Travelling between continents is always exciting but never easy. This is particularly true when you want to leave South America from the north. There seems to be a nice border between Panama and Columbia, but in reality there are just some very unsafe dirt roads. Another option is to fly, but unfortunately the airlines know how impossible the land crossing is, so therefore hike their prices ridiculously. So our final option was over sea!
It was already recommended and mentioned to us by several people, so we started to investigate the special ‘backpacker’ cruises from Cartagena, Columbia to the San Blas Islands in Panama. We found several captains and companies that offer this service, but the Jacqueline Catamaran won us over. Not just because of their quirky captains, but also because their schedule matched ours.
So on 15 August we met our 14 fellow sailors from across the world (Australia, UK, Israel, New Zealand, Germany and South Africa) and our crazy dreadlock Polish captain youyou. This promised to be one hell of a trip. The Jacqueline itself was a large, 16 foot (45 meter) catamaran with a large deck, sitting area and many places to sleep scattered around the boat. Some of the more unlucky people had to actually sleep on top of the sitting area, others in tiny coffin-like bunks. We paid a little bit extra for the honeymoon suite and had our own double bed and toilet - which a little garden hose upgraded it to a shower.
The trip was pretty epic. The first 36 hours were spent sailing non-stop. As the captain needed a nap too, we were all allocated an hour night shift to mind the course and watch for other boats. Luckily, the roster reached us first so we could sign up for the fairly decent midnight and 1 AM shift. Nothing really happened during our shifts, but it was interesting to learn some of the basics of sailing and finding out that even a boat could have auto-pilot.
After 1.5 days of rocking, reading and sleeping - we finally reached our destination: the San Blas islands. Basically a huge archipelago of 365 tropical islands. Some inhabited by up to 400 indigenous Indians, some not much more than a beach and a palm tree. All were surrounded by a very warm (31 degrees), shallow and very blue sea. A true tropical paradise.
We spent another 3 days cruising between the islands, getting drunk, snorkelling and partying on deserted islands. It was a pretty amazing experience.
Columbia really surprised us. Almost everyone, even the Australian government, told us not to go or at least ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ there. It all appeared not to be true. In fact, we’ve never felt more safe and welcome in any of the other countries we visited.
Bogota was mostly a place for us to relax and get rid of our Galapagos sea legs. In between relaxing in our cool hostel, we managed to visit the wonderful (and free!) Botero museum and the odd but fun Gold Museum - mostly due to the funny, gold obsessed locals there.
The real fun started in Medellin. We were told about the Feria de las Flores but were a few days too early. Instead, we travelled down into the coffee region and enjoyed a few relaxing days in the lush green hills of Armenia.
Finally it was party time! The two week flower festival welcomes the ‘paisans’ from the provinces to the big town and have them show off their crops of pretty flowers. They also have a special parade on which the cow boys and girls show off their horses and horse riding skills. This is the one we visited with a fun crew from our fun hostel and we ended up very drunk with a bunch of local, middle aged ladies, in their local pub. Fun times!
From Medellin we travelled north to Santa Marta where the heat and extreme air conditioning tied us to our luxury beds for a few days. Thankfully we were able to recover before our trip to Tayrona, where we enjoyed the pristine beaches and went on our first horse ride, ever! Our final stop in Columbia and even South America was Cartagena, where we enjoyed some more heat as well as the beautiful colonial buildings and the cute old town. From here we also organised our epic trip across the Caribbean into Panama…
A little impression from the centre of the earth, museo intinan. Just 200 meters from the ‘official’ monument of the equator, but according to modern technology the actual 00°00’00 line. Fun games and interesting facts await!
Finally we got to experience the magic of evolution ourselves: the Galapagos Islands. Main part of our trip and planned far in advance, through some friendly American agency. By far the most expensive holiday destination we have ever visited, but worth every penny.
Our 8 day cruise on board the Fragata yacht took us to the 7 islands on the east side of the archipelago. An incredible journey which brought us eye to eye with some of the most amazing wildlife we have ever encountered.
It all started slowly with many boobies: red, masked and of course the famous blue ones! Besides the apparent beauty of these magnificent birds, the main thing you notice is that they are not afraid of humans. It almost like they didn’t notice us or simply didn’t care we were there. An amazing feeling that cannot be compared to any zoo visit or other animal encounter in the world.
The sea and our encounters quickly intensified; the crossings between the islands were very rough and our nights were spent bouncing on the waves. Thankfully, this was compensated with the increasing amazement of the animals we met.
After the birds ad the occasional Iguana, we were introduced to the huge colonies of sea lions and seals on Sante Fe island. An impressive sight but quite an assault to the ears and nose!
The true magic happens under water though. We snorkelled from several beaches and even on open sea through some impressive rock formations where we saw many sharks, turtles, rays and thousands of fish.
The trip was made even more unforgettable by the great group and crew on our boat. One perfect holiday trip!
Welcome to the jungle! From our relaxing apartment in Quito we first travelled 1 hour by taxi, 1 hour by air, 2 hours by bus and 2 hour by canoe, to end up far away from civilisation. Cuyabeno Reserve is on the west side of the Amazon jungle and our new home for five days. Our rooms were little wooden huts without electricity and a semi closed roof, which meant spiders and other insects were our room mates.
Surprisingly, being away from civilisation – doesn’t mean you are deprived from 3 course meals for lunch and dinner and pancakes and eggs for breakfast. With our bellies filled, we set out by canoe on our expeditions along the river and lakes and walk through the different kinds of jungle: primary forest, swamp and terra firma. Our regular attire were gumboots and rain ponchos, because it really does rain in a tropical rain forest (but it cleared up really quickly too)!
Unsurprisingly, we saw an abundance of creatures. In no particular order: snakes (anacondas and vipers), spiders (tarantulas and wolf spiders), monkeys (woolly, squirrel and capuchin), lots of butterflies (big blue ones) and to top it all off: the rare and mystical pink river dolphin!
After the Salt Plains and Machu Picchu, this was definitely the highlight of our trip!
Peru indeed has a lot more to offer! We have now spent 18 days of magic in this incredible country and cannot recommend it enough.
From Cusco we took the very comfortable Cruz del Sur suite to Arequipa. The town itself not as special as Cusco, but still pretty. Especially the Monastery is worth a visit. The main attraction is the Colca Canyon though. According to some reports, the deepest (or second deepest) in the world… regardless, it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! The best part though: the condors! From the 3000 meter deep canyon walls, these giant birds soar up in the morning to enjoy the winds of the canyon. An unforgettable spectacle. Our little hotel in the canyon was pretty memorable too, as a loca llama/alapca cross chased me around and even spat on me!
From Arequipa to another spectacle: the Huacachina Oasis near Ica. A mental place that only exists because of it’s huge sand dunes where the mad hostel people race your around in sand buggies and throw you down the hill on a makeshift sand-board. Crazy, but lots of fun!