Medellin Christmas Lights

We have talked about traveling to Medellin and things to do there.  Hopefully I have mentioned the best times to visit Medellín but if I have somehow up to now neglected such information, let me take this time to offer up a glimpse of what Medellín Christmas lights experience is.

As winter is now in full swing and I am filled with the Christmas spirit, it brings to mind the stunning Christmas lights of Medellín.  You can probably see where I am going with this now but let me spell it out in plain English just in case: one of the best times you can visit Medellín, Colombia is during the month of December if only to experience the Medellín Christmas lights

That’s right I said experience, not see.  Medellín Christmas lights are an experience as the whole city is adorned in brilliant light and breathtaking designs.  If you are in Medellín during the holiday you must visit the Medellin River.  Millions of dollars are spent each year for Medellin Alumbrados (Medellin Christmas lighting) and the river decorations are the focal point of the effort.

The designs are amazing.  There are the traditional images you think of when you think of Christmas like candy canes and Santa Claus and then there are unique and artistic lighting designs.  For example you will probably see huge fish composed of light and wire framing along the river as well as lily pads lit up in green hovering above the water.

Medellín goes big too.  The sizes of the lighting installments are enormous.  Entire buildings are blanketed in light.  Major thoroughfares are lined top to bottom, end to end with stellar points of illumination.  You will likely see giant flowers, birds, Christmas presents and even elves represented in glorious light.

Medellin Christmas Lights

Medellin Christmas Lights

Medellín Christmas Lights Are a Serious Tradition

You may have thought that Christmas lights were a big deal here in the States but Colombians take their X-mas lights very seriously.  The tradition was born in 1851 when the Plaza Mayor was the locale for the very first public Alumbrados in Medellin.  It was revamped in 1955 when the Empresas Publicas de Medellin was formed.  The EPM is essentially a utility company and they took it upon themselves to revive the tradition and are now major players of the Alumbrados every year.

The Medellin Alumbrados exemplify the Christmas themes of unity and peace quite well because the whole ordeal is very much a community effort.

The EPM organizes most of the lighting but the community is called upon for help and ideas for concepts.  The whole thing really is an experience.  For example in 2014 there was not only a theme to the lighting but a story to go along with the installments as well.  The story was about a girl named Paloma who traveled down the Medellin River to learn about important human values.

Each year has a different theme that reflects the traditions of Colombia and the Christmas spirit as well.  The EPM and volunteers spend the whole month of November preparing for the Alumbrado and the lights are usually switched on and presented on December 7th the day before celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception or el día de las velitas.  Thousands of tourists descend on Medellin every holiday season just to see these world famous lights.

A Site that Words Fail

To put it simply, words cannot convey the beauty of the Alumbrado Navideño.  The installments are wondrous, enchanting, inspiring and oddly humbling.  The behemoths of light make you feel small somehow and their beauty make one appreciate the grander aesthetics of the world.

The Medellín Christmas lights can take you to another world and make you see our world in a new way.  You can spend hours wandering around the city and taking in the lights which would be worth the trip alone.

So, if you were to ask me about the best times to visit Medellin, December would definitely be one of them. For more about Colombian culture, read visiting Medellín during Feria de Las Flores.

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico will take you to one of the more confounding cities in the country.  It is the capital city of one of Mexico’s most impoverished states but you wouldn’t really know it if you were placed in the heart of Oaxaca and never ventured beyond the city limits. It is naturally and architecturally beautiful but that is only half of its story. In truth, Oaxaca is not just a site to see but it was the center of hot political action and still remains a place where intellectuals gather and where revolutions of the past still tinge the air.

If you are visiting Oaxaca, Mexico you have the daunting task of seeing and experiencing everything it has to offer in a limited amount of time but hopefully, I will be able to help with that…

While Visiting Oaxaca Mexico Taste the Food

At this point,  you should just assume that 99% of my articles are going to involve food.  Among the most enjoyable things to do in Oaxaca Mexico is to take advantage of the sumptuous cuisine.  If you are like me and enjoy dining outdoors, there is an excellent brunch/breakfast spot called Casa Oaxaca Café where you can enjoy freshly squeezed juices, Mexican omelets and chilaquiles in the open air courtyard under the fine Mexican sun.

Oaxaca is known as “the land of 7 moles” because quite simply, they make some of the best mole you will ever try.  You can find mole dishes in almost every restaurant that serves lunch or dinner in Oaxaca.

Enjoy Art

Oaxaca is well-known for its street art which can be seen on the adobe and concrete walls all throughout the town but it has made such an impact on the local artist scene that there are now proper galleries devoted to graffiti and street art.  One of these galleries is called the Espacio Zapata.  You can also catch poetry and essay readings at this same venue as well as take part in a workshop.

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Attend the Festivals

Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant and colorful Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico.  If at all possible you should plan to be in Oaxaca in November when the Día de los Muertos is in full swing and colorful alters, and painted skulls can be seen all throughout the city.

July is also a nice time to go to Oaxaca because the Guelaguetza festival brings traditional dancers to the town in a lively celebration of culture and art.

Visit the Sites

Among the most popular Oaxaca Mexico attractions are all the excellent photo ops that can be taken advantage of in the region. First of all, Oaxaca is home to some of the most unique and artful Baroque cathedrals in all of Mexico.

Should you find yourself in Oaxaca be sure to devote some time to check out Santo Domingo De Guzmán which is one of the most outlandishly devised examples of Latin architecture.  Like many cities in Mexico, Oaxaca has some great ruins to look at but unlike other cities, Oaxaca’s ruins are not Aztec or Mayan influenced.  You will see astronomically correct pyramids and arenas among the ruins in Oaxaca.

Get Lost in the Nightlife

We love our nightlife, don’t we?  The answer is yes we do and Oaxaca is a great locale for taking in a night of Mescal and dance. Café Central is a great place to cut loose on the dance floor, enjoy the local spirit (Mescal) and even enjoy some late night munchies all in the same place.

10 Things Not to Do in Cuba

Here are the 10 things not to do in Cuba if you are traveling there.  While diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba have thawed in the last year and leisurely travel is much easier for Americans now, there are some things you should educate yourself on if in fact you are planning a trip to the island nation.  We have already talked about traveling to Cuba and what to do once you are there, but it is equally important to know what not to do.

10 Things Not to Do in Cuba

Don’t Spit

There are a handful of cultural differences between the U.S. and Cuba that can make your trip tense and awkward.  Spitting and blowing your nose in public are considered rude in Cuba.

Don’t Badmouth Castro

While the communist hold in Cuba seems to be waning every day, Fidel Castro is engrained in the history of the nation and is still seen as a hero in the civilian’s eyes.  Just like it is not a good idea to talk politics at the dinner table in America, it would be best to avoid the subject in Cuba as well.

Don’t Forget to Keep Some Pesos With You

Although the American dollar is accepted in Cuba, there are certain things that you can only pay for in Pesos such as the airport departure tax.  This tax may not apply to your airline but it is always a good idea to keep some Pesos with you no matter what.

Don’t Fall for Local Tricks

The Cuban economy is not the most stable so its locals often try to trick tourists into giving them money.  They tell sob-stories or unsolicited guide services and giving into one of them may be enough to make you a mark for all of them.

Don’t Over-Tip

Yes the Cuban economy is not that great but the people still have dignity. It is considered rude to over-tip and makes the locals feel like you are just another fat cat American throwing money around even if you have the best intentions.

10 Things Not To Do In Cuba

10 Things Not To Do In Cuba

Don’t Call Attention to Yourself

Wearing gaudy jewelry, being excessively loud and spending lots of money in a very public way are to be avoided in Cuba where engaging in such acts will only make you a target for thieves and scammers.

Don’t Take Pictures of the Police or Military

This is actually a crime in Cuba and you may be arrested as a spy if you take pictures of armed guards, police, military personnel or even airport security.

Don’t Stay at A Resort

This is really more of a preference but why not experience the real Cuba as opposed to one that is sheltered and made to be as much like The States as possible.

Don’t Drink the Water

Montezuma’s revenge is a real thing even in Cuba and you can get very sick if you drink tap water.  Stick with bottled water on your visit instead.

Don’t Bring Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks as well as some credit cards issued by American banks are not accepted in Cuba.

What to Expect in Cuba

While all this sounds like a lot you must avoid don’t for a minute think that you can’t still have a great time in Cuba. bYou can feel very safe in Cuba because the crime rate is very low and as long as you are not a complete idiot with your money, you will never encounter a street-hood or run into a bad situation.

Cuba has much to offer in culture with their numerous museums and architecture, great food, awesome Jazz and music clubs and of course, fine Cuban cigars so take this list of 10 things not to do in Cuba not as a guide of restrictions but as a way to successfully navigate the country and to find the many things there are to be enjoyed there.

24 Hours in Santiago Chile

Your travel itinerary for South America is probably jam packed but if you are going to pass through Santiago, Chile you should really take some time to see the sites. But what if you only have 24 hours in Santiago Chile? A lot of people simply pass through Santiago on their way to other locales and that is fine because below is the ultimate guide for making the most of 24 hours in Santiago Chile.

Eating  While Enjoying 24 Hours in Santiago Chile

Let’s go in chronological order. Let’s assume that you arrive in Santiago sometime in the morning and what is the first thing you are going to want to do in the A.M. hours in Santiago? What else? Eat! Santiago is home to some of the most unique cuisine in the world so start your24 hours in Santiago Chile the right way by fueling yourself for the rest of the day with authentic Chilean cuisine.

A Completo may make you feel more at home because it is essentially a burger or hotdog Chilean style. Topped with avocado and mayonnaise a Completo is sure to get you ready for your big day out. You can also go more authentic with a Pastel de Choclo which is a hearty dish of meat and vegetables covered with something similar to the crust of a pot pie.

Enjoy the Weather

Now that you are all fueled up, segue into the afternoon by enjoying the amazing Santiago weather and visiting the Santiago Sculpture Park. This is an open air exhibit located in a beautiful stretch along the Mapocho River featuring many unique and inspiring sculptures from renowned Chilean artists. While you are strolling in the sunshine, try some Chilean Helado (ice cream) to refresh you.

24 Hours In Santiago Chile

24 Hours In Santiago Chile

While the gorgeous Chilean sun is waning you may want to check out one of Santiago’s world famous wineries. Taste some wine and toast your day in Santiago as the warm twilight showers you and heralds in the night.

Party

If you have been following this blog you probably know 2 things to be true: we love food and we love night life. No 24 hours in Santiago Chile is complete without a taste of its nightlife. You can kick off the night with a trip to The Black Rock Pub where you can try some home-brewed Chilean beers like Kross and Prima.

Once you are feeling loose you may want to hit up one of Santiago’s Salsa clubs where you can see professionals exhibit their flavorful art form and get in on the fun for yourself. There are tons of live salsa bands playing on any given night in Santiago so just follow your ears through the night streets. Again for the music lovers, you will be happy to know that Santiago has a great Jazz scene so that means plenty of hip clubs to choose from. One of the most famous is Club de Jazz but if you are looking for a more low key night of music check out The Jazz Corner or Bar Grez.

Finally, if its not to late one of the best places to go in Santiago Chile is near the coast. Santiago is not far from the Pacific and that means super-fresh seafood. Cap off your day in Santiago with some great sushi or a classic Chilean seafood stew which prominently features crab legs and tasty vegetables.

There is really so much more to do in Santiago that it really warrants a good long visit so for more information on what to do in Santiago, check out Easter Island Chile.

Retiring in Ecuador

Why retiring in Ecuador?  Because when one thinks of the phrase “golden years” I believe it would be safe to assume that no one conjures up the image of being huddled under a thick blanket, shivering in the cold. Not that anyone spends the twilight years of their life intentionally staving off freezing temperatures but I think that the “golden years” of one’s life should be spent in a golden climate.

For those who agree with me, they should know about retiring in Ecuador and the many benefits it holds for senior Americans. Ecuador retirement living for Americans can be pretty cushy but there are some important things to keep in mind.  It is not all cheap living and sunshine.

Retiring in Ecuador Pros and Cons

Since I am the kind of person who prefers to be hit with bad news first and good news (if there is any) later to act as a salve, I will begin with a few of the cons that go a long with retiring in Ecuador.

First of all do not be fooled into thinking Ecuador is like Cancun where almost everybody speaks English and there are a lot of familiar sites to remind you of America.

If you are thinking of retiring or living in Ecuador, always bear in mind that you are moving to a truly South American country. English is not the first language and while it is a beautiful, culturally rich and fast developing country, there will be very little to see on a daily basis that reminds you of home.

Secondly, not everywhere in Ecuador is a great place to retire.  If you plan to retreat to Cuenca which many people do, diligently search out a place congenial to your lifestyle.  Some areas of Cuenca can be very congested with traffic, noisy and “urban-smelling.”

Retiring in Ecuador

Retiring in Ecuador

Now that we have the bad stuff out of the way here are a bunch of reasons to retire in Ecuador:

It’s cheap!  All of the rumors you have heard about living comfortably in Ecuador on a retiree’s budget is true.

It’s gorgeous.  Not far from Ecuador is the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos islands which boasts some of the most breathtaking natural sceneries in the world.

It has a great culture.  It is easy for even an expat to get assimilated in Ecuador because the locals are friendly and there is much music, food and culture to immerse one’s self in.

The weather is great.  Did you know that the average temperature near inland Ecuador is about 77 degrees Fahrenheit?  We’re talking about year round too, not just the summer and spring months.

Cuenca Ecuador is bog but it’s not too big.  In other words, if you opt for Cuenca, Ecuador as your retirement destination you will not be bored in a year or two because there is enough to explore in a long-term sense.  On the other hand it is compact enough that you can see and do everything without much of a transportation hassle.

Stylish Retirement Living

Retiring in Ecuador has become such an attractive notion for Americans because almost every detail of it seems tailor-made for us.  They use the American dollar, there is an established expat community there and there are easy real-estate options available for retirees.

From the popular images of walking on the beach drenched in warm sunlight to the lesser considered aspects that the transition to Ecuador is easy, there are few foreign countries that present a better argument as a retirement destination.  For more info on South American countries and travel, check out the section of Travel to South America.

Punta Del Este Uruguay Beaches

South America boasts a bevy of beautiful beaches and there are many countries you can visit to spend a relaxing time in the warm sun but few have the concentration of stunning beaches that Uruguay does.

Furthermore, few South American countries blend so perfectly the natural draw of sun-soaked playas and the man-made draw of nightlife than Uruguay does. If you are looking to enjoy warm waves and sun rays during the day but replace them with strobe lights and thumping beats by night, Punta Del Este Uruguay may be the perfect South American locale for you.

Punta Del Este Uruguay beaches draw people from all over the globe every summer.  While the rest of the year, the population of this city is pretty modest, when the temperature turns up in the summer months Punta Del Este becomes one of the liveliest regions in Uruguay.

It is a hot spot for rich celebrities and modest travelers looking to play amongst the waves and take in the exciting night life in Punta Del Este.  There 13 main beaches in Punta Del Este and they are divided into 2 regions: the Mansa and the Brava or the tame and the fierce referring to the nature of the waves.

Punta Del Este Uruguay Beaches

The great thing about the beaches of Punta Del Este is that they offer something for everyone.  If you are a surfer you are going to want to head over to either Playa Chileno or El Emir or both.  The intensity of the wind on these beaches is perfect for those looking for some “tasty waves” to use the vernacular of noted fictional surfer and burnout Jeff Spicoli.

If you are feeling adventurous or simply want to get an “all-around” tan you can head over to Chihuahua beach which is the destination for sun-loving nudists.

Many celebrities vacation in Punta Del Este and you can see them lounging at Playa Manantiales.  Just make sure you don’t get too start struck and you should blend in just fine.

With great beaches there is usually great salt water fishing and Punta Del Este is no exception.  You can cast your line right off the Punta del Este port or you can join a sea fishing charter.

Punta del Este Paraguay Beaches

Punta del Este Paraguay Beaches

Nightlife in Punta del Este

There are many things to do in Punta del Este that have nothing to do with the breathtaking beaches.  La Barra is a stretch of bars and nightclubs and offer familiar cocktails and local favorites.  Sioux and Splendido are two clubs on La Barra each offering their own unique flavor: the former a more modern dance club and the former a great place to mellow out and hear some cool jazz.

The Buddha Bar is one of the new restaurant-nightclub combinations and serves delicious sushi and has an Asian décor motif. There is a bar or a club for the mood of every different traveler in Punta Del Este but be warned: some clubs are very exclusive and difficult to gain access to.

Culture

It’s not all about nightlife and beaches in Punta del Este however.  If you want to take in some culture you should check out the Catedral de San Fernando which is one of Uruguay’s most celebrated churches.  It was built 1895 and took an astounding 94 years to construct.

Punta del Este is also one of the fashion capitals of the world and the most popular fashion show is held at the Conrad Hotel in January. For more information about Uruguayan culture, take a look at La luz Mala Legend in Uruguay.

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

Have you heard of the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina?  Argentina plays host to some of the most exciting and eclectic festivals in the world.

The German influence in Argentina has spawned the Oktoberfest Argentinians celebrate every year. People come from all over the world to take part in the festivities that Argentina has become so well-known for.   One of the biggest, brashest and most raucous is the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina.

Background of the Grape Harvest Festival en Mendoza Argentina

The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina is essentially a wine grape harvest and has its roots in more religious rites of the past.

Wine was mainly used in religious sacraments in olden days so it was very important for Argentines of old to bless the wine and offer fruit to the patron saint of Mendoza’s vineyards. Even then however, when the work was done, it was time to celebrate.

The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina is as much a reward for the hard work that is put in all year long into cultivating these prized wine grapes, as it is a cultural manifestation as important as any to the nation.

If you are planning on Visiting Mendoza Argentina and want to catch the Mendoza wine harvest festival, you will want to aim for early to mid-March.  While preparations for the both the harvest and the festival begin as early as January, Early to mid-March is when things are kicked into high gear.

Mendoza itself is a Northern town in Argentina and is generally pretty quiet for the rest of the year. The Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina however is when the town is shook wide awake and brought to life.  Wine lovers, industry authorities and merry-makers from all over the world swamp the town during the festival which has much to offer even if you don’t particularly like wine.

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina

The Queen of Vendimia

If you are not an appreciator of fine wine, maybe you will be more enticed by the Argentinian beauties that compete from the 18 provinces of Mendoza for the title of Queen of Vendimia.  This annual beauty pageant is held in the Frank Romero Day Amphitheater which gives the whole ordeal a vintage, Greek vibe.

The Argentine sirens parade through the downtown streets in the days leading up to the pageant and local vintners are eager to offer visitors and locals alike free samples of their wine.

Even if you are not a wine person, if you are in Mendoza during the grape harvest festival, keep in mind that Argentina produces some of the finest and most coveted wines in the world.

The 2016 Harvest

The Grape Harvest Festival is entering its 80th year and there is much on the agenda in 2016.  Absorb some Argentine culture by seeing the Carousel of Vendimia; a parade that features Gauchos in traditional outfits.

The central act is not to be missed as it is essentially the culmination of the entire celebration. It is a recitation of authentic Argentinian folklore tales by over 1,000 players. Finally, the Queen of Vendimia is crowned and the ceremony is lively, exciting and climaxes with an amazing fireworks display.

Of course, the streets flow with wine during the festival and there is no shortage of music, great cuisine and of course, delicious reds and whites to sample. There are only three rules when attending the Grape Harvest Festival in Mendoza Argentina: eat, drink and be merry.

Traveling to Cuba

As time goes by and hard relations thaw, so too does the opportunity for eager travelers to expand their horizons become an easier and more fluid process.

I am speaking of course of the loosening restrictions the U.S. government has held onto in regards to citizens traveling to the communist country of Cuba.

Traveling to Cuba has never been easier for regular people like you and me thanks to the efforts of President Obama as recently as September of 2015.

Of course, one has to also assume that economic factors played into these decisions and lifting of the travel ban.  Still, not everyone can simply board a plane and walk into Cuba.  There are certain loose restrictions still in place which I will discuss.

Businesses can now establish offices and outposts in Cuba and for casual travelers, there is a 12 category stipulation that you visit has to fall under in order to be granted a license for travel to Cuba.  This may not sound too free but trust me, you would have to try really hard not to qualify for a travel license in order to be rejected.

The stipulations allow for travel to Cuba if you are visiting a friend or close relative, academic purposes, journalistic purposes, religious purposes or even to attend a sporting event.

The two countries have already come to agreement that would allow U.S. commercial flights to land in Cuba.  So now that there is much broader access to this once off-limits country, what is one to do when there?

Traveling to Cuba

Traveling to Cuba

What to do When You Are Traveling to Cuba

Visiting the Country

One of the requirements to travel to Cuba for Americans is that visitors have a full schedule or itinerary planned once they are there and to keep receipts of their activities in the communist country for 5 years after the visit.  This is probably just to keep tabs on visits and make sure there is no shady business going on.  This however is not a hard task since Cuba has so much to do.

Take in Some Culture

Authentic Cuban travel offers so much without the boredom of a history lesson.  I suggest for example getting lost around Plaza Vieja.  You will be enthralled by the art galleries and be able to slake your thirst at the beer museum as well.  It is a lively place to spend an afternoon like a true Cubano.

Visit the Malecón

Did you think I wasn’t going to talk about night life in this corner of the internet?  Traveling to Cuba practically requires a relaxed night of sipping Mojitos and dancing into the dawn.

The Malecón has something going on all night including live musicians, street vendors and of course plenty of rum flowing against the contrasting background of the Atlantic Ocean.

Music and History

I am a jazz lover but Cuba has so many great music clubs spanning genres from jazz to bossa nova to danzón.  The University of Havana is a great place to reflect on Cuban history and what Cuba is today.  It is where the Castro brothers studied and it remains the center of political action to this day.

Natural Beauty

Last but not least, if you squander the opportunity to lounge on one of the gorgeous beaches that Cuba has to offer, you may regret for the rest of your life.

Some playas (beaches) of note are Sirena Beach, Playa Paraiso, and Veradero Beach but for a more comprehensive list of beaches in Cuba, take a look at my Best Cuban Beaches article.