Tag Archives: Beaches

Colombia

Colombia was the last stop on our round-the-world adventure, and it did not disappoint.   Jen’s friend, Anne, met us in Bogota, and we were all amazed by the modern and colonial parts of the city surrounded by a pretty mountain.  The financial district where we stayed even felt a little like Washington, D.C.!  We spent a few days at the museums around town, and poking into a few emerald shops along the way.  Best of all, Colombia was inexpensive – a nice treat on our budget after costly Brazil.

Next, we flew to touristy but picturesque Cartagena.   We loved wandering the colorful streets and old city walls, as well as the fun nightlife in the old city.  We also got out of town to see the turquoise waters of Playa Blanca and the beautiful fish in the coral reef near the Rosario Islands.  To get there, however, we had to brave a boat ride which involved flying five feet airborne over some rather large waves for about an hour straight, making us wonder we had gotten ourselves into.  All a part of the adventure.

Sadly, Anne had to head back to work, so Jon and Jen finished the 9 1/2 month journey on the beaches east of Cartagena.  First, we stopped at a surf camp called Costeno Beach, with miles of quiet beach, delicious communal dinners, and a chilled-out vibe.   Jon was ecstatic to be able to surf, skateboard, and slack line every day.  We spent our days in the hammocks while the waves and the hours rolled on by.

Our final beach stop was a camping trip in Tayrona National Park, where we hiked in to gorgeous turquoise water and big rocks on the shore line.  If we didn’t already think we were in paradise, the sand in Tayrona even sparkles with fools gold!

Our very last stop on our trip was a visit with Jon’s college friend, Eric, and his beautiful wife, Kristin, in Baranquilla.  They were wonderful hosts and we loved meeting their cute family and eating some great meals with them.

Sadly for Jon and Jen, our journey has come to an end, and we have returned to Denver.   We will post one last post with some favorites.

Brazil, nós te amamos

After some beach time, we headed to the main cities in Brazil:  Salvador, then Rio, then Sao Paolo.  We arrived in Salvador late.   As a testament to how friendly the Brazilians are, a lawyer we met on the plane offered to give us a ride to our place.  It was super nice of her and her husband, and we were especially grateful because the neighborhood we were in was a bit sketchy.   Salvador overall is a bit rough, we definitely felt that we had to be alert at all times.  We did have a nice two days exploring the city by bus, going downtown and seeing the historic district, which was still decked out from Carnaval (Brazilian’s second largest celebration!), and going up the coast to a beautiful beach called Flamingo Beach.

Rio was absolutely a highlight of our entire trip.  The natural setting of mountains, peaks, and ocean with a major city built all in-between is stunning.   Gregarious and fun loving Brazilian culture is the icing on the cake.  Although we were careful of our safety, we never felt unsafe and had no issues in Rio.  The first couple days we enjoyed hanging out in our neighborhood and on the stunning beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.   One day we went on a city tour to see the top sites (Christ the Redeemer, Saint Teresa and Lapa neighborhoods, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and Sugarloaf Mountain).   Our last day we explored the Centro, a few museums and the National Theater.  We had to sample the raucous salsa clubs in Rio, and they did not disappoint.   We capped off our stay at a Brazilian steakhouse with an incredible view on a peninsula in the Flamengo neighborhood.    We had so much delicious meat we needed a few days vegetarian days to recover.

Our last few days we spent in Sao Paolo, enjoying the last of Jon’s Marriott points.   We only had one full day there.   We took the bus and metro into the city to see some of the main plazas and museums.  Sao Paulo is the largest city in South America; we heard the term “monster” thrown around more than a few times.

Brazil was one of our favorites, but it was time to move on to the last leg of our trip in Colombia.

Carnaval & Brazil beach bumming

We flew from the southern tip of South America almost to its north-eastern tip for a little party called Carnaval.  Instead of heading to the best known Carnaval in Rio, we decided to spend our Carnaval in the towns of Recife and Olinda upon the recommendation of our friend, Cara.  Recife and Olinda are known for their more cultural, authentic, safer, less expensive, and less commercial Carnaval than its more famous Rio rival.   It was a great choice!

We spent days in Olinda, a colonial town with a lot of character, with the young and costumed Carnaval crowd.   At night, we headed to Recife for big concerts and awesome decorations.   We had a blast joining the Carnaval madness with one exception: Jon was pickpocketed walking to the taxis at the end of the first night!   Luckily he had no cash, just dealing with the nuisance of canceling and re-ordering credit cards and a driver’s license.

From Carnaval, we moved to several beach towns, generally going south towards Rio.  However, we had to go north to check out one beach recommended by other travellers.  To get to the dolphin beach, we walked in and out during low tide.  Amazingly, the dolphins come by every day to swim with people in the bay!   We thoroughly sunburnt ourselves by spending hours in the water flopping around trying to get the dolphins attention.   It was worth it to swim with the beautiful dolphins in the pretty bay.

We headed south to Porto de Galinhas, a favorite of Brazilian tourists and those in Recife looking for a weekend getaway.   The beaches were long, calm, and beautiful.

Our last beach town (well, city really) was Maceio.  It was a relatively pleasant city along a nice, fun beach.   The surrounding beaches in the area were even nicer, Gunga being the highlight.   Gunga beach goes on for miles with a coconut plantation running alongside it.

We fell in love with the open, friendly Brazilian culture, while enjoying the tropical fruits and ocean views.  What a blast!  We were excited for more Brazil.

¡Chi-Chi-Chi Le-Le-Le!

In an attempt to get the best fare, we had booked a flight from New Zealand to South America months ago.   As our trip to South America was approaching, we began doing research into details in Chile and Argentina.   As it turns out, we got super lucky – Valparaiso, Chile, just two hours from Santiago, apparently has the biggest New Year’s celebration in South America – perfect!   Unfortunately, we did not get off to a good start with our flight from Auckland, NZ to Santiago, Chile, as it was delayed 17 hours.   After finally arriving in Santiago in the middle of the night, we spent a day or so recovering and applying for our Brazilian Visa at the Brazilian Embassy in Chile.

We quickly headed for New Years in Valparaiso, a town with tons of character on the coast of Chile.  We spent some time wandering the cobblestone streets and enjoying the amazing street art on brightly painted homes and shops in the hills.  We scoped out some spots to watch the several fireworks displays that light up the bay along the coast of Valparaiso and its neighboring towns.  Finally, we decided to head to the beach, for views of as many of the fireworks displays as possible.  We collected some supplies in the form of a wig, a mask, silly string, and yellow underwear (a Chilean New Years tradition for good luck).  We hung out with the families on the beach, and watched all of the fireworks explode above the water, on all sides of us, while the crowd chanted “Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le!  Viva Chi-le!”  Afterwards, we headed downtown to see the band play in the square.  The streets were packed, young Chileans were out in full force, and we did our best to keep up – staying out until 4am (the parties go until 10am in some parts, we were told).

After New Years, we headed for Valpo’s cleaner and quieter suburb, Vina del Mar, to hang out for a few days.  We loved biking along the ocean on the bike paths to little beach towns.  We stayed at a wonderful hostel with incredibly kind hosts, and enjoyed practicing our Spanish with the Latin-American guests we met.

Next, we took an overnight bus to Pucon, in the Lakes District.  Pucon is nestled against a lake with a beach, with a gorgeous snow-capped volcano in the background.  We wasted no time booking a tour to climb the volcano the next day.  It took about 4 hours to climb the  volcano with crampons, and less than an hour to slide down it on sleds!  It was certainly a highlight of the trip.   The other days there we spent biking to water falls, hiking to three lakes in a beautiful National Park with a lovely French-speaking couple from Corsica who had been living in Tahiti.   It was great getting to know them and adding another destination to our desired travel list (Corsica sounds amazing!).  It was also fun, yet confusing at times, to speak French and Spanish interchangeably during the day.

We were sad to leave Pucon, but excited for a few days in Santiago before having to head to Argentina and Mendoza to meet up with Jon’s high school friend, Owen, and his wife, Sara.   The highlight of Santiago for us was our hostel, one of the best we’ve stayed at during our entire trip, and the well done museum about Chile’s Pinochet military dictatorship from 1973 to 1989.

We loved our time in Chile and happy to know that we’d be back with our adventures into Patagonia in the beginning of February.

Glaciers, Glowworms, Glamping & Grapes!

We hopped on the ferry from Wellington to Picton with our car, for the start of our adventures on the South Island.  On the way we had a nice view of the Marlborough Sounds, later the site of our first tramp (hiking trip).   Before our tramp, we stayed a couple nights in the Marlborough Sounds wine area,  the largest wine producing region in NZ.   We had a great time visiting vineyards on bikes, tasting wines, and even buying a few bottles.   We biked around with two other couples from our backpackers, one from Vancouver, the other a young couple from Boston, or “Team America.”

From the vineyards, we drove to start our first tramp, the Queen Charlotte Track.  Instead of hiking the entire 4-5 day track, we opted for an overnight hike covering 30km.  Our weather wasn’t great, but we had nice views of the Sounds, and the track ended at a historic sound favorited by Captain James Cook ( the 1700’s navigator who kick-started the European settlement of NZ).  At the end, we took a shuttle boat back to our parked car.

This brings us to the concept of “glamping” – glamorous camping.   NZ has it down:  along many of the tracks, especially those along waterways, you can hire a boat to take your packs to the next stop each night.  You can even stay at posh lodges, or have a boat take you from one spot to another, if you don’t want to tramp yourself.  New Zealand trails have consistently impressed us with the quality of the trails, accommodations, and backcountry amenities.  The trails are full of gorgeous suspension bridges and fun wooden walkways.  Some backcountry campsites even have potable water, sinks for washing hands, and  flush toilets.  Flush toilets!!!

Further evidence of glamping can be found in Abel Tasman National Park, the site of our second tramp.  We did another overnight hike here, ending with a boat ferry back to our start.  We were incredibly impressed with the scenery, waterfalls, and flush toilets at the campsites.   Jon even hiked to the Cleopatra Pools, where he slid down a natural slide in the rocks.   Abel Tasman was amazing, but the sandflies were not.  Sandflies can drive hikers crazy.  Tiny little flies, their bites last for weeks and cause their victims to awake at 3 am to itchy spots.  Plus,  there are always tons of them around.   Despite the sandflies, Abel Tasman is all about the glamping.

In between glamping, we hung out in the town of Nelson, where Jon got to mountain bike, and relaxed a bit.  We also spent a night outside of Nelson Lakes National Park to get a glimpse of the beautiful lake.  We didn’t have time for a hike in Nelson Lakes, so we’ll have to come back.

In Franz Joseph, we get to the Glaciers and Glowworms portion of our post.  We visited both the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, and even did a night time walk to see some glowworms.   We saw tons of little green guys suspended on an upturned tree!  Unfortunately, the glow worm photos didn’t come out.   It was difficult to see too much of the glaciers from the walking trail, and we weren’t willing to shell out for a helicopter ride (we have seen lots of much bigger glaciers in Alaska!) so we headed on for the main South Island event in Fiordland.

East Coast

After an afternoon wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, we drove to a national park for a night of camping near a waterfall.  We were on our way to visit yet another gracious host, Jon’s father’s cousin, or “Sledge.”  Sledge is an American who moved to Australia in the 70s, landing near Nimbin, a quirky town known for being very liberal.  Sledge and his beautiful partner, Danielle, live in a home completely off the grid and independent of local electricity, plumbing, water, etc.  Pretty amazing!  They live in a gorgeous jungle with beautiful trees and animals (and sometimes bugs!) all around them.  We also got to visit Sledge’s son, Sebastian, his partner Ruby, and their children who live on the property.

Sledge and Danielle took us all around the area, to Byron Bay, beautiful beaches, forests, and a hike to the “pinnacle,” overlooking a crater’s valley in a national park.  When we visited Nimbin, the nearby town, we were amused to be welcomed with open arms, as we’re from Colorado, the first U.S. state to completely legalize marijuana.   Sledge and Danielle were wonderful hosts, and we loved staying on their farm and enjoying their beautiful area!

When we left the Sledge farm, we drove to an animal sanctuary where Jen got to HOLD A KOALA (THIS IS NOT A JOKE) and we both got to pet Koalas.  It was touristy but cool nonetheless.  At a nearby beach, Jon took advantage of the beginner waves and had fun surfing for a couple hours.   We then drove through Surfer’s Paradise and skipped Brisbane and the G20 (sadly we weren’t invited), and stopped in Noosa.

Noosa was the most beautiful beach we saw on the coast.  We even saw a wild koala on a tree in a walk in the Noosa Headlands National Park.

Next, we joined a two night sailing tour out of the Whitsunday Islands.   We got to participate in the sailing, snorkel on the end of the Great Barrier Reef (including seeing another huge turtle!), and visit the gorgeous Whitehaven Beach, with the most pure sand in the world.  However, due to lack of internet and time limitations, we did not fully vet the tours or find out the details of our boat.  It turned out that there were about 28 people (by people I mean young backpackers) all sleeping bunk style in a large dorm in the bottom of the sailboat.   Overall, the sailing trip was amazing, but the sleep was lacking.

The Whitsundays were a great first taste of the Great Barrier Reef.   We were excited to head north and get to the heart of the reef, in Cairns (post on this soon to come).

Bali and the Gilis

Arriving in Bali, instantly you can feel a laid back island vibe,  much more so than Java.   Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and it’s a great place to spend a few days.   It has a lot of yoga, total well-being type places, vegetarian and all-natural food galore, a lot of western influence in its shops and restaurants, but still brimming with Balinese culture.   We were lucky enough to be there for the end of one of their bi-annual festival, tied to the predominantly Hindi religion (vs. Java, which is mostly Muslim).

From Ubud we headed to Legian, which is on the same stretch of 15km sand between Kuta (BIG party scene, overrun with young Australians) and Seminyak (quiet, expensive resort filled).   We cashed-in Marriott points to stay at a really nice hotel and could celebrate Jen’s birthday in style.   Thanks to her special day, we were upgraded to a private “plunge pool” suite.

Our lost stop in Indonesia was a five-night stay in the Gili islands, a set of three islands off the coast of Lombok.   As you can see by the pictures, we were obsessed with the crystal clear, warm, turquoise water.   It was gorgeous.   We snorkeled every day.   Reefs were really cool, lots of fish, starfish, corral, two SEA SNAKES and a dozen or so turtles, a few of which we swam with for up to 10 minutes!   Beautiful undersea wildlife and sunsets made this one of our favorite spots of the trip.