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Surprise, I am in the Galapagos Islands! We decided a few weeks ago that this was where we really wanted to go next and with prices a lot lower than usual and with fewer tourists, now seemed like the perfect time to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
But backing up a little, most of month eighty was spent still exploring beautiful Colombia, as well as dipping into Peru for three nights of Amazon jungle adventures.
We started the month in lovely Guatape where we spent a couple of nights exploring this colorful lakeside town and hiking the famous rock “Piedra del Peñol”, before moving on to another beautiful Colombian town, Jardin.
From Jardin, we entered the Zona Cafetera, the Coffee Region of Colombia where we visited the peaceful San Vicente hot springs, the vibrant University city of Manizales, and the small towns of Filandia and Salento. From there we flew to Bogota for a night then onto Leticia for a week exploring the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon.
After our excellent time in Amazonas, we flew back to Bogota and caught the bus to the charming white-washed city of Villa De Leyva, one of my travel highlights on my first South America trip. Our last two nights in Colombia after two and a half months in this incredible country were in Bogota, and then we flew to Ecuador.
It was a stressful start to our time in Ecuador when we nearly missed our flight (see lowlights below) but luckily things have picked up since then. We had a night by the airport in Guayaquil then our last night of the month was in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos!
And let me tell you, it feels amazing to be here. You will hear all about this incredible place in next month’s recap.
Now onto the stats!
Countries Visited: Colombia, Peru, Ecuador
- Colombia: Medellin, Guatape, Jardin, Manizales, Santa Rosa de Cabal, San Vicence Termales, Filandia, Salento, Bogota, Leticia, Puerto Nariño, Villa De Leyva
- Peru: Rio Yavari
- Ecuador: Guayaquil, Puerto Ayora (Galapagos Islands)
National and State Parks, Monuments, and UNESCO Sites: Los Nevados National Park, Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia (UNESCO), Galapagos National Park and UNESCO Site.
Islands Visited: Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands.
Best Meals: It has been allll about delicious desserts this month – the Meringon (meringue) with cream and strawberries I had at a little shop in Guatape, the Milhoja (crispy pastry layered chocolate, caramel, and cream) from the Chocolate Museum Cafe in Villa de Leyva, and the vanilla eclair and pain au chocolat from Pasteleria Francesa in Villa de Leyva were the best of the best.
I also loved the Amazon River fish we tried during our time in Amazonas – especially piranha and lisa; the vegetarian chilaquiles from Huitzilin Restaurante in Bogota; the vegan Bandeja Paisa from a traditional restaurant in Bogota that I didn’t get the name of; and the seafood platter from Santa Cruz Brewing Co. in Puerto Ayora.
Shout out to all the incredible juices in Colombia too, I had fresh juice nearly every day I was there and I loved lulo, guava and passionfruit the best.
Worst Meals: Fatty and undercooked street food chicken kebabs in Jardin.
Best Craft Beer: The smooth and delicious Chocolate Stout by Bruder, a local Colombian beer from Tunja, and the Gose at Santa Cruz Brewing Co. in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands.
- Piedra del Peñol in Guatape, Colombia – 0.5 miles out and back
- Cerro Cristo Viewpoint in Jardin, Colombia – 2.2 mile loop
- Valle de Cocora in Salento, Colombia – 4 mile loop
- Mirador El Santo in Villa de Leyva, Colombia – 3 mile out and back
- Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia – 1.8 miles one way
Watching: Midnight Mass, The Tinder Swindler, The Curse of Von Dutch, Inventing Anna
Reading: I read two books this month – Quicksilver by Dean Koontz and Shantaram by Gregory David Edwards. I enjoyed Shantaram and how it transports you to India with its descriptive prose, but I definitely have mixed feelings about it. Apparently, everyone from slum dwellers to gangsters just LOVE this guy – it was all a bit too grandiose and narcissistic for me.
It has been a busy month in terms of totally new content, and I have published three new posts along with updating some older ones.
I wrote this detailed guide to the best hot springs in Colorado after finally visiting a large number of them over the past six years, I wrote a mammoth post for my 18 years travel-versary covering all the places I have lived and traveled in the 18 years since I left New Zealand, and I wrote this Oman bucket list to the most beautiful places in the country that I really want to visit – hopefully someday soon!
Chilling Out in Cute Guatape
We spent a couple of days in the resort town of Guatape and I really loved this chilled little town. Most people just visit as a day trip but it was nice to see it once the daytrippers left.
We did a boat tour on the lake, seeing abandoned mansions of emerald barons, and hiked up the famous Piedra del Peñol rock, but mostly I enjoyed just wandering around the colorful town, eating incredible meringue, taking photos of the bas-relief buildings, and patting friendly stray kitties.
Hiking and Cave Waterfalls in Jardin
Lovely Jardin turned out to be one of my favorite towns in Colombia and even though the road south was super windy and bumpy, it was so worth visiting.
We spent four days in this lovely mountain town and spent them wandering in the mountains surrounding the town, seeing the bright red Andean cock of the rock birds, and hiking to a waterfall that flows through a hole in the ceiling of a cave.
I really loved the large and lively town square too, where we saw local riders with their horses strutting around, and sat with a cold beer most evenings.
Relaxing at Termales San Vicente
Hot Springs are one of my favorite things so I knew I definitely wanted to visit some during our time in the Zona Cafetera and I am so glad we settled on San Vicente. We stayed a night there and spent two half-days soaking in the rustic hot springs surrounded by mountains and forest.
It was so relaxing and people were really friendly and curious as it was mostly Colombian travelers so we definitely stood out.
My favorite pools were the natural river pools that you had to walk through the forest to reach. We had them to ourselves for around an hour and it was magical.
An Awesome Coffee Tour in Salento
I have done a couple of coffee tours in Colombia but the one we did at Finca El Ocaso in Salento was the best. We got a full rundown of the coffee production at the farm, got to try different coffee, and even got to pick our own coffee cherries.
The farm is beautiful and there is a little cafe on site with great mountain views where you can visit before or after a tour. If you are visiting Salento don’t miss Finca El Ocaso Ocaso.
Loving Sustainable Puerto Nariño
We spent a couple of nights in lovely Puerto Nariño on the Amazon River in Colombia and fell in love with this friendly town. Everything here is super sustainable, there are no vehicles in town, everything is clean and tidy, and you can see Amazon wildlife like parrots and pink and grey river dolphins right in town.
We did a half-day tour to beautiful Lake Tarapoto where we swam and saw lots of river dolphins, as well as just relaxing and walking around town. One morning a large and colorful parrot landed on my back because he liked the look of the bananas I was carrying – that was pretty exciting!
Jungle Lodge Living in Peru
We spent three nights at a remote jungle lodge on the Rio Yavari, a tributary of the Amazon River in Peru and it was amazing. It was a 90-minute boat trip from Leticia but felt a world away. The lodge was rustic but was actually a lot nicer than we expected. We had a large double room with shared bathrooms, there was a large dining room, two hammock rooms overlooking the river, and a dock on a lake behind the lodge.
Our activities and meals were included in the price and we did a couple of jungle walks where we saw monkeys, a tarantula and learn about medicinal plants, we went dolphin spotting in a small boat and got to see the grey dolphins jumping and spinning out of the water, we went caiman spotting in a boat at night, fished for piranhas, as well as having free time to just relax at the lodge and see the jungle wildlife from there including lots of birds, monkeys, and dolphins. It felt amazing to be so surrounded by nature.
We actually only paid for two nights but the boat didn’t show up when it was meant to and we got a bonus night for free – sometimes when things don’t go to plan they actually turn out better.
Improving My Spanish
I have been making an effort over the past month to improve my Spanish by writing verb conjugations and words in my notebook and by using the app Babbel, and it is definitely paying off.
I am not a natural learner of languages but I have seen an improvement and have been able to have more conversations in Spanish than I have ever been able to have before which has been amazing.
Exploring Bogota With Local Friends
I wasn’t really looking forward to visiting Bogota as I didn’t love the city when I first visited in 2013 but I enjoyed it so much more this time. We met up with two local friends who we met in San Andres at the beginning of our trip and they showed us around.
We explored La Candelaria and the Botero Museum and hiked Monserrate with them which was really fun. It really makes a difference if you can explore a place with a local and it was great to see the boys again.
An Interesting Tour of a Paleontological Research Center
I really enjoyed our tour of the Paleontological Research Center just south of Villa de Leyva. Villa de Leyva used to be on the coast of a prehistoric ocean and there are so many fossils of sea creatures here, you can even see some embedded in the pavement and buildings in town!
There are lots of fossils at the research center including plesiosaurs and prehistoric turtles, and our English tour gave us a whirlwind and super informative run-through of the different time periods up to now and the kind of animals that lived in them, as well as about Villa de Leyva and its prehistoric sea creatures.
As a dinosaur and history nerd, I was absolutely enthralled and learned so much.
Revisiting Villa de Leyva
Of all my old favorite places in Colombia from my first visit in 2013, only Villa de Leyva lived up to the memories and I love it just as much now as I did then.
This sleepy colonial town hasn’t changed a lot, and it still feels like you have stepped back in time when you wander the cobbled streets and plaza, past historic white-washed buildings, and moss-draped trees.
We mostly used our four days here to relax and get ready for the Galapagos, but we also managed to visit the Paleontological Research Center and El Fosil, hiked to the Mirador overlooking town, tried some excellent local beer, ate lots of desserts and chocolate (it’s kind of a thing in Villa de Leyva), and spent hours just exploring the town. It was wonderful.
Finally Getting to the Galapagos!
It felt so amazing to finally land in the Galapagos, a place I have dreamt about visiting for years. We had great views over some of the islands flying in, and then between the airport and town we saw seals, a sea turtle, land iguanas, pelicans, and bright red crabs – there really are so many incredible animals just everywhere here!
We spent our first day in the Galapagos – our last day of month eighty – exploring the town of Puerto Ayora, seeing more seals and pelicans, and drinking local craft beer overlooking the water.
Mosquitos and Sandflies in the Amazon
We got our yellow fever vaccines in Cartagena but we didn’t have malaria meds and we were also worried about dengue and bot flies so I tried so hard not to get bitten by mosquitos but it ended up happening anyway. We also got eaten alive by sandflies which I don’t think carry disease but the bites are so itchy and hang around for weeks.
When we did our jungle walks we had to keep ourselves zipped up in our jackets with our hoods on because a cloud of mosquitos surrounded us the whole time, trying to bite our faces and any skin that was exposed, even though we were wearing repellent. It was unpleasant and we were all sweating like crazy.
Hidden Charges on a Colombian Domestic Flight
I was so annoyed when we turned up at the airport in Pereira and were told by Viva, the super-budget airline we were flying to Bogota, that we had to pay extra charges because we hadn’t checked in online.
I didn’t see any mention of this on their website and we had already flown then about six times at this point and had never had any issues checking in at the airport before then. Viva are definitely the Ryanair of Colombia and I don’t want to fly them again because we have had multiple issues with them, with this being the latest.
Too Many Bad Flights
I have had some bad luck with flights this month, particularly the flight into and out of Leticia – the turbulence was really bad and it has made my fear of flying worse. Now I dread every flight I get on and feel super anxious before and during flights. I really hope my next few flights are better.
Nearly Missing Our Flight to Ecuador
My biggest lowlight of the month was when we were leaving Colombia to fly to Ecuador. I made sure to do all my research for what was required of us to enter Ecuador along with googling whether we needed a flight out of Ecuador and everything I read said it was rare to be asked for a return flight.
Well, we did get asked and they wouldn’t let us board until we had one. Unfortunately, the airport WiFi wasn’t working and the internet on both of our phones was exceptionally slow, causing the Avianca and Copa Airlines websites both to crash constantly.
We tried to buy a flight from Quito to Mexico City for about 30-minutes, getting more and more stressed, and then finally gave up and bought flights to return to Bogota – flights we had no intention of using. Flights that cost $180 each. We ran through security, I got flagged for my shoes to get scanned and I dropped my laptop on the floor when I was running to our gate, but we made it.
I immediately put in to cancel our Bogota flights but it says on the website that it takes 30 days to process cancellations so now we just have to wait. I really hope we get our money back.
A lot of these costs are my half with Toby paying the other half. I also don’t include international flights in my recaps.
It was an expensive month because of numerous flights, a new underwater camera and other gear for the Galapagos, the jungle tour we did in Amazonas, and entry fees for the Galapagos – but it was so worth it!
My 31 nights of paid accommodation for the month consisted of two nights in a hostel private room in Guatape, four nights at a hotel in Jardin, two nights at a guest house in Manizales, one night at San Vicente Hot Springs Resort, two nights in a hostel private room in Filandia, two nights in a hostel private room in Salento, four nights in a hostel private room in Bogota, two nights at a hotel in Leticia, three nights in a jungle lodge on the Rio Yavari in Peru (cost included under activities), two nights at a guest house in Puerto Nariño, three nights in a guest house in Villa de Leyva, two nights in a hostel private room in Villa de Leyva, one night at a hotel in Guayaquil, and one night at a hotel in Puerto Ayora.
Food and Drink $478
Less than last month so that’s good at least.
- 2 x pairs underwear $6
- 1 x Rain Jacket $42
- Bus from Medellin to Guatape $4.50
- Medellin taxis $5
- Tuk tuks in Guatape $9
- Buses from Guatape to Jardin $12.50
- Bus from Jardin to Riosucio $6.50
- Collectivo from Riosucio to Manizales $6
- Manizales taxis, Metrocable and buses $5
- Bus from Manizales to Santa Rosa de Cabal $2.50
- Private Willy Jeep from Santa Rosa de Cabal to San Vicente Termales $9
- Shared jeep and buses from San Vicente to Filandia $5.50
- Shared jeep from Filandia to Salento $2
- Bus from Salento to Pereira $2.50
- Taxi from Bus Station to Airport in Pereira $1.50
- Flight from Pereira to Bogota $54
- Return flight from Bogota to Leticia $113
- Taxis in Leticia $2
- Return boat from Leticia to Puerto Nariño $18
- Taxis and Ubers in Bogota $18
- Return bus from Bogota to Villa de Leyva $15.50
- Taxis in Villa de Leyva $3
- Taxi to and from Guayaquil Airport and Hotel $5
- Flight from Guayaquil to Baltra Airport in the Galapagos $130
- Bus, boat, and shared taxi from Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora $12
- One hour boat tour in Guatape $6.50
- Entry fee for Piedra del Peñol in Guatape $5
- Entry fee for in Reserva Jardin de la Roca in Jardin $2.50
- One way ride on La Garrucha cable car in Jardin $1
- Cueva del Esplendor Waterfall Tour in Jardin $15.50
- Entry fee for Mirador Colina Iluminada in Filandia $2
- Ocaso Coffee Finca Tour, transport and tip in Salento $13
- Playing Tejo in Salento $2
- Valle de Cocora transport and entry fee $3.50
- Three Day Jungle Tour on Rio Yavari in Peru $365
- Mirador entry fee in Puerto Nariño $1
- Half-Day Lake Tarapotu Tour from Puerto Nariño $13
- Paleontological Research Center entry and tour in Villa de Leyva $3
- El Fosil Museum entry fee in Villa de Leyva $4
- Monserrate train in Bogota (one way) $4
- Hulu $7.50
- Phone plan $35
- Toiletries $33.50
- One Month Travel Insurance $42
- Laundry $8
- Kindle Unlimited $7
- Flight extra charges $14
- Entry tax for Amazonas $7.50
- Entry fee for Galapagos Islands $100
- Transit card for Galapagos Islands $20
- Bracelet $1
- Sticker $1.50
- Flight fee for flight cancellation $10
- Snorkel and mask $20
- AKASO Underwater Camera $90 (my half)
Website Costs $12
- Monthly payment for Keysearch $12
Van/RV Costs $25
- Van Insurance $25
What’s in Store for Next Month
We will be spending the bulk of the month in Ecuador, primarily in the Galapagos Islands!
Because this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, we decided we wanted to spend a decent chunk of time exploring the three main inhabited islands – Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal, as well as doing an 8-day cruise around the southern and eastern islands.
We start our time in the Galapagos with four nights on the main island of Santa Cruz where we are planning to do a couple of day trips including to see the giant tortoises and to beautiful Tortuga Bay.
From there, we will be catching a ferry to Isabela for five nights where we will be doing more day trips including snorkeling with turtles and seahorses at Los Tuneles, hiking the Wall of Tears, and snorkeling with seals at Conca de Perla.
After a night back on Santa Cruz, we will join our 8-day cruise on the 16-person Fragata Yacht! We got a really good last-minute deal for the Fragata and after lots of research, I chose it because of its route.
We are doing Route C which will take us to most of the southern and eastern islands as well as Genovesa which is more remote. To say I am excited would be an understatement! This is our itinerary if you are interested in exactly where we will be visiting.
After another night on Santa Cruz after the cruise, we will be spending our last four nights in the Galapagos on San Cristobal where I want to visit some white sand beaches, the Interpretive Center, and hike Frigate Bird Hill.
We fly to Quito from there and will have three nights exploring the city before flying to Mexico City, a city I have wanted to return to after a quick three-day visit in 2012 that didn’t do it justice. We will spend the last few days of the month in Mexico City, exploring the street food and culture of this dynamic city.
To read additional Monthly Recaps, you can find them here