Philadelphia in 3 days

Philadelphia is a historic city on the east coast of the United States. It was the capital of the U.S. before Washington D.C. I spent two and a half  days in and around Philadephia in January 2016.

Day 1

I started the day with Indepence Hall National Historic Site. Liberty Bell Center gives a good overview of this historic American cultural icon.

Liberty Bell, Philadephia

Liberty Bell

From there, I continued onto the tour of Independence Hall. Only a guided tour is permitted inside and it is really good.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Then, I checked out the National Constitution Center which shows the history of the evolution of the US constitution, including giving blacks and women right to vote and American civil war. Highly recommended for history lovers.

Whitehouse replica at Constitution Center

Whitehouse replica at Constitution Center

I wanted to check out US Mint but unfortunately, it was closed that day. Betsy Ross House, the house of Betsy Ross, who made America’s star and stripes flag, is located in the vicinity but it was a bit underwhelming. So, if you are short on time, better skip it.

Betsy Ross House

Betsy Ross House

I decided to skip Eastern State Penitentiary and Franklin Institute but others might be interested in them. The last activity of the day was Philly Magic Gardens. It is highly rated on TripAdvisor but I felt the art quality was a bit shoddy. I stayed at Econolodge Conference Center, Allentown since it was close to the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to do the next day. This was the end of my first day.

Day 2 

I started the day with a hike along the historic Appalachian trail route (Lehigh gap). It was a slightly strenuous but enjoyable hike.

Lehigh Gap Appalachian Trail

Lehigh Gap Appalachian Trail

Post-lunch, I followed with a journey to Cornwall Iron Furnace. It’s a hidden gem in inner Pennsylvania. The guided tour of the furnace gives a glimpse into the history of the Iron and Steel industry of the U.S.

 

Cornwall Iron Furnace

Cornwall Iron Furnace

Day 3

I started the journey with Philadephia Museum of Art. It’s a big museum and it can take up to 6 hours to see all the artwork.

IMG_0443From there I headed to Mutter Museum which contains an impressive collection of medical specimens ranging from the tallest skeleton found in North America to slices of Albert Einstein’s brain. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside.

Mutter Museum

Mutter Museum

This was the end of my Philadelphia trip.

Puerto Rico in 4 days

Among all islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico (“Rich Port”) is among the few to have historical and geographical places of interest, alongside the beaches. It is a U.S. territory. Flights from the mainland United States are treated as domestic flights. It has tropical weather, so, a visit in the later part of the year is recommended. Public transport is poor outside of the main city of San Juan, so,  if you want to explore the island, a rental car is highly recommended. Here is a recommended four-day itinerary.

Day 1

San Juan National Historic Site consists of two Spanish castles which illustrate the History of Puerto Rico since the Spanish invasion in the 15th century. Entry fee is $5 and a free shuttle not only connects the castles but will also give you a tour of the old city. It will take 3-4 hours to do a full tour of the site. Visit the birthplace of Piña Colada afterwards for a dinner. They do have virgin Piña Colada which is non-alcoholic. Spend rest of the day in the old city.

 

San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan National Historic Site

An old Spanish cannon at El Morro Fort

An old Spanish cannon at El Morro Fort

Pina Colada at birthplace of Pina Colada

Pina Colada at birthplace of Pina Colada

San Juan old town

San Juan old town

Day 2

Drive west and do two underground caves at Rio Camuy cave park and Cueva Ventana (“caves with a window”). We did La Parguera afterwards but I would recommend against it. One, it is too far and second, it is not as good as the Bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. The boat trip in La Parguera is definitely cheaper (7$ per person as compared to 40$ Kayaking in Fajardo) and one can swim in the water but the quality of bioluminescence is much better in Fajardo.

Rio Camuy Caves Park

Inside the cave at Rio Camuy Caves Park

Cueva Ventana

That’s why it is called “cave with a window”

Day 3

Drive east and do El Yunque National Park, it is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. We did the El Yunque trail. It took us about 4 hours round-trip. It was raining badly but even despite that, I think the experience is average, nothing bad but nothing awesome either. After that, we did Charco Frio (“The cold pond”) which I would highly recommend. It is a bit difficult to find, so, I would highly recommend reading the trip advisor entry in detail before heading there.

A view from the top of El Yunque National Park

A view from the top of El Yunque National Park

Day 4

Drive further east and take a 9 AM ferry to Culebra island. The round trip ferry is for $5 and is totally worth the journey. The island has amazing beaches – Flamenco for swimming, Rosario and Tamarindo for snorkeling. The water is live, that is, it has Jellyfish but its sting is not that painful. Finish the day with Bio bay Kayaking at Fajardo. I had nice vegetarian food at Ocean View restaurant afterwards. For vegetarians, I would highly recommend vegetarian Mofongo.

An old World War II tank at Flamenco beach at Culebra Island

An old World War II tank at Flamenco beach at Culebra Island

Flamenco Beach at Culebra Island

Flamenco Beach at Culebra Island

Tips

  1. You don’t really need snorkeling gear, good swimming glasses work as well.
  2. If you are a vegetarian, be careful while ordering arroz (“rice”), they are sometimes laced with grasa de cerdo (“pork fat”). Ask explicitly for the same.
  3. Compared to mainland United States, driving is a bit rough here, people change lanes without giving turning indicators on.
  4. Puerto Rico is also famous for Zip-line tours. As I had done it, elsewhere, in the past, I skipped. If you have not done it, it might make sense to check it out.

Alaska in 4 days

Alaska is vast, in a 4-day trip, one can either do the northern Arctic part or the southern part. We did the latter. Here is the itinerary we followed.

  • Day 0 – Land in Anchorage, drive four hours to Denali national park.
  • Day 1 – Take Kantishna bus tour of Denali national park.  Driving inside the park is not allowed.

Denali National Park

 

Bear spotting in Denali

Moose in Denali National Park

  • Day 2 – Hike to Mt. Healy. Hike on Matanuska Glacier. If you have never walked on ice before, I would highly recommend hiking on the glacier.

Matanuska glacier

  • Day 3 – Hike on Harting Icefield trail. It is a fantastic hike next to a glacier.

Harting Ice Field

  • Day 4 – Take a day cruise at Whittier to Blackstone Bay. Do check the weather, when we did it snowing heavily, and that spoiled the sail a bit. It is unquestionably overpriced compared to other cruises I have done in the United States.

Otter in Whittier

 

Blackstone glacier

Few tips

  1. Public transport is almost non-existent. Rent a car right from the airport.
  2. Vegetarian food can be a bit hard to come by, but thankfully, Subways are everywhere.
  3. Carry pepper spray or walk in groups to avoid bears.
  4. Do carry a good jacket since rainfall/snowfall starts arbitrarily.
  5. The tunnel to Whittier in one-way and switches direction every 30 minutes. Do check it’s schedule.

Winter Trip to Mt. Whitney (Feb 2015)

Hiking up Mt. Whitney

  1. Day 1 – Reach the Outpost Camp (3.8 miles, 10.4K ft)
  2. Day 2 –
    1. Started at 8 AM
    2. Reached consultation lake at noon
    3. Reached trail crest at 2:20 PM
    4. Reached summit at 6 PM
    5. Returned to Outpost Camp by 11:35 PM
  3. Day 3 – Head back to Whitney Portal

Conditions

  1. It was all snow covered – knee-deep snow in some places.
  2. 99 switchbacks are not possible under such conditions, so, we climbed up the chute.
  3. The trail is dangerous beyond trail crest, don’t go alone.

Do

  1. Start early, preferably by 5 AM (we were late).
  2. Take hiking boots, hiking poles, gaiters, and crampons – I had microspikes (instead of crampons) and was without gaiters, it worked.
  3. Practice walking the ascents (~10% or more) on hikes or treadmill.
  4. Carry a stove and mug to heat and drink warm water.