6 Tips for visiting the "BIG" sites

Angkor Wat under construction

Angkor Wat in Cambodia is legendary. An ancient city, lost to the western wall and “found” in the modern era. Partially reclaimed by the jungle, the ruins reputation is known throughout the world and tempts thousands of visitors form hundreds of miles away. It is for sure the highlight of any trip. Its also an exhausting two to three day touring extravaganza, populated with picture taking tourists and pushy local touts. Most travelers fantasize so much about their visits to the BIG site seeing spots: Petra, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, etc that they sometimes skim over the logistical facts of their visit. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect will help make sure you get the most out of your trip.

1. Ditch the fantasy
You aren’t the only one who thinks visiting the Parthenon would be cool. Trust me, there will be other tourists…tons of them. You will most likely have to wait in lines, fight to see things, and take strategic shots so your photos don’t look like they were taken at a mall. There will be people selling something at every turn. At times, you will feel like you are at Disney World rather than an important historical site. That doesn’t mean your experience isn’t still amazing but, the more you anticipate these irritations that more you will enjoy your time. Don’t let these things bog you down.

Crowds at the Parthenon

It also possible that your trip won’t get exactly as planned – When I went to Petra it was so hotI didn’t want to move, in Cambodia Angkor Wat was under construction… this could be the case for you. Just roll with the punches and don’t let these things ruin everything.


The Sphinx near the Pyramids, also under construction

2. Go there first
Whenever you have something that is an major must see on your trip, you should try to make it the first thing you visit. That way, if something goes wrong you still have the rest of the trip to make it happen. It also means that if you need extra time, you can try and rearrange the rest of your schedule. If its your last day and you determine you want another day to explore the more far flung sites of Petra, you will be out of luck.  In Istanbul, I waited until the last day to see the Grand Bazaar only to find out that it was closed due to a Muslim Holiday. I had to leave without ever visiting.

Petra in Jordan

3. Know the food situation
I’m the kind of traveler (well really person) who always like to know where her next meal is coming from…especially when I have spent an entire day trekking around looking at old rocks (Its amazing how inspired works of ancient work become lumps of useless stone as your blood sugar drops). My first step in keeping my stomach happy is to always carry snacks. The next step is to plan out which meals you will need to eat at the site and figure out where that meal will come from. If you are visiting the Pyramids, a few snacks will do. But if you are planning to spend all day at Machu Pichu, you’ll probably need to stop for a few meals. A little research will help you figure out the best option for lunch. Once you enter Petra, there is only one real restaurant -A $17 a person buffet. After knocking out the $100 entrance fee, that’s the last thing you want to spend your money on. But, most hostels in the areas provide pretty nice bag lunches for a few bucks. Mine had veggies, cheese, bread, hard boiled eggs, and jam. Angkor Wat on the other hand has plenty of inexpensive restaurants throughout – there is no need to pack something ahead of time.

Machu Piccu in Peru

4. Read ahead
Nothing gives you a deeper appreciation of site than understanding of the history and context. In addition to reading your guidebooks and other traveler’s descriptions, I like to read books and novels set in the country I’m visiting. Read a book a Greek mythology before a trip to the Parthenon or read up on Buddhism before heading to Angkor Wat. It will make what you see all the more meaningful and allow you to better remember what you learn since you will have that additional context.

At the Acropolis

5. Smell the roses
Remember to enjoy yourself. Take a moment to sit down and really soak in everything around you. So many times people find themselves rushing to see everything that they miss out on the point. In Petra, after hiking up to the Monastery, I took a nap on the hill overlooking the carved wall. In Machu Piccu I ate my lunch amidst the ruins of the Incan city. And remember, Although half the fun of visiting a famous site is taking your own amazing photos to make all your friends jealous, remember to put the camera down from time to time and actually see things with your eyes – not through a lens.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

6. Make things Easy on Yourself

The day will already be action packed enough – might as well make everything else as easy as possible. Stay near the sight and make that your only plan for the day. Arrange transportation ahead of time and if possible, buy your tickets the night before. Pack a bag the night before. That way, the day of, all you have to do is wake up early the next day and head right there. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes and appropriate shoes. I showed up at Petra in a skirt and flip flops…. I didn’t realize that pretty much every site requires a hike/stair climb. Life would have been much easier in comfortable pants and walking shoes.
Chilling at Petra in a skirt…with a purse..smart
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