A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Bienvenidos a Mexico - A taster of Mexico City

We have visited Mexico before but that was way back in 2004 and it was only a day trip from the US down to Tijuana. We had a great time but really didn't feel we had done the country any justice. So as we were nearing the end of our time in South America we looked for different options to fit our time and budget. We really wanted to cover Central America but with less then 2 months we felt at our travel pace it would be too much to cover. Then a friend of ours did a trip with Intrepid and had a fantastic time. After looking at some of their trips on offer we found a basic trip that covered Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 46 days. With a 15% discount on offer and not having the stress of worrying about having to plan travel and accommodation we booked it in. The tour would be very basic using public transport and budget accommodation but it is what we are use to. I know there are lots of debates about individual travel versus tours but for us this option really worked out the best. It would allow us to fit in a highlights tour of Central America within our time and budget.

We flew into Mexico City from Havana. We arrived mid morning and after a well needed coffee and breakfast at the airport caught a taxi to our hotel in San Rafael. Exhausted after our trip we had an hours power nap before heading out to explore the city. We managed to navigate the Metro system and make our way into the city centre. On our way we stumbled upon a street stall selling tacos. Wow they were good! Little soft tortillas filled with deliciously succulent meat, a slice of grilled pineapple, onion, coriander and fresh salsa. What more could you ask for? They were only $6 pesos each so you could have 3 of them for under a £1. What a bargain!

We had an explore around the Centro Historico visiting the Cathedral Metropolitana, Zocalo main plaza and the surrounding streets. The weather then turned against us and it started pouring rain. We looked for somewhere to hide out and found Café de Tacuba. From the outside it didn't look like anything special but inside was a beautiful room with colourful tiles and paintings in art deco style. We took a seat and ordered some coffees and an apple tart and enjoyed them while a live Mariachi band played amongst the tables. Not a bad way to hide out from the rain. We then went back to the hotel for a bit before just grabbing some more street tacos from the stand just up the road for dinner.

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On Saturday we were handing our key in at reception when we met Hosea an Australian guy who would be on our trip. So we headed out with him to explore more of the city. We headed into the Centro Historico again, stopping off for some breakfast tacos on the way. We then went back to Café de Tacuba for some coffees. We had a look at Templo Mayor which was just off the main plaza and was where the Aztecs first saw the eagle with a snake in its mouth (the symbol on the Mexican flag). For them this place was the centre of the universe until the Spanish Conquistadors demolished the temple and built a Catholic church on top of it (a very common practice across all of Latin America). We then decided to catch the Turibus around the city to be able to see most of the major sights in a day. We chose the typical route which started at the Zocalo and took us past Palacio de Belle Artes, Plaza de la República and Monumento la Revolución, plus many other sites.

When we reached Museo Nacional de Antropolgia we hopped off to explore the museum. I had read that it was an amazing museum and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Luckily we got free entrance as an archeological association was protesting about the commercialization of archeological sights in Mexico. The museum was packed with artifacts from across the country and across numerous cultures. It was really well presented even with outdoor recreations in jungle settings and so many wonderfully preserved items. After 1.5 hours we had just skimmed through most of it when we decided to catch the bus back around the rest of the circuit. The rest of the circuit took us through the upmarket area of Polanco.

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On Saturday Mexico had won the Olympic gold medal in football against Brazil. This must of been a huge deal for them as the streets were packed with people celebrating, all decked out in national colours, honking horns, waving flags and partying. It was great to see but caused huge traffic chaos as major streets like la Reforma were closed off. So when we reached Zona Rosa we hopped off the bus and walked back to our hotel through all the crowds enjoying the atmosphere. There were plenty of food and drink vendors as well as many police just in case things got out of hand but everyone was very relaxed and there was no trouble at all.

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That night we got to meet the rest of our group and our tour leader. We would be lead by David a Guatemalan and would have a mixed group of people from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Malta. After going through some formalities we set out for a walk down to Zona Rosa along la Reforma. Here we just had burgers for dinner before looking at the colourful nightlife. After some exploring we headed back to the hotel with a customary stop off at a taco stand.

On Sunday we headed out on a tour to Teotihuacán. Our first stop on the tour was at Plaza de las Tres Cultura which had Aztec temple ruins, a Spanish Catholic church and modern day buildings. It was interesting to see such a mix at one site. We then stopped off at Basilica de Guadalupe which is where the Virgin of Guadalupe painting is located. There are 3 churches located in the same square including Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe which at being able to house 40,000 people was an unbelievable sight to see. Belief in the virgin who appeared to indigenous Christian convert named Juan Diego in 1531 transposing her image on his cloak is extremely strong. Viewing the original painting or cloak is something that attracts thousands of pilgrims every day. Even with its capacity the church was packed with people and had queues out the door. There were people crawling on their knees towards the church as part of their pilgrimage. We entered through the side of the church and got to see the famous painting in which they say the paint floats on top of the material. To deal with the crowds they have put in moving walkways to keep the crowd flowing. With people breaking down in tears it was a very interesting glimpse into the devotion Mexicans have for religion.

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We then drove to the site of Teotihuacán pyramids which were built between 100-600 AD by the Teotihuacán culture. It was also later used by the Aztecs as a ceremonial centre. The major drawcards here are the Pirámide del Sol(Pyramid of the Sun) and the Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). We started by climbing the Pyramid of the Moon which was quite a steep climb up but provided good views over the site. We then walked along Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) trying to dodge all the hawkers selling tacky souvenirs until we reach the huge Pyramid of the Sun. It is the worlds 3rd largest pyramid with its base 222m long and wide and 70m high. So we joined the queue to climb up the 248 steps to get to the top for an amazing view. After we had finished exploring we had a buffet lunch with some awesome blue corn tortillas before returning to Mexico City.

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That night we went on a walk down to the Monumento a la Revolucion where we got to see the 'Yo soy 132' protest movement who are protesting against the results of the latest presidential elections. We continued to walk for about an hour ending up at Plaza Garibaldi which is a square filled with Mariachi bands. We grabbed dinner in the market next to the square and then hired a Mariachi band to play us a song. You can rent them per song or hire them for a birthday party of function right from the square. It was great to see all the different bands serenading people. We then headed back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep.

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Mexico City is really fascinating. It is one of the biggest cities in the world with a population of 21 million. It is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, sinking even more then Venice. I guess when you build a city on a lake, it may start sinking at some point in the future. It makes some of the buildings a bit wonky but it does add character. Being such a big city there is plenty to see and do. We got just a taste with our time there but really loved it and will be back in the future.

Next stop the home of mole, Puebla!

Posted by SamJohnston 15:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city mariachi taco Comments (0)

Classic cars, cigars and rum in Havana

Cuba was never on our itinerary but when we started investigating flights from South America to Central America we found out that we could go via Cuba for pretty much the same price. So with not too many expectations and just the basic stereotypes we booked our flights to Havana. We would only have time for a few days so decided to just stick to the capital.

So we traveled from Bogota via Lima to Havana. Even though we started going at 5am we didn't land in Havana until just before 7pm. Firstly we had to wait about an hour in the queue to get through immigration. Then we had to wait for our baggage. After about an hour of watching the baggage carrousel go around and around we finally gave up hope of my luggage arriving and headed to the Lost Luggage counter. Not surprisingly there was another queue, so we had even more waiting. Eventually we found out that my bag was still in Lima and had to fill in a lost luggage report. Then I had to visit the airlines office to put in another report and find out that my bag would either arrive the next day or in 3 days time.

We then headed out of the airport to catch a taxi to our accommodation near the centre. Driving through the streets we were able to get our first glimpse of some of the classic cars that Cuba is famous for. It was great to drive next to such an array of cars from the 50's and 60's. We arrived at our accommodation just before 11pm absolutely exhausted. Luckily we had fantastic hosts in the casa we were staying who were very welcoming and gave us a great icey cold drink. We then headed to bed for a well deserved sleep.

On Tuesday we got up and had breakfast in our casa. Since I had no clothes and had very sensibly decided to wear jeans on the plane, I had to borrow a pair of Alex's shorts for the day. We headed out into the heat and humidity for a walk around town. We were only about a 15 minute walk to the centre of town. We had a walk around marveling at the beautiful decaying architecture. We then visited the Museo de la Revolución which is housed in the former Presidential Palace. The building itself was magnificent and it was filled with memorabilia from the revolution. It even had bullet holes in the marble of the staircase from an attack and Che's famous beret. Outside in the park across the road there was a collection of vehicles including the boat that Castro and other revolutionaries took from Mexico to Cuba in 1953. It provided quite an interesting glimpse into the revolution.
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That night we walked along the Malecon which is the seafront drive of Havana. It was filled with people walking along enjoying the sea breeze. There were some crazy kids jumping off the edge of the walkway into small gaps in the rocks below while fisherman brought in huge catches and bands played salsa beats. We found a restaurant where we could watch the sunset while enjoying a few mojitos. We made an important discovery that lobster is ridiculously cheap in Cuba so Alex got a huge one for dinner and I got some fish. After our delicious dinner we walked back along the seafront to our casa. Unfortunately my bag still hadn't arrived and after phoning the airline we found out it wouldn't arrive until Thursday night.

On Wednesday we walked down to the Old Town or Habana Vieja which contains stunning architecture. We did a bit of a self guided walking tour around the 4 main squares Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís and Plaza de la Catedral. It was then time to explore one of Cuba famous exports, Rum. We headed to the Museo del Ron housed in the Havana Club. We did a tour an learnt all about the production of rum before getting to sample some of the 7 year old. We then headed next door to Bar Dos Hermanos for some mojitos and some lunch.
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We then had the very difficult task of trying to find me some clothes and shoes in the bare shops. Now most places I would love the opportunity to shop for new clothes but Havana is definitely not one of the best shopping destination in the world. In fact it is probably one of the worst. The shops in Havana are just empty and have hardly any stock. Each shop might just have a couple of items with no different sizes or colours. To give you an idea it took us over 10 shops to just find bottled water. I ended up in one of the biggest department stores which had hardly anything in it and luckily managed to get a dress and a pair of sandals. I then managed to find a t-shirt in another shop. I finally had some clothes!

That night we had a nice 3 course meal in our casa before heading out to the famous Club Tropicana. It is a real institution of Havana surviving from 1939 and gave a real glimpse into what Cuba would have been like in the 40's and 50's. We had to catch a cab there as it was about 20 minutes out of town. As we entered I got presented a carnation and Alex with a cigar. We were sat at our table and given sparkling wine and a half bottle of rum to enjoy during the show. We then had a couple of hours of vegas style cabaret, Cuban dancing, singing and performances. Alex is usually not a big fan of this type of stuff but I think with the rum and half naked girls he was kept entertained. At the end of the show they called out countries names and invited people from that country up on stage. So when Australia was called out Alex and I climbed up on stage to pull out some dance moves with the professional dancers. It was not a cheap night out but we had so much fun.
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On Thursday our last day in Cuba, we headed to the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás cigar factory. Visiting a cigar factory was high on my list of things to do in Cuba so I was really disappointed to find it closed. Apparently it is closed for a year but no one could really tell us why. The shop was open though so we purchased a Cohibas cigar and enjoyed it in the main square. Determined to still visit a factory we asked at the tourist office only to be told that all cigar factories were closed at this time of year for summer holidays. I guess we just timed our trip wrong and visiting a cigar factory would have to wait for another time.
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We caught the hop on, hop off bus around the city. It took us along the coast up the Malecon to Vedado past Plaza de la Revolución and through some neighbourhoods with magnificent art deco houses. There was even a building that I thought looked like a robot. It was great to get out of central Havana and see the surrounding areas.
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After some lunch on the main square we visited the Bella Artes museum which is filled with an array of Cuban artworks. We then wandered the streets a bit taking lots of photos of the classic cars and buildings. It was amazing to see so many driving around. At times you could really imagine you had stepped back in time. I especially liked the space capsule looking taxi's.
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That night we went out for a nice dinner at Los Nardos, one of the few semi-private restaurants in Havana run by the Spanish Asturianas society. There was a queue to get in so we knew we would be in for a good meal. This time I ordered the lobster and Alex got prawns thermidore. The portions were so huge neither of us could finish our meals. My lobster must of had about 1/2 a kilo of meat in it and it was about an inch think in places and so delicious. Not bad for $12! After dinner we headed to the oldest hotel in Havana, Hotel Inglaterra for a few mojitos. They had a really good live band playing so it was a nice ending to our time in Cuba.

Arriving back at our casa we found out that my bag still hadn't arrived. A few phone calls later and a few hours of waiting it arrived just before midnight. It was such a relief to finally have it back but with us having to head to the airport at 3am for our flight to Mexico there wasn't much time for any sleep.

I both loved and hated Cuba. It has such a beautiful charm about it and the locals are so friendly and welcoming but it is economically challenged and very frustrating at times. It is disappointing to see such beautiful buildings left in ruin but fantastic to watch 60 year old cars drive past. Personally it was very hard for me to get by without my luggage as there is no where to buy any of the normal essentials. But Havana is very intoxicating with its heat, people and vibe. It is definitely somewhere I want to return to so that I can explore more of the country.

Next stop Mexico City!

Posted by SamJohnston 21:35 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Top 10 South America Highlights

The Best of the Best

Many people we have met on our journey continuously ask us what our favourite place has been in South America. This has caused us to think a lot about this question as it is really hard to narrow down just a few highlights of a 5 & 1/2 month trip. However I notice there are a few standout places and experiences that we always end up talking about more then others. So here it is, my list of the 10 best experiences and places during our time in South America. Let me tell you this was not an easy task to compile as we did so many amazing things but I think this list captures the best of the best.

Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina

Standing overlooking the huge sea of ice that is the Perito Moreno glacier simply took my breath away. The ice stretches out for 35km before reaching a sheer drop into the lake below. Watching huge chunks of ice calve off the glacier causing huge thundering splashes below is awe inspiring. Afterwards we even enjoyed a whiskey with a chunk of glacier ice in it. A perfect tribute to a beautiful natural wonder.
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Snorkeling Rio de Prata, Bonito, Brazil

Snorkeling downstream for 3km in a crystal clear river surrounded by thousands of tropical fish. It really doesn't get much better then this. It was like being submerged into a tropical fish tank for a few hours as we got to marvel at over 30 different varieties of fish. Combined with a trip to Buraco das Araras where we saw dozens of macaws circling overhead it made for an amazing day.
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W Trail, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Trekking for 4 days through the magnificent surroundings of the Torres del Paine national park was absolutely breathtaking. From beautiful lakes, stunning glaciers, unbelievable sunsets and the magnificent granite pillars of Torres del Paine, scenery to hike to doesn't get much better. Truly a must for anyone who loves nature.
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Isla de la Plata, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

On the boat ride to and from Isla de la Plata off the coast of Puerto Lopez we were lucky enough to witness several Humpback whales putting on dazzling displays as they breached and swam next to our boat, sometimes as close as 50m away. Coupled with a hike around the island to see its extensive bird life and huge sea turtles just off shore it made for an extraordinary day out.
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Lost City trek, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Trekking through the dense, humid Colombian jungle to the Lost City of the Tayronas was unbelievable. Hiking up the 2000 or so stairs through the jungle made me feel like I was part of an Indian Jones movie. It is some of the most difficult conditions I have hiked in but the incredible scenery and views over Ciudad Perdida made it an unforgettable adventure.
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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio lives up to its reputation of a vibrant, colourful, enthralling city. From the gritty favelas, to the iconic summit of Sugarloaf mountain, to the picturesque beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, to the samba beats in Lapa clubs, to Christ the Redeemer, arms stretched overlooking the city, it knows how to capture the hearts of tourists. This is a city you have seen hundreds of images of but nothing lives up to the vibe and intoxicating feeling of experiencing it yourself.
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Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flat) tour, Tupiza to Uyuni, Bolivia

Our 5 day journey from Tupiza to Uyuni took us across the most stunning, out of this world landscapes I have ever experienced. From dizzying altitudes (5000 masl), to several lakes of varying colours (red, white, green), to snow capped volcanoes, to Dali-esque rock formations, to bubbling mud geysers, to cactus forests, every few hours there was new jaw dropping scenery. To top it all off is the Salar de Uyuni itself. The vast white sea of salt produces an unbelievable place to watch the sun rise and also provides a great backdrop for those famous perspective photos.
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Climbing Villaricca Volcano, Pucon, Chile

Hiking to the top of the active 2847m Villaricca volcano was an unforgettable experience. The 5 hour climb up across barren rocky landscapes culminating in hiking across the glacier at the top complete with crampons and ice axe, was totally worth it to be able to peer into the crater at the top and see lava. The trip back down was also made very easy with us being able to use snow chutes to slide down on the ice. Such an exhilarating experience! There are also plenty of thermal springs around town to soak those tired muscles afterwards.
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Iguazu Falls, bordering Argentina and Brazil

Standing overlooking the tonnes of water crashing over the edge of Garganta del Diablo fall was a spine tingling experience. The vastness and pure beauty of these falls takes at least a day and a half to witness its true glory. It is something that requires you to visit 2 countries to truly gain the right perspective of this natural wonder. Seeing the pure power, sound and dramatic beauty of the 275 waterfalls that make up Iguazu Falls is something that everyone should have on their bucket list.
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Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru

Throughout the difficult 4 day hike along the famous Inca Trail we were provided with stunning views and lots of Incan ruins to wet our appetite for the main event. But despite the unbelievable journey nothing beat standing at the Sun Gate for our first glimpse at the the magical Machu Picchu. The trek there made it so much more special and magical by walking in the footsteps of the Incas to reach their magnificent ancient city. This is a place that not only lives up to its reputation but far surpasses it.
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Posted by SamJohnston 16:38 Tagged highlights south_america top_10 Comments (0)

Gold, salt and art in Bogota

Bogota is the capital and largest city of Colombia and has a population of about 8 million people. We had been told there was not too much to do there but with our flight out of South America leaving from there we decided to give it a few days to explore it.

Our flight from Santa Marta arrived in the early afternoon on Thursday. However with some confusion over our flight and delays we were put on an earlier flight but our luggage was still put on our original flight. So once we arrived in Bogota we had to wait around the baggage carrousel for over an hour for our bags. Eventually they arrived and we were able to catch a taxi to our hostel, Hostel Fatima in La Candelaria. That night we just explored the local area and grabbed dinner.

On Friday we visited Museo del Oro which contains over 35,000 items of gold. There were some really impressive sculptures, jewellery and masks made out of gold. So we looked through the museum for some time marveling at items that were made hundreds of years ago. One really impressive piece was one of a raft depicting the El Dorado myth where priests from ancient tribes would throw gold and precious stones into the water during a ceremonial offering. It was cast in one piece using the lost wax technique, which basically acted like a mould where they poured the molten gold into. Considering it was made 500-700 years ago it is really an unbelievably intricate sculpture.
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Later that afternoon we explored the city around the historic centre of La Candelaria. One thing I have really loved about South America is the variety of things you can buy on the street or from people on public transport. It never fails to surprise me what people are selling. One street we walked through you could buy chocolates, batteries, dog hats, tv remotes, stockings, fruit, toys, nuts, socks, tea towels, paintings, jewellery, fly swatters, face cream, bags, perfume and ice-cream all from people with sheets on the pavement.

On Saturday we headed up the funicular up Cerro de Monserrate, one of the mountains surrounding the city. At 3200m it gave us a great view across Bogota. At the top were lovely gardens, a church, souvenir shops and restaurants. After exploring there for a while we headed back down to the city on the cable car.
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After lunch we headed to Donacion Botero which is an amazing free museum containing artwork not only from Botero but also 85 other pieces from artists like Picasso, Miró, Dali, Renoir, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet. It is all from Botero's personal collection which he has donated for display. It was really a great little museum. We then has a look around some of the rest of the historic centre before heading out for some drinks at BBC (Bogota Beer Company). Let me tell you the beers there were really good although a bit on the expensive side. We found a great little pizza shop for dinner and then headed to bed.
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On Sunday we headed out of Bogota to Zipaquira, a town 50km north. We caught the TransMilenio local bus system to Portal del Norte where we changed onto a little minibus for the hour journey to Zipaquira. We arrived in the town and made our way through the squares and streets to Catedral de Sal. The Salt Cathedral is a cathedral and surrounding tunnels built in old salt mines 200m underground. We wandered through the tunnels which had crosses representing the crucifixion of Christ. It lead us to the stunning cathedral carved out of an old salt mine. It was huge and beautiful with the natural patterns of the salt creating wonderful walls and roof. We then took part of the Miners Experience which adorned us with helmets and lights and allowed us to walk through narrow dark tunnels and put us through a simulated explosion. We also got to try our hand at mining some salt with a pick. It was actually really hard work to break any decent size chunks off. We then watched a 3D film which explained the history of the mines back from when ancient tribes use to collect the salt 400 years BC to modern day where they are still mining using modern techniques. I loved the fact that we had to wear the old school red and blue glasses for the 3D. Really shows you how technology has advanced over the last few years.
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After the mines we headed into Zipaquira for some lunch. We stopped into a restaurant and ordered roast chicken, potato, salad and cola. Instead of cola we ended up with Cola Polo's which was a weird beer, cola mixed drink. There was also no utensils for eating, just plastic gloves so it made for an interesting meal.
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We headed back to Bogota and since there was not much open because it was a Sunday night just got a pizza and some beers from BBC. Not the most authentic meal for our last one in South America but there weren't too many options. It was then time to head to bed as we had an early flight the next morning.

And so this brings an end to our time in South America. Luckily we still have 2 more months of travel ahead of us so while it is sad to leave such an amazing continent I am really excited about the next part of our journey.

Next stop Havana, Cuba!

Posted by SamJohnston 08:44 Archived in Colombia Tagged bogota zipaquirá salt_cathedral museo_del_oro Comments (1)

Discovering the Lost City

Taganga and the Ciudad Perdida trek

It was way back in Brazil when I first heard about the Lost City trek. A 5-6 day trek through the hot, humid Colombian mountains to a city that had remained hidden under jungle for four centuries. Sure it isn't everyone's idea of fun but it sounded like a great adventure and one I really wanted to do. A lot of our itinerary in Colombian centered around leaving ourselves enough time to fit in the trek.

From Cartagena we chose the cushy air conditioned door to door transfer to Taganga. Sure it was a tiny bit more expensive but the thought of having to lug my backpack all the way back to Cartagena's bus station in the unbearable heat and humidity and then sit in a possibly non air conditioned bus for a few hours confirmed it was a good option. So we had quite a pleasant drive the 4-5 hours it took us to Taganga.
On the way we drove through Santa Marta which is the main town of the area. We had decided to stay in Taganga a little fishermans village 10 minutes away from Santa Marta and we were really glad we made that decision. Santa Marta is filled with people and hustle and bustle. Just 10 minutes drive away you have Taganga, a quite little town right on the sea where everything is very laid back.

We checked into our hostel Bayview Hostel. Our room didn't have air conditioning but the guy assured us that there was a good sea breeze that cooled the place down.

Over the next few days we spent relaxing in Taganga preparing for our trek to Cuidad Perdida. I wasn't feeling too great so we booked our trek in for Thursday which gave us a few days to relax and enjoy some down time. Our original hostel turned out to be rubbish and after a stifling hot night of not being able to sleep at all we changed to the much nicer Maisa Summer House. It had air conditioning and a nice pool and a much better vibe.

We also discovered quite a few of the nice eating establishments of Taganga including Cafe Bonsai, a great place for coffee and cinnamon buns and a place we frequented way too many times while we were there but it was just so good.

So on Thursday morning we were picked up by our guide Pedro. We had to sit around on the side of the road for a while while they picked up the others in our tour from Santa Marta but after an hour or so we were on our way to the start of the trek. We drove for about an hour along a highway before turning onto a dirt track through the mountains for another half an hour. We arrived at a little town where we had our lunch and got to meet the others on our tour. There would be 6 of us plus our guide on our tour.

After lunch we set out to begin the 46km round hike. We had to carry all our belongings for the 5 days but the food was transported by mules or our chefs. It was stifling hot and within about 15 minutes of walking I was bathed in sweat. Luckily after about an hour we had a stop to swim in a river which really helped us cool off. But then it was another couple of hours walking to our first camp. Thankfully after one steep section they had watermelon waiting for us. I have never had watermelon that tasted that good before. Somehow I developed huge blisters on the back of both my heels which made it extremely painful to walk. Now I had to get new shoes after the Inca trail but I had been wearing in my shoes for over a month but that hasn't seemed to make a difference. Maybe it was the heat or how much I was sweating but I now had a big problem. It was such a relief to take off my shoes at the end of the day and enjoy another swim in the river. That night we spent in a basic camp sleeping in hammocks.
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The next morning we set off around 8am. It was nice to get going while it was still a bit cool but it still didn't take long until we were all dripping in sweat. I had switched to wearing my trekking sandals which was a huge relief on my feet. The morning was quite tough with lots of uphill. Along our way we stopped at an indigenous sugar mill which was interesting to see and also provided some shade for a few minutes. We also passed through a small indigenous village on our way which we got to walk through and learn a bit about the semi-nomadic people.
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Our camp for that night was a big row of bunk beds under a shelter. We spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming and playing cards. That evening we had some of the local indigenous kids around wanting to play. They were quite funny to watch initially as they were shy but soon became use to us all and got quite naughty.

The third day of the trek was through thicker jungle and we set off quite early. The path was quite narrow and tricky to walk in places. We also had a couple of river crossings to navigate. We had to wade across some rivers up to our thighs deep in order to cross. The current of the river was very strong which made it really tricky to navigate without falling in. But we all managed it ok in the end. Our camp for the third night was some mattresses inside a tent located under a shelter. We arrived into our third camp in time for lunch so we had plenty of time to rest and relax that afternoon.

We were up bright and early on Sunday at 5am to start our climb to Ciudad Perdida. After about half an hours walk along a narrow path we reached the bottom of the stairs. Now there are suppose to be 2000 stairs to climb. I didn't count them all but I would say it is probably a pretty accurate number. The stairs were quite narrow and covered in moss so they were quite hard to climb but it was very tranquil climbing through the jungle towards a city that once had thousands of people living in it. We reached the start of the city and were given an explanation about it as we explored around it. Now I had read and been told not to expect amazing ruins and the main things about the trek was the journey and scenery getting there but I was impressed with the size and location of the city. It was spread out amongst the jungle broken into different areas for different purposes. Ciudad Perdida was built by the Tayronas between the 11th and 14th centuries and was their biggest urban area. After the Spanish wiped out the Tayronas the city disappeared under the jungle vegetation for four centuries until it was discovered by grave robbers in 1975. Exploring it really made you feel like you had stepped out of an Indian Jones movie. We climbed up to the highest point for fantastic views over the city and mountains.
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After a few hours exploring it was time to walk back to camp and have lunch. After lunch we set out on our return journey. Only about 1km from camp disaster struck. Alex severely twisted his ankle. The path was really narrow and muddy and he really hurt himself. We got it bandaged up pretty much straight away but were told he would need to make it back to the next camp a mere 8kms away. Because the path was so narrow the mules couldn't make it down there so the only option was to walk it or be piggy backed. So for the next 8kms he hobbled along using our walking poles as crutches. Of course there was a huge thunderstorm and tonnes of rain which made the walking even more difficult. The path was so muddy and slippery it required concentration on every step. Alex soldiered on and we made it into camp while it was still light. We could then properly inspect his ankle which had swelled up to about 4 times it normal size and had a nice big bruises formed on it.
Now we were in the middle of the jungle so there was no ice so he just had to deal with compression, elevation, ibuprofen and a massage from an indigenous lady.

On our last day we had to make to back to our original start point for lunch so we set out nice and early again. Thankfully Alex agreed to catch a mule back which would give his ankle a rest and hopefully not inflict anymore damage. What didn't help is his mule getting its leg stuck in a crevasse tipping him off shortly into the 12km journey. The last day of the trek was really difficult. It was unbelievably hot and sticky. All I can say is that I have never sweated so much in my life then I did on the Lost City trek. After lots of up and down over 7 hours we eventually made it into town for a well deserved cold drink and lunch.
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We then were crammed into the back of a jeep for the 2.5 hour journey back to Taganga where we were able to finally get some ice onto Alex's ankle.

The Lost City trek was amazing. Sure it was tough but what made it really difficult was the heat and humidity. The scenery was stunning and it was very peaceful walking along through the jungle across rivers to such an isolated destination. Iit was a real magical experience and one I would recommend for those looking for adventure.

The next 2 days we spent in Taganga resting Alex's ankle and trying to get the swelling and pain to reduce. In all honesty lying next to a pool wasn't too difficult for me. We had wanted to visit Tayrona, a national park with beautiful beaches but with the way Alex's ankle was we didn't make it. We managed to get him rested and he slowly could walk better on it again. It is still something that is going to take some time to heal though.

To avoid a 20 hour overnight bus ride with Alex's ankle we decided to catch a plane to Bogota instead. Now we have traveled all the way through South America overland on buses from the tip of Argentina in Ushuaia to the north coast of Colombia so it would have been nice to finish it overland but catching a plane ended up being such a better option and not that much more expensive. So on Thursday morning we bid Taganga goodbye and headed to Santa Marta airport for our flight. Our flight was delayed but with the airport located right on a beach it wasn't too difficult to waste some time with some cold drinks.
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Next stop our last destination in South America and the Colombian capital, Bogota!

Posted by SamJohnston 15:32 Archived in Colombia Tagged lost_city taganga cuidad_perdida Comments (1)

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