Medellín: Guatapé

Today M and I are taking a day trip out to the town of Guatapé from Medellín. There are a few different ways to get here (taxi, private tour, bus) and we decided to take the cheap route and take the bus. For us it is a 20 minute walk to train then take metro to Estacion Caribe. From Estacion Caribe walk to the terminal del norte bus station. There are a couple bus companies that have a bus to Guatapé, find one that has a soon departure (ticket booth #14). Go early so you’ll have time to climb and explore town. Once you arrive book return ticket since seats are assigned/limited – we found this to be very important on the return trip back.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is comfortable enough. There are not any empty seats so it is nice that I at least share the row with someone I know this time.

If you want to get off at the Peñól de Guatapé before you go into the town of Guatape, you have to tell the driver or listen carefully for the stops. We didn’t and ended up going all the way to the town of Guatapé when we really wanted to stop at the large rock first. We take a cab to the rock (Peñól de Guatapé) and he drops us off at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk uphill to get to the small town of El Peñol where we bought a ticket for the climb.

Piedra del Peñol

La Piedra del Peñol is the large rock nearby the town of Guatapé . It is an awkward looking rock but at some point some people decided to climb it. There is conflicting stories that one man did the climb but I’ve seen online that it is a group of men. Since then a set of stairs have been added for tourists and locals to make a climb as well.

Our morning task is to climb 700+ stairs to the top.

In the 1970s the area was dammed so the rock now overlooks a series of lakes and islands.

Fun chiva bus in the town El Peñol

In a crevice of the rock is a winding set of stairs.

It is tiring but we make it to the top (with lots of stops of course).

There is a café at the top so we take a break and have a beer.

We head back down and take a jeep back to the town of Guatapé.

Guatapé

It is lunchtime and I decide it is a great time to try Bandeja paisa and I have a new best friend as a result. It is a very good amount of meat and this dog wants me to share.

After lunch we wander around town. I am once again in a beautifully colored small town in Colombia.

I love all the scenes depicted at the bottom half of the buildings.

There is a large town square that is surrounded by restaurants.

The large white church has a beautiful wood ceiling.

More wandering around town

There is an afternoon storm coming. The clouds look ominous so we head to a indoor/outdoor cafe to wait it out. It doesn’t take long. Good thing we climbed the big rock in the morning.

More of the town….

We stop at a colorful café for a dessert treat.

We start heading to the edge of the town where it becomes more residential and less touristy. We end up by the water where obviously the water level is super low. The low water level gives the appearance of the boats looking stranded.

We see the bus station. Since it is getting close to time to leave we stay in the area and wait. There is a guy acting strangely nearby. We keep our distance to save trouble.

Bus station

Finally we board our bus for the ride back from Guatapé. I am glad we got on early otherwise we would be standing the entire way. The bus is full when we leave and we stop to pick up others on our journey. Unfortunately we chose the row up next to the door so we had quite a few people squeezing around us making it uncomfortable. Also the bus stopped frequently and people would ride temporarily trying to sell things, food, jewelry, etc. But it wasn’t until this man who got onto the bus and proselytizing to the bus loudly did it really get annoying. He stood right in front of us and screamed loudly at the bus for many minutes about Jesus. We put our heads down and pretended we didn’t understand. At some point we heard him talking to those in the seat across from us and we heard them tell the man that we don’t speak Spanish and that is why we did not interact with him. M and I both heard and understood the conversation and grinned briefly at each other. Now is a great time to play stupid! Eventually he leaves the bus. Good riddens!

Needless to say we are happy when we finally arrive back in Medellín.

The bus ride to Guatapé is cheap as heck. It isn’t the most glamourous way to travel but now we will always have the memory of the crazy bus ride.

Me not knowing what to expect on the ride back

It is a long day and long bus ride. Also I don’t mention enough that though I love the metro in Medellín it is exhausting to take the 30 minute journey uphill after a long day of sightseeing.

We only have energy tonight to stop for dinner around the corner. After that it is to bed. Partying will have to happen another night.

Back to Medellín

M and I head to Medellín Colombia today. It is the second time for me and the first for her. A couple weeks ago I spent some days leisurely around the city. I hope to see more this time around.

The flight to Medellín from Cartagena is only around an hour and ten minutes so our travel journey is not long. The flight is in the morning and I order a cheese and ham toasted sandwich to hold me over before my journey.

When we arrive we check into the same hotel I stayed in prior, Diez Hotel Categoria in El Poblado. It is a good choice. Our room has two beds and a hammock that overlooks the neighborhood.

I wasn’t sure how we would feel when we arrived so we didn’t have much booked on our first day in Medellín. Luckily we are early enough to take a free walking day tour with Real City Tours (pay guide by tips).

Fortunately I already navigated the metro during my prior visit so we took the metro to meet our tour.

We are a little early for our tour so we stop for a beer in a old charming bar called Salón Málaga. Most were not drinking, in fact we thought we were getting a sneer from the table next to us but we ended up chatting with the girl and her mother instead. They were Spanish speaking but actually live in the USA and were tourists in Medellin as well. We made plans to share a taxi with them to Guatapé the next day but plans fell through when they had to leave town early.

We meet up with our tour guide who then takes us around the city and points out different landmarks.

Plaza Cisneros
Parque de la Luz (Plaza Cisneros)

At one point we sit by an old train station (Edificio Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril de Antioquia) where our guide gives us a “real talk” about the history of Medellin – tells us the history of all the factions that caused turmoil: the government, the military, drug lords, right wing militia, left wing militia. The losers are the ordinary people who had to live through the war and terror.

We are taken to a shopping district where there are lots of pop up stands you can get cheap goods (Carabobo pedestrian street).

National Palace Mall

Sex workers hang out in front of this church.

Parroquia de la Veracruz
We are told where to go to get some great empanadas

We end up at the Botero park where we can see lots of Botero statues.

Our tour group

Our guide talks about the metro and the pride the locals have for their train.

We are told the area under the train is where people go to exchange goods. We don’t have time to watch but we go back later to see it in action. Mostly men take items to exchange (belt buckle, watch, coins or whatnot) and engage with conversations with others to see if a deal can be made. It is interesting to watch and seems to be a sport of its own in the city.

We walk by some musicians playing outside at Parque Berrío. People are dancing to the music.

Parque Berrío
Fun Jesus taxi
Church across the street from Berrio Park

Our guide talks about some local fruits. I finally get to try that weird looking fruit (guama) from my first visit to Medellín.

guama

Finally he takes us to the Parque San Antonio where he tells us the story of the bombed statue.

Parque San Antonio

At the end there is a question and answer session about the city. Some was asking about seeing a futbol (soccer) game while in town. The guide tells us about the upcoming El Clásico Paisa game. I don’t listen too carefully because at this point going to a soccer game in Medellín seems too intimidating to me. Plus I am not sure we’ll have time. M pays attention though and is able to talk me into attending the game. More on that later.

Cartagena: Rosario Islands

Our first cruise to the Rosario Islands got cancelled. Today is our rescheduled catamaran cruise. The weather is perfect for sailing today.

Our destination is the Rosario Islands off of Cartagena.

Once on the boat we find a comfortable and shaded spot to hang out for our departure. We don’t need lots of sun exposure so it is enough to just have a good view of the water.

Once everyone has boarded we slowly head out to open waters. Funky music plays at a very enjoyable level. The music is mostly island music. The cruise is relaxing so far.

Once we are further out the blue-green colors are more noticeable. I can even see the reef below.

There are two stops and both have snorkeling. I didn’t try the snorkeling because the gear costs extra and the reefs didn’t look too amazing (I snorkeled in Great Barrier Reef and this couldn’t compare). I am happy just swimming around the boat. I thought it was cool to swim under the boat, something I’ve never done before.

There are people in small boats selling food and drinks at the stops. One guy cuts open coconuts and mixes a myriad of liquids from bottles from the floor of his boat. I reluctantly order this Coco Loco thinking it could end badly but fortunately I only have a happy buzz and don’t get sick afterwards. It is a unique experience watching someone make the drinks on a small dinky boat. I only regret being cheap and not buying lobster from the lobster guy. I’ve read it is supposed to be amazing.

The second stop is close enough to swim to a small beach for those that have some sort of swimming fitness. I saw some getting picked up and dropped off there on jet skis so you may be able to pay someone for that if you are not a strong swimmer. It is challenging swimming back due to the current.

The next couple pictures are taken with M’s go pro.

Our boat out there.

We swim back to the boat and they are serving some great seafood paella for lunch.

Seafood Paella

Beverage purchases are credit only. Many people only brought cash on the boat. I like not having to deal with cash but I only wish we could have paid for it all at the end instead of having to take the card out each time we wanted to order something.

As we head back we enjoy cruising to island music. We feel good, always a sign of a good day at sea. Luckily we didn’t die from our boat booze.

While back in town we stop to have an early dinner at Marzola Parrilla Argentina, an Argentinian restaurant that has some fun décor.

We end up once again at Cuba 1940 where we catch live music.

We head back to our favorite La Cevichería to order the curry shrimp once more and a dessert.

Guava melt with cheese, mint and mandarin juice

There is great people watching from our outside table.

LOL

There are many street performers right near where we eat. We catch “Michael Jackson” for a little while. He is a good impersonator.

Michael Jackson hopping onto a carriage

One very fun thing to watch is the street rappers of Cartagena. A guy will target a sometimes unsuspecting tourist and start following them and rapping along with music (they expect tips for the performance). I spent time trying to avoid these guys but later on M and I teased each other that we would get one of these guys to rap for the other. It is fun to watch when you aren’t the target.

We end up outside a champeta music bar (champeta is a style of island music of Colombia – combination of Colombian chalupa and Afro-Cuban percussive music). The club looks like fun and we almost go in but instead listen outside for a little bit. It is late and we are tired.

We love our time in Cartagena but we are off to Medellin tomorrow.

Cartagena is not a long plane ride from Florida. I’ll probably head back here sometime for a long weekend with friends.

Cartagena: Pink Sea of Galerazamba

Today we have booked a private car to take us the see the famous Pink Sea of Galerazamba and Totumo mud volcano.

The pink sea is an hour northeast of Cartagena on the coast.

This man-made salt lake is a mine that is run by the small town of Galerazamba. The bright pink color is caused by microbes which create pigmented protein to absorb the sun’s energy.

The Pink Sea is not always bright pink but we get extremely lucky since it is as pink as it can be. The best time to visit is December to April and we are visiting in February.

There is no swimming at the pink sea but we were allowed to walk out into the water and have some photos taken.

The whole thing felt essentially like a nice salt scrub.

We head next to the Totumo Mud Volcano.

Both the sea/salt mine and mud volcano are run by the nearby communities who are employed by and profit off the locations.

We choose not to “participate” in the mud volcano during our visit. Reviews said that you have to pay someone inside the mud mound who will then massage mud all over you. Once you exit the mud pit you walk down to a lake where ladies clean the mud off your body parts. We are not interested in having someone randomly put their hands all over us. Usually I am a “When in Rome” type of person but both M and I are both on the same page – maybe we’ll skip this one.

Instead we checked out the mud pit from below.

village surrounding mud volcano

We walked down to the lake to witness the “washing”. Nope, not for us.

Once we arrive back to the tourist areas of Cartagena we decide it is a great time to check out the popular La Cevichería.

It is a long wait for a table but once inside it is worth it.

While everything we ordered is delicious it was this shrimp in curry that we craved after. It is an amazing dish.

M is fan of Liverpool and noticed a local bar was playing a game while we were town so we went down to The Clock Pub for a little while to watch. After the game the bar played 80’s pop videos.

Keeping up with the theme of fun we head down to a another lively pub. It is daytime so not rowdy but we did enjoy the décor of clothes hanging from the ceiling (including underwear). I do not recall the name of this pub but it was nice for a quick stop.

It’s been a long day but it isn’t over yet. We have dinner reservations to we head over to the area of the restaurant.

Earlier we had made reservations for dinner at Juan del Mar upon recommendation of our driver. While it was good, it wasn’t as good as La Cevichería.

Juan del Mar

After dinner we call it a night since we have our cruise rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully it goes as planned.

Cartagena: Getsemani

It is M’s first full day in Cartagena with me. We have booked a cruise to the Rosario Islands. We could have traveled directly to an island to do a day of relaxing on the beach but from reviews it doesn’t seem like a relaxing option due to beach vendors constantly bothering you.

There are a couple different choices for a day cruise ranging from packed-like-sardines in a speedboat to a luxury yacht cruise. The speedboat option seems like it could be fun but we both agree we would prefer the more laid back (though more expensive) catamaran tour.

There is an early start of 8:00 for our tour. We leave early to ensure we arrive in time.

Morning walk to our boat tour

One we arrive we wait at the marina for quite a while.

Finally our boat arrives. It is a lovely sight to see.

After arrival we still wait to board. Eventually the staff announces that they are cancelling the cruise for the day due to strong winds at sea. We are disappointed.

Luckily we can reschedule in a couple days. There is already a line of people waiting for refunds to be processed or to book another day. They let us onto the boat to wait in comfort which is great because we get to use the very clean bathroom downstairs. M has a great idea of getting cheap morning beers from one of the vendors on the dock. It didn’t take much for her to talk me into one as well. We sip our beers while we wait our turn to rebook.

We have rebooked and the day is still early. We have a free day we did not plan for. We head from the marina area and decide to explore town a bit, stopping first in a nearby museum.

The museum we stop at is the Museo Naval del Caribe, the Museum of the Colombian Navy.

All the exhibits are in Spanish but we understand enough to get an idea of the history. The exhibits are heavy on the military and the sea. We had some playtime in a submarine for a bit.

Side Note: M and I combined have a pretty good grasp on Spanish. We seem to fill in each others gaps well. What she doesn’t remember I remember and vice-versa. It gives me a bit more confidence.

After the museum we decide to check out the funky neighborhood of Getsemani. Fortunately it is in walking distance so no taxi is necessary.

We pass through some more charming streets on the way and stop for arepas.

Narrow walkways

We stop at Quero Arepa for an arepa snack.

Sloth at Parque Del Centenario

We walk past Parque Del Centenario where it is said you can see monkeys but we instead find a sloth on a tree. He is snacking on some tree fruits. Some people are trying to feed him and pet him but we respectfully keep our distance.

Getsemani

We have arrived in Getsemani. The neighborhood of Getsemani is funky and colorful. We originally considered staying in his neighborhood but opted to be closer to the tourist sites. If I am ever to return I am definitely staying in Getsemani. I really like the vibe.

I see lots of street art in many different cities but it never seems to get old.

Flags hang from above, in this case flags from different countries.

We watch an artist at work.

Today is about walking, eating and drinking. We stop to try local fried foods at a hipster restaurant.

Cháchara restaurant
empanada sampler

We stop for food once again, this time to split a small pizza.

We end up down a narrow and colorful street shaded by colorful umbrellas.

We are almost out of Getsemani but not before we stop at a corner bar that sells sushi and beer. We order only beer.

Once back in the tourist area we climb the fortification walls to catch the sunset.

After dark I get to try the Russian themed bar near the apartment. We decided to test our luck and have a Moscow Mule at the KGB Bar. Back in the USSR!

Keeping the theme of Soviet area relics we head next to my happy place at Cuba 1940. We don’t stay for the band tonight but we will be back.

As we walk back to the apartment we peak into a service at a beautiful church.

Even though things did not go as planned our day ended up pretty great.

Tomorrow we head on a trip a little out of town to see the pink sea. Hopefully it is the perfect pink color.