The Plazas of Cartagena’s Walled City

Walking the Streets of Cartagena

I had just a few days in Cartagena and wanted to make the most of it.  As such, I walked about every square inch of the Walled City along with most of GetsemanÍ in order take in the culture and history of the city.  I tried visiting virtually every plaza and along the way enjoyed window shopping, people watching, dining, and seeing what the vendors had for sale.

The History of Cartagena

Cartagena, founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, is named after Cartagena, Spain.  Strategically located between the Magdalena and Sinú Rivers on Colombia’s northeastern, Caribbean coast, the city became a very important trade port for Spain.  During the colonial era (1533-1717), the port was used to export Peruvian silver and to import African slaves. Continue reading “The Plazas of Cartagena’s Walled City”

Top Dive Sites in San Andres, Colombia

Top Dive Sites in San Andrés

I wasn’t sure what to expect for diving in Colombia.  After reviewing Trip Advisor, the location of dive shops, and their websites, I contacted Banda Dive Shop in San Andrés.  They confirmed that they offered two-tank morning dives with a surface interval on the boat which included water in a bag and a small snack.  In addition, all equipment was provided.  The boat included a small canopy, captain, and 1-2 bi-lingual divemasters for 8-12 people. The price, at around $65 per day, was far less than most diving locations around the world.

I arrived at the dive shop at 8 to fill out the paper work before the scheduled 8:15 departure time which morphed into 8:45.  The paperwork was the most informal I had ever seen which basically included a waiver and a blank for my certification number.  Illnesses and the number of dives were of no importance in Colombia. Continue reading “Top Dive Sites in San Andres, Colombia”

Top 11 Tips for Traveling to San Andres, Colombia

San Andrés

San Andrés is the largest of three islands in the Colombian archipelago located in the Caribbean Sea.  The islands first appeared on the Spanish map in 1527.  Over the next 350-400 years, the islands were inhabited by the English, Dutch and Spanish and changed hands many times.  In 1900, the islands were declared Colombia’s.  The USA requested that the archipelago be given to Panama by which it is closely located, but the request was rejected proving the local’s loyalty to Colombia.  In 2000, the islands became a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Continue reading “Top 11 Tips for Traveling to San Andres, Colombia”

Why To Fly Copa Airlines

The Pros and Cons of Copa Airlines

For most international flights, I choose a major carrier, but for my trip to Colombia, in order to find decent connection times, I opted for Copa Airlines.  I have used the airline for intra-South America flights, but it had a been a while, and I wasn’t sure what to expect flying from Denver International Airport.

Copa Airlines began operations in 1947 as a domestic airline in Panama.  Over time, it dropped its domestic flights and expanded to international flights in South America.  Before Continental merged with United, Continental was a 51% owner of the airline.  Copa flies 737s and while it generally focuses on South America, it has expanded into additional North American cities and even to a few European destinations.  With only one crash with fatalities, its safety record seems better than many airlines. Continue reading “Why To Fly Copa Airlines”

Things to Know about Hiking in Parques Nacionales Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine


Upon researching how to hike Parques Nacionales Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine without a guide, I had to search several websites including the parks’ own sites, El Chaltén’s website, Trip Advisor, blogs and more to get a general idea of the process. At times, I felt confused and the research was very time consuming. I likely could have just purchased a travel book, but even the Fodor’s (copyright 2015) on occasion was outdated. This post is dedicated to information about hiking Patagonia. The details of our trip can be found in other posts under Argentina and Chile on this site. Continue reading “Things to Know about Hiking in Parques Nacionales Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine”

Our Last Day in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

At 3:30 am, the stars twinkled overhead. We dressed in pants and long sleeves and packed our jackets, hats, gloves, and snacks up to Torres del Paine under of the guidance of our headlamps along with a trail of lights from other campers. The ranger suggested we arrive by 4:45am to see the sunrise. I think we got there sooner.

Once again, we climbed up the rocky hillside for a perfect view only we weren’t sure exactly where the sun would rise. We broke a sweat as we ascended and piled on extra layers of clothes. It’s amazing how warm both our sleeping bag and the sun is, as the darkness in Patagonia is cold! I put on all my clothes and had to dance around occasionally to keep my feet and hands from going numb.

The thin wisps of clouds behind the torres turned pink around 5 am. I think we may have waited an additional 1.5 hours to see the sun light up all the torres on the diagonal. It was breath taking to watch the grey granite torres turn more and more orange with every minute as the color moved down the rocks. As we waited we saw an avalanche. The morning couldn’t have been any better! It was spectacular to end 2015 and begin 2016 at the Torres del Paine…and with perfect weather to boot!

Photos every 15 minutes starting at 5am. Watch the light change!:

IMG_7977 sunrise 1

IMG_8034 sunrise 5

Other photos from New Year’s morning:

With our legs on the tired side, we strolled down to camp, heated some water for oatmeal and coffee, and packed up our gear. I read it took 3.5 to 4 hours to get down to the hotel for the shuttle ride. We had tickets for the 2:30 Bus Gomez who really has their act together. We had to get the 2 pm shuttle from the hotel to Laguna Amarga for 2,800 pesos and wanted enough time to eat lunch by the hotel that is $500/night and requires a two night minimum stay. As such, we hiked down at a slow pace around 8:45am. I think it only took us 2.5 hours so we chilled out with some other campers while we waited for our transportation. One girl quipped, “This is going to be a stinky bus ride.” No doubt!

The shuttles ran at 9, 2, 4, 7:30, according to the chalk board at the ranch style hotel, but one came early around 1, so we hopped on and paid our fare. Sadly, we both fell asleep on the slow, 20 minute bus ride to the administration office where we waited in the shade of a shelter with several others for our 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. We learned to dress according to the weather for the bus rides as A/C and heat were lacking. In shorts and T-shirts, we were hot!

From the bus station, we meandered through the quiet town as most everything was closed for New Year’s Day to Kau Lodge. This time at least we got twin beds that weren’t bunk beds. With nothing clean to wear, the shower became our washer and later in the evening we celebrated New Year’s dinner at Afrigonia which received spectacular reviews on Trip Advisor. I suppose we should have stuck with the regular menu as the king crab special was expensive, over cooked, and somewhat flavorless, especially with out warm butter. Having said that, with as much crab as I have shelled and eaten in my lifetime, I’ve never had a giant king crab placed in front of me. It was a fun experience, and David liked the curried shrimp and scallops he ordered. Not being a curry fan, I skipped that.

The coffee shop at our hotel has happy hour and makes tangerine sours. Apparently happy hour wasn’t over even though it was 9pm, so we ended the night with a sour and dessert. I think I passed out before 10, but who knows. We were up before 6 getting breakfast and a taxi to the bus station for the 7:15 am Bus Fernandez to Punta Arenas. This may have been the nicest bus with assigned seats, a bathroom, and temperature controlled.

We enjoyed our last view of the countryside…wind blown trees, lamb, guanacos, bus stops in the middle of nowhere, flowers that looked like blue bonnets, estancias and more. Three hours later we arrived at the airport, very early for our flight, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The airport was small, but nice with two restaurants and three shops or so. The cash machine was out of order, so glad we didn’t need any money! We were trying to get rid of the rest of ours, and I have to say the restaurant upstairs was really good! I got a chicken sandwich that had about two avocados of guacamole…not the thin spread that barely covers the bread that restaurants in the States serve! We had an awesome trip, though I’m looking forward to home. ETB

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Hiking to Mirador Torres del Paine in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

After a very good egg breakfast, we left Los Cuernos just before 8 with our box lunch in hand. The park map suggested it would take about 7.5 hours to Campamento Torres by taking the “short cut” and not hiking by the hotel in the valley. As such we prepared ourselves for a long day of backpacking.

We climbed up and down the undulating, rocky path and wondered why it wasn’t cut closer to the lake’s shore that seemed much more level than the track we were traversing. We passed through some intermittent trees, but mostly followed the shoreline of the lake for a few hours under a partly cloudy sky. Along the way we spotted a few hares and listened to chirping song birds.

As we cut across the valley of rolling hills and wild flowers, the sun became more intense. We crossed many streams and tried not to kill ourselves on the primitive bridges and in mud pits. Soon we began a steep climb. From speaking with the group we met last night at dinner, I thought we had only just begun the climb to the intersecting trail from the hotel. I planned on refueling over lunch at the trail intersection to tackle the rest of the incline. We snacked on our pork tenderloin sandwich for energy and continued.

Little did I know, though winded, we had plowed through the hardest part relatively quickly. We reached a look out over the valley and saw a Refugio below. I thought this must be Refugios Torre Norte and Torre Central. From these we would continue the steep climb. As we rounded a tight turn, a young man commented, “You are almost there”.

David quipped, “Yeah, right”.

The young Asian replied, “No really! That building down there is Chileno.”

David and I looked at each other in dismay. We couldn’t believe we had reached El Chileno Refugio, operated by Fantástic Sur, so soon. We weren’t staying at Chileno, but we knew it was only 1.5 hours from Campamento Torres, and that we had just ascended the steepest part of the trail! About a mile earlier, we were discussing Chileno’s advertisement “Feeling tired, stop in to reserve a horse ride down the mountain”. Given we met 30 years ago riding horses, we thought it might be fun. By the same token, the weather was nice and we didn’t want to waste any time in the offices. Furthermore, we wanted the freedom to chose our schedule in the morning so with a bounce in our step, we strode forward.

As we hiked past the Refugio and through the camp grounds along the powder blue river with the Torres in sight, signs displayed 1 km to Campamento Torres. I was trying so hard to contain my excitement and hike slowly, but I don’t think I was succeeding. Anytime I have ever seen a photo that made my jaw drop, and I looked to see where the photo was taken, it was always the Torres in Patagonia. I have wanted to come here for years. With each step, I just kept hoping the clouds would cooperate!

The path led us across several bridges, many only supporting two people at a time, some only one, as we climbed up and down the steep terrain through a beautiful forest. As much as we enjoyed the forest, this elevation change was slightly unexpected based on our review of the map and our conversation with the group we met at dinner last night.

Soon we reached a sign for the camp. We were amped! We had reached the camp in 5 hours instead of 7.5 hours. With smiles spread across our faces and an energized laugh, we began looking around for the check in building. It wasn’t in sight! Confused, we wondered if we should have split off the path somewhere. It wasn’t long before some fellow trekkers hiking the opposite direction came along.

We asked, “How far is it to the campgrounds.”

The European gentleman replied, “45 minutes with your luggage.”

We must have looked at him in bewilderment because he quickly pointed to his partner and exclaimed, “Her English is better!”

With the language barrier, David asked with hand gestures, “Did you see an area with tents where you can sleep?”

She confirmed that the campground was 45 minutes away and there we signs pointing down to the camp and up to the Torres.

Ugh…a few more Kilometers! We probably would have enjoyed the lush vegetation much more had we not been so demoralized! We prodded on and reached camp in six hours instead of the 7.5 hour projection. I suppose we still should have been proud of ourselves, but by this time we were ready to dump our heavy packs, set up camp, and hike the last hour to the Torres lookout.

We presented the ranger with our reservation slip that took me a little while to find given the countless bus tickets, food tickets, and reservations slips I carried in my travel purse. We immediately headed to the back of the campground, found a flat spot beneath low hanging trees, and set up our tent. We threw our packs inside, planned on laying our sleeping out later, and stashed some snacks, water, and layers in our day packs. We were ready to tackle the final kilometer.

I couldn’t contain myself as I zoomed up the path. David remarked, “You know how sometimes you say I get crazed over good meals?”

I replied, “Yes, I know. I’m crazed over this photo!”

We criss-crossed a small stream on ladder-like bridges as we maneuvered over boulders, stairs of rocks and loose scree. The terrain was slightly similar to the top of a 14er though at a much lower altitude. Coming from 5,280 feet was a blessing for us, as it made the climbs somewhat easy.

With the Torres in sight, we rounded the bend and soon found the grey lake with the granite columns towering above. It was spectacular! And much to our surprise, there were far less people there than we expected. With a limited hiking area, we were able to scramble over some boulders to an area that allowed us to snap photos without anyone else in the pictures!

Loaded with many snacks, we hung out for probably three hours as we watched the cloud formations swirl around the north torre and many times change directions. Of course, I could never decide when the sky seemed the clearest, so I just snapped one photo after the next. I had to capture the waterfalls, the surrounding peaks, the valley behind us, and of course the Torres poking through the clouds. What a way to spend New Year’s Eve! We celebrated back in the tent with ricotta and spinach ravioli drenched in red sauce with a sprinkle of cheese, a bottle of red wine that David lugged all the way from Los Cuernos, Godiva Chocolate that I got for Christmas.

We hardly made it to 9pm, much less midnight, but we planned on waking at 3:45am to go up for sunrise as long as we could see the stars when we woke up. Today was all that I could have hoped and more! We had such good weather for the whole trip, I was worried our luck might run out. Fortunately, luck was on our side, and the landscape met my high expectations (which doesn’t always happen). ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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Loved Los Cuernos in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

In doing my research and planning this trip, I read we could camp at Británico. This was old information as this campground has been closed a few years. Perhaps I should have purchased a book on the park rather than scanning the internet. The closest alternative was Campamento Italiano, so that is how we ended up there. Camping at Italiano made yesterday a few hours longer, but it made for a very short day today. According to the signs, we only had to trek 2.5 hours to Los Cuernos, operated by Fantástico Sur, where we had our next accommodations reserved. As such, we slept in (at least for our standards). David heated up some water, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in our tent.

The trail to Los Cuernos led us around rock formations, along the river and through the woods. The wind was so still that the temperature felt warm. We had to break out the bug spray and the sunscreen as we donned T-shirts. Soon we arrived on the shores of Nordernskjöld Lake. Its glassy turquoise surface reflected the clouds in the sky. We just chilled on the rocky beach and admired the scenery.

After a two hour stroll up and down the rocky trail, we arrived at Los Cuernos. We arrived 30 minutes earlier than expected, so we had to wait a little while to check in, but in the mean time we enjoyed the deck and adjusted for a few unexpected items that reared their head. We thought we bought two packages of ravioli in the grocery store, but we only bought one, so we adjusted our dinner last night and opted to buy one more lunch at Los Cuernos or perhaps more provisions at Los Cuernos. The small store at Campamento Paine Grande sold pasta and the like, but we did not know if Los Cuernos did the same, so we thought requesting an extra lunch would be the best choice.


We were unaware that Los Cuernos gets their food by horseback, so accommodating us was a little bit of a challenge for them, but they hooked us up. The chef prepared a hot pasta lunch topped with meat just for us. Los Cuernos did not serve a buffet style lunch as we were accustomed to at Campamento Paine Grande. Had we known this, we would have just asked for a boxed lunch like we reserved in advance for tomorrow. Our other option was to eat some of our other food and get food at the end of the W or buy some cookies and chips which were the limited options at Los Cuernos along with wine and beer! David got some wine and cookies anyway. He was insistent on carrying a bottle all the way to Torres del Paine tomorrow for New Year’s Eve!

Enough about the logistics. The staff took us up the hillside to our cabin. I planned one day of luxury during our five nights in the park, and I wanted it to be in the middle of our camping experiences. Our cabin was a treat! It was only a room, but it had a giant bed, a wood burning stove, and an incredible view through its skylights and from its porch. We were steps away from a powerful waterfall that tumbled down the cliffside and our porch looked out on Nordernskjöld Lake and Francés Glacier. If that wasn’t enough, we could look out our skylight at granite peaks and more waterfalls! And to think I suggested we could skip our reservations at the cabins to take advantage of the good weather and go straight to the Torres lookout, for which the park is named.

David thought I was crazy yesterday when I suggested to skip the cabins if the weather was good. And once he saw the hot tub, I would have been in hot water, no pun intended, if I insisted we did. Clearly, photos of the torres were more important to me than comfort, though admittedly it was really nice to enjoy the glorious weather relaxing! So it probably isn’t hard to guess that David’s first stop was the hot tub! It looked like a whiskey barrel filled with river water and a woodburning stove with a black pipe sticking up! It probably wasn’t the most sanitary hot tub with ashes and gnats on the surface of only fresh water, but at least there was a skimmer to remove any debris.

I on the other hand, do not share the same excitement as David over hot tubs. The uniqueness of this one smack dab in the middle of amazing landscape, however, called my name for a few minutes. So I joined David in the warm water (I still wasn’t in hot water). I actually liked it better than normal because it didn’t make my skin crawl like most hot tubs. I still didn’t soak long, as I wanted a hot shower! The shower house, located behind our cabins, was clean and the shower had great water pressure though the drain could have been better. Regardless, I enjoyed my first HOT shower in the park.

We lounged around for the afternoon, read, and climbed on top of the nearby waterfall. For those who have the luxury of hiking the W route at a leisurely pace, having two nights in each general area of the park is the way to go. It provides so much flexibility if the weather stinks. My limited knowledge of the park resulted in a few planning mistakes that have worked out perfectly for us so far! Though the one plan that worked out the best, is that six months ago I could not get reservations at these cabins for the prior day when I wanted them so I reversed our entire trip. In hindsight, this made getting bus transportation more difficult, but it also saved us from being in the park during the snow storm and missing everything! We were in El Calafate and on the bus during the nasty weather. LUCKY!! I imagine the cabins wouldn’t have been quite as exciting if the weather were bad except they would have been a dry and warm place to stay.

Due to the small dining space, Los Cuernos has two seating times for meals. We chose the early dinner slot at 7. We were served chicken broth, a beef burger with hot sauce and rice that I didn’t find terribly appetizing, but then again we didn’t have to cook. We sat next to a tour group at the community tables. They were hiking the opposite direction of us. They hiked up to the Torres del Paine yesterday from Hotel Torres located in the valley. They said it was steep, and when we told them we were back packing up to Campamento Torres, a free campsite operated by the park only an hour from the lookout, they suggested we were in for a long day. The Aussies we met in Puerto Natales said the same thing. This conversation left me feeling a little nervous about tomorrow. The forecast also called for clouds, so I suggested to David that we could stop at the camping in the valley not far from the Hotel Torres at the Torre Central and Torre Norte Refugios operated by Fantástico Sur if we felt bad and the weather was bad as we had the next two days to see the Torres del Paine. David thought we could handle the elevation change, but we planned to play it by ear. ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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