dinant-belgium

Dinant

I lived in Brussels until I was 18 years old, and in the 7 years since I’ve moved away I have visited countless times. I’ve made the occasional trip to Antwerp or Bruges, but until very recently I had never made it to Dinant! I remember scrolling through Instagram and coming across a photo of the city’s Gothic church standing tall next to steep cliffs, with the dark green Meuse river lying at its feet. Why had I never realised that such a beautiful city existed just one hour away from my childhood home?

meuse river dinant

How to get there:

  • Driving is to Dinant from Brussels can take under an hour. I think it took my father 45 minutes!
  • There are direct trains to Dinant from Brussels Luxembourg Station (1hr 25mins). Check the Belgian Rail website for timetables. Dinant’s train station is right in the centre of town.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon in Brussels, I convinced my parents to drive over to Dinant for a spot of exploring and a nice dinner.

couque de dinant

When we got there we started walking around and found this charming bakery that has been going since 1860…

… where you can buy pastries, waffles …

couque de dinant

… and the local specialty: couques. These are honey biscuits that are incredibly hard – you can’t just bite a piece off because you could hurt your teeth! We concluded that they were nicer to look at than to eat.

We walked along the riverbank, taking many photos along the way. We noticed the city’s obsession with saxophones and learned that inventor Adolphe Sax was born there.

Then we headed up to the Citadel via the cable car (we weren’t too keen on walking up 400 steep steps!)

For 8.50€ you get a ticket for the cable car and the Citadel visit. For 14€ you also get a boat ride along the river. Check the Citadel’s website for opening times as these vary depending on time of year.

At the Citadel we learned about the history of Dinant which has been the site of many battles over the centuries. We were shocked to hear that 674 civilians were massacred during the Battle of Dinant in WWI .


After admiring the valley views, we walked through exhibits showing life for a Dutch garrison as well as various weapons and cannons and ended our visit with the replica of a WWI trench.

Be warned: everything is set at an angle which is very disorientating. I found it hilarious but my mother HATED it! She had to hold onto the handrail and walk really slowly!

We made our way back down to the centre of town…

… where I spotted this tea room called Solbrun and just had to take a photo of the view. My father made the most of it and bought a fragrant loaf of gingerbread.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at Le Jardin de Fiorine. I’d love to go back there when it’s warmer and have lunch in the garden facing the river.

What do you think of Dinant? I think it deserves to have more visitors!

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All the tips you need if you're going to Huacachina in Peru. Read about my experience of sandboarding and riding a dune buggy.

sandboarding peru

Huacachina

A little desert oasis town, Huacachina doesn’t have a lot more to offer than sand, sunshine, and sandboarding. In case you haven’t heard of sandboarding before, it’s just like snowboarding but on sand and a lot more difficult! After seeing a few pictures and videos online, I was very excited about giving it a go.

 

The Dune Buggy

Before you get to swish down the dunes, you have to hop onto one of these dune buggies and let the driver do his thing. I think this was simultaneously the scariest and the most fun thing we did during our time in Peru. Make sure your seatbelt is tightly fastened because this is one hell of a bumpy ride! The buggies fly over huge bumps and ride downhill on the steepest of inclines! I held onto my seat the whole time with a huge grin on my face. And I don’t even like rollercoasters!

 

Sandboarding

After that scary ride we were told to grab our boards and start waxing them. Most of the boards have seen a lot of action in their time so you need the wax to make sure they slide over the sand properly.

My friend Arina and I were both way too scared to go down a big dune so we practised on a very little one. The buggy drivers are there to help people and one of them helped us practice. First we tried sitting on the boards, then we went down lying face first. It wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be!

In the end we both plucked up the courage to go down the big dune, and it was really fun!

If you go to Huacachina please try it! You don’t have to do it standing up like you’re snowboarding – it can be more like sledding if that’s what you’re comfortable with.

Keen snowboarders definitely have an advantage. Please just be a bit careful because I’ve heard stories of people getting injured here!

huacachina oasis at night

The sunset from the dunes was gorgeous and our buggy stopped near the town so that we could take pictures at dusk. (Sorry for the low quality phone photo!)

 

huacachina bananas hostel

Where to Stay in Huacachina

Other than dune buggies and sandboarding, I really don’t think there is much to do in Huacachina. You should make sure your hotel has a pool and a bar! We enjoyed our time at Banana’s Adventure Hostel. It has a pool, a nice bar, outdoor space to lounge around in, and decent food. Actually our breakfast there was the best of our entire trip! Fresh tropical fruit and pancakes, yum.

We met some great people at the hostel. One guy saved my life by lending me his camera charger (I forgot mine in London – a blogger’s worst nightmare!!! Luckily I had three batteries) and we ran into our roommate twice in the following week and ended up drinking with him in Cusco.

 

huacachina desert bonfire

The barman became our friend too, and after his shift he took a group of us to his friend’s bonfire up in the dunes. We were all a little tipsy, surrounded by friendly stray dogs, it was very dark and we had a really hard time finding the fire – it was hilarious. We drank beers by the fire until late, speaking a mix of Spanish and English and celebrating the lovely barman’s birthday at midnight.

The most memorable experiences are often the ones you don’t plan!

What do you think about sandboarding? Would you try it?

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arequipa peru

arequipa plaza de armas

AREQUIPA

I didn’t know quite what to expect from Arequipa. I’d seen pictures and I was excited to see the super colourful Santa Catalina Monastery but what I didn’t realise is that Arequipa is a charming city that I could happily have explored for a few more days.

Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa is nicknamed Ciudad Blanca because of the white sillar volcanic rock that many of its buildings are made of. Unlike Cusco, Arequipa doesn’t have any Inca ruins for you to visit. Instead, it is its colonial architecture that earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

santa catalina monastery arequipa

alpacas arequipa peru

What to see

Santa Catalina Monastery (40 soles) should be number one on your list of places to visit in Arequipa. This 16th century convent is almost like a village within the city. You could easily get lost here, exploring the many quiet rooms that nuns used to live in. I loved the colours – red walls paired with green cacti and blue walls with red flowers.

Mundo Alpaca (free) is the place to learn about alpacas and llamas (and the difference between the two!). You will see both animals, as well as learn about their cousins and how their wool is dyed using natural ingredients and used to make gorgeous jumpers and tapestries.

Casa del Moral (free) is now a commercial bank but you can still wander around this 18th century mansion and enjoy its mestizo baroque style of architecture. Not the worst place use an ATM!

Iglesia de la Compania (free) is a small church with an intricately decorated facade. Worth a detour.

Mirador de Yanahuara (free) is located within walking distance of the city centre (roughly 25 minutes) and has a great view of Arequipa and El Misti volcano.

Museo Santuarios Andinos (20 soles) is where you can come face to face with Juanita, the frozen mummy of an Inca girl who was sacrificed in the 15th century. We didn’t have the time to visit but people say great things about this museum.

Go to San Camilo market (free) to see how the locals shop or to buy a few souvenirs. How many types of potato can you find?! Go to the top floor to try queso helado (literally ‘frozen cheese’), which is kind of like a vanilla flavoured shaved ice and is a speciality of Arequipa.

 

Where to eat

If you love food, Arequipa is the place for you!

Zig Zag is the place to try a juicy alpaca steak served on volcanic stone, although their fish, lamb and beef are also super tasty and perfectly cooked. Look out for the iron staircase – it was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Crepisimo has a huge menu of crepes and is a great option for a quick lunch. I just had to try a cheese and avocado-filled crepe, yum! They make the crepes with cañihua, quinoa’s cousin.

Go to Chaqchao to enjoy some fine Peruvian chocolate from a balcony overlooking a pretty street.

Potato lovers, rejoice! Visit Hantunpa (Quechua for ‘big potato’) to try seven different types of potatoes with your choice of delicious topping. My friends went there and really enjoyed it (I was ill and didn’t eat that night, boo!).

 

Where to stay

We stayed at Dragonfly hostel which is central, quiet and affordable. We enjoyed the hammocks on the rooftop and the crepes for breakfast.

If you’re looking for more of a party hostel, Wild Rover is the place to be.

If you have a bigger budget, Katari Hotel looks AMAZING. Right on the main square, its breakfast view is hard to beat! Casa Andina Select is also super central with a beautiful view from its rooftop swimming pool.

 

peruvian weaving

monasterio santa catalina

santa catalina monastery peru

Arequipa is also the best place to stop on your way to the Colca Canyon – if you love beautiful mountain landscapes you shouldn’t miss it. I’m going to write another post about our two days there so stay tuned!

Are you going to Arequipa? Let me know in the comments!

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7 reasons why Lima, the capital of Peru, is the most underrated city in South America. #Travel

Lima Peru

When I was planning my trip to Peru, people told me that I shouldn’t bother with Lima. I was told that it was just a grey, uninteresting city and that spending more than one night there would be a waste.

But after spending 36 hours in Lima, all I wanted to do was stay and explore more. I loved the architecture, energy and food that the city has to offer, and there was so much that I had yet to see!

Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t leave Lima out of your Peru itinerary.

 

Its historic centre is beautiful

Lima’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. It’s filled with so many colourful examples of colonial architecture, the most significant being the Convent of San Francisco (with its bone-lined catacombs!). It’s hard not to love the bright yellow buildings of Plaza Mayor or the gorgeous pink walls of the old Central Post Office.

 

Barranco, Lima, Peru

It also has a bohemian neighbourhood

Barranco is always described as being Lima’s bohemian neighbourhood. This is the place to hunt for cool street art or enjoy a free outdoor concert.

Don’t miss the romantic Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros), a great place to catch the sunset. If you like photography, pay a visit to Peruvian photographer Mario Testino’s MATE museum.

 

punto azul lima

It has some of the best food in the world

Lima is the foodie capital of South America. It has three restaurants in ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants‘ list, or the same number as London or New York.

Its location also makes Lima the ideal place to try fresh ceviche. A local told me that you should only have ceviche by the coast and never after 4pm, otherwise it’s not fresh enough. Fine by me! I loved our lunch at Punto Azul (pictured above) on our last day.

To combine food and sightseeing, head to the archeological site of Huaca Pucllana for dinner with a view on 1,500 year old ruins. There are also plenty of great food tours available in the city which I sadly didn’t have the time to try.

 

Miraflores, Lima, Peru

It’s always warm

If you look at the average temperatures in Lima you’ll notice that they’re never very far from 20°C – which is perfect if you ask me! The coldest month is August when the average low is 15°C and the average high is 19°C. (London is jealous!)

Don’t underestimate the Peruvian sun – you’ll end up with red shoulders like I did on my first day 🙁

 

Surfers Lima Peru

You can paraglide from its seaside cliffs and surf the waves of the Pacific Ocean…

Or in my case, watch from a distance! Now, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about surfing, so check out WannaSurf to find out where the best surfing spots are in Lima. For paragliding, try Aeroextreme – it has great reviews and they will fly you over Miraflores or Pachacamac.

 

sea lions Peru

… and you can even swim with sea lions

Head to the Palomino Islands to see penguins and swim with curious sea lions. I so regret not doing this! Thankfully I got to see these gorgeous animals in Paracas, the next stop on my Peruvian itinerary.

 

dancing Lima Peru

You can dance the night (and day) away

Go to Parque Kennedy in Miraflores in the late afternoon and you’ll probably spot a crowd of locals gathering around an amphitheatre to watch people dance. It made me smile to see young couples dance to the music while old ladies enjoyed chatting and watching the crowd!

A local that I met on my walk around Miraflores was surprised when I said that I don’t really go dancing very often in London. He thought everyone danced salsa on a Saturday night!

 

Have you been to Peru? What do you think of Lima?

P.S. If you’re going to be travelling by bus, check out my review of Peru Hop. If you’re looking for a hostel in Lima, I’d recommend Pariwana in Miraflores.

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Travelling by bus is the best way to explore Peru. Read this for a great 2 week itinerary and a review of Peru Hop.

peru bus travel

 

If you want to really explore Peru, you pretty much have no choice but to take buses. A lot of buses. There are a few different travel companies you can choose from and it can be hard to choose which one to go with – a bus is a bus, right? Wrong! My travel companion/friend Arina and I debated the pros and cons of different companies for days before finally deciding to go with Peru Hop.

 

peru hop bus

What makes Peru Hop different

It’s convenient and reliable

Peru Hop makes your life easy and stress-free. You buy one ticket on their website, choose on which days you want to take the bus, put in what hotel you’re staying in and just show up at your hotel lobby at the time stated on your timetable. You are then dropped off at your next destination in front of your chosen hotel. Easy! You don’t have to deal with the hassle of buying a ticket for each journey or having to make your way to a bus station at the other side of town. We actually met a lovely Canadian guy who started off his trip by travelling by public bus but gave up and bought a Peru Hop ticket so that he wouldn’t have to speak in broken Spanish to local taxi drivers and get told to pay gringo (tourist) fares.

If you don’t enjoy organising every detail of your trip, you can even let your Peru Hop guide do that for you. Before you arrive at each destination, your guide will ask if you need them to book a hotel or a tour for you. Although we booked most of our hotels in advance, lots of people just relied on Peru Hop to get them a room at the last minute.

 

It’s fun

Because everyone is doing roughly the same itinerary, you can easily make friends with other travellers on Peru Hop. You often end up staying in the same hostels or going on the same tours as other passengers which is really nice!

 

It’s flexible

Peru Hop gives you the flexibility to change your bus times whenever you like, and your ticket is valid for a whole year. So if you’re travelling in South America for six months and you fall in love with Arequipa, you can stay there for a month before getting back on the bus if you feel like it.

 

It’s a great itinerary

The Full South to Cusco itinerary takes you to all the most important sights in Southern Peru. While a normal bus company could take you from A to B, it wouldn’t do all the extra stops that Peru Hop does. We got to visit places like Cristo Pacifico in Lima, the Paracas National Reserve and the Nazca Lines, all without having to buy multiple tickets or change buses.

 

It gives you discounts

Peru Hop gives you access to discounts for hotels, hostels and tours. As an example, I tried to find an alternative company for the Lake Titicaca one day/one night tour and checked all the best ones on TripAdvisor but none could match the price we got through Peru Hop.

 

peru hop bus

My only (slight) complaint…

I have to be completely honest here and say that if you want to be very comfortable, maybe Peru Hop isn’t the best option. The buses were fine for the shorter journeys but the overnight trips were a bit rough. We had a good (Bolivia Hop) night bus for the Puno to Cusco part of the trip but for Nazca to Arequipa we were in a normal bus which wasn’t great to sleep in. It was just one night so it was fine but it’s something to be aware of! Other bus companies have more luxurious night bus options but they don’t offer the convenience or level of service that Peru Hop does.

 

Peru hop bus

The Full South to Cusco itinerary

Peru Hop offer other itineraries, including one that can link to Bolivia Hop, but we only had a limited amount of time. I don’t think I could have planned a better itinerary for 2 weeks myself! It was quite full-on but we made the most of the time we had and saw a lot of the country.

You start off in Lima, the underrated food capital of South America…

Lima Peru

… before going to Paracas to see amazing wildlife in the Ballestas Islands.

islas ballestas tour

Huacachina is probably the place we had the most fun in, with its sandboarding and dune buggies.

Huacachina Peru

After a night in the desert, you head to Arequipa which is a charming city I would have liked to spend more time in. Most people will do a tour or a hike to Colca Canyon from there.

Arequipa Peru

The next stop is Puno, an unimpressive city on Lake Titicaca. I recommend doing a tour to see how locals live on the islands on the lake!

Puno Peru

Finally, the last stop is beautiful Cusco. It used to be the capital of the Inca Empire and it is surrounded by historic sites. It’s a great place to stay if you want to explore the Sacred Valley and you can easily make your way to Machu Picchu from there.

cusco peru

 

Basically, Peru Hop made our trip sooo much more relaxed, and I would recommend it to anyone. It’s a fun experience, you get to visit some amazing places you wouldn’t go to otherwise, and you get dropped off at right in front your hotel!

I’ll be writing a more detailed day-by-day itinerary with recommended hotels, tours and restaurants soon but please feel free to get in touch if you need any advice!

 

My bus trip was courtesy of Peru Hop but all views are my own! 

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