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South America

The vintage cars of Uruguay

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

When we landed in Uruguay, we knew it would be similar to neighboring Argentina, just with a stronger Gaucho culture, better beaches and an even bigger obsession with their maté tea. All of these held true – especially the fact that they never leave the house without their maté.

But who would have thought Uruguay would remind us more of Cuba at times than Argentina! It sure did, though, with thousands of gorgeous vintage cars rolling through the streets like a moving antique car fair or open air automobile museum.

vintage car coloniauruguay classic cars in colonia del sacramentoIn North America in the summer, you’ll often come across vintage car shows, with dedicated owners waxing and relaxing while onlookers admire and consider paying large sums of money to pick up their own vintage car. In Uruguay, the roads themselves are the car show, driven by regular janes and joes who have had these cars in their families for generations.

montevideo vw beetleThere is just something so perfectly fitting about these cars that represents the overall feeling of life in Uruguay – proud, timeworn, defiant, dignified and adorably dilapidated.

uruguay vintage carWhile some cars definitely look used and abused, many are as pristine as in their heyday. There is a sense of nostalgia overload with these gorgeous old-timers parked along the streets of villages that also appear unchanged since the cars first pulled up back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

uruguay classic car colonia del sacramentoIt was during this era that Uruguay experienced a major economic upturn, exporting beef and wheat to sustain Europe throughout both World Wars. With money lining their pockets, Uruguayans proudly began opting for more expensive imported cars, and not just for special occasions or the very rich. Imported Rolls Royces and Bugattis were even used to make deliveries or left to rust on the side of the road in favor of the latest model.

uruguay classic carThat is, until the economy completely crashed in the 1960s and car imports stopped almost entirely. Uruguayans maintained their love of cars and began preserving their cars to last for decades, and even have a special word for these cars now – ‘cachilas’.

vintage car n uruguayThese cachilas have been passed on to sons and daughters, who passed them on to their sons and daughters, many of whom are still driving them around today. Those cars that don’t run are often still shown love, re-purposed as artistic displays, like many of the cars we saw in Colonia del Sacramento.

uruguay vintage opelIn particular we loved the two classic cars parked in front of the El Drugstore restaurant: a 1930s Citroën sprouting trees and flowers and a 1920s Ford Model T, which has been remodeled into a dining car, for diners to eat at a little table inside the car.

uruguay vintage Citroen Traction Avant with treeuruguay Citroen Traction Avant colonia de sacramentouruguay ford model a dining car coloniaIt didn’t take long for word to get out about Uruguay’s vintage vehicles and in the 1970s, collectors from as far as Japan, Europe and North America flocked to Uruguay looking for rare models at much lower prices.

uruguay vintage car coloniaThe cars of Uruguay, while vintage, can not really be considered antiques. These are living, breathing automobiles that have been consistently in use for over 60 years now. Antique might however be a word used to describe the mechanics who so lovingly restore them. Essentially car historians themselves, the older generation of mechanics have been pouring their hearts in the cars of Uruguay for decades.

vintage car uruguayThe mechanics teach the younger generations the steps to repair the cars, but swear that only the older mechanics can truly keep the vintage cars in tact. Possibly a case of intertwined souls of the cars and the mechanics who have so long loved them?

uruguay vintage ford truckVintage cars have a very special place for everyone in the country, so much so that they are declared by the government to be ‘historic patrimony’. What this means is that a permit from the Commission on Historic Patrimony is required before a car can be shipped abroad that was manufactured before 1940.

montevideo vw beetle greenThis assures that the streets of Uruguay can continue to hark back to the golden era and its car culture for decades to come.

uruguay vintage army jeep

 

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14 things we love about Uruguay

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

Two weeks in this small South American country might seem like enough, but once you get comfortable and ease into the way of life here, you could easily get sucked in for a few months. Between beach-hopping, checking out Montevideo, the capital, and hitting up so so cute colonial towns we fell head over heels in love with Uruguay. We’ve put together a list of fourteen things we love, one for each day we spent in Uruguay. Read on for some interesting Uruguay facts:

1 Punta del diablo

This was our favorite beach town in Uruguay. We were here just after high season, so the tourist swell gave way to the sleepy fisherman’s wharf feeling it has the other ten months a year. We loved the architecture of the homes here, and the sand dunes piled high along the roads near the beach.

Punta del Diablo

2 Dia de Ñoquis – Gnocchi Day!

The influence of Italian immigrants throughout South America make dishes like pizza and pasta commonplace, but the fact that Uruguay still routinely celebrates Gnocchi day on the 29th of every month has us hooked as Jess prefers gnocchi to any Italian dish.

Uruguay facts
Spinach Gnocchi

3 Colonial towns

We loved the colonial little towns throughout the country – each and every one was picture-perfect with pastel-colored houses, a well-manufactured town square and cobble-stone streets, with Colonia del Sacramento being the most popular colonial town in all of Uruguay.

la calle de los suspiros colonia del sacramento

4 The gaucho culture

Uruguay remains a very traditional country with a strong gaucho (cowboy) culture. Even though we hung mostly near the coasts, we loved coming across this culture here and next time we will spend more time inland exploring this as well.

5 Medio y medio

This traditional and refreshing Uruguayan wine is simply a half-half mix of one part sweet sparkling wine cut with an equal part dry white wine – delicious!

colonia del sacramento medio y medio.JPG

6 Beaches

Uruguay has miles and miles of coastline and dozens of beautiful beaches. The capital, Montevideo, is surrounded by coastline, which then extends the entire way to the border with Brazil.

punta del diablo dani and dog

7 Buses with Wi-Fi

We should emphasize – these are buses with Wi-Fi that actually works. In Argentina or Chile, where bus rides last ten hours or more, the advertised wi-fi is little more than watching the symbol swirl as it attempts to connect. In Uruguay, rides are usually three hours or less, so you might have less time but you can get online to check emails, read, work or tweet while you drive.

8 Mate obsession

We knew that Argentina was obsessed with the herbal drink Mate, but that is nothing compared to the Uruguayans addiction. People carry a large thermos in the crux of one arm and their mate gourd in the other everywhere they go with others carry leather bags specifically made to carry mate but no one – seriously no one – leaves home without their thermos and their gourd.

Uruguay facts

9 Vintage cars

Uruguay is home to an incredible collection of vintage cars. Some are in perfect condition, but most exist in a state that symbolizes the laid-back, rustic charm of Uruguay.

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

10 Gay-friendly

The country is surprisingly gay-friendly. As the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, we saw open displays of affection between gay couples even on the street and there is even a Plaza for Equality in Montevideo.

Uruguay facts

11 The rambla in Punta del Este

Even though Uruguay is on the east coast of the continent, Punta del Este sits on a cape, allowing amazing sunsets to be seen from the stretches of west-facing beaches here.

mermaid statues at sunset punta del este

12 The laidback vibe

Beaches, hippies, free health care, low crime rates, decriminalized marijuana laws – take your pick – but all of them combine to make Uruguay easily one of the most laid-back countries in South America.

13 The lighthouses

Uruguay has over 15 lighthouses along the coastline, most of which date back to the late 1800s. We climbed up to the top of various bright white lighthouses for expansive views of the coastline. Those with a fear of heights should still climb the hundreds of stairs – once you get the the top you really appreciate the combination of an old world feel with the beautiful beaches in view.

Uruguay facts

14 Hostel de la Viuda

This hostel in Punta Del Diablo was our favorite accommodation in all of Uruguay. We extended our stay from two days to four! We felt right at home with the chilled atmosphere, friendly staff, adorable dogs, clean kitchen with everything necessary to cook, plus a swimming pool, comfortable beds and delicious Uruguayan breakfasts (which are still bread and jam, but the bread was huge and the jams were homemade).

Hostel de la viuda punta del diablo

Planning a trip to Uruguay? Check out other Uruguay articles on our site. Have you been to Uruguay? Are there any Uruguay facts that we forgot to mention? Share it in the comments! 

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Polaroid of the week: Going back in time in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

polaroidoftheweekphoto11

polaroid of the week uruguay colonia del sacramento
Leave it to us to be contrarians. While most people start their Uruguayan adventures in Colonia Del Sacramento, we saved this little gem for last.

Just a quick 1-hour ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, Colonia is often a short trip, sometimes even a day trip, from Argentina, but it couldn’t be more different to the rest of sleepy, spread out beach and river towns of Uruguay. he little colonial town was our last stop before returning to Argentina. The Portuguese first settled here in 1680 and while the city has expanded considerably since then, parts of the old town look as though nothing has changed since back then. Old wooden horse carts parked out front of rickety colonial houses with faded facades lining centuries-old cobble stones transported us back in time.

This week we feature the most famous of these historic heritage streets in Colonia: La Calle de los Suspiros, or ‘the street of sighs’. There are many legends about how it got its name. One legend has it that this street was lined with brothels in the 17th century, and the sighs came from sailors arriving in port sighing and fainting at the sight of pretty girls offering their services.  Another more romantic (and tragic) tale talks of a young girl who was waiting for her lover and suddenly stabbed, her farewell sigh heard throughout Colonia. An even darker version of the name’s origin comes from prisoners condemned to death being led along this street to be drowned in the river.

Sounds like there was quite a lot of trouble on this street centuries ago, but today it’s a simple cobblestone street perfectly preserving a bit of architectural history in time and the ‘sighs’ come from the tourists gasping either at its beauty or at how difficult it is to walk on the jumbled old cobblestone road!

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How much does it cost to travel in Uruguay?

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

The quick answer to this question is: More than you would think.

Like neighboring Argentina, Chile and Brazil, traveling in Uruguay is not cheap and you often spend the same amount as when traveling in the U.S. and Europe, but if you’re looking to match the same level of quality in hotels or food, it is there, but you’ll actually have to spend a bit more in Uruguay to get it.

The upside? Fellow travelers had warned us that prices in Uruguay would be even higher than in Argentina, more than 20% higher they said! However, with the exception of glitzy Punta del Este, we found there to be no real difference between tourist-friendly areas in both countries.

For short-term travelers looking for a vacation in Uruguay, budget in the same that you would for a vacation in the U.S. or Europe. For long-term travelers, we’d say that unless you’re an extreme shoestring traveler, plan in a daily budget of US$45 per person, based on two sharing.

UruguayNote: dealing with money in Uruguay can be confusing, as prices are marked U$S100 vs when prices are in US dollars US100. For the rest of this post, the use of the dollar sign is for prices in US dollars, Uruguayan pesos will be marked UYU.

Budget breakdown

Our own average spending worked out to $50.68 per person, or US$101.37 for the two of us, per day, and we spent $1,419.20 in two weeks. Spikes in inflation and tricky currency exchanges being the norm in Argentina and Uruguay, we want to clarify that we spent 27,021 Uruguayan Pesos at an exchange rate of UYU19.04 per 1 USD at the time of our visit. .

cost of travel in uruguay

Here is a breakdown of our Uruguay travel costs:

As usual, accommodation was the biggest expense, followed by food and transportation. Our love of coffee cost us an additional UYU60 / $3.25 each per day as well, for just basic Americano-type coffee.

Miscellaneous expenses included laundry (UYU260/$13.66), postcards, stamps and a few souvenirs.

Cost of accommodation in Uruguay

Accommodation costs were hard to keep down, and we stayed primarily in hostels and guest houses rather than hotels. Because we were traveling just after the end of high season, we used Booking.com to find discounts on accommodation, which many hotels offer once their hotels clear out after February. If you are traveling in Uruguay between December and February, expect to pay at least 20 per cent more per night.

At Posada Del Sur in Montevideo, we paid $50 for a comfortable double room, shared bathroom and full breakfast, and $42 for a double room at Hostel De La Viuda in Punta del Diablo, a hostel we absolutely loved. For $44, our hostel in Colonia was sub-par and far out of town.

Montevideo

When booking hotels, a private budget room runs for $55, a private in a hostel is between $35 – $40. Beds in dorm rooms cost $10-$14.

During low season (March – October) you can snatch a double room in a 4-star hotel for $80 – $100.

how much does it cost to travel in UruguayIf you are booking well in advance (about three to four months), there are huge discounts that can get you room rates almost as low as during low season in Montevideo and at the beaches, but not in Colonia which is busy year round.

The Beaches

Punta del Este is considerably more expensive than the rest of Uruguay’s coastline. We hunted down a great deal on a hotel, including full buffet breakfast for less than $60, right in the center of town. This was partially because we were there in the Summer-Fall shoulder season, but most rooms run $100-$130 in March still. If you book far enough in advance, there are double rooms in hostels and budget hotels for $50-$60, which usually include a full breakfast. Dorm beds average $18- $20.

Expect prices to double around Christmas and at the end of February, which is summer vacation for Uruguay and Argentina; even dorm beds go up to $35.

Even though Punta Del Diablo is slightly more affordable, prices for a decent double room are still up to $100 during high season.

Hostel de la viuda punta del diabloTip: We were told on various occasions that, if you are planning to travel in Uruguay during high season, you should make sure to book a hotel / hostel months before you get there. The best places are booked out up to five months before high season, and you will find yourself left with mediocre options at outrageous prices.

Colonia del Sacramento

Due to weekend visitors from Buenos Aires renewing visas or withdrawing dollars and tourists traveling from around South America, Colonia del Sacramento sees tourists fill so many rooms year round that even taxi drivers can’t keep up with the new hostels and budget hotels popping up further and further outside the city center. There are several beautiful boutique hotels and B&Bs for $90–$130 in Colonia, decent double rooms in a hostel or budget hotel for about $50 – $60 and dorm beds between $13 and $16, but only if you book ahead. If not, it’s a game of roulette – one which we played and lost.

Tip: Almost all hostels and hotels in Uruguay have breakfast included. Book accommodation that includes breakfast whenever possible; it will save you a lot of money, especially at the beaches.

how much does it cost to travel in Uruguay

Cost of food in Uruguay

Prices for eating out are about the same as it is in the U.S. – sometimes even more, and especially if you want any level of quality. To put price comparison into perspective, a 6-inch veggie delight Subway sandwich cost UYU90 at the time of our visit, or $4.73, when in the U.S. you can get $5 foot-long subs.

Vegetarian dinner for two cost UYU400-500, or $22-$27, and when we cooked at the guest house, the groceries still averaged UYU 300 / $15 for a full meal.

Going out for coffee, one of our favorite past times, was outrageously expensive at the beaches, with a cup of coffee or cappuccino costing around UYU100 / $5, two ice cream cones were UYU150 / $7.88 and just going out for coffee and cake set us back UYU420 / $22 in Punta del Este.

punta del diablo coffee

Cost of transportation in Uruguay

Buses between the major cities are usually about $20 for a 4-hour bus ride. Uruguay is a small country, so the two longest distances cost UYU 420 / $22 per person from Montevideo to Punta del Diablo and UYU455 /$24 from Punta Del Este to Colonia del Sacramento. Shorter bus rides, for example from Punta Del Diablo to La Paloma, were UYU215 / US$12 per person.

Ferry tickets with Buquebus from Montevideo or Colonia to Buenos Aires start at UYU760 /$36.30 (one way, if booked in advance).

how much does it cost to travel in Uruguay

Cost of entertainment in Uruguay

Entertainment costs were actually our smallest expense. The most expensive activity we splurged on was renting bicycles in Montevideo, which cost us UYU200 / $10 per person for a four-hour rental. A 6-hour surfing course for beginners in Punta Del Este is UYU1900 ($100), a half-day city sightseeing tour in Montevideo is UYU650 ($30). However, most museums are only a few dollars and the majority of activities in Uruguay is free.

Money saving tips for Uruguay:

1 Travel in the shoulder season. If you travel in the dead of the winter (May – October) most of the beach towns will be completely shut down, but if you travel on either side of high season, you get great weather, less busy towns and much less expensive accommodation rates compared to high season months of December, January and February.

2 Don’t pay for water. You can drink the water everywhere in Uruguay, and you can ask for tap water in restaurants at no extra charge.

3 Cook for yourself whenever possible After accommodation, eating in restaurants was our biggest expense in Uruguay. We went to the supermarket and bought ingredients for pasta, sandwiches or stews and soups for a fraction of the price (and time) spent in restaurants.

how much does it cost to travel in Uruguay

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Searching For My Inner Demons In The Colombian Jungle: A Date With Ayahuasca

ayahuasca vines

I held the little bamboo cup with both hands and quickly gulped down the thick, dark liquid. The bitter taste in my mouth was repellent, and I tried to wash it down with some water as soon as I sat back down on the wooden floor of the ceremonial hut in the Colombian Amazon.

“You should be feeling the effect of the ayahuasca in about twenty minutes,” the shaman named William told us in Spanish. “If you don’t feel anything then, I’ll give you some more.”

He then pointed to my left, where on one side of the hut, the wooden wall was only chest high, above that it was open until the ceiling, like a window, but without glass.

“You’re very likely to throw up when the ‘medicine’ begins to work. If you feel it coming, throw up out the window.”

He then turned his headlamp off, the only source of light in the hut, and the four of us were suddenly sitting in the pitch black dark, cross-legged, waiting for the ‘medicine’, as William called it, to work.ayahuasca retreatAyahuasca. A plant that grows only in the Amazon and which, brewed into a tea, is famous for its ability to open a door to another reality, to access a part of your brain that is normally not used. In the countries where ayahuasca can be found – Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia – the plant has been used for centuries by shamans to cure sicknesses and to open your mind to another dimension.

The brew, for which the ayahuasca vine is combined with the DMT-containing chacruna leaves, is a very strong hallucinogenic. Because it contains DMT (a psychedelic tryptamine compound found in around 60 plants on the planet, and which is illegal in the U.S.) and is highly visionary for some people, ayahuasca has become somewhat of a cool way to ‘go on a trip’ over the past few years.

Now you don’t need to fly all the way to the Amazon to attend an ayahuasca ceremony – you can also experience it in an apartment in Brooklyn, San Francisco or Berlin. Indigenous people, however, regard the calling of ayahuasca as a drug derogatory.ayahuasca ceremony

My ayahuasca ceremony in the Colombian jungle

I was not looking for some sort of hallucinogenic trip, having never experimented with DMT-containing drugs in my life and apart from a couple of times in my early 20s, I have never felt the urge to try drugs in general. When my friend asked me if I wanted to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony, I was equally as intrigued as terrified. But the fact that I was intrigued and even considering it made me realize that something inside of me had shifted.

The first time I had heard about ayahuasca was when I had traveled in Peru in 2014, and back then, I found the whole thing just frightening. Never in my life would I do something like that, I thought to myself back then after reading a few first-hand experiences of other travelers and the short rundown of ayahuasca in my guidebook. Peru in particular is famous for its ayahuasca retreats, with people flying down from the States for week-long ayahuasca cleanses. Because that’s what the brew, also called Yage, is supposed to do: cleanse you. Not your body, but your mind. From all the emotional baggage you are carrying, from traumatic experiences you can’t let go off, even from mental illnesses like depression.

I am certainly not suffering from depression, but as most of us, I’ve got a fair amount of emotional baggage. Several of the articles I read about ayahuasca ceremonies mentioned that one night of ayahuasca would equal ten years of therapy – how could I not be intrigued? Other articles called ayahuasca a life changing experience, a way to overcome fears you believe impossible to overcome, a way to face your biggest demons.ayahuasca experienceIn one of the best articles on ayahuasca I’ve read, Kira Salek writes: ‘All those self-destructive beliefs, suppressed traumatic events, denied emotions. Little wonder that an ayahuasca vision can reveal itself as a kind of hell in which a person is forced – literally – to face his or her demons’.

While I was reading about it (I must have read every article on ayahuasca ceremonies on the internet, and watched every documentary I could find on YouTube), I came across the statement that you shouldn’t be looking for ayahuasca, but that the medicine will find you when you are ready for it.

And that’s when I decided I would take part in the ceremony. I hadn’t been looking for it, but the opportunity presented itself to me. I was willing to do it, no matter how bad the demons were that I would be facing, no matter how deeply upsetting the experience could be.

Because you simply don’t know what the plant will reveal.

Some people said they were reliving moments from their childhood they had long forgotten about, some even said they were experiencing their own birth from the perspective of an onlooker. Where would my ayahuasca journey lead me?ayahuasca ceremony colombia daniThe first place it led me to was William’s hut in the middle of the jungle, somewhere outside of the small town of Leticia in the Colombian Amazon. My friend and I had taken a local bus for half an hour, asked to be dropped off on the side of the road where a small dirt path led into the jungle.We followed the muddy jungle path until the last houses disappeared out of our rear view, walking deeper and deeper into the jungle, the path narrowing more and more, and getting muddier the further we went. After nearly an hour, we finally reached William’s jungle home: a couple of wooden huts, a large circular structure with a thatched roof where the family cooks and works – like is common in this part of Colombia – and a covered area with a few hammocks where we would be sleeping after the ceremony.

William introduced himself, wearing regular clothes, including big rubber boots, and I couldn’t help but think: That’s not how I pictured a shaman. He told us to rest until he would come and get us for the ceremony later that night. There were four of us: a German (me), a Spaniard, an Italian and a French person. An international group, two girls and two boys, all four of us from different backgrounds and walks of life. The only thing we had in common was that we were looking for answers, and we were hoping that this ayahuasca ceremony would give them to us.

While we were waiting for the sun to set, I turned into a bundle of nerves. I tried to ignore my rumbling tummy, because you are not supposed to eat anything 24 hours before drinking the brew, to ensure the ‘medicine’ would have its full effect. In addition, you are not supposed to have caffeine, dairy, gluten, sugar, meat, spicy food, alcohol and sex for a week before taking ayahuasca.amazonian skyI tried to calm myself: The plant had found me. I was supposed to be here. When I started my travels through Colombia I had no desire and no plans to visit the Amazon, and yet here I was, with someone I trusted, and I felt like we were supposed to cross paths just so that I would have this experience. I know how hokey pokey this must sound, because I am admittedly not a very spiritual person, but I really felt that the only reason I had boarded that plane to the Amazon – a spontaneous decision – was to participate in this ceremony.

These were also the thoughts that were running through my mind as I was sitting on the floor of William’s jungle hut later that night, waiting for the yage to kick in. ‘I am supposed to be here’, I kept telling myself, wondering what the plant would reveal for me. Would this be a life changing experience for me?

While we were all lost in our thoughts, William, who had changed into a more shamanic outfit with white pants and a white shirt before the ceremony, had started to sing shamanic chants accompanied by shaman rattles, mixed with shamanic drumming. These chants call upon healing spiritual powers, some of them are supposed to render the mind susceptible for visions, others are calling the plant spirits for healing, and others are calling the spirit animals for protection.ayahuasca ceremonyThe music started to get louder and louder inside my head, and it now sounded as if there was was an entire village population playing instruments, and not just one person. I opened my eyes to see if there were other musicians in the room, but it was pitch black, I couldn’t see anything. I turned my head towards the open window, where I could make out the silhouettes of the trees and jungle plants, vaguely lit up by the moon.

A million things ran through my mind, and with every new thought I had I asked myself if I was thinking about this particular thing because of the ayahuasca or simply because I was sitting around waiting for something to happen.

All of a sudden, I felt sick to my stomach. At first, my hands were trembling, my lips were shaking, and then quickly, my entire body was shivering. I was freezing cold. This feeling was anything but pleasant. I was hoping that it would pass, but I couldn’t stop shivering. And then there it was: the urgent need to throw up. When it overcame me, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it over to the window, that’s how weak I felt. But somehow I stumbled over to the big hole in the wall, my hands reaching the ledge just in time before what can be described best as projectile vomiting began.colombia amazonI threw up vigorously, emptying my stomach out into the darkness of the jungle. I threw up over and over again, until there was nothing left inside of me.

The vomiting, politely referred to as purging in the world of ayahuasca, was part of the ceremony. I had read that this is supposed to clean your body completely, clean it from all the evil and bad and the toxins that has accumulated inside of it over the years. The thought of this being a cleanse was what kept me going through every puke spell, with tears running down my face, because that’s how fierce the throwing up was. There is only one thing in the world that tasted worse than ayahuasca, and that is ayahuasca thrown up.

I slowly made my way back to the middle of the room, but I was staggering so much that I decided I should instead lean on the back wall of the hut, giving my body additional support. I sat down, still shivering, still tasting the bitter taste of the ayahuasca in the back of my mouth. I was waiting for visions to start, to have some revelations, to take a journey into my sub-consciousness, or maybe re-live a traumatic childhood memory I had buried deep in the back of my mind.

But nothing happened.amazonian rainforest colombiaInstead, I kept feeling dead sick, and I started to wonder if I’d survive the long way back to the closest hospital, which was in Leticia. There were no rescue helicopters here that could get me there quickly. Nobody even knew where exactly I was. I pictured myself crawling on all fours through the jungle back to the main road, trying to get to a doctor. For a moment I was convinced I would not survive the night, and started to spend a lot of time thinking about my family and all of the things I felt I should have told them before leaving them behind.

All of a sudden, I heard the familiar sound of someone throwing up. It was now the Italian girl who was puking, but she seemed fine and sat back down quickly. After her, the French guy headed to the window. William asked the Italian boy if he was okay, since he was the only one who hadn’t thrown up yet. The shaman offered him another cup of the brew, but he declined. Nobody wanted a re-fill of this disgusting tasting drink.

William continued to chant and drum, and I continued to sit there and try to distract myself from feeling like I was dying. The feeling reminded me of how I felt when I was 21 and lived in Ibiza, and my friend fed me half an ecstasy pill on an empty stomach. That had been such a horrible trip that I had vowed to never take ecstasy again – something I’ve stuck to until this very day.ayahuasca retreatsA little bit later, the Spaniard announced that he needed some air and that he would step outside for a bit. I remembered reading about a boy who had stripped off of his clothes during an ayahuasca ceremony and ran out into the jungle, completely naked, and gotten lost. We’ll probably never see the Italian again, I thought to myself, there are probably jaguars out there in the jungle, and poisonous snakes and spiders.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Italian guy still not having returned, the shaman announced he’d step outside as well to check in on the Italian.  The drumming and chanting stopped and the three of us were sitting in absolute silence. The sound of the jungle – crickets, birds, frogs and other animals – seemed to multiply ten-fold, just as the instruments and chanting had seemed to me earlier.

William returned after a while and announced that he had drunk a little too much of the medicine, asking if we could spare some water for him. That is exactly what you don’t want to hear while you’re on ayahuasca: that the person who is in charge of the ceremony is unwell. The shamans drink the brew as well in order to open their minds to a third dimension and to guide us on our spiritual journey, but their role is also to help us in case we encounter a particularly bad evil spirit, that we are unable to handle by ourselves.colombia amazonWilliam checked in on us occasionally, calling us by our names and asking if we were okay. The Spaniard returned to the hut, assuring the shaman he was fine. The Italian girl and the French boy were both quiet, I had no idea if they were experiencing any visions or felt the effect of the ‘medicine’.

I thought to myself that we had to be about halfway through the four-hour ceremony and decided to lay down on the floor, since I still felt terribly sick, almost like I was on a boat that was swaying from side to side. Instead of facing my inner demons or having a grand spiritual awakening, I was just lying on the dirty wooden floor, waiting for this misery to be over. This was not how I had pictured my encounter with ayahuasca.

Finally William announced it was time to conclude the ceremony. He came to each one of us individually, chanting and giving us blessings, thanking Mama ayahuasca for leading us through this journey.jungle colombiaAll four of us walked over to the hammocks, none of us talking. I tried to swallow my disappointment about the experience that had been so not what I had been expecting. I thought for sure that I would have a life-changing experience, battling demons, facing a long forgotten childhood trauma and coming out of it as a new, better, grown person.

As I was continuing my journey through the Colombian Amazon a few days later, I tried to get over the sadness about the non-occurring revelations and realizations by reminding myself that many people don’t have any visions during their first ayahuasca experience.

A few weeks later though, it suddenly hit me: Something that had weight heavily on my heart for a long time had disappeared. Before the ceremony, I regularly found myself thinking about a certain thing that gave me grief, but that I couldn’t do anything about it. But that day I noticed that I hadn’t thought about it for weeks. Maybe William had been right when he told me the morning after the ceremony: “Dani, you threw up so much, you had many demons inside your body. But you cleansed yourself entirely of them.”ayahuasca ceremony colombia

You want to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony? Here are a few things you should know:

1 Do your research about ayahuasca retreats

Ayahuasca has become so trendy in recent years that it has caused a growing number of fake shamans who try to benefit from the increased interest in ayahuasca ceremonies. If you visit Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon, you’ll see posters and announcements for ayahuasca retreats throughout town. Make sure to research the shaman or retreat provider, ask other travelers for recommendations. There have been several incidents, including deaths, during ayahuasca ceremonies in the past few years – see below.

2 The dark side of ayahuasca

Be aware that an ayahuasca ceremony shouldn’t be treated lightly. It can be a deeply disturbing experience, but there are also many reports of sexual harassment by female solo travelers, so if anything feels off, get out of there as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t have done the ceremony by myself, I only did it because I was with someone who I trusted.colombia amazon

3 Further reading on Ayahuasca

Read up on ayahuasca before simply signing up for a ceremony, only because you can now do them in major cities in the U.S. and Europe. This is NOT some sort of drug trip but is supposed to be a spiritual, cleansing, and sometimes cathartic experience.

I recommend reading:

(There are plenty of other good articles in publications like the New York Times, The Guardian, Elle, Vice, Cosmopolitan, LA Weekly – read as much as you can.)

ayahuasca experience colombia

4 The Amazon vs. the U.S.

No matter if you live in Brooklyn, Berlin or San Francisco, chances are that you can experience an ayahuasca ceremony there instead of having to travel thousands of miles into the Amazonian jungle to find a shaman. However, after reading a couple of articles by people who partook in ceremonies in the U.S. (see above), I cannot imagine the experience in somebody’s apartment or a yoga studio would have the same impact as a ceremony at the source of the vine: in the Amazon. I personally think that if you are looking for a possibly life-changing, healing experience, you should look into ayahuasca retreats in the Amazon, ideally retreats over several days with various ceremonies, in case the ayahuasca doesn’t reveal its full effect immediately, like in my case.ayahuasca ceremony

5 Keep your expectations low

Since my ceremony, I’ve met several people who didn’t have revelationary experiences like Kira Salak had during her retreats (see article Hell and Back). But since I had read about her incredibly powerful ayahuasca journey, as well as several other, similarly cathartic experiences, my expectations for the night were very high, and weren’t necessarily met. I recommend keeping your expectations low in order to avoid disappointment.ayahuasca experience

*** Side note: I took most of the photos on the morning after the ceremony and they turned out completely blurry, which perfectly sums up how I experienced my first ayahuasca ceremony: in a blurry haze.

PIN IT!

ayahuasca ceremony

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Polaroid of the week: Conquering a mountain in Argentina’s Quebrada De Las Conchas

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polaroid of the week argentina quebrada de cafayateAfter a few days in Salta, the second biggest city in the north west of Argentina, we headed to Cafayate, a tiny village four hours to the south. Known mainly for its wineries and vineyards, Cafayate is set in a beautiful green valley, surrounded by red mountains on all sides and while most people come here to enjoy the outdoor adventures out of town, we fell in love with the little village itself.

We had what we thought were the best empanadas in all of Argentina (including Quinoa-filled ones!), explored the quiet tree-lined streets and had a cone of the famous Torrontes white wine ice cream, which was…interesting, and enjoyed cycling to the nearby vineyards – gorgeous!

The main attraction though was the Quebrada de Cafayate, the mountain range which runs between Salta and Cafayate. The bus passed right through here on the ride down, one of the most stunning bus rides we have ever taken, if slightly nauseating, through winding mountain roads lined with bright red rocks that reminded us of Sedona and even the Grand Canyon. We hopped on a tour to explore more of the mountains and were shown one impressive place after another. We climbed into and around rocks that felt like being on the moon, were fascinated by rock formations, gorges and got the goosebumps listening to a man sing a desperate love song in an all-natural rock amphitheater with the best acoustics we’ve ever heard!

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Channeling My Inner Lara Croft: The Jungle Trek To Colombia’s Lost City

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The first time I heard about the ruins of the Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city hidden deep in the jungles of northern Colombia that is only accessible on foot on a strenuous four-day hike through the mountains, was in 2010, during my first visit to Latin America.
ciudad perdida colombia ruins“You have to do the Lost City trek,” a fellow traveler who was making his way north towards Mexico as I was making my way down towards Colombia through Central America, urged me, “it’s an adventure of a lifetime.” Back then I was skeptical, even though I was intrigued by this Indiana Jones-like adventure. But I had never done a multi-day trek, let alone in the jungle, let alone in the Colombian jungle. I didn’t even know if I could walk that far: a 32-mile (52-kilometer) round-trip.
ciudad perdida colombia2Fast forward six years and I found myself walking on a dusty unpaved road, braving the 90% humidity and heat of the Caribbean coast a few miles north of the starting point of the trek to the Lost City, La Ciudad Perdida. A mere fifteen minutes after leaving the village where we started the trek, we made our first river crossing – the first of about twenty river crossings along the way. Luckily I wasn’t doing the Lost City trek during rainy season, when the water can reach up to your waist. One hour into the hike, as I felt the sweat running down my arms, my stomach and my back, I was already regretting my decision.
lost city trek colombiaEven though now, a few years after first hearing about the hike to the Lost City, I had a few multi-day treks under my belt, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it all the way to the ancient ruins high up in the mountains. The river we were walking next to looked inviting, and just as I was fantasizing about jumping in for a refreshing dip, our guide announced “We’re stopping here for a quick swim break. After this, the real hike starts.” All of us stripped down immediately and jumped into the water, slowly starting to get to know each other while cooling off.
lost city trek river bathThere were twelve of us, three couples, two friends traveling together, and the rest of us were solo travelers. Our guide hadn’t lied: The Lost City hike did become much more strenuous. Before our swim break, we had been slowly ascending into the mountains on a path surrounded by lush, green jungle. Now, it was pretty much uphill the entire time, and I was completely drenched in sweat within an hour. It seemed like this mountain didn’t have a top; a never ending ascent.
hike to the lost cityLuckily, the scenery distracted me enough to make this hike still enjoyable, and around 4.30pm, several mountains later, we reached the camp where we would spend the night, conveniently located right by the Buritaca River, which follows the trail pretty much the entire time. We didn’t waste any time and went straight down to the river where we found a refreshing pool and a cliff to jump from.
ciudad perdida dani dogThe accommodation was basic, a dozen bunk beds next to each other, right across from a TV in front of which the people who lived here sat, captivated by the telenovelas that were showing – they didn’t leave their chairs all night long. We sat down on wooden benches where we would be spending the rest of the evening, having dinner (fish and rice for the meat eaters, lentils and rice for me) and playing cards, getting to know each other better.
ciudad perdida camp lunchAll of the camps on the hike to the Lost City were open, with corrugated roof sheets, but no walls. Luckily the beds were draped in mosquito nets to keep out the critters of the jungle – we had been warned that there were several species of poisonous snakes and spiders in this part of the country, and the very next day, I would nearly step on a snake. This would be the last camp that had electricity, after this point, electricity was provided by generators. During the entire trek there were no phones, no power outlets, no cell phone signal.
lost city trek campThe next day, we were woken early: at 5am. After a filling breakfast that consisted of a big bowl of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, we started walking an hour later, and just like the previous day we hiked up a mountain, down a mountain, up a mountain, down a mountain.
colombia lost city trekThe jungle scenery was incredibly beautiful, and we passed several villages that were home to the indigenous groups who live in this part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are the Wiwa people, the kankuamo, the arhuaco and the kogi, all descendants of the Tayronas, whose ancient city we were going to reach a couple of days later.
jungle trek ciudad perdidaWe didn’t see a lot of indigenous people on the first day, but now that we had gotten deeper into the mountains, we passed them frequently on the paths – moms with their kids, whole families, or just guys, easily recognizable by their traditional white outfits. While the women and kids often were barefoot, the men wore big rubber boots and had long dark hair, always with a colorful handmade mochilla bag strung over their shoulder, similar to the ones I’d seen in the artisan markets along the coast.
ciudad perdida trek indigenous villageThe huts in their villages are still built the way the Teyuna people used to build them: in a circle, and from materials found in the jungle. The kids here don’t get to just go to the candy store and buy some candy for themselves, but civilization hasn’t kept out of the jungle entirely: they know of candy, and know that white people tend to have candy on them. I ended up trading a couple of candies for a photo of a young girl and her baby sitter before they disappeared into the jungle with a smile on their faces and I continued my trek through the forest.
ciudad perdida trek kidsAt 9am we reached our lunch camp, and while the two young girls who were cooking for us (and walking the trek with us) were preparing our lunch (which came pretty early at 10am), we swam in the river again. This would be the first of three (!) swim breaks that day.
ciudad perdida wiwa kidOnce we finished our extended three hour lunch break, we started walking again – but only for half an hour. Then it was time for another swim, again surrounded by the lush jungle scenery. We almost didn’t care about our destination anymore, because the trek itself was so beautiful.
lost city trek river crossing colombiaAfter all these swim breaks, I started thinking this day was actually pretty easy – but oh was I wrong. After our quick dip, we started a grueling climb up a steep mountainside, which lasted over an hour. By the time I made it to the mountaintop, I was panting like a dog and my calves were burning. Much to my surprise, our kitchen crew had already reached the mountain top and handed everyone a slice of watermelon as they arrived on the top, sweat running down their faces.
ciudad perdida pineapple snackAfter this tiring climb, the hike got slightly easier (less steep), and an hour later we reached our camp for the night. This camp, Campo Paraiso, is the biggest camp. While the several tour companies that offer the Lost City trek each have their own camps along the trail, here, all the groups come together, and the camp had just been extended to accommodate more hikers – showing just how popular the hike to the Lost City had become. However, compared to the one million visitors Machu Picchu sees every year, the 8,500 adventurers who make their way to Colombia’s La Ciudad Perdida seem almost irrelevant in comparison.
lost city trek horses colombiaIt was only one kilometer, 0.6 miles, to the Lost City from Campo Paraiso, but we wouldn’t get there until the next morning. Some of us still had the energy for an afternoon swim, because luckily, the camp was next to the river again, but nobody had the energy for the 1,200 stairs we still had to conquer before reaching the fabled city. By 8pm, we were all in bed, falling asleep to the sound of the jungle: birds, monkeys and other animals.
cody & daniWe were up bright and early at 5am again because today would be a long day: Not only would we finally visit the Lost City, but we’d also return to Camp 2, a three hour hike from Camp 3. The path we followed on our last morning followed the river, but we didn’t walk very far. Our guide suddenly stopped and we crossed the river. We had reached the bottom of the steep mountain on whose top the Lost City sits. Only 1,241 stairs were between us and our final destination now.
stairs ciudad perdidaI couldn’t wait to finally see the Lost City, but anxious about the stairs. And when I say stairs, I am not talking about a proper staircase – the stairs we were climbing were centuries old, wonky and uneven stone stairs, carved out of rock.
ciudad perdida stairsSometimes, the stairs were so high that it took some serious effort to climb them. Considering the short size of the Wiwa people we met along the way it made me wonder how often they had to climb these stairs and how they managed to do it.
stairsAfter an hour long climb, we finally made it to La Ciudad Perdida. It was an unforgettable moment when we finally reached the top of the stairs, and the jungle gave way to a plateau on which the first ruins of ancient houses sat.
ciudad perdida teyuna colombia1Teyuna, the name that was given to the city by archeologists, was built in AD 700, which makes it at least 600 years older than Machu Picchu. The site was abandoned in the 1600s and only in the early 1970s treasure hunters found the ruins and ransacked the then unnamed and undocumented city, emptying burial plots that were filled with golden jewelry and pottery. It took until 1976 for the news of its discovery to get out and for archeologists to arrive to the site. Over the course of the next six years, until 1982, Teyuna was excavated and restored.
ciudad perdida colombia carved stonesThe city was built high up on the mountain to be closer to Wymaco, the father of gods. For the Wiwa people this is still a sacred site, and for two weeks every September, descendants of the Teyuna gather here for ceremonies.
ciudad perdida colombia8It felt amazing to have the entire city to ourselves, basking in the mystical aura it emitted. There was only one other group of five people that arrived at the Lost City the same day as we did, and we only saw them once while we explored the city. To think we were the only ones here, in this sacred place far away from any civilization, made the experience even more special.
ciudad perdida terraces2I was surprised when I realized how big La Ciudad Perdida was, since most of the brochures and travel guides only feature the same image:
the lost city colombiaBut there’s so much more to the Lost City – a myriad of staircases that lead to several terraces clinging to the mountainside, the foundations of houses still well recognizable everywhere. There used to be 1,000 houses here, and archeologists estimate between 1,300 and 3,000 people lived here.
colombia ciudad perdidaWe explored the city, which spreads out over 86 acres, for several hours, walking between the moss-covered old rocks, ruins of people’s homes, plazas and ruins of temples. There are 169 circular terraces, and rocks on which maps were carved, all surrounded by the dense jungle which had hidden Teyuna for hundreds of years.
ciudad perdida colombia la capilla1The highlight of the day was reaching the main terraces of the city, called La Capilla, which are sitting high up on a mountain top with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, all covered in lush green tropical forests. We sat down at the edge of one of the terraces and took in the scenery around us. Nobody spoke, everyone was lost in their own thoughts.
ciudad perdida colombia5The Teyuna were a community of potters and farmers, and the city was connected to other cities in the mountains through a network of stone paths. There are similar cities still hidden in the jungle in the mountains here, waiting to be discovered. Archeologists are not one hundred percent sure why the Lost City was left, but presumably because diseases spread after the Spanish arrived in this region in the 16th century. It didn’t take long for the jungle to grow over the stone buildings, hiding it under its thick vines and a layer of moss.
ciudad perdida colombia7Not everything here is a ruin, however: we also passed a couple of houses in which a family lived. From the shaman of their community we learned that he was the head of 160 families who were living in the area, and for them not much had changed since the times of the Tayrona. The same basic huts, and with them living pretty self-sufficiently off of what the woods provided them with (mainly cocoa, fruits and tobacco).
Wiwa colombiaWe left after receiving a protective bracelet from the shaman, but not without asking a dozen questions about his life and his family, curious to hear about life in the mountains.
ciudad perdida rock mapThe biggest problem for them at the moment? Climate change. The past couple of years have been very dry, the rainy season in June and July is not bringing as much rain as they’re used to, which in turn affects their harvest.
ciudad perdida jungle trek colombiaWe also learned the reason for their long hair: The Wiwa people don’t cut their hair because they believe the brain breathes through the hair, and cutting your hair means cutting the oxygen to the brain.
ciudad perdida carved rockThis might not be a Machu Picchu, but having hiked to Machu Picchu, I can say that this city was striking in its own way, and well worth the arduous trek.
dani ciudad perdidaAfter spending the morning exploring the ruins, it was time to climb down the 1,200 stairs and to grab a quick lunch before walking back to Camp 2, where we would spend the night. But since this trip seemed to be just as much about swimming as it was about visiting the Lost City, there was time for a quick dip in the river.
ciudad perdida colombia stairsThe trek back didn’t feel as grueling as the hike to the Lost City, because the one-hour climb from the day before was a much more enjoyable downhill hike now, and we even arrived in the camp early enough for a swim before sunset. Knowing we had another long day ahead of us, all of us were in bed by 8pm again, and I was asleep by 9pm.
lost city trek river crossingMy body was thankful to get a decent amount of sleep before another 5am wake up call. Initially, I was supposed to walk for five days, but seeing that most people in my group made their way back to base camp on day 4, I decided to join them. This meant doing the hike that is broken up into two parts (Day 4 & 5) in only one day – a seven-hour hike.
ciudad perdida hike2For some reason, I had blocked out that there was a big downhill part on the second day – a part that needed to be climbed now. It was an exhausting hike and I was glad when we reached camp 1 after three hours for a break with some watermelon and cake.
lost city trek breakThe rest of the hike was mostly downhill, and my feet were thankful for that, they started to hurt quite a bit and I couldn’t wait to trade my hiking boots for my flip flops again. This part of the Lost City trek was also extremely dusty – my clothes, backpack, legs and shoes were all covered in a thick layer of dust.
lost city trek shoesAnd then, finally, we arrived in El Mamey, the village where it had all began four days earlier. It had only taken us six hours to get there, but I was completely soaked in sweat and ready to rest my legs. A six-hour hike might not sound a lot, but this being the fourth day of walking in a row, and with the steep inclines and declines – it really exhausted me. I couldn’t wait to get back to Santa Marta to take a shower and have a good meal for dinner, after the fairly bland meals during the hike.
ciudad perdida colombia sierra nevadaWas it worth the pain? Absolutely. I can’t believe that I was hesitant about doing the Lost City trek – if you like multi-day treks and want to see a pre-Columbian city that not a lot of people get to see, plus an amazing hike through the jungle, with sweeping mountain views and lots of swim breaks, make sure to add this trek to your Colombia itinerary.
hikersIn hindsight, I couldn’t be happier about how my travel priorities had changed since the first time I was in Latin America all those years ago, because I am certain that I wouldn’t have done it in 2010 or 2011. The hike to the Lost City ended up being one of my favorite travel moments in Colombia!
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The Hike To Colombia’s Lost City: Practical Information

The Lost City Trek: Which tour company to go with

There are only four or five tour companies offering the Lost City trek, all charging COP700,000 (around US$240). Wiwa Tours is supposed to be the best one – and a girl I met who did the trek with them told me that not only did their guide tell them about the ruins when they got there, but also pointed out all kinds of fruits and plants along the way, explaining what they’re good for and trying them. This is the only tour company that uses indigenous guides, a definite bonus. BUT: Tours are in Spanish only.

The other companies use English speaking guides. I went with Expoturs, and there are no complaints here. We had decent meals, and I always got a good vegetarian option (make sure to tell them about any dietary restrictions when you book your trek). We were provided with water and we got snacks along the way (fruit, cookies, lollipops).
lost city trek camp kitchen

The Lost City Trek: The Camps

As for the camps – they’re all pretty much the same, no matter which tour company you go with. Plain beds, all lined up next to each other. If you don’t sleep well with other people, bring earplugs. Don’t expect hot showers or great bathrooms (some don’t have toilet paper) – everything is basic.
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Packing essentials for the hike to Colombia’s Lost City

The most important thing I brought for the trek: the local mosquito repellent I bought (Nopikex, only about COP10,000/less than US$3, and it worked extremely well), sunscreen, wet wipes, a headlamp (there is no light in the camps at night), and my Kindle for some reading at night. We wished we had a deck of cards but somehow nobody in our group had brought any.

You only need to bring a daypack for the hike, and you can store the rest of your stuff with the tour company until you return to Santa Marta (from where tours usually leave). Most hostels also offer to store your luggage, but some of them charge a fee, so check beforehand.
lost city trek banana trees
Other things to know about the Lost City Trek

  • Depending on what time of year you are doing the hike, you might want to bring hiking sandals in addition to hiking boots, because the rivers fill up during the rainy season (April-May and September-November are the wettest months – expect downpours and bring a rain jacket). During the winter months (December – February) you don’t need any, but I was happy to have brought my flip flops to change into every night when we reached our camp for the night.
  • Bring some cash because the camps all sell cold drinks, beer and sweets, and there are some kiosks along the way selling refreshments.
  • hike to Colombia's lost cityIf you’re traveling in Colombia between December and February, spots fill up quickly. Make sure to reserve a spot early or be prepared to wait for a couple of days in Santa Marta until one opens up.
  • The Lost City is closed every year for two weeks in September for ceremonial rituals.

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Is it Safe to Travel in Colombia?

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Confession: I almost didn’t get on my plane to Colombia because in the days leading up to my departure, I got scared. “Is it safe to travel in Colombia?”, I kept asking myself. “Is solo female travel in Colombia safe?” I spent the last few hours before my flight departure in agony, going back and forth about canceling my flight. I had just read this article:

Solo Female Going to Colombia? Just Don’t.

I came across it the very day before my flight, and reading the headline alone made me wonder if I should read the article or not. After reading the article, solo female travel in Colombia didn’t seem like a good idea AT ALL. And it wasn’t just that article: a few days earlier during a travel meetup, a friend of mine offhandedly mentioned to me that her friend recently got back from Colombia where she and her friend had being robbed at gunpoint and lost everything.

I was scared, if not terrified.

is it safe to travel in colombiaWas I crazy for traveling to Colombia as a solo female traveler, just as many family members and friends suggested I was when I told them I had purchased a plane ticket to Cartagena? Even though the country has gotten considerably safer in recent years, there is still a government warning for travelers to Colombia in place, which reads:

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali.

However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas. Despite significant decreases in overall crime in Colombia, continued vigilance is warranted due to an increase in recent months of violent crime, including crime resulting in the deaths of American citizens.

And it continues:

… there were several homicides of U.S. citizens in connection with robberies, including armed robbery on streets and in taxi cabs, public transport, home invasions, and muggings…

(You can read the full travel warning issued by the U.S. Department Of State here:

Colombia Travel Warning)

Is it safe to travel in Colombia?

The only reason why I did get on my flight the next morning was that friends who had been to Colombia calmed me down and encouraged me to go and not to cancel my trip. This reminded me why I had decided to go to Colombia in the first place: because everyone was raving about the country. Many of my friends who had traveled around South America declared it their favorite country on the continent, and everyone who had been to Colombia loved it. I hadn’t heard a single bad word from people I knew. Nobody I knew had warned me that it was NOT safe to travel to Colombia, even as a solo female traveler.

Before I get into details on how safe I felt in Colombia, I want to say this: Had I not boarded that plane, had I let those horrible experiences of other travelers discourage me from visiting Colombia, I would’ve missed what would become one of my favorite trips to date.cartagena dani

Everyone’s Travel Experience is Different

Travel experiences can vary drastically. The two female travelers whose experiences I had learned about just before I set off to explore Colombia, both had terrible, even traumatizing, experiences. And reading about those experiences  definitely made me more careful throughout my own trip.

I expected to get robbed and lose all of my stuff, so much so that I opted for the more expensive World Nomads travel insurance, the Total Explorer instead of the Standard Policy (because it covers more). After reading what was necessary for a claim, I even took pictures of the serial numbers of all of my electronics (camera, laptop, kindle, iPhone) and emailed them to myself. I made sure that I had a digital copy of my passport, and left an external hard drive with a backup of my laptop at my friend’s house. I was ready to hand it all over to some rebels who for sure would rob me on a bus ride through the mountains in which they were hiding out.

Spoiler alert: That never happened. I traveled through Colombia for ten weeks, visited big cities like Bogotá and Medellin, the sketchy border triangle of Peru, Colombia and Brazil in the Amazon, and the coffee region, where my friend’s friend had been robbed a few months before I got there.

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Ville de Leyva, hands down the place I felt the safest in all of Colombia.

Did I Feel Safe Traveling In Colombia?

Yes. I was a nervous wreck at first, but I relaxed quickly. It definitely helped that I had a companion for the first two weeks, and that every solo female traveler that crossed my path who I bombarded with questions about incidents assured me that they felt completely safe. No incidents whatsoever.

That helped ease my mind before I continued my trip on my own. After a 14-day trip almost without any incidents (I explain the ‘almost’ later on) through Cartagena, Santa Marta, Minca and Palomino with my friend, I set off on a four day trek through the jungle, which has become so popular in recent years that not just one group of hikers heads out into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to discover the ‘Lost City’, but groups from four or five different trekking companies, accounting for 50 to 60 people on the trail every day! Sure, that’s still far from the numbers of the well-worn Inca Trail but the ever expanding campsites showed just how much tourism has grown in recent years. Not once did I feel unsafe while hiking through the jungle in Colombia.

dangerous creatures of colombia
The things I was most scared of most in Colombia: Being attacked by one of these.

Kidnappings in Colombia?

To show you how much safer Colombia has become: on that very trek, eight hikers were kidnapped by ELN rebels (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), a left-wing guerilla group, in 2005. Our guide’s tales of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, another left-wing guerilla group) coming to his family’s property and claiming it, forcing them to support them or they’d be shot, seemed like they came from another century, but these tales represented  their harsh reality and had happened only a few years ago. And now I was walking through the jungle there, sometimes all by myself for long stretches, but I never feared some rebels would jump out of the bushes to kidnap me.solo female travel in colombiaAs far as kidnappings go, they don’t seem to occur in touristy areas, if at all, now that the FARC and the Colombian government came to a peace agreement. Kidnappings have decreased drastically over the course of fifteen years in Colombia: while in 2000, over 3,500 people were kidnapped, the number had dropped to 213 in 2015 and continues to decline. And let’s take a closer look at the recent kidnappings of foreigners that made international news: a Norwegian guy was kidnapped by guerillas in 2013 when he was crossing the Darian Gap on foot (which is insane!), and an American was kidnapped by the FARC in the same year while trekking in the rain forest near the Ecuadorian border – against the advice of Colombian police and others, so go figure. As long as you are staying on the tourist trail, you probably  won’t find yourself face-to-face with the few guerilla groups that are still operating.

Traveling on Public Buses in Colombia

You may encounter guerilla groups while on a public bus, however, or at least armed robbers, like Anne and Jaimee who were just six days into their trip when their bus was hijacked by six gun-wielding passengers who took everything from them, consequently not only ruining their trip but also leaving them deeply traumatized. I had emailed Anne prior to my trip and took her advice to avoid public buses and take planes whenever possible instead (luckily domestic flights are very cheap!). Anne also sent me the link to her guesthouse in Salento which has some information on bus robberies in that area on their website, stating that ‘in the past couple of months the last bus from Armenia to Salento has been held up twice by armed robbers.’ Even though the information is older, it is obviously still relevant and worth a read for the safety precautions they mention.

I ended up taking the bus from Pereira, where I had flown into, to nearby Salento, one of Colombia’s most charming and most touristy little towns. I decided, however, to stay in Pereira for a night instead of taking the bus in the evening since my flight got in after dark. I am usually okay with long bus rides, but after hearing about Anne’s experience I flew from Santa Marta to Bogota instead of taking the bus, and the few buses I took were only during the day, and I wore a T-shirt with a secret pocket (see below in safety tips). I survived all bus rides I took just fine and was more scared to be killed by the crazy driving of the drivers (which seems to be a problem in all of South America) than by hijackers. But again – this is situational, and Anne and Jaimee who were in the same spot a few months earlier were not as lucky as I was.

valle de cocora
The Valle De Cocora near Salento – I am glad I went because it is so beautiful

I would recommend avoiding night buses and opt for flights whenever possible.

As for inner-city buses: I took them several times and I never encountered any issues, but I read that pickpocketing on buses in Bogota is not uncommon, so be vigilant if you take the bus and always keep your backpack with you, ideally on your lap, never in the overhead compartment or under the seat.

Is Bogota Safe?

Bogota was the city where I was the most worried about my safety because the city doesn’t have a great reputation. I really wanted to stay in La Candelaria, the historic center, but had heard that this was the most dangerous part of the city, with muggings and robberies even in broad  daylight. The Lonely Planet painted such a black picture of the city that I even contemplated skipping Bogota entirely. You can read their take on Dangers in Bogota here.

Eventually, I decided not to skip Bogota but to stay in the Chapinero neighborhood for the first couple of days, right in the heart of Bogota’s financial center, where you find more upscale hotels and where global corporations have their offices – in short: a safer area of town. To check out La Candelaria, I hopped in a cab (more on cabs in a minute) and went there during the day to see how safe I felt about it and if I wanted to move into a hostel over there.Bogota la candelaria streetWhen I arrived in La Candelaria, I was a bit nervous, and probably a bit paranoid, and the presence of heavily armed police officers throughout the neighborhood didn’t help in calming me down. However, I loved the neighborhood with its colorful street art and Spanish colonial houses and moved over there a few days later. I thought to myself that the police presence was probably a good thing to keep the bad guys out of sight (ironically, the police men all disappeared as soon as it got dark though).

While my paranoia/fear never completely faded, I felt safe enough to carry my laptop with me during the day, my dSLR camera, and my phone. However, at no time did I flash any of these items, and when I took photos I made sure to put my camera or phone back in my bag immediately after I took the shot. I ended up staying much longer in Bogota than expected and was glad that I didn’t let the Lonely Planet or other travelers’ experience scare me off visiting Colombia’s capital.

Two of the articles that made me super cautious about La Candelaria was this one by Britany:

Robbed in Bogota, and this one: Getting Mugged At Knifepoint In Bogota.

In it, Megan writes:

One of the main problems with traveling in a place like Colombia is the mixed information that you’ll get. Some people say it’s perfectly safe and that they’ve never had any problems. Other people have endless horror stories. The thing they often have in common? They were doing the same things in the same places and conducting themselves in the same way.

And I couldn’t agree more with this – I had heard so many horror stories about Bogota and especially La Candelaria, and yet, I was completely fine. I was walking around the deserted streets of La Candelaria at 2am all by myself, and during the day, I walked with my laptop in my bag to work in coffee shops, and not just once, but almost every day (I spent well over a week in Bogota).

I hiked in the Valle De Cocora without any incidents but other people were robbed on that very same hike. I felt extremely safe in Medellin, especially in the upscale Poblado neighborhood, but only a few months before I visited, an American tourist was killed there when he refused to give up his valuables in a robbery.

Like I said, it is all situational. The main thing to know about Colombia is: there is a chance that something could happen to you. And that’s the difference to a country like Japan, for example, where safety isn’t something travelers have to be concerned about.bogota cathedral1

Being Drugged in Colombia

Another reason why I was so afraid of spending time in Bogota was because somebody had told me about a drug named Scopolamine (also known as Devil’s Breath and Burundanga) which is a powder that is usually blown off a piece of paper into a victim’s face, with criminals would walk up to tourists with a map in their hand pretending to wanting to ask for help. But instead, they are drugging you.

villa de leyva drinks
Always keep an eye on your drink!

Scopolamine makes victims completely lose control over their own thinking – they can be talked into walking to an ATM and withdraw money, or hand over their credit cards complete with PIN numbers, and so on. And the worst part: victims usually don’t even remember anything of what happened to them! Another way to get drugged with Scopolamine is by putting it in your drink, so not only was I on the lookout for people with a piece of paper in their hands, but I always made sure I didn’t leave my drink out of sight when I went out at night.

I wanted to mention this here because I had never even heard of this drug but reading up on it prior to my trip made me be more aware of my surroundings and apparently cases of Scopolamine druggings went up by 133% in Medellin in 2015 – so this is definitely something to be aware of. Especially female travelers , because other than theft, rape is the most common thing the drug is used for.

WorldNomads has a good article on how to avoid getting drugged in Colombia: How to avoid getting drugged in Colombia – Stay safe!

Are Taxis Safe in Colombia?

My very last stop in Colombia was Medellin, where I was staying with some friends. When they found out that I didn’t use UBER, but normal taxis, they freaked out. “This isn’t safe!!”, I was told, and then I was schooled on taxi kidnappings and robberies in which cab drivers bring you to a deserted area of town to rid you of all your belongings. Hearing that freaked me out, but then, looking back at ten weeks of me waving down cabs, I realized that not once did I feel unsafe in a taxi. I guess it helped that I speak Spanish and was always able to converse with the driver. In Bogota, when I took a cab from the airport to the hotel, the driver even ran after me to bring my iPhone to the reception, which had fallen out of my pocket in the cab.

Were There Sketchy Moments During my Travels in Colombia?  

I’m not going to sugarcoat my experience in Colombia – while nothing bad happened to me and I felt safe there, even when I was by myself, there were three sketchy moments I should mention.

  1. Burglary in Palomino

For one, my beach bungalow in Palomino was burgled. I am still so grateful that I didn’t lose anything, because that happened only a few days into my trip and could have easily ended it right then and there.

It happened during the day, and the burglar(s) must have jumped on the chance of an unlocked window (even though my friend and I were sure that we had closed them), climbed in through the window and started to look through all of our belongings. When we returned from the beach later that day, we came back to find our room looking like something had exploded in there: all of our stuff was strewn across the floor.

palomino bungalow break-in
The break-in aftermath

Someone had emptied out little cosmetic bags and rummaged through all of our luggage. Everything except for the main compartment of my backpack, which I had locked up with a little padlock (mind you, the key for the lock was hidden in the room!). A real thief would’ve just sliced the bag open, or even taken it, which is why I think it was someone who simply saw an opportunity and got interrupted at some point, and so he/they left without our passports, cash, credit cards, laptops and other valuables. I know: I am incredibly lucky!

Even though that happened at the beginning of the trip, it didn’t change my mind about how safe I generally felt. Beach bungalow break-ins happen everywhere in the world, not only in Colombia. And we were assured that the sleepy beach village of Palomino was one of the safest places in the country, which I fully believed.

  1. Heeding a Warning in Medellin

The only time I felt a little tense about my surroundings was in Medellin. I had explored the city on my own and was ready to head back to my friends’ house. I typed the address into Google maps on my phone and followed the directions. Halfway, I was stopped by a guy on a pedestrian bridge who was walking in the direction I just came from. “What are you doing here?”, he asked me in Spanish. I replied that I was on my way home to where I was staying. “You really shouldn’t be here”, he said. “Why?”, I asked, since the area seemed perfectly fine to me. “It’s not safe”, he answered, and I immediately turned around with him, taking a longer way home. Even though that path seemed fine to me, I wasn’t going to risk it after being warned by a local.

medellin botero sculpture15
20 years ago, Medellin was everything but safe. 30 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when a bomb, placed in the base of this Botero sculpture, exploded. One of only many attacks during the time when Medellin was controlled by the Cali drug cartel.

And that’s my main advice: Listen to locals and follow your instinct. My instinct in that moment was to go back. In other towns I visited, like Pereira, a city I barely knew anything about, I asked the hostel staff if it was fine to walk around by myself at night, as a solo female traveler in Colombia, and whenever someone told me to take a cab, that’s what I did.

  1. Guerrillas in Leticia

Leticia is a small town in the Amazon, right on the border to Peru and Brazil. I wouldn’t have thought of it as unsafe, but then I happened to come across this short paragraph on safety in my Lonely Planet:

‘A longstanding military presence in the region tries to keep Leticia/Tabatinga and the surrounding region safe, but there are issues. Former narcotraffickers, guerrillas, paramilitaries and raspachines (coca-plant harvesters) who have been re-inserted into mainstream society and now live on the outskirts of Leticia and Puerto Nariño run poker houses, dubious bars and the like around the city. Don’t wander outside these urban areas on your own at night, especially on Leticia’s infamous ‘Los Kilometros’ road.’

leticia colombia1
Quaint little Leticia

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a border town in a region known for its drug production and trafficking is sketchy, but I never felt unsafe walking around there – until one day when my travel companion and I were on our way back to the hostel from dinner.

A motorbike with two guys passed us, the one in the back carrying a large rifle or some kind of machine gun. They looked at us, then turned around and drove back towards us. My heart dropped. I felt how my friend also stiffened up and pulled me behind a little wall. I was so scared that I started shaking, and all I could hear was my heart beating in my chest. I was sure we were going to get shot. However, they did not come back for us. I am mentioning it because this was by far the scariest moment I had in all of my time in Colombia (and the only time that I saw someone I’d identify as a guerilla).

Conclusion: Is it safe to travel in Colombia?

As you can see, even though nothing happened to me personally and I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, I never felt as carefree in Colombia as I did in Chile for example, where I never worried about being robbed or drugged. But in Colombia, where I had heard just too many negative stories, I never let my guard down. It can get quite exhausting to always be ‘on alert’, but being with another person helped me a lot to relax, which is why I tried to travel with someone as often as possible.

snake dangers colombia
Other serious dangers in Colombia: Very poisonous snakes, who are carnivores.

I had such an amazing time in Colombia that I wouldn’t think twice about recommending it as a travel destination to other independent travelers, including female solo travelers (I know that others will disagree here). Just don’t be stupid. Take precautions and be aware of possible threats to your safety, and inform yourself before you visit Colombia, for example with this article and the following tips for staying safe in Colombia:

My Tips for Staying Safe in Colombia

Dar Papaya: Do (not) give papaya

This is a very common saying in Colombia, and while it sounds strange when you translate it literally: give papaya, it means making yourself an easy target, setting yourself up to have something taken from you. Basically: if you flash jewelry or a fancy phone, it is your own fault when somebody tries to take it from you. Don’t ever flash your money or valuables.

dani and sloth
This is exactly what you SHOULDN’T do: flash both your iPhone and your expensive camera. But hey.. THERE WAS A SLOTH!!

Don’t carry any valuables with you

On that note, try to have as few valuable items on you as possible. I would only ever take my credit card with me when I was planning on taking out cash, and I had only as much cash on me as I was planning to spend. I rarely had more than $20 on me – unless I was traveling to a new city and had everything I owned on me. For which:

Be pickpocket-proof in Colombia

With that I don’t necessarily mean wearing pickpocket-proof underwear (even though I wore my Clever Travel Companion T-Shirt with an invisible, hidden pocket every time I was traveling from one city to another), but just keeping your wallet and phone in a safe place where it can’t be reached easily. If you keep it in the pocket of your jacket, make sure you zip it up, if you carry a wallet, make sure it can’t be taken out of your bag or pocket easily. I usually just carried a bit of cash in my jeans pocket which are almost impossible to get into, especially without me noticing.clever travel companion tshirtBe prepared for the worst case scenario

And should the worst case scenario happen to you, be prepared. Email yourself a digital copy of your passport before you leave on your trip, and most importantly: invest in travel insurance. I use World Nomads, and as I mentioned before, I took down all the serial numbers of my electronics to make sure I’d get reimbursed for them in the case of theft. Read the small print of the travel insurance you are buying to find out what you need to make a claim. And most importantly: Make sure the travel insurance of your choice covers Colombia! Some travel insurances don’t cover countries for which a government travel warning is issued. Also know the numbers to call in case you have to report a stolen credit card and write down your credit card information somewhere.

Use only safe ATMs in Colombia

I only ever took out money at ATMs in proper banks, not at ATMs in the street. I tried to always have someone with me, and if I was by myself, I was monitoring my surroundings for sketchy people extra carefully.

Trust your instincts

If something feels off to you, get out of the situation. That goes for a dodgy taxi ride, questionable travel buddies, or anything else that sets the alarm bells off in your head.palomino beach daniUse UBER or another taxi app

If you’re feeling uneasy about taking regular taxis, download UBER (iOS/Android) or one of the other two popular taxi apps EasyTaxi and Tappsi (download for iOS/download for Android). EasyTaxi (download for iOS/download for Android) is more prevalent than UBER in Colombia, but Medellin and Bogota both have UBER. It is affordable and worth the few extra dollars to have peace of mind, knowing your driver is registered with the app, so they will be less inclined to bring you to the outskirts of town and leave you there, driving off with your belongings.

If you want to be on the safe side when you’re first arriving in Colombia, consider booking private transportation from the airport to your hotel / hostel.

Team up with other travelers in Colombia

Team up with other travelers whenever possible. It is always easier to keep an eye on your belongings when there are  two pairs of eyes instead of just one. It is also safer to go out at night in a group, making you a less easy target than if you were walking around all by yourself.bogota friends

Inform yourself

I made it a habit to always read the safety section in the Lonely Planet before I arrived at a new destination to inform myself of the safety concerns in that area,  and I always read the entire WikiTravel for a place I visit, not just because it has generally very useful and comprehensive information, but the ‘Stay Safe’ section is usually more up-to-date than the one in a travel guide. I also googled ‘robbed in Bogota’ or ‘robbed in Salento’ for example, before I got there, because I knew it’d bring up Tripadvisor forum discussions or blog posts for these keywords, giving me the chance to find out if there had been any incidents lately.

Further reading:

…and finally:

My 13 favorite travel moments from Colombia

…to remember why it is worth it to travel to Colombia!

Have you been to Colombia? Did you feel safe or did you have any unpleasant experiences? Share in the comments below….

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Struck by a wave of charm in Valdivia

sea lions in valdivia

During a trip through Chile, odds are that unless you are Chilean or have unlimited time to travel, you probably won’t visit Valdivia.

Why would you?

Although it is the largest city in the south of Chile, it roughly four hours south of tourist-friendly Pucón and the same distance north of Puerto Varas, a popular stop with the South American cruises, and has no major tourist attractions to speak of.

valdivia riverside and fish market
Covered fish market and Valdivia from the river

We love these kinds of cities, the ones that are entirely unconcerned with tourists.

Their beauty is a natural one, no make-up, nothing over the top, out in plain sight for us to discover.

That’s why we fell for places like Valladolid in Mexico (we ask you not to even go there), Kamphaeng Phet (the town that tourism forgot) in Thailand and now Valdivia in Chile. While there is no earth-shattering attraction, it turns out that an event here actually altered the Earth forever.

valdivia streetLet’s back up a bit first. To understand Valdivia, the easiest place to start is by heading straight down to the river at the center of town. Not one river, actually this is where the confluence of three major rivers, the Calle-Calle, the Valdivia and the Cau-Cau.

It was here at the famous outdoor fish market, that, despite the bloody fish guts splattered on the floor, for us Valdivia began to sparkle.

valdivia market fish vendorIt is bursting with gorgeous produce on one side – fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of colorful tubers, eggs, cheese, big cubes of dark green seaweed and another thick, rubbery type that looks more like animal intestine but is indeed seaweed straight from the area’s river system. Varieties of freshly caught river fish with strangely large teeth, or whiskers and tails stare across the aisle at the vegetarian-friendly section as fishmongers clean them, tossing their guts right onto the floor and then hosing them into the river behind them.

valdivia market algaeHundreds of birds hover and swoop in for this free fishy lunch, competing with six massive sea lions who roar, play fight and flap about lazily on a floating wooden pier just off river bank, both sure that they are the true main attraction.

The sea lions win, flippers down.

sea lion valdiviaAt one point Dani thought a space ship had landed in the market when seeing my eyes so wide with disbelief. The largest of the sea lions had made its way past the metal security gates and flopped right into the market itself. Hundreds of tourists with their cameras suddenly circled (at a safe distance) taking pictures with their phones, cameras, iPods and (annoyingly) iPads.

Dani jumped down right near him, of course, to get her shot, and though the market vendors were obviously used to this beast’s visit, they were amused with Dani’s eagerness to get the shot and kept urging her to touch him. She didn’t, instead letting some of the mongers lure him back into the water by dumping ever more fish guts into the water.

valdivia sea lion attackA stroll along the river brought us to the spot where river tours leave from – right in front of Fucoult’s Pendulum. You’d have to be much smarter than us to understand more than a basic gist, but we gleaned that the swinging of the pendulum proves the earth’s rotation.

In Valdivia, it turns out, this is more relevant than we would have thought.

valdivia submarineWe hopped on a one-hour river tour here (Spanish only) that gives a great outline of the history and industry of the city, but it was here we learned that Valdivia was the most affected city of the 1960 Great Chilean Earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in history.

Registering a 9.5 on the Richter scale, the quake was so powerful it actually altered the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of every day on Earth by a few milliseconds.

Tsunami waves of over 80ft (25m) battered the Chilean coast and actually devastated a town in Hawaii. Learning this, and that waves as high as 35 ft (10.7m) were recorded over 6,000 miles (10,000km) from the epicenter – as far as Japan – while sitting on a small tour boat was not exactly where we would have chosen to hear of this earth-shattering event.

valdivia riverOur visit was calm and focused on experiencing the everyday life of the city’s residents. The weather was sunny and warm, so hundreds of people were out on the river in kayaks and paddle boats, with more serious rowers speeding up and down it, parallel to the length of the city. While we were there, we ate well in several restaurants with fair, local prices.

In particular we would recommend a stop in at La Ultima Frontera, just a few blocks up and away from the river, for their great priced and delicious lunch specials. For a boozy afternoon break, stop by the very local Cafe Palace, where we had a giant bowl of Patatas Bravas and 2-for-1 pisco sours for a total of $8. There is primary forest to be visited outside of the city and incredible wildlife just across the river, but we were focused on a city getaway in the middle of a month of Patagonian adventure. We spent the afternoons visiting museums, like the contemporary art museum, and stopping in cozy, if nondescript, cafes, noticing each time that if a place offered free Wi-Fi, the internet connection always worked.

Valdivia from modern art museum
Valdivia from the Modern Art Museum across the river

This is how we feel in general with most of Chile. While lacking in the crumbling grandeur (and constant threat of economic disaster) of neighboring Argentina, in Chile everything just works. The economy here is strong and the infrastructure solid. Even in remote areas, roads are paved and internet connections are speedy. There is a sense of order here, throughout the country that we found even in bohemian Valparaiso and seven-million strong Santiago.

In Valdivia, the waves are calm enough again to witness the subtle aspects of charming Chilean life.

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Uruguay Hotel Tip: Posada de la Viuda, Punta del Diablo

hotel tip of the week

Having local friends show you around is the best way to explore a new town. During our stay in Punta del Diablo, we had a gang of three four-legged friends from our hostel lead us down the organized grid of unpaved roads, up and over the massive sand dunes and along the beach. They waited patiently while we bought groceries to cook in the Viuda’s well-equipped kitchen and laid by our feet after dinner at night for cuddles.

Luckily the owners and staff were just as helpful and nice as our furry friends – which is the actual reason we’re recommending Posada de la Viuda for a hostel stay in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

Hostal Punta del Diablo UruguayTo be honest, our stayed ended on a much more enthusiastic note than it first began. Our bus pulled into town around eight in the evening, and a pick up truck from the hostel was waiting to take us there. That was a good sign, but the minute we drove out of the village center – which quite literally took under a minute – it was still a bit of a drive through pitch black, dusty roads to get to the hostel.

We immediately wondered how we would ever find our way back for dinner (we were starving) and just what we had booked ourselves into. I’m actually quite shy, and when we opened the door into a room of over 20 people lounging in the living room and kitchen area of the giant yellow house, I felt immediately intimidated. To be fair, most people glanced up shortly from their smart phones, iPads, laptops or the movie that was showing on the flat screen. The next day, Dani and I would both realize that they were sucked into the relaxing trance that Posada de la Viuda puts on you, and we would also be entirely caught up in it.

Posada De La ViudaWe were checked in by the same friendly guy who drove us back from town, and after he showed us to our room, he said that he and a few others were heading back in to town and offered to take us in ten minutes. We quickly settled in to our private room on the ground floor. It was small but tastefully decorated.

The bed was narrow but comfortable, at the foot of it, a 20inch TV with DVD player sat on the desk. Right across the hall were the three shared bathrooms, which were cleaned early each morning before breakfast and throughout each day of our stay. There are dorms and bathrooms upstairs, plus two more private rooms and two small dorm rooms downstairs. We quickly freshened up and rummaged around in our bags to find our flashlights for the trip back from town later.

Uruguay Hostel Punta del DiabloAlmost everything about the fisherman’s village of Punta del Diablo is just perfect, but the food selection leaves much to be desired. Just that one time, we shoveled the overpriced, mediocre tourist food down and made sure to stop in two different grocery shops in town. We bought enough to cook for the duration of our stay, and headed for home.

There could be more signs pointing the way, but it was easy and we felt perfectly safe walking home that night and every other. We would never walk alone again anyway, for the four days we spent in town. Our dogs were always by our side and our favorite Great Dane mix even walked us all the way to the bus at 8am on the morning we left for Punta del Este.

Posada de la viuda punta del diabloWith Brazilian songs pumping happily in the background (it is only an hour to the border from here), breakfast each morning consisted of big, puffy white and wheat rolls with oodles of butter, fresh marmalade and dulce de leche, plus bottomless coffee, tea and mate. After months of traveling through South America, this was easily one of the best versions of this breakfast we had ever been served. Three giggly yet stylish girls prepared breakfast each day, and were also around most the afternoon baking and cooking together, always assuring fresh pastries, cakes, quiches and empanadas were available (for purchase) throughout the day.

Even when they were in there cooking, there was enough space, utensils, appliances, stove tops, dishes, pots and pans for us and others to cook along side each other. The kitchen was easily one of the highlights of Posada de la Viuda, especially considering the 20 minute walk into town where all the restaurants are.Posada De La Viuda BreakfastAfter breakfast each day we tended to go for a walk with the dogs, up over the sand dunes to walk along the beach. The weather in March, Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, was chilly at dawn and dusk, but after hours is the hot afternoon sun, we meandered back through the sandy streets, past the vacation homes, each designed by professional architects. We would dream of renting one the next time we were in town, but in all honesty, after getting back to the hostel and setting up our computers to work at the tables in the cool afternoon breeze, we didn’t ever feel like we were missing anything during our stay.

We worked until the hostel kitchen got busy around dinner time (which is later in South America, so we had a good five or so hours to work each day). The Wi-Fi here was strong enough for guests to all sit around on their devices, Skyping or emailing in the evening, and because it was off season, there wasn’t much other to do in the evenings than that, or watch movies sprawled out together on the leather couches and armchairs in the living room.

Hostel in Uruguay Punta Del Diablo

Stand Out Feature: More than meets the eye

During our stay at Posada de la Viuda, we spent a lot of time actually hanging around the hotel and every day we discovered new amenities. There is a pool in the back, plus a multi-level sun deck with ocean views, loads of space to barbecue, sun chairs, hammocks, tire swings, even a volleyball court. In addition to the freshly baked goods in the kitchen, there is also a fridge selling beer, water, soda, chocolate and other snacks at nearly the same price as in town. Any time the jeep heads into town, someone does offer to take you, but there are also bikes for rent for $5 a day. There are also brand new apartments for rent off site, if you are looking to stay longer term or have more privacy.

Hostel Punta Del Diablo Uruguay

Room for improvement: Signage

I can’t ask the hotel to move closer to the beach any more than I can ask the beach to relocate nearer to the hotel. All I would like is for the information on the website to reflect the reality that it’s a 15-20 minute walk into town, not five minutes, and I wouldn’t mind one or two lit signs on the main road and on one of the darker side roads lighting the way a bit more clearly to hostel. I really wonder if I would have found it at night as easily if I didn’t have my real-life GPS Dani with me.

posada de la viuda signs

Posada de la Viuda: Overall

Overall, staying in this big yellow house feels like the parents have gone away, only to leave their enthusiastic kids in charge. There is a happy, chilled vibe that immediately relaxed us during our stay. We got a bizarre amount of writing done, in a sort of serene haze, not lazy, just no stress whatsoever. With a cool, laid-back vibe, Posada de la Viuda manages to meet every need before you know you’re missing something, and made us so welcome and comfortable that we extended for one extra night, just so we could hang out for one more day (and play with the dogs, obviously).

Punta del Diablo

Details: Posada De La Viuda

Location: Calles San Luis y Nueva Granada, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Price: Starting at US$10 for a dorm bed, US$40 for a double room (shared bathroom)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, fully equipped kitchen, food and drinks available for purchase, free wi-fi, swimming pool, comprehensive book and DVD library, terrace, hammocks, bicycle rental, apartments available
Website: www.posadadelaviuda.com

Warning: In Punta del Diablo the ATM (Cash machine) only works in January and February!

We booked this hostel through

booking

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