This is a a video I put together with some of the clips of the wildlife we encountered during our road trip in South Africa.
Lisa had to head down to LA for 6 days. Since my work is portable I decided I should leave the (not as cold as I would expect) Toronto winter for some running under the Los Angeles sun. While Lisa was cooped up working for most of the time I got a chance to run all over the city. I ran around Beverly Hills, Franklin Canyon, Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon, Santa Monica, and Redondo/Hermosa Beach. Below I’ve written about what I thought of each from best to worst.
We stayed in Redondo Beach on Saturday night. Lisa and I got up to run Sunday morning. I didn’t know much about the area, or what to expect, but it turned out to be great. From what I’ve heard rain is a rarity in these parts. Well, we must have been lucky, because it was wet and windy. Despite these less than ideal conditions it was still my favourite place to run. The beachside path seemed to span forever. There were a number of other runners out getting in their Sunday run too. Even on a sunny day I don’t think the path would be crowded. For most of the run it’s residential to the east and beach to the west as you run north/south along the path. The path is easy to follow, and most of it is straight and spacious enough to do some repeats. If I was in the LA area this is where I would want to come to run.
- Beautiful oceanside route
- Easy to follow
- Other runners on route
- Quite long, you can continue up to LAX along the beachside path
- Lots of bathrooms
- Flat route, no good if you want hills
I tried to find information on Franklin Canyon before I left, but found almost nothing. If it wasn’t for the fact that this seemed like the closest spot to our hotel for uninterrupted running (no lights/stop signs), I likely wouldn’t have given it a second look. But it was, and so this is where I ran a couple times. There is a long run up through some very quite residential streets before you really get to the canyon. This route is a big hill. You go up most of the time until you reach the top, and then you’re running down to get home. Some sections are very steep, and burn the legs going up, and smash the quads coming down. The footing is good, most of the route is on pavement. There are a number of trails you can run, and I tried one, but I learned from this trip that I’m not a trail runner. Maybe it’s just that I lack the technical skills, but I found I had to run a lot slower on the trails, plus they just seemed like a great way to twist your ankle.
- Great hilly run
- Good surface, I didn’t have problems with slipping
- Trails, if you’re into that
- Quite route
- No good if you don’t want hills
- You can’t always trust Google Maps (common in LA), some of the roads are gated communities so you can’t get through. I found this route especially bad for this
- I ran this canyon 3 times and I only saw 1 other runner, and maybe 15 walkers/hikers, so if you like seeing people this isn’t for you
Santa Monica was a run I was really looking forward to. I love to run along the coast, I really enjoy watching the waves crash in as I go. Usually these routes attract a number of other runners, and Santa Monica was no different. We must have passed 200 people in LA Road Runner tshirts, maybe more. They were spread out in different pace groups. I love that they had some many people out running, but I didn’t think it was so great that some of their groups were so large that they took up the entire path. Santa Monica was about what I expected. This was the first run Lisa could join me on, we did an easy 12k. Early in the morning we had no trouble finding parking. I figured there would be a certain element of homelessness to these parts, but I wasn’t expecting as many ‘spaced out‘ people. We came across a handful of stumbling individuals who were in their own world, weaving all over the path. We didn’t see anyone who was confrontational, but I would still consider this a strike against running in this area. As we were finishing out run, just after 10AM on a Saturday, it was starting to get busy on the path. I wouldn’t run here if you weren’t going to be done by about 10:30ish because the path would be too congested with beach-goers, walkers, etc.
- Really pretty route
- Lots of other runners (at times too many, when a group of 60 LARR take up the whole path)
- Lots of bathrooms and water fountains
- Easy to follow
- Gets very busy, especially on the weekends (after 10AM on the weekends I wouldn’t even try to run here)
- Some parts feel a little seedy
- A number of people on the path in their own world, weaving all over the place, which creates a hazard
- Completely flat, if you want hills
Griffith Park seems to be an iconic place for people in LA to workout. When Lisa and I road-tripped up to LA from San Diego last year we saw the sunset in Griffith Park and noticed a lot of active people around. I saw some people running up to a peak in Griffith Park, so I knew when I was coming to LA that I wanted to run up there. I came to Griffith Park on a weekday morning, and it was buzzing with people. Not overcrowded, but lots of people around. Some people hiking, others just taking pictures of the Hollywood sign, and a few running. I thought about running on the road up to the Observatory, and then taking a path to the top, but ultimately decided to take paths all the way to the top. As I’ve mentioned above, I’m not a trail runner. I likely had the wrong shoes for the path because in sections it was steep and I found I had to run very gingerly. There was a fine sand on top of the hard rock/stone trail, which was slippery at times. The path was so steep in some sections that it was more like stair climbing than running. The views are great from the top, and it’s a good spot to get in a workout; certain sections of Griffith Park would be great for hill repeats. But this isn’t really a place you can watch your pace as you run.
- Beautiful park
- Easy to find your way (the Observatory and Hollywood sign are landmarks you can see from a good chunk of where I was running to get your bearings)
- Other active people around to get you motivated to move
- Some parts are crowded
- Parts of the trail don’t have the best footing for normal running shoes
- Steep sections make it difficult to feel like you’re getting a good run in (slow going up and down)
I was really excited to run Runyon Canyon, but it ultimately turned out to be a bit of a let down. This could be partly my fault, and not knowing the route, but on my way down it was so steep that I was walking a good portion of it. There was even a steep staircase for a section of it. If I was to do it again, then the route that I took up I would also take down. Unfortunately, this means that only a very limited section of the canyon is actually runable.
- If you follow the route I took to the top you can get in a solid, long hill repeat
- Everyone in the park seemed to be moving, unlike Griffith Park who get a lot more people standing on the paths/trails taking pictures
- Some sections too steep to run down, with poor footing
- To get in a good run of over 5k you’d have to do laps or repeats
- Trails seemed very poorly marked to find my way to the top (again, it would be fair to put this on me)
I don’t think Beverly Hills is necessarily known for it’s running, so I didn’t have high expectations of it, and it didn’t really deliver anything special. I think Franklin Canyon is technically in Beverly Hills, but we wont count it because it got it’s own section above. There aren’t weren’t really any parks around the area. This meant that any running was through either residential areas, or commercial streets. I will say when I was running for a couple km’s along Wilshire Blvd I seemed to hit a lot of consecutive green lights, which made running here a little better, but it’s not somewhere I’d choose to run unless it was my only option. The curbs are very high and as the km’s build you start to feel stepping off and back onto them in your run.
- If you want to see what Beverly Hills is about then running can be a good way to see it, I didn’t run into any problems with motorists or pedestrians
- All the running is in residential/commercial area, no uninterrupted stretches that I found
- Running up and down the high curbs can take a toll on your quads
LA Running Notes
- Transit in LA is brutal. I considered taking transit to some other far out places to run, like the Rose Bowl, but the public transit options were lousy. Even to get to Griffith Park from Beverly Hills took over an hour
- With that said, it does seem like Pasadena has some great running routes, and miles of running paths around the Rose Bowl
- Nike offers free group runs/workouts in LA, which could be worthwhile if you’re uneasy running on your own (LA Road Runners would also likely be a good bet, but that’s just a guess)
- When I was running in Beverly Hills a lot of drivers seemed distracted, and they rolled through stop signs, so make sure you’re aware and alert when you run
This isn’t an extensive list of everywhere to run in the LA area, and it’s not even a comprehensive guide to the 6 places I listed. This is my biased opinion of these spots based on my experience running them (many of them I only ran once). I typically run on paved, or hard-packed and relatively level paths. If you enjoy the steep, twisting undulations that trails can offer I’d disregard my opinion.
As 2015 comes to a close it was an incredible year. I got to travel to some new and incredible places, I pushed my body further than I ever had before, and I got to meet some awesome people along the way.
2015 Travel Stats
- New continents visited: 1 (South America)
- New countries visited: 2 (Ecuador, and Panama)
- New provinces visited: 1 (British Columbia)
- New states visited: 5 (California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin)
- Trips: 10 (New York City weekend, San Diego Training, Boston Marathon, Connecticut Challenge Quassy, Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tour, Lake Placid Training, Whistler Ironman, Whistling Straits PGA Championship, Niagara Barrelman, Ecuador and Galapagos backpacking)
- Nights away: 49
Where I’ve been in 2015
Challenge Quassy Half Ironman
New York City
Whistling Straits PGA Championship
Lake Placid Training
Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour
Whistler Ironman Canada
Cuyabeno Reserve Amazon Rainforest
Quilota Lake, Ecuador
2015 Endurance Stats
- Hours of exercise: 619
- Time spent swimming: 78:12:08
- Distance swam: 204,170m (equivalent to Toronto to Barrie, round trip)
- Time spent cycling: 335:25:49
- Approximate distance cycled: 10,952km (similar to cycling to Nicaragua and back to Toronto)
- Time spent running: 164:42:59
- Distance run: 2,137km (same as running Toronto to Orlando)
- Races completed: 8
- Running events completed: 5
- Triathlons completed: 3
Flying home from Ecuador we had a 10-hour layover in Panama City. 10-hours isn’t a lot of time to clear customs, get into the city, see a few sights, get back to the airport, clear security, and make a flight. We did some research ahead of time and found that Panama City has a City Sightseeing Hop-on, Hop-off bus. The bus not only stopped at the locks (what I really wanted to see), but also Old Town, and a lot of the other popular attractions. We crossed our fingers that our flights would be on time and that we could make all of this work.
Getting to Panama City
On Monday morning we were up just before 4:00AM. Our bags were packed the night before, and we only had a 10 minute cab ride from our hotel to the airport. As you can imagine the security lines were light at this time of the day and we were through security by 4:30AM. Our flight was on time and we were on our way to Panama City just after 6:00AM. (We were flying on Copa Airlines, I’d never flown on Copa before this trip, and I’d highly recommend them. The food was the best airplane food I’ve had. Our morning flight was less than 2 hours, but they still serves breakfast. Lisa had pancakes, and I had eggs, sausage and hash browns.)
We landed in Panama City around 8:00AM. Our big backpacks would remain at the airport while we ventured into the city. It took us longer than expected to make it through customs, but by 9:00AM we were out of the airport. Our plan was to take a local bus for $1.25 as opposed to taking a $35 cab to get into downtown. As we were walking to the bus stop across the street from the airport a taxi driver who had just dropped off passengers offered to take us for $8 into downtown. We jumped at the offer. He didn’t want to wait in the taxi line at the airport, and the reality was that we weren’t entirely sure just what bus we should be getting on, so we got lucky.
We were dropped off at Multicentro at about 9:45AM and were able to find the Hop-on, hop-off bus stop there fairly quickly. The buses here aren’t as frequent as some other cities, they only come once an hour, so it was fortunate that we arrived in time for the 10:00AM bus (I’ll explain why soon).
To do the entire tour loop takes about 2 hours. The tour is about an hour before it gets to the Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks), and then about an hour to do the rest of the tour. We decided we wouldn’t get off until we made it to the Canal (though Lisa was awfully tempted by the massive Albrook Mall), so we just enjoyed the first hour of the tour; the sun was out, the bus wasn’t very busy, and the spanglish guide had some interesting information about what we were looking at.
It was about 11:00AM by the time we made it to the Canal. It cost us $15 each to get into the viewing area for the Miraflores Locks, a price at the time I felt was a little steep, but in hindsight was well worth it. Just as we were entering there was an announcement that the final few ships were about to enter the locks, and more ships wouldn’t arrive until until mid-afternoon (which is why we were lucky to make the 10:00AM bus). We immediately headed up to the observation deck, which was 4 floors up. It was really crowded up there, but because the ships are so grand, and because I’m tall-ish, I had a good view.
Watching a ship proceed through the locks isn’t exactly action packed excitement, but it held my attention. The doors closing behind the ship, the lock filling up, the crew ensuring the lock is functioning properly, the sheer size of the ships; it was all very interesting.
We had thought that the ship in the lock when we arrived was the last ship of the day, but there was actually one more. Most people had cleared out of the viewing area, so we had an even better view for the final ship. We watched the final ship and then caught the 12:00PM bus to continue the route.
Back on the bus
Back on the bus we headed parallel to the Panama Canal towards the Pacific Coast. We went by the Biomuso (a science building with flamboyant architecture), we were treated to panoramic views of the skyline as we drove along the causeway, and saw Flamencio (a posh area where it seemed like the rich and famous docked their yachts). After that we unknowingly passed Old Town, we were too focused on the fish market on the other side of the street to ask why everyone was getting off at that stop. We ended up getting off at the next stop, Multiplaza Mall.
Multiplaza is a very exclusive mall, it was filled with lots of stuffy designer stores. We weren’t really there for the shopping, we were looking for something quick to eat. We were surprised that all of the food options seemed to be American chains; Subway, KFC, Taco Ball, T.G.I.F’s, etc. There wasn’t any Panamanian food options, so after making Lisa eat at local markets and food stalls for the last couple weeks, I deferred to her and her old favourite – Taco Bell. It was quick, surprisingly cheap (we both at a lot for a combined $8), and easy, and we were back on our way. We had been turned off of the idea of shopping at the mall when we saw all the fancy stores when we walked in, but as we walked down the stairs to leave what did we see at the bottom of the stairs but a running store! And they were having a sale. Long store short everything in the store was 50% off. After an hour of trying on every pair of shoes they had in our sizes Lisa (broken foot and all) and I left with 3 pairs of runners, 3 pairs of shorts, and there might have been some socks.
After our unscheduled shopping spree we were short on time so we hopped in a cab to Old Town Panama City. We weren’t going to have a lot of time to wander around and explore but we wanted to see it. We spent about an hour walking up and down some of the street and into some of the shops. There were a number of really cool stores and cafes, and if we had more time we would have stayed longer, but we didn’t. It was back in a cab, and off to the airport.
Panama City in Review
Our 10-hours in Panama City was really successful. We covered a lot of area and got to see a ship pass through the locks in the Canal (the only thing I really wanted to see). Panama City is the banking hub for Central America, and the wealth here is evident (especially compared to other countries in the region). It had a feel almost like Miami with the hot weather, coast line, yachts, and skyscrapers. We met a number of Americans on our bus tour who either live in Panama City, or were down checking it out because they were considering retiring there. A lot of American influence can be seen in the downtown core; you see the same or similar stores in the malls here as you would in any big North American city. There are lots of places where you can spend a lot of money in Panama City if that is what you fancy, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. It cost us about $135USD for the pair of us for the day (not including what we spent on running shoes), and we could have trimmed that budget further if we had to.
- $8 – Taxi from airport to downtown
- $47 – City Sightseeing Bus Tour for 2 (purchased online the day before)
- $30 – Miraflores Locks Admission for 2
- $8 – Lunch
- $10 – Water and snacks
- $7 – Taxi to Old Town
- $25 – Taxi to airport
When we woke up we weren’t entirely sure we’d be able to get out of the airport and see any of Panama City, so I’d call this a very successful 10 hour layover.
Prior to leaving for Ecuador Lisa and I did a lot of research on the Galapagos Islands. Most of the information that exists about trips to Galapagos talks about cruises. Traditionally, most people who visit the area fly into Baltra Airport (GPS), and from there they’re shuttled to their cruise boat (they’re usually 14-20 person boats). They will live aboard the boat and cruise to different islands over the course of their trip. When their cruise is completed they will be shuttled back to Baltra to fly back to mainland Ecuador. This was certainly an option for us, but it wasn’t what we ended up doing.
For our trip we decided to do a land based tour. We spent most of our time on Santa Cruz, and did day trips from there. We also spent a night on Isabela, and a night on San Cristobal, doing day trips from each of those locations as well. Speak to other travellers, as well as travel agencies on the islands, we decided which day trips we would do. Finally, we flew into Baltra, and flew out of San Cristobal.
Land based tour pros:
- Flexibility to set your own itinerary – you get to pick the islands you visit based on the activities you want to do and what you want to see
- Move at your own pace – do as much or as little as you like
- Experience the islands that come alive at night with restaurants and shops
- Sleep on a bed on firm land
- More economical (at least in our experience)
Land based tour cons:
- There is always travel time to get to your destination (it took us a 40 minute shuttle, and a 2 hour boat to get to Bartolome, which is as far as you can go on a day trip)
- It can be overwhelming to plan because there’s so many tour operators and trips
- Some islands are too far to visit with a day trip
- You save travel time because the boat will go to the next day’s destination through the night (could be a con if you’re prone to sea sickness)
- No need to think, all of your activities are organized for you
- You’re able to get to some destinations not reachable by day trips
- You’re stuck on a small boat for at least 20 hours a day
- You are with the same people for the duration of your cruise (this isn’t just about getting along, if someone is a particularly slow swimmer or walker it will slow down what you can see snorkelling and on hikes)
- Very expensive, event last minute deals are usually over $250/day per person
- Itineraries are often very poor and have no flexibility, I was offered a 4 days cruise where 3 of 4 days were spent on Santa Cruz, the main island where tourists begin their trip doing activities that for the most part we could do on our own
Lisa and I paid just under $1900USD for 8 days in the Galapagos (that’s together, not each) doing our own land based tour. You will not find an 8 day cruise for $950 each. We visited 5 islands (Santa Cruz, Pinzon, Isabela, Bartolome, and San Cristobal). We got to see a lot of the Galapagos, and we were able to cherry pick the sites that we wanted to see. We had a list of a dozen animals we hoped to see in the Galapagos and we got to see all of them. It was a good decision for us to fly into Baltra (Santa Cruz) and out of San Cristobal, as it saved us time and money – we didn’t have to ferry back to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal. Knowing what I know now I would absolutely do the trip the same way if I had a do-over.
This post is not an unbiased comparison of land vs. cruise, it is very biased because it is my opinion of the two.
The crown jewel of my recent Ecuador trip was definitely the visit to the Galapagos. When Lisa and I were picking a spot to travel we wanted to go somewhere that was one of our A+ destinations (Galapagos, Machu Picchu, African Safari, Borneo, etc). The problem with all of these destinations is that they cost significantly more than what it would typically cost to backpack. When we picked the Galapagos it felt like we were signing a blank cheque. The information about the costs of everything on the islands that we could find online was very limited. Fortunately in the end it came in well under what we expected to pay.
Excluding our flights, it cost Lisa and I $1895USD for 8 days in Galapagos (for reference we paid about $550CAD each to fly round trip to Quito, Ecuador, and another $525CAD to fly round trip to the Galapagos from Quito). We decided to do a land based tour instead of a cruise. This ended up being a very good decision, which I will get to in another post. Every day we visited somewhere, we got to see all the sights we wanted to see, and we saw all the animals on our ‘must see’ list.
Here is a breakdown of our costs:
- $40 baggage check fee – to ensure we weren’t bringing organic material ($20 each)
- $200 Galapagos Island Fee – to enter the Galapagos ($100 each)
- $245 hotels – 7 nights @ $35/night
- $35 day trip to Santa Cruz Highlands (we rented a taxi to drive us instead of an organized tour)
- $230 day trip to Pinzon ($115 each)
- $290 day trip to Bartolome ($145 each)
- $600 ferry to Isabela, Lava Tubes day trip, ferry back to Santa Fe, ferry to San Cristobal, Kicker Rock day trip ($300 each, we saved about $20 booking all of this at once from a tour operator)
- $10 Isabela Island entrance fee ($5 each)
- $200 food and water
- $20 souvenirs
- $25 taxis
TOTAL: $1895USD (Ecuador uses US Dollars, all of these figures are in USD)
- Day 1 – Arrive on Santa Cruz, visit Darwin Centre, walk around Puerto Ayora
- Day 2 – Tortuga Bay, Highlands tour (Los Gemelos, El Chato, Lava Tunnels)
- Day 3 – Pinzon day trip (snorkelling near Daphne Major, bird watching at Daphne Major, snorkelling at Pinzon)
- Day 4 – Bartolome day trip (hike up Bartolome, snorkel near Pinnacle Rock)
- Day 5 – Ferry to Isabela, Lava Tubes day trip (snorkel through the lava tubes, walk around lava tubes to learn about Blue Footed Boobies)
- Day 6 – Los Humedales wetlands, Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre, ferry back to Santa Cruz
- Day 7 – Ferry to San Cristobal, Kicker Rock day trip (snorkelling in bay off San Cristobal, beach hike, snorkel at Kicker Rock)
- Day 8 – Visit Interpretation Centre, hike to viewpoint, fly out of San Cristobal
We spent 5 of our 7 nights on Santa Cruz (the most popular island for tourists). When we landed we only had our first nights accommodations booked. We were about a kilometer from the main area of town. For our remaining nights we stayed at Hotel Espana, which I would highly recommend. It wasn’t fancy but it was clean and close to everything.
We didn’t eat at any fancy restaurants. We ate a lot of empanadas (not just because they were cheap, but also super tasty), and would eat dinner at one of the restaurants that puts tables out on the street. If we went on a day trip lunch was always included, and breakfasts were always simple, usually toast and eggs.
We were very busy during our trip. Every day we had a day tour booked, or we visited sites that we could see without a guide. Kicker Rock was the best day trip we did. The snorkelling was incredible. We first snorkelled in a small bay where the water was calm and we were able to see sea turtles, rays, sea lions, and all sorts of fish. After a short walk around the beach area learning more about the sea lions and plant life we went to Kicker Rock. Kicker Rock is in the middle of the water, so it may not be enjoyable for a weak swimmer. There we saw over 30 hammerhead sharks, dozens of white tip, black tip, and Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, schools of fish, and so much more. We were lucky to see that many hammerheads, but they see at least 1 almost every trip.
The Galapagos is not cheap, but it’s certainly not as expensive as I anticipated. Most people don’t do as many activities as we did, but we wanted to make the most of our experience. The wildlife was incredible, and I’d highly recommend this trip to anyone thinking about it.