Canadian Rockies

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Lately a lot of people have been asking me details about my itinerary from my Canadian Rockies trip from last year. So I decided to put together a blog post about my trip, even though I am a full year late; at this time last year, I was almost finishing my trip!

I did the Canadian Rockies with my parents and then we went ahead for the Alaska Cruise from Seattle. The idea for the trip began when my cousins from India did this trip with an Indian tour operator. I was initially skeptical about doing a tour with an Indian operator, but when I realized the tour would be done by a Canadian local I was happily got on board with the idea. It was a relief not to worry about lunch and dinner ideas for my parents, and the tour was a really good one! I would recommend it to anyone who wants to do this trip with Indian parents.

Firstly, Indian passport holders need a Canadian tourist visa. It is a fairly easy process, but the website for the visa process is user unfriendly, so be prepared for some irritations in the initial process when you are uploading your documents. But once you get everything submitted, it only took about 15-20 days to get the visa. Then came booking the tickets, and let me tell you Boston to Calgary isn’t cheap to fly, but it is worth it!

So we started our journey from Calgary where we spent half a day and then drove to the town of Banff. On the first day in Banff we saw the Johnston Canyon Lower Falls, the beautiful Lake Morraine and then Lake Louise. We hiked up to the lower falls in the Johnston Canyons and it was about an hour or so hike. It was an absolutely beautiful walk, and I took about a zillion pictures there. From there we went to Lake Morraine, which I had no idea was so blue and so beautiful! The melting glaciers from the surrounding peaks feed into the lake, and as the streams moves through the rocks on the peaks it collects the minerals which eventually give the lake a deep turquoise color in sunlight. After that we walked around the perimeter of the Lake Louise, which was a bit more crowded because of the Fairmont Chateau Hotel. On the second day, we took the gondola up the Sulfur mountain. The view would have been spectacular but for the relentless rain that day! Later in the day as the rain abated we did a cruise along the Minnewanka Lake, which was peaceful and beautiful.

Next day we left for the Columbia Icefields while viewing the spectacular scenery on the way. We spent about 4-5 hours there; we went up the Athabasca glacier and clicked silly pictures, and then did the glacier skywalk across the valley. The view while walking on the skywalk was beautiful and scary at the same time! We spent the night in Jasper where we saw the sun not set until 11 pm…it was surreal! We spent the next day touring the lakes around Jasper; Maligne lake, Pine Lake, Pyramid Lake. Even though it was mid June the weather was quite chilly in Jasper, so do carry a jacket and scarf with you. Later in the afternoon my mom and I spent the day walking around the Jasper downtown. It was a perfect day spent with family.

The next day we left for Whistler with a pit stop in Kamloops for the night. Whistler is a beautiful, quaint ski town, and a stroll through its village on a late summer night, is a wonderful experience. The next day we did the peak to peak gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and the view was unbelievable from high up there!

The next morning we left for Vancouver where we spent 2 nights in Vancouver downtown. I am partial to coastal towns and Vancouver completely charmed me! We did ride of sea plane over the ocean and a 4D show called Flyover Canada near the harbor in Vancouver. The next day we took the ferry over to Victoria to see the famous Butchart Gardens. These show gardens are spectacular and just a day strolling through them isn’t enough to do complete justice to these gardens. On the final day we did the city tour of Vancouver and toured the Capilano suspension bridge.

These are just few spots in a beautiful country…it is full of random beautiful lakes and sceneries. Sometimes instead of clicking away pictures, it is better to appreciate the beauty with your eyes and mind so that you can remember it in your heart.

 

Athabasca Falls

Traveling times: Peru-Planning

Every major travel deserves a blog post, and a destination as good as Peru deserves several posts! I have decided to split the posts into planning and then actual travel/tourist places. In my mind, Machu Picchu deserves a separate post and I will try to do that one as well.

When I decided that I wanted to take a major vacation this year, I had no particular place or plan in my mind. I started talking to a friend I hadn’t seen in over 5 years about the general hum drum of life and on a whim we decided to go on a vacation together. The destination didn’t matter as long as we saw a new place and had a good time. We talked back and forth about various spots and I thought about my Machu Picchu dream. I figured this was as good a time as any to make this trip of a lifetime and if I didn’t make use of this opportunity, who knows when next would be a good time to go. Once the idea of Peru took root, it wouldn’t leave me alone and I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else! I convinced my friend that other destinations could happen later on, but Peru needed to happen now! I must admit it was not easy convincing someone to travel to South America with me, and Peru at that; not Brazil or Argentina, but Peru! I had to convince my parents, my friends and family that the travel would be safe and I will be cautious. My co-traveller and I had to almost cancel our trip twice before we were finally on our way to Lima.

But deciding on a place is just the first and the easiest step of the traveling, the logistical details were the major time consuming part of the planning. After deciding on Peru, our next step was to look through the visa application procedure, if the visa application seemed too detailed and required too much of documentation then we would have had to change our destination. But Peru tourist visa application was an absolute breeze; the major required documents are your round trip flight and hotel reservations, financial documents and itinerary. On enquiry with the Peruvian embassy we found that the visa application didn’t require any appointment, just showing up with your documents and passport; in case of any missing documents they just ask you to come back again with the documents.

But before our visa applications, we had to take some major decisions regarding travel dates and the places we wanted to visit within Peru. Since this was my first international trip with a friend, I decided to take a safe route and stick with touristy places. Initially I wanted to do Lima, Cusco, Amazon rainforest area, Nazca Lines, Paracas National Reserve and Puno. But doing these major spots would require at least 15-17 days of travel and I did not want to spend all my vacation days on one vacation, so we decided to do Lima, Cusco and Puno –all three cities in the southern region of Peru. Once we decided on the places, considering our required visa work, all major decisions such as traveling dates, international flight reservations, and hotel bookings had to be taken as soon as possible.

We booked American Airlines from LA to Lima with a layover in Miami. Most of the flights we saw had layovers in Mexico, Miami or Panama City, but since we did not want to do anymore visa work for other foreign city, we opted for the Miami layover flight. Our main consideration while booking the flight was that the flight had to reach Lima and leave from Lima during the day. We did not want to land in an unknown country late at night, and most of the flights from US were reaching Lima at awkward hours, but we managed to find one that suited our needs.

After flight bookings we started looking at hotels in Lima, Cusco and Puno. We divided the hotel search between us, so that each of us would have some bookings under our name during our visa applications. Again safety was our first and foremost consideration while looking for a hotel, cleanliness, and availability of taxi/shuttle services were close seconds. All our hotels were booked through hotel.com and we relied a lot on the reviews by other patrons. We also made sure to email the hotels individually to confirm airport/transportation center pickups/drop offs. We booked Casa Fanning and Manhattan Inn for Lima, Amaru Hostal for Cusco and Tierra Viva for Puno.

Just two weeks before our trip, we booked our domestic flights from LimaàCusco with Star Peru. The airport in the city of Juliaca is closest to Puno for domestic flights so we booked JuliacaàLima with LAN airlines. For transportation from CuscoàPuno we decided to do the 9 hour Inka Express rather than a flight, which I believe was one of our best decisions. So our travel was something like this: LimaàCuscoàMachu PicchuàCuscoàPunoàLima.

After conversations with a friend who was in Peru and some online research, we decided to book the inter-city tours after reaching the city. In summary, the main bookings completed from US before travel were: international flights, hotels, domestic flights, Inka Express and Machu Picchu tour.

After all these bookings, we couldn’t wait to begin our journey! Stay tuned for more posts on our travels and experiences!

Traveling Times Again

My trip to Peru was a visit of a life time and in spite of some issues it was a fantastic one. I have had a bucket list of places that I have wanted to see since the longest time and Machu Picchu has been on that list for the past 8 years. The pyramids of Egypt were added to my bucket list even before I knew what a travel bucket list means! Hopefully I can check off Egypt soon too, but in the mean time I am savouring Machu Picchu through my pictures and my mental images.

I first saw the images of Machu Picchu some 7 years ago and that place had fascinated me from ever since. I am so delighted that seeing the actual complex did not dim my fascination one bit. Not just Machu Picchu, the places that I saw in Peru, from small villages and towns to the highly touristy MP, they were all fantastic. The people, the places, the vegetarian food….all superior, I just wish I could have seen everything…but since that is not possible, I am going to be satisfied with whatever I could see and tour.

I am not the kind of person who can do extended travel for months and spend weeks on road. For me seeing a new place and spending time out of my familiar place for 10-15 days is enough for a vacation. In spite of my love to see new places, I am a homebody and would always want a home base to come back to, which is why it is perfect to spend 10-11 days in a new country, seeing as much as I can is a perfect vacation for me. I also don’t believe in cramming every second of a trip with sightseeing and being all touristy…there has to be some downtime to appreciate and enjoy your surroundings. Though this trip was all go, go, go…I think I will try and schedule some downtime in my next trip.

The first tip I would give anyone who is looking to go anywhere, is to leave your assumptions at home on your way out. When I first decided to go to Peru, most people asked me, if there was anything else to see in Peru besides Machu Picchu and they assumed there wasn’t anything else so why was I going so far just to see that one spot! My reply to everyone was, of course there are other places to see and that I would know more once I do more research. Quite frankly, even in MP was the only spot to see in Peru, I would have still gone that far to see it. Any new place, new country or new state, is different…you are never going to enjoy it if you go there with pre-conceived notions. The idea is to go with an open mind and just take it all in, the good and the bad. Afterall, I can’t think of any place which doesn’t have bit of both, you just have to learn to accept it all.

I will be writing a more detailed post with my co-travelled on our itinerary through Peru soon. But until then this post will have to do!