Backpacking Malaysia: Easy Asia Travel

Backpacking Malaysia is great for easy Asia travel.  Easier than South America, easier than Thailand.  We traveled the length of the Malaysian peninsula from Malacca to Penang, Kuala Lumpur (KL) to the Perhentian Islands through the Cameron Highlands.  The people are friendly, welcoming, and excited to have you in their country.  The buses are clean with organized stations and the roads are smooth with minimal traffic, especially in the countryside.  The highlight of backpacking Malaysia was the food.  From Malay to Chinese to Indian, the cuisine is an amazing fusion of different cultures, living together in relative harmony.  Low food costs are easy for every budget traveler and in Malaysia you can get a full meal starting at $1.50 for a vegetarian banana leaf lunch.  Even though the government just added a tourist tax to all hotel rooms, Malaysia still has good deals for travelers on a budget.  We stayed in some of the nicest and most fun hostels of our lives, and our 15 days in the peninsula didn’t scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.

Pick a Route:backpacking malaysia easy asia travel

Picking a backpacking route though Malaysia is easy.  For a two week trip we would recommend starting in Singapore and working your way north from Malacca to KL, Cameron Highlands, Perhentian Islands, then back across to Georgetown, Penang.  If you have three weeks we would suggest adding Taman Negara National Park and Langkawi Island.  These are both trips along the standard backpacker trail, great for your first time in Malaysia.  Since Malaysia has much fewer tourists than Thailand, you will run into the same friendly faces as you go.  There was one lady on our trip that we ran into in at three different places on our adventure.  Of course there are many other parts of Malaysia worth exploring, mainly the jungles of Borneo where things are more wild.  On a four week trip we would suggest spending a week there getting off the tourist path.

Enjoy the Food:

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The food in Malaysia is easy and good for any backpacker’s budget. The most we “cooked” for ourselves in Malaysia was to peel a banana, maybe once.  The local markets are great places to pig out economically.  Check out the laksa, poh piah, mee koring, and nasi kandar.  Western style restaurants are there, but they are the most expensive and generally not as exciting as the local flavors.  Every city has a Chinese neighborhood and an Indian neighborhood.  Little India was always our favorite spot to eat, great for vegetarians and meat eaters alike!  For one meal I had seven different curries and spent a total of less than $3. For these reasons, Malaysia was my all time favorite country to eat in!

Stay in a Hostel:

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The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop. Frame is a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways. We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

Backpackers will love Malaysia for the hostels which are cheap and easy to book online.  Sometimes they do fill up, especially in the busy season, so we suggest booking in advance.  They range in price and quality and there is a new 10 Ringgit tourist tax for every room.  Our favorites were the Lemongrass on Long Beach in the Perhentians, and Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown, Penang.  Prices range from $10 per night for a dorm bed, $15 for a beach bungalow, or $18 for private room with A/C.

Speak With the Locals:

Backpacking Malaysia is easier than other parts of Asia because most people can speak or at least understand English.  A majority of the signs are also in English and Malay, so you will never have a hard time finding your way around.  Malay also using the English characters so it’s easy to pick up a little bit along the way which always makes the locals appreciate you more.   Knowing few words like terima kasih (thank you) can get you a lot of respect points and make you look a little better than the average traveler.

 

When looking for easier Asia travel, backpacking Malaysia should be at the top of your list.  With top notch people, food, nature and adventure, and hostels, never ending aventuras await you in this tropical paradise!

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Like this post about backpacking Malaysia for easy Asia travel?  Check out our archives for never ending travel advice, reviews, and many stories of adventure in Malaysia!

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Penang National Park and Environmental Observances

On our last day on the island we took the bus to Penang National Park, about an hour ride from central Georgetown.  There were several possible hikes but the Canopy Walkway was under renovation so we settled on the hike to Monkey Beach. 

Here is a short video of our adventure.  Make sure to check out 1:25 for some angry monkeys.

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Jungle ground in Penang National Park
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A giant jellyfish in Penang National Park

We spent over an hour walking the jungle path until we came to the beach.  We sipped coconuts and had the usual arguments with the monkeys.

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Monkey Beach

They never like me very much and it never fails that we end up screeching at each other.  There were a lot of the little buggers and they had big teeth so we let them win this time.  We didn’t eat enough breakfast for such a long hike and were super hungry by the end (having only eaten like twice before leaving).  So we got some roti (fried folded delicious bread) while waiting for the bus back.

Penang National Park
Penang National Park

We were upset with the amount of trash in Penang National Park and saw quite a few Malaysian hikers throw their empty bottles right onto the beach.  Several people on Monkey Beach were selling a variety of drinks, all in small plastic bottles but there were no trash bins and it was obviously too much work for people to just carry it out.  A group of 20-30 middle school students passed us, each with their own small plastic bottle of water.  We talked while hiking out about how they could clean up all the trash in a few days with just a few people.  Near the entrance we came upon five park employees sweeping leaves off the path.   Yes that’s right, FIVE PEOPLE.  SWEEPING. LEAVES. OFF. A. PATH. IN. THE. JUNGLE.  I was really frustrated by the whole system and I tried to calmly explain this to the Park Ranger at the front gate on our way out.

Me: “Why do so many people throw trash on the beach?”

His response, waving his hands as if it’s hopeless: “They are local people.”

Me: “Do you tell them not to do it?”

He smiled and said, “Have a nice day!”

Well, that was that.  Non-confrontational Malaysian culture for the win!  Reflecting upon it, I don’t blame the people anymore.  Yes, we all need to be more conscious of the products we buy and the waste we produce but I blame the governments for not educating their people better and most of all the companies that produce the bottles.  If I were Supreme Dictator of The World, the Coca-Cola company would no longer exist.

Want to read more about Penang? Check it out here!

Cameron Highlands – Tea Country

On our way to the Cameron Highlands in the mountains of central Malaysia, we experienced our first breaths of cool air in some weeks.  Everything was green and full of life as our bus wound its way slowly up and up, honking before the tight turns to warn oncoming traffic that we wouldn’t be slowing down.  The weather was so beautiful with clouds drifting across the mountain tops.  Our destination was Tanah Rata, the main town for adventures in the Cameron Highlands.  We dropped our stuff at Kang Travellers Lodge, a simple guest house with cheap rooms and friendly staff.  Rain clouds started to roll in but we were able to hike to a small waterfall before the downpour.

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Pretty, but unfortunately there was a lot of trash in the water 🙁

The main drag in town was very touristy but there were a few good Indian restaurants that were not expensive.  After dinner we went home and realized there was a bar attached to our guesthouse– Jungle Bar.  It was the first real bar we had been to in Malaysia.  Many of the towns are very Islamic and there are not a lot of parties happening.  Jungle Bar had a pool table and fireplace and a good collection of travelers to talk to.  It was a great dive bar with a fun atmosphere and just what we needed after only talking to each other for the past week or so.

The next morning we got up early as we had scheduled one of the tours from an agency in town.  All the companies sell pretty much the same thing for the same price and take you to different places around the area.  I think it was 45 Ringgit per person ($10) and lasted most of the day.  Our first stop was a butterfly sanctuary.  The first room was full of Birdwings, the national butterfly of Malaysia, a big blue one that didn’t want to fly very much because of the lack of sunshine.

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They also had many other insects and reptiles.  My favorites were the stick insects and other bugs that blended in perfectly with the trees.  It was a challenge to find each one.  There were also toads that looked exactly like the leaves they were resting in.  The flowers were amazing as well; we really enjoyed the place and would never have found it without being on the tour of the Cameron Highlands.

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Butterfly flower
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A beautiful butterfly flower
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These flowers produced a small amount of water that was super sweet!
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This giant stick insect was about 18 inches long!
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Can you spot the leaf insect munching away?

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Our next stop was a tea plantation.  We had never seen tea growing before so it was cool to learn about the process.  Boh (“Best of Highlands”) Tea was still owned by the Scottish family who has owed it since the 1800s.  Many workers were trimming the tops of the bushes with giant hedge saws that deposited the cuttings into large sacks.  The leaves were then taken to be sorted and processed in different ways to make the different tea styles.  They are still using the same labor contract that was created when the plantation opened, with workers working six days a week for very low wages.  Most of the laborers were immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal.  Most of the tea produced was consumed domestically, with some being exported but only to Indonesia and other nearby countries.  The landscape was majestic and they had a nice tea shop and cafe to enjoy the view of the nearby hills.

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There were six other people in our group and we ended up making friends with a British couple.  They were on an indefinite trip as well so we shared stories of our adventures.  After the tea plantation we got back into our Jeep and drove up a steep road.  The vegetation got thicker and thicker and our driver stopped along the way to identify different plants and let us smell things like tiger balm, citronella, and eucalyptus.  At the top of the hill was a path leading into the Mossy Forest.  This area was under a misty cloud 95% of the year which created a very surreal environment where moss grows on everything and thousands of types of plants flourished.  It reminded me of FernGully, a great movie from our childhood that was ripped off by stupid Avatar.

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Our guide said that in Borneo there are larger versions of these flowers that eat insects.

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After the Mossy Forest we stopped at an organic strawberry farm where they sold everything from boxes of berries to berry coffees to berry shakes.

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From there they left us at a hiking trail (Trail #3) that lead to another trail (Trail #5) which took us back into town.  It was a cool 1.5 hour trek through the jungle and we had a lot of fun.  Luckily we had our rain gear because it started coming down hard near the end.

We really enjoyed the Cameron Highlands.  It was wonderful to escape the constant heat and humidity of the lower altitudes and we always enjoy some outdoor time.  Stay tuned for some Island time off the eastern coast of Malaysia!

Chacos – The World’s Greatest Shoe

Chacos

There is no debating it, the people at Chacos have put together the worlds greatest shoe.

Some of the best uses for Chacos are:

Hiking:  Chacos really grip those rocks and don’t move around on your feet.

Backpacking:  Super durable and maintenance-free.  Your feet stay omfy and dry fast after you get them wet.  It’s also great to not need as many pairs of socks, which always smell and are hard to wash in the sink.

At the salsa bar:  Great for showing off those gringo dance moves.  The chicas will be muy impressed by your super style.  They come in several styles and hundreds of colors.

On the bus:  Throw on some socks under your Chacos for those air conditioned rides and rock that classic dad look.

Church:  That’s right, Jesus would have worn them on the pulpit.  Birkenstocks? Yeah right!

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Jesus rocking an early Chacos prototype.  Disclaimer: Walking on water not recommended

In the rain:  Chacos are super-waterproof and grippy even in wet conditions.  However, if you’re planning to go hiking in the rain with deadly snakes and flesh eating fungi, think twice!  Just don’t do it with any shoe.

 

Chocos in the jungleThis hike full of poisonous plants and animals is not recommended for Chaco-wearers.   This picture is from the day I got a weird rash all over my hands and feet.  Most of my fingernails and toenails died, peeled off, and looked really stupid for the next few months.

They retail for just under $99 or 3000 Thai Baht or 0.02 Bitcoin and you can get them from REI or anywhere that sells outdoor gear.  If your local store doesn’t have them than you really just need a better local store or figure out how to use the internet for things other than selfies.  So why don’t you stop wasting time here and get out and buy some killer sandals??

Not a sponsored post, I just love them!

www.Chacos.com

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Hiking Mt. Whitney, TO THE TOP!!!

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The view UP from Whitney Portal

We had been trying to get a permit for hiking Mt. Whitney for years.  This year we finally won the lottery and got the chance to hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states.  We picked up the permit the day before at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center then drove up to Whitney Portal where we would camp for the night.  It was an amazing campground with huge boulders and even bigger rock walls.  The area was always full, but a nearby stream of icy mountain water blocked out the sounds of other people.  We packed our big backpacks, ready to wake up early and adventure upwards.

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The morning came fast; the adrenaline had already kicked in making for anxious sleep.  We packed everything we wouldn’t be carrying into the car then, after putting our extra food into a bear box, we started hiking Mt. Whitney Trail.  There were lots of hikers, mainly very friendly people.  The trail wove its way up a steep canyon and eventually leveled out to high lakes with constantly flowing water.  There were many creek crossings where we had to rock-hop through deep, streaming water.  We were especially glad for our trekking poles at those times!  Soon we were among the snow piles, still melting from the hard winter.  We saw chipmunks and very fat marmots, waiting to score a snack off an abandoned backpack.  It was only six miles to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet so we made it around 1pm, the summit above us and cold lake beside us.  We set up our tent and got water to filter.  With our boots off we spent the afternoon lounging, hydrating, and reading.  We felt strong and had great feelings about making it to the top.

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Energy Gu Cheers!

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At Trail Camp

The alarm went off at 5 and we were out at 5:30.  Dawn was already creeping over the horizon, so we left our headlamps at Trail Camp and started up the infamous 99 Switchbacks. There was running water over some of the paths and when you took your feet from the water to the rocks your feet would become instant ice-skates. Good thing it wasn’t any colder.  We wore hats and gloves; it was cold but the air was still and since we were well trained we powered up the switchbacks as I sang “99 Beers On The Wall…” in my head, to surprising accuracy. We thought the name “99 Switchbacks” was a joke.  Nope, there are really 99 of them.  Hikers going up were in all shapes, mostly doing pretty well, but a few seemed to be struggling with altitude sickness. We finished the ‘backs and entered another area called the Pinnacles, I think. This was the stage where you merge with the John Muir Trail hikers to summit for the finish of their weeks-long adventure. The trail zig-zagged behind the peaks with some amazing views of the inner Sierras and nice drop-offs to the opposite side toward camp. Carrie thought that it looked like an ancient castle, long worn down by weather. The final section was up the back of the peak, sometimes jumping rocks and following a new path near the end as the old was still snowpacked. Up, up, up until finally around 9:30am, the peak of the Stone House, more than 100 years old, inched over the horizon and then the world was below us and a cliff of nightmares and we had made it!!!!!!! 14, 496 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states!  Everyone was overjoyed, we kissed and sat near the edge and soaked in the moment. We signed our names in the register with everyone else and didn’t linger, it was a long way down. Hiking Mt. Whitney sure isn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever done.

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Sunrise view from the 99 Switchbacks
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Going through The Pinnacles
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Looking west over the John Muir Trail into Sequoia National Park
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We made it!

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Back at Trail Camp we packed our tent and were out of there by 1pm.  The way down was easy but we took it slow, avoiding injury.  We felt accomplished, the world was ours!  Since we were done hiking Mt. Whitney we needed a new mountain to conquer.  Any ideas?

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Enjoying some flowers on our way down

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Enjoy our post about hiking Mt. Whitney?  Check out our other posts from backpacking in California HERE and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject

Transitioning to Dirtbag Life

It felt weird to be back in Arizona. Not our home for six years but the comfort remained as we checked out all our old favorite spots. We hiked to our favorite swimming hole, which was still as beautiful as ever, water a perfect way to cool off in the middle of a seven-mile, 90-degree hike. Nearing the end, we witnessed a teenage couple— the guy foolishly hiking into a deep part of the canyon to get water, cursing back up at his girlfriend for not following him down. They showed up at the swimming hole about an hour later. Apparently on the edge of death, the miserable looking boy pulls out a small battery-powered fan, his girlfriend using his precious water to wash sand off her butt. I never did see them get into the water.

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Smile!!!!
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The Crack
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Hiking is fun!

On the way back we drove through Sedona and up Oak Creek Canyon. The views in this region are unbeatable! We had forgotten what an amazing place this is.

The next day we hiked a section of Bill Williams Mountain, starting at the ranger station east of town.  The hike has some pretty nature and I enjoyed finding four types of wild mushrooms nestled beneath the pinion pines. The grasshoppers buzzed around the woods, their sounds always startling and interrupting the tranquility. We didn’t finish the hike, which round-trip totals seven miles, because we have done it a few times before and we had been hiking a good deal.

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Our third day we got up at dawn and drove to the Grand Canyon. We hiked along the rim until there were less crowds with selfie sticks and climbed over the edge to a nice place to hang our feet over. In the distance we spotted two California Condors which we had never been lucky enough to see before. They circled through the sky, catching air streams, and eventually cruised right in front of us. The sound of their feathers rippling through the wind was mesmerizing, wings stiff like a hang-glider. Easily the coolest birds I’ve seen in the wild.

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Day four we finally got some climbing in. We went bouldering at a place called Priest Draw off of Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff.  The Draw is famous among the climbing community and we were excited to check it out again, having last been there in 2011. We sent some of the easier problems, leaving the classic cave problems for the pros. It was a great spot to spend the morning with our pup Toby who loved tramping around in the woods. We planned to go across the street to The Pit, a sport climbing area, but it started to rain as we entered the parking lot so we went to Flagstaff to a gear shop. We needed just a few more things for our coming Mount Whitney trek.

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Our Prius has been carrying us everywhere and we are calling it the “Rock Crawler” now.  Every day seems to bring about some new dirt road for us to conquer.  We are decked out with gear and a new solar panel/battery bank.  Wish us luck as we head to hike Mount Whitney!

Viñales – Enchanted Land of Tobacco

Havana, Cuba was great and all, but after spending four nights in the the busy big city we were ready for some country time.  We were headed for Viñales, Cuba famous for it’s tobacco fields and beautiful countryside.  Our señora in our casa particular arranged for a taxi to grab us in the morning for the ride east.  The shared cabs only cost about 10% more than the Viazul buses and get you there way faster with their door-to-door services.  We were picked up by an old blue 1950s Buick – a wobbly, feel-the-springs-in-the-seat, smell-the-exhaust-in-the-cabin, but still-watch-music-videos-on-the-dashboard kind of taxi.  No seat belts in Cuba, but the AC worked somehow.  We rode with a pair of students from New York, who were on a whirlwind tour of the country.  Outside the city we felt like we had gone back in time.  Horse-drawn carriages and tropical farms of bananas and sugar cane.  Everything was green and lush and it was hard to believe that there wasn’t an abundance of all foods on the island.

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Rain storms over Viñales, Cuba

After about a three hour drive we arrived at our new casa, a cute pink house run by Cary and Anay, a mother and daughter.  Like all the houses in Viñales, Cuba it had rocking chairs on the front porch, from which you could lounge and people-watch the day away.

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Viñales, Cuba Sunset

Day two in Viñales, Cuba we rented bicycles and headed out into the countryside of Parque Nacional Viñales.  The grand moros (rocky hills) were all around us.  Instead of the mountains raising from the earth, underground rivers had caused the valley floor to fall creating the dramatic landscape.

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The Cuban countryside in Viñales.
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Riding bikes past La Cueva El Palenque in Viñales, Cuba
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Transportation in Viñales, Cuba

A few miles outside of town we came to La Cueva del Indio, one of a series of many caves in the area.  The cave tour is accessible through a restaurant and costs 5 CUC.  The caves had a nice walking path through them that led to a boat ride down an underground river.  It was nice except for a super-obnoxious family in front of us.  Seriously, who yells in caves and moves precariously-balanced rocks around trying to find a lens cap?

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Cueva del Indio in Viñales, Cuba
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The underground river at la Cueva del Indio in Viñales, Cuba.

Once back in town we headed down a side street to the edge of the village where we were found an organic tobacco farm.  We took a tour (in Spanish) where they explained the growing, drying, fermenting, and rolling processes of Cuba’s famous cigars.  They also explained the difference between organic and chemical tobacco production.  At the end we tried some of the organic Monte Cristos dipped in local honey.

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Organic tobacco drying house in Viñales, Cuba
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Traditional tobacco drying house in Viñales, Cuba
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Fields of tobacco in Viñales, Cuba
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Telling us about Monte Cristos, Che’s favorite cigars!
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Rolling an organic cigar.  They use four leaves and honey to hold it all together.
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Packs of cigars in banana leaf packs

We only had the bikes for one day so headed out again in the other direction to the strange and epic Mural de la Prehistoria, a strange giant painting on the cliffside.  Apparently it took several painters many years to complete.

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Mural de la Prehistoria in Viñales, Cuba

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On day three in Viñales, Cuba we decided to go for a hike.  We walked past the turn off for the Mural then after about one more kilometer took a right turn and headed towards Los Aquaticos, a village on the hillside.  The Lonely Planet had some general directions but we asked some farmers along the way, brushing off several dudes who wanted to guide us up there.  The views were fantastic along the way and we felt at peace among the country animals and fields.

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Carrie’s new bestie!

At the top there was a small blue ranch house with a view of the valley.  They sold delicious  coffee grown on site that you could sip while enjoying the scenery.  A cute pig snuggled up to Carrie.

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Royal Palms, the national tree of Cuba.
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The view from Los Aquaticos

You could hike up farther but it was growing late in the afternoon and we were satisfied with our adventure.   After eating dinner we took a nap then went out late to the government-run dance hall.  Every town had at least one of these places with a salsa band and bar and lots of people.  We really need to learn some moves!  Until we do, it’s still fun to watch everyone boogie down.  Viñales, Cuba was an all-around great time, with lots of nature and fun nightlife!

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Let’s salsa in Viñales, Cuba!

Want to read more about Cuba?  Click here for more Aventuras through the communist Caribbean paradise!