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.

Cartagena

It is my first full day in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I have a couple days here alone before a friend comes to meet me. I’ll save the major sights for when she arrives, now is the time for me to enjoy the city leisurely.

Fortunately I wake up early enough to take advantage of the free buffet breakfast at the hotel. A friendly kitchen staff member greets me and asks how I would like my eggs. I enjoy coffee and the buffet of fresh fruit along with my eggs.

Against better judgement I have been eating a good amount of fresh fruit in Colombia but it isn’t until my visit to Cartagena that it has an effect on me. The bacteria in Cartagena is different than other parts of Colombia. I have some mild stomach discomfort here (the water quality has something to do with its lower elevation).

After breakfast I wander around to explore and stop to order a fun cocktail and a snack at Lobo de Mar.

I am once again in another town where the buildings are painted in vivid colors. It is a beautiful sight to see.

I grab a beer and rest in the courtyard of my hotel to escape the heat and book some tours.

my hotel

The next day or so is about the same; I take things easy.

I see on a map the home of Gabriel García Márquez (the famous Colombian author) but I cannot find it. While I really like the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, I had a annoying experience reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Many praise the novel but I find it impossible to follow. There are so many characters introduced in different timelines and they all seem to have similar names. I’ve tried to read it three times and still have not been able to complete it. I am unable to locate the house.

I did see this boutique hotel in his honor…..the map shows that this hotel is right next door to the house. If it is there I did not see it.

Gabriel García Márquez on the wall

There is also a fortification around the city “Murallas De Cartagena”. One can walk along the walls as I did a few times during my visit.

More city photos

Botero statue

One plaza has a bunch of sculptures by Edgardo Carmona, a local sculptor.

Street Arepa

I soon find one of my favorite places to have a drink in town – Cuba 1940. I watch live music here a couple days later. (Cartagena really makes me want to party, lol).

While people watching I’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man, Deadpool, Spiderman, Edward Scissorhands and a large-bellied man dancing shirtless in a hula skirt. Being Friday night people must be out for birthday celebrations or stag nights. Cartagena is a fun city.

Later on I treat myself to a nice meal at Agua De Leon restaurant. The restaurant is busy but they are able to seat me at the bar. I still have a view of the live band playing up front.

Ceviche
Mac n cheese de langosta

The next day …

I have a travel partner again! My friend M has arrived. I’ve checked out of my hotel and transferred my belongings to the apartment where we will spend the next couple days. Unfortunately when we arrive they want all cash payment. We are both confused because we thought we had prepaid. Additionally the booking had no specification about paying in cash. We don’t have that much cash on hand so we ask if we can pay later after we are able to withdrawal more money; hopefully we have high ATM limits. After we gather the funds we have a really hard time finding a person to pay. Our days are similar, we return after sightseeing and we still not know who/how to pay. It makes us a little irritated and anxious. Eventually we learn that there is an office that is not often occupied. One day we find a person in the “office”. They seem ready to leave but we make sure that we pay for our stay and get a receipt. Whew! Glad that drama is over! Luckily our next hotel is prepaid by credit card.

Area outside the hotel

Once we drop our bags off we hit the ground running. We first head out for a beer at the pub around the corner.

We then walk around town a bit. We end up catching the tail end of a wedding. It is fun to see local wedding traditons.

Finally we share a Colombian version of a charcuterie platter. We have an early morning cruise scheduled tomorrow so no late night for us.

Salento: Mirador Alto De La Cruz

Yesterday I did a physically intensive hike so today I am taking it easy my last full day in Salento Colombia. I finally took advantage of the nice breakfast at my hotel. I’ve also walked down to the bus station to ensure I have a bus ticket for tomorrow. Tomorrow evening I travel to Cartagena by plane. Salento has no airport so I need to ensure I have a bus ticket to the nearby town with an airport – Pereira.

Salento bus station

I don’t have much planned today but I know I want to take the stairs up to the Mirador Alto De La Cruz, a place to get a nice view of town. I walk toward the stairs.

There are a series of colorful steps that take you up to the top.

view of the town
view outside the town

I descend down the stairs and decide to stop at a nearby bar to have a daytime cocktail (the same bar that the dog had taken up seats for previously).

Kafe del Alma

After my drink I walk around and appreciate town. Stopping to shop or lounge at another bar. I again appreciate how nice it is to be able to travel to smaller towns. The bus rides are long but they are so worth it.

My bus ride out of town isn’t until later the next day. I leave my bags at the hotel lobby and order a pizza at a nearby restaurant, because pizza.

Piccola Italia

I arrive at the bus station in time for my ride to Pereira. Once I arrive at the bus station in Pereira I still need to catch a taxi from there to the airport. It isn’t clear where the appropriate place is to catch a taxi. Taxi drivers tell me it is illegal to pick up passengers in areas not designated as a taxi pickup area. I wander around the bus station and eventually I am able to flag a cab down that will pick take me to the nearby airport. The cab driver misunderstands me and doesn’t drop me off in the correct place at the airport. I find myself walking pretty far to find the correct terminal – which sounds odd since it is a pretty small airport. I believe I am dropped off at the international terminal when I am flying domestically. Pereira airport is currently under construction. From the outside appearance it seems like the new airport will be pretty nice when it is complete but for now it is a small and confusing airport.

Waiting area and food court before going through security

At the airport I wait in the main waiting area for a while not knowing what to expect after security. I eventually cross security and there is a narrow walkway between the gates. I notice a small bar along the walkway so I decide to squeeze in and order a beer while I wait for my flight to board. The bar overlooks planes that are boarding. I must mention that the gate area is totally open air to the outside. This means that basically someone can just hop over the ledge and head out to a plane. Security is so much more relaxed here compared to what I am used to in the USA.

Nothing but a low concrete barrier between me and that plane
time to board

The flight to Cartagena is decent – no complaints here. Once in Cartagena there is an expensive cab ride to my hotel from the airport. It is late so I figure a cab ride is the safest approach to get to the tourist areas. Luckily Cartagena is a night city and there is a hotel clerk available at check in. I’m tired so I’ll have to experience the city tomorrow.

Hotel 3 Banderas is the hotel I booked for the couple days I am traveling alone. The options in Cartagena seem to much pricier than I’ve experienced in other towns and not as nice. My hotel is satisfactory but I don’t like not having a real window in my room and it does get damp in my room with the air conditioning running (at one point I had a puddle of water on the floor). The hotel reminds me of my stay in Saigon.

Hotel on a beautiful street (one with flags outside)

Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.