Quito, Ecuador: A Photo Diary

I visited Quito, Ecuador with my brother in April, 2016. We arrived via a 24 hour bus from Cali, Colombia. It was a quick trip in Quito, we were more passing through rather than fully experiencing the country (I’ll definitely be back!). Nonetheless, we were able to see a bit of the beautiful, sprawling city of Quito, Ecuador.Quito Ecuador What to Do

changing of the guards

We started off with a fascinating changing of the guards ceremony in the city center. We were lucky enough to be in Quito, Ecuador on a Monday morning at 11 am, just in time for the ceremony. It typically happens once a week, every Monday at 11am.

Quito Ecuador Changing of the GuardsQuito Ecuador Changing of the GuardsQuito Ecuador Changing of the GuardsQuito Ecuador Changing of the Guards Quito Ecuador Changing of the GuardsQuito Ecuador Changing of the Guards

The ceremony lasted about an hour. After that, we walked around the city center, checking out the tourists and the tourist shops. We felt a little restless, so decided to venture outside of the city center for a hike up the hill.

Quito, Ecuador: Walk through the city

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We walked up the hill to the Virgin of Quito madonna statue – it’s on a 200-meter-high hill in between Central and Southern Quito. The hill is named El Panecillo, and it originated from a volcano. It was a tough hike up loads of stairs, but the views in the end made up for it.

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We may have even made a friend on the way up…

I wish I could have kept him!

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At last, we made it to the top.

Quito Ecuador Madonna atop El PanecilloThe statue at the top is a Madonna, made out of aluminium. It’s beautiful, and even more striking in person.

Quito Ecuador El Panecillo Virgin of Quito

post-hike… put a winky face in the comments below if you can see my sweat marks from my purse 😉

I decided that after such exertion, we deserved a reward. We headed down to the shop I had my eye set on – the chocolate shop. Quito Ecuador Chocolate Republica del Cacao

I paid an embarrassing amount of money for a bar of high quality chocolate and some dark chocolate covered bananas. Pro tip: if you ever find chocolate covered bananas, GET THEM. These are incredible, and I have to admit, they didn’t last long (and I refused to share… #sorrynotsorry).

Though our trip to Quito was short, I very much enjoyed what I saw of Ecuador and hope to go back soon. The city is beautiful, and what I saw of the countryside on the way in was even more stunning.

Quito Ecuador City Views Spring

Important Note

Ecuador suffered a massive earthquake of a 7.8 magnitude the day before we arrived. It was devastating to see the effects of the earthquake. Buildings had crumbled into the streets and a lot of people were injured. The earthquake hit the strongest in a sparsely populated part of the country, but still over 600 people were killed, and over 16,000 people injured.

When I visited Quito, the country was in a state of emergency. It was heartwarming to see all of the volunteers coming together to donate and set off to help. I wish I could have helped, but I already had onward travel planned. This is one of the reasons I recommend not planning ahead while traveling.

The Specifics
  • We stayed at the Secret Garden. I definitely recommend it – it’s quiet, has a great rooftop, and I took my first hot shower in months here. They have another hostel in Cotopaxi which won top 1% of hostels worldwide, but I haven’t been. 🙂
  • Food in Ecuador is super cheap. Expect to pay about $1.50-$2 USD for a meal from a local restaurant.

Questions or Comments? Leave me a comment below!

 

 

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Getting To Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – and for good reason. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

I visited Machu Picchu in May 2016; it was the end of my first trip to South America. I started off by spending a few days in Cusco, the adorable little city that acts as the hub for tourists to acclimate to the elevation before going to Machu Picchu, which is located in Aguas Calientes.

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I stayed in Cusco for five days before heading to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu. I didn’t think I had any problems acclimating to the elevation, until I took a flight of stairs to get to my hostel dorm. It was a bit tough to get up, but I’m not sure if that is from the elevation or the shape I am in 😉

I booked a tour from a local tour company to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, which cost $200 USD and included the following:

  • Transport by van to the railway to get to Aguas Calientes (there is a 3 hour drive before a 30 mins train ride), and back to Cusco
  • Hotel room for one night (one room, two twin beds, shared with my brother)
  • Lunch, Dinner on day one; Breakfast on day 2
  • Tour guide for your exploration of Machu Picchu
  • Ticket entry to Machu Picchu

This tour did NOT include the following:

  • train service from Hidroelectrico to Aguas Calientes (a 30 min, $30 train ride, or about 3-4 hour hike)
  • the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (a 10 min, $18 bus ride, or 1 hour hike)

We left on this tour early in the morning on Day 1. We met at the city center, hopped in a taxi van, and were driven about 3 hours out of Cusco to Hidroelectrico. We had a pit stop to use the restroom and grab a coffee/lunch/snack if we needed it. We drove a bit more and then had another stop off for lunch, at an open concept, local restaurant surrounded by mountains.

We arrived in Hidroelectrico (where the road ends) at about 2:30 PM. My brother and I were interested in a little hike, so we strapped our backpacks on and began the trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes with the rest of our group.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

The hike had some beautiful views, and took us about 3 hours to get to Aguas Calientes. We trekked up the mountain into the city just as the sun was about to set. We were assigned a room at the hotel, had a briefing with the tour guide, and then went to sleep, as we had an early morning.

Getting To Machu Picchu

We woke up at 4 am the next day to head up to Machu Picchu. My brother and I had purchased round trip tickets for the bus to get up to Machu Picchu the night before. Another option is to hike up the mountain; it’s a very steep, 1 hour hike, which you’ll have to begin at 4 am. I’m not a morning person, so bus tickets were worth the $36 round trip to me. Pro Tip: if you are in decent shape before going to Machu Picchu, you can save a pretty penny on transport by hiking.

We got in to Machu Picchu early in the morning and walked through the ruins with a guide. It was so foggy, but the guide said it could clear up before we left.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

After our guided tour, which was very informative, we had a couple hours to wander. The llamas were all over the place. I actually had to jump out of the way while walking up some stairs to avoid getting stampeded by a llama!

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

We walked up to the top of the mountain for the best view – but it was still a bit foggy.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Overall, it was a great trip. If you’d like to see Machu Picchu, I’d highly recommend going sooner rather than later. The tour guide mentioned that the tourism at Machu Picchu is causing some erosion of the mountain – meaning that it could be shut down to tourists as soon as two years from now!

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu: 

  • Save money by hiking versus taking expensive transport
  • Bring food into Machu Picchu – there is one restaurant there and it’s very expensive
  • Don’t overpack – this will make it easier to hike and get around in general
  • I would recommend not booking a tour, or booking a 3+ day tour, to get the most amount of time at Machu Picchu (I was only at Machu Picchu for about 4 hours total; not very much time considering how long it took to get there)
  • Bring water
  • Wear layers, as it gets very cool and windy
  • Bring an umbrella and rain poncho even if you don’t go during the rainy season
  • If you have time, spend a couple days in Aguas Calientes. It’s a cute little town and full of natural beauty – take a soak in the hot springs or take a hike outside of the town to see waterfalls

Machu Picchu

 

 

 

 

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I haven’t written in a bit because I haven’t been sure how to word what I wanted to say. I was in Colombia for two weeks, and I wanted to write a bit about how it was there. I decided not to take my camera out and about in Colombia most of the time, due to the amount of muggings that happened to my friends and people I met there. I wanted to do a post of all of the beautiful art in Colombia, but I don’t have many pictures. What I DO have, though, is a lot of crazy stories about what happened in Colombia. A lot of people have asked me what it was like there, tourist-wise and safety-wise, so I’m going to give you the full rundown.

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I would first like to say that although it felt really dangerous in Cali (it is the most dangerous city in Colombia, which is one of the most dangerous cities in South America), I did have a lot of fun there. The hostel that I stayed at was great (check out El Viajero if you go to Cali), I met a lot of really awesome people, and I really enjoyed being there. I did get a bit stressed out hearing about what was happening to other people, so I didn’t go out any more than I needed to. I basically just went out to get food and groceries, plus one day I walked to the park (which was about three blocks away…).

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These are the craziest things that happened in Colombia.

  1. the day I arrived, I made some friends. They told me that they were out the night before, and right outside the hostel, a large man came up to them. The man put a knife to the girls stomach and tried to rob them. The guy and the girl ran to the hostel and kept all the money they had just gotten out of the ATM, successfully getting away from the mugger.
  2. people were snorting cocaine in my dorm room. That moment is when I made the decision to live in luxury in a private room.
  3. I met an Australian girl at the hostel. She arrived the day after me. A few days into her stay, she went to a futbol game. It ended late at night, and she had to wander the streets to look for a taxi. She was with one guy. While they were walking and looking for a taxi, someone came up and started beating up the guy she was with. The attacker was trying to rob them. Someone else came from out of nowhere and peeled this attacker off of the guy she was with. They ran away and were able to get a taxi back to the hostel.
  4. I got really extreme food poisoning and was sick for two days. This prevented me from going to Ecuador when I had planned to leave, which prevented me from being in the middle of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Had I left when I was supposed to, I would have been on the coast of Ecuador when the earthquake hit. I never thought I would be grateful to have gotten sick.
  5. Almost every time I walked around (it didn’t matter if I was alone or with someone), almost every single guy I walked past would make disgusting kissing noises. Some of them were nicer than others, some just said “hola mi hermosa,” but some of them got pretty vulgar. It wasn’t the most enjoyable thing, but it happens at home also.

All of these stories together sound really bad. But I did go out dancing one night (I didn’t bring anything with me of course), and aside from getting a lot of offers to buy drugs, nothing major happened to me. I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t get assaulted, nothing happened. I actually danced with a local older gentleman who attempted to teach me some salsa and even sent a beer over to me after he saw how miserable I am at dancing. I accidentally ended up in a gay bar. It was a fun time, even though I’m a grandma and wanted to go home at midnight.

All in all, I really liked Colombia, and I met a lot of people who had been there for months and had no incidents. It really comes down to being smart, not wandering the streets at night, don’t carry valuables on you, and pay attention to your surroundings. I would love to go back to Colombia and see the northern part, which I missed on this trip. Colombia is beautiful, and can easily be done in a safe way. Santa Rosa de Cabal (where we did the coffee tour) is a really safe and cute town. Bogota was very cute and artsy. I would still recommend Colombia to anyone traveling in South America.

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I travel. A lot. I’ve spent some time in Costa Rica. It’s an amazing place. A lot of people want to go there. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, make sure you add these incredible places to your itinerary. This itinerary includes beaches, mountains, and both the Pacific and Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This itinerary can be made as expensive or inexpensive as you desire. Let’s start planning!

Day 1: Fly into the international airport in San Jose. Pick up a rental car from the airport – it’s by far the easiest way to get around. I would recommend an airbnb for the first night, to ensure maximum comfort and privacy. This is the one I stayed at (and loved!).

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Day 2: Take the three hour drive to Dominical. It’s on the Pacific side, has great beaches, a super cute downtown area, and lots of options for lodging. You can stay in a hostel for $10 a night downtown, or you can go luxurious with the best airbnb I’ve ever stayed at. My favorite restaurant here was Cafe Mono Congo – they offer a great variety of healthy, homemade foods. Patron’s has the best wifi, if that’s what you’re into.

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Relax at your place or on the Dominical beach the first full day – this is the perfect time to start those beach reads. There are a few places to buy fruit and souvenirs on the beach, so you may want to carve out some shopping time also.

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Day 3: Visit Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s about an hours drive from Dominical, but totally worth it. You are almost guaranteed to see monkeys (it would be really odd if you didn’t), plus there are sloths, deer, butterflies, waterfalls, and other wildlife. Plan to spend a whole day here; bring a lunch and wear your swimsuit. Be careful of the monkeys on the beach – they will try to steal your food! Bring a lot of water also – there is nowhere inside the park to buy more.

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After a full day of hiking and swimming at the park, go back to Dominical for the incredible sunsets.

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Day 4: This is where we go to the Caribbean side! Pack your luggage, and make the drive to Puerto Viejo. Stop at a little soda (a small, family owned, local restaurant) for an inexpensive but delicious lunch. There are tons of sodas on the way there. I took the route through the cloud forest of Costa Rica, so make sure you have time to stop and take some pictures.

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Puerto Viejo is a very cute and very small little town that is almost on the border of Panama. I decided to go budget-friendly here, and I stayed at Lion Fish Hostel, but there are a ton of options if you would prefer to go higher end. After checking in to your accommodation, I would recommend spending the afternoon at the beach in Puerto Viejo, then grabbing some dinner & drinks at any of the beach-front restaurants.

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Day 5: Take a stroll down the short jungle pathway in the morning. This is a short walk, right along the beach, but you are in the jungle. I saw sloths and howler monkeys while walking this path. After your walk, stop at Como En Mi Casa art cafe for breakfast. They offer a huge menu of fresh breakfasts, all homemade. You can go savory with a massive pancake, or healthy with smoothies, fresh bruschetta, and juices. They have the best coffee in Puerto Viejo by far; and everything is organic.

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After a filling breakfast, rent a bike and cruise down the street to Playa Chiquita. This beach is by far the best beach in Puerto Viejo – and it is usually completely deserted in the mornings. Pack a picnic, your book, and sunscreen, and take the 15 minute ride to the beach. This was actually the best beach I found in Costa Rica. If you feel like going out, there are restaurants on the way to the beach that offer smoothies, salads, burritos, pizza, and an array of tropical beverages.

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Ride your bike back in the late afternoon, and spend the rest of the evening relaxing in a hammock, or head over to any of the restaurants for a nice dinner and some more tropical drinks.

Day 6: Depending on your flight going out the next day, you may need to head back to San Jose today. If you can wait and head back tomorrow, check out either of the following places on your sixth day: Jaguar Rescue Center (if you want more wildlife), Cahuita National Park (hiking), or Terraventures Jungle Expeditions (if you are feeling adventurous – they offer great zip lining).

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Day 7: Pack it up and head home. Reminisce on how amazing it is to travel. Remember how great you feel and start planning your next adventure. 🙂

Thanks for reading! What did you think of my itinerary? Let me know in the comments if you’ve been to Costa Rica, or if you plan on going!

 

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I woke up this morning at 7:40 am to get ready to hike to the waterfall. At 9am, after I showered, sipped coffee, and demolished some oatmeal, our guide met us at our hostel to pick us up. We hopped in the back of the jeep and headed to the mountains.

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We walked down the super steep hills until we got to this really sketchy looking bridge.

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It was a little difficult, but we made it across, and hiked on. We had to stop every so often to hug a tree. You know… priorities.

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After about an hour hiking, we made it to the waterfall.

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It was beautiful. And difficult to get to. We had to take our shoes off and climb through the river to get the the falls.

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We found a little spring where I filled up my water bottle. We climbed over rocks. Barefoot. It was very wet. The falls were spraying water all over us. I was soaked without even going in the water. We turned around and went back a ways, and ate some corn cakes.

Colombia is big on corn cakes. It’s just ground corn, flour, and sugar, smashed into a thick pancake shape and then fried. After our corn cakes, I found a butterfly. I started taking pictures of it (I’m working on macro photography). And then…. it let me pick it up.

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What! I never thought this day would come. The butterfly kept flying away and coming back. It landed on my arm, my hand, even on top of my camera. The little guy and I became friends.

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What a beauty, eh?!

Eventually I had to let the butterfly go, and we headed back to the jeep. After crossing the terrifying bridge again, we stumbled upon black beauty.

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I pet her, hugged her, and we moved on. Up the extremely steep hill we went. I thought I was going to die a few times, but I made it. It probably would have been easier had I known what was waiting for me at the top.

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My god! I told the cooks at the restaurant that I don’t eat meat or cheese or dairy or eggs (they asked me a few times, because they thought it was so weird), and they made me this amazing plate! That little yellow baby is a fried plantain. It tastes like a sweet banana, fried. It’s incredible. I almost jumped up and down when I saw this.

We had a great day at the waterfall, followed by a topless jeep ride home. We stood up in the jeep and let the wind fly through our hair (well, I did). It was a perfect ending to the trip.

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This trip cost $70.000 pesos for both my brother and I (total). That evens out to about $22 TOTAL- food, transportation, and our own personal tour guide included. That is so crazy to me. $11 each for a half day of hiking, lunch, snacks, a personal photographer, and an unforgettable experience. If you are looking to travel on a budget, I would definitely recommend Colombia. It’s beautiful, there is so much to do, and it’s almost impossible to spend a ton of money. Now have I convinced you to go to Colombia?

Spanish words learned today: mariposa (butterfly), finca (farm), and caminar (to walk).

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments below if you would ever go to Colombia 🙂

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