Tagarchief: adventure

Survival in the jungle of Belize

‘You would expect the machete to be much sharper.’ Linsay puts her index finger on the sharp side of the machete she just received from our Marcos Cucul, a Maya guide with an exceptional experience when it comes to surviving in the jungle.  Like a real-life Lara Croft she puts the machete back in the sheath hanging around her hip.

There were two reasons why we chose Belize as our travel destination: the Belize Barrief Reef and the Belizean jungle. The latter was added to be terrain we were not familiar with, us deciding to take a Jungle Survival Course with Maya Guide Adventures. Spending three days and two nights deep into the Belizean rainforest, on a place where jaguars, boa constrictors and the puma have their home. This experience would make acquaint us with the hostile environment of the jungle.


The jungle as a source of food

The many poisenous snake species, hunting jaguars and the lack of food the next few days make this environment one of the most dangerous ones we ever found ourselves into. That we were on our way to camp presented some fun stories about the many botflies in this area, laying eggs under your skin via mosquitoes, giving you a burning feeling as they live as parasites, not yet included. And believe us if we say that you will start worrying seriously when you see the first five mosquito bites appear. Fortunately all those worries disappear when you got bitten fifty times (no exaggeration) and spend all your time scratching the itch.

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How hostile the jungle environment may well be, at the same time it’s a great source of food and water. With lots of rain having fallen out of the sky the past few days above mainland Belize, lack of water was no issue. More than once during our journey we found ourselves in thirty centimeters deep puddles of water and mud. ‘Taste this. It’s very nutritious.’ Marcos gives us a stem that looks like an asparagus and cuts his open. ‘This is the fruit of the Pacaya palm.’ Inside there are numerous green stamens that remind us of the hyped loombracelets. The taste is very bitter. Too bitter to our taste. ‘For tonight.’, he says and starts picking the pacayas from the tree. Okay, so our dinner would be bitter loom bracelets, so what? Fortunately, soon after Marcos pointed out to a tasty way of washing it down. He grabs a vine and tells us this is called the tea vine by the local people of Belize. When it’s boiled in water, you get a delicious kind of jungle coffee. In the evening, it turned out to be our cup of tea.

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The jungle as our new home

With many snakes being camouflaged by the foliage on the ground, a tent isn’t the safest option to spend the night. A hammock on the other hand… Trees are easily found in the jungle and with a tarp hanging above our hammock, we’re assured of a dry and safe night. At least, that would ‘ve been the case if we hadn’t drunk too much jungle coffee, making us pee at least three times a night. Opening your hammock, check with your head torch if there aren’t any snakes laying underneath your hammock and looking for a decent spot to ‘drain’ the coffee. Just in time, it springs to mind that I better check for snakes here as well. When I return to my hammock barefeeted, I hope that mosquitoes didn’t take advantage of that opportunity to accompany me in my cocoon. Alas, the buzzing of a still actively hunting mosquito marks the beginning of a short, but severe battle before I can continue my night’s sleep…until my next visit to the loo.


Setting traps and looking for food

No alarm clock in the jungle. Only a family of howler monkeys that isn’t too happy with our stay in their territorium. Their intimidating roar is what wakes us up in the morning. Our first task of the day is boiling water from the nearby river on the campfire. After another cup of jungle coffee (I know…) and some grilled pacaya for breakfast, a serious challenge lies ahead. With a sharpened machete in hand, we chop ourselves a way through the dense ferns and plants of the jungle, looking for food. Our plan is to set a trap, hoping to catch a bird. However, for this we need some bait. It takes nearly an hour before we reach a small river where we start wading and looking for snails, the favorite snack of several birds living in the lower parts of the jungle. ‘You see this?’, Marcos says. ‘These small mushrooms are edible. With his machete he cuts the small mushrooms off the fallen tree trunk and puts them in his pockets.

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Once back closer to camp, we look for the perfect spot to set a trap. A piece of string, a flexible small tree, some branches and our bait. That’s all we need to set up the type of trap you only see in cartoons. Step by step we are explained the different knots used that will trigger the trap when a bird nibbles the bait. And let’s hope it doesn’t get catapulted pops up in my mind when we test the trap with our finger.


Nothing to do except waiting, so for now we have to look for a different way of filling our stomachs. Besides pacayas, snails, shrimps and small fish, there is another important source of nutrition to be found in the jungle: the heart of palm. With the aid of our machete we cut the trunk of the palm tree until it collaps. A chore not to be completed in five minutes. Once cleaved in half, a white mass appears, similar to the a huge asparagus. The clog is big enough to eat for a few days and tastes delicious when grilled.


Hiking at night in the jungle

I have a terrible fear of snakes. Big or small. When Marcos tells us that everyone in Belize, including himself, is very cautious when it comes to the snakes that live here in Belize, I’m relieved I’m not the only one. Or should I start worrying instead since he just confesses he’d rather not encounter them as well? Fortunately, most snakes (and other animals in the jungle) are nocturnal. Including the jaguar and the tapir that we would like to catch a glimpse of. There is no other way but to go out there at night. It’s 2am when we carefully crawl out of our hammock and prepare ourselves for a night hike. About fifteen minutes later, we witness the first sign of wildlife: jaguar tracks. Only thirty meter away from our camp. ‘Only a few hours old.’, Marcos says.


Our hope for seeing a jaguar increases, eventhough our best chances are the next few days when we camp three days in the Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve. Hiking at night through the dense jungle is way more exciting than in daytime. You can feel that is everything is becoming more active now. With our head torch that lights up the little eyes, we never noticed until now how many spiders there are around is. Not much later, we are about to see the largest of them all: the tarantula. Although it crawls back into his hole shortly after. With a small branch, Marcos lures the tarantula outside his hole giving us the opportunity to admire it.


Despite having hike for two hours in the dark and not having seen a jaguar, we have the feeling of having been very close. When the next morning we wake up (no howler monkeys this time), it’s time for us to return to the outside world. Real jungle survival experts we have not become. Time was too limited for this, but we did have a great first introduction in surviving in a – for us – completely new environment. One of which we dare to state it’s not the last time we have spend time in.

Do you want to learn how to set traps, how to build a shelter with ferns, how to get water from vines or what you can eat in the jungle? Maya Adventure Guide offers Jungle Survival training courses suited for every level. During our own three day adventure we learned a lot and the experience gave us a taste for more. For sure, we will return to Belize in the future and embark on a longer jungle survival adventure.



Op Survival in de jungle van Belize

‘Je zou de machete scherper verwachten.’ Linsay legt haar wijsvinger op de scherpe kant van de machete die ze daarnet kreeg van onze gids Marcos Cucul, een Maya gids met een uitzonderlijke ervaring wat betreft overleven in de jungle. Als een echte Lara Croft steekt ze de machete terug in de schede die rond haar heup hangt.

Er waren twee redenen waarom we voor Belize als reisbestemming hadden gekozen: het Belize Barrief Reef en de jungle. Deze laatste was dan nog eens onbekend terrein voor ons waardoor we beslisten om een Jungle Survival cursus te volgen bij Maya Guide Adventures. Drie dagen en twee nachten diep in het regenwoud van Belize verblijven, op een plaats waar jaguars, boa constrictors en poema’s hun thuis hebben. Een dergelijke ervaring zou ons wat vertrouwder maken in de vijandige omgeving die de jungle toch wel is.


De jungle als bron van voedsel

De vele giftige slangensoorten, jagende jaguars en het gebrek aan eten de komende dagen maakten deze omgeving een van de gevaarlijkste waar we ons ooit in hebben bevonden. Dat we onderweg naar onze nieuwe thuis dan nog enkele leuke verhaaltjes voorgeschoteld krijgen over de vele horzels (botflies) in dit gebied die eitjes leggen onder je huid via muggen en je een brandend gevoel geven omdat ze leven als parasieten, hadden we dan nog niet meegerekend. En geloof ons maar dat je de eerste vijf muggenbeten je serieus zorgen begint te maken. Al verdwijnen die zorgen een keer je zo’n vijftigtal keer bent gestoken (geen overdrijving) en je enkel nog bezig bent met de jeuk.

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Hoe vijandig de jungle dan ook mag zijn, tegelijk is het een grote bron van voedsel en water. Met de vele regen die de laatste dagen met bakken uit de lucht was komen vallen boven het binnenland van Belize, was er aan water geen gebrek. Meer dan eens tijdens onze tocht naar het kamp stonden we tot aan ons scheenbeen in het water. ‘Proef dit eens. Het is erg voedzaam.’ Marcos geeft ons een stengel die gelijkt op een asperge en snijdt die van hem open. ‘Dit is de vrucht van een Pacaya palm.’ Binnenin zitten verschillende groene stengels die ons doen denken aan de gehypte loombandjes. De smaak ervan is erg bitter. Te bitter naar onze smaak. ‘Voor vanavond.’, zegt hij en hij begint de pacaya’s van de boom te plukken. Ok, dus ons avondmaal zou bestaan uit bittere loombandjes, so what? Gelukkig wees Marcos al snel naar een lekkerdere manier om deze door te spoelen. Hij grijpt een liaan vast en vertelt dat deze door de lokale bevolking een tea vine wordt genoemd. Wanneer deze wordt gekookt in water, krijg je een heerlijke soort junglekoffie. Dat bleek ’s avonds iets meer ons ding te zijn.

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De jungle als nieuwe thuis

Met de vele slangen die verscholen liggen tussen het gebladerte op de grond is een tent niet de meest veilige optie om de nacht door te brengen. Een hangmat daarentegen.. Aan bomen geen gebrek en met een tarp boven onze hangmat hebben we gegarandeerd een droge en veilige nacht. Tenminste dat zou het geval zijn als je niet teveel van de junglekoffie had gedronken en tot driemaal toe per nacht een toiletbezoek moet maken. Hangmat openen, met je koplamp even checken of er geen slangen onder je liggen en daarna een goede plaats in het struikgewas zoeken om de koffie te laten doorlopen. Het schiet me nog net op tijd binnen dat ik best ook hier nog even rondkijk of er geen slangen in de buurt zitten. Wanneer ik op mijn blote voeten terugkeer naar mijn hangmat hoop ik dat er geen muggen van de gelegenheid hebben gebruikgemaakt om me te vergezellen in mijn cocon. Helaas, het gezoem van een nog actief jagende mug betekent het begin van een korte, maar hevige strijd vooraleer ik mijn nachtrust kan verder zetten… tot het volgende toiletbezoek.


Valletjes uitzetten en op zoek naar eten

Geen wekker in de jungle. Enkel een familie brulapen die niet zo opgezet is met ons verblijf in hun territorium. Hun intimiderende gebrul is dan ook wat ons wakker maakt. Het eerste werk van de dag is water uit de nabijgelegen rivier koken op het kampvuur. Na een tasje junglekoffie (ik weet het..) en wat gebakken pacaya als ontbijt staat ons een serieuze uitdaging te wachten. Met een vers geslepen machete in de hand kappen we ons een weg door de dichtbegroeide varens en planten van de jungle, op zoek naar eten. Het plan is om een val uit te zetten in de hoop een vogel te vangen. Hiervoor hebben we echter lokaas nodig. Het duurt een klein uur vooraleer we een klein riviertje bereiken waar we doorwaden op zoek naar slakken, het favoriete voedsel van heel wat vogels die in de lagere gedeeltes van de jungle leven. ‘Zie je dit?’, zegt Marcos. ‘Deze kleine paddenstoelen kun je eten.’ Met zijn machete snijdt hij de kleine paddenstoelen van de omgevallen boomstam af en steekt ze in zijn zakken.

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Eens we terug dichter zijn bij het kamp zoeken we naar een geschikte plaats om een val op te zetten. Een stukje touw, een flexibel boompje ,wat takjes en ons lokaas. Meer hebben we niet nodig om een valletje op te zetten zoals je ze enkel in de tekenfilms ziet. Stap voor stap krijgen we de verschillende knopen uitgelegd die de val zullen moeten triggeren wanneer een vogel van het lokaas knabbelt. En dan maar hopen dat hij niet wordt weg gekatapulteerd denk ik nog wanneer we de val met onze vinger even testen.


Op onze vangst is het wachten en dus moeten we voorlopig op een andere manier onze maag vullen. Naast de pacaya’s, slakken, garnalen en kleine visjes is er nog een andere belangrijke bron van voeding die de jungle biedt: het hart van de palmboom. Met de machete hakken we de stam van de palmboom door tot deze omvalt. Een karwei die niet op een vijftal minuten gebeurt. Eens doorkliefd komt een witte massa tevoorschijn die gelijkt op een enorme asperge. De klomp is groot genoeg om enkele dagen van te eten en smaakt ons erg nadat het geroosterd is.


’s Nachts hiken door de jungle

Ik heb grote angst voor slangen. Klein of groot. Als Marcos ons vertelt dat iedereen in Belize, inclusief hijzelf, bang is voor de slangen die hier leven, ben ik opgelucht dat ik niet de enige ben. Of moet ik me net zorgen maken omdat hij net bekent dat ook hij ze liever niet tegenkomt? Gelukkig zijn de meeste slangen (en andere dieren in de jungle) enkel ’s nachts actief. Ook de jaguar en de tapir waarvan we maar al te graag een glimp zouden opvangen. Er zit dan ook niets anders op dan ’s nachts op pad te gaan. Het is half drie in de ochtend als we voorzichtig uit onze hangmat klauteren en ons klaarmaken voor een nachtelijke wandeling. Nog geen kwartier later zien we al een eerste teken van wildlife: sporen van een jaguar. En dat op zo’n dertig meter van ons kamp. ‘Slechts een paar uur oud.’, vertelt Marcos.


Onze hoop op het spotten van een jaguar groeit, ook al zijn onze kansen het grootst de komende dagen wanneer we drie dagen kamperen in Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve. ’s Nachts door de jungle wandelen is een stuk spannender dan overdag. Je voelt immers dat alles tot leven komt. Met onze koplamp die de oogjes doen oplichten, valt het nu pas op hoeveel spinnen er rondom ons zitten. Niet veel later krijgen we de grootste van allemaal te zien: de tarantula. Al kruipt die snel weg in zijn holletje. Met een takje lokt Marcos de tarantula weer naar buiten zodat we hem even kunnen bewonderen.


Hoewel we na twee uur wandelen geen jaguar te zien hebben gekregen, hebben we wel het gevoel echt dichtbij te hebben gezeten. Wanneer we de volgende ochtend wakker worden (geen brulapen deze keer) is het tijd om terug te keren naar de bewoonde wereld. Echte jungle survival experts zijn we nog niet geworden, daarvoor was de tijd te kort. Wel hebben we een goede introductie gehad in het overleven in een voor ons volledig nieuwe omgeving. Eentje waarvan we durven stellen dat het niet de laatste keer is dat we er in vertoefd hebben.

Wil je zelf ook leren hoe je vallen zet, hoe je een schuilplaats bouwt met palmen, hoe je aan water raakt uit takken of wat je allemaal kan eten in de jungle? Maya Adventure Guide biedt Jungle Survival cursussen aan voor ieder niveau. Zelf staken we heel wat op tijdens onze driedaagse tocht en smaakte het avontuur naar meer. In de toekomst keren we zeker terug naar Belize voor een langer survivalavontuur.

Belize: Adventures of a lifetime!

Looking for an off-the-beaten-path travel destination where you can experience top-notch adventures? Look no further: Belize should be the country entered when buying flight tickets. The small Central American nation offers some of the biggest adventures you can experience in your life!

Take a Jungle Survival Course

The main part of Belize’s territory is covered by dense jungle, only to be split up by the scenic Hummingbird Highway. One way or another, when exploring Belize, you will end up in this hostile environment. Just to be well prepared, it can be useful to take a jungle survival course. Maya Guide Adventures offers 3-4 day courses or if you are up for it, even longer. During these courses you will learn how to build a shelter, how to make fire, what you can and cannot eat and how to set traps to catch birds and mammals.

We learnt so much during our three day jungle survival course. Check out our experiences.

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Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge

When you want adventure you can try one of the adventure races in Belize. Registered teams will be competing eachother in a 500 km race by mountainbiking, canoeing, pack rafting, trekking & orienteering, caving and rappeling. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you need to deliver a medical form as well. Only for experienced adventurers, since you will be spending quite some time in the jungle.

Snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef

When searching for the best scubadiving location, people always think of the Great Barrief Reef in Australia. However, Belize’s Barrief Reef might even be a better option to explore the amazing underwater world. This is the second largest barrier reef in the world. When spending time in Caye Caulker or San Pedro, the snorkel tour in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one we can recommend as you will see sharks, sting rays, barracudas and some amazing coral!


Dive the Great Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is one of the world’s best diving locations. This submarine sinkhole is located some 70km off the coast of Belize and takes a quite a long trip to get there (3 hours). If you’re not up for the bumpy boat ride, you can always choose to make a scenic flight over it. We even made a video of it.

How to book a scenic flight over the Great Blue Hole? 




The many rivers and streams in Belize are perfect for kayaking, but if you think paddling is a little bit too dull, Belizeans have another option:  rivertubing. Rivertubing is the perfect alternative if you want to float down the many waters in a special way. You will be conquering the gentle currents on an inner tube! Let’s face it, there ain’t much more adventure than floating in a tube on a river in the middle of the jungle. Maya Walk Tours offers tours starting from San Ignacio to the popular Caves Branch River for 85USD.

If you have plans of visiting Cockscomb Nature Reserve during your trip, you can rivertube the river for only 15 USD/ pp.

La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge

La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge is a gruelling multi-day canoe race travelling a perilous river route across the country of Belize. The route runs West to East along the Macal. This annual competition is entered by 80 canoes paddling 250 km in 4 days! It starts off at San Ignacio, close to the Guatemalan border, only to end up in Belize City. Be ready for the adventure of your life!

Explore ancient Maya Ruins

The dense jungle of Belize hides some ancient ruines waiting to be explored. While new ruins are still discovered, there are a few well-known Maya sites that are worth visiting. Close to San Ignacio, you can make a half-day trip to the nearby Xunantunich ruins or the site of Cahal Pech. A more adventurous journey is by joining a tour to – or rent a car and drive to – Caracol, the largest ancient Maya archaeological sites ever excavated in Belize, located in the Cayo district.



Jaguar spotting in Cockscomb Basin

One of the best wildlife experiences you can have during your visit to Belize is spotting a jaguar. Your chances are at best when visiting Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize’s most famous jaguar sanctuary. However these type of cats are nocturnal so to improve your odds of actually encountering a jaguar, you have to hike early in the morning when they are active. There are numerous trails to be hikes. We spent three nights at Cockscomb Basin and considered a highlight during our Belize trip.

Here is a guide on what to do when you’re visiting Cockscomb Basin

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Rappel the Black Hole

When you hear about rappeling the Black Hole, they are talking about Actun Loch Tunich, the ‘Mother of all Caves’. This sinkhole sits about 100m above the basin below, and some 60 meters above the rain forest canopy. With the aid of a system of rappelling ropes, you can descend all the way down the hole. An unforgettable experience that will give you an adrenaline boost for sure.


Even when going below ground level you will find adventures in the Central American country. Actun Tunichil Muknal or the ATM cave  close to San Ignacio, is a well-known site amongst visitors, since this caving experience will make you wade through hip-deep water and show you glimpses of skeletal remains as an extra thrill. However, during our visit to Belize, we opted for the Crystal Cave in Blue Hole NP. A less visited but more thrilling experience of caving. At moments you will have to squeeze, scramble and crawl yourself through the cave. If you’re lucky, your guide will take you to the ‘Wonderland’ deep inside the cave.

Read about our experiences in Crystal Cave


Canoe in Barton Creek Cave

Barton Creek Cave is one of the many caves that were used by the Mayas for ancient rituals such as agricultural rituals, ferility rites and human sacrifice. It is one of the longest wet caves making it ideal to explore by canoe.

What adventure appeals to you the most? 

Canoeing in Sweden

I’m staring out of the window of my seat. The clouds look like a crevassed field of snow. My destination? Sweden. The North European country may be well-known for its winter activities in Lapland, I’m spending my summer there. On my list is a six-day paddling journey on some of the largest lakes and rivers of Sweden. Wildcamping in an area where bears, wolves and elchs have their habitat.

With our bright yellow Volkswagen minivan we’ve been driving for more than an hour through the forests of Dalarna, close to the Norwegian border. Long-stretched roads surrounded by high pine trees, only to see more trees behind the next bend.  I’ve got the feeling to see a bear crossing the road any minute now. Or an elch. But I won’t. Not more than a sporadic glimpse of a yellow- or red-colored scandinavian house. We’re making a turn towards the driveway of a yellow-colored wooden house. Horrmunds Garden, I read. The Swedish flags at the entrance arouses my holiday mood. ‘We’re here.’, our travel guide says. The Swedish owners of the B&B, Anita and Görgen come outside to welcome us. A few days ago, some of their guests had an encounter with a bear on the dirt road running behind the house Anita mentions. Maybe my feeling wasn’t so wrong afterall.


Swedish breakfast & back to basics

Knäckebröd, eggs with caviar and freshly-baked wafels with berry jelly. “Cloudberry is very expensive in Sweden.”, Anita tells us ons. My Swedish holiday mood continues when I see the breakfast setting. Still, our run-in with Swedish pastries and hospitality wouldn’t last long, since in an hour we would be driving to Ransi lake, where we get our first kayak experience before starting a multi-day journey. Six days back to basics what they call.

After being instructed about the different paddling techniques, we load our canoes and launch ourselves from the shore with the aid of our paddle. Minutes later, all we can hear is the sound of water being pushed by our paddle. Loo-oving it!


Camping in the wilderness

After a journey of barely two hours, we arrive at the other side of the lake, looking for a great spot to pitch our tent. Soon after, six tents are pitched between the trees on the shoreline. Words are unnecessary when it comes to divide up the tasks for the rest of the evening. One person starts gathering firewood while another makes preparations for dinner. And what would a first night in the wild be without a campfire? Fortunately, there always is a ‘firemaster’, mastering the fine technique of starting a fire. While the barbecue meat is grilling on the fire, the atmosphere creators start sharing wild and funny stories. It’s not until many hours later, we see the Scandinavian sun setting just for an hour or two.



The shrilling sounds of cranes well-hidden in the tall reeds echoes through the forests and inlets and awakens me at quarter past eight. The sun is already high up in the sky, despite being at this early hour, and it promises to be another hot day. After having enjoyed a delicious breakfast consisting of coffee and tea accompagnied by a loaf of bread with jelly, we start exploring the inlets of the lake.

Spotting some wildlife

In case you still wondered… we’re in bear territory. An area they share with hundreds of wolves and even more elchs. But even though Scandinavia has a large number of these animals wandering around, you often won’t see much more than some birds. It’s fair enough to say that we were quite fortunate when we noticed something moving in the high reed. ‘Do you guys see that?’, I shout and point towards a spot on the shore some fifty meters away. Seconds later I realize it’s an elch grazing, but before I manage to get any closer, it disappears in the woods.


The sun reflects on the surface of the lake when we return to the spot we’d made our camp. After a successful day when it comes to spotting wildlife, we make another fire. Not only for preparing dinner, but as well to keep another type of animal away: the nasty mosquitos that show up every evening. The ambient buzzing of annoying mosquitos around your head is in marked contrast to the fear getting some itching bites. Fortunately fire was lit quickly.

The rapids of the Björnan

The light waves of the lake push our canoes against the small rocks on the shoreline before dragging it slowly. Now and then, the rhytmic scraping is accompagnied by a plunge caused by a fish. The scraping and dragging is something our canoe will encounter more torday. Day three is the time when we’re paddling the river Björnan and its rapids. Something that will take us two days to complete. The river is quite shallow due to the warm summer they have had sof ar. The large boulders in the river are even more difficult to avoid. ‘When you get stuck with your canoe, it’s important not to panic and carefully give your canoe a little push.’, the travel guide instructs us. Shortly after, the first canoe gets stuck. With great precaution, avoiding slippery boulders beneath the surface, the sternman succeeds in giving the canoe a little push. Barely on time, he jumps back in the canoe while continuing their journey. Finding the best way to avoid the boulders is an art we will get plenty of opportunities to fine-tune, exceptions not included. ‘To the left. Quick, quick. And now to the right.’ Just in time to avoid a huge boulder and thus avoiding capsizing in the middle of the rapid. Even when a short shower surprises us, it doesn’t spoil the fun.


Paddling in Pirates of the Caribbean style

The ambience of nature, swimming in the lakes, the surrounding pine forests where we occasionally notice a little hut… there have been many highlights during our canoe trip in Sweden. And let’s not forget the group. A group of people, each with their set of survival skills they love to demonstrate. Whether it’s making coffee on a firepit or pitching their tent. After having paddled for five days on rivers and lakes, we’ve arrived at Horrmunden lake, our final destination. With an undulating landscape in the background we see Scandinavian houses once again. Each with their own pontoon and Swedish flag waving through the wind. The long reed we cross waves at the same pace. One last time, we enjoy our daily routine of pitching tents, cooking dinner and building a fire. One last time we enjoy the complete tranquility we’ve experienced during our six days into the wild. However.. as a wave coming towards us, the soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean emerges. In a Jaws kind of way, we see the atmosphere creator boarding the canoe of his fellow travelers. One last time.

How to prepare for a ghost hunt?

Haunted Rooms

Last year we participated in a real ghost hunt vigil and stayed at Britain’s most haunted castle to finally have an answer to the same old question: ‘Are ghosts for real?’ Unfortunately, it left us behind with only more doubts. Are these vigils a scam? We don’t believe so. With Halloween only a few days away, it’s time for a reflection.

We joined a professional group of ghost hunters in Liverpool to check out the Newsham Park Hospital, an abandoned asylum that formerly was used as an orphanage. With room for 400 orphans and later 400 patients, inside it is a truly decayed scene with the assembly hall, a chilling mortuary, a warren of corridors (the notorious ‘naughty boys corridor’ where children were punished), dormitories, nine psychiatric wards, winding staircases with anti-suicide grills and treatment rooms. Rusting broken beds and wheelchairs still lie scattered around. Spending a night keeping vigil turned our sceptic look at things into doubts as we did witness some strange behaviour in the building. Moving items, succesful table tipping sessions, … Do we believe in ghosts now? No, not yet, but we won’t be claiming it’s all fake either. Joining a professional ghost hunt or vigil is not a scam in our opinion. It’s a way for them to raise enough money to ‘rent’ an evening in a big haunted location they want to investigate. Something they could not do if it wasn’t for the many enthusiastics who want to experience a ghost encounter.

Ghost hunting. Not just on Halloween.

You would think these organized ghost hunts are just a creepy way of spending Halloween but no. Ghost hunts are a real phenomenon in the UK and there are dozens of haunted locations all over the country. Ghost hunters really do believe in paranormal activity (or they are really good actors!). Ok, sometimes they are overexited when some activity is perfectly explainable by a wind gust or airborne dust. But still…

We did check if these ghost appearances were fake by spending a night in Britains most haunted castle: Chillingham Castle. We booked a room which was claimed to be haunted and checked for ourselves. Again strange noises at night (while the castle was abandoned) and a bizarre phone call (while there was no reception) made our experience not much more than a story without explanation. We promised that day that we would come back again for another ghost hunt.

If you’re interested in having your own vigil, here are a few things you need to know:

  • Location, location, location

Ghosts can be found in pretty much every location. Allthough abandoned buildings with some history often do the trick to encounter some spirits.  From lost souls to murder victims, playful spirits to angry ones. Don’t trespass but get permission for keeping vigil. In ‘The best best locations for a ghost hunt‘ we discuss the best places to hold a vigil.

  • Don’t go alone

Bring some friends with you. They are not only an extra pair of eyes and ears but are a safer option since you’re exploring an old, secluded building that could be structurally unsafe. You never know if you need some help. You may also want to share the experience with a team and have other people there to verify any sightings. You should also tell other people where you are going, and if possible, take a mobile phone.

  • Be prepared

Once you have decided on the location, it is wise to explore first in daytime. Make a map of the hazardous places and pinpoint the spot(s) you want to investigate. Also do your research on the location. Find out as much as possible about the ghost(s) you may encounter. When do they appear? Where have they been spotted? Are they vocal?

  • Talk to the spirits like they are living people

Don’t forget these ghosts were people once too and you are on their property now. Introduce yourself and ask permission to take pictures and be on their property.  Invite them to be in your photos.  If they respond in any way to requests, thank them.  When you leave, thank them for having you.

  • Follow your instincts when taking photos

If you feel you need to take a picture in a certain direction, take it.  Take pictures behind you over your shoulder.  Take as many photos as you can. The more pictures you take the better chance you will have catching something strange.

  • Have proper equipment with you

If you experience paranormal activity, you’re going to want proof and that means having the right equipment for the job. A digital camera and voice recorder is standard stuff. Make sure the batteries are charged and you have spare ones with you. Pen and paper are also interesting for taking notes on anything abnormal such as changes in temperature, flickering lights and unexplained noises.

Another piece of equipment, widely used by professional ghost hunters, is an EMF metre. Spirits can be detected by interrupting or creating their own electromagnetic fields and EMF metres can detect extremely weak static, electric and magnetic fields. Most ghosthunters also take a thermometer, laser grid, motion detectors and ghost box with them for capturing anything paranormal.

  • Ask a lot of questions

It’s advisable to ask a lot of questions as if you know the ghosts are there. ‘What is your name?’, is better than, ‘Is there anyone there?’.

You want to spend your next Halloween not watching Paranormal Activity or Poltergeist? Why not keep vigil in one of Britains most haunted places? You can book one of the events on hauntedrooms.co.uk. They offer ghost hunts all year round. The best locations for a ghosthunts you can read in our blogpost ‘The best locations for a ghost hunt‘. 

How to plan the Great Glen Canoe trail?

Paddling the Scottish lochs on your own merits? Wildcamping and cooking your own

Fort William – Inverness

dinner along the way? It sounds like the ultimate Scottish adventure. And in a way, it kinda is!

The Great Glen Canoe Trail connects Fort William with Inverness up North with the aid of the Caledonian canal which connects lochs like Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and Loch Ness in one straight line. A route that allows 95 kilometers of paddling adventure! But how do you plan a canoe or kayak trip of this distance?

Paddling a loaded canoe

Do I need a guide?

Depends on your sense of adventure. The Great Glen Canoe Trail is no easy paddling route for kayak and canoes, but never reaches the level where you need white water experience.  The degreee of difficulty is mainly determined by the open water of the lochs and the weather that has a great influence on it. Anyone wise enough to stay at shore when the weather is bad and has the patience to wait for better conditions to come, doesn’t need a guide per se. Even if you don’t have paddle experience beforehand. The first ten kilometers are spent on the Caledonian Canal, so you’ll have plenty of practice on your way. With this e-guide you can plan the full adventure on your own.

The best time for this canoe journey is during the summer months when the weather conditions are on their best (on a Scottish level that is). During bad conditions, it’s not uncommon to encounter waves up to three meters on the lochs. Remember, in these conditions it’s better to stay at shore and wait for better weather.

If you were considering to paddle the route in opposite direction, please reconsider. The wind most often is heading from the southwest, so the original route towards Inverness is ideal to have wind behind you. And believe me, wind direction is a key factor in having a great time during your journey.

Ok, I’m convinced! Where do I start planning? 

Trailblazer rest
Trailblazer rest

A canoe or kayak, paddles, life jackets, barrels… You will need a lot of gear to start your journey.  Your best option is to rent this in Banavie or Corpach, two villages near Fort William. They can offer you a transfer to Neptune’s Staircase, the location where most paddlers embark on their journey. However, there are a few things you shouldn’t forget before launching your vessel: register for a canoe license (free) at http://www.greatglencanoetrail.info and if you require access to facilities such as toilet or shower along the way, you can pay 10 pond for a key.

About the duration of your journey. This is entirely up to you. Fast paddlers may succeed in a 3 day attempt, while less experienced paddlers will need five days for the whole distance. Personally, I recommend doing the route in five days. Even though it’s perfectly doable to complete the trail in four days, you never know which weather to expect and how long you will have to look from shore at huge waves that would capsize your canoe.

I have my gear, but what to expect during this adventure? 

An unique experience. But besides that… tired arms caused by the daily efforts you will need to provide. Starting from Banavie, your first stretch will be a 10 kilometer paddle on the Caledonian Canal, meaning calm water. Ideal for adapting to your canoe and to warm up. During your trip to Inverness, you will encounter a number of locks. These, you can not pass on the water but you’ll have to do a portage. This means a number of actions to fulfill: mooring at the pontoon, unloading your canoe, getting your canoe out of the water and attach it to the trolley, walking a distance with your canoe and gear (possibly more than once before you have moved everything), getting your canoe in the water, loading your canoe and continue your journey. All by all a serious effort and not an easy task for most paddlers.

Portage om sluizen te vermijden
Portage to avoid locks

Loading your canoe is best done the same way everytime you do it. Make sure to have a solid system to make sure the balance is right. You may not have thought about it yet, but it’s most likely you will take a huge backpack with your belongings, a spare paddle, a trolley for the portages, and two barrels containing food and gear with you. Make sure everything is attached to your canoe. This way you avoid everything floating off when you capsize.

Study your map carefully every day before you start your stage and take the weather forecast into account. On the lochs you will have to choose a side and stick to it for the whole length. It is not advisable to cross the lochs halfway. So choose a side that is of advantage to you.

The Scottish lochs

Peddelen op 'open water'
Paddling ‘open water’

There is no doubt you chose the Great Glen Canoe trail because you wanted to paddle over the Scottish lochs. Don’t underestimate these as they are rated as open water because of their size. In different words, paddling is way harder because of the current and waves. You can compare with the sea. So always stay close to shore and never change sides halfway. Capsizing with you canoe on Loch Ness is not only because of the water temperatures not advisable.

Where do I sleep?

This adventure requires a tent. You can camp everywhere on the shores of the lochs, but is strongly suggested to use the provided trailblazer rests. These are spots alongside the trail where you have facilities and a fire pit to warm up every evening near a campfire. But don’t forget not to leave a trace.

Check out my gear list

Great Glen Canoe Trail
Detailled map of Day 1. Red dots mark the places where portage is required.


Purchase our Great Glen Canoe trail e-guide! 

Great Glen Canoe trail

An ultimate guide for epic adventures

Five years ago, I went on my first adventure: climbing the Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Nine months after that I stood on the summit of Mont Blanc and so far I’ve scaled more than ten mountains all over the world. Most recently, I paddled into some of the most remote fjords of Svalbard, encountered beluga whales and polar bears and sailed to the high North. Right now, I’m planning my next big adventure to learn how to scubadive in Belize.

You can do this stuff, too. I’m not a super athlete. I’ve never been that good at sports. In the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t even spend that much time outdoors. I never went backpacking growing up. I didn’t learn to ski until two years ago. By no means am I an expert on these things, but I can do them now, independently. This is to say that it’s never too late to learn something new.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Choose a destination

The destination facilitates the adventure. Go wherever your heart desires. Explore places that inspire you. It doesn’t have to be far. But there is no doubt that doing a hike in Scotland is easier than go on a paddling expedition in Svalbard.

That being said, if you really want an adventure (out of your comfort zone), then you’ll probably have to leave the crowded places behind. Try getting out there. Like way, way out there. You don’t necessarily have to leave the country or go very far, but adventure is an entirely different experience if you go where there are no people.

In 2014, my girlfriend and I did a 200 kilometer hike through the Alps, from Chamonix to Zermatt. Though the first three stages were similar to the famous and well-hiked Tour de Mont Blanc trail, our experience got better when we didn’t see people for days at a time. We saw mountain sceneries only rarely seen by other hikers.

The same can be said about my recent trip to Svalbard. While the area is definitely remote and takes some effort to reach, once you’re there, it’s not too difficult to venture out on your own and get the experience of being totally alone in one of the world’s most incredible environments. What makes that place particularly unique? 60 percent of the surface being glaciers that spill directly into the sea, impressive peaks all around and lots of wildlife. Everywhere you look, whales are breaching, taking in new air to breathe. Polar foxes and Svalbard reindeer will visit your camp every night, and you might even catch a glimp of the mighty polar bear. There are no roads outside the villages, so to move around the fjords, you must take a boat or do like I did and paddle. The experience is larger than life. As a result, it makes you feel incredibly small.


Choose an activity

In many ways, your activity will depend on your location. Scubadiving in Svalbard or Greenland might not be the best of ideas, but most of the times, your interest in a particular destination will go along with the activities you can do.

Any mountain range in the world will provide nearly endless opportunities for adventure, whether it’s climbing snowy slopes or steep ice and rock, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, or even paragliding. Rivers running through remote regions are best to be crossed by paddling. Or do you love rainforests and tropical waters, then why not scuba dive and see the underwater world?


Do your research

Let’s say you have chosen your destination and activity. Now it’s time to start doing research to make sure your adventure stays safe.

When to go?

When is the best time to go on this adventure? Maybe you want to go a bit earlier or a bit later to avoid the crowds? But will the weather be stable enough?

Plan your route

Planning your route is a must if you want to explore a remote region. Buy some maps or look for an online map to figure out exactly where you want to go. There are some programs and apps that can help you with this.

Getting there and getting back

Transportation can sometimes be one of the hardest logistical challenges you will face while preparing your trip. Can you use public transportation, will you need to rent a car or are none of the options available? If the journey there will be extend over multiple days, will you need to sleep in places along the way? Can you stay in an Airbnb, mountain cabin or will you use your tent?

Planning your adventure can be quite challenging. When we traveled to Finland in 2015 we thought we were well prepared only to find out that none of the information on the internet was correct. After this I’ve started writing adventure e-guides to help everyone planning their trip. These adventure e-guides will provide all the information you need to plan your next adventure.


Sort your gear

Going on a day hike will require less gear than going on a multiple day expedition. Still, making a list of all the gear you need and not bring too much is quite tricky. On my first expedition on the Kilimanjaro, I brough way too much food, so even though we had porters available, I still had too carry a heavy backpack. Carrying too much is a mistake everyone makes and making the perfect gear list is a process you will learn while going on adventures.

To get started, create a list organised by category. Your first category should be the Big Three (shelter, sleeping and kitchen), clothing, activity-specific items, electronics and miscellaneous. You can add the brand, weight and quantity to every item.


Solve problems before you go

When going on an adventure, problems will arise. Some of them you could solve even before they occur. This can be as simple as creating a kit to make field repairs on your gear (patches for sleeping pads, cleaning kits for your cooking stove, duct tape to fix everything else) or packing backups in case a critical item totally fails.

Be flexible

Having an adventure means you sometimes have to be flexible. When my girlfriend and I are on an adventure, we also like to say that it’s not an adventure if everyhting goes as planned. Some things you have no control over. Bad weather, lost luggage on your way over or gear breakdown can be a good reason to change your original plans. Don’t feel disappointed if your adventure isn’t going as it should have. Most times, these are the best stories to share afterwards. Our best stories are when we had to come up with a whole different last stage during La Haute Route in the Alps, had to improvise on food while in the wilderness of Finland or when we didn’t had a place to stay and ended up in the house of our mountain guide and his friends in the Italian Alps.

Adventure is out there

Do you have an adventure or travel planned? Do you have travel insurance covering all your activities? No? Check out World Nomads travel insurance.