Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
Cute Colonial Cartagena
We arrived in Cartagena at 1:30am on Tuesday morning (yep, that’s right), and after a couple hours of rest we headed out on a City Walking Tour. The tour was not the best walking tour we’ve done however it was a good way to get our bearings and see all this cute colonial town had to offer.
The streets were very clean and lined with expensive boutiques, delicious restaurants, and beautifully painted colonial and post colonial buildings. However, it was also still possible to find lunch for less than $4.
We spent 4 nights in Cartagena and during this time relaxed, explored the town and indulged in a delicious seafood feast at La Cevicheria (way out of our standard budget but delicious and totally worth it for a one off).
We also had a fun night out at “Media Luna,” the local Wednesday/Miercoles rooftop party place with a group from our hostel.
One of our favourite afternoons was spent watching the sunset from the old city walls. If you feel like a drink you can buy one at the ridiculously overpriced bar (Cafe Del Mar) on the wall, or a much cheeper tinny from one of the local men with eskies set up for your convenience right next door. Or even cheaper still, BYO from a local supermarket.
Nothing too crazy to report.. Next stop Capurgana and Sapzurro before heading to the San Blas Islands!
Monday night (June 15th) Sar finally arrived from Australia… I’ve been waiting months for her to get her butt over here. We met her at the Bogota Airport at 10pm, and headed back to our hostel for a rest after her 32 hour journey to us. The next day we hopped on a flight to Santa Marta, a city on the Caribbean coast in the north of the country.
We landed in Santa Marta and headed for our hostel, Masaya. This is an awesome hostel with 2 pools, super clean bathrooms and some super friendly staff. We had a couple of problems with not having lockers (in a room that had been broken into the night before) and a few unfriendly staff members, but for the most part it was a good place to stay. And their mojitos were unbeatable.
From Santa Marta we headed out on a day trip to Minca.
In Minca we visited a coffee plantation; La Vittoria, visited a waterfall with a small but fun rock jump and checked out a restaurant surrounded by loads of tiny hummingbirds.
The day was awesome and our only regret is that we didn’t spend a night in Minca.. nonetheless Palomino and Tayrona were calling.
The next day we jumped on a 2 or so hour bus from Santa Marta to Palomino. We arrived, turned towards the ocean, walked for 15 minutes or so and found The Dreamer Hostel. We checked in, dropped our belongings and dived in the pool. The hostel grounds are really nice, complete with a restaurant and bar.
The next day we hired tubes, jumped on the back of a couple of motorbikes and headed to the river with a few people from hostel. We unfortunately didn’t have our camera with us however it was awesome. Picture Jurassic Park (with less dinosaurs), a wide and very slow moving river, cervezas and some seriously strong sun. From town you pay a guy to take you to the river, walk up a path (quite steep but nothing unreasonable) jump in the river and float down for around 3 hours. Don’t get the wrong idea.. this isn’t extreme tubing, it’s much the same to being in the bath tub.. but with 10 people and more beer.. depending on what bath time is like at your house.
The next day we hopped on the bus bright 'n' early and headed for Tayrona National Park.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
After driving at the entrance to Tayrona we paid our fees (roughly $20AUD) and begun the walk to Cabo San Juan, the 3rd beach campsite. It was totally worth it and took us less than an hour and a half.
The beach at Tayrona was the nicest we saw on the coast in Colombia (until we got to Capurgana and Sapzurro). We were lucky enough to stay in hammocks in the hut overlooking the water.
That afternoon we lazed around, read our books and enjoyed our surroundings. After a mostly good sleep in the hammocks we got up early and headed back to the entrance before jumping on a bus back to Santa Marta.
Next stop Cartagena!
Valle Del Cocora
Saturday morning the sun was shining and so decided to go trek aroun the Cocora Valley.
We headed to the main square in town and jumped in a "collectivo" taxi jeep, that costs around 3500 pesos per person to the Cocora Valley. We jumped out of the car after about 30 minutes and started out on the valley loop trail.
The trail started following straight along a valley floor between fields of fat grazing cows, before zig zagging through thick lush rainforest and crossing over several streams via some cool, rickety suspension bridges. The trail began to wind uphill until eventually popping out above the thick rainforest towards the top of the valley.
Here the path turned into a gravel road and we continued on for another 10 minutes until we reached an awesome little spot looking over the valley and surrounded by the famous, giant Cocora Palms.
Here we ate our tasty packed lunch we had bought from the wonderful people at "Brunch" cafe in town that morning (which included delicious chicken salad rolls and peanut butter brownies), and basically slothed around in the sun taking in the scenery.
After we were done eating we continued on and finished the loop back to where the Jeep had dropped us off to grab a lift back to Salento. Whilst the walk wasn't flat and was a tad muddy in parts, it also wasn't too hard and only took us around 3 hours to complete including our little lunch break. This was such a beautiful day out, and we would really recommend it if you're in this part of the world.
Coffee Country - Salento, Colombia
We jumped on a 6:30 am bus from Medillin towards Armenia with a plan to get a 1 hour shuttle after to Salento in the heart of "coffee country." We heard this first bua could take anywhere from 8-10 hours depending on traffic. Considering that all roads around Medillin are super windy and Bec gets pretty motion sick on buses, we were mentally prepared for a long and unpleasant day on some crowded buses. Hence, were pleasantly surprised when the young bus conductor tapped us on the shoulder at around 12:30 pm telling us we had reached our stop.
We got let off on the side of the highway with all our gear with instructions to cross to the other side and flag the next bus down heading the other way to Salento. We were understandably a little nervous about hanging around on the edge of a Colombia highway with all our cash, cards and passports, but sure enough after less than 10 minutes and one false start on the greenest roadside I've ever seen, a shuttle bus came past and we jumped on. 30 minutes later we were in Salento in time for lunch!
The next morning we woke up with plans to head to the Cocora Valley, but when it started raining during breakfast with no signs of letting up we decided to postpone. Sure enough around lunch time the sun came out in all of it's glory, so we decided to walk out of town to find a coffee farm.
After a beautiful little downhill walk out of town we shortly arrived at "Finca Del Ocaso." As we walked into the property, about 15 different local coffee pickers popped their heads out of the bushes with cheeky smiles to wish us "buenas tardes."
We ended up paying 8000 pesos ($4 AUD) for a guided tour and explanation around the property and it's processes from the awesome Felipe. We were explained how coffee plants are grown and potted from seed to fruiting tree, and also explained the benefits of growing coffee in shade and at altitude on the final product. We also learnt about how growers in this region have developed a certain strain, "variety colombia" in order to maximize yield and minimize vulnerability to pests and infections.
Next we got to get our hands dirty, planting seeds from scratch and then moving seedlings into fertilized soil to grow. We then were set loose in an area of the plantation and got to pick our own coffee "cherries" from the trees before bringing our harvest back to be peeled. We then saw the more industrial size operation of washing, drying and sorting the beans for quality.
And finally the best bit, we got to sample some of the final product! This turned out to be so good we bought a bag to take with us. Felipe was awesome, answering all of our questions and was super informative at every stage of the tour along the production line.
We arrived in Medellin just after lunch on Saturday. We dropped our bags at the Black Sheep Hostel (which was great by the way) and headed into the Zona Rosa to have a look around.
Much to our luck there was a little market with heaps of stalls selling clothing, jewellery and all kinds of trinkets. We didn't buy anything much as just last week we sent home almost 7 kilograms of things from Quito. Nonetheless it was still fun to have a look around, this part of the city felt very trendy, lots of little cafes and groovy (expensive) clothing stores.
The next day we explored around town a bit more, found an organic fruit and veggie market, and had a delicious BBQ dinner at the hostel whilst watching Medellin's football team DIM play and win their semi-final!
Monday we headed out on the Real City walking tour. I cannot recommend this FREE (almost) tour enough. It's 4 hours, but the time honestly just flys by. We were lucky to have the charismatic and charming Pablo as our guide, assisted by Carolina, who was learning and also fantastic.
The tour takes you from El Poblado to downtown via the Metro. It gives you information on Medellin and Colombia's history, the good and the bad. We visited churches with prostitutes, multiple Botero statues and friendly parks where you can buy a hit of crack for less than 50 cents. I won't say anything else as I don't want to give too much away, but when in Medellin take this tour!
The next day we booked a day trip to Guatape through our hostel with DO IT IN A VAN. The trip included 2 incredible fresh cooked meals for breakfast and lunch, a stop and swim at a beautiful lake (and a big jump off a bridge if you were keen) and of course a stop at Guatape.
Guatape is a town an hour or so from Medellin, situated on the lake mentioned above which was formed in the 1960's when a large hydroelectric dam was built. Out of the town there is a gigantic rock, and when you climb to the top after all 740 stairs there is an absolutely breathtaking view.
Pictures really do the talking here.
The last full day we had in Medellin we embarked on the Paisa Road Pablo Escobar tour.
We have mixed feelings about this tour. The information we received was very interesting and the tour guide was very knowledgable, however she was perhaps a little cold and dark, and at times hard to hear/understand. It’s hard to judge though as the topic of Pablo Escobar is still incredibly fresh in the minds of the people of Colombia, and particularly Medelln. Almost everyone from the city was in some way affected during his years of power. We didn't learn anything about our tour guide's background, or if she had been affected during Escobar's reign of terror over the city. So many people lost loved ones who were directly targeted by Escobar's hit men for opposing him, but many people were also killed due to careless collateral damage -simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whilst far from our favourite tour thus far, I can see how this would appeal to plenty of people, so please don't let us put you off taking part in this well run tour.
Nonethelss the information was interesting and it really brought home how lucky we are in Australia.
Whilst Medellin has a very dark recent past, it is a modern, absolutely beautiful city; full of open squares, parks, great shops and restaurants, solid infrastructure and public transport and greenery. The "Paisas" (people from Medellin and surrounding areas) are absolutely amazing. Seriously in general the friendliest people we have met in South America thus far. We should also note here that despite it's well known violent history, Medellin is by far the safest we have felt in ANY large city we have been in thus far in our 6 months in South America.
Many "Paisas" (and Colombian's in general) are well aware of the incorrect negative stereotypes - coke, killings and kidnappings - that many ignorant foreigners associate with their country and Medellin. Whilst these have been problems, Colombia is a large country filled with an abundance of natural beauty, resources and an industrious population that is moving forward into an incredibly bright and hopefully peaceful future. Several Colombians we have spoken to are looking forward to putting the past behind them, and are stoked that foreigners are happy to travel through their beautiful country - apparently the presence of many happy tourists represents a great change and step forward to locals!
Sorry about the lack of pictures from the Real City and Pablo Escobar tours. We were just way too interested in the facts to stop for photos. I guess you'll just have to get your ass to Medellin and see it for yourself!
Next stop Salento, I hear the bus ride is an absolute bitch.
Bogota Bikes & Graffiti Tours
2nd morning in Bogota we rocked up to the office of "Bogota Bike Tours” with the intention of taking part in something along the lines of what the company name suggests. 10 minutes later we were kitted up with a lid and a pushy and after another 10 minutes we were off. The gear wasn’t too flashy, but we didn’t need much as the cycling involved in the tour was mostly along quiet streets and designated bike lanes. As well, Bogota for the most part is extremely flat so the cycling was super cruisy.
The day was led by Mike, an expat from the U.S. who has lived in the city for 10 years. He told us he was an ex journalist, which became obvious throughout the day as Mike constantly took photos from his pushy of everyone and our beautiful surroundings.
He also took down everyones email addresses and sent out photos to us at the end of the day which was awesome - always good to have an extra camera and set of eyes on a big day out.
The tour went for around 6 hours, and at only 35,000 pesos ($18AUD) per person it was awesome value.
We made so many stops with so much information I wouldn’t do it justice to try and recall them all, but I’ll try to list a few of my highlights.
Early on we stopped in a square downtown. Here there were dozens of middle and more aged men haggling in the street over emeralds. Colombia apparently has some of the largest emerald mines in the world, and if you know what you’re looking for (and speak enough spanish) here can be a great place to snap up a bargain. We also learnt about politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan who was a leftist presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1948 setting off riots and a gigantic period of unrest in Colombia.
We saw a bullring which has been recently closed due to animal cruelty reasons by the current Mayor of Bogota who was a former Guerrilla AND a former prison that is now a library and a centre for street artists. We cycled through a giant public university at lunchtime to check out some political graffiti and buy a delicious lunch off some Rastafarian students. We saw a local coffee roaster and exporter warehouse before continuing through the red light district to a large fruit market to see, smell and taste plenty of strange looking tropical fruits.
One of the last stops we made - and my personal highlight - was to visit a small home of Colombia’s national “sport.” And no it’s not football. Picture a mix between darts and bocce, and then add gunpowder and plenty of cheap beer and you have “Tejo” - (pronounced tey-hoe). Basically, take turns throwing large round stones at a clay board loaded with gunpowder satchels, with a beer in the non throwing hand at all times. I didn’t fully understand the scoring system, but can say it was a lot of fun.
We cruised back to the bike centre late in the arvo and after a day in the sun were happy to have a feed and an early night.
The next morning we woke up and after breakkie strolled down to the plaza near our hostel to meet our guide for the graffiti tour. The last few days we had been staying in La Canderlaria, an old neighbourhood of the city popular with Uni students and absolutely filled with awesome street art. Hence, we were pretty keen to see some more of this and learn a little more about the artists and their motives for painting.
The next 2 hours was absolutely awesome. We learnt so much about the techniques the artists use, the legality of street art in the city with some stories surrounding this and also who some of the artists are and their background - which included a current Bogota university lecturer and an Australian who now lives in the city. We also learnt lots about the political influences and context of a lot of the art.
Anyway, less chat and more pictures….
The only downside of these tours was making me realise how sterile and boring many places are at home in Sydney, all of which could be seriously improved with some loosened regulations and a splash of colour. Oh, and also realising that it’s also possible to ride a pushy through the middle of a giant city in peak hour without constantly fearing for my life.
If you head to Bogota I strongly recommend to make time to do both of these tours as they were both awesome!
The first stop in our 5 week trip through Colombia began in Bogota. We opted for the $115, 1.5hr flight over the 30 hours of buses. We definitely could have done it cheaper, but as we both hate buses, and I generally end up wanting to puke, we didn't want to waste yet another day of our lives on one when there was a cheapish alternative.
We got in at 10pm and grabbed a taxi to our hostel, Bakano Hostal. It was Ok, nothing special but had all the necessities, and the location was perfect for exploring La Candelaria.
The next day we woke up and headed into the streets for an explore. We came across the Gold Museum, Museo Del Oro, and paid the 3000 peso entrance fee (roughly $1.50 AUD) to explore for a couple of hours. We were both really pleasantly surprised by the museum and couldn't believe the intricate detail in the gold pieces that have been recovered from centuries and centuries ago. Unfortunately we only took the GoPro with us and resultantly didn't get any good, close up photos.
After the museum we grabbed lunch and headed up to Monserrate. Monserrate is a church on top of a mountain overlooking Bogota city. On a clear day the views are insane (see below), and on a not so clear day I'm sure they'd be more than alright too.
To get up to Monserrate there is a funicular (train kind of thing), a telerifico (a cable car) or you can walk. We've heard the walk should only take an hour or so but there have been multiple mugging a along the path, and as we were headed up with the camera we opted for the funicular.
The view from the top was as stated before, amazing!
Tomorrow we're doing a bike tour, should be fun!
The day after getting back from Quilotoa we booked a day trip to Cotopaxi Volcano. We (Sean) originally wanted to summit the volcano, however we had heard mixed things about it in this season (May), and after doing our day trip and nearly freezing to death we’re glad we didn’t.
The trip started at our hostel in Latacunga, Hostal Tiana. We were picked up at 8:30 and taken to the National Park that surrounds Cotopaxi. We had a quick stop on the drive up to the Volcano to take some snaps of the cloud covered peak, and whilst out of the van we spotted 9 andean condors! The tour guide, who has been working with this company for 6 years, said the most ha had ever seen at one time was 4, so seeing 9 was really special! After the condor spotting we headed up to where the vans would park before we began our walk up to the refuge, and then the glacier.
As soon as we jumped out of the van we were immediately slapped in the face by a freezing, sleet filled wind. Everyone threw on their extra layers, zipped up tight and we commenced our trudge up to the base station. Now after being in South America, and travelling in and out of the Andes for 6 months you would think we’d be used to this by now. But absolutely not. This was easily the coldest day we have had on the entire trip. Obviously it was due to the crappy weather and storm, but still, I don’t think a single person on our tour was prepared for how cold it would actually be on this trip.
We set off at a slow trudge up the “path” through the well trodden loose volcanic rock. Due to the altitude, even with a steady walk uphill in the volcanic sand we were all breathing heavily pretty quickly. By this stage my left hand and the left side of my face was completely numb due to the wind whipping across the path from the left hand side, so warming up from a little exercise was just what the doctor ordered (note - I have no idea what actual Doctors specialising in high altitude medicine would actually order).
Anyway after about 20 minutes we reached the base camp around 4800m and ran inside to order some hot drinks. I have never been so happy in my life to pay $2 for a cup of tea. We waited around for another 15 minutes or so for the stragglers in our group to catch up and warm themselves up a little.
A little side note here - when at 5000m above sea level the air pressure surrounding you is only about 55% of what it is at sea level. Although there is the same relative percentage of oxygen in the air, as there is a much lower density of air molecules there results in a lot less oxygen being available for your body to inhale, absorb into your blood and send to your muscles and organs. Hence, we all had heart rates of about 160 bpm and were breathing like chronic emphysema patients whilst walking slowly up a moderate incline.
After the group had thawed out to a reasonable extent we continued on past the base camp and to the bottom of the glacier. By this stage my pants and wool gloves were soaked through, and although the snow surrounding us was beautiful, I could only really think of getting to the glacier, taking some snaps, and then getting the hell out of dodge. The glacier itself was pretty cool, and I managed to have myself a tasty little “glacicle”. Unfortunately though our waterproof camera case had worn out and broken a week before so we weren’t able to take too many photos for fear of the camera getting soaked. Anyway, despite all the cold and us being poorly prepared, it was really cool to see a glacier on the side of a volcano located basically on the equator!
After a while we headed back down in a group behind our guide through the sketchy snow parts, and once we reached the base camp the guide said “meet you all back at the van”. Needless to say, Bec and I literally ran down the entire rest of the way - which due to the slippery sandy trail was actually heaps of fun. We got back to the van and climbed in to thaw out and empty the thick volcanic sand that was filling our shoes. The rest of the group began turning up when we remembered we had for some reason paid an extra $10 to ride mountain bikes back down through the storm on the side of the volcano.
Anyway, the driver took us down in the van a few hundred metres to a point where it wasn’t sleeting quite so heavily. Here we put on some lids, jumped on our bikes and were off. Below the storm it was actually still a really nice day, and in the end I was stoked that we had paid the extra $10 as the ride was a lot of fun. We finished up near a little lagoon filled with lots of wild ducks and other birds which I got to check out for a while whilst waiting for Bec and Ness the speed demons and everyone else in the van. All in all despite the cold we had an awesome day out, and I’m really glad we got to see Chimborazo.
Next stop - Quito para las classes de Español - and then onto Bogotá, Colombia.
An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.