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Argentina Bolivia Cali Chile Colombia Cusco destinations Ecuador Machu Picchu Peru Quito RTW South America travel

Looking Back: South America

Looking back on our time in South America, it’s hard to imagine that I would have fallen in love with the continent quite the way that I did. When I first decided to plan this trip, I was debating between going back to spend time in Asia, which I loved and knew that I could easily fall back into. But I’m so happy that in the end, I decided to try something new.

Colombia

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhen Kim and I landed in Bogota, the adventure was full of “firsts”. I can still remember the first delicious empanada from a street cart, our caffeine-fueled days (including my first time riding a horse!) in Salento, and eating picada on Calle 70 or catching the cable cars in Medellin. We also made it up the 740 steps of La Piedra on our day trip to Guatape. But the highlight has to be getting to visit with Emily and Bryan once again (after six years) and toasting their engagement! In Cali, we also were able to experience country club living and to catch a futbol match featuring some of the worlds most energetic fans who made up for the world’s laziest cheerleaders. Returning to Bogota, I got a great education in street food and some of Colombia’s food traditions, thanks to my excellent AirBnB host, David.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Colombia Photo Galleries (still being updated!)
>> Food highlights: caldo de costilla, ajiaco, empanadas, stuffed arepas, guanabana, guarapo, bandeja paisa, casuela de frijoles, lechona, pandebono con arequipe

Ecuador

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhere do I even begin? Ecuador was my favorite country in South America. I started out with a trip into the jungle near Tena with Andres and Carter, who later became partners in all kinds of food adventures. I fell in love with the beautiful mountains and volcanoes, the historical buildings in Quito‘s Centro historico, standing on the Equator line at Mitad del Mundo, the street food and the great friends that I made there. I loved my tour down the Avenue of the Volcanoes to visit Cotopaxi the Nariz del Diablo train, plus a side trip to Banos (where I got to try ziplining!), the “swing at the end of the world”, and Lake Quilotoa, which literally took my breath away – and not just because of the altitude! Celebrating my first thanksgiving away from home with the Espinoza family really made my time in Ecuador special. Meeting fellow travel blogger, Dyanne (aka The Traveln Lass) in Cuenca and spending a food-filled and family-centric 24 hours in Loja made it so hard to want to catch my bus on to Peru, but eventually I did.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Ecuador Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: hornado, choclo mote, chuntacuro (not my favorite, but happy I tried them!), seco de chivo, cevice, locro de papas, emapanadas de morocho, salchipapas, guayusa tea, encebollado, picada, mote pillo, cecina, horchata, cafe lojano

Peru

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhen I first got to Peru, I was coming off of such a wonderful time in Ecuador that it never really had a fair shot. But all was forgiven with my first bite of ceviche in Lima. Oh, the seafood! I spent my time in Lima gorging myself on ceviche, including my last meal at one of the mercados in Surquillo, where I got to meet up with Henry and Megan of the Borderless Project, before heading onto the overnight bus to Cusco. I loved the cool temperature and the holiday atmosphere there as the town got into the spirit of Christmas. I took a fantastic cooking class on Christmas night after a Google Hangout with my family, and returned to my hostel to find the entire place gathered around a holiday meal. I also made some great friends to come along on food missions (hola Noelia, Ross & Diego!) and even to drag me out for a night dancing! To celebrate the new year, I headed to Machu Picchu with a day trip to the Sacred Valley en route, and then the train from Ollantaytambo. I spent New Year’s Eve overnight in Aguas Calientes and woke early the next morning to greet 2015 among the ruins of Machu Picchu. Finding my own little corner to sit and reflect and to watch the clouds swirl in and out of the ruins was exactly what my heart needed – time to sit and reflect and to breathe it all in.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Peru Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: In Lima, ceviche, ceviche, and more ceviche! In Cusco, anticuchos, rocoto relleno, pisco sours, chilcanos, chicha morada, lomo saltado, spicy adobo, and finally getting to try cuy.

Bolivia

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugBolivia is definitely a country that I’d like to return to revisit – the three weeks I spent there were not enough! I based myself in La Paz and slowed down enough to really try to get a feel for the pace of daily life – frequenting the mercados (I especially loved Mercado Lanza and the sprawling Mercado Rodriguez on the weekends), using local transportation, having inexpensive almuerzos for lunch. The ruins at Tiwanaku and the crazy lunar landscape of Valle de la Luna were both easily done as day trips. One day, my new friend Freddy and I caught a bus out to stay overnight in Copacabana and I can still remember the taste of the trout fried in garlic right on the shore of Lake Titicaca – yum! I found the perfect spot to burn my letter to the Universe looking over the town and the lake from the top of Calvario de Copacabana – truly magical. Eventually, I said goodbye to La Paz and headed south to the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni for a three day tour by Jeep, where I made new friends from Brazil, Paraguay and China. We had a blast and took hundreds of photos of the gorgeous natural landscape that still doesn’t do it justice – salt flats mirrored with water, volcanoes covered with snow, geysers and alpine lakes of various colors with flamingos, llamas, vicunas and even a fox!

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Bolivia Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: silpancho, trucha al ajillo, chicharron, tucumanas, saltenas, sopa de mani, chairo, quinoa soup, wines from Tarija and of course the 7-course tasting menu at Gustu! (Mahalo Nate!)

Chile

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugI was coming off of the high from the salt flats and also months spent in the (literally) higher altitude of the Andes, so arriving in the dusty desert of northern Chile at San Pedro de Atacama was a bit jarring to my system and I quickly moved on further south to Santiago. I spent a week there enjoying the more European feel of the city – lots of green parks, quick wifi, and of course enjoying the Chilean wine! I had a lovely cooking class and mercado tour and on my last day I decided to take a day trip to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso which included a stop at Indomita winery. I loved the colorful streets of Valparaiso and although we didn’t get to stop at the Pablo Neruda museum, I could see why he chose to keep one of his three homes there – the views of the ocean were spectacular.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Chile Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: ceviche, emapanadas de pino, chorillanas, and having a real espresso after months of Nescafe. Reading Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s ode to Caldillo de Congrio while enjoying a bowl of it was especially memorable.

Argentina

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugI stopped in Mendoza only for a few days, which was enough time for my first taste of amazing Argentinian steak and excellent wine for less than the cost of water! I was fortunate to get to experience much more of the asado tradition when I headed to Buenos Aires – in a parrilla tour of San Telmo, a 5-course closed door dinner in Palermo Soho and four times at the steakhouse around the corner from our hostel! I was reunited with Kim after her Antarctica cruise and we spent a week staying in Recoleta to change things up a bit before being lured back to San Telmo. I loved the feel of the neighborhood and the tango, although I never did get to dance it. We used the bus to get around to other areas – for hip brunches in Palermo, to stroll the Caminito in La Boca, along the waterfront in Puerto Madero and downtown, but also caught the train up North to Tigre for a day. We toured the Presidential Palace and saw the balcony where Evita greeted the people. I also enjoyed just taking hours just walking around and taking it in, stopping into a coffee shop or restaurant to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine.

>> Photo highlights can be found in my Argentina Photo Galleries
>> Food highlights: asado/parrilla fare like steaks (lomo, ojo de bife, bife de chorizo), mollejas, chimichurri, salsa criolla and of course provoleta. Choripan, medialunas, empanadas, dulce de leche (in so many forms), excellent coffee. Lots of Malbec.

The journey continues…

And now another adventure begins. South Africa will be my 6th continent and 35th country – just before my 35th birthday! But really, it’s going to be a whole new world. I’ve got two months between my flight into Cape Town on Saturday and out of Johannesburg at the beginning of May. In between, I’m hoping to do a bit less moving around than I did in South America – perhaps even to find an apartment that I can rent and buckle down to do less exciting things like work and my taxes (ugh!). This new nomadic life is awesome but sometimes it’s good to slow the pace a bit to recharge…

Thanks so much for reading and coming along for the ride!

Categories
Bolivia budget tips Colombia destinations Ecuador Peru RTW South America travel travel planning

100 Days

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New Year’s Day 2015 at Machu Picchu

Today makes 100 days since the day I landed in South America.

A whole new continent, a whole new language and a whole new world of adventure. I’ve learned so much about the people, places and of course food culture of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and now Bolivia. I’ve made friends from all over the world and I have left pieces of my heart in so many places.

I’ve watched the clouds swirl around the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, climbed 700 steps to the top of La Piedra in Guatape, spent Thanksgiving with new friends in Ecuador. I’ve filled my belly with ajiaco, choclo mote, ceviche and empanadas. And surprisingly, I’ve done it all in my limited – but improving – Spanish and I’ve learned to get by on a daily basis out in a world where things often feel quite foreign.

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Colombia RTW South America travel travel planning travel tips

Bus Travel in Colombia

We’ve been in Colombia for two weeks now and have just arrived in our 4th city (5th if you count a day trip to Guatape) so we have a bit of experience traveling around Colombia by bus, so I thought I would pass along a few tips we have picked up along the way.

Getting to the bus terminal in Colombia

First, find your way to the bus terminal. (Take note that some cities, like Medellin may have more than one, serving different destinations.) If you don’t have much luggage, public transport will get you there just fine, however it’s often worth coughing up a few extra pesos for a cab to get to/from the bus terminal if you have unwieldy luggage. Not just for the convenience of being taken door to door, but as a safety consideration. Standing in the street looking confused and trying to keep tabs on various things you are carrying is a sure way to mark yourself as a target for scams and pickpockets. If you have a smart phone, apps like Easy Taxi, Tappsy, or Uber are used frequently by locals and can help you to safely call a cab – do not try flagging one down on the street.

How far in advance should I book?

Generally, you can usually turn up at a bus station the same day you’d like to leave and just hop on the next bus to your destination. However, if you know your preferred dates for travel or have a specific time you’d like to leave, it may be worth it to go a day or two in advance to secure a spot. (We spent 5 hours in Bogota because we had heard that buses would be leaving frequently to Medellin, however the next available bus had us arriving at 1:30am. Yuck.) Alternatively, consider purchasing your onward ticket when you arrive at a bus terminal go save yourself a trip.

To choose a company, look at the various ticket windows as the names of the destinations will usually be prominently posted. There are often a few companies serving popular routes, so feel free to shop around. I’ve read that you can sometimes (politely) inquire about any discounts and knock 10-20% off the already inexpensive fares, however with our poor Spanish we have yet to attempt this.

What type of bus should I choose?

Buses can vary widely based on the company you choose and the distance you’ll travel. If you’re on a longer distance bus, you’ll often find amenities like free wifi, reclining seats, movies (dubbed in Spanish) and a bathroom on board. You can often see a photo of the bus itself or at least a seat layout to reserve yours on the bigger buses, so you’ll know this is what you’re getting.

For shorter distances, you may be on a “microbus” with no bathroom, no air conditioning, and more colorful characters on board. Short haul buses are often not nonstop, so add to your travel time estimates to account for picking up and dropping off passengers along the way to fill up any extra seats or sometimes even the aisles. There may be limited luggage storage space so you sometimes will be placing yours at your feet or on your lap.

Tips for riding in comfort

  • If you are prone to motion sickness, consider taking medication in advance so you’ll be able to sleep through the worst of it. Buses routes in Colombia travel all over, often through steep and winding terrain.
  • Although a few of our buses were quite comfortable, we have also experienced the frigid air conditioning and now prepare ourselves by dressing in multiple layers. (Scarves and gloves included, no joke!) It wouldn’t hurt to bring along a blanket too, just in case!
  • On longer routes, there will be a stop at least part way through where the driver takes a break at a rest stop. Everyone gets off the bus at this time, and it’s a good time to use the bathroom and grab a bite from the cafeteria. Consider packing your own food or snacks if you don’t want to take a chance with the fare on offer at the rest stop.

Our experiences with Bus Routes in Colombia

Bogota to Medellin
Allow at least 10-11 hours, our rest stop was about 7 hours in.
Cost: 60,000 pesos with Bolivarianos
No real complaints except that we wished we had booked in advance since the first available bus was 2:45pm, which delivered us in Medellin’s north terminal at 1:30am. The bus was large and comfy with password protected wifi and reclining seats.

Day trip: Medellin to Guatape
Cost: 11,000 pesos with — to La Piedra (to climb El Penol for beautiful views of Guatape)
Return trip, Guatape town to Medellin
Cost: 14,000 pesos
Both of these buses are the smaller buses, we got quite chilly on the way back so layers are advisable. Purchase your return ticket as soon as you arrive so you are guaranteed a seat. We ended up switching to an earlier departure when it started raining, thwarting our plans to take a boat ride on the lake.

Medellin to Salento (via Armenia)
Cost: 39,000 pesos with — to Armenia
The bus itself was large and spacious, with reclining seats and calf rests, open wifi, and not even half full. The temperature was freezing and the windy mountain roads made us queasy. Eat a solid breakfast and take medicine before leaving if you get motion sickness.

Armenia to Salento
Cost: 3800 pesos
Microbuses for Salento leave regularly from Armenia – ask around and you’ll be directed to the small departure bay where you pay the fare on board. This bus was the smallest (and oldest) we have been on. Despite being only an hour or so, we stopped to let people on and off a few times and at one point a woman boarded to sell delicious empanadas filled with a guava paste and queso. If you see everyone else buying one, it might be worth a try! 😉

Categories
bus travel Colombia RTW South America travel

Colombia by Bus

The bus careens around another hairpin turn and I’m met with a cold blast of mountain air from the window in front of me. Behind me, a child continues happily banging on my headrest and I consider pulling on my headphones to listen to a guided meditation for patience. Or at least Jack Johnson. Something — anything — to pass the next two hours quickly.

But I don’t.

To put on my headphones and drown out the world around me would be a shame. (Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD, right Kim?)

Bus rides through the clouds in the rainy season
Bus rides through the clouds during the rainy season

It’s been just over a week since I’ve been in Colombia, my first destination in what will be at least nine months on the road. This has actually been one of the shorter bus rides so far, and truth be told, I really do enjoy them.

So instead of pulling on my headphones, I pull my scarf a little tighter. I watch as we pass small country fincas with cattle grazing mountainous terrain, like goats. The driver veers a bit to avoid a random horse in the road. Eventually the winding country roads we left in Guatape curve into a two lane highway. As we near the city of Medellin, semi trucks and motorcycles whiz past. It’s October, one of the two wettest months in Colombia and as the rain begins to pick up, the woman in front of me finally closes her window. Ahhhh, warmth!

Beautiful views from Bogota - Medellin
Beautiful views from Bogoto – Medellin

Less than a week ago we followed this same road on a 10+ hour bus ride from Bogota. Colombia is way more mountainous than I’d realized, so most of that ride also had me gripping my seat as we sped up narrow mountain roads and into winding valleys, just barely escaping collisions on what felt like more than a few occasions.

On that trip, around 1am as the lights of Medellin spread out below us at each curve, I remember being in awe that so many dwellings were pushed so far up into the mountains, glowing like landlocked stars. They say Colombia is famous for the magical realism made popular by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and in that moment I could feel why.

Colombia really is magical!
Colombia really is magical!
For the next two weeks, Kim and I will be slowing down a bit – today we are catching a bus for Salento in coffee country and then we will move further south to visit friends in Cali, the Salsa Dancing Capitol of the World! As I work on restructuring the blog and catching up on a few non-blog projects to pay the bills, the best way to follow along is via social media, as I’ll be posting frequently there.

>> You can find me just about daily on Instagram and Twitter, and photo albums will go up on the Shoyu Sugar page on Facebook.

Me photobombing Kim at the top of La Piedra. (pc: Kim On A Whim)
Me photobombing Kim at the top of La Piedra. (pc: Kim On A Whim)
And now, a proper introduction for Kim, who has been my travel companion all over the world. We met in Bali in ’08, took a cruise to Greece & Turkey later the same year, attended TBEX conferences in Toronto (’13) & Cancun (’14), went hot air ballooning in Utah, and now we’ve reunited in Colombia!

We will be heading separate ways later this month for (badly needed) Spanish language classes, then meeting up at some point before March, when we both head to South Africa. Once a corporate attorney in NYC, now a globe-trotting travel blogger, she is doing a fantastic job at keeping her new blog updated, so I highly recommend you take a peek!

>> Follow Kim’s Whims at Kim On A Whim.