Santiago Just Wasn’t For Me

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Recently, I traveled to Rapa Nui. (Possibly more on that another time. I’m currently conflicted about how much to share of this exquisite island for fear of contributing to over tourism.) Enroute, I stopped in Santiago. And, surprisingly…shockingly…candidly, I really didn’t like it.

In Santa Lucía, a charming, artsy neighborhood in Central Santiago, I caught someone trying to pick pocket me while I was lusting after hand crafted bracelets and necklaces. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m fairly certain the jeweler and the older woman feigning interest while also being WAY to in my personal space were in on it together. Thankfully, my belongings are still with me. And admittedly, I left my AirBnB with a much different plan that morning hence a backpack that likely made me an easy mark. Regardless, it’s unnerving to find yourself in a foreign country panicking that everything you need has been swiped right from under you.

Even before this mishap, the not-so-charming gentleman and my walking tour of Centro Santiago were meh. The Plaza de Armas was hardly appreciated. The Mercado Central should have been a place to stop, not the hideous Café Bombay (aka, coffee with legs) even with the explanation that I should be ‘open minded’ and understand the women want to work. If that’s what women want to do, I try not to judge. But costumes with the cigarettes and cigars were too much for me.

All over town, taxis were a hassle, heckling about the price and having keep your eyes glued on the meter to avoid shenanigans a NYC Cabbie would admire. Yet, Uber is “illegal” so what do you do? I walked most places. By this point, I was so downtrodden; I completely forgot there was a Metro.

Admittedly, these are champagne problems resulting from my own poor planning. My workaholic tendencies kept me from my due diligence, but Santiago just isn’t as welcoming as other capitals. The Museo Nacional Bellas Artes is a beautiful building (entrance is free) but the exhibits are all in Spanish. I tried to practice but my Spanish is still fairly rudimentary. I inquired about a guided tour or recording but the woman smiled and kindly said, “no habla ingles.”

Beyond the complexities of a language barrier, I was struck by the number of homeless people. Pollution and trash, if not addressed will soon be big problems for this metropolis.

The bright spot of Santiago has to be the boom in restaurants and nightlife. The exchange rate generally works in a tourists favor and you can enjoy some impeccable meals at very good prices (22 tapas plus a bottle of wine: $70 USD). My three favorites were

  • Bocanariz. A wine bar featuring terrific flights of Carmenere (well actually just about any wine) in Santa Lucía.
  • Chipe-Libre. For the largest selection of Pisco in Santiago
  • Peumayén. The Providencia restaurant features “tribal food”which I think is really a polite way of saying ‘only tourists come here’ but the service was excellent with delicious food.

Anything in the Central Market is good if you can get over the discernible tourist trap feeling.

Before I left, I was visiting Valparasio with friends and confessed my not-so-fond thoughts of Santiago. To my surprise, my friend agreed. It just wasn’t her favorite either. That left me wondering. When places no longer enthrall you, is it time to stop exploring? Or, have I become a snob that I can’t see the unique charms of each place I visit?

 

Rules are Rules. Especially when it comes to ice cream.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Visit Coppelia’s in Havana for the ice cream and the chance to experience the many oddities of Cuba.

A few blocks down from the Hotel Nacional de Cuba is Coppelia, an ice cream parlor. It’s here where you can not only try the ice cream but experience the many oddities of Cuba, and in some ways, communism.

When you start telling people you are traveling to Cuba, especially Havana, you’ll hear stories about the “amazing” ice cream. Coppelia’s isn’t easy to find but its hard to skip if you are stopping by the Hotel Nacional for the stunning views of the Havana harbor, the seawall and the city overall.

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Looking out across Havana’s Harbor from Hotel Nacional. The blue skies in Havana were ever present and even this photo doesn’t do them justice.

It’s at the corner of La Rampa (23) and L in Vedado district. If you are at the Hotel Nacional, it’s about a 15-20 minute walk straight down L Street. The neighborhood has an academic feel, and then somewhat suddenly, you’ll stumble on a futuristic looking spot (there is a flying saucer tower at the center) with lots of people walking around. Depending on the day, you may also see long lines that are common with Coppelia.

As you enter the shop’s mostly outdoor space, Cuban’s are directed to the right and tourists to the left. We were specifically told to avoid the tourist ice cream. Its more expensive, the flavors aren’t as wide and the experience overall isn’t the same. Armed with this knowledge, we steered ourselves to the right.

Cuba, however, had other plans. Did you know Coppelia’s has their very own ice cream police? We were hunted down in line and forcefully told “tourista.” While we weren’t yanked out of the line, it was clear by la policia that we were bucking the rules. I never got the impression that locals would have objected or been offended by our presence. But, we never made it that far. In Cuba, rules are rules. They are to be followed even when they seem dumb. Even when the enforcer can’t explain the logic or rationale of the rule. So, we were forced to the path on the left.

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To the left! Cuban ice cream for “touristas.” 

The ice cream selection for tourists was limited (vanilla, chocolate, raspberry), scooped out of a trailer looking to mimic a 1950’s dinner, and served in old fashion glass dishes. In fairness, the selection could have been limited due to the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. Suppliers are on holiday, which limits deliveries of necessary ingredients.

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One scoop of vanilla ice cream at the Coppelia in Havana.

Tables are communal, grouped for parties of four and six so its possible to have the experience of sharing you sweet snack with strangers. Overall the ice cream was underwhelming. It was ice cream, sure, but it lacked any lingering flavor or unique quality. It could be that dairy products are so difficult to come by in Cuba that isn’t a treat in a literal sense but in an economic sense. In Cuba, if you are prosperous, you can visit the Coppelia. Perhaps people don’t care what it tastes like. It’s the act of being there.

Interestingly, we got to the Hotel Nacional by walking along the Malecón. Along the way we stumbled on an ice cream parlor. I don’t remember the name but we walked in, managed to navigate a communication barrier, and were served a wild concoction of flavors –mango, pineapple, banana with a small square of cake at the bottom. This, THIS, was the ice cream I think everyone describe to us. Amazing. Despite the uncommon flavors, they mixed together. And the cake was sweet, spongey and absorbed the melted ice cream in this perfect way. It was a real treat in every sense of the word.

I’ll have many fond memories of my trip to Cuban. The quest for ice cream will always stand out. Mostly because of la policia. But really it’s a lesson about getting off the beaten path while you are traveling. Traveling with a large group, most people took cabs everywhere. We split off into a smaller group, and walked everywhere. Everyone had fun but I maintain we saw and experienced the best of Cuba. How do I know? Because I just (somewhat vaguely) told you where to find the real, amazing ice cream.

If you are curious, I found this write up on Coppelia from a Cuban writer. While this was closer to the experience I was hoping for, I wouldn’t change a think about my excursion.

Outtakes from Cuba

Travel restrictions to Cuba are back. People much wiser than me will share their position on the topic while I’m just sharing a few of my favorite images from my trip.

The world moves fast and many times my writing doesn’t keep up. Case in point: my January trip to Cuba. New restrictions placed on travel to Cuba (for U.S. citizens only) mean Americans can no longer travel the way I did.

Many people will write more elegant thoughts on why President Trump’s reversal of Obama’s looser restrictions is right (or wrong, to be fair). Here’s my brief thought: its wrong.

I don’t agree that tourist dollars go straight to “the government” as stated in the reversal of travel restrictions. It’s my opinion that mandating US travelers visit Cuba under a “cultural exchange” tour is ridiculous. You think the government doesn’t dictate where these tours go? Give me a break. Further, these tours are triple the price of solo travel or making your own arrangements as a group.

Sadly, what’s done is done. I agonized about going to Cuba. I hadn’t traveled in a large group, or with this group of people, our accommodations were made last minute and overpriced. Yes, I also thought about traveling to a communist country. Its something I’d never done before. While some said, “it’ll be a breeze” you just don’t know what to expect or what can happen. Ultimately, a friend convinced me to say yes. I’m glad I went. It was such a unique experience. Perhaps even the equivalent of travelers bragging rights.

Because it’s an experience many people now won’t have, I do feel conflicted about writing about. I don’t naively believe I have millions of readers. I write as a hobby, primarily for myself. But, if you actually take the time to read my musings (thank you), isn’t it a bit like putting dessert in front of a child while saying, “sorry not for you?”

While I wrestle with my own inner conflict (a bit of sarcasm)… here are a few of my personal favorite images from Cuba. Enjoy!

Colors of Trinidad, Cuba
The colors around the city of Trinidad are like nothing I’ve seen. Soft pastels that are just beautiful while calling out to be photographed. 
The band played on
By the time I left Cuba, I felt like something was missing if we weren’t being serenaded by musicians. It a way of life for many Cubans but it was a treat to sit in cafes listening to salsa, mariachi or something else.
Fishing Off the Malecón
The Malecón is a five mile highway along the coastal portions of Havana. Its a long walk from Old Havana to the famous Nacional Hotel, where travelers folk for fancy drinks and lovely views of Havana Harbor. I loved seeing the locals out fishing (and of course blue sky and ocean) along the way.

Packing for a trip to Cuba

Heading to Cuba? Here are my notes on what you must bring, probably should bring and absolutely don’t need to bring on your trip.

Passport: Check, Ticket: Check, Tourist Card: Check.
A Cuban visa (or tourist card) is just one of the documents you’ll need to pack.

Packing for a trip to Cuba* is an experience unlike any other. At least, that’s how I remember it. The list of government-required documents –health insurance, visa– takes time and legwork to track down. Once you’ve checked that box, the challenge shifts to what kind of stuff to throw in your luggage. Temperatures are warm year-round because Cuba is close to the equator. It’s usually sunny and in the summer months, sunny and humid.

With that in mind, pack clothing that’s comfortable and keeps you cool. Air conditioning is not universally available in shops and restaurants, and where it is available it may be on the fritz, or just off.

To offer a little more guidance on “comfortable” I’d suggest you dress moderately; nothing risqué or showy. No need to dress as if you are visiting an Orthodox church, but generally I’d err on the humble side. Packing one slightly dressier outfit in case you want to visit one of the fancier restaurants in the major cities like Havana is enough.

But, what I want to focus on is the other “stuff” that—in my experience—nobody talks about. To make your trip fun, I’m passing my learnings along. Having these items will increase your enjoyment and peace of mind.

Here’s what you must bring, probably should bring and what can be left at home when traveling to Cuba.

Must Bring. As in, don’t get on your flight without these items.

Cash. Outside of your passport and travel documents, cash is king. Food, drinks, shopping, lodging—all of it has to be paid for in cash. Once you hit Cuba, credit and debit cards are almost universally useless. They aren’t accepted and you most certainly cannot withdraw money from ATM’s.

Savvy travelers swap dollars for Euro’s, Canadian dollars or Mexican pesos (I didn’t know anyone who used pesos, but heard it mentioned in conversation) before leaving the US. That’s because changing currency in Cuba is tricky. There is a 3% processing fee to change any currency to CUC (convertible pesos, the tourist currency). But be warned, if you are changing dollars to CUC, you get the privilege of paying an additional 10% “processing fee.” Ouch, the fun of being caught up in politics.

One thing to consider is, because of the amount of cash you’ll be carrying, a traveler’s money belt is a smart way to keep the majority of cash. Then carry few denominations in your pocket. Not that you have to worry about muggings. Aside from pickpockets, Cuba is one of the safest countries for travelers. There may be many poor neighborhoods, but there are no “bad” ones.

Another item to consider the exchange rate is about 1-to-1 CUC to dollar, and slightly better for Euro. This is not the same currency that Cubans use. You’re paying much more with a CUC than a Cuban peso, but prices remain comparatively reasonable. A good meal, when you find one, will cost a quarter of what it would in the States.

Two other considerations—1) where, and 2) how much money to exchange? Changing dollars at the airport is the only alternative we found. Any airport you arrive at will have a money exchange, and this is often (but not always) the best rate you’ll find. We exchanged the majority of our Euros there, and then once at a major hotel in Havana.

How much to exchange depends primarily on your budget. Still—exchanging money back to dollars is a losing proposition. So whatever you’re going to exchange you should spend. Rest assured, your money makes a positive difference in Cuba’s economy.

Probably Should Bring. These things aren’t must haves, but you’re better off bringing.

First aid kit. Nothing complicated like you are planning for a Zombie apocalypse, but a supply of band aides, bug/mosquito spray, aspirin, Pepto, and Kleenex (which comes in handy for places that don’t offer toilet paper). Stomach upset can quickly derail a vacation, so it’s not a bad idea to speak with your doctor about antibiotics, or other items that need a prescription.

Tip: Carry medications in their prescription bottles, especially controlled substances, to avoid problems with Cuban officials.

How important is a first aid kit? Only you can say. But, my entire mini kit was emptied helping other people on my trip before we left Havana.

Host gifts. You’ll read that sundries like toothpaste and shampoo are expensive and difficult to find in Cuba. While things are better than in the past, both of these facts (not alternate facts) remain true.

You’ll want to show your gratitude for strong Cuban coffee and a delicious homemade breakfast when staying at a Casa Particularas.

If you are staying in a Casa Particularas (highly recommended over state-run hotels), it’s good form to bring your host a small gift of toothpaste, shampoo or soaps. Or, you can bring something from your own hometown. The Cuban people were extremely friendly and open to receiving small tokens of gratitude.

Even if you aren’t staying in a Casa Particularas, these small gifts can be given to hotel staff like the concierge and housekeeping staff. As far as how to present the gifts, do it with respect. I explained I was thankful for the host’s help to make my stay in Cuba extra pleasant, and because of that, I wanted to offer a small gift in appreciation.

Spanish phrase book. Because you can’t readily access Wi-Fi or the Internet, apps like Google translate aren’t an option. Therefore, consider a Spanish phrase book. If you are traveling without someone proficient in Spanish, and venturing outside a major city, then I urge you to consider one. “¿Dónde está el baño?” will only get you so far. By the way, tipping is expected in public bathrooms—have your wipes and pocket change ready.

Definitely Don’t Need to Bring. You’ll be grateful you didn’t waste space in your carry on with these items.

High-heeled shoes (wedges, platforms). Outside of major cities in Cuba, and even in some areas of smaller cities like Trinidad and Cienfuegos, roads are dirt, uneven cement, and cobblestone. You won’t want to navigate these streets in anything other than flats.

Adaptors. Cuba’s electric grid is U.S. compatible, so you don’t need adaptors to charge up your camera and mobile phone (for photos or games, since Cuba blocks U.S. carrier signals).

 

*Sorry folks! This content is primarily applicable to U.S. travelers. This is especially the case related to travel documents and currency exchange. Other information is what I’d consider more “globally appropriate.”

 

Cuba and The Rule of Four

Travel is a privilege, but sometimes travel is also political. When our former President opened up diplomatic relations with Cuba, clearing the way for wanderlusts to start visiting, I began to get serious about visiting this forbidden-to-US-citizen’s-island.

I started by hitting the books, beginning with Cuba Information Manual by Michael Bellows. It’s an older book, updated recently, about travel around Cuba. Why does this matter?

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Via la Cuba! Street art in Trinidad, Cuba.

Cuba is a communist country. Bellows lays out all the various rules (drugs in Cuba will result in prison) and regulations (tourists can only eat tourist ice cream) that you need to take into consideration (hot water for your shower is a luxury in many places) when visiting. Some of the rules aren’t relevant anymore. Some are. And, like many guide books, it’s a bit of a “take it with a grain of salt.” You’ll have to decide, based on your own itinerary, how much is applicable. Bottom line, if you read this book and panic, this might not be the right place to visit.

If you are still in, as I was, then I suggest finding a travel guide. You can certainly opt for “DIY” planning. But I wouldn’t. I’m not sure it’s worth it and the risk of getting stuck at a government run, over priced hotel, is real. Ask around, it’s surprisingly easy to find a “friend of a friend” who lives in Cuba and tapped his or her entrepreneurial spirit by starting a business helping travelers.

One thing travelers don’t tell you about Cuba – there is a Rule of Four. The Rule of Four is an unwritten occurrence in Cuba. It happens largely in restaurants but can happen shops. The rule is that every fourth thing you order or ask will be forgotten. Seriously. It’s not an insult or a deliberate thing.

As a communications professional, this is consistent with delivering a point or a key message. We always tell brands or spokespeople to give no more than three points. That’s all people can remember. I think, in Cuba, much of the staff is mildly proficient in English. They forget the fourth item because they are trying so hard to speak to you in English and remember the first points of your order, the fourth just drops.

My other theory behind the Rule of Four has to do with food scarcity. Throughout Cuba there is an insufficient supply, or amount, of many foods. The most common items we observed being consistently unavailable were cheese, jamon (ham) and by the end of our trip beer. I’m not an economics professor but its a bit of supply and demand. It’s expensive to “stock up” on these items. And, it’s just how Cubans live. Out of something? No big deal, wait until the next delivery.

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Croquetas. A delicious but rare snack in Cuba.

Of course, travelers from Europe and especially the US don’t think this way. Some travel companions advocated that Cuban restaurants should know better and order larger qualities of popular items. That’s just not the way it works in Cuba. It’s also not a question of “getting a larger fridge.” (For the love of whatever God you may worship, PLEASE, do not say this. Its insulting to Cubans and fuels the rampant stereotype that Americans are idiots.)

Outside of restaurants, even in a taxi, the fourth question you ask the driver is likely to be forgotten. In shops, the fourth item you want see and negotiate for, is also, forgotten.

Now that you know about the secret Rule of Four, prepare yourself by ordering food or asking questions in batches of three. Seriously. It works.

With a new President residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s hard to say how much longer Americans will get to experience this entertaining Rule of Four. After I wrote this, I discovered the administration is conducting “a full review” of US polices on Cuba. I fear embargoes will return and ease of travel will be a thing of the past.

It’s a shame. From my perspective, this only hurts Cuban’s who are inquisitive and friendly beyond your wildest imagination. If you’ve stumbled on my infrequent writings, do know this information could be dated as soon as I hit publish. Check the status of US-Cuban travel rules before moving ahead. Of course you can still visit via Mexico and other Caribbean countries like many people have for years before. But you won’t get that precious stamp in your passport.

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Cuban Passport Stamp: Check

First Impressions: Chincoteague, Virginia

 

If you are female and grew up in the United States in the ‘70s/80’s, there’s a good chance you read Misty of Chincoteague. (It’s possible boys read this beloved novel as well, but I have yet to meet a gentleman who will admit to it.) This children’s novel* is set in the small community of Chincoteague, Virginia, and depicts the trials and tribulations of a family raising a filly (young horse) born to a wild horse. I don’t recall what about the book resonated with me, but something did and I read all of Marguerite Henry’s books in the ‘Misty’ series.

In a passing conversation with Mr. Os about B&Bs and cabins last year, it was brought to my attention that Washington, DC is comparatively close to Chincoteague Island.  In fact, it’s about a 3-hour straight shot by car. A visit to see the horses Misty is based on instantly appealed to me and the spot landed smack on my 2015 2015 Summer Bucket List. It was such a great visit that I decided to revisit the quiet island for some much needed stress relief.

After two trips to Chincoteague Island, along Virginia’s scenic Eastern Shore, one of the more important influences on a visitor’s first impressions is the time and season you are visiting the island.

“The season,” (essentially the summer months June, July and August) is the time of year when the sun is out, temperature is hot and being on an island offers ocean breezes; a wonderful respite from the land-locked scorch of DC humidity. If you are here during “the season” you’ll observe islanders in typical island attire (shorts, t-shirts and sandals) with a business as usual attitude. Souvenir shops are open and almost too plentiful in some spots, the boat tours are running (and worth it) and ice cream or coffee bar is churning out everyone’s favorite treat. It’s one part quaint, one part relaxing, and just invitingly frozen-in-time enough to make a perfect getaway.

Make no mistake, this is the kind of sleepy small town where no matter how much you might try to blend, islanders will instantly peg you as visiting. It’s a tight-knit, but friendly community (population under 3,000 per the 2010 census). You’ll be treated in a courteous manner, but don’t expect to be making new friends of locals at Chattie’s for happy hour. Nod, be polite and pass through.

If you grew up in a similar town or community, you know exactly what I mean. If you didn’t, it’s difficult to explain. Small, tight-knit communities are just that. Visitors move on, that’s the way it goes. It takes a long time to prove to these folks that you are worth an investment of their time.

But, you aren’t necessarily on Chincoteague to make new friends. If you made the trip, you are hear to see the famous ponies, relax, (over)eat seafood and enjoy the scenery, beautiful beaches and vibrant wildlife.

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The ponies of Assateague Island.

 

A visit in shoulder months surrounding “the season,” either late May, or early November, is a drastically different experience. Beach weather varies depending on the year, but it’s likely going to be overcast and chilly. More importantly, unlike “the season” when there are a series of festivals and things to do from Thursday through Sunday, people are left to their own devices.  Shops aren’t open during the week; some not at all. Visitor foot traffic just doesn’t warrant it and can’t support it.

Without the sunny skies the island feels tired, maybe a little forgotten. You get the feeling it’s a bit like time bypasses Chincoteague until it’s time to expect visitors. Cinco de Mayo is not much more than a passing thought—even at the local taco stand. When we recently visited it was more about the upcoming Mayoral election.

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Even grey days on Chincoteague Island are lovely.

Interestingly, I found islanders to be more welcoming in the off-season. While I don’t read much into it, I do believe it takes a special kind of traveler to visit Chincoteague outside the normal dates. The type of person who can appreciate when weather is grey and wet. Maybe it’s the kind of traveler who’s visited before and appreciates  quiet time to refresh and recharge. Maybe locals can sense this and are happy to oblige. Maybe they just appreciate a little extra off-tourism income.

Either way, a visit to Chincoteague is worth the time. Before you go, consider the type of experience you want and book accordingly.

*Yes, the novel launched a life long love of horses, which was sadly stifled short by an off-the-chart allergies to grass, hay…and (wait for it)…horses.

Author’s note: My personal travel philosophy is never to write while I’m away. I do keep notes in a journal. Observations help me to remember my impressions and experiences for your (and really my) enjoyment. To me, travel is about being in the moment, not spending the moment on a computer.

 

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How to Pack for Kilimanjaro

Let me start with a few confessions.

Confession #1: I love a good capsule wardrobe for travel.

Confession #2: I admire people who can put 3 weeks of clothing into one carryon bag.

Confession #3: While I’m hardly “fashion forward” I do try to look my best at home and when I travel.

However, when I’m climbing a mountain, I’m all about comfort and safety so the above confessions are pretty much tossed out the window.

Whew, now that’s out of the way…Once you’ve committed to Kilimanjaro, you are going to get two things in abundance: advice and packing lists. Even the most well intentioned friends will have you over packed for this journey. Trust me when I say: Don’t. Do. It.

Before you run for the hills in tears, allow me to offer some advice. Do read the packing list from your trip organizer. Think about what you need, what you can borrow, etc. (Not so shameless plug: review my beg, buy or borrow post for ideas). Take a deep breath.

The best way, IMO, to tackle your packing list is to break it into two parts. The first is what your porter carries. While this is a godsend come day three, porters are only allowed to carry so much. Spend a few minutes deciding what you really need versus what’s a safety net.

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In case you thought I was joking. Our Porter and Guide doing the required gear “weigh-in” before we started climbing.

The second list is what you want in your own day pack. You don’t have a weight restriction for your own pack. But, you’ll enjoy your climb A LOT more if you don’t burden yourself with unnecessary items.

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All ready to be packed! A mix of Kilimanjaro items from pack list #1 and #2

Kilimanjaro Pack List #1. (Again, this is what your porter carries for you. Modify the quantity of items based on the duration of your climb. I did the Rongai Route, which is six days. Other routes are shorter so you’ll need less clothing.)

  • 6 pairs socks. Invest in heavy-duty running or hiking socks so your heels and toes have some “cushion.”
  • 3 dry weave type shirts, short sleeve
  • 2 dry weave type shirts, long sleeve
  • 1 pair of hiking pants (converter style that double as shorts are best—in a fabric that dries out fast)
  • 1 pair extra thick, wool socks*
  • 2-3 pairs long underwear/base layers (top and bottom)*
  • 1 pair of heavy duty down pants, ideally wind/water proof (think ski pants)*
  • 1 all weather down jacket*
  • Winter hat*
  • Gloves*
  • Neck warmer, scarf*
  • Hand/foot warmers*
  • Select toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, travel size deodorant, bug repellant, sunscreen. That’s all you need. This is a hike, not a beauty pageant.)
  • 1 Headlamp and one small flashlight—invest in a good, light LED headlamp, you’ll thank yourself later.
  • 1 Sleeping bag (Depending on how much your sleeping bag weighs, these may have to in your backpack)
  • 1 Sleeping bag insert/sheet

* items are for the final climb to Uhuru Peak. What’s odd about packing for Kilimanjaro is that half your gear is for the final 12 hours of the climb.

Kilimanjaro Personal Pack List #2. (What you carry up the mountain)

  • Water bottle—Insulated is best but a regular bottle will work
  • Camera
  • Book or journal if you use them
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain poncho
  • Warm fleece jacket or “outer layer”
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun screen and/or hat
  • Passport, ID and cash. (There is nothing to buy on Kilimanjaro so you really don’t “need” cash. But, if you bring cash on your climb its best to keep it on your person)
  • Hard candy (bring it, if you don’t use it the porters will HAPPILY accept it)
  • Starbucks Via packets (what can I say, I need my caffeine)

Put these items in a Ziploc or dry bag inside your own pack:

  • Band-Aids and moleskin
  • Sandwich bags (if you forget to water proof your boots, or the water proofing fails, put fresh socks on, add bags and get back on the trail. Thank MacGyver)
  • 1 pair of clean socks
  • Travel pack of kleenex
  • Any meds that you take regularly
  • Hand sanitzer, wet wipes

Not referenced: dry bags. Invest in some dry bags for your clothes. Don’t be a smarty and think your stuff won’t get wet. After getting soaked on the Inka Trail, I own several different try bags. My favorite were from a now closed local store, Hudson Trail Outfitters. REI, LLBean, etc., have decent ones. When purchasing dry bags, make sure the item has  a very tight seal, otherwise its worthless.

Pro tip: Put everything in your dry bags and weigh them before you depart. Bags often add unplanned weight to your items. Depending on the final weight or your gear, you may need to shuffle and repack so your porter isn’t breaking any park rules.

Two items I packed that, in hindsight, weren’t needed: mosquito spray and after bite (think: itch reliever). There are pretty much zero mosquitos on Kilimanjaro.

The final word goes to cameras. My preferred camera is a larger, multi-lens digital camera. Because of space and weight, I decided to bring the small “point and shoot” seen above. I was worried about the quality of photos but that was wasted energy.

Most camera battery’s (and iPhone’s) freeze half way to Uhuru Peak. Your best bet to capture those YOLO images is to bring an extra battery and keep it and your camera tucked inside your jacket. The warmth is usually enough to keep the battery from draining.

Happy packing (and climbing)!

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The start of the Rongai Route, Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa.