A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Colombia - Cartagena

33 °C

We've been hanging out for some wamer weather, after months of travel through mountainous, high altitude terrain. You can't get much hotter than Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, it's the sort of place where a siesta is mandatory. The gorgeous walled in colonial centre sits surrounded by water, and is perfect for wandering through the old narrow streets, and finding shady spots in the many plazas. Luckily on our first day, the sun stayed behind the clouds allowing us to explore and walk around the old town on top of the wall, without melting! In the cooler evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner at La Cocina de Carmela, I (Lucy) recommend the vegetarian plate full of all their tasty sides!

Cartagena is the most visited destination in Colombia, with the largest number of tourists we've seen in months. Therefore there are lots of people targeting tourists, constantly trying to speak to you in the streets, sell you things or take you to 'their bar'. This can get pretty annoying, but the charm of the city fortunately pulls through, and we enjoyed a few days here. One nice character of the town are the men who wander the streets with baskets full of thermoses, offering cafesitos small coffees and aromaticas herbal teas (with lots of sugar), in thimble-sized cups, perfect for sipping on the go.


Something we definately hadn't done before was swim in a mud volcano. The Volcán Totumo is about an hour from Cartagena, and is actually only a mound 15m tall, but over 2,300m deep. Luckily you float, so there's no risk of ending up a few hundred metres underground! So we jumped on into the soft clay like substance which makes you feel almost weightless once you're in...a very strange sensation. After soaking, floating, and absorbing all the natural minerals the mud supposedly contains, we waddled to the nearby river to have a swim and wash off the thick clay. Definately worth a visit if you're in the area.


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Colombia - Santa Marta & Tayrona National Park

We've made it to the Caribbean coast, a big landmark for us as we have just crossed the entire continent of South America by land. From the icy southern tip of Ushuaia in Argentina, to the northern coast of Colombia. That's a lot of hours clocked up on busses over 10 months of travel!

You can't visit Santa Marta without going into Tayrona Natonal Park, and the Dreamer Hostel is set up perfectly for exactly that. The bus leaves from around the corner, and there's a pool at the hostel to help cool down in the sweltering heat. We spent two nights, three days at Park Tayrona. After catching the bus out to the eastern end of the Park (don't forget your passport for entry) there is an hour of walking through lush rainforest full of lizards and leaf cutter ants running around. And I think Paul would've rather not spotted the bright green snake he saw slithering away from him! The next hour or so of walking is along the coast, through little coves, over boulders and around plam trees. Eventually we arrived in Playa San Juan - magical! Lush covered boulders lining the edges of two beachs, framing the clear blue water and we dived straight in. No amount of description will do it justice, so check out the photos, or even better...go!


Unfortunately we were a little late arriving and ended up in tents (instead of hammocks). We weren't aware how bad this could get until it started to rain and we had to pull a big tarp over the top. As it was so humid, imagine a sauna, or something a little hotter..we resorted to sicking out heads out of the tent to cool down in the rain.

We spent the day on the beach and in the water, and admiring the fantastic setting we found ourselves in. In the middle of the two beaches there is a small island upon which a hut is perched and where, thank goodness, we managed to score ourselves a hammock for our second night. Who would've thought a hammock would be so comfortable, it was the best nights sleep I've had in ages, and with a nice breeze all night we didn't need mosquito nets. In the moonlight we could see out over the water and could hear the soothing crashing of waves just below us. When morning came we watched sunrise over the water without moving! Ahhhhh.


There's a boat you can catch back to Santa Marta at 4pm from playa San Juan which takes an hour and a half and is 45,000 COL for anyone contemplating the trip, you buy it a couple of hours beforehand on the beach. We chose to walk back before the heat of the day and we enjoyed a nice cool shower when we made it back to the hostel.

After, for the mostpart, a relaxing few days we returned to Santa Marta. The town itself is smallish and quite nice, however it's beach is next to a shipping port. We went into Taganga for dinner, which was originally a small fishing town only ten minutes away, and has been hit by tourism! It'a good spot for some tasty fish, and to hang out among tourists as there are hostels and party spots lining the beach. In contrast Bahia Concha was a nice day trip from Santa Marta if your after a more appealing beach to swim in. It sits inside the west end of Tayrona Park, and feels like your in the Caribbean, with white sand and blue water...and many toters walking along the beach with a smorgers board of snacks, ceviche and drinks on offer.


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Colombia - San Gil

San Gil is a small town nestled in a valley on the bank of Rio Fonce, offering an array of adventure sports, and the climate is near perfect! We went white water rafting, where we managed to 'accidentally' fall into the cool water several times, and swam down some of the more gentle rapids.


Then I couldn't pass up the opportunity to paraglide over the spectacular Chicamocha canyon. After waiting for the clouds to lift, my instructor and literally ran over the cliff edge into the canyon....and we were airborne! Up in the air for around 25 minutes was plenty of time, and the company Paravolar located in the San Gil plaza were very professional and offer a video included for COL150,000. After all the excitement of paragliding, Paul couldn't miss out so and decided it was time to try out a zip line offered in Chicamocha Park, around 1000m long with nice views of the canyon.


We stayed at Le Papillon Hostel, which was nice and small, great rooms, suprisingly cheap and a nice place to hang out. The Swiss owners were so friendly and shared their home baked bread and pizza with us. Also worth a visit is El Mana for a set lunch at 10,000 a piece (about $5) you get a fabulous 3 course meal, with extras and silver service (Colombian style)! Barichara and Guane are two small completely colonial towns about an hour from San Gil, with white buildings, cobbled streets and painted wooden shutters. So gorgeous, a visit here made us feel like we'd stepped back in time for the afternoon.


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Colombia - Villa de Leyva

25 °C

A beautiful whitewashed colonial town, full of mystique and unchanged since the 15th centry, with cobblestone streets and a giant central plaza, we don´t get this sort of thing in Australia! Arriving on the weekend, the town was full of Bogotan people getting away from the city for the long weekend, which gave the small town a fantastic buzz. The beauty of Villa De Leyva made it easy to fill in a day just wandering around exploring the streets and poking our heads into the numerous small doorways which lead into courtyards, filled with restaurants or boutique tourist shops.

One evening we had a nice dinner in Plaza Guaca, one of the many restaurant filled courtyards. We sat on a candle lit terrace overlooking a courtyard, with live music playing in the background, casting a fantastic intimate atmosphere coupled with great service, food and wine. If your saving up for a special dinner, this is the place to have one! After we´d overloaded on food we stumbled out to Plaza Mayor, the large cobblestone plaza in the centre of town. It sits on a slope and has steps lining highest side, where people make theselves at home with litre sized cups of beer or a bottle of Aguardiente (a local spirit translating to firewater) to chat, sing or play music and while the night away, while looking down across the plaza.

To explore the surrounding windswept countryside we decided to hire bikes. We rode down the small country roads, which was mostly downhill on our way out, with great views and after about 12km we arrived at the scenic winery, Ain-Karim, which sits at the base of sloping farm land. After a wine tour and a glass of reserve cab sav, we were sitting enjoying a cheese platter when I got a tap on my shoulder form a friendly Bogotan couple who gave us half a bottle of wine they couldn´t finish because they had to drive! This really gives you an idea of the friendliness and generosity of the Colombian people, so thank you Diego and Angelica! Just as we pried ourselves away from the lovely setting of the winery and picked up our bikes for the uphill slog, we discovered Paul's tyre was flat. So we were driven back into town in a 1974 Jeep, nice.

Farm-style El Solar was a great place to stay, you couldn't find a frendlier owner "mi casa es su casa!".


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Ecuador - Guayaquil

29 °C

We only had a day stop over in Guayaquil, a big city near the coast in Ecuador, on our way back from the Galapagos Islands. At sea level, Guayaquil is a lot warmer than most other plaes in Ecuador, and we enjoyed the nice humid change. After spending the night at Hostal Murali just near the airport we caught a bus into the city. The city centre has a fantastic Malecon walk between the large sprawling river front and the city. It runs for a few kilometres with little commercial centres, restaurants, gardens and lookout pioints dotted along it. If your stuck at the airport, which is the main transit airport for the Galapagos Islands, it´s definately worth a trip into town for a nice walk and some fresh air before your connecting flight.

At the northen end of the Malecon sits Santa Ana, a hilltop covered with beautiful, colorful ramshackle houses. A (sweaty) climb to the top gave us spectacular views across the city and Guayas river. Definately another worthwhile visit during your time in this city, and a nice way to finish off the day before catching our flight back to Colombia.


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Ecuador - Galapagos Islands

26 °C

Ok we apoloigise in advance if we start to ramble and sound like a bird watcher dressed in khaki, but after a trip to the enchanting Galapagos archipelago we guarantee you'll be doing the same. The Galapagos consists of a cluster of islands 1000km away from the mainland, created from molten lava that's leaked from the earths crust, and filled with volcanoes and animals which migrated to the islands over time. Nowdays there are small townships on a few of the islands, supporting tourism.

One fantastic part of the islands is that the animals are fearless of humans, as the islands are for the most part uninhabited which means the animals don't run away at the sight of humans, and you get to see them in their natural habitat. To maintain this environment the Galapagos National Park, and passionate guides, enforce strict rules about keeping a distance of 2 metres and definately no touching of the animals.

We were super lucky to snag a last minute cruise on The Seaman II, a luxury catamaran! Our six days aboard will never be forgotten, the service and food was outstanding as was the breath taking scenery on the west coast of Isabella. We snorkelled and swam with many animals such as giant sea turtles, rays, sea lions and beautiful fish every day. Paul was even lucky enough to see a white tipped reef shark! We saw abundant bird life, blue footed boobys, (and yes all jokes aside, they're blue feet are awesome), pelicans, frigates and many more I don't quite recall the names of! Dramatic volcanic landscapes, where cactuses have managed to root themselves in the desolate rock. Beautiful sunsets, dolphins, marine iguanas and giant tortoises. A red beach and a black beach, resulting from different parts of volcanic eruptions. All this was topped off when Paul celebrated his Birthday aboard with our fantastic guide and group of 16 people!


Either side of our cruise we spent a few days on Santa Cruz Isand, in the guesthouse Los Amigos, with a friendly owner, two gorgeous huskies, a kitchen, and everything we needed. If you're in Santa Cruz it's a crime not to visit stunning Tortuga Bay. After a walk through dry bush land you arrive at a pristine white beach, with marine iguanas stretching themselves out to dry everywhere, we had to be careful not to stand on one! On a trip to the highlands, in the centre of the island we walked through some giant lava tunnels, gouged out by molten lava thousands of years ago. And no trip is complete without spending a couple of hours at one of the giant tortoise sanctuaries. The massive tortoises which can weigh up to 250kg roam through the grounds munching on grass, and no matter how many you see, they are still amazing creatures to watch. After this we rode bikes downhill into the town of Puerto Ayora!


To reach San Cristobal Island in the east of the archipelago, we caught a speedboat which cut through the waves and had us there in two hours. Another beautiful place to explore. We were stunned by the amount of sea lions making themselves at home along the shoreline along which the main street of town runs. They were lying under and on benches, not flinching at the human passers by, except the odd growl when someone got too close, I suppose thats how they got their name! We walked out to Los Lobos Bay, where there are yet more sea lions, and we even spotted some baby sea lions, very cute. The interpretation centre is also worth a visit on San Cristobal Island, well set up with succinct information. And the walks nearby are great, with animals appearing everywhere we looked!


What we didn't really realise before arriving is that there is so much to do on the Islands on your own and it can be very affordable. We easily filled in a few days in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands. There is also a market on each island selling fruit and veg, many corner stores and a supermarket, and the prices were very reasonable. So go on, no more excuses even if your on a budget....book a flight this place is a must see!

We've uploaded more photos at: http://www.thenomadway.com/galapagos-islands-ecuador.php

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New Travel Symbols App, by The Nomad Way

Simplify Travel by Speaking a Universal Language with our new App!

We've been busy whilst exploring South America and are now excited to let everyone know that we have launched an app for iPhone and Android!

After travelling, you realise pretty quickly that one of the key frustrations is the language barrier..."how do I say that?" has got to be one of the most common sayings amongst travellers. Whilst travelling through multiple countries, you can't know every language. We used to take images of everyday items on our phone to help with words we didn't know or didn't have time to learn to assist with communication.

Well we have decided to expand on this idea and turn it into a functional mobile app for all travellers called 'Travel Symbols'. This unique app contains hundreds of searchable travel-specific symbols, divided into various categories. Users simply open a symbol and show their phone to the local person from whom they are seeking assistance. The symbols are recognised worldwide, so can be used in any country, any language, anywhere and with anyone.

Travel Symbols will enable travellers to make the most of their overseas adventures by cutting down language barriers. The app enables communication easily, anywhere, by anyone. There are no pronunciation issues - the person you are communicating with doesn't even need to be literate. Simple, fast and unlike many translation apps, no internet connection is needed.

The app is available to download in Apple's App store and Google's Play store. Check out the video below, we hope you like it. Spread the word and live life, The Nomad Way.


Posted by TheNomadWay.com 16:00 Comments (0)

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