Our First Taste of Island Life on Colombia’s Tierra Bomba and Playa Blanca

Either side of our time in Cartagena we took the opportunity to explore Colombia’s incredible Caribbean coast a bit more by visiting 2 nearby islands; Tierra Bomba and Playa Blanca on the Islas del Rosario.

Both our quiet island stays were 2 nights and a total contrast to the busy, cosmopolitan way of life we experienced in Cartagena.

The incredible Bocagrande, Cartagena skyline

When in the city we wandered the busy streets, discovering lively bars and ate gelato, pizza and sushi. Island life however consisted of sunrise swims, early nights, simple home-cooked Colombian specialties and showers from a bucket of rain water.

Cartagena by night

Firstly we made the short trip from Bocagrande beach over to Tierra Bomba, about a 15 minute boat ride away. We stayed in a tent right behind the beach under the shade of huge palm trees and enjoyed relaxing on the quiet white sand beach and looking over the water to the incredible city skyline.

The view from our tent on Tierra Bomba

Tierra Bomba is a small island with one or two accommodation options near the beach where the ferries run from. Life on this island is super simple, The Beach Hostel where we stayed has a small simple menu of seafood and drinks but it is pretty pricey due to the isolation and the kitchen only operates for a limited amount of hours.

As the sun sets around 6:30pm and darkness descends, the day trippers are long gone and the hostel turns off the background music – in total contrasts to the bright lights of Cartagena, Tierra Bomba slips into an early night as the cool sea breeze soon sends you from hammock into tent. Just as well though, as you are sure to be woken at the crack of dawn to the bright sunlight and singing birds.

Playing on Tierra Bomba

After Tierra Bomba we headed back to Cartagena for a few days in the city (you can read about that adventure here) and, after an unexpected delay in the start of our sailing trip we had time to squeeze in a last minute trip to the Rosario Islands.

Only an hours drive in a minibus away Playa Blanca, the highlight of Isla de Rosario, is really and truely a ️paradise found! The gorgeous beach stretches around a glassy blue bay for a few kilometres, interrupted only by palms.

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Pristine Playa Blanca

However, I feel like I need to do a little get out clause piece here though;

Playa Blanca is beautiful and only an hours drive from a huge city – inevitably you are not going to be the only ones here, in fact, a lot of cynics warned us that the beach wasn’t worth the trip. In honesty I understand what they mean, as you arrive there seems to be a million sellers flogging you everything from sunglasses to sun loungers or a bed for the night. However, if you push on and walk for a couple of kilometres around the bay you are soon rewarded as the sellers virtually disappear, the beach becomes a lot more wild and deserted and accommodation options are now small family run affairs.

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Playa Blanca has beautiful sunsets

Despite the heat we wandered all the way around to Hakuna Matata, following the recommendation of a girl we met in Cartagena, and discovered heaven!

We agreed with the family a 2 night stay and were given a tiny Palm shack on stilts with a mattress and a mosquito net as our home – the hut stood right over the beach just 10 metres from the sea

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Tierra Bomba beach buddy

Where to stay;

We had a great time living a super simple island life – but be prepared when sleeping in a tent or in a tiny wooden shack luxuries are extremely few and far between.

The Beach Hostel Cartagena, Tierra Bomba – we led such a simple island life in our tent; early nights and even earlier mornings as we rose with the sun. For around £11 /night you get a tent, complete with mattress (and cockroach if you’re lucky like us) and access to the beach club which includes sun loungers, a volleyball net and a small bar/kitchen.

Hakuna Matata, Playa Blanca – We got some incredible advice before heading to Playa Blanca; ‘keep walking, it may be hot and hard with your stuff but if you walk the 2/3km along the beach you will find a quiet paradise’ – and we did – total simple island life bliss! A family run collection of 5 wooden shacks on stilts that are about 5m from the sea – the only luxuries are a mattress and a mosquito net but being able to see the Caribbean sea from your bed more than makes up for the lack of bathroom facilities!

Our beach hut home on Playa Blanca

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Beautiful Playa Blanca

How To Get There

Tierra Bomba – By Boat – the only way to get to Tierra Bomba is by boat. Small colourful ferries leave from Bocagrande beach in the heart of the high-rise heart of Cartagena – however, there is no timetable and no order, The Beach Hostel has their own red and white ferry which will take you across the 15 minute trip for free but he only seemed to go once a day, if that. Otherwise there are plenty of others ready to take you for a small fee (around $5).

Playa Blanca – By Bus – only an hours scenic drive from the bustling city and by far the cheapest (and safest) option why take any other route… however if for some unknown reason you dont want to go for the quickest and cheapest route then….

By Boat – each day a couple of maniac drivers take there enormous boats, packed with life jacket wearing tourists from Cartagena harbour to Playa Blanca – for a quite a bit of money you are zoomed around the trip (which takes about 2 hours) crammed into the boats and open to the always rough seas) for 2 days we saw these boats leave and arrive and never thought it looked like a good idea…

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The Beach Hostel Tierra Bomba ferry

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Chilling on Playa Blanca

Tierra Bomba at night

The view from our Playa Blanca bed

My top tips for getting the best out of island life

  • Take plenty of cash – if the island you’re on doesn’t have running water the is little chance that they will have a cash machine either – even though we planned to rely on cash we didn’t take enough meaning that our stays, whilst good for our budget and waistline wasn’t ideal for making the most of the time there
  • Take supplies – on both islands you have to buy everything (even water) so definitely save yourself lots of moment and stress and take supplies; my essentials include lots of water, toilet roll and plenty of snacks!
  • Don’t get burnt – luckily we have pretty sun friendly skin so with a bit of sun cream we had no problems with, how everyone, if you got burnt there was virtually no escape from the sun and definitely no escape from the heat until after dark!
  • Go with the flow – island life is so simple and no one has any time pressure or even awareness for that matter! Whether your looking to pay for accomodation or get a ferry back to the city the best way to handle it is to let them know early and be ready to leave/settle up when they are!

Playa Blanca at sunrise

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Can a bookworm really manage a 4 month trip without a kindle?

I am a total bookworm.

I love to read, especially whilst on holiday, but when travelling, even more so. Whether it’s on a bus, beach, plane or hammock being able to get stuck into a good book is an essential for me on any trip.

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On the move…

The trouble with being a total bookworm is that I can devour a good read in just a couple of days. This doesn’t bode well when you’re trying to pack light for an epic 4 month trip and therefore can’t pack the 20 books you wish to take with you…

Nowadays technology has provided a solution for most issues in life and this includes offering a portable library… e.g. the Kindle.

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…or on a beach – a book is essential

However, for a number of reasons I decided against buying a kindle for the trip, instead choosing to take a couple of books with me and embark on a reading adventure which meant relying on hostel book exchanges for an ever-changing library.

I opted to not buy a kindle for a number of reasons

  1. I was saving every penny for the trip away and a kindle costs anything from £59-169 not to mention the further cost of having to buy books to download onto it
  2. I was working so much and had other top priority things to sort out in the little spare time I did have (e.g. vaccinations, malaria tablets and buying a backpack) that I actually didn’t have any time to research, source, buy, and load up a kindle
  3. I am one of those (slightly sad) people that really prefers reading a proper book
  4. I kind of liked being faced with the challenge of finding interesting books (in English) to read all the way round
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Even the tiny island of Little Corn, Nicaragua had a local library/book swap

So here is how it went – I bought a book from Oxfam ( a way of buying books that I would really recommend by the way) then in the airport we treated ourselves to a 3-for-2 books offer.

So between us we had 4 books (plus a Lonely Planet);

  • Last Voyage of the Valentina – Santa Montefiore (airport buy)
  • Bridget Jones; Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding (Oxfam buy)
  • Unbroken; A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption – Laura Hillenbrand (airport buy)
  • Young Money; Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits – Kevin Roose (airport buy)

(Kind of an odd selection but all were really good reads and would definitely recommend them)

And the swaps we found…

  • Shopaholic Ties The Knot – Sophie Kinsella (No.3 in the series)
  • Shopaholic And Baby – Sophie Kinsella (No.5 in the series)
  • Cheryl ; The Autobiography – Cheryl Cole (well, they weren’t always exactly top quality reads…)
  • Slam – Nick Hornby
  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin (which I have meant to read for the last 10 years)
  • The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
  • Bergdorf Blondes – Plum Sykes

We found a few more as well along the way which was plenty to keep us amused on our many long journeys.

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Stuck in to a good book on Tierra Bomba, an island of Cartagena, Colombia

In all, even though the ‘quality’ of books we found often dipped we had a great time reading a whole range of books, trying to find English texts and bringing them with us on different legs of our journey.

Plus it meant we had one less electrical and charger to carry… perfect!

Stay tuned to hear more of my top travel tips!

Cartagena; Colombia’s Colourful Caribbean City

We could hardly believe how quickly our time had gone as we flew into the beautiful city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, our last stop in South America!

It seemed as though just a few days before we were saying hello to the Pacific for the first time, however, onwards and upwards (well, northwards at least) with our adventures.

This meant basing ourselves in the Caribbean for the next few weeks… it could’ve been worse!

Robbie overlooking Cartagena’s harbour at sunset

I know I’m starting to repeat myself, but really, this city was just too cool!

I guess now you can begin to see why Colombia was fast becoming a favourite destination (read all about our fun adventures in Bogota and Medellin here).

As soon as we stepped of the plane into the warm tropical breeze we were hooked.

Cartagena harbour at sunset

We ended up staying in the Cartagena area for about 8 days, whilst this sounds like a bit of an anomaly in our crazy, fast-paced travels (and it was) we had a few reasons for the extended stay;

  1. The next leg of our journey was a week-long sailing trip to Panama, which we had to book in advance, so day 1 was finding a boat trip and booking ourselves on it, you can read more about organising that in the next post
  2. Cartagena wasn’t the only draw of this beautiful area – the next week would become our first taste of Caribbean island life; we did two 2-night trips to Tierra Bomba and Playa Blanca which you can hear all about soon
  3. We couldn’t help but love the easy way of life we were sucked into when discovering this city and the opportunity to treat ourselves to some real bar hopping
  4. We then had a few issues which delayed our boat journey and gave us 2 more days in the area (which we used to go to Playa Blanca – an absolute MUST)

As you can tell I think I’m going to need a few more posts to share all the details of our extended week in Cartagena! So, for now, I’ll stick to passing on the highlights of this wonderful city!

Cartagena’s beautiful streets

What to see and do;

Wander the winding streets – discover little hidden shops, vast squares, artists, musicians, fruit sellers, market stalls and a whole lot more – don’t forget to look around you, the cities beauty is rooted in the brightly coloured houses, ornate windows and balconies and the beautiful climbing flowers on the front of every building.

Follow the city walls – either with a sunset cycle or a morning walk make the most of the beautiful city walls, the epic views and the much needed sea breeze!

Make the most of your surroundings – throw yourself into discovering every aspect of this area from the old town of Getsemani, the vast Bocagrande and the islands of Playa Blanca and Tierra Bomba.

Playa Blanca

Where to stay;

Hostel Mamallena – though not the cheapest this place is a real backpacker hub on the lively Calle Media Luna. This hostel chain provides the essentials of hostel life really well; good mix of dorms and doubles, a great pancake brekkie and loads of info on what to do and how to get there!

  • Opposite Mamallena there was a hostel (possibly called Media Luna) that seemed to host great backpackers parties on its roof terrace – we never made it but it sounded like fun from what we heard from others
  • If you are unable to get in at Hostel Mamallena (and it did get super busy) then don’t worry the surrounding streets are filled with other cheap places to stay

Hotel Plaza San Felipe – stayed here on the night we arrived late – it’s a beautiful old colonial building which overlooks the Parque Del Centenario as an emergency when we couldn’t find anywhere else to stay late at night – it was central, clean and comfy which was perfect for a late crash!

Tierra Bomba

Where to eat and drink;

Agua de Mar – an incredible, sophisticated and super-cool (literally) gin bar. Not cheap but totally worth the splurge, Robbie enjoyed a classic G+T with cucumber which was the size of his head and I slurped a delicious gin and red berry cocktail, the cool Cartagen-ian crowd, beautiful bar and lively bar tenders make for a great evening of drinking and observation.

Gelateria Paradiso – the ultimate ice cream shop in the heart of the maze-like old town, we couldn’t resist a few repeat visits and each time tried a new incredible flavour from their selection which changed daily – also a great air conditioned retreat for hot, weary wanderers!

Teriyaki Teppanyaki – situated on one side of the Plazuela de San Diego opposite the Sofitel this place had an incredible selection of sushi – it is in amongst a bunch of restaurants all of which were full and lively every night and had great outdoor seating, a great spot for an evening!

Bar el Coro – the Sofitel hotel lounge bar – here I had hands down THE BEST COCKTAIL I HAVE EVER HAD. IN MY LIFE. EVER. I am so annoyed with myself that I enjoyed it too much to make note of the recipe but the delicious mix was something like this; refreshing lychee liquor, lemongrass syrup and a few other dreamy bits and bobs all mixed with together with iced mango green tea and loads of ice! My mouth is watering just thinking about it, and I haven’t even gotten around to the bar snacks yet… Alongside our wonderful refreshments we had a complimentary selection of olives and crisps and we ordered a small plate of crispy shrimp with spicy sauce… delish! Again this isn’t such a great budget option however, the lounge bar is like something from a 50s classic film; comfy low sofas, enormous ceiling fans and a jazz crooner in the corner – a must visit!

Pizza en el Parque/Pizza in the Park – a perfect pit-stop just a few doors down from Agua de Mar this little pizza place offers tasty and cheap pizza… perfect after a few gins!

Fruit on the street – everywhere there were ladies in traditional blue, red and yellow dress selling the most wonderful fresh fruit for super cheap – gorge on mango, melon and pineapple (and papaya, but I don’t trust people who like papaya…)

Exito – a great supermarket with a big branch right in the heart of Getsemani, great for picking up island or boat supplies, Haviana flip-flops for £5 and ideal to get ingredients for making your own guacamole as we did one hot afternoon!

The incredible Bocagrande skyline

As you can tell we did a real eat-and-drink-tour of Cartagena and I would recommend anyone else to do the same!

All that should be on your agenda is to explore, discover and enjoy the city – and what better way than to follow your stomach!

How to have a stress free trip when it comes to money

Whilst travelling is the most wonderful, incredible experience it is pretty dependent on that one, annoying, niggling little thing… money!

After working so so hard to save for our trip we were set on making the most of every penny – we had a time scale and fit out roughy budget (£1000/month) around it.

Little Corn, Nicaragua – worth saving up for

Determined not to be one of those ‘we had to fly home early’ horror stories we got down to work…

…before embarking on our adventure we did hours of research on the best banks, credit and debit cards and  ways to carry cash to make the most of our money whilst away.

After months of account reviews, setting up credit cards and changing current accounts we finally managed to have a great, all-bases-covered kind of wallet for our trip.

must-see places and activities all cost – Chichen Itza, Mexico

Here are the details;

Primary usage

Halifax clarity credit card – totally free to use abroad (with a tiny 1% interest on cash withdrawals), easy to setup (seriously Halifax customer service is great) and paid off by direct debit each month which meant a worry free trip

Nationwide debit card – totally free for all cash withdrawals (did charge to use as a chip and pin though), the account did have a £10/month fee but that more than balanced out what we would have racked up in charges with another account so was great value

US Dollars – ‘the world’s currency’ these were accepted for large payments (e.g. travel and accommodation) all around South and Central America (and they are the currency in Ecuador and El Salvador)

Back-up plan

HSBC debit card – this was my debit card that I use at home, it has terrible international rates for both usage and cash withdrawals but does work virtually everywhere in the world – we only used it once but its key to have a back-up

Nationwide Credit Card – this was free to use abroad but was only a back-up which (very kindly) Robbie’s parents kept an eye on so the bills were paid asap – we used it twice but only in real emergencies (e.g. both out cards getting declined for no reason!)

Overall thoughts

Halifax was great but it was a Mastercard which wasn’t accepted in a few places (Visa is more universal)

With all banks the charge for payments are kept ridiculously hidden and despite all our digging and fact searching we were only aware of the Nationwide charges once the first statement came through

Booze can easily be a budgets downfall though sticking to beer means you can afford more than one


Top tips

  1. Always carry back-up dollars – keep these in a seperate safe place so you always have a back up
  2. Always know the currency and exchange rate when crossing countries borders
  3. Don’t be afraid to swap small change at borders (even if the guys look dodgy) but the exchange rate is rubbish so if you exchange more than £20 worth and your being ripped off!
  4. Double, triple check with your bank for any charges at all when abroad – the banks are trying to sell you their product so it is up to you to be critical and push for the negatives/hidden charges
  5. Always setup a direct debit payment for credit cards (in advance if possible so you can test it before you go)
  6. Keep a budget – the most crucial advice – it sounds dull but by making a note on paper of everything we spent we kept on top of our spending and had no money issues – and it only takes 2 mins!
  7. Make sure your overall budget is realistic – we set about £30/day or £1000/month – this may sound a lot but that is travel, accomodation, food, drink, souvenirs and activities – trust me, it is virtually impossible to do it on less unless you work for accomodation etc.

Markets and souvenirs are a minefield for a cash strapped traveller


How to budget

All over the web on travel blogs there are nightmarish spreadsheet ‘fail safe’ budget techniques, however who wants to be doing a spreadsheet when they could be out discovering thenworld??

The simpler the better was the method we used – though a little shaky at the start we soon perfected our method

Take a notepad (a gazillion other uses too) and record

  1. Every time you spend on card
  2. Every time you spend online (accomodation, flights etc.)
  3. Everyte you take cash out

Put a date with each entry and total eat each time you get to the end of the page!

Divide the total by the number of days you have been away and it should equal £30 (or whatever your daily budget may be)!

We think that is the fool proof way!

Besides accomodation travel was pur next biggest cost

Happy budgeting!

P.s. Don’t be scared of having some days at £50 and others at £15… When changing counties that’s just how it goes – so long as your standard of living doesn’t change your budget should equal itself out between the expensive and cheap days!

Medellin; Discovering this Modern Cities Chequered Past

Medellin is an incredible city – I think it is such a cliché to describe somewhere as full of life but that is the only way to begin to capture the vibrancy and warmth of this mountain city.

Whilst Bogota was business-like, serious and exuded capital city authority, Medellin, in contrast, was full-of-life, like a rejuvenated and creative cousin.

Despite still being high in the Andes the city felt more humid and jungle-like than any of our previous stops; we spent the long, warm days exploring the city, riding the sky train, discovering hidden parks, sculptures and gardens and the always summery nights making the most of cosmopolitan city life.

We decided to stay for 4 days as the city had so much to offer – our time soon passed and we moved on having fallen in love with the Medellin way of life.

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Plaza Botero – Botero’s sculpture park

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Puerta Urbana – a light and water feature that apparently only runs on a Tuesday…

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Plaza de los Luces

Today, Medellin feels booming, however, it is a city with a brutal history. Not so long ago it was the cocaine-capital of the world and the territory of Pablo Escobar, Drug cartels ruled (and fought over) the crime-ridden city and for decades the authorities didn’t even attempt to try and break the stronghold Escobar held on the city.

In stark contrast, Medellin is now a city full of opportunity, openness and education;

  1. It is home to continent-leading medical, educational and sports facilities and striking architecture
  2. During its rejuvenation plan the city remained ‘local friendly’ initiating policies such as the sky train and cable car upon which you can travel across the whole city for around 30p
  3. There seems to be endless educational centres, interactive museums, botanical gardens and cultural features dotted around the city

So here is my guide to getting the best out of this wonderful city – a perfect mix of busy sight-seeing days and wandering to find hidden gems for some time to relax and take it all in!

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‘Barefoot Park’ – Parque de los Pies Descalzos

What to see and do;

Parque Explora – calling all big kids, this was the best day out ever! We had such a good time at this place (think science museum/aquarium/interactive games/reptile house)! Admittedly we were a little older than the average 6 year old crowd but going on a school day meant we avoided much of the kiddie madness! Highlights include fighting a T-Rex, being put inside a bubble and seeing creatures from the Amazon! The food on offer here is a bit rubbish and mainly junk food so I would recommend grabbing a picnic from one of the supermarkets (Exito is great) and having lunch in the botanical gardens before you go in!

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Parque Explora

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Fighting a T-Rex at Parque Explora

Botanical Gardens – literally just across the road from Parque Explora these gardens were the perfect place for a sunny picnic after wandering around all morning! A beautiful exotic park filled with orchids, butterflies, snapping turtles and endless pathways to explore it all. Watch out or the roaming iguanas though – they tend to sneak up on you when you least expect it!

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Botanical gardens

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Botanical gardens – meeting an iguana

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Botanical gardens – meeting an iguana

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Butterfly garden

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Butterfly garden

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The garden’s lagoon

Ride the sky train/cable car – unfortunately Park Arvi at the top was closed on the day we were visiting (what are the chances!) but we still had an incredible time riding the cable car and having a birds-eye-view of what used to be  the most notorious area of Medellin. We got out at the top and wandered about the brightly coloured, unbelievably steep streets… but, be warned, this is not a usual tourist spot, we did get lots of funny looks and people warned us against stopping here; whilst Pablo Escobar may be long gone this area of the city still remains very poverty and crime ridden. We didn’t have any problems bit we did feel have our guards up during our quick visit.

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At the top of the highest suburb in Medellin

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At the top of the highest suburb in Medellin

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At the top of the highest suburb in Medellin

Go on a walking tour – either the general city one or the tour that follows Pablo Escobar’s life; we heard these were both incredible but unfortunately our days in the city didn’t fit with the tours – information for them both can be found in all the hostels.

Where to stay;

We had quite an interesting (and stressful) time finding somewhere to stay in Medellin. It is a lively and popular stop with lots to see and do, so clearly the prices reflect that, we booked a day or two in advance, here is our adventure;

Hostel Arcadia – this was our WORST hostel experience during our whole 4 month trip; rude staff, left waiting for hours, a girl got bed bugs in a dorm, kitchen looked revolting, ‘our room’ had a smashed window, hadn’t been cleaned, a broken plug socket, a broken fan and dirty bed sheets – needless to say we left sharpish!

Zen Hostel – an emergency 1-night cheap stop after the Arcadia disaster – small, clean and nice with a good kitchen but mattress was about an inch thick and the location is a little out of the way (suburbs not tourist area), we did get to discover another central area of the city and found ourselves in the middle of a celebrating football crowd around the central stadium on game day! Double = £11/night.

Hotel Plaza Rosa – After the madness and stress we decided to treat ourselves for (plus it all the hostels seemed to be pretty booked up) so we stayed back in the heart of El Poblado, it was a decent place, comfy bed, clean bathroom and was quite nice to properly have one night of privacy – we also used the gigantic room to unpack and repack our bags for the first time. Double = £ /night.

Tiger Paw Hostel – just down the road from Hotel Plaza Rosa (but more importantly about 100m from our fave breakfast spot – see below) this was a good hostel overall, good value, great location, extras like a bar, outside area and pool table but rooms were really stuffy and a bit dirty. Double £ /night.

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Botero’s sculpture park

Where to eat and drink;

D’andre – Carrera 37 (off calle 10) – epic, epic brunch stop! We become totally obsessed with this place during our 4-day stay in the city, we had the best salmon, avocado, eggs etc. every morning (yes, EVERY…) it was that good. Plus it is right in the heart of El Poblado (a.k.a the ‘tourist friendly’ hostel hub) – always good, always friendly and always cheap!

Sushi Train – by Hotel Diez – we had delicious, super fresh sushi here, it had a good selection which wasn’t too expensive. We also got to watch Colombia win the Miss World competition whilst eating!

We found a gorgeous little Italian, ( which I can’t remember the name of…) right between Hotel Plaza Rosa and Tiger Paw Hostel on Calle 10 in El Poblado which had the most gorgeous terrace on which to eat – overhanging trees, cosy tables with little candles and hundreds of twinkly fairy lights, if you wander the area by night you can’t miss it – we scoffed delish pizzas and salads here on two nights of our stay – it was too good not to go back! It wasn’t the cheapest of stops (mains £7-12) but it didn’t break the bank either, a must-eat-at!

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Another weird and wonderful sculpture which captures the creativity of this city

Whilst most my eating and sleeping recommendations are in El Poblado the rest of the city does have so much to offer; we split our time between here and exploring the rest of the city (mostly via the sky train)!

However we met loads of travellers who spent most of their time in the hostel and never bothered to leave El Poblado – they definitely missed out!

Keep following our adventure as we fly up to Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Welcome to Colombia; Business in Bogota

Our change of plans in Ecuador meant we were now flying out of Guayquil. As we were flexible on our arrival destination in Colombia (and with by far the best value flight arriving in Bogota) we were now set to stop off in Colombia’s capital city.

Heading back up high into the Andes we enjoyed pretending to be students again around Bogota’s university campuses and tried to get used to living back at altitude (and wearing a jumper)!

We were only paying the city a flying visit but nevertheless had a jam-packed 2 days.

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Santa Maria overlooking Bogota

We must’ve walked for miles and miles around Bogota’s bustling streets discovering huge illuminated sky-scrapers, an eating and shopping-led city centre and narrow, winding brightly coloured side streets.

Our first stop north of the equator felt in a lot of ways as though we had been transported from our mad South American travels to a typical European city break! But it was a fun contrast to spend our days doing some proper sight-seeing.

Bogota has a great selection of restaurants, museums and things to see – below I have listed some of the highs (and lows) of what this city has to offer, enjoy!

What to see and do;

Museo del OroGold Museum – absolutely spectacular – over 55,000 gold pieces from tiny earrings to enormous body plates dating way back to the Inca times – a definite must-see and entry was less than £1!

Monserrate – climb up the winding path (or get the funny funicular train or cable car) to the top of the highest peak around Bogota for an epic view of the sprawling city and a walk around the beautiful Cathedral. We were feeling a bit off kilter (first of the travel sick days) with all the overnight travel, altitude and changing countries so we opted to take the funicular train up and walk down (it was also raining) – would definitely recommend this as it is 1000ft up – warning, it is not for those who don’t like heights or who are suffering from the altitude!

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A cloudy start to the day

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Slowly clearing…

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The diverse city revealed

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The cathedral at the top

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As the clouds lifted the sprawling city emerged

Wander through the university campuses and the business district – there is so much to see around this bustling city. From street entertainment to pop-up market stalls everyday life in Bogota is full of surprises.

What to avoid;

The pot holes! Bogota is infamous for its pot hole ridden streets! Walking the pavements is literally a minefield (especially for someone as clumsy as me) – watch your step or your days adventures will soon be halted by a twisted ankle!

Museo National – we ducked in here for two reasons;

  1. 1) the building looked spectacular from the outside
  2. 2) it was beginning to rain (again…)

The fantastic building unfortunately didn’t contain a particularly exciting exhibition but it was free entry and protected us from the rain, the highlight was seeing an actual meteor that had landed in Colombia – not all bad then!

Plaza Bolivar – another capital, another Plaza Bolivar (see Lima) however, rather than the stunning, palace-backed plaza we discovered in Lima we could not have been more disappointed with the pigeon infested, pick-pocket central square in the heart of bustling Bogota – there is plenty else to see in this city.

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Pigeons galore

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Pigeons galore

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Graffiti on the once prestigious buildings

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Odd sculptures sum up the missed opportunities of Plaza Bolivar

Where to stay;

Chocolate Hostel – central, simple but comfortable, full of information points and is good value for a great location. BUT – take layers as rooms get super cold at night and (side note) the hot chocolate from the Chocolate Hostel was really disappointing!

Where to eat and drink;

Not a particularly Colombian selection I know, but…

Wok – think Wagamamas but, dare I say it… even better! Incredible menu packed with a variety of Asian delights from noodles to ramen to sushi and wonderful fresh fruit juices – it’s always busy, and for good reason, we pigged out here twice, both times for about £10-£15 (not bargain basement but it didn’t blow our budget either). Make the most of it though because the chain is only in Bogota.

Archies – stopped here one night for a quick early pizza as we were exhausted after our early flight from Ecuador – it was tasty but nothing special, however, we did have major ‘food envy’ of other tables so I think in our tiredness we might have chosen badly.

University campus – lots of little fast, on-the-go eateries, great for picking up a quick and cheap lunch!

Travelling around Colombia;

I have said this before, so believe me it is true, I do not really like flying, not in a major ‘refuse to get on a plane way’ but would look at most other options first…

So I think you know I am giving you some good advice when I say that the ONLY way to travel around Colombia is by flying. The country is a minefield for travel with dense Amazon and treacherous mountain roads (and even some parts still Guerrilla-run) so when we discovered flights for the same price, if not less, of the major bus companies it was a no-brainer.

Avianca, LAN and Viva Colombia (links) all offer cross-Colombia flights for around £50.

For example;

Bus – Bogota to Medellin = 10hrs and £20 with

Plane – Bogota to Medellin = 45mins and £40 on Avianca

By now we were in our 3rd week of travels and just beginning our explorations in our 3rd country – stay tuned for lots more Colombian adventures and find out why it became one of my favourite places.

How To Expand Your Accommodation Options With Air Bnb

Air BnB is great.

No, not great, it is incredible. It added so much to our trip and all for no extra cost.

Here is a little guide as to how we used Air Bnb and why this should become part of everybody’s trip-planning repertoire.

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Manuel Antiono National Park, Costa Rica – our first Air BnB experience

Firstly, do not be scared of staying in a stranger’s house – weird advice when out of context I know, but trust me…

To setup a profile there are plenty of security hoops to jump through, these only take around 10 minutes but really improve security, plus it is totally up to the host whether they accept you to stay or not. My advice; to upload a friendly picture and include a little paragraph about yourself when applying to stay at a place. After your stay both host and guest rate each other too, therefore offering honest feedback for the next stay!

The whole ethos of Air BnB encourages you to ‘live like a local’ wherever you may be travelling to. They even go so far as to request that the homeowners who list their space write a personal list of recommendations for the surrounding area.

What’s more, we managed to get a lot more bang for our buck in comparison to the usual dinghy, over-crowded hostels. This isn’t to say that apps such as Hostelworld are redundant; in fact this saved us many times and also gave us a clear idea of what we should be expecting to pay as we moved between towns and countries!

My point is, with Air BnB you have the opportunity to maximise your value for money – this can happen through a number of ways e.g. providing bikes, free breakfast, having access to a swimming pool or (if you like your host) a local tour guide and friend.

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Pool access in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

The apartment we stayed in whilst in Cancun even gave us a welcome bottle of wine, use of their Netflix and even offered to VIP cinema tickets to the enormous complex down the road (which unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to use).

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Our epic pool in Cancun – which we always had to ourselves!

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Cancun by night

Whilst not all places can offer such luxuries, a key attraction for us of renting an Air BnB room is that we got to escape the tourist crowds – this also meant that we had full use of a clean, well-equipped home kitchen (as opposed to the nightmares you find in some hostels) and we had privacy (which sounds boring but when meeting new people every day for 4 months it is a small luxury not to be asked your name, age and nationality every 5 minutes…)

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Rooftop pool, Cancun, Mexico

My top tips for getting the best out of Air Bnb;

Make the most of their loyalty/recommendation schemes – when you recommend a friend (ideally your travel buddy) you receive a discount of $25 off your next booking when they start up an account. Moreover, they offer you $75 off if you list a space to rent.

Use the app – for some reason it is way easier and simpler than the website! Also then you have it on you wherever you go to check for any messages or updates.

Utilise the epic filter system when searching – you can search for almost anything from properties with a fireplace to those who have a swimming pool or Jacuzzi to places which include a doorman!

Be open to going off the beaten track – you never know what you might find!

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Our flat’s rooftop garden, Cancun, Mexico

Our one annoyance;

Unfortunately we did have one problem with Air BnB, the site has really strict privacy settings (which is brilliant when both host and guest are strangers) but this did mean that at one point, when we had to confirm our identity (for no apparent reason as we had used it a number of times already) and the only option was to do it via a phone call we had a few troubles.

  1. we knew it would cost a lot to answer a phone call in Mexico on a UK number
  2. there was no alternative other than using a mobile
  3. we couldn’t proceed with a booking until it had been overcome even though we had successfully had Air BnB stays before

We thought that a site for people travelling (often abroad) should be entirely tailored for easy use in any part of the world!

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Just one last Cancun pool picture!

Besides this, Air BnB was a great tool – stay tuned for more travel tips!