We’re sitting in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Around us are five couples, two solo travelers, and two tour guides. All fourteen of them are tired, dirty, and covered in dried sweat. They just finished the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and experienced a life changing experience, one that brought them together as a family to experience a once in a lifetime physical and mental challenge. As we watch them drinking celebratory beer, retelling stories, and soaking it all in, I’m reminded: this was supposed to be us. But instead of having a spiritual pilgrimage to Machu Picchu, we had an expensive failure on the Inca Trail.
Laguna 69 sits at the base of a giant glacier in the Cordillera Blancas. Its elevation is at approximately 15,000 feet, which beats anywhere in the continental United States by a good 500 feet. Somehow, no one in Huaraz seemed to be impressed by this.To give you an idea of how incredibly high Laguna 69 is, once Lia and I jumped out of a plane to skydive from the highest altitude they were legally able to fly us, and it was STILL lower than Laguna 69. I knew this would would be no walk in the park, but I had no experience hiking at such a high altitude before. I was about to get a crash course.
The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-day long hike in the Andes mountains in Ecuador, peaking at 12,500 feet. We thought we were taking the “easy” route. It turns out there is no easy route. Of course, we didn’t know that until after getting lost, unintentionally trespassing, crawling up a mountain on our hands and knees, injuring ourselves, and finally hitchhiking the rest of the way.
The Valle de Cocora hike in Salento, Colombia is famous for its 200 foot tall wax palms. What people don’t tell you is that the hike also includes a difficult & dangerous uphill trek through deep, thick mud in a rainy cloud forest! Know what to expect. Tips for hiking Valle de Cocora, what to pack for the Valle de Cocora hike, and more information.
The town town of Minca, Colombia isn’t on the typical Colombian backpacker trail. Perched on a mountain in the Colombian Sierra Nevadas, with a population of 800, Minca is if nothing else isolated. But at only 45 minutes away from the much more popular coastal town of Santa Marta, and only 5 hours away from bustling Cartagena, Colombia, it is well worth the detour.
I haven’t always been a hiker. In fact, when I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area, a 5 mile hike sounded like a huge challenge. Anything over 5 miles required a day-pack filled with water, snacks, first aid, emergency supplies, an emailed itinerary to friends and family … you know, preparation.But now that I can safely call myself a (very slow) intermediate hiker, anything under 5 miles feels like a walk in the park (literally – ever tried walking through Golden Gate Park??). So after a few years of experiential research (there were spreadsheets) I’ve put together a list of my favorite intermediate level Northern California hikes! I bet you haven’t heard of some of these!