10 More Things to Love About Buenos Aires

In the fall of 2019, we spent eight weeks in Buenos Aires. The original plan was to spend four weeks but we liked it so much we decided to stay longer. The positive side of not planning too far in advance.

In a previous article titled “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about 10 things that we really enjoyed during our visit. But my list was longer than 10 things, so here are 10 more things to love about Buenos Aires.

1. El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Many people think so. It was built in 1919 during a prosperous time for Buenos Aires.

The stage in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The building was first used as a theater for tango performances. Later it was a cinema. Then it fell into disrepair but was saved from the risk of demolition when it was reincarnated as a book store in 2000.

The first part of the name is from a national bookstore chain. The second part refers to the building whose original name was Teatro Gran Splendid.

In addition to basking in the splendor, you can enjoy refreshments in the cafe. You might even be lucky enough to be there while a pianist is playing. You can also relax in a comfy chair in one of the theater boxes.

The stage and box seats in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The store is located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in the Barrio Norte section of the city in the Recoleta district.

2. Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni is the most famous historical cafe in Buenos Aires. It has been in operation for more than 160 years. Once a meeting place for the artistic and the elite, it is now a mecca for tourists.

There is often a line outside even though there are tables available inside. You can go there to see a tango show or stop in for a bite to eat. Either way, be sure to check out the huge Tiffany glass ceiling along with the other elegant decor.

the dining room in Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni was founded by a French immigrant named Touan. He modeled it after his favorite cafe in Paris by the same name. Cafe Tortoni opened in 1858 and has been at its current location since 1880.

Cafe Tortoni is one of many historic cafes (bares notables) in Buenos Aires. They are protected by law, but I was unable to find out anything specific about the law. Check out this article published by The Guardian in 2018 to learn more about bares notables.

Cafe Tortoni is located at Avenida de Mayo 825 between the National Congress Building and the presidential palace (Casa Rosada).

3. Chacarita Cemetery 

Chacarita Cemetery (Cemeterio de la Chacarita) is a lesser know and less-visited cemetery than Recoleta. It was founded in 1871 as a place to bury victims of a yellow fever epidemic.

When it was founded it covered only 12 acres (5 hectares). Today it covers 230 acres ( 93 hectares). It takes up almost half of the territory in the Chacarita barrio where it is located.

A stately building in Chacarita Cemetery
One of the many lovely buildings in the cemetery

Chacarita is more than 16 times the size of Recoleta This means you will not find the crowds here that you will most likely encounter in Recoleta. You can learn more about Recoleta in “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires.

In Chacarita you will find many beautiful tombs and fascinating catacombs. You will also see some sad situations.

Statues on the tops of tombs

crypts below ground in the Chacarita Cemetery

A damaged tomb in Chacarita Cemetery

Do be careful if you visit this cemetery. We were cautioned more than once to stay aware of our surroundings while we were there because its seclusion increases the risk of theft. Even so, we did not feel unsafe. Here is an interesting article by Will Byers about Chacarita.

Chacarita is located in the Chacarita district. The main entrance is on Avenida Guzman.

4. National Museum of Decorative Arts

I wasn’t too excited about visiting a museum of decorative arts, but I am glad we did. If you enjoy being surrounded by beauty be sure to check out the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo).

This neo-classical home was designed by French architect Rene Sergent. It was built with materials imported from Europe. Design began in 1911 but the home wasn’t completed until 1917 because of delays caused by WWI.

It was the home of the Matias Errazúriz and Josefina de Alvear. After they moved in, the couple filled the home with a wide variety of fine art and exquisite decorative pieces. The rooms are decorated in different period styles.

Mr. Errazúriz bequeathed the home and its contents to the Argentine government upon his wife’s death in 1935.

Throughout this museum, you will see wonderful examples of European and Oriental furniture and art. The best way to enjoy this museum is on a tour. They are available in English at set times. We had a guide to ourselves which made for a very informative tour.

A room in the Museum of Decorative Arts
Luxury around every corner
The ballroom in the Museum of Decorative Arts
The ballroom was modeled after the one in the Palace of Versailles.

This museum is at Avenida del Libertador 1902 in the Recoleta district.

5. National Museum of Fine Arts

This National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) is worthwhile for any art lover. In it, you can enjoy international art from the Middle Ages through the 20th century. It has 3 floors and 30 exhibition rooms. Because of its size, we broke it down into two visits.

A marble bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi
Bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi
The painting El Drama by Raquel Forner
El Drama by Raquel Forner

This museum is also located in the Recoleta neighborhood at Avenida del Libertador 1473. It is within walking distance to Recoleta Cemetery.

6. Palacio Barolo

Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake we did. This spectacular 100-year-old building was right around the corner from our apartment and we had no idea how special it is. Just one more reason to go back!

The building was designed by Mario Palanti for Luis Barolo who made his fortune in knitted fabrics. The building is based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Its 22 stories are divided into hell, purgatory, and heaven. Be sure to arrange for a tour to learn all about it.

The facade of Palacio Barolo
The facade of Palacio Barolo
7. Theater Colon

Theater Colon is one of the top opera houses in the world with some of the best acoustics. You can enjoy this opulent theater by taking in a show or taking a tour. Tours are offered in English and Spanish.

The theater was closed for refurbishing from 2006-2010. The results are as spectacular as you would expect.

The main auditorium in Teatro Colon

The Golden Room in Teatro Colon
Part of the Golden Room which was fashioned after Versailles

During our tour, our guide pointed out something I had never heard of, widow boxes. These are seating areas on either side of the theater that are covered with screens. This allowed women who were in mourning to attend a show without being seen in public.

Widow’s boxes in Teatro Colon
Widow’s boxes

The Theater is located at Cerrito 628 in the Microcentro district.

8. ESMA Memory Site Museum

In my post “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. They are a group of women whose adult children were disappeared by the Argentine government from 1976-1983 during the Dirty War.

You can learn more about this dark period of Argentine history by visiting the ESMA Memory Site Museum (Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA). Photos and stories of the disappeared and survivors help keep the memory of this time alive.

Faces of some of the disappeared at ESMA

Prisoners who were pregnant were allowed to give birth but their babies were usually given to families who supported the government. Then the women were killed. There is a movement to locate the people born in the detention camps.

Words on the floor in the ESMA museum

These words in the museum translate to “How was it possible that children were born in this place?”

This is not a stand-alone museum, but a complex of buildings. We did not allow enough time for our visit. Please don’t make the same mistake.

The museum is at Avenida del Libertador 8151

9. Steak and Malbec

Argentina is famous for its beef. It is lean, flavorful, and nutritious. There are several reasons beef from Argentina is so good:

The cattle are grass-fed, which leads to higher omega 3 fatty acid content. This means less risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Because the cattle eat a healthy diet there is less need for antibiotics and growth hormones.

The steak is slow-cooked on a parrilla (a grill heated with wood or coal)

You can learn more about why Argentine beef is the gold standard in this article.

This article explains the use of a parrilla and the concept of the asado.

In Buenos Aires, you can partake of the best cuts of beef for a very reasonable price. One of our favorite restaurants was La Cabrera. To make your visit even better check out their early bird special (don’t worry, it starts at 6:30 p.m.).

You might want to pair that delectable steak with a glass or two of dry, red malbec wine. Even though malbec grapes originated in France, Argentina currently produces 75% of the world’s malbec wine. The grapes are grown in the Province of Mendoza in western Argentina.

Buen apetito!

10. The Neighborhoods

There are 48 official neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, so if you find yourself getting confused don’t feel too bad. As you would expect, we spent most of our time in those that have the most to offer tourists. Here are the six you are most likely to visit as a tourist.

Palermo

This is the largest neighborhood in the city and has been divided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood along with other smaller sections. This is the area we stayed in for our first four weeks and it worked out well.

Words like trendy, chic, and nightlife are currently associated with this area. There are plenty of restaurants and shops and it is easy to walk around.

This is the greenest area of the city. This is where you will find Tres de Febrero Park, Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays, and the Japanese Gardens. There are also many peaceful, tree-lined streets.

A tree-line street in Palermo
A tranquil street in Palermo
A unique building in the Palermo neighborhood
Isn’t this a cool building?
Monserrat

I had a little confusion here. The area we stayed in during our second four weeks was usually referred to as Congreso due to the proximity of the National Congress Building. A prime example of the use of informal names for neighborhoods.

This area had a completely different feel from Palermo. For one thing, we didn’t see a lot of dogs, and very little of their leavings.

This is the political center of the country. Both the National Congress building and the Presidential Palace are within walking distance.

There are also a lot of Subte (Metro) stations here, and taxis are plentiful.

An empty Avenida de Mayo
An empty Avenida de Mayo with the Congress building at the end
Recoleta

This affluent and elegant neighborhood is adjacent to Palermo and it really walks the Parisian walk. You will find one stately building after another. This area also houses the famous Recoleta Cemetery and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as several other museums.

La Boca

Described as a “brightly painted ghetto” by Culture Trip, this working-class neighborhood is considered a must-see for any tourist. Football fans can visit the La Bombonera stadium in this neighborhood. The area is also popular for street art.

The window of the La Perla bar
One of the bares notables in La Boca (photo by Eduardo Sanchez on Unsplash.com)
San Telmo

Considered to be the most authentic of neighborhoods San Telmo is well-known for its street market. It is also a good place for antiquing.

This neighborhood is considered safe during the day, but visitors are cautioned to be careful at night.

Puerto Madera

This is the upscale, modern part of the city. If you are looking for a change of pace from the traditional Buenos Aires vibe, check out this area.

A port was built here at the end of the 19th century but had a very short life. Within fifteen years it was virtually obsolete.

The area spent most of the 1900s in neglect. Efforts to revitalize the area were started in the 1990s. Now you will find high rises, high-end hotels and restaurants, and warehouses-turned-apartments.

In this area, you can also visit the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, 865 acres of low land on the Rio de la Plata. It is a great place for a nature walk or a bike ride.

In Conclusion

These are just ten of what we feel were the best parts of our time in Buenos Aires. Of course, there are many other ways to enjoy this very vibrant and cosmopolitan city. No matter what you look for when you travel, you are sure to find it here.

Trip Details

Dates: August 15, 2019 to October 10, 2019

Number of days: 56

Total cost: $7,200

Cost per day: $129

Further Reading

Buenos Aires was just one of the cities we visited during the ten months we spent in Latin America in 2019. To learn about some of the other places we visited check out Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

We have also detailed what these ten months cost in Our 2019 Latin American Travel Costs.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires

It was love at first sight. Within a day or two of arriving in Buenos Aires, we knew we wanted to stay longer than the four weeks we had planned. We ended up staying for eight weeks and we still didn’t want to leave.

These are many reasons we fell in love with this amazing city and we think you will love it too. Here are 10 things to love about Buenos Aires:

1. It’s Paris Without the Price Tag

Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. Granted, there is no Eiffel Tower, no Louvre, and everyone speaks Spanish. But the city, with its turn of the century architecture, has the ability to make you think you are in the city of lights.

Buenos Aires is full of wide boulevards, stately buildings, and massive monuments. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Paris. I wasn’t even in Europe.

From the 1880s through the 1920s Buenos Aires was one of the richest, fastest-growing cities in the world and this is reflected in the magnificent architecture. Many neoclassical, art nouveau, and art deco masterpieces grace this city.

The French Embassy in Buenos Aires
My favorite building in Buenos Aires; the French Embassy

Click to view five more examples of beautiful Buenos Aires architecture:

2. Fabulous Food at Paltry Prices

Continue reading “10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires”

Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands

Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands here.

2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.

It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.

The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.

Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.

It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.

A view of Machu Picchu

It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tourIf you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.

The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber

How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.

We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in “One Month in Cordoba, Argentina”.

5. Amaru Biopark

Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.

This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.

You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

 

A blue-headed parrot

The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.

If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.

Overview of Cuenca

You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.

This is highly recommended if you visit Cuenca.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but guerrilla and paramilitary groups were also causing problems.

In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.

While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.

At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post “10 Reasons You Should Visit Medellin, Colombia”.

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes.

There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.

So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone

Ant Stories

Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.

Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.

I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:

9. Come In and See My Cat

One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress

Mural of a woman’s face

While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).

Cat sitting on a chair

10. Maybe Later

In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.

Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.

It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.

While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”.  We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.

We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!

That’s Not All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in “Our 2019 Latin America Travel Costs”.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu

 

 

 

10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia

Are you looking for a city that will leave you impressed and inspired? Look no further than Medellin, Colombia.

Yes, that Medellin. The city that was named the most dangerous in the world in 1988 by Time Magazine.

The city that spawned Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.

The same city that remained dangerous even after the death of Escobar in 1993 due to the presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

In 2002 a government military initiative called Operation Orion successfully removed the left-wing rebels. This did not mean that Medellin was trouble-free, but it was a step towards the safe, progressive, cosmopolitan city it is today.

We visited this phoenix of a city in November 2019 and fell in love with it. Maybe you will too.

Here are 10 things to love about Medellin:

1. The Art of Fernando Botero

You have most likely seen some works by Fernando Botero featuring voluminous people and animals. The painter and sculptor was born in Medellin in 1932 and many of his works can be seen in the city.

Painting of dea Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar Dead by Fernando Botero

Plaza Botero in the center of the city boasts 23 of his larger-than-life sculptures.

Two large statues in Plaza Botero
Two of the many Botero statues in Plaza Botero.

And if that isn’t enough Botero for you you can see dozens of his paintings at the Antioquia Museum which overlooks Plaza Botero.

But the city isn’t done with Botero yet. Head over to nearby Plaza San Antonio to see the Botero Birds.

Bombed Botero bird
The remains of the bombed bird

The first bird was severely damaged in 1995 during a bombing the killed 30 people and injured hundreds. The guerrilla group FARC claimed responsibility saying the bombing was meant to send a message to Botero’s son who was then the Defense Minister.

As the cleanup progressed, the mayor demanded the ruined statue be discarded. The elder Botero heard this and immediately called the mayor. He demanded that the statue remain as a reminder of the bombing and a memorial to the victims. He promised to donate an identical statue.

Intact Botero bird
The second Botero bird
2. The Climate

When a city is referred to as the city of eternal spring you can expect pleasant weather. And that is what you will get.

Medellin is just over 400 miles north of the Equator and 4,900 feet above sea level. Because of this the daily temperature averages 72.5 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.

Be warned though that Medellin does get a fair amount of rainy days. The two rainy seasons are April-May and September–November. During this time you can expect rain for at least 21 days per month.

But do not despair. The rain tends to be in the form of short showers. We visited in November and had afternoon showers on many days. We simply planned our excursions for the morning and early afternoon and made sure we had our rain jackets with us.

You can thank the rain for a city full of lush and vibrant vegetation. That was a nice change from the parched ground we saw all around us during our previous stay in Cordoba, Argentina.

A colorful cow statue with lush vegetation
Plants are everywhere, sometimes with cows

Budding meteorologists can learn more about Medellin’s climate here.

3. The Scenery

Because Medellin is nestled in the Aburra Valley with the Andes Mountains majestically rising up on both sides the scenery is never boring. Thousands of homes dot the sides of the mountains.

View of mountains from Medellin
One of the multitude of breathtaking views

I won’t soon forget our morning drive to the airport as we were leaving Medellin. I was still in awe of the captivating views after four weeks.

4. The Activities

Parque Explora – This is an aquarium (the largest freshwater aquarium in South America), a vivarium, a planetarium, and an interactive science museum all in one. We spent hours playing with all the activities and only stopped when we got too hungry to continue. Luckily there are several tasty and economical places to eat right on site.

Man on gyroscope
Steve on a gyroscope. You’re never too old to have fun.

El Castillo – Is it a castle, a home, or a museum? It’s all three.

Photo of the exterior of El Castillo
A view of El Castillo from the garden

El Castillo was originally built in 1930 by physician Jose Tobon. In 1943 it became the family home for Diego Echavarria, his wife Benedikta (Dita), and their only child Isolda. In 1967 Diego and Dita lost their daughter to Guillain-Barre Syndrome. You can see some of the drawings she did as a child in her bedroom.

The couple faced more misfortune when Diego was kidnapped by Pablo Escobar in 1971. Some accounts claim that the family paid the requested ransom while others say that Diego had instructed his wife not to pay a ransom if he were ever kidnapped. Either way, Diego was killed. Dita decided to return to her native Germany and donated the house to the city of Medellin.

The house is a treasure trove of the family’s belongings and the gardens are lovely. This is a must-do for anyone who loves beautiful homes and grounds.

The El Castillo garden
What a beautiful view from the garden

Santa Fe Zoo – We had a great day exploring the Santa Fe Zoo. This zoo is not too big and it’s very easy to find your way around. The grounds are full of lush vegetation and the animal enclosures are in pretty good shape.

The squirrel is an Andean Squirrel. Similar to the Eastern Grey Squirrel but with a distinct reddish tint to its fur.

Andean Squirrel on tree.
The colorful Andean Squirrel

The Scarlett Macaw is also known as the flag macaw in Colombia because its colors are the same as the Colombian flag.

A scarlett macaw
The Flag Macaw or Scarlett Macaw
Peacock on dining patio
You might even have lunch with a peacock

Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Garden – You can find this garden right across the street from Parque Explora. Since we were there in November there weren’t too many plants blooming, but we did have a pleasant walk along the various paths. Admission is free.

A restaurant called In Situ is located within the garden grounds. The food and service were excellent and they had the most beautiful menu I have ever seen. It was like a book and each page had a gorgeous photo of one of the dishes.

I would recommend this restaurant even if you don’t intend to visit the garden.

5. The Best Walking Tour Ever

It’s hard to imagine a better walking tour than the two we had in Cordoba just a month before. But our tour with Real City Tours was the absolute best one we’ve had so far.

Our guide Edgar told memorable stories and talked openly about the city’s troubled past. He also spoke passionately about the city’s commitment to democratic architecture and the belief that you should give the best to those who need it the most.

We didn’t have a dog accompanying us on this tour as we did in Cordoba. However, we did have several locals stop to talk to our group. One man even ended up in our group picture.

6. District 13⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Imagine walking through what was less than 20 years ago the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Now imagine that this neighborhood is thriving. That is the story of District 13 (locally known as Comuna 13).

This poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes is a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art.

Street Art in Medellin
One of the many examples of the captivating street art in District 13

Young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

Street dancer
Great local entertainment

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

There are many tours to District 13. We opted for a private tour with a taxi driver we had gotten to know.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. It did not take long for us to feel very safe and welcome here.

Man sharing photos with children
Steve sharing his photos with local kids
7. The Metro That Made a Difference

One thing that is credited with advancing Medellin is the metro system. It not only provides much-needed transportation for the city’s 3.7 million inhabitants and 550,000 visitors annually, but it has also changed the lives of the poor who live on the mountainside by cutting hours off their commuting times.

Cable cars that are part of the metro system take riders up the steep mountainside in Districts 1 and 2.

Metro cable cars in Medellin
The view from the cable car station

Unlike many cities, the residents of Medellin respect their metro system, which is clean and graffiti-free.

Even with this system, the roads are jam-packed. Motorcyclists weave their way through traffic with no regard for traffic laws or safety. However, without the Metro and the motorcyclists, I can’t imagine how any traffic would move through the city.

8. A colorful and captivating Side Trip

A two-hour bus ride will get you to the town of Guatape, dubbed the most colorful town in the world because all of its buildings are decorated with colorful bas-reliefs called zocalo.

Colorful building in Guatape
A prime example of a Guatape building

There isn’t very much to do in town after you’ve checked out the buildings and perhaps taken a boat tour. But a short drive will get you to El Penol.

El Penol is a 720-foot tall rock surrounded by water and small islands. The view at the bottom of the rock is amazing, but if you climb the 740 steps to the top you will be rewarded with even more breathtaking views.

View of islands
360 degrees of beauty

The climb isn’t bad and there are markers every 25 steps so you can see your progress.

9. The Food

In both Medellin and Cartegena which we visited earlier in the year, we found that we enjoyed the food immensely. It didn’t matter if it was traditional or not, it was tasty and the ingredients were top-notch.

Exceptions to this are patacones and arepas. Patacones are deep-fried squashed plantains and arepas are patties made from cornmeal.  We did not develop a liking for either of these. The other food that never excited our taste buds was the ubiquitous white cheese that accompanied many meals. I have never tasted such a bland cheese and hope never to again. I don’t like to waste food, but this remained untouched on our plates every time.

That being said, I would be hard-pressed to think of a bad meal we had in Medellin.

 

Bowl of tomato soup with chicken and avocado
The best tomato soup I have ever had
A traditional Colombian lunch
A traditional lunch⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
10. The People

During our 10 months in Latin America, we have been impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the residents but the people in Medellin take this to a new level.

Perhaps it is because the city is out of the grips of the terrorists who held it hostage for far too long. Perhaps it is the positive changes including vastly improved transportation and the growth of the city. Perhaps it is pride in being able to share their city with the tourists who have deemed it a worthy destination.

Boy dancing in the street
This boy couldn’t wait to share some of his dance moves

Whatever the reason(s) we found that people were not only willing to help, they went out of their way to look out for the tourists. They would not only give you directions, but they would also walk you to where you were headed. If a beggar was bothering you, they would chase him away.

We Hated to Say Good-Bye

We have enjoyed most of the cities we’ve visited, but we were possibly saddest to leave the impressive and welcoming new Medellin. I believe that it was the impact of the changes that have taken place in recent years that made Medellin special to us.

I hope you will consider visiting Medellin and that you will leave with as many fond memories as we did.

Trip Details

Dates: November 11 – December 5, 2020

Days: 28

Total cost: $4,000

Cost per day: $143

Find Out More!

Medellin was our last stop during the ten months we spent in Latin America in 2019. You can learn about some of the other places we visited in Our Top 10 Latin America Highlights: 2019.

You can also find out how much these ten months of travel cost in Our 2019 Latin American Travel Costs.

Happy traveling,
Linda

 

 

 

Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City

October 2019 found us in Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city. We had just spent two months in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and most populous city. It was our favorite Latin American city so far. We wondered how Cordoba would compare.

Cordoba didn’t steal our hearts the way Buenos Aires did. Even so, we had some good experiences and an awesome side trip to two little Alpine inspired villages. More on that later.

Our Favorite Thing in Cordoba

One of the coolest places in the city is the Sacred Heart Church of the Capuchin Fathers (pictured above at dusk).

We visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona last year and often feel that it ruined us for other churches. However, the Capuchino Church delighted us for hours. In addition to the beautiful pastel colors and a multitude of statues, there are gargoyles and numerous animals.

Detail of Capuchin Church
Animals flanking their patron saint, Francis of Assisi
Cat and mouse detail on the Iglesias de los Capuchinos
The delights never end

Tours of the church including the tower are available in Spanish and English. I highly recommend that you take one for a chance to see more of this beautiful church up close.

When we first arrived in Cordoba and I heard the name Capuchin Church I thought it had something to do with monkeys. This fountain right across the street definitely had something to do with that. It turns out that the Capuchins are an order of friars that are an offshoot of the Franciscans.

fountain with monkeys
Perhaps you can understand my confusion

Here is a cool video of the church by Lucas Nobile.

For more information about the Capuchin Church see this article by Albom Adventures.

Walking Tours and Bus Tour

When we arrive in a new city we like to take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get the lay of the land. We also like to take a free walking tour to learn some basic history and hopefully hear some good stories. Cordoba was no different.

What was different was the extremes in the quality of the tours. We took two walking tours with La Docta Tours. These were the best free tours we have ever had.  The guides were very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a free tour, you take the tour and pay what you think it was worth at the end. Not really free, but they are usually very well done.

photo of the Cathedral in Cordoba
You will see the Cathedral in Plaza San Martin on the morning tour.
Ferris wheel
You will see the Rueda Eiffel, a defunct ferris wheel many believe was designed by Gustavo Eiffel, on the afternoon tour

The afternoon tour had a little something extra.  A dog named Negro joined us. According to our guide, he roams the city during the day and returns to his home each night. He is well known throughout Cordoba and loves strolling along with the afternoon tour. He even stayed with Steve and me while we ate dinner.

A dog named Negro
Negro, the tour-loving dog

As good as the walking tour was, that’s how bad the hop-on-hop-off tour was. As usual, we were given earbuds so we could tune into the English version of the tour. However, the bus played the Spanish version over speakers so it was very hard to hear the explanations coming through the earbuds. Annoying music filled the downtime. We do not recommend this tour.

Sarmiento Park

We had high hopes when we headed to Cordoba’s largest park, Sarmiento Park. They didn’t last long. The park has so much potential but is in disrepair.

Pond and bridge in Sarmiento Park
Sarmiento Park has so much potential

Despite this, the park was busy on the spring-like day we visited. There is a multitude of restaurants in the park for you to choose from.

Our favorite part of the park was the Super Park. This small amusement park was full of mostly happy kids and tired parents the day we visited. Well worth a visit of the young or the young at heart.

Two boys on bumper cars, one is crying
Someone didn’t like the bumper cars
What Are Those?

Not far from Sarmiento Park you will find a park full of large, colorful rings. This is Plaza del Bicentenario. It celebrates the country’s 200 year anniversary which occurred in 2010.

There are 201 rings in the park, one for each year and one that represents the future. Each ring has a date and an engraving of a notable event from that year.

Colorful rings in a park
Just some of the 201 rings in Bicentennial Park

This is certainly an eye-catching park. You can have fun photographing the rings from different angles.

Linda standing in a large ring
A beautiful day to play in the bicentennial rings
Some Really Good Eats

Be warned: the vast majority of restaurants close for several hours in the late afternoon and don’t open for dinner until 8 or 9 p.m. Since we like to eat dinner around 6 o’clock we visited several restaurants for lunch instead.

Our three favorites were:

The Pastrami Bar – This casual restaurant is located in the bohemian neighborhood of Guemes. It has a charming outdoor area and tasty down to earth food including, surprise, surprise, a wide variety of pastrami sandwiches.

There is a chance you won’t be able to eat at this restaurant in the near future. According to our waitress, they will be closing because of the high cost of rent.

Sandwich and chicken wings
Steve’s pastrami sandwich and my wings; health food not

The reason I’m including it here is to share this with you:

Calico cat
Phoebe, the resident cat at the Pastrami Bar

This lovable cat lives at the restaurant. Don’t worry, if they close she has a home to go to. And maybe they will find a way to stay open.

Sibaris – this classy place in the Hotel Windsor is not far from Plaza San Martin, the main square.

Not only was the food amazing, but you are served a small taste of an appetizer and one of dessert free with your meal.

Steak and vegetables
Tenderloin with roasted vegetables; I wish there was a way to put taste in a blog.
Flan
Flan with dulce de leche and whipped cream

El Celta – this restaurant specializes in fish and seafood but has plenty of other choices.  It is quite a few blocks north of Plaza San Martin, but within walking distance, if you love traveling on foot as we do.

Seafood and potato platter
This seafood platter with roasted potatoes for two was more than enough

We enjoyed these restaurants so much we visited each of them twice. In each case, the staff was wonderfully welcoming and often spoke English.

One Of Our Best Side Trips Ever

During our stay in Cordoba, we decided to visit the Calamuchita Valley, particularly the alpine-inspired villages of La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano.

Our experiences in these two villages were quite different from each other, but both were wonderful.

La Cumbrecita is very small. Its population is less than 200 people! It is also a pedestrian town. Visitors are not allowed to drive in the town. Not to worry though. It is small enough to walk everywhere.

Four people on horseback
Quaintness overload

Knowing how small it was we only planned to stay for two nights which gave us one full day in town. We spent that entire day exploring the countryside. There are numerous paths just minutes from the center of town that will lead you to memorable views.

photo of a pond
One of the many rewards of our hike
Steve and I with a horse in the background
An impromptu photo, you can’t tell here but Steve was nervous about the horse because he had been bitten in the past

You need to take two buses to get to La Cumbrecita. The first stops in Villa General Belgrano. The total travel time is about three hours plus time spent between buses at the Villa General Belgrano station.

We traveled with Buses LEP and Pajaro  Blanco. The buses were very clean and comfortable.

Once you arrive at La Cumbrecita you will be only a few minutes’ walk from the center of town. Our hotel, Hotel Las Cascadas, was just a four-minute walk from the bus station. Reservations at this hotel include half board.  The food was very good and we were called to dinner by the ringing of a cowbell.

From Nature to Luxury

The second part of our side trip was spent at the Chamonix Posada and Spa in Villa General Belgrano. Our room was spacious and clean. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The restaurant serves three meals a day with a wide variety of very good food.

Since it was too cold to use the outdoor pool I spent many hours relaxing in the indoor pool. I usually avoid indoor pools because I find them to be dismal and cold. The indoor pool at Chamonix was warm and the room was full of light.

Me under waterfall in indoor pool
I loved the indoor pool at Chamonix Posada and Spa

This is also a good place to indulge in spa treatments. They are much less expensive than in the U.S.  An hour-long massage is $20 U.S.

Our Take On Cordoba

Cordoba is a compact and very walkable city. Like all the places we have visited in Latin America, the locals are friendly and helpful.

Young men in a pickup truck celebrating
Recent graduates celebrating; a common scene on the streets

We spent four weeks in Cordoba minus five days for our side trip. Two weeks would have been enough since there is a limited amount for tourists to do.

However, if we hadn’t visited Cordoba we would have never experienced La Cumbrecita. In fact, we wouldn’t even know it exists.

All in all, we are glad we made Cordoba a stop on our itinerary.

Trip Details

Dates: October 10 – November 11, 2019

Days: 28

Total cost: $3,100

Cost per day: $111

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranded on the Road in Peru

As we left the breathtaking oasis of Huacachina, Peru to head to Arequipa, we had no idea that we would be stranded on the road for 16 hours.

Large sand dunes
From this…
A street in La Joya, Peru on the Pan American Highway.
to this.
Are We There Yet?

Our tour bus was making good time through southern Peru on our sixteen and a half hour overnight trip from Huacachina to Arequipa. The bus stopped at 5:30 am and we were all awakened. We thought we were at our destination. We soon found out that we were still one hour away, and that most likely that hour would become many.

What The Heck Is Going On?

The reason for the delay was a strike by the residents of La Joya and other towns in the Tambo Valley in southern Peru. The residents were protesting the granting of a construction permit by the Peruvian government to the Southern Copper Corporation for their proposed Tia Maria copper mine. The protesters are concerned about the mines effects on the environment and the agriculture of the area. You can read more about the issues here.

A street with remnants of burning tires.
Remnants of burning tires on the Pan American Highway.

Unfortunately, they decided the best way to make their point was to block roads into and out of towns along the Pan-American Highway. Large rocks and small boulders were strewn across the roads for many miles. Hundreds upon hundreds of protesters lined the roads, making the option to remove the obstacles unwise.

A long line of trucks standing still on the Pan American Highway.
And we wait. At least we had nice weather.

We heard that the protests could last for up to 72 hours and that most of the local businesses were remaining closed in support of the protesters. We wondered where we would get food and water.

We Have Priorities People!

But there was a bigger problem. There was a restroom on our luxurious double-decker bus, but it was only to be used for urine. Where would we go if Mother Nature had other ideas? We looked around. There was a sign that said “bano”. This is Spanish for what we needed most. Several of us walked over and encountered a young woman who indicated that she would open up for us. Part of her business was providing a public restroom for 1 peso (about 30 cents U.S.). The other part was a restaurant. Eww. Especially since there wasn’t a sink between the restaurant and the toilet.

This is where it gets interesting. She opened the half-sized door that is so common in Latin America and led us in. The dark, narrow hallway led to a very primitive toilet. A young woman ahead of me was the first to enter and quickly announced that it was just a “hole in the ground”. Actually, it was more than that but very little more. There was no seat and or flushing mechanism. Once you were finished you had to get a bucket of water from a huge barrel and hopefully flush what you had produced.

That poor woman used three buckets of water then gave up, apologizing to her friend who was next in line. By the time it was my turn I learned a valuable skill. You must thrust the water into the toilet if you hope to force anything down. I am happy to report that I perfected my technique that day.

And Now We Wait

The rest of the day was not nearly as eventful as our early morning experience. We read and dozed on the bus, walked the streets aimlessly, and kept our ears open for news, any news. Our tour company arranged for a large restaurant in town to provide lunch for all of us. This was no mean feat since virtually every business remained closed throughout the day.

On The Road Again

After fourteen frustrating hours, the roads were clear enough for trucks and buses to pass. However, they had to go slowly to avoid the remaining rocks and small boulders still left in the road. We arrived in Arequipa sixteen hours behind schedule. Most importantly we never felt like we were in danger and we did eventually arrive at our destination.

An idle tour bus
Our very dirty bus

When you set out on the road you know things like this will happen. If you are fortunate they will happen infrequently and will not prove to be dangerous or costly.

We are very fortunate that our travel plans allow a lot of flexibility. Many of the people on the bus had planned to ride straight through to Cusco, an additional twelve-hour drive, to start their Machu Picchu adventures. Because of the delay, many of them missed out on pre-planned and often quite expensive activities.

It appears as if the protests had the desired effect. Here is an article about the status of the mine permit as of July 25, 2019.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Ronaldo Oliveira on Unsplash.com

 

 

 

Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?

Have you dreamed of visiting the Galápagos Islands? I certainly did. It was right at the top of my bucket list. Then in the spring of 2019, Steve and I spent four weeks as land-based visitors to these famed islands. This was one of our most anticipated trips and our most expensive to date. In spite of having many wonderful adventures, it did not live up to our expectations. We found ourselves counting the days until we flew to Quito.

Here I will discuss a few of our wonderful experiences and illustrate what life is like in the largest town, Puerto Ayora. Hopefully, it will help you in deciding if a land-based Galapagos trip is right for you.

A Little Background

Do you know that there are two ways to visit the Galapagos, ship-based and land-based? Ship-based tourism is tightly controlled by the government and is currently steady at about 73,000 visitors per year.

Land-based tourism is not controlled and has grown to over 200,000 visitors in 2018.

Since Galapagos cruises are notoriously expensive, and we would be there for four weeks, we chose to be land-based.

I had never given any thought to the fact that there are towns in the Galapagos, let alone seen a picture of one. We arrived in Puerto Ayora with no idea of what to expect.

Land-based Activities

From our home base in Puerto Ayora, we were able to enjoy many of the wonders the islands have to offer. These are just a few of our memorable experiences:

Walking down secluded paths flanked by large lava rocks and cacti to arrive at nearly deserted postcard-perfect beaches alive with marine iguanas and sea lions.

The author and a sea lion on San Cristobal Island
I had hoped to swim with the sea lions but had to settle for a beachfront visit.

Riding electric scooters to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve to see some Galapagos tortoises. The coolest thing about them is that each one has a unique look on his wrinkled old tortoise face.

A Galapagos Tortoise with grass in his mouth
One of the residents of the tortoise reserve

Seeing blue-footed boobies perched on a cliff and later sharing the waters of the Pacific Ocean with them. Their numbers had been declining but are now on the rise. This article from the Galapagos Conservancy, Inc. explains the reasons.

Watching the pelicans and frigate birds looking for handouts at the fish market. The pelicans waited patiently for scraps. The birds took every opportunity to dive down and peck at unattended fish.

A pelican eating a fish
A pelican and his reward

Heading into the highlands (again by electric scooter) to discover a privately owned lava tunnel. We explored the one-kilometer long tunnel, climbing over piles of rocks that had fallen from the walls and ceiling.

We then headed further down the road to a corny little family-owned attraction that featured an edge of the world swing, a petting zoo, and a working sugar cane press powered by a donkey. I don’t remember the name of this place and I haven’t had any luck finding it on the internet. If you are interested in visiting it while on Santa Cruz I’m sure some local folks could steer you in the right direction.

Steve with a tropical drink
Steve enjoying a fresh sugar cane drink
The Positive Side of Puerto Ayora

The people were very friendly and accommodating. As long as you had a smile on your face you were greeted with numerous “buenos dias”, “holas”, and even a few “hellos” while walking down the street.

The town is small enough that you can walk anywhere. If you don’t want to walk a taxi costs only $1.50 anywhere in town.

Laundry services called lavanderias will wash, dry, and fold your clothes for peanuts. Seriously, we spent $8 a week to have clothing for the two of us laundered. This and the taxis are about the only bargains you’ll find.

There is a wonderful bike path that travels the main road out of town to the highlands town of Santa Rosa, 13 miles (21 km) away. This is where the tortoise reserve is.

A horse walking near the road
We met this free-range horse on the bike path

The hostels and hotels all appeared to be well built, clean, and relatively comfortable, at least from the outside. And of course, if you’re willing to pay the price, you can stay at five-star hotels like the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel for more than $400 per night or the Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn for $300 per night.

The Other Side of Puerto Ayora

Despite the high price tag associated with a Galapagos trip, this is a poor area. Buildings alternate from being well kept to ramshackle, often on the same street.

A front porch with plants
A well-kept apartment building at the end of our street
Piles of building materials in front of an unfinished building
A construction supply depot at the other end of our street

Sidewalks and street are dangerously uneven. It is not unusual to have to avoid holes a few feet deep.

A brick sidewalk with a deep hole in the middle
A sidewalk on our street – seriously!

Air conditioning is a luxury. We were lucky to have it in our bedroom. Not even stores, restaurants, or gyms are air-conditioned.

A gym in Puerto Ayora
Bodywell gym. $3 per visit, no air conditioning

Litter is everywhere. The beaches and natural sights we visited were pristine but the town was not.

A dilapidated boat under trees
Litter big
Two children walking by a litter-strewn lot
and litter small

The word that kept coming to our mind was squalor. We realize this comes from our experiences as middle-class Americans and in the context of Puerto Ayora, this is normal. None the less, it was a sharp contrast to the image we had of the Galapagos.

Another thing that surprised us was the strong smell of car exhaust on the main streets. Even though traffic is light compared to most towns, there is a constant parade of white pickup trucks, the local taxis, circling the town. Most of the time 80% of them are empty. Great if you need a taxi, not so great for the environment.

Tourism’s Impact

An Internet search will lead you to many articles outlining the pluses (financial) and the minuses (environmental impact) in the growth of land-based tourism. The area, like many, is struggling to find the sweet spot of tourism.

In 2017 Fodors published this article telling people not to go to the Galapagos in 2018. I am not sure if seeing this article or others like it would have led us to make different plans, but I would like to think it would have.

This New York Times article from June of 2018 asks if land-based tourism is threatening the islands.

My advice is to do what we failed to do. Find out as much as you can about the islands and the type of trip you plan to take beforehand. We fell for the romantic idea of the islands but got a lot the unromantic reality.

In Hindsight

This trip taught us something about ourselves. We are city folks who love being where there is action, art, parks, and all the services we have grown accustomed to. A day trip here and there to a wild area satisfies our nature yearnings. Toward the end of our trip, we had run out of things to do and were actually counting the days until we headed back to the mainland.

I am glad we got to visit one of the places that has called to me for so long. However, if we had been more aware of the impact of land tourism and what life is like in the towns we either would not have gone or would have taken a much shorter trip.

Trip Detials

Dates: April 25 – May 23, 2019

Days: 28

Total cost: $5,500

Cost per day: $196

Happy traveling,
Linda