Practical Tips for Visiting Petra (aka “The Important Sh*t You Need to Know”)

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra (aka “The Important Sh*t You Need to Know”)

So you finally decided to take the leap and venture over to The Lost City of Petra, Jordan. Yay! It’s pretty safe to say you will not be disappointed. I recently visited Petra and it was one of my favorite places I have seen on my travels. Ever. Blown away is an understatement.

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra

There are a few things I wish I knew before visiting Petra and which I think may be helpful in planning your trip. So I have put together this wee little blogpost with some practical tips for visiting Petra.


Practical Tips for Visiting Petra


The Visa Situation

First things first: to get into Jordan as a US citizen, you must purchase a visa on arrival. The cost is 40 JD ($56). You can purchase the visa right at the passport check counter. They do accept credit card or Jordanian dinars (JD).

1JD = ~1.41 $USD (ouch).

How to Get to Petra

Take the JETT bus from Amman to Petra for 10 JD one-way. The journey takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes including a 20 minute rest stop. The bus is clean and comfortable. 

There is no online purchase system as of yet so you either need to call them within a week of your journey or show up early and try to get a ticket the day of. During peak season, it’s likely to sell out. There is only one bus a day

The bus from Amman to Petra is at 6:30am and the bus from Petra to Amman is at 5pm. The bus leaves from Abdali Bus Station in Amman. The JETT office opens at 6am so make sure you are first in line if you are buying the morning of. (I would recommend buying a day or 2 before if you happen to be in Amman already). 

Note: the online “booking system” does not reserve you a seat. They sent me an email saying I needed to call them within a week of the journey to confirm. I was traveling and couldn’t call so my seat was not reserved. I had to show up at 5:50am before they opened and hoped they weren’t sold out. It wasn’t peak season so I got lucky and got a seat.

Buying Tickets to Petra

Ticket Prices to Petra:

  • 1 day non-accommodated visitor: 90 JD (i.e. if you come as a day trip without accommodations in Petra)
  • 1-day ticket: 50 JD (with proof of overnight stay)
  • 2-day ticket: 55 JD
  • 3-day ticket: 60 JD

I have a feeling they are discouraging day trips and want you to stay longer based on those prices. What do you think?

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra

The Royal Tombs of Petra

You will need to bring your passport with you to purchase tickets at the visitors center. However, they did not ask for my passport for Petra by Night. They do accept credit cards, but not so much for Petra by Night. They sell the tickets right at the entrance, so you need to bring cash. (I’m honestly not sure if the visitor’s center is open at this time of night. So ya, cash is king). 

How Long Do You Need in Petra?

I recommend at LEAST 2 days in Petra. At least! I was there 2 days (+Petra by Night) and it wasn’t enough. There is a lot of walking and hiking up hills so you gotta break it up and pace yourself.

Rome wasn’t conquered in a day. Don’t try to conquer Petra in a day. The main trail alone from the entrance to the Monastery is 8km! That’s 5 freaking miles. 

Take a look at this map below. You will see the entry on the bottom right and the Monastery on the top left. Do you see how far away they are? Freakin far!

It takes about 1.5-2 hours to reach the Monastery from the entrance. That’s 3-4 hours just to do the main trail so keep that in mind. That doesn’t even account for all the millions of photos you are going to stop for. 

Get there bright and early when it opens at 6am. You will have the Treasury to yourself for the first 10-15 minutes.

I recommend breaking up the main trail into 2 days. The first day explore the Treasury, Royal Tombs, Great Temple, and at least one of the 2 hikes to the top of the Treasury or the High Sacrifice. Then on day 2 take the long route to the Monastery, and all the other sites you missed on the main trail on the first day, plus the other hike.

For the most EPIC viewpoints in Petra, check out my article The Most Epic View in Petra (+ How to Reach Them).

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra

Petra by Night 

I’m sure you’ve seen the many awesome photos of Petra by Night. Some say it’s overrated, but I disagree. It was incredible and the highlight of my trip! There is something special about being there at night with just the lanterns lighting your path. It was magical, that’s the best way to explain it.

Petra by Night is only 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday) and I made sure I planned my trip around that because I did not want to miss it. It starts at 8:30pm but keep in mind it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the Treasury from the entrance! The cost is 12 JD ($17).

Safety in Petra

The world isn’t a safe place these days, but we shouldn’t stay at home because of it. Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma tide to Middle Eastern countries, one very hard to shake.Yes, it borders Syria and Saudi Arabia. But Jordan is generally a safe place, minus a few areas here and there.

I was in Amman at night, rode the bus to Petra myself, and walked around the streets by myself. I went to Petra alone as a female and I felt completely 100% safe.

I never once felt uncomfortable, like I was in dangerous, or harassed by men. In fact, it is one of the few countries in the world where I never got catcalled. Not once! The Jordanian people were some of the kindest, most hospital people I have ever met and I felt super welcome and safe in their country.

Riding Horses/Donkeys/Mules in Petra

You may get exhausted from all the hiking and walking you will be doing in Petra and need a little lift. In fact, you will get hassled 20+ times a day for a “taxi” ride on a donkey/mule. They can be persistent so learn to politely, but firmly decline if you’re not interested.

If you do decide to take a ride, make sure to negotiate the price beforehand or they will for sure overcharge you. A horse ride from the entrance to the Siq is included in the ticket price. However, they do indeed expect a tip.

How to Dress in Petra

Make sure to dress like you’re going hiking all day, because well, whether you like it or not, you will be doing a LOT of hiking. Especially if you want the best views. Absolutely no flip-flops.

If you must get that shot in a cute dress, bring a change of clothes or wear them underneath. There are 3 bathrooms throughout where you can change. Or if you hike first thing in the morning, you can change on the mountaintop because no one is there!

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra: How to Dress in Petra

I would recommend dressing in layers as it’s freezing in the mornings and evenings and scorching hot in the day. You are in the desert after all.

I would avoid wearing black as it picks up ALL the dust. I learned the hard way. 

Note: while it is a super touristy area of Jordan and the dress code is not as strict, you still want to respect the Jordanian culture. (I.e. don’t dress like  hoochie).

What to Bring With You to Petra

Bring small bills to buy water, coffee, snacks. I brought a 50 JD bill and not one person had change so I had to buy an expensive necklace to break change. The necklace sure is pretty though.

Bring sunscreen and lots of water. Also, bring some snacks as you’re going to be there all day and food is not cheap inside. There is also limited options. 

Bring hand sanitizer as your hands will get super dusty throughout the day. You’re gonna be hiking in sand, dirt so if you’re a clean freak like me, don’t forget it!

Where to Eat/Drink/Snack inside Petra

There are 2 restaurants inside Petra. One is a fancier buffet that charges 17 JD (~$24) and another right across from it that looks like a rundown shack. This “shack” also serve a buffet which was actually pretty good for only 10 JD ($14). I ate at the shack and I was satisfied. 

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra: Where to Eat in Petra

There are also many little cafes with coffee/tea and packaged snacks along the way. I stopped at so many because they had a nice views and I needed a break from walking in the heat. My favorite was the one right smack in front of the Monastery. They even accepted credit cards! (with a minimum 5JD purchase). Tip: order the coffee with cardamon, so yum!

Where to Stay in Petra 

Technically there are no hotels in Petra. The town called Wadi Musa is where you will be staying, located right next to Petra.

For a budget hotel under $50, stay at Rocky Mountain Hotel. The hotel is located on top of a hill in Wadi Musa, a 5 minute taxi ride from the Petra entrance or a 30 minute walk down a very steep hill. The view at the top of the restaurant is worth it alone. The sunsets there are epic and the buffet food was actually very good. To check out current prices and pictures, check here.

Where to stay in Petra: Rocky Mountain Hotel Petra

View from the cafe at the top of the Rocky Mountain Hotel

The Sun will Make the Sites Look Different at Different times of Day

Wait, what? Depending on where the sun is in the sky, the red rock will appear a different color. When the sun is shining directly onto the rock, it turns a deep red color. In the shade it’s noticeably lighter so it’s a good idea to come back to certain sites and photograph them at different times of the day.

As you will see in the photo below, this is the difference of the colors of the Treasury at 6am (left) and 4pm (right). A HUGE difference, right? 

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra

I was told the sunlight at the Monastery is best around 1pm.

A Word on Travel Insurance 

Make sure to get travel insurance in case something happens. You’re pretty much out in nowhere so getting to the hospital may cost you a fortune if you are uninsured. Most US plans will not cover you overseas so make sure to check in advance.

My go to travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims and have been reimbursed without any hassle. I highly recommend them. This is an affiliate link, btw :). 


♥For more inspiring travel photos, make sure to find me on Instagram @CrazyTravelista.


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The Most Epic Views in Petra (+ how to reach them)

The Most Epic Views in Petra (+ how to reach them)

The rose-red city half as old as time’, the words used to describe the ancient city of Petra by poet John William Burgon.

Petra comes from the Greek word for rock. Quite fitting for an entire city carved into the red sandstone cliffs. Petra has a fascinating and mysterious history and is on many bucketlists rightfully so.

Petra is also known as the “Lost City” as it was abandoned for centuries after a devastating earthquake. It was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Petra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is known as one of the 7 New Wonders of the World.

Today, it is estimated that less than 2% of the sites are excavated in Petra, yet you could spend several days discovering all the remains and hiking trails of the monumental city. 

I recently spent a few days in Jordan and was determined to find the most epic views in Petra, and I think I found most of them! I honestly wish I had one more day as I just scratched the surface of this amazing place.

Below I have highlighted the most epic views in Petra, as well as how to find them (some are kinda hidden so hopefully this guide will help you find them easily).


The Most Epic Views in Petra


Beyond the High Sacrifice 

The high sacrifice is a holy place that was used for animal sacrifices and is located on the summit of the Attuf Ridge high above the Royal Tombs and main trail. The peak rests at around 550+ feet. From here, you can see most of Petra, excluding the Monastery and Treasury.

most epic views in Petra

You will look right down to the royal tombs across from you. There is a little shack with coffee/tea and trinkets at the top and it’s hard to resist sitting at the very edge of the cliff sipping coffee with the epic view. 

most epic views of Petra

How long it takes to reach the top:

About 40-ish minutes, depending on your fitness level. I have read articles that says 1 hour but only if you go at a snail’s pace.

How to Get There:

Look for the sign that says: High Sacrifice (Jabal Almadbah)

About 5 minutes after the Treasury, it will be on the left side. When you see the shop called “Why Not Shop” , look for the steps on the left. You’ll see a brown sign. If you see the amphitheater, you’ve gone too far.

most epic views in Petra

Looking down onto the Treasury 

This might be the most epic view you can get in Petra and takes a steep hike to get to with many stairs. The walk takes about 45+ minutes to get to the top. I would definitely go first thing in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds. I went around 6:45am, at the top around 7:30am and absolutely no one was there. It was awesome to have the place to myself. 

Trail Name: Al-Khubtha Trail

How to Get There:

About 5-7 minutes past the Treasury, you will pass the Street of Facades and public bathrooms on the right. Right after the bathrooms, you should see some little steps and a brown sign saying Al-Khubtha Trail. Take the steps up and you should pass the Royal Tombs on the right side.

most epic views of Petra

You will then reach the bigger/steeper steps. Follow that up and you will see a few more signs saying saying “Come and Sit and Enjoy The Spectacular View of the Treasury From Above”.

Most epic views in Petra

View from the Bedouin tent thingy

There is a sign at the top pointing with an arrow to the rocks saying “Best View”  where you will get a side view of the Treasury. But in my opinion, the best view is actually from the Bedouin type tent thingy about 2 minutes past this. You can see the Treasury straight down from there!

The Monastery and Petra Mountains in the Distance 

The Monastery is arguably the most epic site in all of Petra, bigger and more badass than the Treasury. It takes a strenuous 45 minute hike to the top. But the best views aren’t from there. The best views are from above. 

most epic views in Petra

How to Get There:

most epic views in Petra

Walk past the Monastery and cafe and you’ll see a hill. Climb up the hill and on the left you’ll see a sign that says Do “Not Miss This Spectacular View”, another one that says “View Wadi Araba Water Spring”, and “Grand Canyon View, Best in Jordan”.

most epic views in Petra

Climb to the first platform and that’s where you will get the best view. You can go higher to a little cafe, but the views aren’t as good as from here in my opinion. You get the Monastery from the distance as well as the vast Petra landscape framing it. 

Cafe with the “Best View in Jordan”

One of the best views over Petra where you can relax and sip on some very yummy tea is at a cafe located 10 minutes past the Monastery.The cafe is decorated Bedouin style with the colorful floor pillows and tables. Have a mint tea and enjoy the views. There is a cute and super friendly kitty that lives there too! A bonus if you ask me. 

most epic views in Petra

How to get there:  

If you come down from the Monastery view and keep waking up the hill, you will see signs that says “Grand Canyon View, Best in Jordan”(btw, if you haven’t yet noticed from this article, there are tons of signs in Petra that will claim the “best view”, that’s for you to decide!). Walk to the top to the cafe for a panoramic view of the mountains.

most epic views in Petra

Petra By Night

This is a definite a MUST if you’re visiting Petra. It only occurs 3 nights a week (Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday) so make sure to plan accordingly. This was the highlight of my Petra trip and the only way I can describe it is MAGICAL.

The Siq opens right up to the Treasury at the end and that first sneak peak through the narrow gorge is EPIC. It brought me to tears seeing the Treasury and all the candlelights surrounding it. What a great introduction to Pera!

How to Get There:

You really can’t miss it as it’s on the main trail. After you get your tickets at the visitor’s center, proceed to the walk through the Siq. It takes about 30 minutes from the entrance to get the the Treasury, but half the excitement is walking through the narrow path illuminated by candlelights.

Inside the Caves of Petra

I must admit I have never seen photos of the caves of Petra, as they are overshadowed by the Treasury and Monastery. The caves are made of swirly marble patterns and were so beautiful. They also provided a cool escape from the heat!

How to Get There:

Walk past the Street of Facades and they will be on your right before the Royal Tombs (if you see the Amphitheatre, you went too far). You can climb up into them and it gives you a nice alternate view of Petra that’s pretty damn impressive.

Walking through the Siq

The Siq is the gateway to the city of Petra and is a long narrow gorge with twists and turns that ends with a dramatic opening right smack in front of The Treasury.

most epic views in Petra

 

The Siq is around 1.2km long and is anywhere between 3 and 12 meters wide. The cliffs are as high as almost 600 feet in some parts and the walk alone through the Siq is filled with many photo ops.

most epic views in Petra

How to Get There:

You have to go through the Siq to enter Petra so you literally can’t miss it!

Travel Insurance for Jordan

My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been fully reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I HIGHLY recommend them.

Here is my more detailed review of World Nomads if you’re interesting in their coverage.

Have you Been to Petra? Do You Have Any Other EPIC Viewpoints you Would Recommend? Please Share Below!

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If you haven’t already, find me on Instagram @crazytravelista for lots more beautiful travel photos. ♥

 

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is SO Worth the $450 Annual Fee (…Hear Me Out)

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is SO Worth the $450 Annual Fee (…Hear Me Out)

If you’re like me, as soon as I heard about the $450 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) travel credit card, my reaction was “oh hell nah“. But then I eased up and started researching the benefits of the card and slowly realized that the fee is well worth all the perks (as you will see below).

One of the main reasons I can travel so much is because I use travel reward credit cards to build points to get free plane tickets. Any plane ticket over $600 I don’t pay for. I use points to get free flights.

I’ve been taking advantage of this for the past few years and I seriously think it’s one of the biggest secrets as to how to travel more. That and NOT spending money on dumb shit. But to each their own…

If you’re new to the whole travel reward credit card thing, don’t worry, I’ll try to break it down easily so that you can actually understand it.

Note: This post is in NO way sponsored and I have absolutely no affiliation with Chase. I’m just sharing my honest review in hopes of helping others to travel more with travel reward credit cards. It’s one of the main reasons why I can travel so much).

Update: I wrote the draft of this post a few weeks ago, and now they opened up a referral bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, woohoo!!

So What is a Travel Rewards Credit Card?

A travel reward credit card is basically a credit card that is linked to a rewards program. You spend money, you get points towards travel. It’s as simple as that.

For example: you buy a plane ticket for $500, you get 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Therefore, you get 1500 points for buying that plane ticket. These points can be used to buy plane tickets, hotel rooms, and many other cool things. (I honestly don’t think it’s worth it to use points for hotels or other things, and I only use my points for flights).

Here’s an idea of what a certain amount of points will give you for flights:

For 60,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the USA to Europe. For 40,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the East Coast to Ecuador or Peru. For 80,000 points, you can fly from the USA to South Africa.

But let’s get to what you really want to know:

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Actually, the first year, it’s really only $50, and then it’s basically $150 per year thereafter. Wait, what? Let me explain by highlighting all the card’s benefits and you’ll see wtf I’m talking about. I’m not crazy, I swear. 

$300 Travel Credit Per Year

Once you spend $300 worth of travel purchases, this gets reimbursed to you immediately. This brings that $450 annual fee down to $150 right off the bat. 

What counts as travel? flights (not just directly from airlines but any travel search website, i.e. Skyscanner, Expedia, etc.), taxis, toll roads, parking lots, ferries, Uber, Lyft, car rental agencies, hotels, Airbnb, etc.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has NO foreign transaction fees so I can use it when I travel overseas as well to earn points. Just make sure to alert Chase of your travels beforehand so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious spending!

$100 Global Entry or TSA Pre Check Credit

(note: you must pay the application fee with your Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card)

I finally caved in and got my Global Entry (GE) and let me tell you I’m kicking myself for not getting it sooner! I avoided it for so long because I heard it’s hard to get an appointment. While this is true, I found a center near me that accepts walk-ins.

The whole appointment took 10-15 minutes and it was the easiest thing ever! They asked me if I’ve ever been convicted of a crime and if I have ever violated immigration laws…and that’s it! Oh yeah, they proceeded to tell me all about their dogs.

What I did was google “Global Entry walk-in appointments in Washington, D.C.” and I found a place. So try that in your area! I went to the Washington, DC Enrollment Center. 

To make things easier, I found this great resource for the walk-in centres that allow same day appointments here

So with the $300 cash back for the travel credit plus the $100 in Global Entry/TSA Precheck, that equals your $50 the first year charge. After that, you’l be essentially be paying $150 ($450-$300 travel credit). BAM. Not bad for ALL the awesome perks and points you get!

*Note: TSA Precheck is included with Global Entry so definitely go for the Global Entry! (unless you do not travel outside the USA at all). There is no “upgrade” option, so if you get TSA Precheck and decide later you want GE, you will have to reapply and go for the interview all over again for the GE (and pay the $100 app fee). Boo.

Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access

I must say this is the most underrated perk of this card! So basically you get free VIP access to over 1000+ airport lounges around the world. In these lounges you can find food, snacks, alcohol, wifi, TVs, comfy sleep areas, and even showers in some.

First, download the Priority Pass App to your phone, then it’s super easy to search for a lounge. It has all the info about the lounges and tells you where exactly in the airport it is. 

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Download the Priority Pass App to find all the lounges!

However, I’ve learned that not all lounges are created equal, I’ve noticed the international ones are way better than the domestic ones. My favorite is the Turkish Airlines lounge in Washington Dulles Airport (IAD). They serve full on gourmet food like lamb, chicken skewers, falafel, rice, and hummus. I now get to the airport an hour early so I can go to the lounge and stuff my face with yummy food before my flight. And oh yes, I definitely have a few glasses of wine as well to ease my flying jitters. #morewineplease #freewine

I just got back from South America and on my connection home, I stopped in Lima and went to the VIP Club Lounge and Business Center. There was a “quiet room” inside the lounge where they had 10 super comfy leather recline chairs. I pulled an all nighter so when I saw this I was in heaven. I had a 4 hour layover so I took a much needed nap. Then I had a quick brekkie and coffee (they even had lactose free milk!) and was on my way.

Having access to airport lounges is awesome!! If only for the free wine alone (and the good wifi)!♥

3 Points for Every Dollar Spend on Travel & Dining (& 1 point for everything else)

Every time you use your card to buy something travel related or eat out at a restaurant/fast food, you get 3 times the points!! For example, I recently spent $500 for my Peru/Bolivia plane tickets and I got 1,500 points for this purchase. Yay!

So what do all these points mean?

Well, you can either use the Chase portal to search for flights, or you can transfer these points to the participating airlines/hotel partners. These partners include: British Airways, Flying Blue Air France KLM, Korean Air Skypass, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott RewardsThe Ritz-Carlton RewardsWorld of Hyatt. The points transfer at a ratio of 1:1. 

For example, if you have 50,000 Chase points, you can transfer them to United Mileage Plus and have 50,000 United points. United is part of Star Alliance, as are 28 other airlines such as Lufthansa, Croatia Airlines, Air Canada, etc.

So even if you hate United (which I kinda do), I personally think they have the best point system and it’s the easiest to get free tickets. You go to United.com and search for award flights, and all the partner airlines will pop up, so most the time, I hardly ever even fly United.

Here is an example flight from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia. A one-way ticket will cost 30k points plus taxes.

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

If you notice, these flights are not even operated by United. There is an option to fly the first leg with United with the taxes only at $26 instead of $42. It depends on how much you hate United I guess.

To Get the 50K Point Sign-Up Bonus, You Must Meet Spending Requirements

I jumped on a debut promotion where I got 100,000 miles when I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Now that promotion is gone and the bonus is 50,000, which is still pretty awesome though. 

In order to get this bonus, you must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of receiving your card. That equals about $1,333 per month. That’s easy to spend in the US, especially because you can use the card to purchase things you would already be buying anyway like groceries, gas, and even some bills. Most companies these days will let you pay your bills with a credit card so make sure to check with them. If you can try to pay your rent with the CSR, even better!

If you think you may have trouble meeting spending requirements, ask your friends to give you cash when you go out to eat and put the bill on your card. Or, ask you parents if they need to make a big purchase and offer to put it on your card for some cash. There are many ways around it!

Will Opening a New Card Hurt my Credit Score?

Meh. Temporarily it will drop slightly, but not by much. So unless you’re about to apply for a huge loan for a car or house, it will not affect you that much at all in the long run.

However, having a credit card open will build your credit. Just make sure you pay your card off in FULL each month to avoid the high interest rates. Making purchases and then making payments WILL build your credit. Having credit cards can be a good thing if you’re smart about it.

Other Awesome Perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve 

Car rental collision damage waiver(CDW), trip delay and cancellation, baggage delay, emergency medical and dental, road side assistance. Just please note that only services purchased with the CSR will be covered (so if you rent a car on another credit card, you will not receive the car rental insurance benefits..duh).

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Important note: the emergency medical and dental is only up to $2,500, which is EXTREMELY low. I would recommend you still purchasing a travel insurance that covers medical insurance at a higher rate. This $2,500 isn’t going to get you crap in some countries! 

I use World Nomads and I love them (and no I don’t get paid to say that)! They have awesome coverage (especially medical) and they have been easy to work with.

Shit happens when you travel and I have already made 2 claims with them in the past year and got fully reimbursed (once for a hospital trip in Croatia and another for a stolen camera lens in Colombia).  Oh, and since I have had an unlucky year, my phone was just stolen in Bolivia so I’m about to make my 3rd claim of the year.

Like I said, shit happens when you travel! Make sure to have some travel insurance before your next trip (as most US health insurance plans will NOT cover you overseas…unless you have a super badass policy with an enormous monthly premium).

If you’re interesting in coverage and prices, you can get an easy quote below. I just signed up for their affiliate program (because I think they are great), so I just need to disclose that I may receive a small commission if you purchase insurance through my link, at no extra cost to you. Yay!

 

Do You Pass the 5/24 Rule?

Chase abides by the 5/24 rule, which basically means that if you’ve opened up 5 new credit cards in the past 24 months, you unfortunately will not be eligible for this card.

But I Already Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Love It

Yes, this was me too. I loved my Preferred and used it for everything. But with the Reserve, the 3 points per dollar for travel and dining purchases, (instead of 2 points with the Preferred) was the deal breaker for me!

I didn’t want to pay the annual fee for both cards, so I called Chase and downgraded my Preferred to the Chase Freedom Unlimited with no annual fee. With the Freedom Unlimited, you get 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases so if my purchase doesn’t fall in the travel or dining category, I use this card to get 1.5 points instead of 1 point.

If you can’t commit to the $450 annual fee with the CSR, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great option as there is NO annual fee! Sign up here.

How I’ve Used My Miles to Travel for Free

Like I mentioned above, any flight over $600 I get for free basically. Most my long-haul continent to continent flights are bought with miles, not money. I try to be smart and save the miles for the most expensive flights. I have yet to use miles within the USA because I don’t think it’s worth it.

Last year I transferred my Chase miles to United Mileage Plus and flew to Cape Town, South Africa from Split, Croatia for 30,000 miles each way (60k total). Even with the free flights you do have to pay taxes, which are usually less than $100 and sometimes as little as $5 one way.

Earlier this year, I flew to The Galapagos in Ecuador from Washington, D.C. for 20,000 miles each way (40k total). If interested, you can read about how I did 1 week in the Galapagos for only $994, including flights

I often fly from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia for 60,000 points roundtrip on Lufthansa (found through the United system).

I really want to go back to Africa and New Zealand, which are really far away, so I’m saving my miles for those trips! I have about 140,000 points saved so far (and counting).

Now You Can Get Extra Points for Referring Others (up to 50,000 points)!

So I got lucky on this one and now the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a referral bonus they just opened up in the last week! If you sign up using my link HERE. I get 10,000 points! And once you get your card, you can get the bonus too if your friends sign up! They limit it to 5 referrals so you can get up to 50,000 points just to refer a friend. Hell, I refer friends either way because I love this card and it allows for more free travel!

If you haven’t been able to tell from this post, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is so fu*king worth it. It really has been a game changer and allows me to afford to travel more.

I’ve had a few travel reward credit cards, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives the best benefits in my opinion. It’s completely worth the $450 annual fee and I think every avid traveler should have this card!

If you enjoyed this, please PIN it for later ♥

Have I convinced you to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Do you Have any Other Travel Reward Credit Cards You Really Love? 

 

Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Let’s face it, The Galapagos islands are not a cheap destination. This bucket list destination is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places that people save up lots of money for over an extended period of time and usually spend quite a bit on this trip.

However, it doesn’t have to be that expensive and is totally doable on a budget (ish). I recently went in February and spent $994 total for 7 nights, including flights…and I did it solo! You can read about my detailed tips on how I did it so cheap here: Solo Travel The Galapagos on the Cheap (ish): How I Did 7 Days/Nights for $994, Including Flights!

There are actually so many free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos and I have highlighted them below based on my experience. Couple them with a few last minute tours and your dream trip can easily become a reality.

Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island

  • Charles Darwin Research Station (free)-learn more about the amazing ecosystem of the Galapagos and Darwin’s impact left on it. There is also a turtle center and some colourful iguanas to see.
  • Tortuga Bay (free)-a beautiful bay to relax at or swim/snorkel in. It requires a 40 (ish) minute walk to get to. There are boats that can take you there too if you are too lazy to walk. When you get there, walk 15 minutes to the right for a place to swim and snorkel. Along the way, you will see a gorgeous blue/green wading pool that is very picturesque. They should really call this Iguana bay because you literally will see hundreds of iguanas on the beach and in the water.
Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

The gorgeous little lagoon on the way to Tortuga Bay

  • Las Grietas(free-ish)-the taxi is $1.60 round trip to get there, hence the “ish”. It’s a great place to snorkel and cool off. It is also the clearest water I saw in the Galapagos. Las Grietas is regulated by an attendant and you must sign in upon arrival. You have a limit of 40 minutes and they allow only up to 48 people max at a time.
  • Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

Isabela Island

  • Self-guided bike tour ($15/day)-rent a bike and go along the path to the Wall of Tears. It takes about an hour to get to, and there are many awesome spots on the way to stop off. Try to go early in the morning to beat the heat, because the last 1-2km is going uphill and it’s not fun in the heat (trust me). Make your stops on the way back.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Wall of Tears (free)-the wall of tears was constructed by prisoners in the penal colony, many of whom died during the construction due to harsh conditions of being in the heat all day. The wall was left there as a testament to these people and to highlight the abuse of power.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • El Estero (free)– a little estaury leading to the ocean covered by trees, mangroves, and a little creek. I was the only one there and really enjoyed walking through the creek in the shade. It’s a beautiful setting.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Playa del Amor (free)-here you will see a little natural wading pool surrounded by lava rocks and the ocean in the backdrop. If you’re lucky, you will be joined for a bath with a marine iguana.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Las Salinas (free)-a lagoon that is frequented by pink Flamingos. They weren’t out when I went unfortunately, but it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on your way back to town to check!
  • Concha la Perla (free)-a place to snorkel near the port and has many sea lions and sometimes penguins/manta rays. I didn’t see penguins or manta rays, but I did see a bunch of sea lions.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

San Cristobal Island (all free activities)

  • Cerro Tijeretas Hill-about 15-20 minutes past the Interpretation Center you will come up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill with a great lookout point over the island. This is also a major breeding ground for Frigate birds so keep an eye out! On the bottom of the hill there is a little cove where several sea lions are laying around on the rocks and swimming. The water is super blue/green and gorgeous and it’s worth a snorkel.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

 

  • Punta Carola-if you follow the trail back to town you will come to Punta Carola beach, which has a little lighthouse on the lava rocks. This is where I saw a mini baby sea lion laying on the sand alone and I almost died! I want to take it home with me, it was so stinking cute.

  • Playa Mann beach-a small local beach that’s nothing special, but its super close to town so it’s a nice place to go to cool off real quick.
  • La Loberia-a more secluded beach about a 40 minute walk from town. The little bay is filled with black lava rocks and is a popular place for sea lions and iguanas. I saw many sea lions playing in the shallow waters and rolling around in the sand. Go here if you want an up close encounter with sea lions!
  • Interpretation Center (about a 20 minute walk from town)-sorta like the Charles Darwin center but different. I stopped in here on my way up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill and learned a lot about the Galapagos. I didn’t have time to go through the full center, but it’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re walking up to the hill anyway!

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Free things to do in the Galapagos

 

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Victoria Falls, Africa (visas, flights, border crossings)

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Victoria Falls, Africa (visas, flights, border crossings)

Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It’s also rated as the biggest waterfall in the world (based on combined width of 5,604 ft and height of 354 ft.

It goes by the nickname “the Smoke that Thunders” and that nickname will prove itself once you have been graced by its presence. Trust me on this one.

My first glimpse of the falls came on my flight into Livingstone. From my tiny airplane window I gasped at the spewing mist bursting into the air, making its power known. I could see and feel the power of the falls from what seemed like miles away.

Victoria Falls is an incredible place and should be added to your Africa itinerary. However, it’s one of those places that you have to plan for in advance since there is a lot to think about. But it’s 100% worth it and will surely be a memorable experience.

There isn’t much practical info on the interwebs regarding visiting Victoria Falls, so I put together this little guide with the best tips for visiting Victoria Falls, Africa that will help you plan a smooth trip.


Best Tips for Visiting Victoria Falls


Where is Victoria Falls?

Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The tough choice is deciding which side you will want to stay. I stayed on both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides and I personally preferred the Zimbabwe side much better.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

Livingstone, Zambia is known as the backpackers town as accommodations are much cheaper and abundant. But I really didn’t enjoy it honestly. It was extremely dirty and didn’t have that much to offer in my opinion. I would choose the Zimbabwe side in a heartbeat! 

How to Get Visas for Victoria Falls

(Note: this information is based on US Passport holders only and I cannot comment on different nationality’s visa processes since I personally do not know. Please check the specific visa requirements of your country!).

For US citizens, visas are required to enter both Zimbabwe AND Zambia. 

A single entry visa into Zambia costs $50 while a double entry visa costs $80 for US citizens. You can get a single and double entry visa on arrival, so no need for advanced planning. However, if you want a multiple entry visa, you must apply in advance at the appropriate embassy before your trip.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

My Zambia visa obtained at the border

A single entry visa to get into Zimbabwe costs $30 while a double visa entry costs $45 for US citizens. This can also be obtained upon arrival.

There is also a “day tripper” visa for $20 that you can purchase if you just want to cross the border for the day (valid for 24 hours). However, in my experience, that process takes SO long at the border so I would definitely plan out how many times you plan on crossing the border and getting the appropriate visa based on that.

Note: getting the visa at the border can be a very LONG process. It took us a total of 4 HOURS once we landed in Livingstone to get our Zambia visa, cross the border to Zimbabwe, get our Zimbabwe visa and make it to our lodge in Zimbabwe. People will also try to butt in line in front of you so make sure to stand your ground and practice your RBF.

*Due to the above mentioned stress to get the visa, I would highly recommend that you stay in the country you are departing from the night before so you don’t have to deal with this on the day of your flight and potentially miss it!

Payment: Although sources will say you must pay in cash, we were given an option to pay in cash OR credit card. FYI: They do accept USD.

What Airport to Fly Into

You will have 2 choices of airports to fly into to reach Victoria Falls:

Livingston Airport (LVI) in Zambia or Victoria Falls (VFA) in Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls airport is closer to the falls, however, flights tend to be more expensive coming into that airport. Therefore, most opt to fly to the further Livingstone Airport. However, I think you should make the decision based on what activities you want to do, where they are located (Zimbabwe or Zambia side), and where you want to stay. You also have to factor in crossing back and forth between the borders, which can get pricey in visa fees!

Transportation 

There is no public transport to the falls from Livingstone airport. Your 2 options are a private transfer or taxi.

Taxis cannot cross the border so you will need one taxi to take you to the border, another that takes you from one side of the border to the other, and then a 3rd taxi at the other border that will bring you to your destination. Complicated, huh?

From our resort in Zimbabwe, we paid $10 to get to the border, $5 to get to the other side of the border, and then $20 to get to Livingstone. A private transfer set up by our lodge cost $24 per person and they stayed with us the whole way through, which was way more convenient than having to switch cars and drivers 3 times to cross the border!

Make sure you agree on a price beforehand, because they WILL try to rip you off. They tried that on us but we called them out, to which they then agreed on a fair price.

What Activities To Do in Victoria Falls

I thought that going to Victoria Falls just meant going and viewing the waterfalls. But little did I know that there was going to be so many adventure activities at the falls to choose from. From the numerous high-wire activities on the Zimbabwe side such as gorge swinging, zip-lining, bungee jumping, the superman swing, to the microlight and Devil’s pool activities to pick from on the Zambia side, you will not most certainly not be bored.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

In 2.5 days there, we did so much, yet wish we had more time there to do more! The microlight flight was definitely the highlight of my time in Victoria Falls and I wasn’t expecting tears of joy. It left me speechless.

Read more about my top 4 MUST DO adventure activities in Victoria Falls here. Or just watch the video below:

Where to Stay in Victoria Falls

This should depend heavily on what activities you plan on doing. If you don’t plan on doing the microlight flight and/or Devil’s pool, there is no reason to stay in Zambia honestly. Stay in Zimbabwe and just get a double entry visa and you’re good to go!

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

 

We had a once-in-a-lifetime stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s literally inside the  Zambezi National Park, so there are wild animals all around you. It’s a bit scary but super thrilling and something you should experience once in your life. Read my detailed review here.

Viewing Victoria Falls

Most of Victoria Falls is located on the Zimbabwe side and this is where you can enter to view the falls.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

Entrance is $30 so give yourself ample time to go to all the viewing points and take lots of pictures. You will see monkeys running around from time to time, so save time also for some monkey selfies! You know you want one.

If you’re short on time, go to viewing points 11-14 for the best views. You’re welcome ♥.

The mist is very strong so you will get wet (remember that Smoke that Thunders part?). Embrace nature’s shower. 

Currency

Currency in Zimbabwe is the USD. Currency in Zambia is the Zambian Kwacha. Although, USD was accepted in Zambia as well. 

Make sure you bring cash because credit cards are not widely accepted everywhere. We did pay all our tours with credit cards; however, some restaurants did not accept credit cards so just be prepared.

You’ll probably spend more money than you thought.

I was a little surprised at how expensive the prices were in and around Victoria Falls. It was more like Western prices and not something I would expect in Africa.

Here are some sample prices to expect in Victoria Falls:

  • $30 USD to enter Victoria Falls (go to Viewing point 11-14 for best views)
  • $90 gorge swing
  • $50 flying fox
  • $80 double entry visa for Zimbabwe
  • $30 single entry visa for Zambia
  • $$-$$$$ lodging (much more on the Zimbabwe side, but well worth it)

Victoria Falls is probably not the best budget-friendly place to visit for solo travellers. With transportation and lodging costs, its much more doable when you have another person to split it with. Even then, it was a pricier trip than I was used to. I’m not saying solo travellers should avoid Victoria Falls, just know what to expect! 

If Victoria Falls is not already on your bucket list, hopefully you add it soon! It truly is worth it!

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Tips for traveling to Victoria Falls

 

Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø (+Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips)

Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø (+Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips)

Last year I flew to Iceland in the frigid January weather just to see the northern lights. In 3 days there, I didn’t have any luck. On top of that, my tripod blew over and I cracked my brand new camera. #EpicFail

Why I Chose Tromsø, Norway to Chase the Northern Lights

This time, I flew all the way to the north of Norway to a town called Tromsø. Tromsø is rated one of the top 10 places to see the northern lights in the entire world. Although you’re never guaranteed to see them, I thought I had a pretty good chance. Little did I know…

Welp, I guess I’m going back to Norway! Not a bad place to return to I must say.

Tromsø Friluftsenter

I thought I had my mind set on a specific company to see the northern lights. Until a few weeks before my trip, I found Tromsø Friluftsenter, a smaller family owned company who have been operating since 2004. I’m a sucker for smaller family owned tours/companies because I love supporting smaller business, because I absolutely loathe being herded around like cattle on a huge tour bus, and because a smaller company usually means more personalized attention.

So I pulled a little switcheroo and decided to go with Tromsø Friluftsenter. Best. Decision. Ever.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

The First Sighting 

I knew it was going to be a great night when 10 minutes into our drive, we saw a glimpse of the northern lights zig-zagging across the sky. What was to come that night was extremely unexpected.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

We arrived to their base camp about 45 minutes outside the city. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by a dashing  display of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky in shades of neon green, purple, and pink (which turned out to be the strongest we saw them the entire night). Stepping out of the van and looking up to see this natural phenomenon that you’ve heard about since you were little bombarding the sky above was even better than I have ever dreamed about.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

It left me speechless and teary-eyed, something that has happened only a few times in my travels.

Ok, back to the base camp. The base camp consisted of a few traditional Sami tents, with the mountains and the ocean nearby. It was a gorgeous snowy setting and provided many different foreground options to photograph the northern lights. Actually, this was one big factor that helped me with my decision to choose this company (as well as the near perfect TripAdvisor reviews). I really wanted to have a nice setting with cute houses or something else to frame the shot. I didn’t just want a million pics of the sky (although the sky was phenomenal on its own I realized after I arrived).

Photographing the Northern Lights

Traditional sami tent(with a badass fire burning inside to keep you warm)

Our Sami tent had a bonfire burning and wooden seats made from tree trunks and topped with reindeer fur Surrounding the fire pit in a circle. It was so cozy and cute and I couldn’t have asked for a more arctic setting! It also meant we had somewhere to run to and warm up in between shooting the northern lights, something that all the other companies didn’t have! It was freezing and I couldn’t imagine standing outside for 4-5 hours straight so this was a huge plus!

We were served coffee or tea and cake, and later roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was absolutely perfect and reminded me of the fun times I had camping when I was young. It also provided time to get to know the others on tour. We had a blast listening to all Knut’s (the owner) reindeer stories as we warmed up our fingers and toes.

Don’t Stress About Shooting the Northern Lights

On the drive over, our awesome guide Pierre gave us some quick and easy photography tips for shooting the northern lights (which can also be applied to all night photography). This was also a big plus since I have never shot night photography before so I really needed help!

Pierre also helped us with the setting or any other questions we had while we were out shooting. He wanted to make sure we all got good shots of the lights, even if everyone didn’t have a fancy DSLR camera.

Never gets old 😍(p.s. look at alll the stars! ) #northernlights #auroraborealis #tromsø #visitnorway #tromsøfriluftsenter #sonya6000

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Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

  • Put camera in Manual Mode (M)

  • Check sensitivity of sensor (aka ISO). Recommend ISO 1200-1600. More ISO means more noise (grainy).

  • Shutter Speed: at least 10 seconds. 15 seconds is recommended as a starting point.

  • Aperture (F stop). The wider the aperture (i.e. the lower the F stop number) the better for night shots.

  • Put on Manual Focus (MF)-to prevent blur. Activate screen of camera and zoom in to set it. Use infinity “∞” symbol on camera if you have it.

  • You MUST use a tripod (night shots require the shutter to be open for longer periods of time and complete stillness is needed)

*Most of my shots were taken at 1600 ISO, F4 aperture, at 15-20 seconds. However, I was so excited when I went outside and saw the lights that I forgot to put my camera on manual focus so they aren’t as clear as they could have been. Rookie mistake!

Camera Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights

The right camera gear is KEY to shooting the northern lights. However, you don’t have to be a professional and you don’t need to spend thousands. But you’re going to need more than a camera phone or GoPro. Below is all the camera gear I used and all can be found on Amazon (my obsession).

Camera: you don’t need a fancy DSLR, a mirror-less camera will do. I used my Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

Wide Angle Lens: a wide angle lens is a must as it allows more light in (due to a wider aperture), which is essential for night photography. I bought mine pre-used. It cost more than my camera base but it’s SO worth it as I use it to shoot ALL my landscape shots! My lens is the Sony SEL1018 10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Travel Tripod:  Fortunately they lent us tripods for the tour, so I left mine behind. But this is the super lightweight one I usually travel with: AmazonBasics 50-Inch Lightweight Tripod with Bag

iPhone 6: Sorry, but you can’t get good shots of the northern lights on an iPhone. I used this ONLY for a remote through the Play Memories Mobile App. This allowed me hands-free shooting without the risk of movement from manually pushing the shutter button. My trusted iPhone: Apple iPhone 6 64GB Space Gray – (Verizon Wireless)

Disclaimer: the above links are affiliate links with Amazon. Meaning, if you make a purchase with these links I may receive a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you. It’s what helps me keep this site up and running, so a special thanks!♥

All of the Lights

We didn’t just see the northern lights, we got hammered with them the entire night! They danced, they pranced, they moved, they boogied! Incredible is an understatement. I waited so long to see them, and boy did I get a show! The lights were active the entire night, and at some points they would really blew up in the sky.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

Pierre would constantly check outside and come get us when they were exploding! We immediately grabbed our tripods and dashed outside. Pierre loved shooting at the nearby beach and would hurdle over there quickly in the snow. We couldn’t keep up at times he was so enthusiastic about it! It was funny to watch and it kept our energy high, especially when it was getting late.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

The best part is that Pierre took several hundred photos of us and the lights, and we were given access to them via Flickr. So even if you don’t have a camera with you. You will get some awesome shots of the lights so your memories will last forever!

We were also given a tripod and a warm jumpsuit to wear if needed. They only had size large and X-large so I was tripping on mine at some points, but hey, it kept me pretty warm!

The Verdict

Overall, this might have been my favorite tour I have ever taken! The crew was awesome, the base camp was unique and fun, the setting was just perfect and had a lot around to use as props for our pictures, and the light show was just out of this world!

We got lucky as Pierre said this was the strongest show he had seen all year. You’re never guaranteed to see them, but boy did we get smacked in the face with a spectacular show from Mother Nature.

I would 110% recommend you to check out this company if you come to Tromsø. I had a special night with them I will never forget. They also do whale watching tours which I would have loved to do, however, that season ended in January unfortunately.

Note: I read on their site that visiting the base camp isn’t always guaranteed. On nights when the activity is low, you will drive around to different spots and “chase” the lights. But as the activity is pretty solid in this area, I would assume you have a good chance of visiting the base camp.

Disclaimer: I was a guest ofTromsø Friluftsenter; however, my opinions are my own and as you can tell, I freakin’ loved them! I would confidently recommend them to my family, friends, and anyone else visiting Tromsø. Hell, I would take this tour again if I ever return to Tromsø!

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Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips