2 Weeks in Kenya: Farm to Table Food, Safari Vibes, & Maasai Charm

As has become the theme with recent trips, we wanted the visit to East Africa to be both diverse and immersive, so as to at least get a breadth of exposure to what’s going on in this part of the world. In 2 weeks, we set out to cover three different terrains: mountains (we headed to Mount Kenya National Park & Olepangi Farm outside of Nanyuki), safari (off to the unrivaled Masai Mara), and beach (we hopped over to Zanzibar, Tanzania). In the interest of keeping these posts succinct and with the hope of doing each place justice, we’ve separated the Zanzibar portion into it’s own post.

sentinel mara camp masai mara out of africa safari

In planning for the Kenya trip, four regions emerged as forerunners for the visit: Laikipia, Masai Mara / Serengeti, Amboseli, and Tsavo East/West. Each place is worthy of 2 weeks alone, but we had to pick just one or two for this trip. We settled on Laikipia and Masai Mara, resolving to return to Amboseli and Tsavo the next time around (a future post-Kilimanjaro visit?).

One theme that not-so-accidentally emerged from this trip was an emphasis on agriculture and farm to table food, as well as getting back to the basics of the land we live on. From farm life in Laikipia, to dining and sleeping alongside a pod of hippos, to harvesting and feasting on our own shamba garden lunch, I can confidently say that we fully immersed ourselves into the culture, land, and the creatures that run wild on it.

Laikipia / Mount Kenya Region

A bit of background

Laikipia, centered between Kenya’s picturesque Rift Valley and the windswept central highlands, is an oft-visited favorite by tourists from around the globe - including some of the world’s most note-worthy elite (Prince William & Bill Gates to name a couple; Prince William in fact proposed to Kate Middleton at the nearby Lewa Wildlife Conservancy).

The reasons for frequent visits to this region are two-fold: it’s both incredibly beautiful, but also a place with a lot of work to be done.

olepangi nanyuki kenya
nanyuki kenya

In recent years, Kenya’s tourism industry and conservation efforts have been threatened by violence resulting from severe limitations in resources. In 2016, a government report noted that more than 600,000 illegal firearms were circulating among pastoralists in the highland plains as a direct result of the economic strain. Just this year, amidst severe droughts, it was reported that 30,000 residents in Laikipia alone are facing starvation and in need of emergency food aid, given their reliance on water for sustenance. Weeks before our visit (and again after), fierce wildfires broke out in Mount Kenya National Park, claiming hundreds of thousands of hectares of national forest, further threatening water catchments, and imperiling unparalleled numbers of indigenous trees and exotic vegetation.

But the limited resources aren’t just natural in nature: Laikipia schools are also acutely underfunded and at risk of closing. Some schools are not even accounted for, because of poor internet connectivity. If these facts make you uncomfortable, well good, they should. It’s astonishing in many ways how desperate some parts of the world still are for resources which Westerners take for granted - and we should all be doing more to help contribute to fixing this. Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have a long way to go in Kenya, but acknowledgement of the problem is the first step. I’ve included a well-documented comprehensive background on how each applies in Kenya here.

nanyuki kenya olepangi

But it’s not all bad news, and progress is in the works: as part of the defense agreement with Kenya, the British army established a training base in Laikipia in 1974, and now trains around 10,000 troops and hosts an average of 365,000 training days a year on the Laikipia Plateau. This move has resulted in an injection of more than $75 million into Kenya’s economy. Just this April 2019, Laikipia County launched a 143 million (KSH) water project, which is expected to benefit over 25,000 residents and boost production in the villages, reducing the distance women and children cover while looking for water. Farmers in Laikipia county are also multiplying their yields and doubling profits thanks to conservation agriculture, a low-cost farming technique. The technology, which results in greater soil fertility, is based on three principles: minimal tillage, permanent soil cover and crop rotation, proof that even in the most resource-restricted societies, there is real benefit to data-driven technological advances in the world of food & agriculture. More of this, please.

It’s a critical time of growth and change, and it’s important that all of us continue to monitor opportunities to contribute. And don’t get us wrong: in spite of the economic state, Laikipia is an incredibly beautiful place to visit and we found the people to be quite welcoming. They say to put your money where your mouth is, and we whole-heartedly agree: spending your $$ on a visit to Laikipia is worth it - and then some.

Where to stay: Olepangi Farm ($$)

The back story

Olepangi’s owners are the type of people that you meet once and immediately feel like you’ve known them for years. Clinton and Elizabeth, world travelers and successful business owners themselves, are a huge component of what I like to call, “the farm charm.” It’s abundantly clear that they have poured themselves into every detail, from the landscaping, to the construction and interior design, to the community itself. The way in which they (and their 3 happy farm dogs!) open their arms to every single person they meet makes guests, staff, and neighbors alike all feel like a part of the family.

garden olepangi farm
olepangi farm nanyuki kenya

What was imprinted on me immediately was the nature theme and use of biophilic design throughout the premises. What is biophilia you ask? As succinctly stated by Wikipedia, it is a “concept used within the building industry to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions.” In real people speak: it’s a way of adapting the flow of nature into design, such that you feel it is almost hard to distinguish between being “inside” and “out”. As a recent NYTimes piece so eloquently stated, “biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition.”  As a huge fan of biomimicry and the idea of looking to nature for inspiration myself, this concept resonated with and immediately calmed me. I could almost audibly hear my own exhale as I stepped into my accommodations. As their website says, “step off the treadmill of life at Olepangi…” They have created a space that imparts a certain calmness and gives me the same type of coveted feeling I usually only get when standing on a mountaintop: freedom.

While a plethora of activities are available at Olepangi (safaris, horseback riding, etc.), don’t be surprised if you find yourself just wanting to stay local and enjoy the farm itself. There’s plenty to see and do, and roaming around is encouraged. A real highlight of the farm is, you guessed it: the farm itself. Newbies to the concept of farming and gardening only a few short years ago, Elizabeth and Clinton have somehow created an entire oasis which rivals the best of the local organic farms one would see back in California. When they first got started, the land, like most in the region, was overgrazed and lacking in basic nutrients. But with a bit of TLC, a red-sandy subsoil, a healthy dose of horse manure, and a nifty new drip irrigation system (technology!), they have built a successful and thriving farm from which the kitchen derives inspiration and quite a few of each meal’s ingredients to boot! I could’ve spent a whole day walking around checking out the diversity of flourishing fruits and vegetables there and was honestly quite shocked at just how many things can grow in this climate; something that surely should be leveraged to its fullest!

avocado olepangi farm real food health

Guest accommodations

There are three options for accommodations at the farm: the great house (which is where the owners live), the circle house (where I stayed) and a handful of individual cottages. I trust that in coming months, the owners will only continue to expand the offerings both in volume and variety as well.

circle room olepangi
olepangi kenya farm circle house
olepangi kenya farm

The party house

olepangi kenya farm
olepangi great room farm hotel

Walking with Mr. Kariuki

Remember how I said that Clinton and Elizabeth have an uncanny ability to turn neighbors and community into family? Well, it didn’t surprise me then that one of the activities to choose from was literally “a community walk with our neighbor, Mr. Kariuki”.

Sounds great in theory, right? But would it live up to expectations? With a healthy level of cynicism/skepticism, I signed up. Let’s give this a whirl. Mr. Kariuki picked me up at 9am. I agreed to the long waterfall hike (“no, I have nowhere else to be today”) and we began walking.

olepangi farm mr kariuki
waterfall olepangi farm

I quickly learned that Mr. Kariuki grew up the son of an entrepreneurial farmer, an upbringing he credits for instilling the values of curiosity, connection, and collaboration. He carried these values through into his teaching career, where he obsessed over history & learning from the past - pouring over “real books” (“I love the smell of real paper”) and finding company in his favorite authors.

We spoke about the importance of broadening ones world view, not thinking too narrow. How things that look secure usually are anything but, so you might as well take the risk. How everything is interconnected, so being too laser focused can be detrimental, as we all have a duty to find points of common ground, not points of conflict.

He shared with me his favorite authors, lessons learned and life metaphors from his favorite books. His current obsession is Yuval Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’, and he is not so patiently waiting for him to release his next novel - as “he’s the only person who is willing to speak the truth - even if people don’t like to hear it.” He also can’t get enough of Neil Macgregor (A History of the World in 100 Objects is his favorite & he emphasizes how much it makes you appreciate life’s simple things), Dan Brown, and his favorite Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The names rattle off his tongue like old friends.


He has faith in some of the leaders of Africa. Others - not so much. When I ask which one he admires most, he cites the Rwandan president, because he admires the way he has turned the country’s plights and post-genocide era into a chance for new beginnings. There is a lot of forward progress. Hope for the future.

I ask how many of these walks he has been on in the last few years. “Hundreds,” he replies. I hesitatingly follow up with “so what’s your opinion on humankind after keeping the company of so many diverse individuals over the years?” He replies that they are generally good, but sometimes scarily narrow minded, stuck in their modes of thinking, & at times lacking self awareness. The recurring theme is that he wishes people would be more willing to create their own version of their lives, not the ones prescribed.

We walk & talk, stopping at a beautiful waterfall, and making a surprise visit to the local school, where I meet hundreds of kids - including several of his nephews. Their smiles are a reminder of how little we need to be happy. Now I sound like a curated tour guide. Screw it.

kenya mountain school children olepangi
olepangi mountain kenya farm school children
olepangi nanyuki school
classroom olepangi mr kariuki

“What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made?” I ask, given our newfound intimacy. “I’m not a rich man, and I’ll never go far from this country in my remaining years - and I’m ok with that. I’m also okay with every mistake or misstep I have ever made. They’ve given me wisdom.” He thinks for a second and continues, “I’m a lucky man, because many people now come from around the world to Olepangi & I have the chance to go for these walks with them, and we learn from each other. I am very fulfilled. But the one regret I have is not spending the time when I had it to better educate myself. I wish I had opened my mind, and exposed myself to different ways of thinking. Now I am here in Kenya, and will probably not go far from here so have missed that opportunity.”

“But Mr. Kariuki,” I said, “maybe where you are meant to be is right here then after all - where you can both learn from others around the world who now come to YOU - and in return, you can teach them about Kenya, so that we can learn about your home, and maybe understand how to give something back. You couldn’t do that if you weren’t here. Maybe THAT is your calling.”

“Maybe,” he chuckled, “maybe.”

Masai Mara, Kenya

A bit of background

How did we choose Masai Mara over any of the other parks? Easy: because it was undisputably recommended to us as the absolute best place to visit - for culture, for animals, and for overall experience - especially for a first timer. “It just doesn’t get any better than Masai Mara,” said essentially everyone we asked. Who were we to disregard such consistent advice?

Something else that was extremely important to us was to try and do Masai Mara in both available styles: rustic “glamping,” which would bring us closest to nature and the Masai people, as well as a bit more of a “luxury” experience, where we would surely enjoy everything at its finest, but perhaps be ever so slightly removed from ground level. We felt like doing a bit of both was essential to the experience.

We found two camps which aligned well with our goal and stood out above the rest, and having now been home for a couple of weeks, I can say I would not have done a single thing differently. Both experiences were life-changing and beyond surpassed expectations.


Getting there

I spent far more time than I’m willing to admit trying to find out why on Earth you can’t just *drive* what appears to be only 6 or so hours from Nairobi to Masai Mara. But after only a few minutes on Kenya backroads while out at Olepangi, it became clear: 1) driving in Kenya is a bit like driving in the wild, wild, West and certainly not for a first time visitor to try and dip their toes into, and 2) “road” is a loose term; what may look like a road on Google Maps is often anything but. I’ve since learned that some locals do in fact drive from the city to Masai, but if you’re a tourist, just do yourself a favor and book a SafariLink flight out of Wilson airport. They’re expensive(ish) flights (~$300 round trip), but straightforward, and an enjoyable part of the experience. Try to think of it as a part of the safari itself (if you look closely, you can spot wildlife from the sky, as you soar over at 25,000 feet for 45 minutes) and write off the cost.

aero club of east africa kenya nairobi wilson masai mara safarilink

Do note that these flights go out of Wilson airport, which is a different airport than the Jomo Kenyatta International airport you likely flew into, but only a quick (and cheap) 30 minute Uber ride away. A friend of mine (hi William!) gave me one of the best pro tips for the Wilson airport - and I’m happy to impart that advice onto our readers: get to Wilson a few hours early and run, don’t walk to the Aero Club of East Africa. Its members have over the years taken their place amongst the world’s aviation pioneers:  amongst them were Beryl Markham, the first person to fly across the Atlantic from East to West; Tom Campbell Black, who won the London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934, and many other aero legends.

The place has serious top gun vibes, is a solid spot to get some grub, and boasts a helluva lot of history. Heck, my favorite part may have just been sitting at the bar chatting with the two bartenders, Frances and Joseph, who combined have been working and building lifelong friendships at the Aero Club for over 50 years. WIth a little sweet talking and finagling, you can sit in the members-only old-fashioned pub, and bask in the company of local bush pilots, military, and aerospace fanatics from near and far whilst sipping on a no sugar added ice cold White Cap. And oh yeah, all the while, planes are taking off on the runway about 500 feet away from the pub. Bonus points if you snag yourself a cap; y’already know we did. It’s the kind of souvenir that you’ll never regret purchasing.

safarilink masai mara sentinel camp nairobi kenya
safarilink masai mara nairobi sentinel camp

Where to stay: Sentinel Mara Camp ($$) / Angama Mara ($$$$)

Sentinel Mara Camp

The backstory

Similar to Olepangi, the owners of Sentinel Mara Camp, Peter and Wendy Twycross, are world travelers who had already long made an imprint on the world before deciding to create Sentinel Mara Camp. They devoted their careers to the betterment of Africa and the people in it - and still co-run Business for Life, an endeavor meant to help train the poor across Africa to start their own businesses with minimum capital. Their service and support is meant to provide a tried-and-true framework which allows them to succeed. While enjoying a glass of Spanish wine fire-side with Peter on our first night, he shared with me his frustration that so many are willing to send aid in the form of financial relief to Kenya (which in many cases actually hurts, not helps), but few are willing to truly help on the ground. Peter firmly believes that we must empower people within, and that change must be tackled on an individual level - and we completely agree. His passion for the people and culture of the Masai is compelling, as is his fire for helping connect foreign visitors with this culture in the often limited time they have in Kenya.

sentinel mara masai mara
masai mara sentinel mara kenya

Nowhere is this culture of diving in on the ground level more pervasive than in the set up of the camp itself. The camp provides a glamping experience, with all guest tents integrated into nature (without chopping down a single tree) and perched above a river where upwards of 30 hippos and alligators live. You can’t go more than an hour without hearing hippos either feeding, fighting, or playing - and they tend to be the most active at night, meaning you may find yourself laying in the dark for hours on end, just imagining what might be going on down below. Animals of all types would come through camp at all hours of the day which was a reminder that you were truly staying directly in the middle of the activity. You even get your own Masai to guide you through the forest at night, just in case an animal were to be lurking around a corner.

sentinel mara masai mara
sentinel mara masai mara

The experience

Plenty of activities are available at Sentinel, but our personal favorite was, as one would expect, the game drives (especially the early morning one which included a killer breakfast!). They’re available very first thing in the morning (don’t worry, they bring coffee and cookies to your tent before heading out), or in the evening, and often times most people opt to do both. After all, the animals are a huge part of what people come to see in Kenya after all.

Short of spotting the elusive leopard and black rhino, we saw all of the other major animals we had hoped to see - many, many times over (they’re literally everywhere, all the time) - and then some. What we didn’t expect, however, was that our bond with Dominic, our Masai guide, would be as special to us as all of the game observed on the trip. I will never forget our sundowners (a fun term for an opportunity to gather with people over drinks at sunset) each and every night just chatting about the simple things with Dom, whilst trying to better understand his culture - and how it differs from ours. I wanted to really try to *understand* the Masai people, not just gawk at them and their funny dancing/jumping.

sentinel mara masai mara safari
sentinel river camp masai mara
sundowner sentinel mara masai mara

Over one particular sundowner, our last at Sentinel Mara Camp, Dominic spoke to us about the core values of the Masai people. He elaborated that they are: 1) RESPECT. For elders, for family, for tradition. 2) FAMILY. Having children, getting married, & perpetuating the strong family unit and ties and 3) CIRCUMCISION. Yep. Still a very important part of Masai culture which in his culture takes place at puberty.

Dominic believes that despite what may seem like an old fashioned belief system, the Masai are evolving with the times, seeking employment and self education for the first time, and using that to create better opportunities for themselves & their families. He himself lives and works at Sentinel Camp, a few hours from his wife and 3 year old, but relishes in the opportunity to create better for his family and for the future generations to come.

His positivity - for himself, his family, his work, and the future - were infectious.

From special candlelit 5-course dinners to fireside chats with the owners, Sentinel manages to create a life-changing experience and prove that less is, in fact, more.

sentinel mara masai mara kenya camp safari
sentinel mara masai dance

Angama Mara

The backstory

Angama is derived from a Swahili word which means “suspended in mid air,” and the name couldn’t be more fitting. On our way to Angama from Sentinel, we did a *lot* of uphill driving and it became immediately clear that we were about to be perched on the rim of the Great Rift Valley, looking down on the entirety of the Masai Mara (Angama sits at 5600 ft, to be exact), with 360 degree views of the majestic landscapes and animals below. What a different perspective from our one on ground level, literally hippo-side! This reinforced our decision to do both experiences, as they each offered something completely different - but both impeccably good on their own merit.

Now, Angama otherwise needs very little introduction as it has been consistently named as one of the world’s absolute best and is frequented by celebrities and wealthy every year. It’s resume speaks for itself: Robb Report Best of the Best, Travel & Leisure IT List, Afar Traveler’s Choice Awards, Conde Nast Travelers Readers Choice Awards… the list goes on and on. And for good reason.

angama mara masai kenya conde nast traveler
angama mara masai kenya safari
angama mara bar
angama mara masai mara

What impressed us the most though came down to a few key things not often accounted for in the above accolades: 1) innovation and out of the box thinking, 2) sustainability / efforts to give back, 3) attention to food as experience. Let’s break each one of these down individually.


Steve & Nicky Fitzgerald, the founders/owners of Angama are industry vets and well known for their considerable experience developing and operating safari lodges. But what delighted me most was meeting the husband and wife co-managers of Angama, Tyler and Shannon. Transplants from Seattle, and longtime Africa-thusiasts, they essentially convinced Steve & Nicky to take a risk on them to manage Angama, with very little direct industry experience.

Why is this both important and delightful? Because from our experience, far too many places are run in a cookie-cutter manner and inside the box, which prevents them from really innovating, thinking creatively, and most importantly, having the right mind for the most important person: the guest. Tyler and Shannon are equally inspired and each bring their own special potion to the mix. They have quite literally poured their souls into Angama, which is abundant in every interaction not only with them, but with the staff which they have individually hired and trained. They’re the kind of people that you catch yourself almost actively not wanting to spend too much time around, because you find yourself just wishing they were your best friends. If only all resort managers gave you that feeling! Steve and Nicky made the right call by trusting these two with the place - as they have created a magical, innovative, & always-evolving experience.

angama mara kenya masai mara
angama mara kenya masai mara
angama mara kenya masai mara
angama mara masai kenya

Giving back:

The Angama team subscribes to Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted saying: ‘Doing Well, by Doing Good / Doing Good, by Doing Well’. This has been a philosophy successfully adhered to and implemented by the owners the past 20 years. And Angama puts their money where their mouth is. They’ve created Angama Foundation, a separate entity which has been setup in order to affect efforts in three fields: Education, Healthcare and Conservation. Projects are identified and prioritized together with the lodge’s neighbouring communities, the Mara Conservancy, and partner NGO’s who have a track record of making an impact in the region. When we would ask many of the staff we worked with over our few days there, they were commonly from one of the local villages and could directly point to something the foundation was doing to materially impact where they grew up: whether it be the education system, farming practices, or general support of resources.

There is also a very dedicated effort and plan to employ many sustainable practices on site, but we will get to a bit more on that in just a second.

Food as a vehicle:

As a big proponent of food as a healing mechanism for the body, as well as an excellent vehicle for bringing people together, I was beyond impressed with how Angama weaved food into the overall experience. Aside from the 5-course cuisine at the restaurant for all 3 meals (which were so good I’ll be thinking about them for months if not years), Angama understands that food plays such an important role in a person’s connection with a place - and they fully embrace this.

Kiswahili for vegetable garden, the “shamba” is a much-loved experience for Angama Mara’s guests - and was by far our favorite experience of the entire trip. Steve and Nicky enlisted an army of people to create a farm which would not just serve as an on-site source of food, but would deliver an immersive *experience* and mechanism for guests to connect with the land itself. Given the growing interest and connection with food and from where it comes, we thought it was incredibly important and savvy for Angama to introduce this immersion to guests in the form of an activity/experience. We’ll also dive into that more below.

shamba lunch angama mara
angama mara kenya masai mara safari farm lunch
shamba lunch angama mara masai mara
shamba lunch angama mara kenya food

The experience

We opted to do a number of game drives while at Angama, but were equally excited to just embrace our surroundings and take part in the plethora of experiences available on site. (With a widespread campus, Angama boasts its own shamba garden, soccer and volleyball fields, swimming pool, photo workshop, and even airport which we highly recommend you fly out of it, as we did; it’s conveniently called the Angama airport.)

When we did actually leave our humble abode perched above the Rift Valley, we particularly enjoyed our game drive out to the Serengeti, which allowed us to dip into Tanzania, and see an entirely new and different landscape from the one we had been exposed to the prior few days in Masai Mara. We were truly shocked at how different just a couple hours in a different direction could make; the animals were different, more abundant in some places, less in others, and the landscape looked as though we had stepped onto a different planet. It left us wanting to explore even more.

angama mara kenya masai mara safari
giraffe safari angama mara kenya masai mara
hyena angama mara masai mara kenya
angama kenya masai mara safari game drive

Outside of the game drives, by far the best experience (of the entire trip!) was the shamba lunch, where we spent an afternoon with James, who runs the garden day to day. While on a garden tour, you then select your own lunch to be prepared for a meal in a beautiful setting which rivals a movie setting. If you want a micro experience of walking through the Angama shamba yourself, just take a look at this video, which captures only a portion of its essence.

angama farm lunch kenya masai mara
angama mara shamba lunch
angama lunch kenya safari masai mara farm

As a follow on to the trip, I had the privilege of connecting with one of the lead designers of the shamba, Ian Dommisse, who shared how he has fused his architectural training with his love for working with plants and soil. It’s a mix that works well, as the shamba achieves a perfect blend of harmonious atmosphere and thriving produce, with an eye on sustainability to boot.

One of the most impressive formations in the garden (here’s where we’re getting back to the sustainability bit) was an ecobrick raised garden (you can learn more about this concept here), a garden structure created using one year’s collection of plastic trash which is thereby subsequently integrated into the rest of the premises. Talk about circular economy at it’s fullest!

shamba angama masai mara kenya food
ecobrick raised garden angama shamba

Angama is also very diligent about their composting and waste practices, reflecting their value system throughout every single layer of their operations. But enough about that: can we talk for a second about how divine eating an abundance of freshly prepared, hand-selected foods was in the very environment they came from, paired with a lovely crisp South African wine? It was a meal I will not soon forget.

Our experience at Angama proved that you can provide a bit of luxury for the vacationing traveler who wants creature comforts (hello, open bar!) whilst not losing touch with the entire purpose of the experience itself.

A few final important tips we wanted to pass on…

  • Unless you are traveling to other areas in Africa which are more susceptible, you likely do not need to be taking anti-malarial pills. I made the mistake of not looking into this fully, and suffered extensively with side effects from medicine that I didn’t even need to be taking. At the elevation of Laikipia and Masai Mara, mosquitos are hardly even existent. Of course, we aren’t doctors, so please confirm conditions before taking a trip, but take into consideration.

  • We acknowledge fully that this is overall not a trip that can be made super cheap. There are unavoidable expenses such as the bush flights, entry fees into parks for safaris, etc. But we did opt to consolidate our game drive days into a few (where we went out multiple times a day) so that we didn’t have to keep paying the daily park entry fees (which run around $80 per person per day). Would recommend you do the same if you want to cut a couple hundred dollars out of the trip.

  • Don’t be afraid of visiting during shoulder season, on the cusp of, or even during rainy season. We went just as it was turning to rainy season and we were rained on once - lightly. Besides, even in the peak rainy season, it will consistently rain for a couple hours in the afternoon but otherwise be completely dry and perfect conditions for activities - a common misconception by non-Kenyanas which sadly keeps people from visiting during some of the most beautiful parts of the year!

  • Most sockets are the same as Euro sockets. Plan accordingly.

  • We didn’t get a chance to explore Nairobi at all despite having taken the time to research it. If you spend some time there, here are a few spots we definitely would have visited: Giraffe Center, Boho Eatery, Fonda NBO, Mama Rocks, Tin Roof Cafe, Bao Box Cafe, Nyama Mama, Urban Eatery, Mercado, and About Thyme. NY Times just put out a fun article on some of the latest and greatest in Mexican cuisine/culture in Nairobi here.

  • We also had planned to climb Mount Kenya during the trip, but had to defer until the next time around. We did however get a chance to spend some time with our future guides and they were impeccable. If you’re looking for one, contact Polemark Tours and try to spend some time with the impressive Joe if you can. You won’t regret it!

  • Beware of Kenya addiction, because it’s real and it’s rampant. You may find yourself never wanting to go home. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

angama mara kenya safari game drive elephant
angama mara kenya room views

Christmas in Tallinn, Estonia: The Unexpected Place You Should Definitely Have on Your List

Visiting a European Christmas market is a fantastic way to kick off or enhance the holiday season. Decorations and lights are everywhere, as are regional artisanal products (i.e.: unique gifts) and it is all further enhanced by the smells of baked gingerbread, steaming cups of spiced mulled wine, grilled snacks, and warming stews.

christmas market tallinn estonia
tallinn estonia peppersack

Most people initially think of Germany and Austria when researching potential Christmas-themed destinations, and this for good reason with the ‘heavy hitters’ of Leipzig, Nuremburg, Vienna and Salzburg perennially listed on the myriad best-of and top-ten articles that can be found.

However in recent years more focus has been given to cities that may be unexpected at first, until you dig a little deeper. This year Tallinn (Estonia) unseated 2x winner Zagreb (Croatia) to take the seemingly arbitrary crown of ‘best Christmas market’.

It’s definitely not the most expansive market that you will find, but we’d argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because the setting of what is possibly the most well preserved Old Town in Europe provides insta-worthy shots at every turn, and the market itself is in the largely pedestrianized UNESCO World Heritage designated area in the heart of the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats). On top of that, the Tallinn Christmas market does not dominate the experience, instead it enhances a visit and allows you to explore the rest of the city as well – which is 100% worth a trip any time of year.

tallinn estonia christmas market
tallinn estonia christmas peppersack

A bit of history: Tallinn has been an important trading port on the Baltic dating back to the 10th century and then influence expanded further within the Hanseatic League for more detail but the crux of it is this is a) why there are so many merchant houses b )why it developed as a fortified city, and c) why so many others wanted to exert their influence over it.

It’s tumultuous history also lends to the unique feel of the city… it has the exceptional old town which dates to medieval time, a Nordic vibe from many years of Danish and Swedish rule, and then a noticeable Soviet influence when outside of the fortified city center (after WW2 the Soviets invaded what was a Nazi occupied state and ruled Estonia politically and economically until 20 August 1991).

Our advice is to take advantage of that mix that makes Estonia (and more specifically Tallinn) so unique and try experience it all.

Tallinn is very accessible – 15 minutes from the airport and as many € (with tip) by taxi and you are in the old town. Many visitors also arrive on the ferry from Helsinki which can be done in approx. 2hrs on the faster ferries if you are interested in a multi-country excursion. The city center is very pedestrian friendly and most things to do, see, taste, etc are walkable…and for those that are not – Uber works well and is very reasonably priced.

A double asterisk ** below indicates a favorite highlight not to be missed

Places to Stay:

old town tallinn estonia
town center tallinn estonia

Old Town:

Savoy Boutique Hotel - a 3 minute walk to the historic Town Hall Square, which is host to the Christmas Market as well as many other events throughout the year. Renovated to maintain the original architecture with a popular restaurant (and a good breakfast buffet in the morning)

Room to book: one of the top floor ‘artist rooms’.

Sokos Hotel Viru - just outside the fortified city center walls in Rotermanni (the quarter of Tallinn between the old town and the port) the Sokos Hotel Viru is well situated to explore all of Tallinn and take advantage of this formerly industrial area that has gone through (and still is in some parts) a transformation and revitalization as well as the attached shopping center and KGB Museum

Places to Eat:


Vaike restaurant

Vaike restaurant

Frank Restaurant

Frank Restaurant

Frank and locally brewed beer

Frank and locally brewed beer

Vaike restaurant

Vaike restaurant

Frank Restaurant & Bistro - (with a ‘speakeasy’ called Frank Underground downstairs)  


Restaurant Farm


Salt - (you’ll need to take an Uber to get here as it is a bit out of town – but Uber’s are easy, and very affordable in Tallinn)

Väike** - make a reservation. (there are two houses so don’t be discouraged if the ‘main’ house is booked. Local ingredients and traditional dishes done with a modern twist)

Other restaurant resources:


Pontsik Doghnuts** - 10 for €3.70! fresh doughnuts, super inexpensive, and a feeling of stepping back in time

Rost** - in a newly renovated part of Rotermanni, in a building that used to be a flour mill. Try the hand-twisted cinnamon buns


Rost hand twisted cinnamon bun

Rost hand twisted cinnamon bun

Pontsik doughnuts

Pontsik doughnuts


Balti Jaama Turg**  - translates to: Baltic Station Market; a hugely successful renovation project – this building still has an antique/flea market on the top floor which maintains and extends maintain its Soviet market history, a grocery store in on the ground floor, and in between are food stalls, a mini brewery, a gym, a pet store, a Kalev chocolate shop, and other outdoor and indoor market stalls selling local…everything. The highlight here was Bao Jaam. A bit of insight: https://andershusa.com/baojaam-at-balti-jaama-turg-taiwanese-gua-bao-made-from-scratch

tallinn estonia market
bao buns tallinn

Wine Bars:

Pazzo - modern with an extensive list to try by the glass, discounts on bottles to take away, and some fun and tasty snacks

Gloria Wine Cellar - under the ancient wall there there are cosy snugs and arches and rooms to explore and a retail shop as well

Veinipood ja -baar TIKS - a cosy spot by the Balti Jaama Turg

Beer Bars:

Hell Hunt - good local breweries are represented and the food is apparently tasty as well (food not sampled)

Humalakoda: in the Balti Jaama market – they had 2x warm beers where we were there as an interesting alternative to mulled wine!



Rost** - as referenced above – good coffee and pastries, especially the cinnamon buns

Klaus Kohvik


Folk art and craft union - the old town is filled with some great galleries (and a bunch of touristy shops too). From paintings to ceramics to woven items and clothing with historically influenced patterns – pop your head in (or under) and have a look as you explore – you will undoubtedly find something great

A Galerii jewelry gallery – all local/Estonian made jewelry; a must-see (and great place to find something to take home!)

tallinn estonia christmas anneli viik
old town tallinn estonia
tallinn estonia christmas market
tallinn estonia houses


Kalev Chocolate - *pro tip, if you decide to do a ‘pick n mix’ as I did…  all of the individually wrapped chocolates have different prices and the people behind you will know you are a newb

Seaplane Harbour Museum (with the Submarine Lembit)** – It’s an excellent visit, very interactive, and don’t forget to go see the ice-breaker ship which is docked behind this expansive museum

seaplane harbour tallinn estonia
Seaplane harbour tallinn estonia
seaplane harbour tallinn estonia
seaplane harbour tallinn estonia

Oldest pharmacy in Europe - a bit of novelty factor but fun to know and see and with a unique history

And of course wander to see the well preserved old city walls, towers and steeples (St Olav’s was once the tallest building in the world) and merchant buildings – tour the fortifications alone or with a guide, visit some of the museums – duck in to any fun little galleries and shops you might stumble across, and tap in to the additional resources here: https://www.visittallinn.ee/eng and https://www.visitestonia.com/en

When to go: We love exploring places during their shoulder seasons for a variety of purposes and reasons. I would imagine that Tallinn is great in the warmer and very long days of summer, but the Christmas Market received its top ranking for a reason and the city takes on an additional charm with snow in the air / crunching under foot. Just be prepared for cold temps and plot out your day around coffees, attractions, restaurants and any other fun sights and pit stops that are about a 15 min walk from each other to thaw out and refuel as you explore!

Crampons, Crevasses & Cogne - Full Send on a Weekend in the Alps

Mid December is one of my favorite times to take a trip to Chamonix. It’s right before the Christmas craziness, and the snow/ice is just starting to reach optimal conditions for all winter alpine activities. You get the mountains to yourselves and town is just re-opening for the season; it’s perfect. Chamonix at the holidays is also such a charming place to be, with all it’s festive cheer, unlimited gluhwein, and more fondue than you can possibly consume; all the makings of a perfect winter weekend.

We checked into our AirBnB, an adorable little cabin called Stephen’s Mazot, on Friday evening, hopped around town, sampling local beers, French wines, and tacos (my top recommendation: go to Monkey!) and were ready to get started on our adventure the next morning.

chamonix december
chamonix december
stephens mazot chamonix

I’ve been wanting to improve my alpine skills in prep for some big upcoming mountain goals, so I reached out to Adventure Base, an outfitter based in Chamonix, in hopes of squeezing in a solid weekend of climbing/learning before heading into the holidays, and before it got too cold to spend a full day down on the Mer de Glace.

AB has an excellent reputation for leading climbs around the world, as well as helping clients of all different levels get comfortable in and around the mountains. As to be expected of a reputable outfitter, all of their mountain guides are IFMGA/UIAGM certified, which means they’ve spent 5+ years of their lives (& then some) obtaining the certifications necessary to confidently lead clients on any alpine/rock/other type of outdoor adventure.

Ahead of the weekend, I was promised that we would be lined up with a “SUPER awesome” mountain guide, and they weren’t lyin’! I’ve had some GREAT mountain guides in the past (including another one with Adventure Base - hi Fabio!) so I knew this guide would have big shoes to fill. Needless to say, Pablo did not disappoint.


Before launching into the ins and outs of our weekend, a quick homage to guides in general, because I think they are sorely under appreciated / under acknowledged for their efforts: I think there is a misconception, or perhaps just a lack of understanding, amongst the general public about what it takes to become a mountain guide in a place like Chamonix. Part of this is understandable, as in some places around the world, all it requires to say you’re a “guide” is some solid climbing experience, a website, and proof you’ve done the climb once or twice before the client.

However, that is far, far from the case with IFMGA guides. These guides truly have to “earn their wings” and have probably worked harder for their accreditation than any of us have ever worked in our office jobs. These guides spend 5 years of their lives learning not only alpine skills, but a variety of other things as well: CPR, avalanche safety, wilderness first responder, how to work with clients / handle medical needs / read the weather, etc. and then they spend their guiding “on season” getting up at the crack of down to meet clients, & often nights in huts, away from their homes/loved ones.

Professional leadership in the mountains is incredibly important and not a job these guides - or their certifiers - take lightly. And, you have to not only become the best, but stay the best, re-certifying once a year, and ensuring you are up on the latest technologies/information available.

Needless to say, guides are powerhouses, and sacrifice more than just their working hours. They learn the mountains so well that they become a part of them, and then they give away that part of themselves to their clients. Here’s to them.

Now to our weekend…


We got a “late start” in alpine terms, given that we needed to take the Montenvers train up to our starting point for the day & the first train was at 9am (you could technically walk, but it would take the better part of a day to get from Chamonix city center up to there, and would be very cold in mid-December, so the train is advisable).

adventure base guide pablo chamonix
montenvers train chamonix

From the Montenvers train, we climbed over the ropes and headed down towards the glacier.

To get down to the glacier, you have to climb down a long series of ladders, which in mid-December were partially covered in snow and ice, making it trickier than usual. I’m guessing that we were some of the last people to use these ladders before the winter sets in, as much later than mid-December, they likely would have been unusable. After about 30 minutes, we made it into the valley, taking in the views all around us, and started walking up the glacier. My favorite awe-worthy peak was the jagged, mighty Le Dru, and Pablo shared stories of his many climbs up it.

mer de glace
mer de glace

We spent the day out on the glacier, winding over it, enjoying the beautiful (but cold) day, and ultimately found a sunny patch (which quickly receded out of sight 5 minutes later) in which to practice our ice climbing skills. Pablo practiced dropping us (while secured by a rope, obvi!) down several big walls, as well as down a crevasse, and then having us climb out, using our ice axes.

For me, a big part of alpine skills refreshers is about getting comfortable: knowing exactly how and on what angle to use your crampons to hoist yourself up, getting a sense for how strong your ice axe (and you) are when it comes to pulling up a wall, knowing what angles help maximize your stability and minimize the effort needed to move quickly and efficiently. Our practice helped me feel stronger, safer, and more confident in all of my abilities.

mer de glace glacier crampons
mer de glace ice climbing

What felt like way too soon, it was time for us to head back off the glacier and back towards the ladders, where we would have to reverse our steps, and now climb back up to the train. A day well spent, and we were also quite exhausted from the frigid temps, and cold air blasting us all day in the open valley on the glacier. No complaints from us, but we had an early bedtime to follow! And good thing because…


The first alarm went off at 3:45am on day two. The 3:45am alarm is always one that makes you ask yourself, “why the f&*! do I do this to myself on my ‘vacation’??” but after a coffee, we were chipper and ready to get going. The reason for the early wake up was because we would be hopping in Pablo’s car (remember how I said guides sacrifice all of their free time??) and driving to Italy, where we would be doing our best to beat the crowds in the very popular ice-climbing destination, Cogne.

We stopped in town for a pastry and a coffee (as you do in Italy) at a very quaint authentic Italian cafe, which was a highlight before the day even begun. Pulling into the parking lot, we were only the second ones there, so we were off to a good start. We gathered our gear from the car and headed out to Patri Acheronte, which was about an hour walk from the lot.

coffee cogne italy
cogne italy
cogne italy
gear cogne italy adventure base

Being up early has it’s perks: we watched the alpenglow slowly pour into the valley and illuminate everything around us, on our walk in to the waterfall. A beautiful morning. The rest of the day was spent climbing up the Patri Acheronte. A few other parties showed up, so we had to work around one another but generally stayed out of each others way (pro tip: the earlier you arrive here the better, as you get first dibs, and less of a chance of ice getting chipped down onto you!).

cogne italy patri acheronte

We spent a few hours climbing, and it was awesome. We practiced keeping our heels low, and learning again how to minimize effort and maximize efficiency. Ice climbing does not require as much upper body strength as one may think, and in fact is largely powered by your legs, so we learned to utilize our energy accordingly.

cogne ice climbing adventure base
ice climbing cogne

We wrapped up in the afternoon and headed back to Chamonix with big smiles on our faces. I think I found my new favorite alpine activity!

It’s incredible to realize just how much you can do in 48 hours - and our couple of jam-packed days with Adventure Base was a great reminder.

We had just enough time in the evening to refuel with lots of nachos and fries at Cool Cats, and get a good night sleep at the cabin before heading back home to Amsterdam early the next morning.

What a weekend! We will be back for more!

adventure base cogne climbing ice

Regional Spotlight: An Urban Denver Adventure & Jackson Hole Escape

The entire Colorado and Wyoming region has so much to offer – you could spend weeks just eating your way through Denver, or bounce to one of hundreds of mountain adventures within hours. If I do my job correctly, this guide will help you better understand what each has to offer and what spots to hit whether you have a few days or a few weeks in the Denver / Jackson Hole regions.

jackson hole

My initial draw to Denver for this trip was Outdoor Retailer, held at the city convention center. I make a point at least once every couple of years of getting out to Outdoor Retailer, especially now that it has moved from Salt Lake City to Denver, i.e. the mecca of weekend mountain adventures.  For this particular trip, I wanted to also use the opportunity to do some city hopping around Denver, checking out the hotel, art, and brewery scene, followed by a long weekend getaway in Jackson Hole, easily one of my favorite places in the world (having been to the Alps, Dolomites, Andes, etc, Jackson Hole still remains towards the top of the list!)

Importantly, this trip took place during winter Outdoor Retailer in early November, which to Denver urbanites and Jackson Hole skiiers is considered the “off-season,” i.e. the season of waiting patiently for that first big snowfall which officially signals winter sports season.  But to me, this shoulder season should very much be considered ‘on’ season for tourists for a number of reasons: 1) there are less crowds, 2) the weather hasn’t turned for the worse yet (& is actually quite nice given the region’s reputation for having way more sunny days than not!), 3) lower hotel prices given the lower volume of traffic, 4) the roads are not yet iced over, making road trips and outdoor adventures easy and safe.



Hilton Denver City Center hosted me on this trip, and I would stay there again 10 times out of 10.  They were within walking distance of everything I wanted to see/do, super useful in terms of concierge/front desk services, had a kick-butt breakfast, and have an incredible and diverse dinner offering at Prospect’s Urban Kitchen & Bar located conveniently on the lower level of the hotel. Not to mention, the hotel itself is completely affordable for the average traveler! An ideal spot for really anyone: business travelers, individuals, or families.

Another often overlooked but important qualifier is that a hotel be a place where you feel comfortable leaving bags if needed, as I did.  I had no worries in my mind about leaving all of my luggage there for 3 days while on another leg of my trip, and that peace of mind was worth every penny of my stay!

denver hilton city center
denver city center hilton
denver hilton city center
hilton denver city center

Whatever you do, I would highly recommend finding a hotel in the city center or near union station.  You’ll find that a hotel in either location is reliable, convenient, and will have all of the amenities you could ever want.  Plus, being near highways (as the city center ones are) to get in and out on an adventure is another major perk. My friend who came from Golden to pick me up was able to get in and out of the city in a matter of minutes. Airport rides by Uber were also effortless. Win win.

AirBnB is also a good option in Denver, with many cute and well-located properties available. I would stay either near Union Station or in Capitol Hill.

denver union station
union station denver




denver central market



We stayed at two different hotels, which were completely different but each had their own unique assets, depending on what you are looking for. 

Let’s break them each down, shall we? 


Always a sucker for a place with a bit of history, I fully appreciated that this hotel was started as a passion project of the Darwiche family, as Jim Darwiche and his wife Safaa spent many decades developing numerous businesses in Jackson and fell in love with the town and it’s heritage before deciding to start the new Hotel Jackson. I say “new” because the original Hotel Jackson was one of the first five buildings that made up the town of Jackson in the early 1900s, and this hotel being so aptly named is a nod to history.

hotel jackson
hotel jackson figs
hotel jackson
hotel jackson

As for hospitality, this absolutely gorgeous, rustic, high-end hotel leaves no detail overlooked. They’ve got luxury dialed in: the front desk runs like a well-oiled machine, and when there, you truly feel as though you have nothing left to do but sit back and R E L A X and let them do the rest.

We noticed lots of little details, from the attentiveness of the staff, to the warm cookies, coffee/tea & adventure books available in the lobby, to the soothing music and bottle of water made available as part of the turn down service at night. We felt very well looked after here.  Not to mention, the lodgy western flair makes you feel warm and cozy, without isolating you from the mountains right outside the front door. Hotel Jackson successfully brings the outside in.

A final perk: Hotel Jackson boasts one of the best restaurants in Jackson Hole, it’s very own on-site Lebanese and Mediterranean fusion restaurant called FIGS, which I’d certainly recommend you at least stop at for a dinner. But be careful setting up too close to the restaurant’s two story fireplace: you may never end up wanting to leave.

Importantly, Hotel Jackson is also the first LEED-certified hotel in Jackson Hole, so is ahead of the curve.


Living in Europe has given me a real affinity for hotels that have that lodge meets ultra modern/hip feel.  The lobby of the 49-room Anvil Hotel feels almost as though you’ve been dropped into a Huckberry catalogue. Fancy coffees are available for purchase, and the common area fireplace invites you to waste your day away cozied up in front of it. I have to be honest: I could’ve sat in their lobby and ignored the mountains outside all day long. Yes, it is THAT cozy and inviting.

Another perk: they have lots of fun trendy gear (including sunglasses from my friends over at Sunski!) and the entire hotel’s aesthetic just screams PENDLETON!  Don’t forget to set aside some money to purchase a takeaway from their lobby store... if you're anything like me, you’ll want everything in there.

anvil jackson hole
anvil jackson hole

This hotel is a steal at a price point starting in the low 100’s, especially in shoulder season.  What we loved most about the rooms was that they felt upscale and hip, but also just cozy/small enough that you almost believed you were in a cabin in the woods. The room got cooler at night (by choice, we could’ve turned on the heater, but opted not to), and we loved bundling up under the winter-ready heavy wool blankets adorning each bed. It is safe to say that Anvil encouraged us to fully embrace the cabin feels.

Interestingly, Anvil also has a fun history. Bloomberg recently quite aptly called it “the Wild West’s Dude Ranch for Hipsters”. The hotel has been around a long time (since the 1950’s, when it was considered more of a ‘motel’) and first caught the attention of now-owner hotelier Erik Warner in the mid-90’s. Early in his hospitality career, Warner worked the front desk at the “old” Anvil Hotel, and knew then that it could become something special. But it wasn’t until years later, on a visit back to Jackson Hole in 2014, that he discovered it’s current owners were toying with the idea of selling it. Armed with a couple decades of experience in the hospitality industry, and many successful projects under his belt, the time was finally right. Warner made a successful sales pitch and the Anvil Hotel became his. The entire hotel was gutted to become what it has become today. I suppose the combination of city hotelier flare + traditional Jackson Hole rustic is what makes this place feel so special.




  • Stop into Spirit and Spice, try some of the many options on tap, and pick up some gifts for friends/family. They will ship!

jackson cowboy bar
jackson hole
jackson hole
bin22 jackson hole



My absolute biggest off-season activity recommendation for Jackson, if your wallet allows (and even if it doesn’t, because it’s absolutely worth the splurge), is to take in aerial views of the region with Fly Jackson Hole.  They’ve been around for about 4 years as of 2018, and their operation is based right at the airport, so you can easily get to them – no excuses.  What better way to see absolutely everything Jackson Hole has to offer than to see it all in one epic full swoop?

fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole
Image taken by @bryaneastmedia

Image taken by @bryaneastmedia

We spent a few hours with the pilots, Pete (owner) and Dave, and both are two of the nicest, most charismatic folks you could ever meet.  You get the sense that they really love what they do, love and take pride in Jackson, and simply feel it is their obligation/honor to show other people the place they love so much. 

Importantly, both absolutely know their stuff when it comes to flying, as they have over 50 years of charter flying experience between the two of them. This is an airplane ride you don’t feel even the slightest bit worried or on edge about, which allows you to focus all of your energy on the beauty all around you.

Fly Jackson Hole has 2 planes in their fleet: a Cessna 207 8-seater and a Cessna 172XP.  You can’t go wrong with either – it’s more a matter of how many people you’ve got with you.

fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole

We opted for their Alpenglow Tour, which meant we had 90 minutes in the skies before, during and after sunset.  The tour allowed us to see Jackson and surrounding areas by day, but then get over to the other side of the Tetons to capture photos of that coveted dewey pink just sneaking it’s way across the mountains before the day slipped into night. The best surprise for us was just how much our pilot Dave knew about the region – I’ve been coming to Jackson Hole for years, and felt like I learned more about the entire area in those 90 minutes than I had in a decade. The flight cost was worth the download on local history and knowledge in itself!

If you have any doubts about booking a trip, don’t. Just do it!

Now that we have covered that, here are other off-season activities (check on these before you go, as some are closed at certain points depending on exact timing):


jackson hole
jackson hole car
teton national park jackson hole avis
teton national park

I can’t stress enough: the best way to experience Jackson is to get a rental car (even better if it’s 4WD or a fun adventure vehicle) and GO!!! To optimize your time in the region and see everything the park has to offer, you’ll want to be able to get around on your own without relying on hotel shuttles which will only take you to the airport/ski slopes and back. Here are a few must-sees in the park:

moulton barn jackson hole
jackson hole

*BONUS:  Because I attended Outdoor Retailer in Winter 2018, I wanted to share some photos / takeaways from the event for anyone interested in attending a future show.


outdoor retailer denver
outdoor retailer denver
outdoor retailer denver

The general consensus especially now that they have split the winter show into two is that it is a much slower show, which actually was nice. It allows people to take a bit more time to chat and feel a little less crunched on time/appointments.  At the 2018 November Winter show, I had a few important takeaways worth sharing around the show and trends across the industry as a whole:

  1. I’ve been really excited to see how many panels/conversations are being had around innovation in an industry that has been slow to change. We are entering a new era.

  2. Sustainability, transparency and a re-examined supply chain continue to be current and relevant issues across many industries - & it definitely applies here. Consumers are getting smarter & want to know what’s in their products, who’s making them, and where they’re coming from. 

  3. Retail and E-commerce as we know it are changing forever, thanks to behemoths like Amazon. Best for retailers to work with it, not against it. 

  4. There is still so much opportunity in the adventure foods landscape - particularly for companies that do things to stand out in a crowded market (i.e. like RXBar). Clif Bar / Larabar, etc. remain dominant players but are ripe for disruption. Bonus pts for clean labels, & fresh/natural trumps long shelf life. A newly discovered favorite brand adhering to this ethos was Four Points Bar. Check them out!

  5. The US & Rest of World operate very independently. Regulations make it hard for brands to export to Europe. Lots of room to improve / work through the regulatory systems in order to take brands GLOBAL.

  6. There’s a real buzz in this industry about using their retail platforms for good to effect real change in the US. Brands are investing a lot of time/resources/marketing $ into causes around public lands & its important work - & is being heard.


DISCLOSURE: This trip was sponsored or partially sponsored by Hilton City Center Hotel, Hotel Jackson, Anvil Hotel and Fly Jackson Hole. I thank each for their warm hospitality and partnership. 

Llama Mia!: An Escape to the Mountains of Cordillera Huayhuash & Culinary Tour of Lima

I’ve been going to Patagonia for the past couple of years, as after my first visit a few years back, I thought I had found Heaven on earth and that it simply could not be matched in terms of food, culture, and trekking. But boy, did Peru and the Cordillera Huayhuash give it a run for its money - even with a few travel misfortunes along the way. There is no doubt about it: this part of the world is truly impeccable, still relatively untouched, and in my opinion is a much better alternative to the heavily trafficked Machu Picchu when it comes to Peru adventures (even locals couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going to Cusco and Salkantay).

KLM flies directly from Amsterdam to Lima, which made my trip from Holland *relatively* effortless compared to other South America trips of the past. For example, once you ‘arrive’ in Patagonia, you usually still have a secondary flight and a long drive ahead of you until you arrive at your destination. Lima was a quick 40 minute flight from Huaraz if you opted to take a plane (via LCPeru), or an 8-hour bus ride on a supposedly very nice luxury bus (with hot meals, TV’s, etc.). But be careful: the Lima/Huaraz flights only run once every 48 hours (very early in the morning), and are frequently canceled due to weather. So book at your own risk. (My return flight to Lima was canceled, which left me scrambling, so I speak from experience!)

14 hours of travel later, the journey begins…


At a little over 10,000 feet, Huaraz is an excellent place to fortify yourself for a high altitude trek. It’s an unexpected town which sits right outside of Huascaran National Park and in the Cordillera Blanca region, and has been called by some as the Chamonix of the Andes (a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea…) It’s the main tourism hub in the Ancash region and it shows: there’s so much happening in this town… certainly enough to keep you intrigued while you wait out a few acclimization days before setting off into the mountains. There are unique and relatively authentic (read: non-touristy) markets, restaurants, shops, and an all around intriguing scene. And not to despair: there are quite a few cozy hang out spots where you genuinely won’t mind setting up with a good book / free Wifi for hours at a time as you acclimate.

*Fun etymology fact:

The name of the city ‘Huaraz’ comes from the Quechua word "Waraq", which translates to "sunrise". Prehispanic people who lived here prayed to a God called the "Waraq coyllur,” or “star of sunrise" or Venus planet, because it is the star that can be seen better from the city at sunrise.

Aerial shot of Huaraz market

Aerial shot of Huaraz market

Huaraz street scene

Huaraz street scene

Birds for sale in Huaraz

Birds for sale in Huaraz

Local bike carrier in Huaraz

Local bike carrier in Huaraz


  • Churup Guest House: It’s an adorable hotel/hostel, with plenty of rooms (i.e. if you need a room on an unexpected day as I did, they are generally flexible). The guest house also offers a laundry service at a small additional extra charge - huge perk after you’ve been in the mountains for a couple weeks and are smelling less fresh than a daisy. Plus, they’re great about letting you leave spare bags/equipment while out trekking.

    Most rooms have their own shower (unless you opt for the dormitory-style room), and the common room has a fully-equipped kitchen, a lounge with a fireplace, a TV lounge with cable/a DVD player, and an on-site computer and book exchange. We made new friends here, enjoyed local fruits and cuisine at breakfast, and sat up on the rooftop patio looking directly out at Huascaran with freshly ground coffee every morning. What more can you ask for?

View from Churup Guest House

View from Churup Guest House

Churup 2nd floor lobby

Churup 2nd floor lobby

Churup guest room

Churup guest room

Churup buffet breakfast

Churup buffet breakfast


  • Campo Base: it’s a restaurant in the lobby of a hostel/bed and breakfast, but every time I walked past and saw the BREAKFAST BURRITOS sign, I knew it was a place I wanted to be.

  • Trivio: Solid breakfast spot (try the veggie omelette) with free Wifi. Bonus: they serve the Sierra Andina (local Huaraz brews), so it’s a good spot to try a few or purchase some to take back to your hotel (there’s a cooler with some for purchase by the exit)


  • Cafe Andino: this place came highly recommended by a friend and did not disappoint; very cozy, super tourist-friendly. There are fireplaces to lounge by, an abundance of tables and a fun little add-on is a bookshelf with adventure books for trade/purchase; a Huaraz favorite spot

  • Chili Heaven: in my opinion, the best post-trek eats… burritos and beers the size of your head, free WiFi…need I say more?

  • 13 Buhos: an option that will make everybody happy… a wide variety of food, lots of local beer options…try the black ale; yum!

  • Mi Comedia: one word: PIZZA


  • Sierra Andina Brewery: it’s a good jaunt out of town but worth it; call ahead of time to check their hours as they aren’t open every day

Other Things to Note:

  • Montanas Magicas: well-stocked mountain equipment shop in town for anything you may have forgotten or realized you needed

  • Markets: one of the best parts was just wandering the local markets: fruit, chickens, & meat were aplenty!

Locals in Huaraz

Locals in Huaraz

Fruits for sale at Huaraz market

Fruits for sale at Huaraz market


We used Alpamayo Peru as our guide/porter service and I cannot say enough about the services they provided. Truly first class the whole way, with excellent meals, accommodations, and great communication leading up to the trek. Eleutorio and Nestor are brothers who run the service with their father as a family operation, and they make you feel like a part of their family while on your journey! They are top notch. At one camp site, Nestor even went fishing in the pouring rain, and caught us some Huayhuash trout, serving it for dinner a mere two hours later. Likely the freshest fish I have ever eaten; what a treat!

Here’s the trekking journey we followed (we ended up cutting our trip a bit short due to a number of reasons - illness in the group, weather, bad climbing conditions, so I don’t have photos of the end of the trip, but will include the full itinerary directly from Alpamayo Peru which we intended to follow for reference). A note: many people choose to simply trek, and don’t think about the possibility of climbing; if you have mountaineering experience, I would *highly recommend* including a Diablo Mudo climb at the tail end of the trek!

A note: June/July to October tends to be peak season. As a personal fan of (slightly) shoulder seasons to beat the crowds, I opted to start our trek on October 13th, knowing that it might mean some sketchy weather conditions. And they were indeed. Some days were beautiful, & every single day had it’s moments. But we also got rained/misted/snowed on quite a bit. If you aren’t up for that, I would not wait until October to trek. But if you are, it can be an incredible time as the fog and snow make for some amazing photography and you get to really see Cordillera Huayhuash in all of it’s greatness.

Interacting with locals with Siula Grande in distance

Interacting with locals with Siula Grande in distance

Unloading gear before setting off on Huayhuash

Unloading gear before setting off on Huayhuash

*This itinerary is as provided to us by Alpamayo Peru, so forgive the future tense

Day One: Huaraz _ Llamac _ Cuartelhuain at (4150m)

The first day of the expedition starts. Early in the morning we depart from Huaraz (3300m) and drive in prívate transport to the start of the trek in Llamac. This is where we will meet the rest of the expedition team, the donkey driver and his donkeys and horses who will carry our equipment for the next two weeks. We will have lunch while the donkeys are packed with our trekking bags. After lunch we will start the first amazing part of the Huayhuash circuit following the Quero River to Cuartelhuain (4150m) where we will stay camp the night. travel with car 4 to 5 hours

Day Two: Cuartelhuain _ Mitucocha at (4300mt)

Today we will hike the Cacananpunta Pass (4700m). This remarkable pass lies at the Andean Continental Divide that marks the watershed from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon. Rivers on the west of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean whilst those to the east flow into the vast Amazon basin. We will have impressive views from the pass over mountains such as Ninashanca (5607m) and Rondoy (5870m). A steep descend brings us into the broad Quebrada Caliente which we follow to our campsite at the blue glacial lake Mitucoche (4300m). This is a spectacular campsite with an inspiring view on the snow-capped peak of Jirishanca (6094m). Walking time is 5-6 hours

Day Three: Mitucocha _ Carhuac Pass (4650mt) _ Laguna Carhuacocha at (4150mt)

Today we follow the Quebrada Caliente until we begin our climb up to the second pass, the Carhuac Pass (4650m). Our hard work is rewarded with fine views on the mountain peaks of Yerupaja (6634m) and Siula Grande (6344m). The Siula Grande is renowned for the mountaineering story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates told in the book and film ‘Touching the Void’. Descending the pass into a grassy valley allow for more views on high peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash, each more spectacular than the other. We make camp at the turquoisegreen coloured Lake Carhuacocha (4150m) with mountains Yerupaja and Jirishanca prominent at the background. This lake offers great photo opportunities when still conditions transform the lake into a mirrorsharply reflecting the snow-capped mountains. Walking time is 6-7 hours.

Looking out at Siula Grande

Looking out at Siula Grande

Interacting with locals

Interacting with locals

Day Four: Laguna Carhuacocha _ Pass Carnisero (4800m) _ Huayhuash at (4750mt)

We leave Lake Carhuacocha early in the morning to start a rough climb up to the poorly defined Carnicero Pass (4600m). The pass will reveal the beautiful lakes of Atocshaic and Carnicero in between the impressive mountains of Trapecio (5653m) and Carnicero (5960m). The Carnicero Mountain is called in English ‘the Butcher’ due to the many fatal attempts to climb the summit. An impressive landscape change occurs after the pass where green alpine pastures become a dry terrain of black rocks and grey lakes. We continue our walk to the small village of Huayhuash (4750m) home to herders of Alpaca and Vicunia and set up our camp for the night. Walking time is 6-7 hours

Day Five: Huayhuash _ Pass Portachuelo (4750mt) _ Laguna Viconga at (4395mt)

We leave the Huayhuash village in the early morning and hike over the Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass (4750m). This pass offers great views on the remote peaks such as Puscanturpa, Cuyoc and Millpo of the Cordillera Raura located to the southeast of the Cordillera Huayhuash. We will set up our camp and let our bodies soak in the well deserved natural hot pools at Lake Viconga (4395m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.

Huayhuash village

Huayhuash village

Fresh trout from Lake Carhuacocha

Fresh trout from Lake Carhuacocha

Day Six: Laguna Viconga _ Cuyoc Pass (5000m) _ Guanacpatay at (4300mt)

We leave Lake Viconga and ascent to the Cuyoc Pass (5000m). This is the highest point of the 13 day full circuit for those who opted out to climb the summit of Diablo Mudo. From the pass we will have a spectacular panorama view on the Huayhuash peaks in the north and the Raura peaks in the south. Further a stunning view of the glacier of Puscanturpa (5650m) completes this awe-aspiring experience. We continue our hike by descending from the pass towards Quebrada Huanactapay and set up camp in Rinconada (4300m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.

Day Seven: Guanacpatay _ Huatiac at (4350m)

Today will be easy hiking through the valley downwards until reaching the village of Huayllap (3700m). We continue the trek climbing gradually up a narrow valley to reach the pastures of Huatiac (4350m). We will set up camp here for the night. Walking time is 4-5 hours

Day Eight: Huatiac _Tapush Pass (4750mt) _ Gashgapampa at (4500mt)

We leave Huatiac in the morning and continue our hike crossing the Tapush Pass (4800m). We set up camp at Gashgapampa (4500m) from where we will start early in the morning our climb to the mountain summit of Diablo Mudo (5350m). Walking time is 4-5 hours.

Day Nine: Gashgapampa _ Climb Diablo Mudo (5350mt) _ Laguna Jahuacocha

Extra: We will have a nocturnal rise early in the morning and start our climb to the summit of Diablo Mudo. At this hour of the day the snow is frozen and will allow us climbing the mountain with better grip. We will have amazing views when the sun rises and enjoy awe-inspiring summit views on the entire region.

Day Ten: Laguna Jahuacocha _ Pass Pampa llamac (4300mt) _ Descent back to Llamac

Today is the last day of the trek hiking from Jahuacocha to the village of Llamac. One more time we can enjoy the awe inspiring mountain range of the Cordillera Huayhuash where we have walked through for the past two weeks and which has been become a part of us. Walking time is 5-6 hours

Huayhuash Trek

Huayhuash Trek

Siula Pass on Huayhuash

Siula Pass on Huayhuash


Completely underrated culinary capital of the world. Definitely don’t sleep on the Peruvian flavors and their emergence as all signs are pointing towards a heavy Peruvian influence on future food/ag/culinary trends around the world.

Lima was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. I only spent time in the Miraflores / Barranco areas and was quite pleased to just stay in that area given my time constraints.

The thing that surprised me most was the street art scene! Having been to places like Valparaiso, Chile which is quite famous for its street art, I didn’t think it could be matched. But Lima was a pleasant surprise and I saw some really unique/intricate art around every corner in Miraflores.

Let’s start with the basics, then I’ll get into a few fun ideas for if you have some extra time.

Street art in Miraflores

Street art in Miraflores

Fish street art in Lima

Fish street art in Lima

Places to Stay:

  • Atemporal Hotel: one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had; an extremely boutique accommodation with individual attention. Breakfast is top-notch, local, and abundant. Save room for it. They also have bikes and a car available on site for rent if you want to go someplace that is not walkable. *Bonus perk: the hotel is right down the street from one of my favorite restaurants in Lima, the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, which boasts one of the most incredible restaurant settings I’ve seen around the world, as each seat looks out over pre-Inca archaeological ruins - smack in the middle of a city! It simply can’t be beat.

Lounge at Atemporal

Lounge at Atemporal

Atemporal Lima buffet brunch

Atemporal Lima buffet brunch

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Zacateca Paletas

Zacateca Paletas

La Calaca Paletas

La Calaca Paletas

Tijuana Paletas

Tijuana Paletas

OK… now onto a few fun things, if your schedule allows (mind you, I did all of this in about 30 hours, which is what is so great about Lima - it’s easily accessible, walkable, and everything is pretty close if you’re willing/able to handle a high step count day or two!):

Those of you who have been following my blogs for awhile know how much I try to really indulge in the food scenes in each place I visit. As a former non-foodie, I think I’ve been converted. And I’m not talking “visit every 5 star restaurant the city has to offer”; I’m talking: try ALL of the local things, and really experience what it means to BE in a place.

I suppose the fact I was reading Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate all throughout this trip just further reinforced how important it is to partake in food culture and appreciate where the food is coming from. Like you would want to taste Iberico pork in Spain from the local dehesa, I wanted to experience what Peruvian food tasted like as well - at the source. In Barber’s words, “the greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it. When you pursue great flavor, you also pursue great ecology.” And I’ve come to realize that one can best appreciate these interrelationships and the food that results from them in their place of origin.

I knew that Anthony Bourdain spoke highly of Lima as a favored culinary destination, so I used my Foursquare app (recommended, though be mindful it is sometimes terribly outdated) to map out a walking tour of the city with a few of his favorite places, and it was just a lovely way to walk in his shoes, and see exactly what he experienced. I watched his Parts Unknown: Peru show after the fact where he visited each of the places I did, which was a fun way to come full circle on the experience.

In the words of Bourdain, “We are, after all, citizens of the world - a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Senor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head. What's that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off? I want some.” 

Here are the places he/I went:

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

La Canta Rana

La Canta Rana

If you have the time, I would also suggest trying to hunt down as many of the backstreet cevicherias in Lima that locals wish were kept a secret as possible!

As a final way to throw myself into local culture, I challenged myself to try as many Peruvian fruits as possible of the 20 Peruvian Fruits You Need to Try. I think I got to 13 (some of which were consumed in paleta form, which is definitely not cheating). My hotel, Atemporal Lima was a huge help in this as they checked off 3-4 of the fruits just at the breakfast buffet, which was highly appreciated! I also visited Mercado San Isidro which was slightly off piste but well worth the visit, as it was a large produce market boasting every local fruit I could imagine (and it was clear I wasn’t the only one with this idea, as I saw a number of big tour busses there and tourists walking around in groups, being led by a guide.)

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Last but not least…


We are all perfectly capable of Googling “how to prepare for a 10 day backpacking trip” and for those of us who have a few mountaineering expeditions under our belt, you generally know the drill.

So rather than list the obvious, I’m going to give you my NON-list PACKING/PREPARATION LIST, i.e. the things that I would not necessarily have thought about, but was glad I either had/did - or wish I had done, and hope to impart on you.

  • Money: get local currency (soles) from an ATM early and often on your trip; we found it challenging to get money from the ATM’s in Huaraz without paying exorbitant fees, and wished we had done some currency swapping earlier

  • Food/Gear: if you’re working with a guide/trekking org, check with them ahead of time to see what meals they will provide/what gear will be available for rent. I personally hauled way more trail snacks than I needed down to Peru, which added weight to my pack. I also could’ve used some of their equipment & saved myself the packing space (crampons, ice axe, helmet, etc.) Some people are partial to their own gear, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re short on space/weight.

  • Socks: you will never regret bringing a couple extras, especially for the wet days. Or a fun colorful pair - they make for excellent tent shot photos. Just do it!

  • Extras: the little things went such a long way on the trek… for me, it was my: Kindle, mini tent lamp (in addition to headlamp!), and solar charger which saved my butt on entertainment, lighting, and power for my camera/phone/electronics

  • Google Tools: download offline maps for Huaraz & Huayhuash, also download the offline version of Google Translate. You’ll thank me later. We would’ve run into a lot of trouble without offline translations on my phone, as in this part of the world, English-speaking folks are more of the exception than the rule.

Packing at home in Amsterdam

Packing at home in Amsterdam

Camp views at Mitucocha

Camp views at Mitucocha

72 Hours in Chamonix: Summer edition

Rather than bore you with our *exact* weekend itinerary - because let's be honest, you don't need to know what we did from morning til night (and believe me, you really don't want to know all the details), I thought it would make most sense to lay out the best of the best things to do while in Chamonix over a summer weekend. I've intentionally not gone too detailed here as I think the best spots are THE BEST SPOTS and you should take our word for it and focus on those (for example, we went back to Cool Cats 4x over the weekend, so yeah - you can say we're regulars). In my humble opinion, you truly cannot go wrong with any of the below. 


Land, and walk immediately to the Mountain Dropoffs desk. (Make a reservation ahead of time, and put in your itinerary on their website, and they will figure out all the details for you - you just need to show up). 

They're the best outfitter in town and their drivers are usually awesome and fun to talk to. I've met new adventure friends on the one hour shuttle every time I've ever taken it and subsequently planned trips around the world with them (hi Scott!) - you're always destined to have a good time with Mountain Dropoffs. 

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I've stayed at a few hotels in Chamonix, all with good experiences/great amenities:


  • Lac Blanc: Wake up early and either walk or shuttle to the Flegere lift. Take the cable car up and hike to Lac Blanc (half day activity)
  • Mer de Glace: Take the Aguille du Midi cable car halfway up to Plan d'Aguille, and hike over to Lac Bleu & Mer de Glace.  Stop at the hut for photos, a beer, some souvenirs & take the train back to Chamonix (half day activity)
  • Arête des Cosmiques: Hire a guide for the day to take you out trekking from the top of l'Aguille du Midi. As for premium adventure companies, I cannot recommend Adventure Base enough.  We went on the day's adventure with Fabio from Adventure Base.  After spending time with him, he is in my humble opinion one of the best, most experienced guides in Chamonix & has become a personal friend.  Adventure Base as an organization is great, as you can contact them with your desired activity for the day like we did, and they will line you up with an available guide. We wanted to do a half day trip alpine ridge, and AB did not disappoint!
aguille du midi
aguille du midi


  • Cool Cats Chamonix: something tells me you also want to look as cool as Chaniel and get this 'cool' picture for the gram. But besides the photo opp, their artisanal hot dogs, indulgent nachos and fries are the perfect post-hike refuel. You will not regret it. I think about their pulled pork nachos every day.
  • Chambre Neuf: after a few days of french fries, nachos and hot dogs, my body was screaming for some nutrition... get the salmon salad and a charcuterie plate and you won't be disappointed.
  • Elevation 1904: American food... beers, burgers, burritos. Cannot go wrong.
cool cats chamonix
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Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 14.34.41.png


  • Micro Brasserie de Chamonix: good selection of locally brewed beers which are great, though I recommend against the food there, as it is rather uninspiring
  • Berlucoquet Wine Bar: amazing curated wines and the sweetest couple own the place (and have for over a decade), perfect place to spend a rainy evening
  • The Pub: the best place to catch a game, knock back a few Heinekens, and take in some live music


We didn't do a lot of eating out at fancy restaurants but from prior experience, I can recommend:

  • Restaurant Cap Horn: truly a nice night out with white tablecloths and a dressier scene, though they have a sushi menu too for the more price conscious
  • Munchie: Sushi, Asian food, with a creative twist. Lots of options and a moderately priced menu. A nice scene.
  • Atmosphere: pricier, white table cloth, but worth every penny. A nice ambiance, with classic and well-prepared European cuisine.


  • We went to Buck's every day for breakfast. Their smoked salmon bagel, quiche and coffees kept us going all week long, and it was right on the way to the Aiguille du Midi tram station. Easy for breakfast and for grabbing a sandwich to-go. A two-for-one stop.