The Highs and Lows of Panama, Colombia + Ecuador
It’s been two weeks since we touched ground back here in the good ‘ole U.S. of A., and I have to say that after three weeks of living out of my backpack, I’m happy to be home, but also looking forward to our new adventures next month.
It’s funny, because after our three weeks in Europe last spring, Jave and I weren’t at all looking forward to coming back home. We easily could’ve extended our stay in Copenhagen, the South of France, or even Berlin for another three weeks…or even three months! But this time around, we were both looking forward to coming home.
Don’t get me wrong – our trip was AMAZING. But, we were getting tired of missing certain conveniences like consistently hot showers, ATMs that work, businesses that accept credit cards, mosquito-free living…you know, things like that. And after three weeks of subsisting on seafood, patacones, and costeño cheese, I was so ready to indulge in a proper slice of pizza, and I developed an insatiable craving for BBQ baby backs. I know, I know…#firstworldproblems.
And to think that we initially planned on traveling for six weeks through South America, tacking on Chile and a return trip to Brazil to our itineraries! In retrospect, that would’ve been overkill. The more I travel, the more I realize that I’m not meant to be a nomadic gypsy with no place to call home. As much as I love exploring the world and seeking out new adventures, I also love coming home to our bed, a fridge full of food waiting to be cooked, and my family. There really is no place like home.
Nevertheless, this trip cemented my deep love for Central and South America, and I know that Jave and I will find ourselves returning to this part of the world over and over again. The next time around, in addition to Chile (it’s at the top of my travel wish list) and a return trip to Brazil, we hope to visit Uruguay (it’ll be a return visit for me although I haven’t been since I was young) and Bolivia in South America, and Guatemala and Belize are quite high on my list in Central America.
But for now, here are some of the highs and lows from our time traveling through Panama, Colombia and Ecuador…
Walking down memory lane: I have to say that while in Panama, my family and I were on a constant high. After leaving Panama 28 years ago, I can’t tell you how amazing it was to return to the setting of the majority of my childhood memories. The fact that I was able to return with my parents and my brother was priceless. My dad brought old photos along so that we could compare our old neighborhood as it is now to how it used to be, my parents got to visit a lot of their old hangouts, and we just generally bonded over our memories of a place that holds such a special place in our hearts. And the fact that Jave got a glimpse into our past was the cherry on top.
Our hike up Ancon Hill: I’ll be sharing a post about our hike up Ancon Hill later this week. If you’re headed to Panama City, this is such a fun, free way to spend your morning while taking in amazing views of Panama City, so stay tuned.
Our perfect B&B: We actually based ourselves in a B&B in the Ancon Hill neighborhood which was perfect because it reminded us of how we once lived in Panama as locals. My family and I pretty much had the entire B&B to ourselves which made the experience even more intimate. I’ll be featuring our B&B in my ‘Where to Stay Series’ on the blog soon.
As I said, we were on a constant high in Panama, so there weren’t any lows except for the fact that we didn’t get to visit other parts of the country due to my parents’ time constraints. I would’ve loved to visit the San Blas Islands, Bocas del Toro and the interior, but Jave and I will just save those destinations for future trips to Panama. And trust me when I say that we plan on having a future full of more travel to Panama – I’ll never stay away for 28 years again, that’s for sure!
Not getting robbed or murdered like everyone thought we would: This is pretty self-explanatory seeing that we made it back in one piece. My parents were originally supposed to join us in Colombia, but after reading an article about how Medellín is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, my mom backed out (and my dad by default). I’m not going to say that Medellín, or Colombia in general, isn’t dangerous, but I can say that the country seems to really be working to change that.
Santa Marta: Jave and I fell hard for Santa Marta, one of the oldest cities in South America. Ekua from Girl, Unstoppable describes it perfectly: “It’s a city that sneaks up on you with nothing spectacular, but that’s precisely what makes it so appealing in the end.” Most people come to Santa Marta because it’s the jump off point for Tayrona National Park; we were no exception. But during our short three nights there, we fell hard for the slow-paced, Caribbean vibes of the city. Arriving to Santa Marta was kind of like flipping the “on” switch on our vacation if that makes sense.
Hiking to Cabo San Juan: Hiking for two hours through the hot, coastal Colombian rainforest to get to one of the prettiest beaches I’ve seen was so rewarding. Although the mosquitos are relentless and we had some hiccups during our hike back, our day in Tayrona was absolutely perfect.
Cartagena: We stayed inside the walls of the Old City, and when we stepped out of our hotel each morning, we felt like we were on the set of a movie – that’s how beautiful the Old City is. A street food tour through Cartagena’s up and coming neighborhood of Getsemaní was the icing on the cake during our time there.
Hiking to the wax palms: A trip to Colombia isn’t complete without visiting Valle de Cocora in the Central Andean mountains. We traveled to this part of Colombia specifically to experience Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, up close and personal. We hiked for over 6 miles, mostly uphill. Given the altitude and the thin air, it was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever endured, but it was sooo worth it!
Our hotel in Bogotá: I can’t wait to write about the gem of a hotel we stayed at in Bogotá’s La Candelaria neighborhood. This hotel is perfect in every way, so I’ll be sharing more about it in my ‘Where to Stay’ series.
A case of the runs: I’ll just leave it at that. Food source: unknown.
Bogotá: Definitely not the most appealing city. As we made our way in our taxi from the airport, Jave knew right away that he wouldn’t gel with Bogotá. “It’s a spiritual thing, Carmel. You just know when a city isn’t right for you.” I won’t say that Bogotá is my least favorite city in the world, but it’s definitely at the bottom of the list.
Quito: My God, Quito is a beautiful city! At over 9,000 feet above sea level, it’s a city that’s full of hills and valleys, and it’s surrounded by volcanoes. The city itself is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why.
Spending two days with our guide, Andres: I recently wrote a post about the perks of having a tour guide, and Andres is another perfect example of an excellent tour guide. During our first day with Andres, he took us to one of Ecuador’s equatorial lines, Otavalo and Laguna de Cuicocha. On our second day with Andres, he personally drove us to Baños. After spending two whole days with him, we have a newfound local friend. And because he lived in the Amazon for 3 years, he’s assured us that when we’re ready to explore the Ecuadorian Amazon, he’d be more than happy to take us.
Being on chill mode in Puerto Lopez: Towards the end of our time in Ecuador, while my brother and his girlfriend headed to the Galapagos Islands, Jave and I opted for a few days in Puerto Lopez. This small beach town was the perfect place to relax, unwind and catch up on some much needed rest after all of our ripping and running.
Our hotel in Quito: Hotel Real Audiencia in Quito…don’t stay there! The travelers’ photos on Tripadvisor are NOTHING like the rooms we were assigned to. The floors had thick, dark carpet; there were stains on the wall and crud on the light switches; the lighting was horrid; the light fixtures in the bathroom were held together with duct tape; the shower caddy was rusty crusty; and there was even an intercom that involuntarily played music in our room early in the morning. My guess is that there are rooms in the hotel that have been updated and are more modern (hence, the nice travelers’ photos on Tripadvisor), and despite the fact that there only seemed to be two other guests in the hotel, they assigned us to subpar rooms. When I called one of the front desk agents out on it, he just chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. Yeah, I’ll be sharing the real deal about this hotel on Tripadvisor.
The bathroom in our AirBnB rental in Puerto Lopez: Our AirBnB rental was lovely, our hosts were lovely, but the bathroom in our suite left a lot to be desired. A lot. And that’s all I’ll say about that for now.
Of course I’ll be sharing more details about these and many more of our adventures in Panama + South America in future blog posts, so stay tuned.