Mexico – May 2017
One of the places I have always been looking forward to meet is Arizona. Maybe because of the western cartoons, series and movies I remember watching since I was a child, maybe because of all the boho-ethnic fashion style I’m quite fond of, or maybe because of all the amazing photos shared on social media. I’m sure it must be a mix of all of them. Anyways, this year, I have finally had the opportunity to visit this state. And far of being just a quick trip to the canyon from Las Vegas, as many people do, my adventure lasted a hole week.
A road trip took me to the most amazing places I have ever seen. And if you think that Arizona I just the Grand Canyon State you’ll me amazed with all the different things this corner of the world has to offer.
As you must now, this state is mainly a desert; which means extremely hot summers and chilly and snowy winters -yes, it can actually snow in a desert-. In the travel domain, this translates into a huge activity offer. Nature lovers, foodies, adventure lovers, zen seekers, arty, shoppers and pretty much everyone, will find a way to satisfy their inner traveler.
My visit to this wonderful place happened during the winter season after the holidays. It was the perfect timing, windy but friendly weather, free from crowds and accessible prices. Here are some of the highlights of my Winter Wonderland.
While it is not the deepest or longest canyon in the world, it is without a doubt the most famous one. Thanks to its beauty and majesty, this geological masterpiece is consider one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
446 kilometers of sedimentary rock carved by the Colorado River, extend in one of the first national parks in the United States. The South Rim and the North Rim are the main access to the national park. The second one is only open form May to November due to heavy snow.
The quickest way to visit the colorful and steep cliffs, is taking a drive through the scenic route and stopping in the view points. However, there are many activities you can do here such as hiking, helicopter tour, camping, ride a mule, kayaking, rafting and more. Nevertheless, due to the important demand, for some activities it is required to book more than a year in advance. 24 hours are not enough to discover this wonder of nature. Both sunrise and sunset offer views that are simply breathtaking.
Water is responsible for the creation of one of the most photographed places in the world. This narrow canyon, located a few miles from Page, owes its beauty to its sinuous 40-meter-high walls through which light penetrates, illuminating the interior with an infinite array of warm colors. A true paradise for photography lovers.
In spite of being a dream location full of natural beauty, quick floods are generated here due to the rain. This is why, it must be visited with a Navajo guide.
On highway 89, 7 miles away from Page, you will find the exit for the most famous meander in the United States. A 15-20 minute hike through the desert, will take you to one of the most spontaneous and unexpected landscapes you’ve ever seen. A 270° curve decorates the overlook of the Colorado River and the Glen Canyon. During the sunset, the sunlight offers an infinite dance of colors, shadows and textures.
Tsé Bii Ndzisgaii – the valley of the rocks – is how the Diné -Navajo – call the land located in the Utah-Arizona border. This region of the Colorado Plateau is known as a Navajo Nation Reservation, and it is characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes.
West mitten, east mitten, merrick butte, three sisters, camel butte and totem pole are some of the names of the majestic giants who have safeguarded this sacred valley, introduced to the world by the cinema. The director John Ford filmed many of his western movies using this scenario. You can either take a horse tour or a jeep tour to visit the valley. It is also possible to go hiking, but this isn’t the best option during summer season because of the heat and limited access to water.
The memory of a sunrise and/or sunset in this place is impregnated in memory and is hardly forgotten. If you’re lucky, you can book a room at The View, the only hotel inside the reservoir. From the terrace of you room you can whiteness amazing views. The definition par excellence of –room with a view-.
Of all the spectacular canyons in Arizona, this is, in the eyes of many, the most spiritual and beautiful one. This national park, located a few kilometers away from Chinle, preserves remains of the first indigenous tribes that lived in the area, such as the Anasazi.
Two viewpoints offer scenic views of the sandstone masses divided by the river flowing between them. The canyon can be explored by taking a light hike along the path traced on one of the cliffs. Once you arrive to the valley inside de cliffs you can admire the ruins of the White House, petroglyphs, pictographs and walk or hop on a jeep and visit the Spider Rock, a 244-meter-high red sandstone monolith.
Besides being known because of the beauty of its red rocks landscapes, this place is considered a spiritual mecca. Sedona’s combination of scenic beauty and mysticism draws tourists form around the world. Here you can go hiking, mountain biking, shopping, visiting galleries, taking a yoga retreat or dining in a gourmet restaurant.
Surely you have stumbled upon a photo – whether in Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook- of an amazing pink lagoon that seems to have an effect or filter applied that makes you question if such is a place does actually exists or if it is only a work of a digital manipulation. Well, it turns out that the much photographed place does actually exist and you can find it in Mexico.
In the Yucatan peninsula, just a few kilometers from Merida, you can find one of the most amazing and surreal landscapes that man has ever seen. A soft white sand path separates from one side a pink water lagoon, in which the clouds reflection seems endless, and in the other the vast Pacific Gulf with its characteristic emerald blue tone.
The name of this amazing places is Laguna Rosada and it is part of the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, which is located near Las Coloradas, a small village of fishermen and salt workers on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the municipality of Rio Lagartos.
The magic pink lagoon is quite real and has a scientific explanation. The lagoon is home to a microorganism known as Halobacterium Salinarum. This type of unicellular organism grows in saturated salt water, and its purple and red membranes, that contain beta carotene a reddish orange pigment, are responsible for giving the water its rose pink color.
In addition to the enchanting lagoon, the landscape of the region is also decorated by flamingos and salt ponds of the same pink intense color.
Whether you are or not fan of photography, this place is 100% recommended. Las Coloradas has miles of pristine, empty beaches, making it an ideal private getaway.
This place is just a couple kilometers away from Merida, the capital of Yucatan. To get there you can take a tour from Merida or Cancun or if you have a private car, you can drive and literally get off where you feel, it is besides the road.
Before visiting this magical place I heard and read lots of different opinions, “Argentinian side is the best, Brazilian side has better views, in the Argentinian side you “live” the waterfalls…” and way more opinions that really didn´t help me decide. So I ended visiting both, and what a great decision.
Since I was in argentina I started with the Argentinian side. From Puerto Iguazu you need to take a bus from the public bus station, there is one almost every half hour and it leaves you at the park entrance.
• Entrance fee in 2015 260,00 ARS= 17 USD
Once in the park you can either take the train (included in the entrance ticket) that takes you form one place to another, or you can walk if you decide to spend the whole day there.This side is really big, you can see the waterfalls from everywhere, up, down, and if the rains season allows it, there is even a point from where you can actually go inside the river.
The next day, captivated by the beauty of the place, I took a bus from the same bus station that crossed the border and went to the Brazilian side. You need to check the schedule, the bus service to cross is less frequent.
From the moment you arrive to the park entrance, you can easily spot lots of differences between one park and the other. While the Argentinian side keeps the latino rustic spirit with the crowded train and dirt railroads, Brazilian side more modern, clean and organized; there is a bus instead of a train. Yes, Brazilian side is smaller, it took me less than 2 hours to visit it while the day before I spent at least 4 hours exploring the area, but the view here is really something.
There is a bridge over a waterfall that takes you to the heart of the ‘Devil’s Throat‘ fall where you get soaked both in water and joy. In both sides you can take a boat, helicopter and hiking tours, beacause of a tight schedule I didn´t.
Now, having explained in a few words my experience, I pass to my opinion. This place is simply amazing. I read somewhere some words that describe to perfection my feelings towards this magnificent place “THE MAGNIFICENCE, BEAUTY AND POWER OF NATURE”.
Even up till this day, I don’t dare to say which side is better, the place itself is pure magic; not even for a second it stopped mesmerizing me. This is a place that without a doubt I recommend everyone to visit, and above all, give the opportunity to both sides to impress you. Trust me, you won´t regret it.
Ecuador is the second smallest country in South America and the smallest Andean nation, but nowhere else on earth will you find so much natural diversity, this country is packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery and wildlife. When people think Ecuador they think the Galapagos (which unfortunately we had to save for a next trip), but this tiny country seems to have it all; Andean peaks, Amazon rainforest, colonial towns, amazing beaches, indigenous markets and one of the highest densities of volcanoes in the world. Roads here are very well maintained and distances are relatively short, so travelling here is easy and fast.
With 14 distinct groups of indigenous people, each with their own customs and style of dress, this is a place that’s alive with color and culture. The country’s capital, Quito, is dramatically situated hemmed in by mountain peaks. The city’s crown jewel is its ‘Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site packed with colonial monuments and architectural treasures. But best of all are the Ecuadorians themselves: kind-hearted, generous and proud of their origins.
Ecuador offers a variety of lifestyles for a range of tastes. The Andean mountains and volcanoes are a great option for hiking or mountain-biking. Other landscapes offer equally alluring adventures such as surfing tight breaks off the Pacific coast, wandering in colonial villages or exploring the jungle of the Oriente.
The cost of traveling
Total days = 24 • Total spent = 460 € • Daily average = 19.17€
*Budget was calculated for the two of us. It includes transportation, accommodation, food, tourist attractions, miscellaneous…everything.
Transportation represented easily 50% of our expenses. We traveled mostly by bus and we bought the tickets directly in the bus station, prices are no negotiable here, there is only one company so prices are fixed. Roads are very well maintained
As for accommodation, we had the opportunity to stay with different locals by using Couchsurfing. It not only allowed us to keep our budget but to meet wonderful people and new friends!
Colombia – Ecuador Border
This was the fastest and friendliest border of the trip. It was a weekday during the morning. We took a shared taxi from Ipiales to the Colombian border. We got our passports stamped (5 min) walked 100 mts to the Ecuadorian border and got again our passports stamped (also 5 min). From there we took a public mini van to Tulcán and that was it.
• Tulcán → Otavalo → Quito → Baños → Riobamba → Guayaquil → Montañita → Cuenca
My top 5
1. Cuenca & El Cajas
The second most important city in the country and for me, the prettiest one. Cuenca’s historic center, a Unesco World Heritage Site dates for the 16th century. Here one must wander trough the cobblestone streets, chirches, cathedrals and colonial parks. It is also possible to see many craft traditions, including ceramics, metalwork and the internationally famous Panama hat, which actually turns out to be Ecuadorian. The city itself is really charming and with a lot of activities to do but if church and museum hopping is not your thing and you are looking for something more adventurous, then you can visit “El Cajas.”This is an amazing national park located about 30 km west from Cuenca. There are several hiking routes all well marked and for each level if fitness and length. Be prepared for a really cold weather and impressive vegetation. In recent years, Cuenca has become a hot spot for expatriates and retirees settling down to live.
2. Playa Los Frailes
Located in the Machalilla National Park, 12 km from Puerto Lopez, Los Frailes beach is a piece of paradise on earth. It is a lovely crescent shaped beach with cliffs on both sides and vegetation on the outskirts dotted with wild flowers. To get there you must take either a bus or a taxi to the entrance of the park, from there you can take a tuk-tuk or walk for 45 min approx. You can also get there by boat from Puerto Lopez. Since this beach is far from any village, crowds are inexistent. Here you will find calm and beautiful turquoise water, nothing more. So if you plan to visit this beach I highly recommend to bring a tent, at least an umbrella, to protect yourself from the sun.
3. El Chimborazo
Chimborazo volcano, 6,268 m, is Ecuador’s highest active volcano and the highest in the Northern Andean Volcanic Zone. Its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. We got there by car from Riobamba but you can also make your way from Ambato. This is a popular and challenging climb. The normal route up the mountain takes 10 hours to the summit and 4 hours to return, we did just a small hike but it was enough to get impressed by the beauty of this volcano. We reached the second camp, which is at 5600 m above the sea level, marking the highest point I have ever been! One amazing and totally recommendable experience.
4. Baños de Agua Santa, or simply Baños
Baños is a major tourist city, which, in my opinion leaves a lot to be desire. The highlights here are the surroundings. The region, Tungurahua Province, offers a wide variety of amazing eco-adventures. Baños is appropriately named for its dozens of waterfalls, hot springs, and surrounding rivers. This city is the starting point to explore surrounding national parks, spectacular volcanoes, and an abundance of wildlife including llamas and vicuñas. Baños is also known as the “Gateway to the Amazon,” you can bike or boat all the way to the Amazon Basin.
5. Parque de Las Iguanas
My favorite part of traveling is coming across random, unexpected sights. Entering to a park in the middle of the city and finding thousands of iguanas taking the place was really an unexpected and delightful experience.
Located in the heart of downtown Guayaquil in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral, Parque de Simon Bolivar has become home of this creatures. The park itself isn´t that big or different from another park, but the iguanas that live in this place have turned a common place into a magical and unique setting.
One activity my boyfriend was eagerly expecting was trekking in the Andes. He loves outdoors activities and at his first visit to Peru he did one of the famous treks of the region that left him wanting to return and explore more. In my case, my experience hiking was limited to a one day hike in Annecy (French Alpes) that went from easy and calm to hard and slippery thanks to a constant light rain. After that I was a little traumatized but the fact of knowing I was visiting one of the countries with some of the best hiking on the world empowered my inner explorer and filled me with a large adventure sentiment. So I told myself “ok, this is it, this is the time to embrace new challenges and fill my life with wonder, discoveries, and adventure,” and I went to Decathlon to get hiking boots and pants to replace my Reebok’s EasyTone (definitely not recommend for outdoors sports) and my yoga pants.
My boyfriend was the one in charge of planning everything that had to do with trekking (leave beaches and cities to me.) Luckily he was in charge cause before the trip I had no idea camping tents where classified by seasons and the world of boiling or simmering stoves and canister vs. liquid fuel was new to me, I thought if you wanted to cook you could simply light a fire.
Turns out that you can do hikes and treks pretty much everywhere, so my idea of a couple of days trekking to Machu Picchu was erased with plenty of short hikes and long treks. Even though most of the treks where in Peru we also dedicated some days in other countries to explore local communities and awesome landscapes.
Though it was physically hard for me and sometimes I prayed for an enormous vacuum to extract me out of the mountain (Hunger Games style,) I pushed my limits and overcome all my fears, I proved to be a good and fast hiker! Reaching the top of the mountain or finally getting to the distant place at the end of the map and knowing all the effort that took you to get you there, that particular feeling is priceless and totally rewarding.
Here are the 5 treks that I enjoyed the most and I definitely recommend. For info, we did all the treks solo, meaning no tour, companies, guide or muleteer hired. As I mention before my boyfriend is an enthusiastic walker so he had everything prepared. Besides that, most treks especially in Peru, are very frequented and well sign posted so it is easy to spot the typical wooden posts pointing the direction or cross a local or a tour.
What about the altitude? Though many tourists have a bad time adapting to the altitude we were lucky and didn´t feel that much; we only had the impression that we got tired more quickly and that we needed to slow down especially at the ascents but that didn´t last long. No need to chew coca leaves or drink tea.
• Santa Cruz | Huaraz, Peru
This is the most popular circuit in the Cordillera Blanca, Parque Nacional Huascaran. From Huaraz you must take a bus either to Cashapampa or to Vaqueria. At Huaraz we asked a couple of tour guides for some info and luckily one told us it was better to start at Vaqueria rather tan Cachapampa. All the tours start from Cashapampa but we felt really confident on what the guide told us and decided to star from Vaqueria.
The mountain pass is at 4750 meters high. In my opinion the guide was right and starting the trek from Vaqueria is better, you have better views of the mountains and the ascent is more gradual. If you book a tour you will need 3 days to complete the trek but is totally doable within 2. We saw tours in the camps already at 2 p.m. but we kept on walking till the sunset so we could skip a day and we weren´t dying because of the extra hours.
We heard that in Huaraz people were told it was not allowed to go on the trek without a guide, which is nonsense. It is allowed and doable. You have to pay an entrance fee of 65 soles each, which in our opinion isn´t used for the maintenance of the park.
The variety of landscapes the parks offers is really something and at the pass “Punta Union” there is a glaciar and a turquoise glaciar lake. You will find also many locals and cattle along the way.
› Trip Length: 2 to 3days
› Difficulty Level: Medium
• Salcantay Trail | Cusco, Peru
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of approaching Machu Picchu on one’s own two feet. Besides of what many people think the classic Inca Trail isn´t the only trek that can take you to Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu´s base town. And thank god! The Inca Trail has become a really touristic experience that now is limited only to 500 persons per day, porters and guides included. With a really high demand you need to book way on advance and the price is far way of being backpacker friendly. Though I´m sure it most be a great experience, personally I don´t understand why someone would pay minimum 700 USD for a 4 day trek of only 34 km. Fortunately, the Inca were master road builders who blazed trails all throughout the Andes (some paths lead even to Chile) and many of these are alternate routes to Machu Picchu, solo doable and way cheaper. We decided to take the route that leads to one of the sacred peaks, the Salcantay.
From Cusco you need to take a bus or minivan to Mollepata town, both leave from near downtown and it takes around 3 hours. Even if this is an alternative rout from the Inca Trail it is still very famous aso from the moment you get to Mollepata you will start meeting with lots of tourists.
The classic Inca Trail is famed for the diversity of its topography and ecosystems; the Salcantay Trail is even more impressive. Besides the 20,500-feet-high Mount Salcantay, a sacred peaks and religious pantheon still revered today, you will find a subtropical cloud forest, an ancient Inca highway,coffee plantations and the ruins of Llactapata from where you can gaze a few miles across the valley and get a view of the full Machu Picchu complex. This beautiful trail will take you to “La Hidroelétrica“ the famous train station which railways you will need to follo for a couple more hours intil finally getting to Aguas Calientes and buying your ticket for visiting Machu Picchu the next day.
› Trip Length: 3 to 4 days
› Difficulty Level: Medium to Difficult
• Cordillera de los Frailes | Sucre, Bolivia
This trek was an amazing surprise. La Cordillera de los Frailes is a mountainous region in the central parts of the Bolivian Andes that can be summarized in: an Inka trail, traces of dinosaurs, cave paintings, local indigenous people, a massive crater and mountains of a thousand colors, yes it is as great as it sounds. There are several agencies that make the trek, the most famous is Condor Treckers. An ONG located a block from Sucre´s main plaza that helps with development programs to indigenous communities. They offer tours from 1 to 4 days; the 4 day trek is around 100 usd all included. If you decide to do it solo you need to take a bus to Chataquila and from there continue to Maragua, the little village inside a huge crater. Also you must be really careful in following the right path towards Maragua. This is a trek where signs are not very frequent and the language of locals is Quechua, so not everyone you meet can speak Spanish. After crossing the junction that takes you right to Chaunaca and left to Maragua, you will descend approximately 300 mts and then the path divides into two, you must continue to the right through a car bridge. We continued left and we lost 4 to 5 hours trying to figure out the way. We still saw nice things in the way but it took us longer to get to Maragua. Maragua´s crater is not volcanic but was formed by erosion and covers an area of 8 km. There used to be a big sea there so fossils of marine shells are still found in the region and sold by local children. It is possible to spend a night in inside the crater and is also possible to buy crafts from locals, specially Jalqas textiles, and some groceries from the one shop in the village. If you are there the one day the bus to Sucre pass then you can go back from there, if not then you can continue the trek and go to see the dinosaur’s prints which are not so far from the crater.
› Trip Length: 2 to 3 days
› Difficulty Level: Easy to Medium – Trail can easily be lost so if you are not that prepared with directions hiring a guide is not a bad idea.
• Cotahuasi Canyon | Arequipa, Peru
Welcome to one of the deepest canyon in the world! This 12000 feet deep canyon is located in the province of Arequipa which is home also of the Colca Canyon, one of the principal attractions of the country. Why did we choose to skip the famous attraction and visit the not so famous one? Because rather than choosing the touristic and expensive option, we decided to choose the calm, cheaper and far away from tourist one. We also met some travellers who wisely advice us to visit the Cotahuasi Canyon for a more authentic experience, plus in the deepest part, the canyon reaches 3,535 meters of depth! That was really something we wanted to see. To go there you need to take a night bus to Cotahuasi and start walking in the morning. The landscape is impressive as also the locals. We met some really friendly and kind people who offered us something to eat and showed us their community. The canyon´s region is huge, we trekked for 3 days but you could easily spent more time there. There are hot springs, alca villages with the typical fields, waterfalls, a cactus forest, the village of Quechualla (the deepest point) a rock forest stone and the list goes on. Though the ascents are mainly gradual there are some points in which some stones have collapsed making the path really narrow and kind of dangerous. There are different communities through the canyon so it is also possible to go to some places by bus but prepare to be patient; transport here seems to know no organization.
› Trip Length: 3 to 6 days
› Difficulty Level: Medium to Difficult
• El Solitario Trek | Puerto Montt, Chile
This is not a trek on itself but a one-day hike from Puerto Montt, but exploring the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park is really worthy. My first impression here was that everything seemed more colorful, it was as if I was looking across a beautiful landscape of the most vivid colors. To get to this beautiful black volcanic sand trail one most take a bus from Puerto Montt to Ensenada and walk through the dirt road till the beginning of the trail, everything is well sign posted. From there you start trekking in the foothills of the volcano, first within an ancient forest and then on volcanic rock through the forest. Fine views of volcanoes Osorno, Puntiagudo and Calbuco and the Llanquihue Lake accompany the walk. At the end of the trail you get to a highway where if you continue walking less than 1 km you will fine the Petrohué falls. There, we met a nice couple of Chileans on long weekend and they invited us to join them and visit the Todos los Santos lake and go up to the volcan Osorno to check out the view. A great way to discover some of the Chilean Patagonia.
› Trip Length: 1 day
› Difficulty Level: Easy
“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.”
With an endless collection of books online and bookstores closing left and right, bookstores are becoming something rare and lonely. The experience of going to a specific place to buy a book is being erased by the commodity of buying a book with just a click of a button. Fortunately there are bookstores that aren’t just stores or gathering spots but beautiful, fascinating destinations in their own right. What makes them stand out among ordinary bookstores is the fact that many carry not only beautiful architectures but also great atmospheres offering an amazing visiting and shopping experience.
Here are a few of my favorites bookstores around the world that are worth a trip out of your travel itinerary.
• El Ateneo Grand Splendid | Buenos Aires, Argentina
First a theatre, then a cinema and now one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Hidden on busy Av. Santa Fe, this building whole structure (including stage, balconies and parterre) has been maintained as it was once. So you may sit in the balconies to read a book or gaze around.
The beauty and magnificence of this space is unique. Millions of books fill the 4 levels of the building including a large selection of English language books. A café is set up on the former stage where you can take some books to read in case you doubt which one to pick.
This is one of the places you cannot miss when visiting Buenos Aires, no matter if you are looking to buy a book or just to appreciate the architectural beauty of the site.
Address: Av Santa Fe 1860 | Barrio Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
• Más Puro Verso | Montevideo, Uruguay
In the walkway of Sarandi that wends its way from the Plaza Independencia to the Mercado del Puerto there is a magnificent building that houses this lovely library with a cafe/restaurant on the second floor. Built by Architect Leopoldo Tosi in 1917 this building housed the optical firm of Pablo Ferrando . It combines 19th Century English styled iron and glass structure with a French classicism on its upper levels.
The whole atmosphere is quite impressive. The restaurant on the top floor is the perfect place to rest and relax after an afternoon of sightseeing, the food is great and reasonably priced. There are couches by the window where you can sip a café and watch the people in the street below. The prevailing collection of the bookstore is Spanish, which may be an inconvenient for some and an opportunity for others who wish to learn the local language.
Address: Sarandi 675 & Bacacay Paetonal Sarandi | Montevideo, Uruguay
• Livraria Lello & Irmão | Porto, Portugal
Also known as Livraria Chardron or simply Livraria Lello this is a bookstore located in central Porto, Portugal. Along with Bertrand in Lisbon, it is one of the oldest bookstores in the country. The facade and much of the interior are decorated in Art Nouveau, with some features of the Gothic. This bookshop, frequently rated among the top bookstores in the world, provided inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series (the grand ornate staircase is replicated in Dumbledore’s office.) Aside from the design of the bookshop there are a heap of books (in different languages) to choose from.
I visited it in January 2015 and the entrance was free but now there is a 3€ fee to get in which can be refundable if buying a book. I had the chance to visit it on a day where there where not many tourists, so I had the chance to relax and appreciate the craftsmanship and gorgeous atmosphere of this lovely bookshop.
Address: R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
• Shakespeare and Co. | Paris, France
This is a tiny, crowded and magical place located just off the Seine across from Notre Dame Cathedral. The place itself has a great history that combines two independent bookstores. It all begins in 1919 with Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate from New Jersey, opening the first one at rue de l´Odéon. This bookstore was the gathering place of many then aspiring young writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. Unfortunately the bookshop had to be closed in 1940 during the German occupation. A few years later in 1951, the second bookshop was opened by George Whitman in its actual location in the 5th arrondissement. It was originally named “Le Mistral”, but was renamed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia Beach’s store.
Today the shop has become a popular tourist attraction that offers both regular and second-hand books specializing in English-language literature. Though it is generally crowded this place is definitely word a visit. All the interior space is occupied by a book, you will definitely bump into strangers and knock over a few books form the stacks around every corner while making your way up the stairs where you will find an old piano that can be played by any enthusiastic visitor. There is also a café that runs in partnership with Bob’s Bake Shop where you will find American-style baked goods and vegan and gluten-free dishes. The atmosphere here is from a past time, no wonder why this place has been featured in different films such as in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunset, and in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Address: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
• Cafebrería El Péndulo | Mexico City, Mexico
As its name implies, the Cafebrería El Péndulo began as a combination of coffee shop and bookstore, located in the Condesa neighborhood, in the year 1993. Since its original conception other cultural and artistic events were integrated, from an exquisite collection of records and art films, to cultural activities of all kinds, such as concerts, book presentations, live music, poetry readings, stand-up comedy and literary courses. Over time, El Péndulo evolved into a bookstore chain with 6 stores locations throughout Mexico City. All of them feature the same architectural elements implemented to achieve a unique atmosphere and an identity and brand style: open and bright spaces, eclectic décor, coffee bar, living rooms, tables and music. Good for lunch or dinner with friends, you can also have a cocktail or eat between shelves with books or near a piano listening to live music.
My favorites are El Péndulo Polanco and El Péndulo La Roma, but in the 6 you will find a great ambient and a wide book collection.
Address: POLANCO: Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco / ROMA: Av. Álvaro Obregón 86, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte. / ZONA ROSA: Calle Hamburgo #126, Cuauhtemoc, Zona Rosa, Mexico City
When we first arrived I couldn’t helped thinking how similar Colombia was with Mexico. Our flight landed in Bogotá, the big noisy capital instantly made me start comparing here and there both cities. But with each day that passed I started feeling the authenticity of the country.
Colombian regions are very different one from another but what they all share is the kindness of people. Colombians are simply one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. They are friendly, energetic, welcoming and always willing to help, they are really something special. Besides the amazing people, Colombia has a very wide offer of activities. Either at the coastline, the country side or at its beautiful colonial cities you will never stop being surprised of the beauty of the landscapes and the richness of the culture; it is no surprise that many travelers fall in love with this country, I did to.
And what about the so known Colombia dangers? Many people warned us about the safety, even Colombian people continuously reminded us about all the precautions we should take. Maybe is because I come from another country known for its dangers but personally I didn’t feel in danger not even once. Of course one talks about his own experience, I was cautious as I regularly am. If we didn’t know our surroundings we tried to be as discreet as we could and we tried not to be out late. Our stay went well.
The cost of traveling
Total days = 22 • Total spent = 537.52 € • Daily average = 24.43€
*Budget was calculated for the two of us. It includes transportation, accommodation, food, tourist attractions, miscellaneous…everything.
Transportation represented easily 50% of our expenses. We traveled mostly by bus and we bought the tickets directly in the bus station, prices are negotiable! We flew just once form Cartagena to Medellín with VivaColombia. The trip was one hour instead of one night and since we booked it in advanced the price was really convenient.
As for accommodation, we had the opportunity to stay with different locals by using Couchsurfing. It not only allowed us to keep our budget but to meet wonderful people and new friends!
• Bogotá → Zipaquirá → Villa de Leyva → San Gil → Barichara → Santa Marta → Parque Tayrona → Cartagena → Medellín → Salento → Calí → Ipiales •
My top 5
1. Eje Cafetero
When arriving to Colombia one of the things that excited me the most was trying the world famous Colombian coffee, it was a big deception when I realized that the regular consumption of coffee is mainly second quality coffee sweetened with “panela” which is a solid form of unrefined whole cane sugar, I´m not saying the taste is bad just that it was definitely not what I expected. So I had to wait until getting to “El Eje Cafetero” (Colombian coffee growing axis) to have the Colombian coffee experience, and what an amazing experience! We started trekking from Circasia to Salento and during the trek we crossed some coffee fields and a coffee finca where we took a coffee tour. The region has more to offer besides the coffee experience. You can also find “El Valle de Cocora” a really nice national park located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains. It is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. The town of Salento in itself is a colorful town flooded by tourists where you can find lots of coffee and crafts shops.
Oh what a great city! I could definitely imagine myself living there. Once known as the most dangerous city on earth, Medellín is now one of the principal destinations of the country. Situated in a narrow valley of the Antioquia province, the city offers cultural, sportive and leisure activities all with unforgettable views.
Known as “El pueblo más bonito de Colombia” (the prettiest town in Colombia) this colonial town is the perfect place to relax from the craziness of big cities and wander through the cobblestone streets taking pictures of the colorful facades. It is also possible to enjoy adventure activities and visit the quiet village of Guane nearby.
4. Cartagena de Indias, or simply Cartagena
Cartagena is between a film set and a fairy tale where colors play the main character. Cartagena’s old town is a Unesco World Heritage surrounded by 13km of colonial stone walls built to protect the city from pirates and other enemies. My recommendation here is either find the perfect park bench and watch people pass by or get lost in the streets and alleys. When the sun sets there is a romantic atmosphere that takes over and the balconies, terraces and plazas fill with loving couples.
5. Santuario de Las Lajas
Our last stop in the country and a great surprise. I had seen pictures before and it surprised me that a place like that could be in South America other than in Europe. Las Lajas Sactuary is a gothic Cathedral Basilica church, dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales, built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River. It is an outstanding architectural building at 100 meters high from the bottom of the canyon, being connected with a 50 meters tall bridge to the other side of the canyon. This place is simply impressive! By chance we visited it on Mother´s day and it was full with Ecuadorian people in typical clothes. That definetly made the day even more memorable.
Looking for an explanation on why anyone thought to build a Cathedral in such a dangerous location I found the history of the place, “History tells us that everything started from a miraculous event that happened in 1754. Then, an Amerindian woman, named Maria Mueces, and her daughter Rosa, which was deaf-mute, were caught in a powerful storm. The story says that while the two women were looking for shelter, they felt like a strong force was guiding them towards a cave, where they were able to see the image of Our Virgin Mary on one of the walls. The little girl then shouted to her mother, pointing to the image. It is believed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured Rosa.”