Planning Your Atacama Desert Vacation

Start planning your Atacama desert vacation today and experience the beauty of this region for yourself.  Many of us grew up hearing about the Sahara and thought that to love a desert adventure we had to travel into the far east however, here in Latin America you can find one of the most beautiful landscapes a dessert can offer, Atacama Desert.  You might imagine a desert vacation would bore you, but in the vast, unearthly landscapes of the Atacama, you can easily find more than enough attractions to keep you enthralled for 5 days or more.

The Atacama includes crunchy white salt flats, turquoise lakes, dramatic volcanic mountain ranges, and an incredible variety of rock formations.  Though some regions of the Atacama have never received rain in recorded human history, nonetheless you will find life here including graceful Andean flamingos, shaggy alpacas, and of course colorfully clad Andean villagers, many of them still living a traditional lifestyle. Start planning your Atacama desert vacation today and experience the beauty of this region for yourself.

Tips for Travelers

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Valle de La Luna near San pedro de Atacama

When to Go: Because the Atacama desert enjoys stable temperatures and clear weather throughout the year, any time qualifies as the best time to visit Atacama desert. You can expect clear, sunny days between 70 and 80 degrees F and nights dropping to the 30s or 40s whenever you visit.

How to Get There: If traveling to Chile directly from the US, you can easily find a flight into the capital city of Santiago. Enjoy the city for a day or so if you like, then fly two hours to Calama, where you can get a car transfer to the gateway city of the Atacama desert, San Pedro de Atacama.

What to Bring: In order to enjoy the Atacama desert, you absolutely must prepare for the heat, cold, and sun you will find here. Bring a mix of lightweight trekking clothes for the day and warm layers for the evening. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and chapstick.

Atacama Desert Vicuñas

Atacama Desert Vicuñas

How to Get Around: You will find an abundance of tour operators in San Pedro de Atacama willing to take you anywhere you want to go. However, if you like getting off the beaten path, you should consider renting a Jeep to explore the dusty roads on your own. Either way, allow yourself a few days to acclimate to the altitude before you do any serious hiking or biking.

Choosing a Tour: You may actually need to book several different Atacama desert tours in order to see all the famous sights like the Salar de Atacama, the Valle de la Luna, el Tatio Geysers, Ojos de Salar, and more. Plenty of tour operators compete for your business right in San Pedro de Atacama and you can often get a discount by booking several tours through one company. If you stay at a nice hotel you can ask the front desk to recommend a good tour company.

3 Must-Do Activities in Your Atacama Desert Vacation

Besides taking in all the most famous Atacama desert sights on your own or on a tour, you can experience the landscape by:

Swimming: Thanks to the unique geology of the area, you have two options for taking a dip in the Atacama desert. Head to the Laguna Cejar to experience water so salty you float in it effortlessly, or visit the Puritama Hot Springs for a soothing soak followed by a mad scramble to get your clothes back on in the chilly mountain air.

Sandboarding: Ever surfed a sand dune? In the Atacama desert you can. For about $30 US, a sandboarding instructor will take you out to the dunes in Valle de la Muerte, give a brief demo, and let you slip and slide to your heart’s content. This makes a great activity for older kids who like to get dirty.

Intrigued by the name?  It has nothing to do with scary happenings on the site.  Many years ago a Belgium priest who visited the site say it looked like Marte and the indigenous people confused that word with “muerte,” the name stuck and today it is called Valle de la Muerte.

Atacama desert vacationStargazing: The remote Atacama desert offers some of the best stargazing in the entire world, with some experts saying that visitors can see a shooting star every 4 seconds. Hop a tour to the Paranal Observatory or simply walk out past the edge of town for night skies like you’ve never experienced before. This peaceful activity makes the perfect finale to your Atacama desert vacation.

Atacama desert is like no other place on earth, and we don’t know it as one of the top destinations in Latin America.  However, if you think about it who would not love to go sand boarding, stargazing and enjoying the incredible landscape this desert offers jus here in South America?  We frequently dream of exotic location without knowing we have many of them here where our Hispanic culture was born.

What Is The Sacred Valley of the Incas or The Urubamba Valley

If you’re interested in traveling to Peru, no doubt seeing Machu Picchu features prominently on your list of priorities. I highly recommend combining your visit to Machu Picchu with a Sacred Valley of the Incas tour. While Machu Picchu is undeniably breathtaking, it connects you to the past, not the present. Touring the valley, on the other hand, will immerse you in the living culture of the Andean highlands.

What is the Sacred Valley of the Incas?

Also known as the Urubamba Valley, the Sacred Valley of the Incas stretches about 62 miles along the Urubamba River. This river played a key role in the Inca’s religion and their daily life. They considered the river the earthly counterpart of the Milky Way, and its waters supported fertile farmlands and fields that extended up the mountainsides in terraces. Great Inca estates, temples and palaces sprung up here as a result.

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Today life continues in the Sacred Valley of the Incas much as it did in the days when the entire area was the personal property of the Inca Emperor.

The valley is dotted with traditional villages where residents speak Quechua and produce crops like grains, avocados, and peaches using traditional tools and methods. A tour of the valley is as much about observing this traditional way of life as it is about enjoying the spectacular scenery and visiting some of the finest Inca ruins in the Americas.

3 Must-Do Activities

Visit Pisac Market: The ancient Inca considered market days an important ritual event, and today villagers continue to celebrate bustling, exciting market days where people from the countryside come to sell their wares.

Visit Pisac Market on Sunday for the full experience and you can shop for top quality llama and alpaca wool textiles as well as fresh produce straight from the fields. If you have time, you can climb the steep hillside behind the town of Pisac and visit some awesome ruins.

See Ruins: You’ll find amazing Inca ruins just about everywhere you look in the Sacred Valley. My favorite is Moray. Here you will find three huge amphitheater-like pits that have been sculpted with concentric rings of terraces all the way down.

Descend to the bottom of one and you may feel the temperature drop by up to 20 degrees. Some experts believe the Incas engineered this temperature drop so they could grow different crops in the bottom fields. Truly a unique sight!

Experience the Via Ferrata: With all this beautify scenery around you, you may feel yourself wanting to get out of town and explore! The Sacred Valley Via Ferrata lets you do this.

Basically you get to climb a 300 meter rock face using iron ladders and rock climbing gear for safety. Then you fly down a zip line for an exhilarating new perspective on the Sacred Valley. Older kids (or adults!) who might be getting tired of archeological sites will love this zip lining in Cuzco activity.

Tips for Travelers

When to Go: The high season for travel in the Sacred Valley runs from June through early September. Expect big crowds and higher prices during this time.

Traveling between November and March exposes you to the rainy season. October just might be the sweet spot for seeing the Sacred Valley in good weather without the crowds.

How to Tour: Tons of companies offer a Sacred Valley of the Incas tour. I don’t recommend doing one of the single day whirlwind bus tours because you won’t have time to really experience everything. Instead, look for multi-day tours, or even put together your own tour using the buses between the different villages in the valley.

You may want to take at least one guided tour of some site in order to get the perspective of a local Quechua guide and hear stories and legends about the area.

Sometimes travelers confuse the Sacred Valley of the Incas with Machu Pichu, they are different.  if you want to learn more about the The Lost City of The Incas make sure you read our article on  Machu Pichu.

Skiing in Bariloche Argentina

Thinking about skiing in South America?  I propose to you skiing in Bariloche Argentina.

Nestled within a circle of mountains at the heart of Argentina’s Lake District, the city of Bariloche has become a hugely popular destination for adventure travelers all year round. If you like to ski, Bariloche will not disappoint.

The region transforms into a winter wonderland from June to October, with enough natural and man-made snow to guarantee excellent skiing in Bariloche to every traveler and believe it or not it is also part of Hispanic culture.

Enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and hills as you fly down the slopes on runs that range from beginner to technical.

Tips for Travelers Skiing in Bariloche Argentina

When to Go: The Bariloche ski season runs from mid-June to mid-October, with the best conditions in July and August.

Advanced skiers will definitely want to come during these two winter months when you can pretty much count on snow on all the slopes, but beginners may take advantage of lower rates during the shoulder season by coming in late June, September, or early October.

skiing in Bariloche Argentina

You will still be guaranteed good skiing in Bariloche (though on a more limited scale) because Cerro Catedral has an excellent snow machine that can create 10 hectares of skiable space. Also, you can enjoy other things to do in Bariloche like hiking and boating during the shoulder season.

How to Get There: Most travelers use San Carlos de Bariloche Airport as their gateway to this winter wonderland. I highly recommend flying as the fastest and most convenient way to reach Bariloche from either Buenos Aires or Santiago. Bus and train options do exist, but take way too long!

What to Bring: Bring yourself and your warm winter ski clothes. You may bring your own ski equipment if you wish, but plenty of ski shops will rent all of the necessary items like skis, snowboards, boots, and poles to you for a very reasonable price.

3 Must-Do Activities in Bariloche Argentina

1. Hit the Slopes, this is about skiing in Bariloche Argentina!  With so many mountains within just a few kilometers of the city, you can choose a different one to ski in Bariloche each day.

The largest ski resort, world-famous Cerro Catedral, offers about 50 trails with options for beginners to experts.

I like a more intimate experience therefore I recommend heading to Cerro Chapelco. This smaller resort tends to be less crowded but still offers a respectable 20+ runs as well as routes for cross-country skiing.

Beginners may prefer to start at Cerro Otto, which offers great ski lessons, especially for kids.

2. Eat Chocolate. Just about everywhere you look in Bariloche, you’ll find mouth-watering gourmet chocolates lovingly and temptingly arranged in shop windows.

Pair your treat with a visit to the local chocolate museum or Museo del Chocolate and you can say your indulgence was for educational purposes.

At the museum you can find figures exquisitely made of chocolate, the history of chocolate and visit La Fábrica de Chocolate all at Av. Bustillo 1200 in San Carlos de Bariloche.

3. Go on a Snow Safari. At Cerro Otto, you can pile onto a sled with your friends and family and get taken on an exhilarating tour through the snowy mountains by a guide on a snowmobile.

You can also go sledding or ziplining afterwards for more fun Bariloche activities that don’t involve skiing.

Planning Your Galapagos Island Adventure

Why plan a Galapagos Island adventure?  Because the island has so much to offer than many other natural sanctuaries.

Do you know who made this island famous? Legendary naturalist Charles Darwin, who used the local animals to develop his theory of evolution and until today the Galapagos Islands still teem with unique and fascinating wildlife.

One of my favorite things about the island is that because most of the islands are uninhabited, the wildlife has remained remarkably fearless of man. That means that if you travel with your kids they will love getting up close to giant tortoises, sea lions, sea turtles, iguanas, finches, penguins, crabs, and tons of colorful fish while also learning about the history, geology, and ecology of the islands.

For us as a family, Las Islas Galapago are like being in a live National Geographic special instead of watching it on TV!

Know Before You Go to Your Galapagos Island Adventure

Before you plan your Galapagos Island adventure, note these key Galapagos Islands facts:
• Over 620 miles of ocean separate the Galapagos Islands from the mainland.
• The Galapagos consists of 13 main islands, 5 of which are inhabited, plus countless smaller isles. You’ll definitely need a GalapagosIslands map to keep it all straight.
• Because a National Park protects the entire Galapagos Islands, few places outside the towns may be explored without a guide.
• Much of the beauty of the Galapagos lies underwater—the Park boundaries encompass over 19,500 square miles of ocean.
• You may only visit the uninhabited islands during the daylight hours.

Tips for Galapagos Island Adventure Travelers

Galapagos Island Adventure

How to Get There:

So, where are the Galapagos Islands exactly? Well, they are located 620 miles out to sea, almost smack dab on the Equator. Despite their isolation, however, you can get to the Galapagos Islands quite easily. All you have to do is hop one of the daily flights from Quito or Guayaquil.

When to Go to Your Galapagos Island Adventure:

The Islands entice visitors almost all year long, with the exception of a brief off season from September through November when many tour and cruise boats go into dry dock. Most visitors try to come between December and May. Though this is the rainy season, showers are brief and warm days and calm seas make up for the midday drizzle.

How to Get Around:

Organized tours and cruises offer the best way to see and explore the Galapagos in Ecuador. While on one of the many live-aboard Galapagos Islands cruises, you will get to take guided excursions to the shores of various islands.

You also have the option of staying in a hotel and organizing your own tours and excursions. Flights and ferries will take you from island to island, and you can explore the towns and local beaches with rented bikes or kayaks.

Choosing a Galapagos Cruise Ship:

You might be sharing your cruise ship with 16 to 100 people, depending on what type of accommodation and experience you want. The smaller ships offer more intimate excursions and can anchor at certain smaller islets that the big ships won’t visit. The larger ships have more affordable prices and a much smoother ride.

3 Must-Do Activities at The Islas Galápagos

Swim with Penguins and Sea Lions: The Galapagos Islands have a well-deserved reputation for excellent snorkeling and diving. Numerous Galapagos Islands tours can be booked to enjoy the countless dive and snorkel sites.

Even if you don’t book a tour, you may very well get a chance to swim with penguins or sea lions at totally free spots like Concha de Perla near Puerto Villamil. Just keep a lookout for adult male sea lions as they can be aggressive and should be avoided.

See Tortoises: The Galapagos Islands got their name from Spanish explorers who thought the giant tortoises’ shells looked like saddles or “galapagos.” So you can’t visit the Galapagos without seeing the Islands’ namesake species!

While places to see giant tortoises abound, one of the best seems to be Reserva El Chato, where you can see tortoises up close in their natural habitat and enjoy some free coffee or one of my son’s favorite juice: guava. This is a much better experience than visiting the Darwin Research Station where all the tortoises stay in cages.

Visit an Isolated Beach: The Galapagos Islands are already off the beaten path, but sometimes even here you need to get away from the other tourists thronging places like Tortuga Bay. Try visiting one of the lesser-known beaches such as El Garrapatero. This beautiful white sand beach can be reached by bike or car from Puerto Ayora, and then it’s just a short 5-minute walk to the beach.

What Is El Carnaval de Barranquilla

Anyone who has experienced El Carnaval de Barranquilla for themselves will tell you, no Carnival celebration on earth can compare with this one. As our Carnival’s own motto puts it, “¡Quién lo vive, es quién lo goza!” or Who lives it enjoys it!

Every year, the entire city of Barranquilla in the northern part of Colombia, gets together to put on one of the most fabulous folkloric shows on earth.

The festivities officially start on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, but preparations begin long before, with all the locals working hard to design their own traditional costumes, build colorful parade floats, and prepare for music and dance performances.

what-is-el-carnaval-de-barranquilla

When you travel to El Carnaval de Barranquilla, you feel engulfed in the party atmosphere from the moment you step off the plane. The whole city pretty much shuts down for Carnaval so you can enjoy your vacation with a whole city of over 1 million people who are also enjoying a well-deserved break!

Barranquilla Carnival History

In its official form, Barnaquilla’s Carnival dates back to the late 1800s, with the first President of the Carnival appointed in 1899 and the first “Batalla de las Flores” or Flower Battle parade taking place in 1903.

Unofficially, the roots of El Carnaval de Baranquilla stretch back even further into the past, to the time when Spanish conquistadors and colonists arrived in Colombia.

Here their European culture melded with colorful traditions from indigenous people and African slaves, creating a unique fusion that we now celebrate with costumes, music, and dance.

One of the signature dances of the Carnaval, La Cumbia, showcases this fusion of cultures especially well, telling the story of a couple courting to the music of a traditional drum and flute.

With so much richness and diversity in the Barranquilla Carnival history, it’s no surprise that this celebration became a UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2003.

The carnival reunites cultural samples of about 50 small towns around Barranquilla and the Magdalena river which doesn’t run as a company but as a community affair. 

The carnival grew spontaneously adding as the time passed acting, a space for designers to show their creativity, dances and comedy. 

The last Tuesday of the carnival is the Pagan Party, and that day we celebrate by making faces or “muecas” and mourning the death of Joselito Carnaval. 

Joselito was a horse carriage driver that pretended to have died on a Tuesday and his friends took him around town as a joke.  Then three years later he really died on a Tuesday, and his drunk friends took him around town like they had done three years before.  At the time this was a scandal, and later on this joke became the closure of the Barranquilla Carnaval.

Main Events of El Carnaval de Barranquilla

Before Carnival begins, we must have the Lectura del Bando, or the reading of a proclamation declaring that everyone MUST dance and have fun during the coming days. Then, we’re ready to experience the main events of Carnival:

La Batalla de Las Flores: Originally organized by a General to symbolize Colombia’s desire for peace and unity, this parade takes place on Saturday and consists of nearly 6 action-packed hours of floats, dancers, and costumed revelers.

Be on the lookout for traditional characters like the Carnival Queen, Rey Momo, María Monitas, and Hombre Caimán, as well as many people dressed as marimondas. The marimondas costume features a hood and a big nose, and locals take priding wearing it as the only Carnival costume to have originated in Colombia.

The Grand Parade: Held on Sunday, this parade doesn’t have floats, but instead has troop after troop of folk dancers wearing masks and disguises. The different dance groups compete against one another during the parade for the honor of participating in the Batalla de las Flores or Flowers’ Battle next year.

The Funeral of Joselito Carnaval: On the last day of Carnaval, we mourn the “death” of Joselito Carnaval, a traditional character who literally parties until he drops. When we say goodbye to Joselito, we also say goodbye to the joy of Carnaval and its earthly pleasures in preparation for the abstinences of Lent.

If You Visit for Carnival in Barranquilla

There’s still time to plan to travel to el Carnaval de Barranquilla!  Just a few short hours by plane from Miami and you can be here.   

When traveling to Barranquilla plan on bringing airy and cotton made clothes because the weather is hot and sticky, about 85 F or 32C.  

But you do need to start planning soon—with thousands of visitors coming to the city tickets and accommodations will get harder to come by as the Carnival season approaches.

Why Travel to Cartagena de Indias in Colombia

As many of you know I am a pure Colombian, and there is no better place for Colombians to vacation than Cartagena de Indias. This past Summer, we had the pleasure to stay in Bocagrande for 9 days, and in a front beach apartment where we simply had to cross the street to be soaking up the sun.

I visited this city several times with my parents when I was growing up, and I have to admit, I never realized this magical walled city blends the energy of a modern metropolis with the charm and grace of a relaxed Caribbean town.

While strolling through the old city or La Ciudad Vieja, we met many foreigners who considered this UNESCO world heritage site one of the safest cities in Colombia, and an excellent introduction to this beautiful country.

Top 5 Things to Do in Cartagena Colombia

Explore the Walled City: We call Cartagena the Walled City. Cartagena’s historic downtown area dates back to the days of Spanish rule, pirates, and slave trading. This part of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia offers plenty of gorgeous historic plazas, a history museum, and a fascinating shopping arcade where locals sell traditional crafts in a former colonial dungeon.

Las Murallas de Cartagena

Las Murallas de Cartagena

Tour San Felipe de Barajas Castle: This massive stone fort lies just 20 minutes by foot from the downtown area. As the greatest fortress ever built in the Spanish colonies, this fort definitely belongs on the list of Cartagena attractions.

We rented the audio tour very inexpensively to learn all about the history of the fort. Also, you can hire tour guides who know pretty well the history of the Castillo and are super willing to share details galore.

The Tunnels of San Felipe Castle in Cartagena Colombia

The Tunnels of San Felipe Castle in Cartagena Colombia

If you have small children take into consideration that this site is outdoors therefore it will be sticky and hot.

I simply recommend you to go in the afternoon to avoid the steaming hours of the day.

You could probably just visit the tunnels with your little ones to experience how they were built to amplify the sound of an approaching enemy.

Relax at the Beach: Of course, as in any Caribbean city one of the top things to do in Cartagena Colombia has to be visiting the beach. If you are staying in the Old City you can walk to the beach right from the downtown or take a cab for just $6 to go to Bocagrande, or visit one of the many nearby islands.

We visited the Barú Island, and it is well worth the small fee to spend the day there; even though the trip to get to the island is disappointing.

If you choose to travel with vendors that offer their services on the beach or even through travel agencies is going to be pretty much the same, simply put try to enjoy the day once you arrive however, be prepared to deal with the annoying back and forth transportation on a small boat.

Why do I say that? Because you are placed in a small boat with lots of other people you don’t know, about 50 to 60 per boat. The boat is slow however, not as slow as the big boats which take more than an hour to get to Barú and are super crowded with people and vendors.

Barú was so beautiful and unspoiled that we will consider staying there instead of staying in Cartagena the next time. Our son loved the crystal clear turquoise water, the waves, white sandy beaches and less hustling from vendors.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena Colombia

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena Colombia

The main difference between the beaches on the mainland like La Boquilla, is that they have gray volcanic sand, so if you want white sand you will need to go to the Island of Barú or the Rosario Islands.

Snorkel or Scuba: In order to truly appreciate the magic of the Caribbean, take a look under the waves. The Rosario Islands make an excellent place to snorkel. Head to the Muelle Turístico to arrange a snorkel or scuba outing.

Barú Island in Cartagena Colombia

Barú Island in Cartagena Colombia

We bought a simple mask for our son to snorkel while in Barú and it was a hit. The wonders you see under water are plentiful.

Then we would come out to a delicious freshly prepared lunch that included, fried fish, coconut rice , salad and plantain. To drink we had any kind of freshly made juice with typical fruits from the region like mango, pineapple, orange, banana, maracuya, etc. Just make sure they use bottle water to make your drinks or you will end up with diarrhea.

Buy jewelry and especially Emeralds: Plenty of touristy places offer local emeralds and emerald jewelry for sale. But if you want a unique experience and a really great price on high quality emeralds, head to Joyeria Caribe Jewelry. The owner of this family business will gladly give you a tour of the workshop so you can see emeralds in the rough, learn how they are made into jewelry, and buy something if you like.

If you simple love exotic different jewelry walk the San Martin Avenue in the Old City or Bocagrande and you will see the vendors alongside offering mother of pearl pieces for great prices. Bargain the price; you can end up with a great piece for as little as $25.

Eat in the Old City: This is a must! The myriad of fantastic restaurants is to die for. Some located in the most recondite places of the old city. My sister and I went to about half a dozen restaurants. Peruvian, Colombian, Latin American, seafood, etc.

Where to Eat in Cartagena Colombia -What do I recommend?

La Vitrola even though it is not for children. Centro Cll 33 #2-01 Calle Baloco, Cartagena, Colombia. 575-6600711

El Boliche Cevichería which makes one of the best cevices I have ever eaten in my life. 17, Carrera 8 # 38, Cartagena De Indias, Colombia. 57 5 6600743.

Juan del Mar owned by the actor and bullfighter is beautifully located in a restored Republican style home. Juan del Mar Restaurante

El Santísimo where its owner Federico Vega mixes food from Cartagena with touches of French cuisine he learned at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and London. El Santísimo Reastaurante

Gelatería Paradiso which is not a restaurant but makes the best gelato in town.  Gelatería Paradiso

Cartagena Colombia Gelateria Paradiso.  The Best Gelato With The Most Exotic Flavors

Cartagena Colombia Gelateria Paradiso. The Best Gelato With The Most Exotic Flavors

Also don’t miss the opportunity to try some really authentic Caribbean food like spicy seafood cazuelas. You can get fantastic, authentic food at many hole-in-the-wall places or visit a known gem like my favorite Restaurante Casa de Socorro.

Tips for Travelers to Cartagena Colombia

When to Go

Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Cartagena hardly ever gets threatened by hurricanes. However, you will want to avoid the rainy months of May, June, September, and October.

Daytime temps hover around 90 all year long making Cartagena de Indias in Colombia especially appealing for winter trips.

Where to Stay

Cartagena hotels run the gamut from bland resort rooms that could be anywhere in the world to luxurious suites in historic buildings that exude the charm of old Cartagena. Try the Hotel Charleston Cartagena or El Marqués, or look for budget lodgings in Gesemaní.

It all depends of the Cartagena you wish to experience. If you are looking for a ton of action and party life, grand buffets and top luxury in big chain names then stay in the area called Bocagrande. You can find hotels like Capilla del Mar, El Caribe and Almirante Cartagena.

If on the other hand you are looking for a boutique style hotel with lots of charm, classic architecture and right in the middle of the Old City then consider Silvia Tcherassi Hotel and Spa owned by the renowned Colombian designer. There are plenty to choose from and a plethora of budgets to accommodate any desires.

Cartagena Hidden Gems

If you enjoy food, dancing, and nightlife, Cartagena has all three in abundance. Sometimes you have to go a bit out of your way but it is worth it to access the hidden gems of Cartagena nightlife. For example, the bar Caf&éacute; Havana has dancing almost every weekend, and all you have to do is brave a taxi ride into the somewhat iffy but fascinating back streets of the Gesemaní neighborhood.

El Cerro de La Popa in Cartagena Colombia

El Cerro de La Popa in Cartagena Colombia

This last trip we made as a family I saw a very different Cartagena from the one I experienced growing up in Colombia, one that has a multiplicity of flavors and foods to choose from, a myriad of fabulous design right on the streets with creators who offer their work, great architecture and a city filled with travelers in a comfortable safe environment.

Traveling to Easter Island in Chile

3 Must Do Activities and Best Places to Stay in Rapa Nui

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Rapa Nui or Easter Island Chile, is probably one of the most remote and enigmatic destinations on the planet. Located over 2,000 miles from the nearest other inhabited land, this island is famous for its giant statues known as “moai.”

Seeing pictures of these statues really can’t do them justice. In person, they tower over you and you begin to feel some of the protective power that these moai had to the indigenous people who constructed them. If you’re looking for an exciting and unique travel destination, Easter Island Chile definitely fits the bill.

One word of caution, don’t expect much of Hispanic culture here as this island’s roots are believed to be Polynesian. Nevertheless, I included this beautiful destination here because it is part of Chile.

About Easter Island

Easter Island’s English name comes from the fact that it was discovered by the Dutch on Easter Sunday, 1722. The indigenous people’s name for their home, however, is Rapa Nui. Although Easter Island is technically part of Chile, its culture and its inhabitants are Polynesian.

While we don’t know all the facts on Easter Island’s settlement, experts believe that Polynesian people arrived here over 1,000 years ago. At that time the island was covered in trees. This is hard to imagine when you see the island today, as there are virtually no trees left to cover the slopes of the three volcanic peaks here.

The tallest objects on the island now are the moai, or giant stone statutes meant to represent ancestral guardians. There are hundreds of these statues on the island, and how ancient people managed to move these enormous statues around the island is one of the fascinating mysteries of Easter Island.

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How to Get to Easter Island Chile

Easter Island’s isolation may make it seem like a destination for only the most intrepid travelers. But the truth is, it is actually easier to get to Easter Island than it is to get to some of the more remote regions of mainland Chile.

All you have to do to get to Easter Island Chile is hop on one of the daily 5-hour flights from Santiago. Flights are also available from Tahiti about once a week.

How to Get Around in Easter Island Chile

When exploring Easter Island, your best bet is to rent a car. Jeeps are best for the often bumpy, potholed, or unpaved roads here. Several companies offer rentals in the main town of Hanga Roa, but you will get a better rate if you rent your car straight from a local. If you are staying in a guest house, your host will probably have a jeep for you to rent.

What to Do: 3 Must-Do Activities

See the Moai: The moai, or the famous statues encircling Easter Island, are obviously a must-see. You can basically just drive around the island and see tons of moai, because these archeological treasures are scattered just about everywhere.

Some peek up from the grass near where they were originally carved, and others are still standing on the ceremonial platforms where ancient people placed them. You can also take a guided tour with a local if you want to learn the Easter Island statues facts first hand.

Hike to Ovahe Beach: This gorgeous, secluded beach features a long strip of sand surrounded by stunning cliffs. The best way to get to Ovahe is to hike down a somewhat unstable rocky path. It’s a scramble, but it is worth it to have this little piece of paradise all to yourself.

Surf, Snorkel, or Scuba: Though the moai get all the attention, Easter Island is a great destination for outdoor activities, especially watersports. You can surf at Anakena Beach, or take a guided scuba or snorkel trip to the islets of Motu Nui and Motu Iti.

If you really want to lay on the beach or take a dip visit Anakena Beach, which is the ONLY beach in the island where you can really bathe. This beach is quite different from the rest of the island because of the sand, the palm trees and the moais. The moais are very well preserved and have intricate details. They look inland and appear to protect the beach.

Don’t expect a paved or smooth road to get there even though this is what you are told. The road is like Swiss cheese. At Anakena the locals provide great food for reasonable prices. There are bathrooms for a small fee and 2 parking areas. Don’t miss the cave above the beach. Many times you can see horses there.

Where to Sleep in Easter Island Chile

There are several small Easter Island hotels to stay at, but personally, I prefer to stay at guest houses in a place like Easter Island. You really get a personal experience at a guest house and the hosts are normally very helpful with arranging airport shuttles, jeep rentals, tours, and anything else you might need. Lodging is very affordable on Easter Island, but food will be more expensive because so many items have to be imported from the mainland.

Easter Island Chile Pictures

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Visiting San Agustín Colombia

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I must admit, when I lived in Colombia I had no desire to visit San Agustin however, once I left my native country and saw the world through different trips I realized how special this park in Huila Colombia is.

The giant statues on Easter Island in Chile may be more famous, but in my opinion, they are nothing compared to the marvelous megalithic sculptures of San Agustín. As soon as you view the spectacular carved stone statues here, you will have to agree.

This park features the largest collection of huge stone religious sculptures in South America, and I would have to say they are also the most fascinating. San Agustín is definitely a must-see if you have any interest at all in Pre-Colombian art and culture.

In 1768, Fray Juan de Santa Gertrudis was the first one to explore and talk about this fantastic place, but only until 1913 this park was scientifically explored by the German archeologist K. Th. Preuss.

The creators of these statues simply disappeared without leaving trace, and until today nobody knows about them. Questions about how did they transport the statues, worked the stone, and the true meaning of the sculptures are still unexplained by many explorers who have visited and worked on the site.

For many this is a mythical place that shows the importance of shamans and the flourishing of wisdom. These figures appear similar to stone works in England, works of Mesoamerican cultures, and even those of indigenous peoples in Easter Island in Chile. Apparently, there are fountains of energy and underground waters that were strategic places for the artists to place the sculptures. Still many questions remain.

3 Must-Do Activities

 

Visit the Parque Arqueológico – Most of the amazing sculptures in San Agustín are protected within the boundaries of the Archaeological Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily catch a bus here from town, pay a small fee, and spend the whole day wandering through the collection of tombs and statues.

I especially liked the grinning, jaguar-toothed shaman statues that seemed ready to spring to life as soon as my back was turned. But my favorite part of the park is the “Fuente Ceremonial del Lavapatas,” an intricate set of carved pools and channels that transforms a small stream into a complex work of art. The channels and pools make all sorts of symbolic animal shapes, and the longer you look at it the more you will see.

Take a Tour on Horseback – The Parque Arqueológico contains just a fraction of the Pre-Colombian statues, tombs, and art that can be found around San Agustín in Huila.

I found it really fun to visit the other nearby archeological sites with a local guide on a horseback tour. Riding through the lush green jungle and then turning a corner to suddenly spy a huge statue made me feel like a real explorer. Make sure you choose an experienced guide so that they can share the best San Agustín facts with you during your tour.

Visit a Coffee Plantation or finca cafetera – San Agustín is located in one of Colombia’s best coffee-growing regions.

While in the area, you should definitely stop in at a working coffee plantation to learn more about coffee cultivation and perhaps to sample some freshly-brewed local coffee. One of my favorite activities is staying overnight at a coffee plantation for a relaxing retreat from town life.

How to Get to San Agustín

Several bus routes serve San Agustín. You can catch one in Bogotá (12 hour trip), Neiva (4 hour trip), or Popayán (6-8 hour trip). My advice is to fly to Neiva and then take the short bus ride. This will get you to San Agustín faster and you won’t have to worry about the road from Popayán being closed, as sometimes happens on this treacherous unpaved route.

Another way is to simply hire a driver, which become available for a reasonable price for a family of 4. Many of them know the region and take you at your own pace showing you around the area.

Where to Stay in San Agustín

You can find several good San Agustín hotels in town, but personally I prefer to stay a little outside of town whenever possible. La Casa de Francois is an excellent choice-it’s only a 10-minute walk from town, has amazing views, and serves great food. Most rooms here are hostel-style so if you want a private room, make your reservation well in advance.