Seeing wildlife in real life is one of the most treasured memories we can have and yet, it is critical that we make sure to pick an ethical wildlife encounter.
Being a responsible traveller is important. Conservation of wildlife is a topic dear to my heart and I want to provide you with practical advice on how to make sure your next wildlife encounter is ethical.
In most countries we can find at least a couple of types of wildlife encounters, the most well known of them being a zoo or a safari game reserve.
A once in a lifetime encounter with wild animals is on most of our bucket lists. Seeing a lion, elephant, gorilla or giraffe in Africa (to name just a few) in real life is an experience you will never forget. Seeing polar bears or whales is another popular one, though there are many examples from different parts of the world.
In some places, the wildlife is left in its natural habitat and humans visit in the hopes of catching a sighting of the animals. These animals roam freely and are (if anything) only accustomed to car or boat sounds.
In other places, the animals have been taken out of their natural habitat and now live in a different location. As a rule of thumb, if the animals are not in their natural habitat this is your first red flag.
Reasons for moving an animal out of their natural habitat can be many: to “educate” societies on animals from around the world (zoo’s), to show off (circus), to reproduce as the species is endangered, to rehabilitate (rehabilitation centres)…
In a time where wild animal populations are decreasing globally, picking your wildlife providers and activities carefully is more important than ever.
So how do you know if your wildlife encounter is ethical?
There are a number of factors that can help you decide. Some of them are available publicly and pretty easily and some aren’t and you might need to dig a bit, send an email or phone someone.
First hand reviews from other travellers with details regarding how the animals live and are treated are a good starting point. These are easily found on review websites.
Now there can be many opinions on the topic, and mine leans towards: “If they are not in the wild you shouldn’t be visiting them.” But as there are exceptions for conservation/rehabilitation, it is important to digest all information prior to making the decision.
Some facts for further context and to help you understand this article better:
These pointers can be applied to game reserves, national parks, rehabilitation centres, sanctuaries or centres for endangered wildlife.
GFAS defines a sanctuary as “a facility that provides lifetime care for animals that have been abused, injured, abandoned, or otherwise in need”.
Unfortunately there are many animals who have lived all their lives in captivity and don’t know how to live or find food by themselves. These animals cannot be released back into the wild. They were part of a show, or were privately owned and are accustomed to humans and to being fed so they cannot be released.
Giving these animals the closest possible experience to what they’d have in the wild (big enough natural habitat, resembling the wild, minimal to no interaction to humans) is critical. For example, imagine a leopard who has lived half-drugged and chained up all his life in a centre where tourists could pet him.
He can never be released into the wild, but if he is moved to a facility that doesn’t chain him up or drug him, one that provides him with companions, in a wide enclosure, that resembles the bush – that is a positive outcome for him.
Each case has to be treated differently but by following these pointers you can have a pretty clear idea.
How to ensure your wildlife encounter is ethical
Making sure the facility is not breeding their animals is one of the most important items on this list. There are three options here:
A breeding centre for critically endangered animals. As the name suggests these exist to create more members of the species and they will be breeding. In this case, making sure they are reintroduced into the wild and that their lives remain mostly unchanged is what concerns us.
If males and females live together in an environment that looks like their natural habitat, and once they get pregnant, facilitators make sure that the baby makes it through the first crucial months, this is good.
The idea is that these animals will be released back into the wild (especially the young). Some of these centres do have previously abused animals that cannot be released into the wild as they don’t know how to hunt (for example). If their lives remain untouched except for food being provided, that is a not terrible case of breeding.
The facility is not actively trying to get animals pregnant but females and males live together in enclosures. That they are not doing it actively doesn’t mean they are trying to stop it. Animals do naturally mate so offspring from those species should be expected, hence lengthening the business operations, as the animals never die.
They are trying to avoid kids: that could be putting the animals on contraceptive pills for example to avoid babies. In this case once the current animals die, the business will perish. They are giving the current animals a chance for a happy life (even if that means seeing humans without touches) but they don’t want to prolong the life of animals outside of their natural habitat.
To breed, sell or trade animals is a no-no. Animals don’t leave the sanctuary except for emergencies or vet care.
Touch or walk
In the natural world you would not touch a wild animal. If you are going on safari you will watch the animals from a boat, a car or even walking – but you will never touch them. They are wild and you keep a respectful distance from them.
Going to a sanctuary that has lions or tigers (those are the most common animals, but it can be any animal) where you can touch them is a clear no. Those animals are either drugged so that you can touch them or are trained using pain in the case that they do not follow orders. This training generally happens with very young babies and are usually brutal, leaving animals scared and scarred for life.
You are not permitted to feed, cuddle, pet, or pose for photos with animals.
Walking next to predators or elephants is also a sign of the sanctuary not being ethical. It is not a natural behaviour you would see in the wild.
Animals that are chained do not have the mobility they need. Chained animals are kept at a certain distance mostly from approaching humans so that humans can’t be harmed. This practice harms the animal’s mobility as well as their physical body and can be very painful.
The sanctuary or reserve is accredited by a reputable organisation. Some of them are:
This includes a circus performance but also zoos and museums that aim to teach young kids about different animals. The animals aren’t used for commercial purposes like adverts or movie recordings.
Animals aren’t ridden either, as for you to be able to ride an elephant they are trained using painful techniques from very young to accept human riders, and if they misbehave they get even more pain (as tourists are in the vicinity or on top of the animal).
Enclosures or lack of thereof
The best indicator to know whether a wildlife encounter is ethical or not is that animals are not fenced off.
For example Kruger National Park has thousands of sq meters and there are only fences on the outskirts to ensure that local communities and animals don’t have an issue over space. In Bwindi forest in Uganda, gorillas aren’t fenced at all and can get out of the forest if they want to.
If the animals are enclosed, the enclosures are REALLY big and replicate (or are) a natural habitat. This is to ensure the environment is good for the animals and has enough space as well as entertainment (trees, rocks, rivers…).
Type of registration
The sanctuary is registered as a non profit and/or has worked with other wildlife or animal conservation non profits.
Guests are educated on wildlife needs, behaviour and injustices. The message is educational on premises, in order to spread the word that protecting wild populations and stopping the wildlife trade and poaching are important.
Educating the general public on the realities of the animal trade and poaching is the best thing an organisation can do – together by showing the right way to visit animals. By doing this people who were not experts prior to their first visit leave the sanctuary/reserve with knowledge they can act on or tell their circle about etc and that creates more people that know about the topic.
How to choose your ethical animal encounter? Here are some wildlife encounters you can do right now
Ok Anna, I’ve read it and I get it! Can you give me some options of ethical wildlife encounters right now? Can I do car game drives or walking safaris? Is that a good option?
These are places I have personally visited or know about through 3+ years of event and trip organization in Africa and they are reputable, but there are also many others!
We are all dying to escape and explore more locally after a difficult year. There has never been a better time to start planning than with summer upon us! Escape from the hustle of Cape Town to some of the beautiful mountains, vineyards and beaches that surround the city.
If you’re looking for a unique getaway from the city, from tiny houses to lost cabins in the mountains, these are the coolest airbnbs near Cape Town, in the Western Cape, South Africa.
The epic list: Coolest airbnbs near Cape Town in the Western Cape
Escape Into The Wild
The name of the closest village to this accommodation, Wilderness, already tells us everything we need to know about it. Get lost in this wooden cabin in a forest. Reconnect with nature in this idyllic setting. You get this log cabin, made entirely by the owner, and the lush garden surrounding it, including the braai (barbeque) facilities!
This beautiful Tuscan farmhouse in the winelands region has some stunning views. Very close to Stellenbosch they operate organically. Complimenting your stay, not only will you get a delicious continental breakfast but also full use of the pool. The rooms are very spacious and will transport you back in time to when everything was simpler.
Escape to the crazy rock formations of the Cederberg mountains and in what better way than to a picturesque stone cottage! The cottage was built using one of the rock formations as a wall. The fireplace is placed right in front for the perfect cosy night in. Head out for some hikes around the area and explore more of the beautiful landscape.
Talking about the coolest airbnbs near Cape Town, have you ever wanted to stay in a greenhouse? This stunning new addition to the Fazenda property ticks all our Sweet Dreams boxes. Stunning set up, quiet, in the middle of the forest, beautiful décor, and an outdoor plunge pool!
This perfect looking cabin on the Bot River has a minimal yet rural décor that you’re going to fall in love with! The cabin offers privacy (far away and hidden from the other cabin in the property) with a fireplace and outdoor hot tub.
Sleep in this converted silo on a working farm with elevated views of the surrounds. With plenty of four and two legged animals to keep you company (if you pet the dogs they might not want to leave!) In the Silo, you will find the perfect getaway from the city. You can also make use of the dam that’s shared with other cabins.
Stay in this yurt for a completely different type of accommodation. Not only will you have a comfortable yurt as your bedroom but the kitchen and bathroom units are next door too. You will also have a hot tub to enjoy watching sunsets or sunrises from. Alternatively, you can go walk the trail of the Secret Forest on the property.
This cottage is located in Robertson Nuy Valley far away from the closest restaurant, farm or pub. Come here to get away from it all and enjoy the pristine serenity of the mountains around you. The cottage has an outdoor area with braai facilities and a wood fired hot tub. Make sure to pack everything you need for your stay before the drive!
This spacious house is completely off grid. There’s an eco pool for summer and a fireplace for winter, complete with hikes and rivers around the corner. This beautiful house is perfect for a friend or family getaway. There’s also a bath overlooking the mountain for that extra magical setting.
This stone cottage overlooking the Cederberg is as rustic as they come. If being in a privileged spot with views for days is your goal – this place is for you. You can explore the mountains around you and even hike downhill from the cottage to a lovely little spring with a picnic spot.
Ever thought of staying in a fancy loft on top of a barn? Here you will be able to sleep in a completely private loft on top of rescued pigs and donkeys. You can join the farm tours with the animals living below you or just enjoy the dramatic landscapes surrounding the barn. There’s even a famous painting pig and you can see him in action!
Is this not the most beautiful cellar you’ve ever seen? This standalone cabin in Robertson offers incredible architecture and a great friends or family getaway. The farm offers flower tours as well as wine and food tastings. Make activities in the farm itself and you don’t have to go anywhere!
Scandinavian décor meets boho in this tiny house. Spend all your time with a book or relaxing in this beautiful cabin designed and built by the owner’s family. There are walking trails in their private forest and an indigenous garden. The cabin is next to a small dam.
Modern and slick décor with warmer tones sets the scene in this cabin. The riverstone sits by the shores of a dam offering unbeatable views from your very own veranda. Relax in these couples cabins and spoil yourself and your loved one at this incredible property.
Stay at a working wine farm in the Slanghoek valley. From the windows you will have breath-taking views of the vineyards and the Boland mountains. With luxurious interiors and a fireplace, you will want to relax and never go anywhere else ever again.
Have you been dreaming about an outdoor bath? Forest Heart is the perfect cabin to fulfil your dreams during sunset. With rustic and cosy interiors, this cabin with views of the Knysna forest is quiet and far away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
This incredible cabin has a boardwalk direct to the beach. It also boasts amazing ocean views from the property itself. The cabin is in a gated complex and close to Saint Helena for all the amenities. Enjoy incredible ocean views not only from the living area but from the master bedroom too!
This spacious family house with space for up to 6 guests will grab your attention quickly. Split in two, with the main living area and kitchen on one side, the pool in the middle and bedrooms on the other side. Perfect for groups of friends or families that want to have long chats through the night without disturbing the ones who prefer to sleep early.
Explore the West Coast from this container-built cottage. You will have to drive a short distance to the nearest beach but will enjoy the peace and quiet of staying inland. The property puts great emphasis on sustainability and that’s why you’ll have a compost toilet (serviced every 2 days) and recycled rain water for the garden. The cabin also has a wood fired hot tub for relaxing in with a glass of your drink of choice.
Stay in an eco tree house perched among the trees with a wood fired hot tub and a sauna! This amazing property is relatively new in the Western Cape and makes for one of the best unique places to stay! You will be able to swim in the property’s dam as well.
Stay in one of these three suites minutes away from Franschhoek. They are exquisitely decorated with very modern décor and views overlooking the fields and mountains nearby. They have a plunge pool on the private veranda, perfect for enjoying some sun downers after a full day of exploring.
Visiting the dramatic mountains of the Lofoten islands and northern Norway should be on everyone’s dream destination list. This area of Norway offers so many outdoors activities, incredible steep mountain peaks and beautiful lakes to name only a few.
During August 2019 we visited with my family for 10 days and created an amazing itinerary including mostly nature’s inspiring landscapes and visiting different villages of the area.
In this itinerary you are going to find:
10 days Lofoten islands and northern Norway itinerary
This itinerary is ideal for a road trip (like we did) or using your own campervan so that you save money on accommodation. There are a number of areas for campervans but please do keep in mind that during high season (July-August) the narrow roads of Lofoten and Senja Islands get pretty crowded so you have to be very comfortable driving a wide vehicle – always be safe or travel during non peak months!
You can do this itinerary the other way around, depending on your needs or your flights in/out.
Please also note this route uses two ferry’s which only operate during summer times (May to October). If you do the itinerary during winter months, you will have to add hours to cover all the islands and moving between them.
How to get there
You will most likely fly first into Oslo, the capital of Norway. Depending on where you are coming from, your first stop might be another Scandinavian capital first.
From there you will fly to Tromso (where the itinerary finishes, but you can do it inverse order if you prefer) and get a short flight to Leknes Airport, the closest to the bottom tip of Lofoten Islands. There are two more airports in the Lofoten Islands: Svolvaer and Bodo.
You could fly to those airports too and add more driving time on your first day.
How to move around
To move around the Lofoten islands you need to hire a car. You can rent one in the airport of Leknes and return it in Tromso Airport.
Another option would be to do the itinerary in reverse order. Make sure to book it well in advance, especially if you need a big van.
Lofoten Islands & Northern Norway 10 day Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival
On arrival at the airport drive to the south of the Lofoten Islands. I recommend staying in or around the Reine area for the best start to exploring the southernmost parts of the island.
Check in at your accommodation and relax after a day of flights! Tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for. Exploring the Lofoten Islands for the next few days.
The rorbu cabins are the typical fishermen accommodation on stilts on top of the sea. They were created so that fishermen could leave the boat and have direct access to the cabins. They are very simple and are traditionally painted red. Read a full review of Rorbuhotell here.
Day 2: First day exploring Lofoten Islands
Drive to the village of A for the first sightseeing of the day. Lofoten Island villages are rather small and have many rorbu cabins, so walking past red cabins is going to be a common theme over the next few days.
After that, visit Sorvagen, one of the villages in the Moskenes area. If you are staying at Rorbuhotell that is the village around it.
After that head to Reine for one of the best backdrop landscapes you are ever likely to see. Reine is best seen early in the morning or after 4-5pm (season depending) so that one can see the village against the mountain without the sun reflex.
Visit Hamnoy village, together with Reine some of the most picturesque villages of Lofoten Islands. Stop at Eliassen Rorbu hotel for one of the most well known Instagram spots in the Lofoten islands. It is a truly beautiful view of the rorbu against the mountain!
Where to eat during the day: Anitas sjmoat in Sakrisoya island is a famous restaurant for seafood harvested and prepared for the family.
Wake up very early so you can hike Reinebringen before the sun is up.
We started at 6h30 during August and got to the top just as the sun was rising. With an extra 30/45 minutes, we would have seen the sun rise over Reine (not over the horizon) in the best light. If you are an early bird like me or passionate about photography, definitely try to start earlier.
Reinebringen hike was re-done by the government and now boasts more than 1500 stairs up to the top. It is a real glute workout but the views are so worth it. Return hike takes less than 3h.
Park at the parkings along the e10 road number 1 or 2. From Taste of Lofoten those parking’s are located before entering the tunnel. The top part of the hike doesn’t have stairs and it can be quite slippery and muddy, if it has been raining this hike can be pretty dangerous.
After a pit stop for showers and breakfast go to Nusfjord village. It is one of the best preserved fishing villages that has now been converted into an open air museum.
There’s a historic tour every day at 12h00 and alternatively, you can choose to walk around by yourself. Some of the houses you can enter have explanation panels for you to read.
Drive to Fredvang for stunning views of the famous Lofoten bridges that go high up into the sky. You can stop at a safe spot before the bridges to admire them.
Finish the day with a walk, swim or picnic at Rambergstranda beach, a long stretch of sand and beautiful turquoise water, perfect to end the day.
Today you are going to pack your bags and sleep at another hotel further up the coast. Start the day with a visit to Haukland Beach and Uttakleiv Beach. The first one is really pretty but if you continue going straight and through the tunnel you will find an even prettier beach. There are quite a number of campervans staying for the night in the area, so you’ll definitely find cars and vans.
As you’ll be too early for check in at the next place, head to Gimsoya island after for a short drive around.
The road does a loop around the island and I recommend that you stop for the views every time something piques your interest. There are lakes and fields as well as mountains. Gimsoya is rarely mentioned in any guide and we found the landscapes and lack of “tourist” spots a great combination!
On your drive down to your accommodation drive past Sennesvik, a smaller but beautiful town that many believe will be an up-and-coming destination. The landscapes around the town are really great too.
Today there’s more driving involved. You’re going to drive all the way up the tip of Andoya Island, where Andenes is located.
On the way there you’ll pass a couple of lakes that are worth stopping at for a picnic as well as Trollfjord. Every single fjord in the area is worth admiring, but this one is special because it is completely unspoilt and holds many tales from the area. There’s no village or settlement on its banks and the only way to reach it is by boat.
There are also organized kayaking overnight trips to get there! It is also a small fjord as it doesn’t stretch far inland as much as the majority of fjords. You can take a boat from Svolvaer for a visit, we decided to drive along the road and stop to have a view over the sea at the fjord.
Stop at Inga Sami Siida if you’re interested in learning more about the reindeer culture, which is so important in the country. This family farm of Sami people have been breeding reindeers for generations and you will get a detailed tour with the option to feed reindeers if you get there at the right time.
Once you arrive in Andenes I recommend that you get lost in the little town. The sunsets overlooking the sea are pretty stunning if you walk towards the lighthouse.
First ferry of the trip. You will leave from Brensholmen and arrive at Botnhamn, on Senja. It is recommended you are there 2h prior departure to guarantee car space. We were the 5th car in the queue in August by being there 2h before. It might have been luck as it is a common ferry transfer.
This ferry only operates between May and September with Torghatten and is the best way to connect Lofoten and Andoya with Senja Island without having to drive around the mainland.
Senjatrollet was advertised as being the largest troll of the world but was destroyed in 2018 by a fire. In 2019 it was open as only a souvenirs shop dedicated to trolls.
Stop at the Bergsboth viewing platform as the road winds down the mountain. It is a wooden and metal platform with great views of the Bergsfjord. After that you should drive to Tungeneset another viewpoint, this one by the sea.
It has a platform that you can walk along and is really interesting to see during the change of tides, as the rocks either get covered or uncovered by sea water, leaving more or less space to walk on. There are public toilets here!
Start early for the most scenic hike of the island. Here you have two options.
You can hike Segla, the most well known rock mountain, or hike Hesten, next door and with views of Segla Mountain (that otherwise you could only get with a drone).
I recommend hiking Hesten as the hike is as pretty and from the top you have the views over Segla. If you have extra days you could do both.
Hesten hike is pretty steep (like every other hike in Lofoten islands!) but short, can be done in 2-3h return.
Once you are done with the hike and a little breakfast snack, head to the other side of the island. Your destination is Anderdalen national park.
You’re going to add Tranoybotn camping on your GPS and on arrival you’ll see the camping on one side of the road and a parking lot on the opposite side. Park in the parking lot and start your walk from there.
We picked the Andervatnet lake route, which is a long one (at 12.1km) but flat. About 50% of the path is made of wooden planks and is completely flat.
It doesn’t have a technical difficulty but it takes long as the distance to cover isn’t short. Very quiet part of the island and stunning landscapes. As it is easy it worked well to continue being active but not feel like we were doing two demanding hikes in one day.
The drive back to your accommodation is so pretty. Senja is spectacular and still an up-and-coming island which makes it much more attractive.
Today you are leaving Senja to go to Tromso and visit the northern city. It is recommended to be at the ferry departure parking lot about 40 minutes prior to departure.
On arrival to this modern city, you have to go to Fjellheisen, the cable car that will elevate you and give you stunning views of Tromso city from Floya. There’s the option to hike up or down from there, so if you have time I would definitely recommend it, but it looks steep! Cable car return is 22€ per person.
Visit the arctic cathedral followed Mac brewery for a beer tour in the world’s most northern brewery. Next door there’s Olhallen, the oldest pub in the world.
Finish your day with a walk around Tromso. Tromso is a well known student city and the main city centre is pedestrian. Visit the arctic cathedral as well as get lost on the main shops street.
If you want to have a last dinner at a fine dining restaurant I recommend making a reservation at Emma’s for some delicious food!
Day 10: Departure day
Start your day with a visit to Tromso Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden. It is the world’s most northern botànic garden with 27 collections of Arctic plants. All the collections or areas of the garden imitate nature and have distinctive rock landscapes on which they are built.
Drive along to Ersfjord for the latest fjord of the trip and finally go to Tromso airport for your flight home.
If you have extra days, you can add you can add to the Lofoten Islands & Northern Norway itinerary some more activities or days like:
Rorbu is the Norwegian word for fishermen cabins. These cabins are built on land with poles in the water to create decks and easy access to fishing boats.
They are traditionally painted red and some have been restored and are rented for visitors. This is the case of Rorbuhotell in Lofoten Islands. They have hotel rooms as well as rorbu cabins. The hotel can also be found under “A Taste of Lofoten” on Google search.
Good for: families, groups of friends, couples
Starting from: Rorbu cabin for 2 pax from 1390 NOK/night (126.83€)
Location: Sørvågen, Norway
The Lofoten archipelago is one of the most breath taking alpine sceneries to travel to. Narrow roads and bridges connect the islands and form a very singular landscape. Lofoten has been a fishermen area for centuries and very famous for visitors, especially during summer months.
How to get there
Lofoten Islands are in Northern Norway. The best way to arrive is by plane, there are three airports and flights from Oslo throughout the day. The two airports closest to Sørvågen are:
Leknes Airport (LKN): this one is located in the middle of the archipelago and closest to Rorbuhotell. One of the smallest airports where I’ve been.
Svolvaer Airport (SVJ) is more well known than Leknes airport and located a little bit higher up
About the hotel
Rorbuhotell is located on the right hand side of a little narrow bay in Sørvågen. They have 10 double rooms in the hotel itself as well as a delicatessen restaurant. The restaurant lines are very elegant and contemporary and there’s an outside terrace overlooking the bay that has amazing views from a little higher up.
The rorbu cabin at Rorbuhotell
We stayed in one of their 6 pax Rorbu Cabins. We had the entrance that was farthest away from the hotel reception but there is a parking spot right by our main door.
The cabin had a very spacious living area and kitchen with and L shape coach and TV, two living chairs, a table for 6 and kitchen with all utensils needed for cooking.
From the living area there were doors onto the balcony, overlooking the bay. Watching sunrise from there was pretty spectacular, how slowly the colours shine onto the red rorbu in front of yours.
There is a full bathroom and a toilet room too. The cabin has two bedrooms, one with two twin beds and one with a double bed. Might be a Norwegian thing but all bedding is provided individually, so even if you are on a double room you will have two duvets.
Then we had the third “room” going up a steep wooden staircase. The last area had a double bed too, but no door – open to the hall area.
What’s to love
Rorbuhotell has a little bit for everyone. If you are looking for design and comfort head for their hotel rooms. Assuming you are after views and fine food the restaurant and bar area are the place to be. If you are looking to sleep in a cute red rorbu then Rorbu’s are your go-to accommodation.
The views from the balcony or the restaurant terrace are stunning and definitely a good place to relax after a full day of exploring the Lofoten Islands.
What can be improved
Following a typical Scandinavian fashion, the rooms were very bare, with the bed and bedside tables as the only decoration.
Adding some wall paintings or décor of some sorts could improve the warmness of the bedrooms.
Have you ever stayed at a Rorbu cabin in Norway? Is it on your list of Sweet Dreams accommodations to go to?
Looking for a breath-taking hike? Carros de Foc is one of the most stunning multi-day hikes in Europe. The route is located in the national park of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, in the Catalan Pyrenees, only a 3 hour drive from Barcelona.
I convinced my brother and a friend of his to do this hike with me and at by end we couldn’t have been more stoked about the incredible experience.
Want to find all the information relating to the route? In this detailed guide you will! Based off personal experience I’ll give you all the information you need to plan this multi day hike of Carros de Foc successfully with recommendations.
Carros de Foc: everything you need to know
Carros de Foc is a loop route of 56 km and 9200m of accumulated climb. This route is one of the most well known and popular among hikers in Catalunya.
Accumulated climb: 9200 m
Days needed for the route: you can do it in 24h (more on this below) but recommended 4-7 days
Season: June to October is the best season and when all the mountain huts are open to the public
Technical difficulty: medium, not challenging
Fitness difficulty: you need to be fit and also used to high altitude hikes
Carros de Foc: what is it?
During summer of 1987 the rangers of the park who lived in the mountain huts decided to do the whole loop in less than 24h. In 1999 it was made official as a multi day hike and was given the name Carros de Foc (literally chariots of fire).
Carros de Foc has 9 mountain huts across different peaks and valleys. You can start the hike from different entry points into the National Park and choose your route based on preference and availability. Although there are 9 huts the most common duration of this multi day hike is 5 to 7 days. As it is a loop route, you can finish at the same place you started.
You can pick which direction to hike, it is recommended to do it anti clockwise, as the most challenging point in the route, Coll de Contraix, done clockwise has a +1000m climb in one day.
One of the main incentives for the hike is the changes in scenery. Landscapes change dramatically from valley to valley, giving you drastically different views every day. From quarries and stone paths to river meadows, pines forests or snowy peaks, this route will please your eyes.
What’s the best time of the year for the hike
Carros de Foc is a high altitude multi day hike, taking place between 1880m and 2910m. The weather is hence that of high altitude, with summer months being the only months where the hike can be done without extreme winter gear, as snow capped mountains are there for most of the year.
The mountain huts are open from June until mid October, with each of them varying their opening dates slightly. The better month’s weather related are June, July and August, with September and October raising the chances of storms and snow.
Each mountain hut has a weather prediction station and will always update the weather forecast on a board for its guests. If you have doubts about the weather expected for the next day, talk with the guards about your plan.
During the rest of the year, most mountain huts remain closed or with an emergency room (which has bunk beds and nothing more). For Christmas and Easter week bookings can be made at some of the huts.
How many days do you need for Carros de Foc? Is a reservation required?
The route is circular and you can pick if you overnight in every hut. You can make it shorter by only sleeping in some of them.
Please note some mountain huts are as close as 1h15 from each other. We did it in 4 nights and 5 days, skipping one leg of the journey as we didn’t have more time.
Reservation is required as good summer weather and European holiday season are the same. You can book through Refus Online if you only want to overnight. If you want the forfeit (a passport you can stamp at each hut) then through Carros de foc .
What to bring in my backpack?
During the multi day hike you must carry a backpack with all your belongings. You will be doing an accumulated slope of 9200m. For that reason, having a light backpack with only the necessary items is a must! Here’s what you need to pack for Carros de Foc
1 pair of shorts
1 pair of long mountain pants (rainproof)
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of underwear
Hiking boots (ideally with ankle protection)
1 thermal long sleeved shirt
1 rain and wind jacket
Small soap bar for showering and hand washing clothes
Emergency kit with band-aids, reflex, ibuprofen, bandages..
* Pre covid most mountain huts offered crocks or simple shoes, you cannot enter the hut with your boots. In 2020 you had to bring your own flip flops or similar.
Do I need to bring food to Carros de foc?
Every mountain hut offers different accommodation levels and you can pick which one you prefer based on budget and how much food you want to carry. The options are overnight only; dinner, bed and breakfast and Full Board.
In 2020, due to covid, overnight only wasn’t an option and Half Board was the minimum you could book. Due to that, our dinners and breakfast were catered for, and we only had to think about lunch.
It is important to note that at all huts, dinner is a 3-course meal (soup, protein and dessert). Breakfasts are in buffet style. The exercise during the day is intense so eating abundantly during breakfast and dinner makes your body cope better.
For lunch, among 3 people, we took the below and split it 3 ways:
2 fuet’s (delicious cold meat from Catalunya)
4 bags of dried fruits. We had almonds, nuts, and mix
12 oats bars with fruit ( 1 per person per day)
Was it enough food? Definitely yes. As breakfast and dinner are proper meals, eating a snack midst hike was enough. With breakfast served at 7am and dinner served at 7pm, having a snack at 12h-13h worked perfectly.
Fitness level required
Carros de Foc is a real challenge, as it takes place in high-altitude mountains. Previous mountain trekking experience is necessary for the multi day hike. Having a high altitude mountain hiking background definitely helps. If you’re unsure about meeting these criteria, please hire a guide for the trek or hike one of the easier day hikes inside the national park.
You need to be able to walk 6-9h daily (depending on your route) with steep climbs and descents. There are challenging ports that will be very tiring. It is mostly about endurance and being able to walk across many different terrains (stone blocks, quarry’s, easier paths..).
Carros de foc itinerary – Day to day
Carros de foc Day 1: from Telefèric Vall Fosca to Colomina mountain hut
Started at parking lot Pantà de Sallent / Telefèric Vall Fosca at around 16h00. That was enough time to get to the hut for dinner at 7.
The hike starts with 45 min intense climb to gain altitude. You are rapidly ascending over the parking lot and dam nearby. Once you get a little higher, there’s an old rail, which you will follow. When you see your first lake, the restaurant and the cable car are close.
The cable car departs from the parking lot and return tickets cost 18€ per adult and 12€ per child. From there, another 40 minutes of a steep climb. You will follow another rail before arriving at Colomina Mountain Hut and Colomina lake.
Colomina Mountain Hut: this was the fancier/newer of the huts we overnighted in. Dinner consisted of chicken and veggie soup, beef meat with veggies, salad and apple mousse for dessert.
Carros de foc Day 2: Colomina to Ernest Mallafré mountain hut
The plan for Day 2 was to visit JM Blanc and sleep at Mallafré. Due to weather conditions (electric storms and heavy rain expected after 14h00) we decided to go straight to Mallafré.
Path was easy until Pas de l’Ós, which is a steep climb pass is over quickly. At 9hh30 we were at the port Coll de Peguera. From there you descend scree with a well worn path that later turns into a quarry with big blocks. When the quarry finishes and you get to the path you see the Monestero valley in front of you. Look how pretty!
It takes about 3h to descend the long valley through lakes and river meadows. At the end when you start descending a little bit through the forest you are almost there.
Ernest Mallafré mountain hut: this was the most basic hut, the traditional one. Dinner was soup, stuffed loin with mushroom sauce, salad and an apple.
Carros de foc Day 3: Ernest Mallafré to Colomers mountain hut
Between Ernest Mallafré and Amitges hut you have 450m climb, but can be completed in about 1h30. The ascend starts at Sant Maurici lake and continues through some of the most southern looking landscapes of the route, with greenery and pine forests.
Amitges has an idyllic setting with beautiful mountains and lakes. We got a glimpse for some minutes before the fog rolled in.
From the hut you depart towards Port de Ratera. The first climb you do from Amitges offers a great view of the three lakes.
Then it is a mostly flat path on the mountainside until you start climbing again for the port. Port de Ratera was the coldest part of our trip with fog that rained on us and highspeed winds.
From the port, you have two possible valleys to descend to. One is to Saboredo mountain hut (our theoretical lunch destination) and the other to Colomers mountain hut. As visibility was bad and there was supposed to be more rain later, we took the route straight to Colomers.
You descend for an hour and a half until you get to the first lake. After that you walk by a number of lakes and descend two valleys until you get to Colomers.
Colomers: This is a traditional but nice mountain hut. Dinner was the best one we had: lentils stew, veggie soup, salad and fish, chocolate mousse for desert.
Carros de foc Day 4: Colomers to Ventosa i Calvell mountain hut
You depart with quite a long and steep ascent. From mid-ascent there was snow. Arrive at the Port de Caldes and start the descent with 1-4cm of snow for half of it.
You will walk by a couple of lakes on your way down. After passing different lakes and valleys, you will arrive at Ventosa i Calvell.
Ventosa i Calvell is the most popular hut. It can be reached by an easy day hike from Vall de Boí, one of the main entrances to the park.
The hut has a bar with pizzas, pasta.. for day hikers that reach the hut during the day. Dinner was soup, chicken and potatoes in the oven. Breakfast was the biggest spread buffet of all the huts.
Carros de foc Day 5: Ventosa i Calvell to Estany Llong + parking lot
Duration: 6h30min + 1h20min (to the parking lot)
Your day starts with a 100m descend to the valley and a walk along the river until you start ascending again. From here you can see Collet de Contraix, the highest point on the Carros de Foc. It is also the most technically challenging of them.
After about 1h30 there’s no more path. You enter the quarry and step on big stone blocks all the way up to the port. There is no path, you can follow the yellow sign posts but there’s no path but up.
The last 30m of the ascent are the most challenging. It is almost a 90 degree wall to climb with slippery and snowy rocks.
The whole hike up Collet de Contraix from Ventosa is in the shade, which makes the last 30m with snow, ice and wind the most difficult ones. We got to the top 3 hours after we left the mountain hut at a reasonably chilled pace.
The descent on the other side has rocks but there’s a path to follow. Once you descend and round the first lake, you get to the second level of descent.
This is a new valley, which takes you a couple of hours until you see the river and cross it. From there it is a 10 minute walk on a gravel road to Estany Llong mountain hut.
After lunch walked 1h15 to the parking lot, where we took a taxi. The park offers rides for 10,5€ per person, 5€ if there’s 3 of you. My mum had come to pick us up at the parking lot.
Signage for Carros de Foc
The specific Carros de Foc route isn’t signposted. You follow the NP signs as well as the GR 11 which is white and red.
It is clearly marked with posts for the GR or rock painting. Even though, having a map is highly encouraged. Do check your route before departing every day.
Knowing you’re only following GR (white and red strips) one day, you won’t look other signs. At every port there are signs for the different mountain huts/valleys with indicative arrows.
There are also yellow posts and cairns (towers of rocks) to indicate you’re going in the right direction.
Other information to know
Signal: about 65% of the route doesn’t have reception. Some huts have Wi-Fi (either free or paying extra) and some have an emergency phone. Please bear in mind that if weather is really bad or there’s no sun for the solar panels, the Wi-Fimight not work. It is important to let your family/friends know which route will you be taking and in which direction. By doing this they can look for you in case you go two days without saying anything. As always, safety first!
Can you charge batteries at the hut: generally yes, during certain hours (6-8am and 3-10pm being the most common)
Credit Card facilities: most mountain huts in the Carros de Foc route don’t have credit card facilities. Please bring cash for all your expenses
Insurance: not included in the overnight price. Please purchase high altitude mountain insurance. The Carros de Foc website offers a complete insurance policy specially designed for the route. I would recommend you use that one.
Bonus tip: if it rains during the day or you’ve walked on top of the snow, take your hiking boot insoles out to let them dry out more quickly.
Things I would have liked to know before doing Carros de Foc
Do not have Coll de Contraix on your last day or one of your last days, your body is tired and it is the most challenging leg of the itinerary
Start at Espot or Caldes de Boi as there is more parking there
Clockwise is definitely harder – plan it anti clockwise
Doing Carros de Foc was an amazing and tiring experience and I cannot wait to do it again! Below a little cinematic video I put together for more visuals of the experience.
It is pretty, challenging and stunningly beautiful. You get to meet people in the huts who are doing the same route and create a nice memory of your multi day hike in Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici.
Hit me up with the best multi day hike you’ve ever done in the comments!
Hi! My name’s Anna!
I’m a unique hotel filmmaker & budget expert. I review unusual places to sleep and write independent itineraries. Read More
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