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Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Barichara

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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Parrilla

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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One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!

Spain

Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.

Portugal

Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.

Morocco

Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.

Denmark

Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.

Austria

Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.

Hungary

Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.

Croatia

Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!

Bosnia

Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.

Turkey

Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.

China

Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.

Japan

Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!

Vietnam

Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.

Cambodia

Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.

Thailand

Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.

Laos

Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.

Singapore

Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.

Malaysia

Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.

Australia

Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.

Chile

Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”

Argentina

Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!

Uruguay

Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.

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With a short connection in Buenos Aires, you can fly to Iguazu Falls from almost anywhere in the world. But, with our days of travel coming to end, we are trying to save every penny we can. Long-story short, we made the extended journey to Iguazu. After a few days at the beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay, we took a bus to the country’s capital, Montevideo, spent a night there, and then hopped an overnight bus to Salto, crossed from Uruguay to Argentina, and finally caught another overnight bus. 72 hours later – we finally arrived in Puerto Iguazu!

Looking happy and relieved after arriving in Iguazu.

Looking happy & excited on our way to Iguazu.

Mike and Adam on one of our many bus rides to Iguazu.

Mike & Adam on one of our many bus rides.

All in all it was a pretty smooth 72 hours, but we did have a three-hour delay at the Uruguay-Argentina border near Concordia. Considering how many land borders we have crossed in the past year, it is surprising that this was our first major hassle. As our bus pulled up, Amy mentioned to our friend Adam who has been traveling with us since Buenos Aires, “Great, this should be a quick and easy border.” It must have been that comment that jinxed us. The three of us were stamped out of Uruguay, no problem. Adam was first to approach the Argentine immigration counter, and they stamped him into the country, no problem. Then it was Amy’s turn; they took one look at her passport and then asked for Adam’s passport back, as well as Mike’s, and carried them all into the immigration commander’s office. We could see them making phone calls and using a black light and scanners to scrutinize our passports. They must have noticed us watching, because they shut the office door to privately discuss the situation. After nearly an hour of waiting, and with no explanation for the delay, they stamped our passports and told us we could get on the bus.

Adam snuck this photo of the border using his iPhone...maybe this is why we were held up for hours.

Adam snuck this photo of the border using his iPhone…maybe this is why we were held up for hours.

As the bus was about to pull away, an immigration official came running out, yelling for the bus to stop. The three of us were ordered off of the bus and our luggage was unloaded. The bus pulled away without us, and we were again left waiting. After another hour of people reviewing our documents, we were presented with papers saying that we had been denied entry to Argentina and the entry stamps in our passports were crossed out and voided. Turns out that we crossed into Argentina on the exact day that a new policy took effect, requiring US citizens to pay a reciprocity fee online before arriving at ALL borders. Previously the fee was only collected at airports. What are the chances? The fee cannot be paid at the border, and the very stern-faced captain of the immigration officers was ready to send us on our way walking back to Uruguay. Luckily for us, there was a kind-hearted, non-military woman who worked for the National Department of Immigration who got him to relax and helped us get internet access and a printer from the adjacent customs office. We paid the fee online, printed our receipt and went through the entry process again. This time, things went a lot smoother, and in a matter of minutes we were again legitimate visitors to Argentina.

Finally stamped into Argentina!

Finally stamped into Argentina!

A few comical notes about this entire situation are that Adam had already paid the entry fee at the airport in Buenos Aires, and despite scrutinizing his passport like it was a newly discovered gospel, no one seemed to notice. So his passport now bears a denied entry marker, just like ours. Also, when we finally made it into Concordia, we ran into a guy who was on our bus and he asked, “What was the problem with your passports? I was laughing inside because I am from Bolivia and always have trouble with borders. That is the first time I have crossed without a question, while three Americans get detained for hours! Hahaha.” Now when we fill out immigration forms, we will have to check the box next to “have you ever been denied entry to a country?” Joy!

In the end, the lengthy journey and troubles at the border were well worth it. Iguazu Falls is the most incredible natural landscape we have ever seen. More on our visit to Iguazu in another post…

The stunning beauty of Iguazu Falls will make all your worries disappear.

The stunning beauty of Iguazu Falls made our border woes disappear in a heartbeat.

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