 45 minutes earlier, mere black specks on the white canvas of Toubkal. Can you spot them?

trekking mt toubkal

It was awe inspiring. And daunting.

Quite obviously, climbing Mount Toubkal in February is far harder than when it is warmer.  The ascent, coupled with snow, ice, winds and freezing temperatures makes it all the more difficult. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. 

We began by climbing up the valley above our refuge, zigzagging left and right which made progress slow and demoralising. After an hour into our climb, a howling gale would sweep down the valley every couple of minutes, whipping up snow and ice and pummelling us with glee. On many occasions our only option was to crumple down onto our knees, turn our backs to the wind and snow, and wait it out.

What had we let ourselves in for? As it turns out, this was nothing compared to what lay ahead.

The next couple of hours were monotonous and arduous, as we slowly made our way up through the valley. The routine was always the same, trudge upwards and left a few steps, turn and climb upwards and right for a few more steps, huddle down as the wind whipped up. Repeat again and again. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Our guide suggested it was some of the worst he had seen when the mountain hadn’t been closed to climb. Again, we should not have been on that mountain on that day. But look how calm it appeared!

trekking mount toubkal

After a couple of hours, we reached the top of the valley, stopping for a couple of minutes to eat a banana and some chocolate. Ahead of us, however, lay the real challenge, a steep 30 minute climb up to the ridge above us, and then an hour long trek along the ridge to the summit. If we were to turn back, it would be now. Sensible Laura and Barry would have turned back, but whilst it had been tough going, we were unaware of the hazardous conditions at the top of the ridge. We would find out soon enough, and by that point it would be too late to turn back.

And so onwards we went, climbing the steep side of the ridge. As we reached the top, we got our first glimpse of the summit, and our first hit of winds upwards of 100 km/h. It was at this point that I (Barry) began to really struggle with the altitude, constantly unable to catch my breath. I struggled on for 20 minutes before collapsing down behind a boulder on the ridge, desperate just to catch my breath and take a break from the incessant winds.

It’s in these moments that your mind finds absolute clarity. Up on that ridge, as the 100 km/h winds howled around us and the temperature plummeted to -28°C with wind chill, a million things ran through my head. I was dizzy, cold and there was no real options for me to back out now. We were now on the ridge, ahead of us were both the summit and our route back down the mountain.

There was literally no turning back, we had committed to the summit. Despite the conditions and the fear, in our minds it was clear that these were the adventures we lived for, these were the great challenges and moments that make us travel to far flung places. These were the experiences that shaped us. On that ridge, with Laura huddled with me, we were together. We were experiencing a real adventure, something we would never forget. Something we could tell people about and be proud to say we achieved. In spite of everything, these moments were why we travel the world.

mt toubkal

Looking back at it, and reading people’s experiences of the summit climb, it seems like we had some of the very worst conditions imaginable. Even our guide (the coolest, laid back man in the world) was beginning to get agitated and worried about the conditions. If there is one thing we’ve learnt from our travels, it’s that guides NEVER get worried. Or at least never let you know. And yet, here we were, alone on the ridge, huddled behind a boulder, without any other trekkers, freezing and windy, as I waited to catch my breath.

After a couple of minutes, my head cleared, and my breathing returned to normal. I grabbed a (frozen) snickers bar, sucked some water from my now frozen water bottle, and we set off again, this time for the peak.

As the ridge was still covered in snow, we had to take a detour along the edge of the ridge, a 1 foot wide ledge with the rocky side of the ridge to one side, and a sheer drop the valley below. At this point we were both scared, no shame in admitting that. If we had known that we would have had to take this part of the mountain on, we would not have gone up. It was a case of putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly but surely work our way along the ridge. 

It was at this point that something completely unexpected occurred, but that’s another story for another time. For now, we were focused on reaching the peak, a mere 100m in front of us.

trekking mount toubkal

Reaching the peak was an emotional moment for us. The sky was a deep blue, and the horizon was punctured by sharp, jagged forays into the sky from the deep orange and white mountains below and all around us. It was an epic scene, and to look at it you would think the most serene moment. We crumpled down onto the summit, our guide telling us not to get up unless he was next us, his fear of us falling off clear to us.

We huddled in together for 30 seconds, taking in the view as much as we could. But it was time to go. It was too cold and too windy to stay there any longer than that, with temperatures as low as -28°C and wind speeds of 100 km/h, staying there any longer and the cold and fatigue would have set in. We needed to go.

As we left the peak, we felt relief to be making our way back down. We had conquered North Africa’s highest peak in some of the worst conditions, and we lived to tell the tale. As we sat in the refuge a few hours later, we watched the doctor work on the man with the broken leg, it was at this moment we felt truly drained, physically and emotionally. As the doctor energetically asked him a series of questions, first about his condition and then about his insurance situation, it became clear the options were either call a helicopter to the refuge (the insurance option) or, somehow, get this guy to the nearest village of Imlil on a stretcher which was a four hour trek at the best of times, nevermind having to carry someone down. The options looked bleak.

Our guide looked on quizzically, before turning to us:

“At least he is alive, a few months ago a girl fell off the top of the mountain.”

We later verified this and found the story of this poor girl who fell in the October prior to our ascent. Trekking Mount Toubkal in winter is not a decision to be taken lightly, and our advice would be to monitor the weather conditions carefully before beginning the trek. 

Reflecting back on the climb now, it’s a shame the weather was so bad that we weren’t able to fully enjoy the views. But what we lacked in views we make up in memories of an epic challenge that we’re proud to say we achieved. We’d attempted, and succeeded, a winter ascent of Mount Toubkal, easily one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced, and certainly the most proud to say we achieved.

The Hike Details & How To Arrange A Trip

SUMMARY: The starting point for the trek, Imlil village, is only a 2 hour drive from Marrakech (and Marrakech airport) therefore you could skip Marrakech altogether by arranging to be picked up from the airport and taken directly to Imlil village. You could even do all of this over a long weekend from the UK or Europe if you don’t have a lot of time!

LOCATION: Atlas Mountains, Morocco

TOUR COMPANY: Atlas Trek Shop

SUGGESTED ITINERARY: 

Day 1: Pick up from Marrakech medina and transfer to Imlil village – overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 2: Trek to base camp of Mt Toubkal – overnight in Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 3: Ascent of Mt Toubkal – overnight in a Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 4: Trek back down to Imlil and overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 5: Trek around local area/villages then transfer back to Marrakesh

ESTIMATED COST: £260 GBP (approx $390) USD for full tour including accommodation, meals, guide and transport to/from Marrakesh, but check tour company website for latest prices.

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Eating Sheep Head In The Sahara Desert, Morocco

Our host arrived at our makeshift table, and with a flourish presented the final meal of our time in the Sahara. We both looked at each other, and then to the plate in front of us: this was to be our final challenge of the Sahara.

The berber family we had been living with for the passed couple of days had decided to give us a special treat on our final evening with them. We were honoured and intrigued, after all, it’s not often a sheep’s head is presented to you for dinner. That’s right, eyes, teeth, skull, the works.

Now, how to react to this properly.

As it had been with the rest of our stay, none of our host family spoke any English or French, solely the local berber dialect. To communicate we used mostly hand signals and smiles. As our ‘mama’ placed the food in front of us, she described the food in berber and pointed to her face. We’d already been told that we would be eating sheep head for dinner.

“Choukran” we said, utilising one of the only words we knew in Morocco. “Thank you.”

Our host left, and we were ready to dissect our dinner.

sahara desert homestay

Rewind 48 hours, and we’d arrived in the village of Merzouga in the very South of Morocco. A small, sandy outpost, and a perfect launchpad to explore the Sahara. With the lack of accommodation there, we had been glad to take up the offer of staying with a local nomadic berber family nearby. In the passed few years, they had put down roots for the first time in generations, and we were welcomed into our temporary home by the grandmother and 4 daughters who lived in the same home, with a further 5 grandchildren.

Conditions were basic (as you would expect) but very comfortable. Ushered into a small room, we plumped down onto the various pillows on the floor. As is customary with almost everywhere we went in Morocco, we were to be welcomed with a plate of nuts and some mint tea. One of the daughters scurried off into the kitchen to make it for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We sat and surveyed our surroundings. The building we were in was made of mud and straw, and it was warm and comfortable. As we discussed our impending trip into the Sahara, there was a commotion outside the room. Suddenly the low table in the room was taken out of the room and replaced with a brand new, seemingly never been used table. This was to become a recurring activity, with the table being changed whenever we were to use it, despite our protests that the other table was perfectly fine. No, we were guests and we got to use the good table!

sahara desert homestay

Our tea arrived, and with the vigour and flair we’ve become accustomed to, it was poured. One pour into one glass, back into the pot. One pour into the second glass, back into the pot. And then the pour, from a great height, into our glasses and presented to us. We thanked our hosts and eagerly gorged on nuts and the mint tea. We had arrived in the Sahara.

As with most homestay experiences, there isn’t much to do except sit back and observe how the locals live. It was fascinating to watch, with the whole day and activities revolving around preparing the next meal. Breakfast was a feast, pancakes, bread, eggs, mint tea, egg tagine and water. Once breakfast was complete, it was time to make lunch, and once lunch was complete it was dinner preparation time.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We finished our tea and went back to our room to relax a little for dinner. Staying with a local family in such tight conditions did get a little intense, especially when we couldn’t actually speak to them at all. As with all things in Morocco, you should always be prepared for the unexpected.

That evening, as I went to check on the time for dinner, I noticed an older gentlemen sitting in the living room talking with the grandmother. Outside, the other girls prepared dinner in silence and with nervousness, but unable to ask them what was happening, I left.

Later that evening we found out that the visitor for the evening had made a visit to ask to marry one of the girls! Intrigued, our guide explained that the mother would talk with the visitor to figure out if he was a suitable match. As we delved deeper, the whole process was laid out in front of us, and it was the most fascinating of rituals. In this area of Morocco, if the mother agreed to him marrying her daughter, he would leave, and 2 weeks later return to marry the girl. All having never spoken to her, and sometimes never having met. This for us was incredible to hear, and there was more.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

If the marriage were to proceed, on the evening of the ceremony, the couple would consummate their marriage. This is where it gets interesting. Providing the girl was still a virgin, the groom would triumphantly bring the sheets out from the marital bed to everyone gathered to celebrate the consummation. This ritual was to show that she was indeed a virgin. Following this, she would leave the family home and go to live with her new husband, all in the space of 2 weeks. We couldn’t believe it, and it was fascinating to hear.

As it turns out, the mother declined the offer of marriage to one of her daughters, and our visitor left on his motorbike, presumably to another home to ask for a hand in marriage. It was yet another intriguing story and insight into the Moroccan culture. After all of this excitement, it was time for dinner, and our sheep head.

sahara desert homestay

After our host had left, we looked at each other and puffed out our cheeks. We were exhausted. We’d just returned from our camel trek in the Sahara where we had been caught in a sandstorm and only just made it back to camp. We were hungry and tired, and here in front of us was a huge pile of steaming hot sheep head.

The first thing that hit us was the smell. It was a pungent, cutting aroma which if we’re completely honest, didn’t exactly invoke a mouthwatering reaction. Quite the opposite actually, but we wanted to be respectful. The family had spent hours preparing it, and it was a lovely gesture for them to make for us, so after poking around the pile, trying to work out what bits were what, we took a bite.

The flavour was the same as the aroma, pungent, strong and overpowering. We nibbled at it for a few minutes but had to give up. We just couldn’t eat it, and knowing the family would get the leftovers, we hastily thanked them for dinner so that they could eat it whilst it was still warm. As we left for bed, we caught a glimpse of the family diving into the feast, glad that they could get to enjoy it.

Back in our room, we ate a banana and some bread, put on all our layers (including hats and gloves) and got into bed. As we lay there in our cold room, the sandstorm still raged outside us. As the final chapter of our Saharan adventure, like so many other experiences we have when we travel, it had finished on a high and a low. A low in the sense that we were hungry and cold, and a 13 hour bus beckoned us the following morning, but also high that we had experienced the real Morocco, no matter how uncomfortable it was for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We’d met and lived with a local nomadic berber family, and it turns out we were their first ever foreign visitors. We’d interacted with them and watched them go about their daily lives. We’d played (and lost) many games of connect 4 with them. We’d seen marriage proposals come and go. We’d hung out with the camels outside, and seen thousands of stars in the night sky, and we tried to eat a sheep head. But more importantly we’d achieved what we’d set out to do, to get off the beaten track, live like a local and see the Sahara.

Wrapped up in our beds, it had been real adventure.

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Stranded In A Saharan Sandstorm

“I think we’ll just switch the engine off and wait for a moment.”

This statement from our guide seemed like the best idea, given the limited options available to us now. We’d been driving through the sandstorm for the last 15 minutes, and now we had no idea of which direction we were going in. Rather than drive further in the wrong direction, we decided to stop in the hope it would clear enough for us to get our bearings. The sandstorm had engulfed us quicker than expected, and we were sitting ducks out in the Sahara.

It was one of those situations where a million things run through your head at once. For the first few minutes, we sat there and took some photos and video of the sandstorm, talking and joking. To begin with, it was a fascinating and exciting experience, we never would have thought that we would experience something like this! We were also glad to be inside a jeep, and not on top of a camel which had been the original plan. But after a few minutes, the exhilaration and adrenaline gave way to something else. Excitement became tension, tension became low level panic in our heads.

saharan sandstorm

The questions began streaming into our heads. How long will this last? Will we be stuck here overnight? Will we be warm enough? Will someone try and find us? What if the sandstorm doesn’t calm before sunset? How are we meant to find our way back in the dark? As we sat quietly as the winds battered our jeep, and the sand poured in through the gaps in the window, we assessed our options.

It had all started so innocently. We’d taken a 4×4 from our camp, and went off in search of the nomad tribes that live and move within the sand dunes of the Sahara. We’d found some, and spent some time wandering through the various tent settlements they lived in. As we met and talked with the nomads, a foreboding sight was bearing down on us in the distance.

“Is that a sandstorm?” I asked. “Yes, but many miles away. Don’t worry.”

Our berber guide wasn’t concerned, and neither should we apparently. We continued on our exploration, but after another half an hour, the skies grew dark and orange, and the wind whipped up around us. It was at this point that we decided to head back to camp, but we were too late.

The sandstorm had hit us, and we were slap bang in the middle of it.

We drove for a few minutes until we could barely see a metre in front of us. Even the sun, our main reference to keep ourselves orientated, was blocked out completely. Sand poured into our jeep, through the gaps and slots in the doors and windows, and we wrapped our scarves around our faces. It was decided we would try and wait it out.

saharan sandstorm

A lot of things go through your mind when faced with danger, and although it may sound melodramatic now, at the time it really was a scary situation. As we sat there for that half an hour, we half heartedly made conversation in the jeep, all the while quietly considering and calculating our options. Even if we could make it back to the nomads, at least there would be some respite there.

And then, all of a sudden, our berber guide sprung into life. What must have only been a few seconds gap in the wind and sand, and he’d spotted something.  A mixture of catching a glimpse of where the sun was, and some tracks in the sand, he quickly became animated.

“Let’s go. Turn around the jeep!”

We spun the jeep around 180 degrees and we plundered off back into the sandstorm, the visibility decreasing back to almost nothing again. But we pushed on, trusting our berber guide to get us back to where we needed to be. To us, it all looked the same; dark orange skies, and the same sand patterns repeated over and over again. The noise of the wind was relentless, and we drove for 10 minutes through almost total blindness as our guide made small alterations to our route. And then, suddenly, a shadow ahead of us! Something breaking up the monotony of the sandstorm.

It was a tent! And then a small building! We had made it back to the nomads whom we had visited earlier! They were (of course) completely surrounded by the sandstorm, but this is what it looked liked in more peaceful times earlier in the day.

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

The relief was immense, and we knew we were now only 10 minutes from our camp. It was decision time though, do we make a run for the camp or do we wait it out with the nomads. Our guide was confident, we could be back at the camp in 10 minutes. So we pushed on, across the wide expanse of sand we had crossed at the beginning of the day. We swung right, then left, and then we stopped again.

Our hearts were racing. Had we made the wrong decision to leave the nomads behind and head for camp? We were close to camp now, no doubt about it, but we didn’t want to overshoot it and become lost again. We sat again for a few minutes, our berber guide winding down his window to catch a glimpse of something, anything to orientate ourselves. The sand poured in more relentlessly than ever. Laura and I sat in silence and waited for something, anything!

And then, in the distance, the outline of a small bush. Irrelevant to us, but hugely important to our guide. We drove towards it, swung right and he told us to look for another bush on the left in about 50 metres. Find that and we were home! Our jeep crawled through the sandstorm, time slowing as we held our collective breath for another bush! Never had the anticipation for spotting a bush been greater. And then it appeared! A wave of relief came over us as we drove round the bush, between two dunes and swiftly back into our camp!

We had made it! We were ecstatic.

We jumped out of the jeep, scarves wrapped around our heads and bolted for our tent, there was no time for pleasantries or thanks when we arrived. Relieved to be back, it didn’t matter that everything was covered in sand inside the tent! We were back and safe.

saharan sandstorm

As we sat on the edge of our bed and surveyed the scene, we reflected on the events of the day. How close had we come to being in real danger? How many other ways could that scenario have played out? We were shook up, no doubt about it. But despite all this, after sunset I still clambered up a dune to take a snap of the sandstorm in the distance. It was an eerie and powerful sight, something we never thought we would witness. It was nature at its most awesome.

saharan sandstorm

That evening, as the wind and sand howled around us, we reflected on why we travel and do the things we do. What makes us leave the comfort of our home and see the world?

The short answer is, it depends on what you want from life. We live to see the world, to experience new and exciting things. And if that means putting ourselves in situations that are riskier than staying at home, then so be it. If that’s the price we pay for living the life we want, then we shall take that risk.

But it’s experiences like this where you appreciate the inherent goodness in people across the world. As we travel, we put our trust in strangers we meet along the road. Whether it be guides or hosts, when we arrive somewhere we are relying on them, just like millions of others around the world right now. We were thankful that, in the sandstorm situation (and like all of our other adventures), we had surrounded ourselves with the right people with the right skills. It reminded us that travel, whilst scary at times, gives us the highs and excitement that makes our lives all the more enriched. To sum it up:

“A ship is safe in its harbour, but it is not what a ship is built for.”

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

We also get to dress like this, but that’s just an added bonus!

For whatever reason, we were built to get out and see as much of the world as we can, and despite some scary moments, we wouldn’t change a thing about it. As we sat on the edge of our bed, and the wind and sand whirled around our tent, we kept coming back to the same moment from earlier in the day. Every now and again, as we sat in the jeep, the silence would be punctured by our berber guide. With a wry grin and glint in his eye, he summed up the day without even realising.

“Sa..ha..ra” he would say, over and over again.

As in, you came to the Sahara, what did you expect? Rainbows and unicorns? Have you had an experience whilst travelling that made you reflect on why you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

saharan sandstorm

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Camel Trekking Under The Stars, India

There are many romanticisms when it comes to travel. The thrill of arriving in a strange new land, the exotic fruits, or the intriguing new cultures and customs.

There are also times when you wonder what you might be letting yourself in for, whether it be the time we went snorkelling in the Galapagos, bracing for a polar plunge in Antarctica, going on an epic volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, or a Sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, you never quite know whether the experience you’re about to have fits with the vision you have for it.

jaisalmer india

As we were about to clamber onto our camels in the dusty, hot desert of Northern India, it was becoming clear our expectations might not fit with the reality that lay ahead that day and night.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

We’d arrived in Jaisalmer, and settled into our small Haveli, where we could watch the comings and goings of a real life fort. But we’d really come to Jaisalmer to do one thing, take on one of the oldest romantic notions of a camel trek through the desert. Any romantic vision we had for the trek quickly disappeared as the harsh reality of life in the desert became very real.

I suppose, with all stories, the warning signs were there from the beginning.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

Packing a small backpack for our overnight trek, we made our way out of our haveli and into the blistering afternoon sun beating down on Jaisalmer. When it was time to leave, we walked down the winding red hot cobblestone streets of the fort to find our ride into the desert. Sitting in the afternoon sun, our battered and tired looking jeep sat proudly on the street, its dust covered frame spluttering as it waited for us, our driver obviously keen to get going.

We jumped in the back, grabbed onto whatever we could hold onto, and we were off, hurtling along the dusty and sandy roads outside Jaisalmer and into the desert. Destination unknown.

jaisalmer india

After an hour or so of hanging on for dear life, we arrived at a small brick/mud dwelling in the middle of absolutely nowhere. A young girl carrying her younger sister greeted us, her skin dark and cracked from the searing and unrelenting heat of the desert. Here we sat, and we waited.

jaisalmer india

After a while, in the distance we could make out the faint silhouette of two camels, our view obscured by the heat haze rising from the desert floor. As they approached, we noticed two men walking alongside our camels, evidently our guides for the day and night.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

To see camels up close is still an exciting experience for us, their size overwhelming as we are reminded of the shear scale of these resilient animals. Arriving, they slumped themselves down in front of us, and waited as the saddles were padded out with various rugs, sheets and cooking utensils. After another while, it was time to get going.

jaisalmer india

Anyone who has taken a camel anywhere will know the absolute terror and fear of the camel standing up and sitting down. Laura was to go first, struggling to get into the saddle which was almost as high as her even when the camel was sitting down. As soon as she was on, the camel decided it was time to stand up, jerking forwards and then backwards like a real life, desert buckaroo. She was up, and she was still on the camel. So far so good.

Now it was my turn, I clambered on, grabbed hold of whatever I could, and braced for the launch. A jolt forwards, a bigger jolt backwards, and I was up and still in one piece. It was time to get on our way.

jaisalmer india

The ride was uncomfortable to say the least, constantly shifting in the saddle to allow the blood to return back to our feet as the sun beat down and the sand whipped up around us. After a couple of hours of slow progress, we began climbing sand dunes, hanging on again as the camels ascended. And then we stopped.

We’d arrived at Casa Sand Dune for the evening.

As the camels were liberated of their cargo, we had a chance to really admire them. Camels are some of the most incredible beasts we have had the privilege of getting up close and personal with. For us, it is simply their size that is so intriguing. Their mouths and heads are gigantic, with thick, wiry whiskers and hairs protruding from all areas. The way they sit is fascinating to look at, their legs seemingly contorting and bending in places where we assumed there were no joints.

jaisalmer india

It was at this point that my camel (Papaya) decided to relieve himself, a torrent released from his bladder into the sand dune we were to call home for an evening. Now we had a water feature as well, what’s not to like?

It was at this point that we got a better idea of our sleeping arrangements for the evening, and it was to be even more basic than the time we camped on Antarctica.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture what you imagine a desert accommodation would look like. Perhaps your picturing crisp, square white tents pitched into the sand, a small mattress inside with blankets. Or maybe just a basic tent. No such luck for us.

jaisalmer india

jaisalmer india

It became very clear to us very quickly that the dirty blankets that had been used to pad the saddle up were to double as both our mattress and blanket. The same blanket that had spent the last few hours, most probably the last few weeks rubbing up against the camel was now our bed.

What would you do? In the middle of the desert, the sun setting, there was no choice, we were sleeping rough tonight.

As we sat and watched our camel guides prepare dinner, the desert came alive. Alive with one little black bug to begin with, followed quickly by another, and another, until there were hundreds of them scuttling about in the sand dunes. And they were big. Did I mention we were sleeping out in the open?

jaisalmer india

It was survival time now, and after dinner we settled into our beds. Our strategy was simple, take our jackets, wrap them around our heads, tuck them into our blankets and hope no bugs found their way in. The only orifices available were our eyes, but it was better than nothing.

I’m probably painting a poor picture of our time in the desert, but honesty is the best policy when it comes to these things. This was not a romantic camel trek in the desert, it was an uncomfortable slog into the middle of nowhere with no comforts whatsoever. But this was normal for our guides, whom we assume did this almost every night.

And yet, despite all of this, there is absolutely no way that we can complain. This for us was one night in our entire lives. For the majority of our existence, we will sleep with a roof over our heads, with running water and heat available to us at all times. For those guides whom we met in the desert, and their families, a version of this experience is their life.

jaisalmer india

This is not to patronise our guides. I did feel for them, but I also had huge respect for them as well. They’ve taken the hand dealt to them and done their best, and I always wonder if I had been born into this life, how would I cope? The simple answer is I would just get on with it, just like they do. Sometimes travel teaches you things, sometimes it gives you an experience you’ll never forget, and sometimes it rises up, punches you in the face, and makes you stop and appreciate all that you have, and all that you will ever have.

jaisalmer india

And there were rewards from this experience, oh boy were there rewards.

Away from the light pollution of towns and villages, the stars came out in all their glory, puncturing the night sky with millions of tiny dots of light, many white, some blue, some red. Just looking at one point of the night sky for a few seconds would result in hundreds more becoming obvious to us. It was incredible.

Shooting stars dashed across the sky at regular intervals, and the silence was beautiful. It was an incredible thing to witness, and for most of the time we forgot about the bugs and snakes in the sand dunes, and our minds drifted away into the night sky. Lying down and staring at the stars in a place you will never return to is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.

jaisalmer india

The rest of the evening passed without incident, we slept in fits and starts, and we were happy to get up early to watch the sunrise over the dunes. It was at this point that we glanced down to the sand dunes around us, shocked by what we saw.

Hundreds, if not thousands of tiny trails had been left in the sand around us, the fruits of the many hundreds of beetles that evidently scuttled around, and on us, throughout the evening. As I clambered out from under my blanket, two crawled out from under me, somehow finding their under me without getting crushed in the process. They’re resourceful little things l’ll give them that.

jaisalmer india

Following sunrise and a basic breakfast of bananas and nuts, it was time to head back to the relative comforts of Jaisalmer. Our guides rounded up the camels, we secured everything back on the saddles, and we made our way back to the mud huts where we’d catch a jeep back into Jaisalmer.

Our trek into the desert had been a short, uncomfortable one, but on arriving back to our Haveli, the experience had certainly given us a jolt to the system. Yes we had been uncomfortable, yes we worried about the snakes and bugs in the desert, yes everything was dirty, but it was only one day and night.

As we sat having dinner as the sun set over Jaisalmer fort, it was another stark reminder to appreciate all that we have, and all that we will ever see in our lives. Sometimes a memory of an experience fades, but we will never forget lying on the desert floor, looking up at the thousands of stars on display. It was a time we were taken away from Jaisalmer, from India, to a place of reflection, a place where we could truly appreciate all that we have.

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holi festival of colours

Holi Festival Of Colors, India

As the sun set and darkness fell on the blue city, it was time for a very special celebration. Throughout the narrow alleyways and streets that make up the city of Jodhpur, people were excitedly milling around and smiling.

On the cobblestone streets, pieces of wood were being piled high; flowers and colourful powders were being delicately placed along the streets. As we stood on our rooftop, we surveyed the beautiful scene. From the darkness of the alleyways came light. Small orange glows began to pop up across the city, growing as the Holika bonfires were lit in the alleyways to signal the beginning of the Holi celebrations.

holi india
The Holi festival is an ancient Hindu spring celebration also known as the festival of love, or more appropriately, the festival of colours. And it was only just beginning.

Morning came, and it was time to enter the fray. Staying in a predominantly residential area away from the main square, whatever experience I was likely to have would be genuine. I made my way down the steps of the haveli and into the streets.

holi india

Almost instantly, a group of young boys, resplendent in a cacophony of colours spotted me. I was a prize target, clearly a tourist with blond hair and my completely clean appearance made me all the more alluring. Instantly I was set on, 10 pairs of hands rubbing the multitude of colours into my face, my hair, my back, arms and legs. Their excitement grew and the noise levels rose, attracting more boys to the fray to add their own imprint on me.

holi india

Before I could react, I was dragged along the street by my hands and around the corner to a dead end alleyway. I will never forget the scene in front of me.

Hanging 8 feet above the alleyway was a series of make shift plastic pipes, arranged into a grid like system. Crude holes had been punched into the pipes, creating a number of shower like spouts from above. Underneath, around 20 boys and girls were dancing under the showers, the music pumping out of a nearby window.

The entire alleyway was a blitz of colour.

And then the group spotted me. 40 Indian eyes fixed a delighted stare on me, the whites of their eyes and teeth grinning at me through the colours etched into their faces. The group erupted, launching themselves towards me with hands filled with yellow, red and green powder, and once again I was engulfed in the group. It was exciting and innocent fun, and the group delighted in coating me in yet another layer.

holi india

After a few moments, the original boys dragged me under the shower to rinse off, the colours streaming into my eyes and clothes. Now I was soaking wet, blind and covered in paint. Great.

A older man took pity on me and motioned for me to come to him, where he wiped the colours from my eyes with a damp cloth and told the group to give me a break, I needed it! After a few moments, I noticed a small boy sitting next to him, quietly and intently staring at me with inquisitive eyes. I could see he wanted to add his own impression on me, and motioned for him to come over. Carefully, he took two scoops of yellow powder from his bag, and gently brushed them across my cheeks; happy Holi, he whispered. It was the calm within the storm.

holi india

holi india

For a moment, I had zoned out of the party, but very quickly I was back into it, in the middle of 20 young boys and girls, all covered head to toe in colours and soaking through from the water from above. Apparently it was time to dance.

Those who know me personally know I have some choice dance moves, and it was time India was introduced to them. For the next 15 minutes it must have looked like the strangest dance off ever witnessed on planet Earth. On one side, a white, blond man from the UK, soaked through, stands under a make shift shower in an alleyway in Rajasthan, covered in various colours of paint. On the other side, 20 young Indians were in a state of hyperactivity, baying for some new dance moves. I duly obliged, pulling out some of my finest moves to the delight (I think) of the group.

holi india

holi india

holi india

Either way it didn’t matter, this group had made my first Holi experience spectacular and real, and I’m thankful for the memories. For many people, Holi can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience, and many choose not to participate for fear of the unknown. My advice to you is to avoid the large gatherings in the centre of towns and cities, and seek out an authentic experience in a neighbourhood nearby.

If you can find a place where families and children are playing, you get the authentic real experience of Holi, rather than a mass organised, tourist focussed celebration. Take the time to research and seek out these smaller, intimate gatherings.

In a country as energetic as India is, Holi seems to magically increase those energy levels to fever pitch, whole towns and cities dancing and celebrating to an unseen beat. To see Holi is to witness India in all its glory.

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Exploring Semuc Champey Caves By Candlelight, Guatemala

Peering into the darkness ahead of us, our guide handed us a candle each and ushered us forwards. Kitted out in our swimming costumes, we had been told to expect darkness, various obstacles to climb and swimming…the latter intriguing us most considering we would be carrying a lit candle! It was a far cry from our previous week enjoying the Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua.

Inevitably the first into the caves, Laura and I faced total darkness as we made our way gingerly forwards. The candles we held illuminated the huge stalagmites and stalactites around us, giving us a fleeting glimpse of our path ahead.

semuc champey caves

To begin with it was easy, tiptoeing through ankle deep water as we negotiated the various obstacles en route. After a few minutes of tentative footsteps, the water quickly got deeper, first reaching our knees, then waists and finally we were up to our neck in water with our candles held high above us as we waded further into the darkness. This was brilliant!

semuc champey caves

And then the ledge came. One step further and suddenly there was no rock beneath us! Instantly my hand shot up to keep the candle out of the water, and I began treading water with the other. Ahead of me, perhaps 15 metres of so was a rocky outcrop. With no other option but to swim, we got going, finely achieving the balancing act of swimming with one hand in near darkness underground, whilst trying to keep a candle lit! Call this a holiday?

During our time in the caving system, we had to ascend rickety and slippy wooden rope ladders, crawl through narrow passageways whilst a torrent of water roared around our feet, and descend steep, slippy rock faces. All interspersed with aforementioned one handed, candle holding swimming! Some of it was too much for some, and they turned back.

semuc champey caves

After 45 minutes, we reached a dead end. In front of us, a deep pool of water surrounded by steep, slimy cavernous walls was illuminated in front of us by strategically placed candles. Our guide scaled one of the walls, until he was about 15 feet above us. And then he jumped.

Most of us didn’t see him jump, but heard the huge splash as he entered the pool in front of us. Popping up to the surface, he casually asked “who’s next?”. Having seen the difficulty he had in scaling the near vertical walls around the pool, I declared myself out straight away. So too was every other member of our group, save for one brave/foolhardy soul who decided to attempt the jump.

After watching him struggle to reach the ledge above us, I thought how crazy this was. We were 45 minutes from the entrance, with underground swimming to deal with and rope ladders to ascend and descend. What if he slipped? Gladly, after some difficulty, he made it to the ledge and jumped into the pool. Mission accomplished, we could make our way out of the caves now.

We followed the same route back, save for one minor change. Our final challenge was to drop ourselves through a small gap between two rocks where a waterfall poured down. This was unexpected, and caused consternation among many members of our group. When it came to my turn, I saw the challenge ahead. Essentially a small gap not much wider than my body was in front of me. A couple of metres below it I could see a pool of water, my (hopefully) final destination. Positioning myself over the gap, I lowered myself until I was hanging between the two rocks, my hands clinging to two outcrops protuding from them. And then I let go.

Before I knew it, I had slipped between the two sides of the gap, alongside the waterfall and was underwater in the pool below! Phew, I had made it. Laura followed after me without a fuss, nimbly slipping between the rocks and into the pool below as well!

All that was left was a short walk back to the entrance and the ceremonial blowing out of candles. In need of some relaxation after our adventure, we made our way along the river to the beautiful turquoise green pools of Semuc Champey!

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Deep Boarding In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

“If you want to go deeper, tilt the board downwards. If you want to go to the surface, tilt it upwards. And try not to let go!” Our deep boarding guide.

With that intensive (?) training session complete, it was time for us to try deep boarding, something until the day before we had never heard of!

Deep boarding is a slightly crazy idea on paper, but in reality it is an exhilarating and challenging experience. Imagine being dragged along behind a speedboat on a rope, holding onto a clear plastic semi circle which curves slightly upwards at the sides. As the speedboat drags you along, tilting the board downwards will take you under the surface, tilt it upwards and you can emerge from the water to take your next breath. It looks a little something like this…

After this quick explanation, it was time to leave the safety of our palm tree lined island, and get in the water. Our group of 4 were the first people to go out!

Deep boarding in books del toro

In truth, the experience was a mixture of exhilaration and endurance training, as we grappled initially with the grip on our boards and the drag from the speedboat. After a minute at the surface, it was time to test out the ‘deep’ part of deep boarding.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Tilting the board ever so slightly, suddenly I was two feet underwater and dropping fast. It was an incredible feeling, almost like flying as chunks of coral that protruded from the sea bed dipped and grew as we flew above them. Before I knew it, I was 10-15 feet under water, flying through schools of fish and stingrays!

Deep boarding in books del toro

The strangest feeling of all was the distinct lack of need to get some air. As we weren’t expending any energy at all, we could spend much longer underwater simply being dragged along. Deciding I should probably get back to the surface, I gently tilted the board upwards and I was brought back to the surface for another breath of air. This was brilliant!

After a quick check to see Laura was still on her rope, I went back under for another piece of the underwater action! Dipping under the water again, I headed straight down. Perhaps buoyed by my first attempt, confidence got the better of me and I found myself crashing into and off the bottom of the sea bed, narrowly avoiding a large rock that was in my path! Hanging on, I readjusted my grip and took control of the board, dipping down and then upwards over the undulating sea bed, switching left and right as I wanted and then breaking back onto the surface again.

And then as soon as we’d begun, our experience was over! We had around 10-5 minutes in the water, which for our first time was long enough as it did get tiring towards the end. We took a tour with Under Sea Panama, just off the coast of Bocas del Toro, and it looked something like this:

The rest of the day passed by in a more tranquil manner. There was time to relax and have lunch on a pristine and unspoilt tiny island, and with a short walk across the island to the other beaches, it was paradise.

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

Deep boarding in books del toro

We also had time to snorkel as well, spending 45 minutes in and around mangroves admiring the local schools of fish and coral.

Deep boarding in books del toro

After that, it was time to get back on our boat and head back to the main island. Our experience of deep boarding had been a fantastic one, surging through the crystal clear waters of Bocas del Toro and relaxing on beautiful palm tree lined beaches. We were sad that it was over, and we’d highly recommend you have a go if you ever get the chance!

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Sand Dune Surfing, Peru

After a great couple of weeks learning Spanish and cooking classes in Arequipa, we’d heard about a small oasis called Huacachina, located in the blisteringly hot Peruvian desert and surrounded by huge sand dunes! We arrived after a long bus journey, and planned to do two things: relax, and attempt some sand dune surfing!

sand dune surfing Peru

How To Go Sand Dune Surfing

After our experience of traversing the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam, we were ready to take advantage of the miles of huge, rolling sand dunes surrounding Huacachina! We’d heard you could go on a dune buggying ride into the desert, and then sand board down the dunes on makeshift boards. We signed up, despite no real experience in snow boarding (or surfing) and waited for our driver to pick us up.

We knew we were in for a manic afternoon when the two jeep buggies pulled up, adorned with multiple roll bars and harness like seatbelts. It looked like it might get a little rough – we didn’t know the half of it. What followed was a chaotic, adrenaline fuelled ride across the sand dunes of Huacachina!

sand dune surfing Peru

Eyeing up the two jeeps, we quickly put our travelling heads into action, and did what we normally do when faced with a choice of driver: pick the more experienced (read: older) driver. It’s worked on most of our travels, why stop now?

Jumping into his jeep and buckling up, the journey started innocuously enough. Driving through the street (yes, street) of Huacahina towards the sand dunes. Then the moment when we thought, what have we signed ourselves up for?

Our driver turned around (whilst still driving) gave a cheeky smile and shouted ‘vamos’! Before accelerating onto the sand dunes and upwards toward the summit of a huge dune! Imagine being on a rollercoaster, but instead of being attached to rails you are attached to sand. Oh and it seems even the driver doesn’t seem to know where he’s going until the last minute, that was pretty much how we felt.

sand dune surfing Peru

sand dune surfing Peru

Reaching the top of the huge dune, the jeep paused slightly. Our driver turned to look at us all, and, with a slightly manic glint in his eye, revved up the engine and accelerated over the top of the dune and downwards! Now we understood the need for the roll bars! Fancy seeing a bit of the action? Of course you do.

After 20 minutes, our excitable driver stopped at the top of a dune and motioned for us to get off. It was sand dune surfing time!

sand dune surfing Peru

At this juncture it’s probably worth noting that I have never snowboarded or surfed, Laura having had one lesson (which apparently was a ‘disaster’). We were inexperienced to say the least! This is what we decided to do…

Our advice, be careful! Laura took a nasty tumble on her second surf down the dunes, making the mistake of going straight down the dune rather than the advised route of diagonally. After that, we decided to sit down and lie down on the board, and most of our group did the same. Listen to your tour guide when he tells you to go diagonally down, it makes it slower and safer!

sand dune surfing Peru

The tour across the sand dunes of Huacachina was a fantastic, if sometimes scary experience. We were glad to be in a buggy with roll bars and good harnesses, so it’s worth checking out what the company’s use. As for the sand boarding, take it easy and don’t get carried away, the sand is unforgiving if you slip up! And when you do, you’ll be finding sand everywhere for a couple of weeks…

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Our Polar Plunge In Antarctica! [VIDEO]

“This is totally stupid” we thought to ourselves as we stood on the volcanic brown sand beach of deception island, our bare feet cold in the sand.

Two minutes earlier (after being convinced by our friends), we’d made our decision, we were going to do the polar plunge with Quark Expeditions, a breathtaking run into the icy waters of Antarctica!

polar plunge

We’d quickly taken off our jackets, fleeces, jumpers, thermal tops, boots, thermal trousers, waterproof trousers, gloves and woolly hats. We were now standing on Antarctica in our swimming costumes ready for the dip! It was cold, and the shore line was barely 10 metres away. We psyched ourselves up, took a deep breath and sprinted to the shore line and into the icy Antarctic waters!

As we sprinted into the water, at first we couldn’t feel the cold. Up to our waists after a couple of seconds, there was no going back, and we dived head first into the icy cold water! Now we were cold! After what could only have been a couple of seconds, we hit the surface again and frantically scrambled back out of the water to the safety of the shoreline. Greeted by our friends Lindsay and John with towels and dressing gowns, we wrapped them around us and looked at each other. We had done it, we had completed the polar dip challenge!

polar plunge

To prove we did it, we decided to borrow Lindsay and John’s GoPro to film the event! Unfortunately, due to the immense shock of the cold water, let’s say the video footage of the dip with Laura and I was…shaky at best! The solution, well… do the polar plunge again! Check out the second attempt at the polar plunge below! With thanks to John and Lindsay for the use of their GoPro!

The Polar Plunge

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Camping On Antarctica (Without A Tent!)

“We must be out of our minds, this is ridiculous!”

I thought, as I shovelled another load of snow out of our slowly forming hole in the ice. It was 8pm but as light as midday. We were cold, and we were about to camp on Antarctica!

things to do in antarctica

It all came about a few months earlier, when we were given the option of spending a night on the frozen continent with Quark Expeditions, joining a small band of people who could lay claim to it.  So after a false start the night before when gales made it too dangerous, we were good to go for our camping experience. After an early dinner on the boat, we raced upstairs to layer up for what would prove to be a very cold night!

On went the thermal under layer, along with thick socks. Then the second long sleeve top and ski trousers. Then the jumper, fleece and waterproof jackets. Throw on a pair of boots, and a wooly hat and we were good to for our night on the continent!

Zooming along the water in our zodiac, sleeping bags in hand, we were excited and a little apprehensive about the evening. Our briefing prior to leaving was simple, wrap up warm and don’t forget anything. Oh, and being too cold was not a good enough reason to be taken back to the ship. Once we were on the continent, barring an emergency, we would be there for the night.

things to do in antarctica

After landing on Antarctica, we found a piece of snow and ice to call our own and began ‘making our beds’. Out came the shovel and we dug a hole in the ground just big enough for us to squeeze in and protect us a little from the wind. After 15 minutes we had our magnificent bed, water bottle holders and a small (dare I say classy) wall surrounded us. All that was left was to lay our sleeping bags inside our bivi bags and we were ready for sweet icy dreams.

You’re probably thinking, what about the tent? Well, in our infinite wisdom and excitement, we opted to go ‘au naturale’ on the continent and sleep under the stars, or as it turned out, the sun. No tent, just us in a sleeping bag inside a bivi bag. Here’s some footage of us making our bed for the evening!

Getting into bed was a bit of a mission. First up, the boots needed to come off before we quickly slipped into our bags. After a delicate balancing act of feet in the air much like a turtle stuck upside down on its shell, we wriggled into our bags, pulled the draw strings up and hunkered down for a night we’d never forget.

things to do in antarctica

For a while we both lay awake, but after a while we must have dropped off to sleep until we were rudely awakened by large lumps of snow and ice hitting the outside of our bags. Confused, and bleary eyed, we opened the top of our bags ever so slightly and peered out into broad sunshine. It was 2am, and our friends sleeping a few feet away from us had woken us up with snowballs as there was something in the water a few metres directly in front of us.

Excited, we both wriggled into a semi sitting up position, and then we heard it. ‘Peugh’! The unmistakeable sound of a whale coming up for air, we scanned the water and there, in front of us, a humpback whale arched its back and dipped into the perfectly still water. Magical! A couple of minutes later, it was back, the water spouting from its blowhole as it meandered around in front of us. It was incredible to watch, and we sat there for 15 minutes until we began to get cold and dipped back into our sleeping bags to warm back up.

From then on the night was colder, and we were kept awake by the whale spouting every few minutes but it didn’t bother us, we were being kept company on Antarctica with a whale! This was our view as we lay awake during the night…

things to do in antarctica

The rest of the night passed without incident, and at 6am we packed up our bags and took our zodiacs back to the ship to warm up and grab some breakfast before our excursions for the day.

It had been a magical experience on the continent, the weather had held out for us, we slept out under the sky and even had a whale to keep us company for the night. For non campers we were very proud of ourselves!

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Sailing The Chilean Fjords On A Navimag Ferry

With our impending 10 day boat journey to Antarctica with Quark expeditions edging ever closer, we decided we needed to get some sea leg training in beforehand! Prior to this adventure, our boat experience amounted to a cruise in Halong Bay, so it seemed wise to have a practice run before we headed to Antarctica!

navimag

Before arriving in Chile, we’d heard about a cargo ship which also took passengers through the Chilean fjords. It would take four days, offered basic accommodation and service, but would also provide the best views of the Chilean coastline and fjords. Deciding between this or countless long bus journeys to make our way south, we signed up for the cargo ship option and prepared our sea legs for action!

After arriving in Santiago and making our way south to Puerto Montt, we picked up the Navimag ferry for our four day journey south through the Chilean fjords. What followed were four days of beautiful scenery, glaciers, whales and storms all of which set us in good stead for our Antarctica trip!

The Navimag Ferry Of Chile

Stepping onto the ship, we navigated the bulbous protruding steel rivets of the ship’s loading area as we ducked between the associated lorries and trucks full of cargo bound for Puerto Natales. In particular an open top truck full of cows caught the eye, well at least we’d be more comfortable than them.

navimag

We brushed past the cargo area of the ship and made our way up two decks to the main accommodation quarters and sought out our room for the next three nights. The Navimag has a number of accommodation options, and we opted for a 4 bed room. After meeting our friendly and normal roommates (phew), we headed up to the deck to watch the thousands that had congregated at the port to wave us off. Well, the two blokes who had been helping with the loading gave us a wave at least.

And we were off! We had no idea what to expect from the next four days, but we were with friends, had plenty of music and books, and the increasingly competitive monopoly deal game. As it turns out, there would be plenty of things to keep us occupied during the journey, especially when Monopoly deal became too intense…

navimag

The Navimag experience exceeded our expectations: the food was basic but tasty and filled us up, there was plenty of fresh water to drink and they even ran lectures during the day on topics about the fjords including the birds and mammals of Patagonia. There was a well stocked bar with comfortable places to sit and read, and if you fancied braving the cold, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to admire.

navimag

A major bonus was accessibility to the captains deck, where we could watch as the captain relayed orders to his first mate, all the time making minor adjustments to our route. We spent a lot of time on the deck, admiring the view and talking with the crew. It was seriously tempting to press one of the brightly lit buttons or flick a switch, I mean whats the worst that could happen?

navimag

The deck was always the best place to go whale or dolphin watching, and many a time on our journey there would be an excited announcement from the captains deck: “Ladies and gentlemen, there are two humpback whales alongside us on the starboard side” or our favourite (whilst we were having dinner) “Ladies and gentlemen, there are five dolphins swimming alongside us on the port side”. I never did get the handle of which side was port and starboard, opting instead to wait a second to see which direction everyone else went in and follow them. Most of the time they were right, not always though.

With three meals a day, time on the captains deck, running around the ship to see whales and dolphins and playing cards, you can see how easily the time would ebb away. In the evenings, a documentary would be shown in the dining room, from March of the Penguins to documentaries on Tierra Del Fuego and butterfly migrations.

On day 3, we were hoping to get a glimpse of the Southern fields glacier. Weather conditions and visibility sometimes restrict the opportunity, but not this time for us!

navimag

We had been used to rolling green and grey hills through the fjords, contrasted against the bleak white sky for a day or so, when in the distance something different came into view. We had reached the glacier, its bright whites and deep blues offering a welcome contrast to the surrounding areas.

navimag

As we got closer, a loud crack rippled through the valley as part of the glacier tore away from itself and into the water, just as we were having our photo taken!navimagWe spent half an hour or so at the glacier admiring it, and then it was time to get going, after all we had some cargo to be delivered! Those poor cows…

Our only other stop on the journey was to visit Puerto Eden, one of only a few remaining local villages home to indigenous groups in the fjords. It was a beautiful place, with the locals coming to pick us up from the ship in their own boats to take us to the mainland.

navimag

We had a couple of hours to walk around the area before making our way back to the ship. Puerto Eden was a welcome break from the ship and a lovely place to spend a couple of hours.

Making it to Puerto Montt in good time, unfortunately we were caught in a storm and couldn’t make it to the port that evening. Another (unexpected) night on the ship then, but another chance to relax in the bar and catch some sleep before our photo bus tour of Torres del Paine and our one day trek in Torres Del Paine!

navimag

We’d highly recommend the Navimag option if you have time and are heading south through Chile anyway. It’s well organised, comfortable and offers fantastic scenery of the Chilean fjords. It is not a cruise, but offers a fantastic opportunity to see parts of Chile you would otherwise miss on an overland trip!

Looking For Accommodation In Puerto Natales?

If you’re looking for some accommodation options in Puerto Natales or elsewhere in Chile, we recommend you check out Agoda. Whenever we’re making plans for a new destination, we always research the accommodation options first to check what’s available. That’s just our travel style. If you want to get some accommodation ideas on Puerto Natales, or anywhere else in Chile, click here!

 Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you choose to book somewhere though our link, we receive a small commission. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything more, and most importantly, we only recommend companies that we use ourselves so you can trust our recommendations!

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Conquering Volcan Villarrica In Pucon, Chile

So you’re thinking about climbing the mighty Volcan Villarrica? 

If you read anything about Volcan Villarrica, you’ll know that it’s a climb that should be treated with respect. Despite the difficulty, the lure of climbing an active volcano, covered in snow, was too much for us to resist! In this guide, we’ll show you:

1. Our experience of climbing Volcan Villarrica

2. What to wear on Volcan Villarrica

3. How to choose the right tour company for you

You can also click on any of those headlines to take you directly to that section in the guide.

1. Our experience of climbing Volcan Villarrica

Gluttons for punishment, after only three days in Chile we signed up for another volcano climb! After our volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, our sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, and our day trekking the Tongariro crossing, our next challenge was Volcan Villarrica near Pucon. You may think we’re obsessed with volcanoes, but it just seems to be that the most interesting climbs happen to be over things that are dangerous!

villarrica volcano

Arriving at the offices early doors, it was time to get our kit on. Yet again on our trip it was time to layer up. The set up was rigorous: waterproof trousers, climbing boots, crampons, waterproof jackets, helmets and a dangerously sharp looking ice axe all checked and verified. We looked like pros, once again we had no idea.

If we weren’t fully awake after our early morning start, the 30 minute journey on a bus with seemingly no suspension (or tyres) got our attention, as we ascended to the volcano base along a rock laden road. We were ready for what was to come, or so we thought. We reached the base of the Volcan Villarrica, and looked up at the challenge ahead: 1 kilometre above us we could see the smouldering summit of the volcano.  Wait…smouldering? Don’t worry, our guide assured us.

Our ascent would be over snow and ice to the crater at the top, no nice little paths to walk along, no steps to use. In fact, there would be no walking on any ground the whole way up (and down). And so came the easiest decision of our trip to date: to take the ski lift for the initial hour walk or not. What would you prefer? An extra hour of journey time scrambling across scree or a 10 minute ski lift to cut the boring rock ladden scree bit out? Some decisions are difficult in life, this wasn’t.

villarrica volcano

With our backpacks strapped to our fronts temporarily, we jumped up onto the platform and waited for our seats to fling around the end of the lift and come back at us. At some speed, the chair swung round, we bent our knees and smack, we were on the lift and already soaring above the base of the volcano. No safety barriers here, just a wooden seat attached to the pulley system, and our heavy backpacks on our front and ice axes in our faces. We relaxed and enjoyed the views as we passed over other much braver souls who had decided to walk the extra hour. Good luck to them!

Challenge number two of the day: getting off the lift with our heavy bags on our fronts. As we approached the platform, two bulky men were waiting in anticipation to yank us from our seats before they swung around and took off back down the mountain. Feet down, a strong arm from each side and we were off.  The rest of the ascent would be all our own work.

villarrica volcano

It was crampon time. We’d first used crampons on the fox glacier in New Zealand, so we were excited to strap them on again and get back on the ice and snow. After strapping in, it was health and safety time.

This was the moment we realised this might not be as easy as we’d imagined. One of our guides explained to us how, in the event of us slipping down the volcano, to use our ice axe to halt the slide. It basically involved slamming the ice axe into the ice ala the film ‘Touching the void’.  After this lesson, we were ready for our ascent.

And so we began our ascent. With its steep sides and icy covering, we had to zig zag slowly up the volcano. Left for 30 metres, right for 30 metres, and again and again. Digging our crampons into the icy slope, and using our ice axe to pull us forward, we were on our way. For 1 hour, we climbed without stopping, not borne out of time constraints but because there was nowhere to stop (we were, of course, on the side of a snow and ice covered volcano!).

After an hour, we reached our first stopping point and got our first chance to look back at the vista. And what a view it was, lush green volcanoes punctuated the landscape, the obvious remnants of previous flows from the volcano spreading like tentacles across the landscape. The occasional cloud drifted below us, but it was a perfect weather day and we could clearly see miles into the distance.

villarrica volcano

After our brief stop, it was time for hour number two and our climb to the ridge where we would have breakfast. Off came the jackets, we strapped our backpacks and helmets on, and we were off again. Instantly this leg of the journey was more difficult. The slope was steeper, the snow and ice looser than the lower slope. It was time to grit our teeth and get our heads down.

For what seemed like an eternity, we criss crossed the side of the volcano, inching ever closer to ‘desayuno’ and a rest. And then we reached the ridge, an incredible moment! We were only halfway up the volcano, but the slope we were climbing up suddenly stopped and formed a sharp ridge which we balanced along as we made our way to an outcrop of rock where we would rest before attempting the second half of our ascent.

villarrica volcano

At this point we were both tired, and quickly wolfed down some jam sandwiches, cereal bars and water to prepare ourselves for the next stage. Again we were treated to incredible views of the landscape, this time we could see further with the vastness of many lakes coming into view. After marvelling at the view, we turned to look at the challenge ahead. This is what we saw.

villarrica volcano

Two further hours followed, scaling the side of the volcano. First it was back along the ridge we came along before snaking left and upwards toward the crater at the summit. We had a much better view of the steam belching out of the crater at the top, and in less than two hours we would be at the top, peering into the heart of the Volcan Villarrica. We had some serious work to do before then.

Beginning the second half of our ascent, it would be another hour before we stopped again. We both kept our heads down, not daring to look up at how far we had to go, not wanting to see how far we’d come. Behind me I could hear Laura utilising her usual trekking strategy of counting 1,2,3 before returning back to 1 and repeating over and over again. I was struggling with a sore right knee and cramp in my left foot. Why were we putting ourselves through this again? Still we kept quiet, and focused on our routine: ice axe into the ice, left foot, right foot, ice axe into the ice, left foot, right foot etc.

villarrica volcano

Occasionally as we switched from climbing to the left to the right, we’d swap our ice axe into the opposite hand and continue onwards and upwards. After another hour, we were exhausted and delighted to sit and rest on the side of the volcano for 15 minutes. Strapping up my knee and knocking back some painkillers, it was time for one final push to the top. 40 minutes more and we’d be there.

The final push was easier than we thought, and we managed it with relative ease. We snaked left and right for a while, and then hit a ridge where we walked in a more direct route to the top. Reaching the top was an incredible feeling, high fives from our guides and fellow group members followed by our first glimpse inside the crater.

villarrica volcano

Standing so close to an active crater on a volcano was an unnerving experience. Peering in, our snow covered side of the crater looked ominously easy to slip and slide down into the crater from where we were. On the opposite side, a mixture of reds, oranges, greys and blacks dominated the inside of the crater, becoming darker and darker the lower we looked down until they slipped away into the magma pools just out of view.

villarrica volcano

We turned around to admire the view back down, and we sat and ate our sandwiches a mere metre from the crater rim. We couldn’t decide where to look! In front of us was the route we’d taken to the top. We were way above the clouds now, and our view was obstructed by these as we looked out over Chile. We sat and enjoyed our fleeting time at the top of Volcan Villarrica, took some photos, and enjoyed the view before it was time to leave.

2. What to wear on Volcan Villarrica

You should be provided with a waterproof outer layer from the tour company you book, but in terms of what you wear underneath that, we recommend:

  • Thick socks
  • Long trekking trousers (not shorts)
  • Layers on top (long sleeve top, a fleece and a jacket)
  • Sunglasses (the glare from the snow is unbearable without them!)
  • A hat or cap (we wore caps to protect from the sun above and reflecting off the snow, but our ears were burnt as they weren’t covered so a hat would have been better)
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of food and snacks to keep your energy up (cereal bars, nuts, lunch, water)
  • Money for the ski lift and tips
  • We’d also recommend you rent two poles to help you up the volcano

3. How to choose the right tour company for you

Climbing Volcan Villarrica is not for the faint hearted, people have died climbing it and weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. That is why we absolutely recommend you use a reputable tour company to get you safely up and down the volcano. A good company will have good guides, good equipment and most importantly know the volcano better than anyone else. They will know when conditions get so bad to turn back. So book a tour company. You can do this when you arrive in Pucon, but we also recommend you check the most recent reviews on here.

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