NYC Top Picks

After a few days of readjusting to life back in the US, we met Amy’s mom in New York. The three of us were first time visitors, and, man, there sure is a lot to see and do in the Big Apple! After spending two weeks in the city, we were able to put together a pretty good list of our favorite sights and activities. Just so happens that after we made the list, we realized that most of these are either free or pretty economic ways of keeping yourself busy in New York; which is a good thing after 15 months traveling the world.

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City icon, and walking the bridge on a clear day from Brooklyn to Manhattan is awe-inspiring. It offers amazing views of Lower Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. Walking has been one of our favorite activities while traveling, and crossing the bridge on foot was no exception.

Brooklyn Bridge

View of Manhattan Bridge

Grand Central Terminal
Another free site, this transit center is one of the oldest in the country and has been a landmark in New York City for the last 100 years, but Grand Central is so much more than just a place where journeys end and begin. It is home to amazing architecture, art exhibits, shops and one of the coolest classic oyster bars we have ever visited. We are not huge oyster lovers, but with over 30 different types on the menu, you can’t really go wrong.

Amy & Mom at Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Grand Central Terminal, NYC

Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, NYC


Out of all of the countries that we visited during our RTW trip, China was one of our favorites. The food, the smells, the language, the people – all were so foreign and intriguing. Going to NYC’s Chinatown felt quite a bit like stepping back into the real deal. If you are looking for a taste of China, but can’t make the flight across the Pacific, look no further than this little slice of heaven in Downtown Manhattan.

Chinatown, NYC

Corner of Mott and Canal, Chinatown NYC

Highline Park

One of the coolest things about visiting large cities is learning about how they have morphed over the years. Highline Park is just one of New York’s many revitalization projects. The elevated rail system that now makes up the park was built as a solution to the rapidly growing number of rail accidents in the 1930s. Towards the end of the century, the rail line was abandoned, in disrepair and on the verge of being demolished before community members came together to develop the idea of turning the Highline into a park. The park now runs for one mile through the Chelsea neighborhood.

The Highline NYC

Old Tracks at Highline Park

The Subway

NYC’s subway is one of the oldest systems in the world with 34 different lines and almost 500 stations. As public transportation enthusiasts, riding around the boroughs of NYC was like a dream. We know it seems kind of dorky, getting stoked about a subway system, but it really is an amazing public service. Although some of the stations are a bit run down, and it isn’t the cleanest transit system we have come across during our travels, it is probably the most impressive when you consider its age, the cost of a ride, and the extensive routes which it offers. Our tip: if you are going to be in NYC for more than 4 days, buy a 7-day pass. For just $30, it will take you everywhere you want to go for a fraction of what taxis will cost you.

Lorimer Subway Station, NYC

5 Train NYC

R line NYC

Staten Island Ferry

Want great views of NYC from the water? Forget the tour boats; take the free ferry from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan to Staten Island! The trip takes you along-side the Statue of Liberty and offers great views of the Downtown skyline, bridges, and Ellis Island. The Staten Island Ferry is definitely a MUST for any first time visitor to New York.

Statue of Liberty from Staten Island Ferry

Downtown view from Staten Island Ferry

Historic neighborhoods

While the NYC subway system is a sight to see in and of itself, to fully appreciate the city you have to do some serious walking as well. As one of the oldest cities in the US, New York has some wonderful historic neighborhoods which feature classic American architecture and were once home to the country’s founding fathers. Brooklyn Heights and Riverside Park were two of our favorites.

Historic Portland Avenue, Brooklyn

Brooklyn Heights

Easter Parade

Our visit to NYC happened to coincide with the annual Easter Parade, one of the only times when 5th Avenue is completely closed to traffic. We spent the morning wandering down the street checking out the creative hats and costumes people created to celebrate this 140 year old tradition.

NYC Easter Parade 2013

Hat at NYC Easter Parade 2013

Dogs at Easter Parade NYC

Brooklyn Museum

Sure, there are the big museums like MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim, but we most enjoyed the lesser known Brooklyn Museum. The exhibits are diverse, the crowds less overwhelming and the price (simply a donation in the amount of your choosing) makes it accessible for everyone.

Brooklyn Museum

Mike at Brooklyn Museum

Central Park

Last but certainly not least, Central Park. What an amazing place to have at the heart of a city. We developed an appreciation of its vast size by walking the park from end to end one afternoon, which took us three hours!

Central Park

Amy and Michele at Central Park

View of Central Park from the Mandarin Oriental

We’re Back!

We are back from our writing hiatus and back in the USA where the Chamborres Expedition began 15 months ago. Following its usual form, time has condensed itself and the long weeks away from home now seem like just the blink of an eye. As our plane landed in Florida, Amy voiced her feeling that it seemed as though our travels never happened. The human brain has an amazingly odd way of perceiving time. So what does it feel like returning to our home country after traveling for so long?

January 15, 2012 - On our way to Spain (photo on left)March 19, 2013 - Back in the USA (photo on right)

January 15, 2012 – On our way to Spain (photo on left)
March 19, 2013 – Back in the USA (photo on right)

Since our first stop back in the States is New York, an international destination and a new city to us, it honestly feels like we are still exploring the world. In addition to that sensation, we are excited to catch up with our family and friends. We had butterflies of anticipation the night before leaving Panama. Mike’s dad, step-mom and siblings met us in Fort Lauderdale for our layover which was the perfect way to feel welcomed back home. We have been staying with friends in NYC, another way to have a “soft” introduction back to life here and yet continue to ride out the adventure. However, there are a few things that have caught our eye so far.

The Williamsburg Bridge in NYC.

The Williamsburg Bridge in NYC.

Our first observation was that despite many people’s image of the US, our country is not so “vanilla” after all. Standing in the line for US citizens & residents at the Customs and Immigration check, we were pleasantly reminded about the diversity of our country. The mix of people in line was as eclectic and varied as any international youth hostel that we stayed in, and it was even more diverse than the line for foreigners. The last few days in NYC have only further amplified this notion with the many different languages we have heard spoken on the streets. We may take a second trip “around-the-world” later this week by visiting each of the countless ethnic communities that make-up this enormous city.

We needed a few more lines here for the "countries you've visited" questions

We needed a few more lines here for the “countries you’ve visited” questions

The next thing we noticed is that Americans are loud. Perhaps it’s that we’re back in an English-speaking country which means we can again understand most conversations happening around us, therefore making it seems loud. And we are in NYC where people may in fact be more boisterous than the West coasters we grew-up with. Regardless, it’s something that caught our eye (and ears) almost instantly.

We’ve also become aware that people are glued to their “smart” devices. Americans, more than any other culture we have witnessed, are unequivocally addicted to technology (Japan comes in close second). People are constantly on computers in coffee shops, staring at cell phones on the subway, clicking photos with iPads, headphones glued to their ears. Is this constant connectivity a bad thing? We’re not sure, but it is something that has really stuck out to us during the past few days. When we tell people that we don’t have a cell phone where they can reach us, they look at us in astonishment. Some people comment on how liberating it must be, and others get a touch of fear in their eye as they imagine life without their phone.

It is glorious to be back in a country where we can get our hands on any cheese, any wine and any international food that our hearts desire. We have been seeking out our favorite dishes from our trip, have had wine and cheese nights, and enjoyed delicious American-made microbrews. For food and beverage lovers, the US has to be one of the best places to achieve a varied palate via international fare.

We found a phở place in NYC that rivaled the real deal from Vietnam.

We found a phở place in NYC that rivaled the real deal from Vietnam.

Although we’re back, in a way it still feels like we’re on the road. It is exciting to see friends and family, and challenging to begin processing the past 15 months. There is a lot of uncertainty in our future and endless possibilities. We want to remain conscious of our journey and continue to incorporate positive changes into our lives that we learned on the road. If there is just one thing that we have brought back from our travels, it’s the idea that you don’t have to separate your “life” from your “adventures” by taking a vacation. Life is an adventure; a different expedition for each of us, but all ending in the same place.

Don’t fret! By final chapter, we don’t mean final post. But the end of our expedition is near. As you read this, we are en route from South to North America via ship through the Caribbean Sea headed towards Panama. We are a bit afraid to tell you what type of ship for fear that you may think us “martini explorers,” so we’ll save that story that for another day (hint: it rhymes with snooze). After we land in Panama, we will have 10 days to explore, which used to sound like a long vacation in one country and now seems like nothing at all. When we board our flight out of Panama City, we will be bound for the US of A. Home. Well, almost home. First, we will be stopping in New York (our long overdue, first ever visit to NYC!) and then will be on a flight to Denver at the beginning of April.

It feels surreal to have our flight home booked. It goes without saying that we are incredibly excited to see our family and friends, but at the same time, we are anxious and nervous about transitioning from a life of nomads abroad to ________ (meaning we don’t exactly know what the future holds for us). We figure that if we just keep following the same goals that we set for ourselves when we set off on this around-the-world adventure (living in the moment and stepping out of our comfort zone), we’ll be just fine.

As for these last few months in South America, they were as spectacular as any other part of our journey, but were quite unique in that our friends and family played a major role in this portion of our story. We had visitors come from the States to travel with us; we reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in years; we stayed with family to celebrate the holidays; and we met up with various parents, siblings, and cousins of friends from back home. Our Shout Outs page is dedicated to some of the special people that helped make our trip all that it has been, and our time in South America certainly would not have been the same without all of the amazingly generous people we know in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia.

While our travels abroad are nearly at an end (for now), there are still countless stories to tell and pictures to share. We have decided to take a blogging hiatus during our last few weeks of our trip to maximize every moment. After all, even travel writers need a vacation sometimes. For the next two weeks you won’t be receiving any new posts from us, but with 92 posts there is plenty of old material for you to re-read! We are not sure what will become of our blog in future months and years, but rest assured that The Chamborres Expedition will live on beyond our return home.

After nearly four months in South America, our time here is drawing to an end. We chose to spend our final weeks enjoying Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. We booked a flight from Cali to Santa Marta with the aim of exploring Tayrona National Park.

Unfortunately for us, our flight that was supposed to arrive up north just after 9pm was three hours delayed. For most people that travel regularly in the US, a three hour delay is fairly routine, annoying yes, but not a big deal. Apparently, this is not the case in Colombia. The flight delay turned into quite an ordeal. First, the captain came out to the gate to personally announce the delay and explain the reason; a flight attendant had fallen ill and could not make the return flight. The crowd exploded in an angry roar; from that point on, it was impossible to hear any of the announcements being made about the delay. Can you imagine an airline providing a reason for a delay other than “technical issues”?! Every time an airline official tried to take the microphone, the complaints from the crowd got louder. Then, our luck changed. Our delayed flight turned into some free food. To try and calm things down, the airline decided to give out sandwiches and juice. After 14 months of traveling, we will take any free meal we can get!

When we finally did arrive in Santa Marta, it was after midnight and there were only a few taxis still lingering around at the airport, so we had to share with a stranger. The driver told us, “no problem, I just need to drop this guy off in a neighborhood nearby.” What he didn’t tell us until we were already on the road was that the neighborhood is the ghetto of Santa Marta. As we drove further into the barrio, the driver slowed down to ask some rough looking guys for directions. This is when we both thought, “Great, almost done with Colombia and now we are going to get robbed in the classic taxi scam that we have heard so much about.” But oh, ye of little faith, we were wrong and thirty minutes later were finally safe and sound at our hostel and ready for some sleep.

The next day was spent gearing up for our Tayrona camping trip. Canned tuna, fruits & vegetables, 18 liters of water, bug spray and a bottle of rum all made the shopping list. It wasn’t until we got back to the hostel and started packing up that we learned some dreadful news: bringing alcoholic beverages into Tayrona National Park is prohibited…nooooooo! But being the optimists that we are, we decided that there are worse things in life than being in the Caribbean with a bottle of rum that needs to be consumed in an expedient fashion. The next morning, we fought through some mental fog and made our way by bus to Tayrona National Park.

Tayrona National Park

Getting into the park itself proved to be a bit of a process. First, they search your bags for plastic and styrofoam, neither of which are allowed inside. Next, you go through a police check point where you get questioned and searched again, this time for drugs, weapons and alcohol. Once you’ve made it through both of these steps, then they let you fork over the 38,000 Pesos for the entrance ticket; a colorful wrist band gets slapped around your hand and off you go to hike to the beach. The walk itself was beautiful; it cuts through the dense jungle, in and out of coconut groves, up to viewpoints of the ocean and finally onto the sandy white beach, however, it was a very sweaty and exhausting journey and we were glad to find a place to camp at the end of the trail.

Camping Tayrona

When we departed Santa Marta for Tayrona, we didn’t know how long we would stay, but the tranquil beaches and awesome camping spot made us want to hang around a little longer. There isn’t much more to do in Tayrona other than lounge on the beach and hike, and that was plenty enough for us. Both are right up our alley. Part of the beauty of Tayrona is that each beach is its own cove, all of which are strung together by footpaths through the jungle. Every day we explored a new spot.

Beaches of Tayrona

While many campers choose to set-up  near the beaches, we opted for something less crowded, more laid back, and a lot more affordable. We found a campsite nestled in the jungle about 10 minutes walking from the sea. Being away from the water meant longer hikes every day to the beaches and archeological sites in the park, but we didn’t mind one bit. Even at that distance from the water, Tayrona is so remote that we could still hear the crashing waves from our tent at night, and during our daily treks we crossed paths with some of the craziest ants we have ever seen! Countless ant super-highways were strewn about the jungle.

Hiking in Tayrona

Eventually our food and water ran out, and while we would have liked to stay longer, we decided to hit the road and head west towards Cartagena and Playa Blanca, another rustic beachfront locale. With our days in Colombia numbered, we think back frequently on a slogan we heard when we first arrived in Bogota: “Colombia – the greatest risk is that you won’t want to leave.”

Slowing Down in Salento

We couldn’t help but to extend our days in Salento. It is like summer camp for adults. At the beginning of our stay, we had reserved only three nights, and then we added a few more, and then a few more, and before we knew it, we’d been there for more than a week. It is the perfect place to slow down and relax. If it weren’t for the flight we’d booked from Cali to the northern coast of Colombia, we may have stayed forever.

Hiking, coffee fincas, mystical clouds swirling around the green hills, great meals with great people, hammocks, games of tejo, delicious trucha con patacones, rainy days, campfires, fireflies, card games, movie nights & popcorn, humming birds, wax palms, hot springs…what is more to love?

We were lucky to catch this view of the Cocora Valley from the mirador in Salento, as clear days are few and far between.

We don’t normally advertise the places we stay on our blog, but La Serrana Eco Farm & Hostel was a big part of the reason that we chose to slow down our travel pace and just soak it all in. It is about a 20 minute walk from the town center and provide peace and serenity, especially on foggy mornings like this. We truly enjoyed our quiet walks through the country side.  To be clear, La Serrana offered us nothing to mention their name, we just loved the place.

Hiking through el Valle de Cocora is likely Salento’s biggest tourist activity. These towering wax palm trees cover the valley floor and are stunningly beautiful.

After hours hiking, we stopped at a humming bird sanctuary, which was really more of a rustic lodge run by an elderly couple. Who said humming birds can’t be captured mid-wing flap? One Croatian traveler hiking the trail with us said it couldn’t be done without a tripod and special camera. Mike begged to differ and got this shot in just a matter of minutes.

Divine chocolate caliente con queso served at the humming bird sanctuary.

As we descended back down the trail and out of the fog, we found ourselves once again surrounded by wax palms reaching towards the sky.

Have you ever had avacado flan? We hadn’t either before the incredible 8-course tasting menu prepared for us by Chef Michael Neff, a fellow guest at our hostel in Salento. Communal meals in the dinning hall added to the summer camp feel.

Hot springs Colombian style: pumping music, back flips, party time. Not exactly the relaxing day that we had envisioned for ourselves, but enjoyable nonetheless.

This chicken bus to the termales in Santa Rosa de Cabal made our day! Riding this bus turned out to be better than the hot springs themselves. The salsa music was blaring, and the driver slowed down to holler at every señorita in town.

The weather in Salento seemed to rotate between rain and shine. We took advantage of the sun one day to hike down to a nearby coffee finca. With views like this all around, you can imagine why we chose to stay for a while.

We took a tour of Don Elias’s coffee finca not far from our hostel. When these arabica beans are bright red, they are ripe and ready to pick.

Don Elias and his family run a very small operation.  This peeler is the only one they use to remove the skins from all of their beans. Our tour guide, Juan, walked us through the entire process from planting the crop to brewing a cup. It was some of the best coffee we have ever tasted.

One last look at our misty retreat, La Serrana, and the loyal house dog, Pablo.

When we asked our friend, Andres, about his home country of Colombia, he gave us numerous suggestions, but he was insistent about one thing. He told us, “visit Medellín, the jewel amazing.” It turned into a bit of a joke for us; we suppose he meant “the amazing jewel” and just put the adjective after the noun as is often done in Spanish, but with every spectacular view of the city we got last week, we told ourselves, “oh yes, Medellín, the jewel amazing!”

And what an amazing place it was indeed. As Colombia’s third largest city, Medellín is home to millions. It has many of the things that you might expect to find in a big city: high-rises, freeways, airport, museums, and a truly world-class metro system. What makes Medellín so special, however, is its location amongst lush green mountains.

Metrocable gondola in Medellin

We spent our few days in Medellín seeking out the best spots for taking in views of the city from the surrounding mountains and hills. First up was the Line K Metrocable, a gondola that serves as public transportation for people that live in the hilly barrio of Santo Domingo at the northeastern end of the city. The views are incredible on a clear day and the price can’t be beat. Since the metrocable is integrated with Medellín’s metro system, for less than $1 USD you can go from any metro stop in the city up the gondola to la Biblioteca España.

Metrocable Medellin

For only a few dollars more, you can transfer to the Line L gondola, which takes you to the brand new nature preserve called Parque Arví. At first, we thought that the park was just a few hundred meters further up the mountain, but as it reached the top, we saw a massive expanse of green forest in front of us and a gondola line that stretched for kilometers. Riding Line L felt like flying over the wilderness. It really made us miss skiing in the mountains of Colorado and was a very welcomed surprise. What a cool way to connect the bustling city of Medellín with the tranquil nature that surrounds it!

Parque Arvi Medellin

Another fantastic place to see 360˚ views of the jewel amazing is Cerro El Volador. Its location along the main road of Carrera 70 makes it easy to access, and its proximity to the central business area provides especially nice views of the mountains with the cityscape in the foreground. The walk up is steep, but definitely worth it, and the benches at the summit are the perfect place to take a long rest. We found El Volador much more beautiful than the famous Cerro Nutibara where Pueblito Paisa is located, a touristy recreation of an old colonial village.

Cerro Volador Medellin

There are no doubt countless other places to absorb the mountains views of Medellín, and hopefully on our next visit to Colombia we will explore a few more. But for now, we are recommending Cerro El Volador and the Line K Metrocable.

Colonial Colombia

Take a moment to construct this in your mind: white-washed buildings, cobbled streets, tile roofs, wooden balconies and bright flowers peaking over walled courtyards. The image you have just formed probably looks a lot like a typical colonial town in Colombia. Villa de Leyva was the first such village we visited that fit this profile. It was declared a National Monument in order to protect its colonial architecture, and its proximity to Bogotá make it Colombia’s premier destination for reliving the country’s colonial past.

Colonial Colombia

The town’s main plaza is a vast expanse of cobblestones and is claimed to be the largest such plaza in South America. It is the heart of Villa de Leyva and where all the action takes place. Granted, it’s not much action, as the town is home to less than 10,000 people, but the square does come alive during the night time. Locals and tourists alike grab beers from one of the many convenience stores that line the plaza and take a seat on the cathedral steps, a bench or plastic chairs and talk the night away.

Villa de Leyva Square

In rural communities across the world, farmer’s markets are a tradition that date back centuries. Luckily, we visited Villa de Leyva on a weekend, so were able to experience the weekly Saturday market that takes place just a few blocks away from the plaza mayor. It was the best we’ve seen in this part of the world, but we can’t exactly pinpoint why. It certainly wasn’t the largest, and it wasn’t particularly exciting, but there was just something about it. Maybe it was the old man that sells soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles out of the back of his pick-up truck, or maybe the endless supply of huge and juicy mangos. It also very well could have been the stands that sell freshly grilled meats and perfectly fried plantains, or possibly the old, grey-haired cowboys knocking back round after round of cervezas. Regardless, it is not to be missed on your visit to Villa de Leyva.

Villa de Leyva Saturday Market

If you leave Villa de Leyva early, you can reach the town of Barichara in the same day. Much smaller than Villa de Leyva, and nestled amongst green mountains, it is said to be the most beautiful town in all of Colombia. This was the second stop on our quest to soak up the country’s colonial architecture. One person described Barichara as Villa de Leyva’s little brother, and we could see why. It has many of the same design features on the surface, but to us it has a bit more charm and quaintness than Villa de Leyva.


From Barichara, we followed in the footsteps of South America’s most famous figure, “El Libertador” Simon Bolivar, and hiked the now famous Camino Real trail between Barichara and the town of Guane. Legend has it that the same route was used by Bolivar and his men while fighting for independence from Spain. The trail descended from the mountain-top and crossed rolling hills occupied by old fincas and enormous trees dripping long strains of Spanish moss. In the distance, we could see the beginnings of the Chicamocha Canyon. If Barichara is the little brother, then Guane is the infant child taking a nap. Don’t get us wrong, it is a beautiful place and has the same distinct architecture as the other two, but we have never been to a sleepier town in our lives. Guane is so small that the locals have names for all the street dogs and can teach you each dog’s family tree.

Barichara to Guane hike

From Guane, we caught the local bus back to our hostel in the slightly more modern town of San Gil. While it lacks the very obvious colonial feel of the other towns we have mentioned thus far, the remnants of its past can still be seen in certain aspects of the city; most notably, the central plaza and church. The plaza still continues to be the heart of the town, and like Villa de Leyva, chilling around the plaza with a beer and people watching seems to be the thing to do on just about any night of the week. As for the church…well you see, we generally get bored when reading about church design (the secondary nave, followed by the Roman double arch formation, etc. etc. etc.) so we can’t really explain it in too much detail, but basically all of  the churches in these colonial towns were constructed with impressively large stones, have high exposed-beam ceilings, contain two rows of columns and arches and have  elaborate altar areas. We know that probably describes about half the churches in the world, but thus far, the churches we have visited in Colombia have all struck us as having a very different feel that others we have seen in South America and Europe.

San Gil

All and all it was a relaxing couple of weeks visiting the colonial towns of Villa de Leyva, Barichara, Guane and San Gil. We have heard other travelers say that these towns are boring because there is “nothing to do” (well, except for San Gil, which is a self-proclaimed extreme sports mecca), but we quite liked the laid back vibe of these places. What defines traveling more than slowing down your routine, wandering through a town slowly, talking with locals and soaking in the history of a place?

We’re not going to lie; we were a little scared to arrive in Bogotá. You know its reputation (moms, don’t read this): armed robberies, narco-terrorists, car bombs, kidnappings, drugs and the like. But, after just one day in Bogotá, we were feeling a lot better. It’s not as scary as you would think!

La Candelaria is the heart of Bogotá and one of the oldest districts in South America. Its narrow cobbled streets and colorful buildings transport you back in time. That is, until you see one of the numerous hostels that seem to be popping up on every corner. You can tell that tourism is taking off here, and while Bogotá is not as popular of a destination as say Buenos Aires or Rio, it is definitely on people’s radar now. La Candelaria is full of history, restaurants, markets and yes, military personnel carrying automatic weapons to “make you feel safe.”

La Candelaria Bogota

Bogotá is a BIG city and one of the best ways to grasp its size is to take a trip to the top of Monserrate. Bordering the city to the east, the church located at the top of this mountain provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Wait for a clear day, and you can see right across the valley. There are three ways to get to the top of Monserrate. The easiest methods are via the funicular and gondola (teleférico) which operate on different schedules. Those looking for a good workout can hike up the mountain, but be advised that the trail is closed every Tuesday for maintenance. Our advice is to take the funicular up just before noon, spend a couple hours on top, and then ride down on the teleférico. Those looking for a bargain should go on Sundays, when tickets are much cheaper.

Monserrate Bogota

All big cities have some sort of public transportation system, and while Bogotá doesn’t have a subway or light rail, it does have TransMilenio. This bus system is truly incredible. It is like a train without tracks, with two lanes in each direction dedicated solely to the system’s red buses. The numerous lines connect north, south, east, west and in between. Your biggest danger while in Bogotá may be getting suffocated by the mobs of people on TransMilenio during rush hour. For those tourists brave enough to venture out of La Candelaria, TransMilenio is a cheap and efficient way to move about the city. And there is so much more to Bogotá than La Candelaria, trust us.

At first sight, Bogotá is a bit rough around the edges, but when you dig deeper the city actually has some very ritzy neighborhoods as well. Venture north from el centro to areas like Los Rosales, La T, Usaquén and Parque de la 93, and you will find many well-dressed business people and socialites enjoying fine-dining, lush parks, designer shopping and trendy cocktails. If you enjoy the see and be seen type of atmosphere, northern Bogotá is for you. It is interesting to see the extremes of the city; you can go from a run-down working-class area to up-scale and polished neighborhood in less than an hour walking.

North end of Bogota

So now for the scary part…wait, there wasn’t a scary part. The only things that we found frightening about Bogotá were the preconceived notions that we had in our head. Our five days there helped us to appreciate just how much brief news stories and second-hand accounts can unjustly skew one’s opinion of a place. Don’t take us for naive, we know Bogotá isn’t the world’s safest city; bad things do happen there, but they can happen anywhere. When you let fear dictate your actions, then the bad guys win. So if you have ever wanted to visit Bogotá, there is no time like the present.

Poor Lima gets used, abused and taken out with the trash. Travelers stop through the city for one or two days on their way to and from Cusco, the entry point to Machu Picchu, and don’t give it the time of day. When we told others that we were visiting Lima for a week, the responses were along the lines of “A whole week, and you’re not going to Machu Picchu? You might want to re-think your itinerary. That is way too much time in Lima.” We are writing this blog post on our last of seven days in Lima, and can now say that we wish we had more time. Why do we love this city? It boils down to nothing more than the diversity of its neighborhoods, the fresh food and the stunning coastline.

Lima, Peru

Lima is a massive metropolitan area that is home to over 8 million Peruvians. The city itself is actually an amalgamation of 30 distinct barrios, or neighborhoods. Most tourists will only visit the Central Historic district, which includes the Plaza del Toros and many important government buildings and cathedrals, and Miraflores, the sea-front neighborhood that boasts pristine parks, high-rise condos and fancy restaurants. While these are indeed two must-see areas, it would be a shame to miss out on Lima’s other barrios. Granted, we were not able to see them all, which is why we wish we had more time here, but we were able to give Lima pretty good run.

After more than a year of traveling abroad, we can say with a pretty high level of confidence that the best way to see a city is not on an open-top, double-decker, tourist bus. The best way to really get a feel for the pulse of a city is to walk. The staff at our hostel thought we were crazy when we told them that we walked the entire coast from Miraflores to Chorrillos one day. What really threw them for a loop was when we finish the story, and they learned that we walked all the way back as well. As we made our way south along the coast, we witnessed the transformation from well-polished Miraflores to bohemian Barranco to Chorrillos, home to pescadores and the where locals go to have a day at the beach.

Coast of Lima

We normally don’t plan to set off on these epic treks; we just end up in a sort of Forrest Gump type mindset. We walk around one neighborhood, sit on a bench, then walk some more, grab a snack or drink, and we just keep on walking until we feel tired and turn around. That is exactly what happened when we ended up exploring more of Lima’s coastal neighborhoods on another day. We journey all the way from San Miguel to San Isidro on another day. This section of the coastline was a different experience altogether; it has some rougher areas and has yet to become a tourist hotspot, which may change once the ongoing land reclamation and greening project is complete.

Lima Coast from San Miguel to San Isidro

By the end of our week in Lima, we had seen the barrios of Pueblo Libre, San Miguel, Jesús María, Magdelena, San Isidro, Lima, Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos all on foot. If there is one item that we both wish we would have brought on this trip, it’s a pedometer. Fortunately, there is MapMyRun. While it is not an exact measurement, our best guess is that we walked about 44km in total while exploring Lima.


By far, the biggest tourism sector in Peru revolves around its ancient Incan ruins, but what many people don’t realize is that the country was home to various different civilizations which pre-date the Incan empire and lasted for greater periods of time. The Inca were great consolidators. They took many smaller civilizations and united them into one society; however, their reign that lasted for less than 70 years. A couple of our days in Lima were dedicated to learning more about ancient Peru and its pre-Incan inhabitants.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, most tourists fly into Lima and head to Cusco as soon as possible; little do they know that the ruins of Pachacamac are at their fingertips, and can be reached by bus in less than an hour from the city center of Lima. We will admit that to fully enjoy this enormous temple complex, it takes a bit of imagination because nearly all of the buildings, roads, temples and shrines were covered by hundreds of years’ worth of desert sand are still being excavated and restored, but the sheer size of the site and its location next to the ocean make for a fun few hours of exploring.  The first buildings in the area were constructed around 200 CE, (about 1,200 years before the Incan Empire) and beginning in 800 CE the great Wari civilization that controlled much of Peru for almost 500 years expanded the temple complex into a major pilgrimage site for worship of Pacha Kamaq, the god who they revered as the creator Earth.

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Within the city of Lima, visiting the Archeological Museum in Pueblo Libre is another great way to learn about the country’s ancient people. The museum walks you chronologically through the various civilizations that inhabited the area, from the first humans to reach the Americas, all the way to the nation’s independence from Spain. It took us a few hours to see all of the exhibits, and we found the museum to be well worthwhile. Tickets run about 10 Soles ($4 USD), but entrance is free on Thursdays.

While we would have loved to spend more time visiting other parts of Peru, we were thrilled to spend an entire week in Lima. The city is such a great place to visit. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic (especially the ceviche!), the architecture and history are there, and with all the improvements being made along the coast, we can see it becoming one of South America’s top tourist destinations in the coming years. Our suggestion: if you’re passing through Lima, ignore the naysayers and stay for a few extra days.

Epic Iguazu

The word Iguazu simply means “great waters.” Ask any traveler about Iguazu Falls and they will tell you one of two things: “Oh my God, I want to go there so bad. I’ve heard it’s amazing!” or “Oh my God, I’ve been there. Trust me, it’s amazing!” Two weeks ago, we moved from the former to the latter, and amazing is an understatement.

Iguazu Falls

In spite of a bit of Trouble at the Border and a very long journey, our time in Puerto Iguazu was well worth every ounce of effort. While in Bariloche a few weeks earlier, we had heard some horror stories about the hostels of Iguazu being overrun by bed bugs, and our online research confirmed these reports. Luckily, our friend Adam was traveling with us, and as a group of three, renting a house was just slightly more expensive than a hostel. Aside from being bed bud free, the best part of the house was having an awesome patio equipped with, you guessed it, a massive parrilla. We were only there three nights, but still managed to fit in two evenings of grilling.


But asados aside, what we really want to share with all of you is Iguazu Falls! We told ourselves early on in the trip that we wanted to avoid the phrase “words just can’t describe it” when sharing our experiences on this blog, but in this particular instance, words are just about the most inadequate thing out there to describe these waterfalls. We’ll try our best, but be sure to take a close look at the photos and video to grasp as much as you can. A good portion of our time in the national park was spent just standing and starring and listening. We happened to visit during a time of year when the water was flowing particularly strong; so strong that some of the trails and San Martin Island were closed to visitors. The positive side of the high water level was the incredible sound. We could hear the roar in the distance long before we ever laid eyes on the falls. Check out our video of the falls here or click on the image below to witness nature in all its force and splendor.

Iguazu Video

The greater Iguazu Falls area sits on the meeting point of three countries: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The Iguazu River (which forms the waterfalls) serves as the border between Argentina and Brazil before coming to a confluence with the Parana River and Paraguay just a few kilometers after the falls. What a sight it must have been for the explorers who stumbled upon the 275 waterfalls that make up Iguazu while crossing the jungle in 1542. Today, visitors to the falls have the option of exploring the park from both Argentina and Brazil; however, due to the cost and process involved with getting a tourist visa for Brazil, we chose to stay on the Argentine side and spent two days in a blur of awe, joy and, well, water. Our days were spent wandering between the upper and lower falls, the well-known Garganta del Diablo, and even included a boat tour.

La Garganta del Diablo

La Garganta del Diablo, or “The Devil’s Throat,” is said to be the most famous and spectacular section of Iguazu Falls. The half kilometer walkway out to it really builds the excitement. It is a raised platform that winds its way over the mud brown river; as you approach, a soft sound in the distance grows increasingly stronger. The Devil’s Throat is the beginning of the falls, where the river makes a horseshoe shape and takes its very first drop. The speed and force with which the water pumps over the edge is simply amazing. It looked like hot chocolate being fired out of 10,000 fire-hoses at the same time. While not nearly as cool as the falls, the excitement of the crowd was also quite a sight to see; so many cameras snapping away and so many people shouting “over here, did you see that, this is crazy!” The truth is we wish we had the viewing platform to ourselves and some peace and quiet to absorb the amazing sight, but crowds are an unavoidable part of the experience.

Gargantas del Diablo

Upper Falls

Despite the beauty of Garganta del Diablo, we were more impressed by the panoramic views from the upper falls walkway. The viewing platforms allow you to stand right on the edge of the falls and fully comprehend their enormity. Since the upper falls are more spread out from one another, mist does not obstruct the views as it does at Garganta del Diablo. On our second day visiting the park, the skies were completely cloudless and there was even a double rainbow, all the way. What did it mean? We still don’t know.

Upper Iguazu Falls

Lower Falls

The lower falls walkway provides an entirely different perspective of the waterfalls. Viewing platforms that are positioned almost completely underneath sections of the waterfalls allow you to feel the force. After seeing other people exiting the walkway completely drenched and with ruined cameras and cell phones in hand, we decided to bring garbage bags with us the second day, and stowed our backpacks away before walking out underneath the spray of the falls. It really gets your heart rate going to have water rushing at thousands of cubic feet per second right in front of your face.

Lower Iguazu Falls

Boat Tour

No visit to Iguazu Falls is complete without a boat tour. Although the trip costs as much as the entrance fee to the park (maybe the most expensive 12 minutes of our life), it is totally worth it! They deck you out with a thick life jacket and dry bag for your belongings before boarding the boat, and then the action starts.  The powerful motorboats take you nearly to the base of the falls. Had we gone just a few feet closer, the boat would probably have been pushed under water. It was a real thrill, and we left completely drenched.

Iguazu Falls Boat Ride

A topic that comes up a lot as we travel is how much of our own country we have yet to see, and we were reminded of that many times when we spoke to Argentines who raved about the beauty of Iguazu only to end their statement by saying, “I’ve heard; I haven’t actually been there.” So we want to end this post by encouraging people to get out there and explore something close to home. If you want to see the world, enjoying what is right in front of you is a great place to start.

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