2/3 Highlights!

So, due to our crazy schedule changes, we’re actually past the 2/3 mark on our trip :-(.  But, since we just left South America and are heading to Central, we figured now would be the most logical time to do our “Close-enough-to-2/3rds” superlatives!

Days in South America:  168

Dollars Spent (not including flight):

Countries Visited: 4

Books Read: 19 (Carrie), 12 (Zach)

Number of shirts left: 6 (Carrie), 3 (Zach)

Superlatives

Favorite Food: ceviche (Zach), llapingachos (Carrie)

Favorite Snack: corn/cheese pancake thingies from Ecuador

Favorite Beverage: Campos de Solana vino tinto from Tarija, Bolivia

Most Craved Food Currently: orange cheese (Carrie), sour cream (Zach)

Things We’re Most Excited For in USA:  friends, Netflix, cooking, baking (Carrie), telling stories to family and friends (Zach)

Most Annoying Phenomenon: staring people

Longest Bus Marathon: 3 days almost-straight, Trinidad, Bolivia to Arequipa, Perú

Favorite Activity: still The Inca Trail with The Southwest Circuit as a close second.

Nicest People: still Colombians

Favorite Big City: Lima, Perú

Favorite Small City: Cuzco, Perú

Dumpiest Town: Uyuni, Bolivia

Best Hostel: Hostal Las Olas in Copacabana, Bolivia

Best Place to Open Our Bar Someday: Canoa, Ecuador

Most Enjoyable Hike: Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Most Miserable Hike: Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

Most Controversial Post: Happy Birthday Blog

Worst Addiction: Fried chicken

Most Life-Changing Moment: getting engaged

Hottest Place: Colombian coast

Most Mosquitoes: Bolivian Amazon

Biggest Disappointment: Taganga, Colombia

Biggest Ripoff: Bus from Medellin to Santa Marta, Colombia during Easter week=130,000 COP ($70) per ticket

Still Our Favorite Country: Ecuador!!!!!!!  We love you!!!!

Goals for Central America

1. Not sweat to death!

2. Show Zach’s friend Steve a good time in Nicaragua!

3. Do more filming!

4. Improve our Spanish!

5. Make it home safely, and with a little bit of money left.

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Cartagena, our last stop in South America, turned out to be our favorite city in Colombia!  The city was founded by the Spanish in 1533 is now deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Shortly after it’s founding, the city was attacked by famous pirate Sir Francis Drake, which scared the Spanish and led them to build huge walls and fortifications all around the city.

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena
Fire the cannons!

The colorful colonial buildings with vine-covered balconies and the narrow, twisting streets are great for picture-taking and endless exploration.  A truly beautiful, albeit hot, coastal city.

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Cartagena also has a shining modern skyline of skyscrapers, creating an interesting contrast with the 16th century old town.

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Awash in vibrant colors, history, and charm, Cartagena was a great last stop in South America!  It’s also where all the private sailboats to Panama depart, and that voyage is what we’re doing now!  Hasta luego, South America!  I’m sure we’ll be back someday!

Colonial Colombia in Colorful Cartagena

Enjoy this post about colonia Caragena in colorful Colombia? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

10 Tips For Cheaper Travel – Backpacking South America

While on the road for extended periods of time, it’s more important than ever to make consistently good economic decisions in order to keep your trip going as long as possible.  Here are 10 tips for cheaper travel while Backpacking South America.

10 Tips For Cheaper Travel While Backpacking South America

cheaper travel while backpacking south america

1:  Try to find hostels with kitchens and cook at least one meal per day.  Sometimes cooking doesn’t save you a whole lot over what you can find for cheap on the streets, but there is a small difference, and it’s usually healthier than the cheapest street food!

2:  If you do eat out, try to make it at lunch time.  You can usually find “almuerzos” or set lunches that are the cheapest and largest portions.  Prices generally go up for dinner time.  Also, places with gringo food are ALWAYS more expensive and usually unsatisfying (just never as good as the “real thing” back home)!

3:  Stay at hostels that aren’t in the guidebook.  Most of the time these places are just as nice as the ones that everyone else is staying in.  However, lots of times these spots will do a bit of bargaining as soon as you say something about the price being too high.  Tell them that you are “going to look at other places and might come back later” and see how low they will go.

4:  Never get in a taxi until the driver tells you the price.  We have made this mistake too many times.  A simple “Cuanto cuesta?”  in advance will save you tons when it’s all added up.  Also, always ask a local how much it should cost before even flagging down a cab and then don’t settle until you get the right price.

5:  If you have a tent, use it.  Camping is super cheap if you can find the places to do it.  Look around, sometimes you can find campgrounds with kitchens and everything.

6:  Steer clear of international buses.  It’s almost always cheaper to take the domestic bus to the border town, taxi across, then pick up another bus on the other side.

7:  Wash your clothes in the sink.  Laundry services are cheap but they add up over time.  Lots of hostels have signs telling you that it’s not allowed but just be sneaky.  Wear your jeans in the shower and scrub them there.

8:  Drink water and boil it yourself when you get the chance.  Soda and beer are expensive.  Bring a water bottle on your trip and boil the water in your hostel’s kitchen.

9:  Volunteer, especially if you are staying one place for an extended period (over 1 week).  There are thousands of volunteering opportunities throughout the continent.  Some are completely free, some cost a little.  Find something that you enjoy and help people out while getting some help yourself.

10:  Couchsurfing is amazing and if you haven’t tried it yet, you are missing out.  It’s all over the world and we have never had a bad experience.  Even if you don’t need a place to crash, check it out for locals that can show you around new cities.

Enjoy this post about cheaper travel while backpacking South America?  Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

Restaurante Vegetariano Los Girasoles in Cartagena, Colombia

Vegetarian lunch

Restaurante Vegetariano Los Girasoles in beautiful Cartagena, Colombia, serves healthy and inexpensive set lunches that should not be missed during any visit to this wonderful city!  Set inside an inconspicuous corner shop near the historic city center, the lower level is a natural foods and products store, while the upstairs contains a lovely air-conditioned dining area and kitchen serving up wonderfully nutritious, all-natural, and tasty meals!

Busy dining room

Founded 27 years ago as Cartagena’s very first vegetarian restaurant, with the goal of promoting healthy eating to Cartagena’s citizens, today the restaurant is still increasing in popularity.  The packed dining room is filled with mostly locals, a testament to the flat-out deliciousness of this place in a predominantly carnivorous culture.  The staff are friendly and always smiling as they provide quick and efficient service.  The complete lunch costs only 7000 COP and contains different selections each day.

Cream of onion soup

On our visit, we started with a mild cream of onion soup.  The main course (see top), consisted of aromatic rice, Asian vegetables, salad with a creamy dressing, lentil fritters, and a casserole of soy crumbles and veggies.

Lentil fritters

My favorite part was the sweet yet tangy Asian-inspired sauce covering the roasted vegetable side.  Everything in the huge lunch was fresh and amazing though, thus we had no trouble getting through the large portions!  All of this was also served with sugar-free, fresh-squeezed passion fruit juice, and followed by a sweet sampler of freshly-baked cake.

Strawberry and raisin cake.

After filling up on all your vitamins and nutrients at lunch, you can shop downstairs for all-natural condiments, herbs, and beauty products.

Selection of natural products in the shop

A great value and a truly great meal, Restaurante Vegetariano Los Girasoles will satisfy hardcore vegetarians and carnivores alike!

Location: Calle de Los Puntales #37-01, in the San Diego barrio of Cartagena, Colombia.

Restaurant from the street

This post was sponsored by Restaurante Vegetariano Los Girasoles.

¡La musica de Sud America!

We haven’t yet talked about the new songs and artists we’ve been exposed to during our journey.  Truth be told, we’re not huge fans of most popular Latin American music since most of it is so dance-oriented and we like more mellow stuff.  But, there are still a few songs that we can’t help but love!  Here’s a sampling of what we hear every day…

First, the #1 song in most of South America right now.  We heard this multiple times EVERY DAY in every country, despite the fact that it’s actually a Brazilian Portuguese song!  But it is super catchy and fun to sing along to in bars, so it kind of grew on us…

Next, my favorite song.  It’s not played too much and when we looked up the video we realized that’s probably because it’s from the ’80s, by some Mexican singer.  But it’s still awesome.

A Colombian band we were introduced to by our Couchsurfing host in Medellin.  They have a really unique cumbia/rap style, and they apparently played at South by Southwest last year.  Takin’ over the world!

And another really popular Brazilian pop song.  It’s also super catchy.  Funny we learned so many Portuguese songs without even going to Brazil!

This is by no means an exhaustive summary.  We haven’t included any traditional indigenous music here; maybe we’ll write about that later.  But there you have it, a brief sampler of the songs that are going to stay stuck in our heads for a long time!

Taganga: What happened to this place?

Carrie taking a swim at sunset in Taganga, Colombia.

About a month ago, we reserved our sailing trip from Cartagena, Colombia, through the San Blas Islands and into Panama.  This put us on a schedule and, wanting an entire week on the Colombian coast, we had to cross the interior without stopping.  From the Ecuadorian border, it took almost exactly 48 hours to travel up to the Caribbean beach of Taganga.  It was a grueling journey but we were also very excited to be back in Colombia where the adventure began.  I remember writing about the country when we first arrived in South America.  At the time it had seemed so scary, chaotic, and poor.  Now, after our travels, it looked very safe, orderly, and rich.  It’s amazing how much your perceptions change after a few months on the road.

We planned poorly in picking our time to depart for Central America.  All the Colombians were headed to the beach for Easter week which greatly inflated bus prices and made everything a lot more hectic than normal.  You just can’t ever remember which day Easter is supposed to be until it’s upon you!  Luckily we found a hostel to review which saved us from paying the horribly expensive holiday accommodation prices.  So we rolled into Taganga in a taxi, not really sure what to expect.  A friend who had traveled to Colombia several years ago described the place as a “relaxing and quiet fishing village with a slight hippie vibe” which sounded kinda like exactly what we were looking for.  Oh, how things can change in a couple of years.

What we found was something very different.  Some words to describe the new Taganga would be as follows: dirty, overcapacity, loud, commercial, expensive, annoying, and did I say dirty?  Lets go over each of those adjectives one by one.  Dirty:  The town lacks proper trash collection to deal with the hordes of irresponsible Colombians that just throw their garbage everywhere.  (Let’s be honest…we’ve observed that it is mostly the Colombians, not the North American/European/Australian tourists that litter everywhere.  It’s probably an education problem.)  The beach is a straight environmental nightmare piled high with beer bottles, plastic plates, all kinds of trash, much of which ends up in the ocean.  It made us sick how no one really seemed to care.  It’s sad when people have so little respect for the world around them.  Overcapacity: The town is just too small for this amount of people.  The road is completely blocked up with taxis all day long, and the infrastructure is years behind the demands on it.  Since we’ve been here, transformers have been blowing up all over the place from the amounts of electricity being used, turning the power on and off all over the town.  Ahh, what a mess.  Loud: You just can’t escape the noise.  The town is in a little bay and sound just reverberates off the surrounding hills.  Commercial:  There are some hippies selling cool bracelets and things along the beach, but most of the shops sell generic garbage that you find everywhere else.  The restaurants have nothing new or exciting, and it is hard to find anything out of the usual. Expensive: Sure it’s Easter week, but the cheapest thing to eat is about $5.  The hotels in the area have inflated prices at this time, but their usual rates are still way higher than other places along the coast.  It’s just so not worth it.  Annoying:  You add expensive and commercial together and combine it with thousands of boom boxes and Colombians trying to show off their drunken English, and what you get is classic annoyingness.  SOOOOOO DIRTY:  People should really be ashamed of what they are doing to the beautiful beach.

Good things about Taganga include some spectacular sunsets that just made us sadder thinking about what this place used to be like…

Taganga is a classic case of what happens when a place gets too popular too fast.  We wish we could have seen the Taganga our friend saw two years ago, the Taganga we were hoping for.  While the tourism boom is surely benefiting local businesses, I’m afraid that if the infrastructure doesn’t catch up fast, the environmental effects of this many visitors in this tiny, unprepared village will be disastrous.

Danny’s Fruits & Cocktails in Taganga, Colombia

Danny’s Fruits & Cocktails in Taganga, Colombia, has the best value of any restaurant along the beach.  With a daily “Sandwich and Jugo” special for 4,000 COP ($2), this spot became our daily dinner.  The sandwiches are toasted and contain ham, tomato, onion, and melted mozzarella cheese, and included in the price is a delicious slushy limeade.

The juice bar is colorful and hip, with friendly servers and a convenient beachfront location that’s perfect if you love people-watching while you eat.

They also make a variety of delectable-looking fruit salads and ice cream sundaes that are sure to satisfy the cravings of any sweet tooth!

Location: Calle 1, the road along the beach.  It’s near the middle of the strip.  (Not many places have real addresses in Taganga.)