A Travellerspoint blog

Big changes in Colombia

We arrived in Medellin and immediately got a bus to the local tourist weekend getaway Guatapé (the airport is actually about halfway between the cities, being 1 hour from each). We only had one night in Guatapé and loved the pretty town from the start! Virtually all the buildings in town are decorated beautifully, and the town caters to a lot of tourists, although most of them are from the nearby city Medellin.

The main attraction is a very large rock which is a few kms from town and seems totally out of place with its surroundings, which are predominantly fields and a lake. The views from the top of the 700+ staircase were impressive to say the least.

The next day we headed to Medellin, a city which was ruled by drug cartels about 10 years ago but has had a massive transformation in recent years, being called the most innovative city in the world in 2013. We did a city tour which had been highly recommended by a number of travelers we had met. Our group has about 20 people and our guide was really enthusiastic and passionate, explaining the history and how the massive changes had come about. The local government got a lot of money from coffee when global prices rise significantly, and invested this in a number of initiatives, such as public transport, education and a number of other things to help out the population, many of whom had been left with nothing when drug cartels kicked them off their land. That afternoon we checked out one of the public transport initiatives, a cable car and some escalators designed to give residents of the poorest parts of the city. These have actually been a real hit and the area has now become a bit of a tourist attraction - the views are impressive.

The next day we headed up on yet another cable car up the hills on the other side of the city to a pretty park. There was a nice market up the top where we enjoyed fresh berries and coffee.

That evening we went to the tourist district of the city and met two dutch girls we had met in Palomino a fortnight earlier, as well as a couple of kiwis we had met in Mexico! We had a few drinks and loved these chairs!

The next day we got a 6 hour van to Salento, a small quiet town in the centre of Colombia's coffee region. We got sent on detour down a road so bad the driver asked us to walk bits so the van would make it up as they had closed the road for sealing!!

We made it eventually and found it to be an oasis, beautifully underdeveloped and quaint. On our first day we went hiking through the Cocora valley which has the tallest palm trees in the world. They were really tall!!!

We also met a couple of kiwis on our walk, one who seemed very familiar - turns out we worked for the same company when I did my summer experience while I was studying!!! Another cool part of the trip was the transport - old army jeeps.

That night we went to try out tejo, a Colombian game which involves throwing a metal disc at little packs of dynamite - you get points for making it explode. We got set up on a set which was half the distance the locals were doing, they put us to shame even when they were throwing double the distance and had drunk about 5 beers each!!!

The next morning we tried some amazing coffee and then went on a nice walk through the valley to a coffee farm where we did a tour. It was very interesting but the process was exactly the same as at the coffee farm we had visited in Minca, although we feigned enthusiasm for the tour. The main point of interest was the planting - they have very high rainfall here so need to plant the coffee on slopes and also use banana palms to soak up the excess water.

We then headed to Armenia (not the country!) and went to what is sold as a butterfly sanctuary. It turned out to be a huge reserve which includes a lot of different types of trees and birds. The tour was fully in Spanish but we did our best and walked away feeling informed but in reality rather confused about a few parts of it.

I think this is a walking tree


We also watched the new star wars movie in full 3d for $6 each. This was also in Spanish although in this case we reached the conclusion that the dialogue was entirely redundant. Lines like "La fuerza te accompañe" were also pretty clear :)

We left the next day at 6am and spent an entire day on buses, finally arriving in Pasto at about 10:30 that night. The next morning I went for a run around the town which I found quite nice, with the standard colonial style old town, Christmas decorations and churches which most cities in Colombia seem to have. Running is a nice way to see a new city, you see streets you wouldn't otherwise and locals will say hi but won't try to sell you anything.

We were on a bus again by 9:30 and stopped in Ipiales for a side trip to a famous church which straddles a gorge, Sanctuario de las Lajas. The church was beautiful but the amazing location was what made it really special. After that we reluctantly headed back for our final few hours on the bus in Colombia and we went on to Ecuador.

Overall I really enjoyed Colombia, the people we meet were all very nice, and although we felt like we needed to take a few extra precautions we never had any trouble. It was a really cheap place to travel (the economy largely depends on oil and coffee, both of which have had price drops recently so our dollar went a long way) and there was a lot to see. The food was good quality but plain (there were rarely ANY sauces or favours beyond salt), but when a meal with soup, chicken, salad, rice, plantain and juice is only $2-3 it's hard to complain!!
The nature was amazing, wildlife was abundant, and it felt like a country that was finally getting over a tough past and making giant strides in the right direction, although it definitely still has a way to go.

Posted by nzdora 20:11 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Caribbean Colombia

I'm not sure who did the town planning in Cartagena in 1533, but I don't like them. It takes an hour and a half by bus to get from town to the bus station - without traffic (and with wild driving). Today our first goal was to get to Santa Marta, the other Caribbean checkpoint for tourists, and our second to immediately pass on to the rapidly-developing beach town of Palomino. After catching what we were assured was a “direct 4-5hr bus to Santa Marta” (we had to change buses - but we could have guessed this from the fact that the halfway-point town’s name was plastered on the bus windscreen), we took a 100 minute local bus to Palomino.

All right. Travel rant over. Colombia is massive. We get it.

We were very pleased on arrival - being served a hearty green chicken soup at a local home/restaurant, and then swimming in the hostel pool.

Unfortunately the tranquility of our “backpacker resort” was shattered both nights by the insanely loud music from the beach until after 1am from what appeared to be a miss Latin America pageant mixed with a Who Wants To Be The World's Worst DJ competition at 10,000 decibels.

The next morning we enjoyed a sleep-in before swimming in the pool, walking on the beach, and topping off our extreme day with a tranquil float on tyre tubes down a river for 2 hours with two Dutch girls from our dorm room. To get to the start point the four of us caught a ride on “mototaxis” (not so easy when you're holding a tyre) and then walked a further half hour to the river, which flowed back to the sea.

The scenery was almost Amazonian, with jungle on both sides, tall palm trees and a variety of birds.

That night, we were fortunate enough to see a street parade / dance-battle as part of the Miss Latin America.

Colombia is the country with the second-highest biodiversity in the world (including the most bird species, the most amphibians and the second-most plants) and has a number of fascinating national parks. Our next two towns has this diversity in mind: Tayrona Park and the hillside village of Minca, both back towards Santa Marta from Palomino.

Tayrona Park has a bizarre mix of Caribbean coast, desert and jungle. At the request of the indigenous people, Tayrona had been closed for regeneration for a month prior to our visit, so we were lucky with the timing of our visit.

The night before our hike we had booked beds at a small farm outside the town at the less popular entrance to Tayrona. Google’s location wasn't accurate, directing is to a small farm with a similar name. We walked 1km down a driveway, including a stream crossing, and found a Colombian family numbering 20-something who were very suprised to see a couple of foreigners turn up at their doorstep! When we finally found the right place we enjoyed relaxing by the pool (what a nice surprise), amongst the chickens, dogs and turtles!

We started walking before 5am the next day to avoid walking during the heat of the day, leave before the park entrance was manned (no entrance fee!) and arrive early enough to reserve a hammock for the night. It took us about 3 hours to reach the tiny town of “Publeto”, which is supposedly a much smaller version of the lost city hike which we had decided to give a miss. In our relatively exhausted state of mind it was decidedly underwhelming, but it was a good excuse for a rest stop.

The last couple of hours were made challenging by the descent requiring us to climb over, between and under large boulders.

However, these were a spectacular feature of the jungle and definitely added to the beautiful scenery on display once we arrived at our accommodation for the night. We were exhausted and ready for bed but it wasn’t even time for lunch yet!!!

The beach was beautiful and the water nice and refreshing so we soon got into the relaxed swing of things. We had a delicious lunch and then had an afternoon nap in our hammocks.

When we woke up we had a bit more of a look around the beautiful spot, another swim, and then more relaxing on the beach. We met a really nice couple from Colombia who explained that tonight was a Colombian celebration and that tomorrow was a holiday for the virgin Mary. A lot of people were drinking and playing with fireworks but we were totally exhausted from our early start and walking so headed back to our hammocks for an early night.

We were woken at 5:30 the next day by someone who had set an alarm to see sunrise but then changed his mind. After waking up at a similar time the day before we were quite awake but sunrise turned out to be a non-event due to low clouds. It was beautiful seeing the beach so deserted.

We decided to make an early start back so we could take our time on the walk along the coast which was supposed to be beautiful. We stopped along the way for a swim, for fresh egg arepas (fried corn meal which is widespread here), bakery bread, fresh juice, sightseeing etc and ended up taking an extra 2 hours on the 6km walk back to civilisation.

We got a couple of buses to take us straight to Minca, a tiny town up in the hills behind the sea where we had organised to meet an old workmate of David's. Our hostel was very social and a few of the guests recommended Lazy Cat, an amazing eatery which we ended up eating at every day we were in Minca.

The next morning we were up bright and early once again, this time for a bird watching tour at 6. Our enthusiastic guide Joe showed us dozens of different types of birds, with the Macau, Toucans and hummingbirds being the only ones I remember unfortunately.

After a much anticipated hearty breakfast we then got mototaxis to "La Victoria", a coffee farm which uses water to ferment and separate the coffee beans as well as run the generator for the farm, then reuses the skins to dry the beans and composts all left-overs. It was a really neat operation and the coffee afterwards was delicious.

We walked about an hour back towards Minca and stopped at a waterfall and pool. The pool turned out to be FREEZING so while we swam we didn't stay long.
We found a few cool butterflies which looked like they have numbers on them!!!

The next day we headed back to Santa Marta, our base for the next couple of days. We headed straight out to Bahia Concha, a beautiful beach which is slightly within Tayrona National Park but which has a much smaller entrance fee. It was a beautiful beach, but we were immediately hassled by a number of people so walked right to the far end of the beach. The water was cool and clear, the sand was white. and we had a lovely afternoon.

The next day we went to La Quiinta de San Pedro Alejandro, a 17th century farm house which is also the place where Simon Bolivar (the military leader who freed Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela from Spanish rule) died. The museum was pretty basic and didn't have a lot of historical content, but there was also a nice art museum which was air conditioned so we examined thoroughly. The real highlight turned out to be the botanic gardens, which had some enormous iguanas. We watched them chase each other up trees and were very suprised at how nimble they are!!

On our last day in Santa Marta we finally explored the city, after visiting it three times and staying two nights. There wasn't a lot to see and we were glad to finally get to the airport that evening.

However, it was not to be a straightforward fight to Medellin!! We showed the airline our booking confirmation but apparently that doesn't work without a receipt which we had never been emailed. We checked out credit cards and no money has been taken out by the airlines... Uh oh spaghettio!!! The flight was completely full and the next one was in 24 hours and was crazy expensive. David also vetoed the idea of a 15 hour bus ride. We eventually found a flight the next morning but from a city which was a 2 hour bus ride away. We found a bus, booked somewhere to stay the night on our way (thankfully we had bought a sim card with internet for Colombia) and spent a surprise night in Barranquilla, Colombia's fourth largest city but not much of a tourist destination.

The next morning we appreciated having a flight booked BEFORE arriving at the airport and flew south to Medellin.

Posted by nzdora 06:51 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia 101

Time to re-think old opinions of this amazing country

sunny 35 °C
View Team Dora explores Latin America on nzdora's travel map.

We arrived in the main Bogota airport and spent about an hour getting various directions to find the person seeking bus cards to leave the airport. When we finally tracked her down (the second time, as the first she didn't want to talk to us and waved us away so we thought she must not be the right person) she seemed annoyed at us for bothering her and said that her shift was over and that was the end of it. This turned out to be a blessing (albeit well disguised), as we had to ask a couple of locals if we could pay them the $1 fare for them to swipe us both on their card. These locals were super friendly, and gave us a lot of recommendations for what to see and do in our time in Bogota (as well as warnings about looking after valuables). They also helped us find our hostel, we actually had what seemed like half the bus grouped around us trying to see if they could help and then one of our new friends walked us about 20 minutes from the bus stop to the hostel - what a contrast from the lady working at the airport!!!
Our super nice impromptu guide from the airport to our hostel.

We set out to get some dinner. It was Friday night and we walked past a number of very trendy looking bars before settling on a very nice vegetarian restaurant. It would turn out to be virtually our only vegetarian meal in Colombia as meat is a big part of their diet. We were really tired after our time in Mexico so had a quiet night.

The next morning we did a ‘street art’ (graffiti) tour in the old town which was really interesting. Our guide was very passionate about the artists and explained a lot about the background, with a lot of property owners preferring to street art on their buildings so that taggers leave their walls alone, as opposed to plain walls in the area.

We had an amazing lunch at a local place and then set about finding the famous gold museum. Our map from the hostel was actually wrong and had the modern art museum in that location so we explored that instead!!

That night we went out for dinner at a traditional Colombian restaurant with a friend from our hostel. This place was a carnivores dream, and the three of us failed to finish a plate for two which included chicken, pork (with lots of crackling) sausages, plantain, with exactly zero vegetables.

The next day was Sunday morning and we started the day with a run, which made the 2,600m elevation very noticeable. Bogota closes a number of streets in Sunday mornings to walkers and joggers which was really nice. We even decided to stop and participate in a free yoga class that had been set up in the middle of one of the streets! Being suckers for punishment, we then climbed the mountain Monserrate which overlooks Bogota. A lot of locals climb this on the way to the weekly mass at the church at the top of the hill. I couldn't believe how many people were doing the walk, which took us about 90 minutes of very hard slog. Bogota is about 2,600m high and this mountain was about another 500m above that. Despite this there were dozens of stalls lining the pathway for most of the 2.5km length.

The views were spectacular after about 15 minutes of walking and are the top they were breathtaking. Bogota is actually a very big city - if it were located in north america it works be the third largest city on the continent behind Mexico City and New York. We had perfect weather and could see for miles around.

We chickened out on walking down and got the cable car, which was quite an experience in itself.

That afternoon we actually made it to the famous gold museum - bonus as it has free entry on Sundays!! It was really well presented and had a good combination of history and cool artifacts.

On our walk back to our hostel we were amazed at how lovely the city was, with street stalls selling delicious food (we bought BBQ skewers and chocolate coated strawberries), and dancers and performers in the street. We even got to watch a game we had read about where people bet on which bowl a hamster will run into!!!!

A guy at our hostel had recommended the ‘BBC’ - Bogota Beer Company for their craft beers. We tried a tasting platter of their different beers and really enjoyed some of them but didn't buy anything more, the prices were almost what you pay in New Zealand!!!

The next day we went to visit the underground salt cathedral at Zipaquirá. An unexpected bonus was discovering that the town itself was absolutely beautiful and finally getting Colombian coffee - we had been to busy on our other mornings. We paid about $0.80 for a coffee which was delicious.

The salt mine / cathedral tour in English started just as we arrived and was really interesting, with a lot of history about the old salt mine as well as a surprisingly large network of caves and grand open areas up to 180m deep.

Outside the mine we found a stall selling feijoa icecream - of course we had to get one!!! It was rich and creamy and tasted of home.

The next day we flew to Cartagena, a picturesque port town on the northern coast of Colombia. It used to be the richest city in south america when it was the main port for transporting goods from south america to Europe. We booked a ‘chivas’ tour that night, which is basically a chicken bus which goes around the attractions of the city with music and drinks. We managed to avoid being diverted from the bus we had booked by a guy who pretended we'd booked his bus. We were the only English speakers on the bus and all of the tour information was in Spanish. About half of the bus were from Colombia, with the rest from Mexico, Guatemala and Peru which made it seem a genuine experience. We were given free drinks of an indistinguishable alcohol, and the band behind us played loud Colombian music while we bounced around the streets of Cartagena. We got dropped off at a club at about 10:30 and stayed for about half an hour before deciding we were too old for this and getting a taxi home!!!

The next day we spent the morning wandering about the beautiful streets of the old town in Cartagena, occasionally arriving in places we had visited the previous night. I can't stress enough just how stunning the city is, it is definitely the prettiest place we have visited on our trip and the old city walls add to the feeling.

We had lunch at a nice place I had found on TripAdvisor and while we were there a nice couple have us their tour bus tickets they had bought which were still valid for 2 more days. We then took the bus around the city and stopped at the castle which was built to protect the city after a major siege by Francis Drake. It was a very large with a lot of passageways and a nice view of the harbour.

We got dinner at a plaza by our accommodation, I got a “plate with everything” which was an enormous plate of potato, lettuce, cabbage, sausage, beef cheese and sauce, topped with chips!! It was actually quite tasty and we shared one the next night as well.

The next day we used the bus passes again to get to the one of the beaches near Cartagena. It wasn't really anything special, with cloudy water, seaweed and a lot of people trying to sell us beer, water, massages, food, cigarettes…. It really wasn't a peaceful experience being at the beach. That afternoon we had booked a tour to the Totumo Volcano, a volcano with a mud bath you can swim in at the top. It was made quite a weird experience by the locals who take photos for you, give you a massage inside the volcano, and then wash you down in the adjacent lagoon afterwards. The wash-down in particular was very thorough!!! (I would rather not elaborate here) You are expected to tip each person $1.50 for their service and aren't really allowed to do it yourself. The mud is very viscous and you float very high in the water which made just balancing quite challenging. It was quite a cool thing to do as we had a free afternoon but I wouldn't rave about it, we were only in the mud pool for about 10 minutes and the whole trip was about 5 hours between leaving and arriving.
The view from the volcano looking over the villagers' huts to the lake.

So with that ended our beautiful three days in Cartagena. It was a beautiful city (I think I've said that enough in this blog by now) but I found the locals extremely pushy - I had to virtually push away a lady on the beach to stop her massaging me!!! I guess it is to be expected when many of the locals are so poor while there is a constant stream of wealthy tourists. We also had a lot of people warn us about watching valuables which actually never happened during our previous three months in central america.

Posted by nzdora 19:13 Archived in Colombia Tagged streets volcano graffiti Comments (0)

Central America Summary

In case you missed us...

View Team Dora explores Latin America on nzdora's travel map.

Sitting on a plane between Mexico and Colombia seems an apt time to reflect on our trip so far. We're a few days shy of the midway point and are moving on to a new continent.

We have really enjoyed it and have been surprised by how different each country we visited has been - even the tiny countries in central america are unique. I want this post to reflect our impressions of each country, what we loved (and maybe what we didn't), what surprised us, and generally how we felt about each place. All costs are in NZD (and exclude fights). Apologies in advance for repeating some of what we have already written in earlier blogs.

Wow, we spent about 7 weeks in Mexico in total and absolutely loved it!! We visited twice, once around Guadalajara to study Spanish (and a sample taste of Lake Ajijic, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City) and a second time when we came north from Belize and visited much of the Southern half of Mexico. We started in Chetumal, fell in love with Tulum, then saw a small part of the Yucatan state including Valladolid and the day of the dead celebrations at Merida (an amazing festival, watch the first scene of 007 Spectre for Hollywood's take on it). We then explored the ancient ruins of Palenque, chilled out in the beautiful town of San Cristobal and at the beach Mazunte, experienced the culture and food of Oaxaca City before spending some time in the big smoke of Mexico City. Whew, almost two months summarised in three sentences!!!!
The day of the dead, Merida
Street art, Mexico City

Coming back to Mexico after central america felt like rejoining civilisation, with proper infrastructure, amazing food, and (this was actually a ridiculously nice change) locals who could also afford to enjoy what their country has to offer. We ate dozens of tacos, gorditas, sopes, tlayudas, huarachos, quesidillas, flautas and many other foods which were all essentially tortillas of varying sizes filled with meat, onion, coriander, tomato and salsa. I never got sick despite eating lots of street food, although towards the end of our time in Mexico I did get sick OF the similar food. Mexico is a vibrant country with a proud history and a strong culture but also has an evident difference between rich and poor. It's Catholic heritage means that it's population is difficult to manage but this does seem to be changing.

Mexico was a little more expensive to travel than the other central american countries, costing us about NZ$64 each per day. I feel I need to add that we enjoyed a much better standard of living for this money.

I need to take a breath before launching into a description of Cuba, it is the most different and interesting country we have visited. The people are so poor but so happy and patriotic and it felt like the safest place we visited. We started in Havana, then went to the rural but beautiful horse-driven village of Viñales for three days which was too long. We stopped in Cienfuegos, really enjoyed Trinidad, and finally spent a few days soaking in the sun at the beautiful Varadero.
Horse & cart pulled over by police, Viñales
Classic cars, Havana

Cuba was quite a difficult country to travel independently, with virtually no internet, ATMs often not having cash, and even basics like food and water not easy to find in shops. Having said that, if your budget allows you about $8-10 per meal you can easily enjoy the restaurant food. Cuba is has a lot of natural beauty and really did feel like we had stepped back in time. It was a comparatively expensive place to visit as the tourist currency is tied to the US dollar and we spent an average of $72 each per day.

Costa Rica
We only spent four days in Costa Rica as we quickly learnt that our budget would be stretched if we stayed a long time. We flew in to San Jose, visited volcano Arenal and Monteverde before heading to Nicaragua. We spent most of our money on organised tours which seemed to be the only way to properly see the animals and nature which Costa Rica is famous for. The people were very laid back - “pura vida” seemed to be the saying they used for everything which translates literally as “sweet life”. This seemed very apt, apparently the Costa Rican people are the happiest in the world and I can believe it. Costa Rica was very safe and easy to travel through, and although we spent $105 per day a big portion of this was on tours and activities.
Wildlife tour, Monteverde

This was a great surprise and turned out to be one of my favorite countries, with fantastic beaches, volcanoes, old style cities and to top it all off was amazingly cheap. We extended our time here to two weeks as we enjoyed it so much. We spent almost a week learning to surf in the pretty beach town of San Juan del Sur, then visited the hippy haven island Ometepe. We then passed through Granada and then spent a few days in the lovely colonial town of Leon, which had a ton of cool attractions nearby (including volcano boarding!!!).
Spot David swimming in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe Island

In hindsight we didn't manage to get off the tourist trail in Nicaragua, with most places we visited offering the option to pay in USD and a lot of English. We spent $57 each per day which is a bit more than El Salvador and Guatemala, but this is because we did so many cool activities while we were there.

El Salvador
We had heard mixed messages about the safety situation in El Salvador, and were a little more careful than we had been in other countries. Having visited, I would reiterate that the violence is gang and drug related and if you avoid that, as most tourists do, you will be fine. The locals were extremely warm and welcoming, and this was another budget friendly travel location. We only spent three days in El Salvador, first getting destroyed by waves and enjoying the ambience at the beautiful beach town of El Tunco, then exploring the “Pompeii of the Americas”. We developed a slight addiction to puposas, fried cornmeal stuffed with a delicious filling, often beans and cheese, which were typically around $0.50 each, so 3-4 made for a delicious and economical meal. We spent a paltry $42 each per day.
Our friend Handicorn cooking puposas, Santa Anna

I had very high expectations for Guatemala and it largely lived up to them. Our Guatemala trip comprised 4 days around beautiful Antigua which was an amazing break from the incessant heat of the previous countries and included what is probably the highlight of our trip to date, climbing volcano acatenango to watch the adjacent volcano fuego erupting. We then did a further week of Spanish school at San Pedro, staying with a lovely host family, and then headed north. The trip north involved a LOT of time on the road, including getting awkwardly mixed up in a protest but allowed us to visit the beautiful Semuc Champey and Tikal ruins.
Jaguar Temple, Tikal ruins
Our host family (including David's teacher Dafny), San Pedro
Volcano Acatenango and the erupting volcano Fuego behind us

The natural side of Guatemala was outstanding, and the people still live a very traditional lifestyle. Maybe we got a better understanding of everyday life here than elsewhere but it was clear that the people don't really trust the government and the poor standard of infrastructure limited how much of the country we could see in our time as many destinations were 12+ hours driving apart. Guatemala was a super cheap destination, costing us $41 per day.

We only spent two nights in Belize as we were so keen to get back to Mexico, both nights on a beautiful island, Caye Caulker. The motto there was "go slow" and the locals seem very happy. It was nice to be using English again and the island had stunning sunsets and great food (barbequed lobster with sides for about $15). It was quite an expensive place, greatly exacerbated by the snorkeling tour we did on our only full day, and we spent an average of $96 per day. The people here looked considerably different, more carribian than the indigenous Indians in the rest of central america - for once I wasn't taller than most of the men!!!
Sunset, Caye Caulker

So in summary we spent a grand total of around $6,200 each in just over 3 months in central america and Mexico which is similar to our usual expenses in New Zealand. This figure excludes flights, vaccinations, and a new cellphone to replace the one I dropped and broke in Guatemala. It is a great part of the world to travel in as there is so much packed into a relatively small area. There were a lot of similarities between the countries, including a diet predominantly from maize, beans and rice, stray dogs everywhere and a population which is generally poor but still happy and friendly. We didn't have anything stolen and never felt threatened. There was a definite tourist trail through central america and we meet the same tourists multiple times.

Thanks for reading this blog, keep tuned in for our adventures through south america!!!

Posted by nzdora 13:26 Comments (1)

The big smoke of Mexico City

Big city life

View Team Dora explores Latin America on nzdora's travel map.

After traveling in generally underdeveloped parts of the world for the last couple of months arriving in Mexico City felt like returning to civilisation.

We had heard mixed reviews of the metro, with some people telling us to avoid it like the plague, but a majority telling us that it's a fantastic way to get around Mexico City. Our experience was the latter, although we were packed in like sardines at times. We had booked a place just outside the city centre through AirBNB which was a really nice place complete with a crazy but cute dog. Our hosts for the week, Sergio and Lulu, were absolutely lovely and gave us a lot of great advice about the city. We even used the kitchen a couple of times, which was a nice change - eating in local comidas is usually around $3 each which is about the same as we spend on ingredients.

On our first day in Mexico City we went to a really nice district and tried the amazing cafe Sergio had recommended which served the best coffee I've had since leaving NZ (but still isn't as good as Mojo).
We stumbled across a cool performance in another market by chance.

The district was beautiful, although not much was open until around 10, even cafes as Mexicans generally stay up late!! We explored an artisan market where I would have bought a lot if not for the remaining 3 months of our trip.

That night we went to a football game between the Pumas and America, the two teams from Mexico City who have a fierce rivalry. We bought tickets in the centre of the America zone thinking that it would be safer than the edges. There were a huge number of riot policemen around, and we got thoroughly frisked THREE times (so thoroughly that they separated it by gender) before making it to our seats. We aren't sure on the exact numbers but the capacity of Azteca Stadium is a little over 100,000 and it seemed about 90% full.

The fans around us were crazy, jumping up and down and yelling out the various chants non-stop starting about quarter of an hour before the game started. About 10 minutes into the game my head was spinning and I felt extremely out of place not being able to sing along to the many different chants so we moved across to a quieter area. I enjoyed the game more from there as I could watch from a distance rather than being right in the middle of it all. The end score was 1-1 and luckily as we had moved over we were allowed to leave once the game finished. The people in the fan zones were kept behind and then let go one by one so they wouldn't meet and fight!! The safety measures seemed extreme and I'm sure that most of the time they are not required, on the bus home there were people wearing both team shirts without an issue.

The next day we got up early (again, early by Mexican standards) and walked the Paseo de La Reforma, which is closed to traffic on Sunday mornings to allow cyclists, walkers, roller blades, etc to enjoy it. Mexico has an obesity problem second only to the USA so it was nice to see such a cool government initiative.

Our walk ended at Chapultepec Park, which was packed with vendors and families enjoying the sunshine. We visited the zoo which was really good but packed as it has free entry.
The special butterfly exhibit had some amazing butterflies, as this time of year they are heading south to Mexico.

We also visited the famous Anthropology Museum, which had some amazing displays from Mexico's history. In particular it had a lot of information about the ancient civilisation of Teotihuacan which we had planned to visit later that week.

That night we went to a Mexican ballet which was great. It had lots of amazing traditional costumes, and the music was great. An amazing harp player, as well as the marimba group were particular highlights.

The next day we took a boat on the water in Xochimilco. This is a very traditional neighborhood and it was a very nice outing.
On our way back a pigeon scored a direct hit on David...

I loved the amazing fruit available at the roadside stalls - less than $1 for all this!

It took us nearly 2 hours to travel the 6km to the center due to traffic but we arrived before sunset which we planned to view at the tall Torre Latino Centro America. We decided to get a drink at the bar (free!) rather than pay the entrance to the viewing platform and soon discovered that a bottle of wine was cheaper than two drinks! The view was spectacular, but unfortunately we hadn't looked up the forecast, which was for "smoke"!!! It turned out to be accurate and the sunset was a total non-event, with the sun disappearing into the smog about 20 minutes before sunset. It was still a lovely view of the city and a good way to spend an evening.

The next day we got up early to visit the famous Mayan city of Teotihuacan. It was just as spectacular as the pictures and we got there early enough to miss the crowds. The views from the two biggest the pyramids were spectacular.

The next day we explored another nice area downtown, where Carlos Slim had invested a lot of money in an aquarium and a free art museum. The art museum was really cool, with art from all over the world presented beautifully.

The aquarium was also really well done, and reminded me a lot of Kelly Tarltons.
IMAG0168.jpg - a shark photobombed our selfie!!
A highlight was seeing the endangered axolotl or Mexican walking fish, which only lives in the rivers of Xochimilco where we had taken a boat out a couple of days earlier

That night we went to an amazing local restaurant with Sergio and Lulu. I tried pozole (a kind of soup with chicken, corn and vegetables) and David got flautas (stuffed fried tacos covered in vegetables and sauces) and they were both amazing. We only arrived to the restaurant at 10 and got home around 11:30, and this is completely normal for Mexicans.

The next day we proved that we are still kids at heart and went to the theme park Six Flags. David made us get up 3 hours before it opened so we were right at the front of the line. We actually didn't need to as it didn't get very busy all day and we managed to ride the major attractions 6-7 times each. It was a great day but I was exhausted by the end - the inbuilt step counter on my phone tells me we walked over 25,000 steps that day.
IMAG0206.jpg - you can see David if you zoom in.
One of the rides got us absolutely drenched - we only did that one once!!

That night Sergio's favorite football team had a playoff game so we enjoyed their company and watched the game. He had enough Pumas shirts for everyone to wear one!!!

We then went to their favorite taco place (early at around 9:30) which was packed and needless to say, delicious.

Our last morning was another really early start to get the metro to the airport. It was ridiculously packed, at 6:30am people were literally shoving to move everyone forward and into the metro. It was not a fun experience with all our bags but it's a good insight into Mexican life. Anyway, we made it to our flight to Colombia, in need of some proper sleep and sad to say goodbye to Mexico.

Posted by nzdora 05:13 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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