Medellin was the murder capital of the world when Pablo Escobar was making billions with his drug cartel. Comuna 13, a neighborhood of Medellin, was one of the most dangerous areas of that time. Now it’s a reformed tourist destination full of graffiti art, street performers and tourists following guides explaining the history of its reformation.
The streets are situated on the steep mountainsides that circle Medellin. There are outside escalators to help you make it up to the many levels of street art. Plenty of t-shirt and hat vendors, beer, wine and michelada stands, small eateries and art galleries are sprinkled between the graffiti to help you spend a couple hours shopping and taking pictures.
The Metrocable is a 15 minute cable car ride that is FREE with your metro ticket. You’ll find the entrance at the same metro stop as Comune 13, so might as well take a ride.
Stolling through downtown Medellin is a great way to spend an afternoon. The metro system is cheap, clean and easy to use. We got off at Parque Berrio, saw lots of churches, palaces, artwork, and plazas and got back on the metro at San Antonio.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Medellin. People were polite, helpful and friendly. There were plenty of quality international restaurant options in the Poblado neighbourhood where our hostel was located. We felt like four days was a good amount of time to spend in this vibrant, hip city.
Travel Tip: there are LOTS of neighborhoods that make up Medellin. When looking for a place to stay we recommend Poblado which was about a 10 minute metro ride from downtown.
Next up, the beautiful town of Guatape and climbing the 659 steps of Piedra del Penol!
Feeling as lazy as the leaves that drift, sail, meander through the humid sunshine into the cerulean pool. A young lady tries her skills on the purple silk ribbons hanging from the giant tree covered in moss and bromeliads. Laughing, she falls into the pool with a splash. Hung over tattooed guests share their nightly escapades at the bar in quiet conversations. Tropical birds chirp, warble and gibber in the dense foliage. We’ve made it to Minca.
Yes, we’re surrounded by coffee and chocolate plantations with sweeping mountain views but who can resist playing on a swing or relaxing in a giant net over the river?
We forced ourselves to climb out of the hammocks and rent a scooter to explore. The tropical canopy above is full of exotic birds and we stopped often on The Big Loop Tour to search for them. The Big Loop is an all day route that takes you to Pozo Azul waterfalls, Los Pinos viewpoint, coffee and chocolate tours, and Marinka waterfalls.
Travel Tip: the roads around Minca are rough and more like hiking trails than roads. Luckily Ian has lots of practice from our travels so although some areas were hair raising we didn’t crash. Most tourists either hire motorcycle taxis or hike this area.
Travel Tip: Minca is lush, dense, tropical. BRING BUG SPRAY.
And now, Ian’s Take:
Aaahh, the bliss of travel. The wind in your hair on the fast boat to las playas. Dipping in the pool of an exotic waterfall. Or trying tantalizing new foods as you watch the sun sink in the sky. But it’s not perfect bliss. In the last 48 hours I had serious food poisoning, gotten eaten alive by bugs, and white knuckled our way through a 4 hour dirt track on a tiny scooter. So three lessons I knew previously but just got reminded of.
#1 When traveling, try and eat at busy restaurants. The food is fresh with the constant turnover and obviously tasty. In my case we did eat at a busy restaurant. Ocean did not share much of my food so she was ok. Bad luck of the draw for me though.
#2 I heard there might be some bitey bugs here in Minca. Now we don’t like to wear bug spray unless necessary. We arrived at Rio Elemento Eco-hostel and after check in, went to check out the pool, river, and giant hammocks. Meanwhile tiny gnats unknowingly bit us to pieces in like 20 minutes. You can’t feel the bite but 12 hours later you’re like a cat in heat rubbing your body against any stationary object while trying to avoid straight up digging your own claws into your flesh. I could barely sleep. Douse yourself in bug spray. Cuz ya gonna get bit!
#3 Get the better bike. After my sleepless night with food poisoning, I felt barely well enough try the 4 hour loop around Minca on motorbike. Now I have ridden manual motorcycles all over SE Asia but due to my shakey condition and since it had been a couple years, I wanted a mindless automatic scooter. They said we could do the loop ‘no problemo’. Now imagine two grown people riding a miniature horse up a cliff. No suspension with wheels the size of dinner plates. I spent the next 4 hours trying not to kill us. Next time man up and get the motorcycle. Even though the last 48 hours have been sleepless and a little hellish, the exotic foods, majestic waterfalls, and wind in my hair make it all worth it. Bring on the next round! Ciao!
Getsemani is the neighborhood next door to the Historic Center of Cartagena. It’s considered a backpackers haven with graffiti murals brightening buildings and umbrellas strung above the streets shading the alleys from sun. It’s also a more affordable option for dinning and accommodation.
A short cab ride can take you to the Castillo de San Felipe. Construction of this fortress was begun in 1536 and completed in 1767. The entrance fee is $7.50 US and you can explore tunnels, touch rusty cannons and climb ramparts. The view is expansive from the top.
The Emerald Museum in the Historic Center is free, air conditioned and our guide was very informative.
We saw some amazing emeralds, learned how the Mayans used emeralds and a crystal skull as a lie detector test (a hand was placed over the emerald and the skull would turn a certain color) and were shown the difference between the world’s three types of emeralds.
There are many beaches nearby. You can take a boat for $3 US per person one way from Castillogrande Beach to Punta Arenas Beach. Among the beach frolicking and bumping music we found a spot where we spent $17 US to drink 4 mojitos and 1 beer and sat in plastic chairs in the sand.
Another beach option is gorgeous Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca can be reached by several methods. We chose to take a 45 minute shuttle for $11 US each to get there and a ‘fast boat’ for the return at $7 per person. The fast boat also took 45 minutes, was terrifying, and seemed about to break in half. But we lived to tell the tale.
And now, Ian’s Take:
Now I have seen some boob jobs here and there but wasn’t aware that Colombian women seem to pair theirs with a big ‘ol bootie job. I mean some serious big booties. Some of these gals will round the street corner and their trunks won’t disappear with them for about 8 more seconds. Colombians love music and love to dance. So it appears that these enlargements are not only there to turn men’s heads but maybe more are used as status. Because on the dance floor, the fastest biggest shaking bootie gets the most points. Now I like to dance. I don’t have a big bootie but I do have a big beer belly. I don’t think that is going to get me any points back home but I am going to continue to shake it and maybe just pretend I am on the Colombian dance floor earning me some serious points. Until next time, keep it shakin’ folks. Ciao!
Founded in the 16th century, the walled city of Cartagena is known for its cobblestone streets and pastel colonial buildings with balconies draped in bougainvillea. Afternoons are warm, slow and easy. Evenings are bustling with horsedrawn carriages and people dining at sidewalk cafes.
We enjoyed a four night stay in an apartment with this incredible view.
Our place was next to a small university housed in a historic colonial building so we were treated to live orchestra practice in the morning as we sipped from our elegant espresso cups. The sun sets to the right in the Caribbean Ocean. But nothing is perfect, so keep in mind the ants. Even on the 7th floor the little buggers found our bag of chips and had a heyday all over the dinning room table.
We spent three days just wandering the beautiful streets taking in the sights.
It’s hot and humid, especially around noon. Your best bet is getting home to some air conditioning or duck into a restaurant or bar around this time of day.
Travel tip: We had delicious ceviche but didn’t ask the price for our Hendricks gin & tonics which cost us $18 US EACH! We normally wouldn’t make the mistake of ordering without seeing a price but I claim sleep deprivation from our red eye flight from San Francisco.
Aguardiente is the national liquor. Of course we bought a 750ml bottle for $10 US and couldn’t wait to mix some in mango juice with lime. Nope!! This is anise, folks. However, I had a lovely drink at a Colombian restaurant mixed with several things that tasted delicious even though it was dressed like the Grim Reaper.
We thought the streets were clean, the hawkers will leave you alone after a couple ‘no gracias’ and people were generally polite and friendly. Did I mention you can drink the tap water? Yay!
And now we have, for the first time ever! Ian’s Take:
Wow man! I am really enjoying the historic center of Cartagena. Locals carry around big coolers selling water and beer. I buy beer of course to drink while we wander the streets taking in the culture and acting like tourists taking pictures of EVERYTHING! It’s a very picturesque town. In fact I rate it among my favorite romantic towns. The Colombian women all wear sun dresses showing lots of skin with no bras on. Lookie but no touchie married peeps! I am still trying to get Ocean to take her bra off. There are hawkers everywhere selling everything. Sunhats, jewelry, trinkets, tours, etc. It amazes me of how multi-talented these guys are. The hat guy with his 4 foot tower of hats he carries around doubles as a tour guide and can sell you a trip to the off-shore islands. And if you are so inclined, he can also hook you up with a little white coffee (wink-wink) or weed. However we are not interested in visiting the Colombian jail so for now we will just stick to the sunhats. Ciao!
Monteverde was an otherworldly experience. We stayed two nights in two different private cabins overlooking green rolling mountains filled with mist, flowing clouds, intense winds and sometimes rain flying sideways.
Spending three hours exploring Bosque Nuboso Monteverde was not enough to see the entire park. This is partially due to the slow reverence of our walking, as we gazed upward into the glowing green soft light of the canopy above.
Giant ferns and towering trees made us feel like ants in Jurassic Park. Everything was covered in life. No tree showed its bark. Moss, bromeliads, air plants and orchids sprout from anything standing vertical.
There is a 100m suspension bridge that sways high above the cloud forest floor. Walking it gave us a bird’s eye view of trickling streams far below.
After our journey we stopped at a coffee shop right outside the gates to see a multitude of humming birds that are attracted by feeders. So many gorgeous colors!
Many thanks to my husband Ian Nutting for his beautiful photographs that I used in this blog. Up next: Beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula!
Our trip to Costa Rica began in the rainforest at Hacienda Guachipelin, waking up to the sound of dozens of different bird calls at 5:30 am. Bright sunshine transformed into a deluge of warm rain as quickly as a light switch is turned on and off.
What is it like in the rainforest? Poisonous snakes in the road and on the path. Mosquitoes, biting flies, leaf cutter ants carrying their prize, and thousands of other tiny and giant insects buzzing and chirruping in the trees.
The sweet smells of fruit, flowers and decay layered on top of each other just as the forest itself is life piling on top of life.
We enjoyed several days exploring three different volcanoes and their rainforest environs. Part of volcanic fun is soaking in natural volcanic hot springs. In Rincon de la Vieja you can visit Rio Negro Hot Springs and soak in the 10 pools of different temperatures.
If you don’t mind getting down and dirty you can use a paintbrush to paint yourself (or your spouse) in skin softening volcanic mud.
At the foot of Volcan Arenal in the town of La Fortuna are several hot spring resorts. But if you don’t want to pay their pricey fees you can soak for free at El Chollin.
A highlight was the seeing the gorgeous and surreal blue water of Rio Celeste in Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio. It’s a 3 mile hike with some steep stairs but it’s worth the sweat and $10 US entrance fee to see this magical place. At the end of the trail you can see where 2 rivers converge to make the milky blue water. At the end of our hike we had the special treat of seeing a Three Toed Sloth!
We heard the expression “Pura Vida” everywhere we went. It translates to “Pure Life”, but it’s used as a greeting, a farewell, an expression of “it’s great!”, “have fun!”, and we found ourselves saying it back to the Ticos by the end of our trip.
I’d like to thank and give credit to my wonderful and talented husband Ian Nutting for his photography on this trip. Most of the pictures in this blog (and the upcoming) were taken by him with his camera, a Sony NEX-F3. Pura Vida!
A beautiful 45 minute drive from our eco lodge in La Fortuna brought us to The Venado Caves. Named so because of the deer hunters who first discovered them in 1945 (venado translates to deer).
Entrance to the caves ($28 each in USD) includes helmets, headlamps, guide, and rubber boots. We declined the boots after reading reviews that they fill up with water. For another $20 we hired the photographer to join us for a rare opportunity. Every photo in this blog is courtesy of Fausto Perez. The caves are over 6 million years old but have sea shell fossils even older. Currently they are home to fruit bats, vampire bats, and these lovelies. Scorpion spiders. This female has eggs!
Our guide told us not to be afraid and then proceeded to catch one and let us hold it. They have long antenna to help them feel their way through the caves because they are blind. Eeeeeeee!
We had to suck in our guts to make it through the ‘Birth Canal’. This really tested my latent claustrophobia.
We squeezed through tunnels, rock climbed slippery precipices, and walked through waterfalls deep under ground.
We had the amazing luck to be the only ones there today. Sometimes they have entire tour busses come through.
We got soaked to the bone, smelled bat guano from fruit bats and vampire bats, army crawled through tunnels barely bigger than my shoulders half full of running water, got spooked by countless spiders and the story of a Fer de Lance snake that was seen just a few weeks ago resting on a rock ledge. Had the time of our lives. Muchas Gracias Costa Rica! Pura Vida!
One of the best ways to survive an Idaho winter is to leave it and head for the tropics. Ian and I had been invited to stay at his parents’ condo in Kailua Kona on The Big Island Hawai’i and we were more than happy to thaw out in our old stomping grounds. Ian and I met each other in Hawaii and lived there with our son for 8 years before moving to Idaho.
The Royal Kona Resort offers Hawaiian music every Thursday from 5 to 7 PM for free to the public. Slack key guitar with a happy hour Mai Tai and a Kona sunset, pure Paradise. If you’re lucky you may see the ‘green flash’ as the sun dips below the horizon and lights up the ocean with a flash of emerald.
One of our all time favorite beaches on Hawai’i is Kua Bay on the West side of the island. When we lived here in the early 2000’s you could drive your 4×4 truck across a gnarly lava road and actually camp on this white sandy beach. These days it has a paved road that even the most timid rental car can drive on and freshwater spigots to wash off your sandy toes after a day of catching waves.
The waves at Kua Bay are perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding and there’s an OK spot for snorkeling on the right side. Sometimes the surf can get dangerously big so be aware of big surf notices. This beach can get pretty crowded and sometimes the wind picks up in the afternoon so head there as early as you can.
While visiting Kona be sure to check out the Kona Village Farmers Market right in the heart of downtown and open Wednesday through Sunday. A great place for fresh tropical fruits, veggies, flowers and souvenirs.
Kona Brewers Festival is an annual party for those who love tasting beer, wine, and cider while eating all you can and listening to live music. There’s even a trash fashion show where all the outlandish costumes are made entirely from recycled materials. TRAVEL TIP: tickets for this super fun event sell out quick so buy them early online.
A small sandy beach that is great for swimming, snorkeling and photo ops is Kamakahonu Beach, known by the locals as the King Kam. It’s situated in front of the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel and has a view of King Kamehameha’s personal temple. This is a great spot for keikis (children) to play in mellow waters.
The best snorkel spot on the island is called Two Step because of the naturally formed flat “steps” that are used to get in and out of the water. Located on the South West side of the island in Honaunau and right next to The City of Refuge Park (Pu’uhonua O Honaunau) you can see plenty of tropical fish in the clear water. Just be careful not to step on a wana (sea urchin) or you’ll have to ask someone to pee on you.
Perhaps a bit less adventurous but super fun thing to do is to visit the sprawling, dramatic Waikoloa Beach Resort on the North West side of the island. You can ride a boat or tram around the beautifully landscaped grounds laden with art and wildlife. We stopped for lunch (and a Mai Tai) at The Lagoon Grill overlooking the saltwater lagoon where dolphins swim and you can watch participants in Dolphin Quest. At first I had some qualms about dolphins being kept in such a small area but it turns out they are let out every day and return of their own accord!
We had the amazing opportunity to go on a Manta Ray night snorkel cruise with an old friend on Torpedo Tours. I highly recommend braving the chilly water (they provide a wet suit) to see these magnificent cartilaginous fish do belly rolls beneath you just inches from your nose. The lights are provided by scuba divers below which draw the plankton that the Rays feed on each night. It’s a magical experience like no other!
We had an amazing time full of Aloha while on The Big Island and hope to return soon. Old friends made us feel right at home while warm breezes melted our chilly Idaho bones. Mahalo Nui Loa!
Can you see Vegas in 24 hours? I believe so. Did we? We certainly gave it our best shot!
We took an Uber (our first ever Uber ride, FREE with a promo code) from the McCarran airport to The Venetian. It was too early for check-in so we took a stroll through the streets of Venice where gondolas carried happy couples under medieval bridges. Looking for lunch and getting lost in The Palazzo ultimately led us to a salivating raw fish lunch at Sushisamba.
We used our IHG anniversary night to stay in this ultra luxury resort/hotel for FREE. At the front desk we were treated like royalty and given a room on the 31st floor with an incredible view of The Strip and snow-caped mountains, a giant soaking tub and living-room suite. After a quick change of clothes and room exploration which included my mistake of lifting the bottle of Patron out of the mini-fridge and having to call the front desk to tell them not to charge me because I was putting it right back (yikes!) we went out to explore The Strip.
First up was Caesars Palace and The Forum Shops to see the free show “Fall of Atlantis”. While the show was pretty cheesy and we could hardly hear what the giant animatronic Greek Gods were saying to each other the real pleasure was truly in the journey. Along the way we passed gorgeous fountains while sipping on cocktails. Yep, it’s legal to carry a gin and tonic in one’s hand while perusing art on The Strip.
At the top of my “to-do list” was the Bellagio fountain show. Another free show (see the pattern?) and best viewed outside from Las Vegas Boulevard. Before we braved the rare cold snap happening outside (temperatures in the 40’s during the day) we decided to check out the beautiful Chihuly Glass display in the lobby.
Also free to enjoy in the Bellagio is the 14,000 square foot Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This is an ever changing visual extravaganza that updates with the seasons. Right now you can see The Year of The Pig display for Chinese New Year.
Realizing we needed sustenance to make it through our concert and beyond we crossed the street to The Flamingo for some Mexican food at Carlos n Charlie’s. Are there real flamingos at The Flamingo? Yes. Maybe 5 or so.. (please don’t sue me, that’s all the birds we saw). Then it was back outside for viewing The Bellagio fountain show! Which was very pretty and set to music but sorry all my pictures are blurry. You’ll just have to go see it yourself.
Now I have to explain that this trip was a surprise birthday present from me to my Sweetie. One of our favorite bands is The String Cheese Incident, and when I saw they would be in Vegas (where I have never been) it was an easy choice. So we made our way to The Cosmopolitan where we danced our booties off on the famous bouncy floors in true Vegas style.
After the show we hopped on a bus to Fremont street for some vintage Vegas and gambling. It was around 1:30 AM Monday morning by the time we arrived so the streets were a bit tamer than I was expecting. We ducked inside a casino to get out of the cold (in the upper 30’s at this point). After winning and losing at slot machines and the derby horse racing games we quit with a $10 loss. Had a blast. Went to bed at 4:00 AM.
Thank goodness for Ambien and alarm clocks! We slept for a very brief interlude, checked out of The Venetian and walked to The Paris hotel for our French breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. Although it was a bit blustery on this rare chilly Vegas morning we were kept warm by the heaters on the outside deck and our endless love for each other. And the strawberry mimosas. Seriously, try them. Viva Las Vegas!
An easy 2 mile hike leads to this beautiful cold water mountain lake. You won’t pass many other hikers on the way but you may see some wildlife.
A mother grouse keeps an eye on her brood below
The songs of birds in the canopy above and the chitter of squirrels are the only sounds you’ll hear if you pause to soak in the sunlight.
Sunlight dappled moment in the Kaniksu National Forest
There are several options for extending the hike that include other lakes and you can make it 7 mile trek if you like. Along the way keep an eye out for mushrooms in the fall. In early September we found plenty of sweet huckleberries that stained our hands and tongues deep purple.
Sweet huckleberry pickings along the trail
The drive to the trailhead is half the fun. It’s a 20 mile National Forest dirt road with some rough patches. It takes us 45 minutes off highway 200 at Trestle Creek. Majestic panoramas are a feast for the eye.
On the road to Moose Lake trailhead
Enjoy this heavenly paradise before the snow falls!