The Best of Ubud Bali

Ever heard of a magical Indonesian island called Bali? Chances are, you have. And if you’re into yoga, meditation or healthy living, you’ve also probably heard about a “must visit” destination called Ubud. 

When I first arrived, I liked Ubud, but I was conflicted. It felt so touristy. I wondered if I had made a mistake going there. With time, I figured out how to enjoy the best of Ubud, while also getting a taste of the “real Bali”. It took me a few days to figure this out, and this post is intended to share the best of Ubud with you, to help save you the struggle of figuring out how to fall in love with Bali… 

Rice terraces in Ubud

If you come to Ubud, these first five are my “must do, can’t miss” experiences, and then afterwards I’ll go into detail on places to eat, sleep, explore, etc., but first…

Top Five Things to Do While in Ubud


1. Take a bicycling tour with Sepeda Bali Cycling and Adventure.

I remember when someone first recommended I take a cycling tour, I scoffed at the idea once I arrived and felt the Bali heat. However, a week or so later, an ex-pat friend asked if I was keen to spend a day exploring the countryside of Bali on bike, led by a local, and I figured why not give it a go. I’m so glad I did, because it was *amazing*! If you’re at all curious about seeing the “real Bali”, this is the way to do it! Our tour took us to the luminescent Tegalalang rice terraces, then up to Mount Batur, where we had a tasty local meal to fuel us up while overlooking the majestic mountains and lake. We then entered the forest where we mountain biked past farmers’ fields, and stopped at a few various farms to learn about {luwak poo} coffee production, bamboo wind chime production, and to hydrate with a coconut water and fresh fruit pit stop before making our way to a waterfall for swimming. We finished the bicycling at the tour guides’ home where a delicious typical meal had been prepared for us. After eating we went to a black sand beach to watch the sun set, then returned back to Ubud. The authenticity and organization of this tour is unparalleled. The twin brothers who are running it are excellent ambassadors for Bali, and take great care of you along the way. Also, with this tour, you don’t need to be uber fit to participate- it’s nearly all downhill, making for easy riding. Also, don’t let the 600,000 rupiah price tag hold you back- it is worth every single penny. You can also customize the tour more to your preferences. 

Bike tour in Bali
Bike tour in Bali

2. Go to ecstatic dance at Yoga Barn on Friday night or Sunday morning…or both! 

Yoga Barn has quite the hype in Bali, but it earns it. The place is massive, attracts a good-vibe crowd, and has classes and events that are worth the price tag. However, if you can only make it to one thing, go and experience an ecstatic dance! Everyone joins together to dance their hearts out to some amazing rhythms and tunes. The beats are awesome, and it is incredibly freeing to let your body move however it wants in an atmosphere of no judgement and pure positive energy. My advice? Close your eyes, and dance how you feel. Another piece of advice? Get there early to get a ticket (the line starts about 2 hours before the event, but after you get your ticket you’re free to leave until it starts) or if you arrive and they’ve reached the 150 person limit, just stay and dance outside on the deck, and check about availability after the event starts, because sometimes people who originally got a ticket don’t actually come back to go in. If you go on a Sunday morning, do yourself a favor and go to a kundalini yoga class first (~7:30am), then line up for your ecstatic dance ticket when the class ends. It’s perfect timing, and you get to experience both an excellent yoga class, and attend an epic ecstatic dance session. Win-win. 

3. Check out the restaurant Pomegranate up in the rice fields above Ubud. 

Sure, it’s about a 20 min walk from the center of Ubud, but that’s exactly why you want to check this place out- because it’s beautifully nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The restaurant is in the middle of a rice paddy, and it is so peaceful; a perfect place to lounge and sip a traditional Balinese coffee, or to have a full on fresh and tasty meal. There are also a few artists stalls up along the path, so you can enjoy a browse of beautiful artwork in a tranquil setting along the way. 

4. Get a massage or treat yo’ self to a spa! 

When I was in Ubud, I went to a place called Pertenin and indulged in a four hand massage, followed by a coffee body scrub, a green tea body mask, and a soak in a flower bath. It was 2.5 hours of pleasure in a professional and upscale spa, all for approximately $25. After being spoiled like this, I don’t know if two hands will ever satisfy me the same way! 

Spa day in Ubud
Relaxing with a spa day in Ubud

5. Check out a fire dance or kecak performance. 

Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s really different than anything you’ve ever seen. The whole performance is set to the vocal rhythms of many men seated in a circle around a glowing fire. There are a few main characters of the show, and they all have amazing traditional costumes. Also, pay attention to the way the beautiful women move their fingers and arms as they dance- it’s almost like they’re doing a really smooth version of “the robot” as their fingers click into a new position with each “click chuck click chuck click chuck” of the men’s voices.
 
Now, apart from these top tips to enjoy Ubud, let me give you one solid piece of advice- get a scooter and get out of town! Whether you want to rent one yourself (they’re super cheap, about 60,000 rupiah/ day) or if you’d rather have a driver, either way, there is so much to see in the surrounding area that it makes Ubud a great base. 

My favorite driver ever is named Gede, and is an excellent tour guide and host. His whatsapp number is: +62 813 37003004 and his email is: gedetejabali@gmail.com.

 He will give you a fair price and help you customize a trip based on your interests and needs. Tell him Holly sent you. I spent a whole day with him and he was professional, fun, and informative. I only wished I had met him at the start! 

Now, allow me to give you a few pointers that will further help you to enjoy your time in Ubud. 

Where to stay?
Stay in a Homestay! 

Homestays allow you to have a peek into the traditional Balinese way of life. You will see the women making the offering baskets, canang, each day and placing them around the housing compound each morning. Each family has their own temple on their property, and if you ask some questions you can learn more about the Balinese traditions. 
I moved around a bit while in Ubud, and a few places I came across which I really liked were as follows: 

KT Kuaya Homestay: by far the nicest place, with super clean, fresh and spacious rooms, a gorgeous garden, and a lush pool fit for a queen. It includes a tasty breakfast and the family is nice, although not much for suggestions. Strong wifi. Higher end, with a minimum price tag of 250,000 Rupiah per night. 

Duana’s Homestay: located on the same property as KT Kuaya but a bit less expensive, at around 180,000 Rupiah per night, still including breakfast. The room wasn’t as pristine as Kuaya, but you are still staying in the same gorgeous garden compound, and I had a better time communicating with this family. Each morning I watched the father meticulously groom the frangipani tree and it was incredibly tranquil. Patchy wifi, but it works. 

Jati Homestay: lovely staff with decent English. Rooms have private patios overlooking lush green space and the common area is really peaceful. It’s set back off Hanoman street, so you’re right by everything, yet it’s still quiet. The owner is an artist so you will see his pieces in progress on the property. Around 180,000 Rupiah including breakfast. Strong wifi.  

Wayan’s Family Homestay: shared rooms, hostel-style. Clean and with a beautiful garden space and swimming pool, breakfast and wifi included, located off Hanoman. 
The places I have mentioned are best if you don’t have a scooter and want to be able to easily walk to the center of Ubud and around. If you have a scooter, I’d suggest staying further out of town. Although all these places are their own little reprieve from the bustling streets, the further out of Ubud you go the more tranquil life will be. 


Where to eat? 

Embrace both sides of Ubud- the local Warungs as well as the health-food influenced cafes and restaurants. 

Tasty traditional Balinese cuisine

My favorite Warung’s are:

Warung Makan Bu Rus, which teaches you not to judge a book by its cover. When you first approach it off the street it looks like a hole in the wall, but when you enter you can sit in the back garden and it’s gorgeous! If you go in the evening there is the soft glow of lanterns and candles, and typical Balinese music on a stereo. I went alone two nights in a row, and both nights ended up meeting other fabulous solo travelers over dinner. All the food is fairly priced, freshly prepared and delicious. Try the Cap Cay or GadoGado. Also, this street has beautiful temples on it, so take a stroll here during the day. 
Warung Bui Don– a new-ish restaurant that is simple, clean, affordable and delicious. Here I had my first ever bowl of Cap Cay and it changed my life. For a bowl of soup, some rice and a fresh fruit drink I paid only 35,000, and that was including a 5,000 tip for the super sweet staff. Tipping is not expected in Bali. 
Warung Popesh– tasty, affordable, authentic, and on a cute side street which is worth a wander. 

Warung Baih Baih – full of people enjoying the locals specials like Mei Goreng (fried noodles) and reasonable prices. 
And now for more western influenced restaurants: 

Kafe – all around delicious health food with hearty salads, mixed juices and a variety of coffees. Very chill place to either lounge or sit on the patio and watch the world pass by. Free wifi, but they charge for a glass of water. 

Kismet– tons of tasty options, again hearty salads, mixed juice concoctions, desserts and coffees. Free wifi. Nice sidestreet location. 
Bali Buda– Pure yum. Got the crunchy salad special two times in a row and was in love with its hearty wholesomeness. Strong coffee and a variety of juice drinks.

 
My all-time favorite off the beaten path place: Pomegranate Restaurant. Nestled in the rice fields about a 15-20 min walk above Ubud, it is the perfect place to feel at peace and remove yourself from the city. I didn’t eat here but all the food that surrounded me looked and smelled incredible. My traditional Balinese coffee was just what I needed to relax and recharge. 

Want to do some yoga and wellness activities?
My favorite places were Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive yoga studios. 
Yoga Barn is full of hype, but it earns it. When you go there you will most likely meet other cool, conscious travelers, and you will no doubt experience a first class yoga class or course. I went for kundalini yoga, both times on Sunday morning, and both times left me buzzing with positive energy. Another thing you absolutely must experience while in Ubud is ecstatic dance at the Yoga Barn, either Friday night or Sunday morning, or both! Get there early to get a ticket. The recent trend is to be there about 2 hours early, get a sticky note with a number (capped off at 150 people), then come back just before the dance starts to pay and get your wristband. It’s worth it. And if you don’t get in, hang around, dance on the deck outside, and see if they have open spaces about 15 minutes after the event starts. Inevitably, some people don’t show up to claim their space. 

Radiantly Alive is a gorgeous yoga studio set overlooking a lush forest. I went for a morning gentle flow session and really enjoyed the practice and the space. It’s also right up the road from Bali Buda, so indulge in a bite after your yoga, perhaps with newfound friends! 

Want to see some art? Apart from enjoying looking at all the local artisans, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Blanco Museum if you enjoy art and creativity. Artist, Antonio Blanco, was originally from Spain and married a Balinese dancer, then moved to Bali and began painting with his main subject being beautiful, bare-breasted women. The building is architecturally interesting and full of color, and the paintings often have specially designed frames to compliment the artwork. 

Into Temples? Go to Goa Gojah, the elephant cave temple! It’s just a few kilometers outside of Ubud and had a really cool, intricately carved entryway to an ancient cave temple where monks used to meditate. 

The Goa Gojah Elephant Cave entrance

Like outdoor walks? Check out the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s a lovely path that takes you up and out of central Ubud, walking through rice paddies and artists’ villages. Take it easy, take it in, and feel free to pause and enjoy a tasty meal or refreshing bevvy along the way. Also, take a moment and talk with the artists. Learn about their artwork. It’s a great insight into Balinese culture. 

Balinese artist with typical wooden painted eggs
There’s obviously much more to be found in Ubud, but let this serve as a starter kit to having a great time in this blissful Balinese city. 

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

Any other suggestions for Ubud? Feel free to share below! 

A Weekend Guide to La Fortuna and Arenal

You know those weekends where everything is just perfect? You set out without an official plan, but everything falls into place just as it should? Well, this is typically how I travel, and that’s exactly how the weekend went when I recently made my way to Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Hot River remote side

I set off with my friend, Bryan, and we made our way from Santa Ana of San Jose, to the town of La Fortuna near the famous Arenal Volcano. We used a GPS application called Waze to direct us, and the trip took around 3 hours. The roads are in good condition, albeit quite curvy and mountainous at times. On this route, you pass by the airport, and shortly afterwards you will see signs from several years ago that point you right towards “Arenal”, but there is a new route which goes straight past these signs and shaves off a few hours, and this is what we took.
Along the way, we had a few fun pit stops to explore and stretch our legs. One place we visited was called “Lands in Love”, and if you’re looking for lodging that is in the middle of no where, but encompasses the best of Costa Rica, this could be a cool option for you. This mountain resort had access to white water rafting, rappelling, zip lining, hanging bridges, gardens, and much more. They are also know for their restaurant, which can be accessed right off the road, with mannequins hanging right over the road to call attention to their zip lining offers.
After walking around the grounds for a bit and enjoying the beautiful surroundings, we were off again, on the road for another hour or so, until we saw a group of tourists stopped alongside the road, looking up into a tree. Sure enough, there were two sloths in the tree, and both were fairly active. You never know what type of wildlife you will see along the roads of Costa Rica, so drive with caution and with your eyes wide open!

Sloths

Just before entering the town of La Fortuna, we passed over Rio Fortuna, and my friend told me there was a swimming hole and rope swing, so we decided to stop for a swim and a picnic. It was SO much fun, and 100% free! When we arrived, there were some local boys already swimming and jumping from the rocks, and when they saw we were interested in using the rope swing, they used one of the nearby sticks to grab it for us, and then demonstrated where to jump in. It’s quite self-explanatory: let go when you’re as far out as possible! Sometimes the river can be quite strong, so swim with caution and always have a buddy. Once you’re in the river, you can climb up the steep rocks to get out, or drift down a bit and climb out on a less rugged path.
While there, we made friends with these boys, and they told us how to find the free natural hot springs, and also how to access Cerro Chato without paying. Both the hot springs and climbing Cerro Chato were on my list for the weekend, so it was excellent to receive the inside scoop of how to get to them. After our swinging and swimming, we decided to walk the path down into the jungle, which brought us to a beautiful area where we enjoyed our picnic. Moments like thees are why I love Costa Rica. There we were, literally just off the side of the road, enjoying the most lush vegetation and pure, clean river, eating our picnic in peace and harmony with the nature around us. This is Pura Vida!

Rope swing Rio Fortuna

From Rio Fortuna, we decided to continue on to the hot springs, as this was the reason we had come to La Fortuna! We drove towards Tabacon Hot Springs, a beautiful and ritzy resort with access to the natural hot springs as well, and once we passed the main entry and the curve, we parked on the side of the road in front of a yellow triangle off-road gate. There were quite a few cars there, as this place is not exactly “‘secret”, and although the river is free, you will be expected to pay 1,000 colones ($2) to park your car and have the guys watch over it for you. Along the road, they are typically selling pipa fria for 500 colones (cold coconuts for $1) and sometimes sandwiches and other drinks. Enter through the yellow fence and walk down a few hundred feet until you reach the river. As soon as you step in, you will delight in the luxuriously warm water!
If you have hiking sandals, or waterproof shoes, you will probably be happier using them as you navigate the rocky river, but it is not a “must”. Once at the river, make your way under and through the bridge tunnel, and when you reach the rocky opening, you can either fight the current and climb right through, or you can walk off to the right and hop through a hole in a chain link fence.

Hot river entrance

In this direction, you will find many people sitting and relaxing in the river. Despite the fact that there is typically a crowd, it isn’t a bother, because the rushing sounds of the water drown out the conversations of those around you, and there are tons of places to choose from where you can sit and enjoy a bubbling, hot water massage. If you want to find your own private oasis, simply walk in the opposite direction of the bridge when you enter the river. It is by no means an easy trail, but you will find beautiful areas with the same hot water and have it all to yourself.
We left the hot springs just before dark, and as we were leaving I spotted a hand painted red tomato sign advertising rooms for 10,000 Colones ($20) at a place called Cabinas Arsol and vegetarian food at a place called Flying Tomatoes. It was located 200m North of Banco Popular, so we decided to check it out. The road that Cabinas Arsol is on looks practically abandoned when you approach it from Banco Popular, and when we pulled up, it had conflicting signs saying “Cerrado” (Closed) and “Abierto” (Open). It had funky cat sculptures on the roof, and other animal cut outs on the walls, and there were two little dogs in the front yard as well as a young child.
My friend laughed and then looked at me, “You said you wanted a ‘Mom and Pop’ type place!”

Cabinas Arsol

We went in to ask about rooms, and they had one for us. 10,000 Colones each ($20) for a private room with a shower and even a kitchen! It was a bit dark and shabby, but with perfect Costa Rican charm, and a toucan painting over the bed whose eyes followed you anywhere you went in the room- we called it TucaLisa.

IMG_7494

The hotel was one block away from the main street, so we changed out of our wet bathing suits, hung our clothes on the line to dry, and made our way over to a fantastic restaurant called Restaurant Los Nenes. It’s down the street from the Musamanni, and you an see a big sign for it on the road, even though it’s up a tiny side street. There were quite sophisticated displays of food, with more than one entree coming out on fire. My favorite part of the restaurant was the back wall which was painted with all sorts of Costa Rican birds. After dinner, we made a little ice-cream stop, mistakenly stopping at a Pops, when right up the street there is an excellent gelato place, with much more savory and sweet flavors. You won’t be disappointed.

Restaurant Los Nenes

The next morning we were up early, and made our way out. I had slept well, but my friend had not. He said he was attacked by mosquitoes and that the bed wasn’t good on his lower back. I’m guess I’m lucky I can sleep anywhere, because it was fine by me! We had breakfast at a great little restaurant called Soda Mima, right off the main street in La Fortuna. There were two options, one of which was a “typical” breakfast, including eggs, gallo pinto, and coffee. We had a fun time reading the signs drawn by people from all over the world, and I even found one from some Michiganders!

Soda Mima La Fortuna

Michigan love in Costa Rica

From Soda Mima we made our way back to the road which leads to the La Fortuna waterfall. The boys from the rope swing had told us that we could find a free trail to Cerro Chato about 3 km up the road, but alas, after driving around and asking around, we could not find it. We settled for entering the hike via a hotel called Green Lagoon. It was 5,000 Colones ($10) for locals and 6,000 Colones ($12) for foreigners, and the hike was quite steep. Other options for arriving to Cerro Chato are to enter from the La Fortuna waterfall site (perhaps a good option if you want to see the waterfall as well), or entering from Arenal Observatory. From the Green Lagoon entrance, we made our way up a rough cow pasture, and then up an intense hike through the forest to arrive at the top. It was a cloudy day, and the mist hung close to the trees, making the forest damp and enchanting. We saw a brown snake coiled up on a tree trunk, and we marveled at all the life growing thick on each tree. We arrived to the top in about an hour, but I would say to allow yourself up to two hours to make the climb, because we didn’t really stop and take breaks.

Hiking to Cerro Chato

Once at the top, we wanted to get down to the green lagoon. The first route we encountered was incredibly steep and muddy, but we took it anyway. On our way down, we saw a young girl and her mother climbing back up, and they told us we had about 10 more minutes until the bottom. We figured if they could do it, we could do it, and we did, but this portion of the hike is not for the faint of heart. We were literally swinging down muddy ruts using tree roots, ropes, and vines, and my friend sat down and slid half the way, as did many others.

Hiking to the Lagoon in Cerro Chato

Whether you take this route down to the lagoon, or not, good, sturdy hiking shoes are highly recommended for anyone who embarks on this Cerro Chato trek, as well as lots of water, snacks, and potentially a towel to wipe your muddy hands off. People do go swimming in the lagoon as well, so you could bring a bathing suit. We opted out of a swim, as it was grey and rainy that day, but on a hot sunny day I can see how it would be the perfect reward to this serious hike.

Happy days on Cerro Chato

Upon returning from Cerro Chato, we made our way back to the hot river near Tabacon for Round 2 of relaxation. It was just as wonderful as the first time, and again we sat in the warm water for hours, talking, listening, and enjoying the partial submersion in the natural pools.

Relaxing and smile

When we left the hot springs, we asked the coconut salesman where we could find a good but inexpensive place to stay, and he recommend a place called Cabinas El Buho. We searched it via Waze, but before we got to it we found a place called La Choza Inn, which was 10,000 Colones ($10) each for a private room, and included a breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit and coffee. Sold. We took it and slept like babies. Dinner that night was at a place called La Choza de Laurel, which makes great typical meals and drinks, and was right up the road from where we stayed.
Our final day in the La Fortuna area, we decided to go kayaking on Lago Arenal. We set off around the lake, in the same direction as the hot river and Tabacon Hot Springs, and just after the dam/bridge of Lake Arenal you will find people along the road renting kayaks. We rented two kayaks for two-ish hours for 15,000 Colones, ($30 total for two kayaks). The lake is a wonderful temperature for swimming, and from the point where you enter the water it takes about 30 minutes to curve around a bend and get a good view of Volcan Arenal. You can see where lava had run down the sides in the past, and it’s cone-shape is quite exquisite, even on a cloudy day.

Break time

After kayaking around, exploring the island and the coastline, we called it good and returned the kayaks. The coconut salesman here told us about a great little restaurant called La Mesa de Mama in a town called El Castillo, which was on the way to the Arenal Observatory. We decided to go check it out, and once we were there we had quite a laugh at the “customer service” provided by this small town operation. At one point the waitress knocked off our water bottle and just left it on the floor, but she was so sweet and smiley it was obvious she didn’t think twice about it.
After lunch, we continued around the lake in opposite direction, until we came to a sustainable hotel / farm called Rancho Margot. This place was completely remote, with bungalows and bunk houses, yoga, cow-milking, farm-to-table meals, and gardens galore. We took a little tour to enjoy the grounds before making our way back to La Fortuna, with one last pit-stop at the hot river, to say goodbye.
Overall, the weekend was magnificent. We experienced the best of what La Fortuna had to offer, on a budget of less than $40/ day, proving that Costa Rica doesn’t have to be super expensive to have a great time.
Although we didn’t take any official tours, we did find a place on the main drag called “Travel Costa Rica Now” and their prices blew the others out of the water. You can look them up at www.travelcostaricanow.com.
From La Fortuna, a great option is to continue along the lake and make your way through Nueva Fortuna to Tilaran and up to Monteverde. Around Tilaran, you will see a sign advertising waterfalls, and this private farmland is spectacular. When I went back in 2012 it was $20 to enter, and there are at least four amazing waterfalls on the property, as well as great flora and fauna. While there I found two hummingbird nests- one with eggs, and one with babies. Be sure to check it out if you have the luxury of driving yourself.

5 Perks of a Travel Buddy 

“Holly, you know what I just remembered??” asked Yasemin, my travel partner throughout all of Peru. We were walking down the street in Arequipa, in search of dinner, and our time together was drawing to a close.

“What’s that? What do you remember?” I responded, curiosity creeping in.
“That time that the police escorted us home when we were lost!” she exclaimed with a grin.
This brought a huge smile to my face, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I began to remember the details. We had been in Trujillo, Peru, and it had been quite the day. We had walked through dusty, labyrinth-like ruins in the desert, been separated from our Couchsurfing host, made our way to the beautiful and distinct beach town of Huancacho where dozens of man-made boats of straw line the beach, and had even been exclusively invited  up into the bell-tower of the church on the hill which overlooked the entire town, at sunset, to have a special up-close and personal encounter with the bellman, as he clanged the bell with rocks and rang the bell by the string and intermittently told us stories about the 26+ years which he had been ringing this bell, every day, through wind and rain and even earthquakes. We had then caught the bumpiest local bus ever through traffic which nearly rivaled India, to get back to Trujillo’s town center, where we jumped off, armed with a joke of a map, and a few minutes before darkness, to try and navigate our way back to a hostel which we had barely even gotten to know in the daylight. That was when I saw the police officers on the corner and decided to ask them for directions. As usual, they didn’t know which direction to point us, but three of their co-workers rolled up at just the right time and knew exactly where we were trying to go, so they told us to get in, and they would bring us there. Whew. What a crazy and amazing day, typical of traveling with joy.

Huancacho Bell Tower

 When she reminded me of this, I was so grateful. I hadn’t thought of it in weeks as so many other ridiculous experiences had overtaken this particular incredible experience in my memory.
People always ask me how I feel about solo travel, and I honestly can say it doesn’t bother me to “be alone”. I have no trouble meeting people, and I also have no trouble with my own company. However one day, a guy who didn’t understand solo travel asked me, “But isn’t it better to be with someone, so you can look back on the time of your travels and laugh while you remember your stories?” That always stuck in my memory, because it is true.
After traveling half way through Peru with my soul-sister of a travel buddy, I will now disclose the 5 best parts about having a travel buddy, written on my bittersweet night of separation from one of my best travel partners yet.

Crossing the Border into Peru

1. You have someone with whom you can share your crazy, new, amazing and horrifying experiences, and better yet, you have someone who you can look to and remember these experiences. Chances are that you and your travel buddy are both going through a new place together, and will both be slightly shocked or delighted at many things you encounter along the way. Having someone there at your side to share these experiences really is priceless.
2. You can split the costs. Whether it be of a taxi, a hotel room, or a meal, dividing the bill in two helps stretch your travel budget a wee-bit further. I was really lucky with Yasemin, because we liked the same types of food, and could oftentimes share a meal, cutting down on restaurant prices, and leaving room for dessert. We were also on the same financial spending pattern, which helped a lot. We weren’t super cheap, turning over every travel penny a million times, but yet we were money conscious, opting for the most economical option when it made sense.
3. You have someone with which you can share stories, and create your own new stories. When I began to travel with Yasemin, it was especially fun because she was quite well-traveled on her own, and had tons of interesting travel stories and life experiences to share. As time went on I realized we were making some pretty epic travel moments of our own: hiking to 5000m high glaciers, picnicking alongside turquoise mountain lagoons, connecting with local shopkeepers, having personalized bell-tower serenades and police escorts, and sledding, buggying, and running down sand dunes in the middle of a desert oasis, just to name a few. It is incredible to be able to share these amazing moments with someone, and to know that when you look back on these events, you will always remember this person being at your side.
4. When the times get tough, you have someone to lean on. Travel can be hard; it can be exhausting; it can stretch you to your limits. Throughout all of this, a good travel buddy can help be your rock. They will not crumble during the difficult times, they will help reflect your own inner strength, and the two of you together can suck it up and take on the world, with whatever crazy experience comes your way.
5. You teach each other, share with each other, and help one another to be the best you can be. When I first met Yasemin, we were in the coastal town of Puerto Lopez. I was enjoying my daily practice of exercise every morning, which at that time consisted of a run on the beach, followed by yoga. At the time, she was thoroughly enjoying a solid sleep-in every morning, but soon after we started to travel together she picked up the habit of starting her day a bit earlier with me with a bit of yoga and ab exercise. I was happy to share this practice with her, and in turn, she shared her skills as a hair-stylist with me, teaching me to appreciate the techniques of cutting and coloring hair, and even helping me maintain my own locks. Before we separated, I taught her how to put in my beloved feather-extensions, and she put them in my hair like a champion. She loved the idea, and even thought she would bring it back to her salon in Germany. Talk about a win-win situation. When you can share your passions with another person, everyone comes out ahead.
These are just five of the many perks that come with having a travel partner. The truth of the matter is that having a travel buddy is a priceless gift, but you can’t settle for just anyone. If you are going to sacrifice your amazing solo-travel experience to travel as a team, you need to choose wisely with your travel partner. Be with someone who enhances your experience, rather than drains you or distracts you from the magic of travel. Be with someone who helps you be the best and the happiest person you can be. Life is short, and travel should be enjoyed. Find a travel buddy who is on your same rhythm, financially, energetically, and socially, and when you do, enjoy it as long as it lasts.
Everyone is on their own journey, and after awhile even good things must come to an end. When it came time to separate from Yasemine, it was because I wanted and needed to start moving a bit more quickly. Even though having a travel partner is amazing, you must ultimately be true to yourself.
On our last afternoon together, we had a walk to the market and as we exited she told me to close my eyes and put out my right hand. I had no idea what to expect; I thought I was going to be gifted a nut she had just purchased inside, when suddenly I felt something being slipped on my wrist. When she knew our days together we’re coming to a close, she had secretly bought a beautiful red-seeded bracelet, friendship style: one for her and one for me. It was the perfect soul-sister-travel gift. I had been admiring those particular bracelets for weeks. Now, as I set off on my own, I have a constant reminder of my special friend with whom I traveled through Peru. What a wonderfully enhanced travel time we had, and I am oh-so-grateful for my time with a travel buddy.

At the top of Huacachina

5 Things to Know Before Taking a Galapagos Islands Vacation

As I set off for the Galapagos Islands I had no idea what to expect. I knew I was heading to a place I had dreamed of going all my life, and I knew I could speak Spanish well enough that I would be able to find my way around, but I had not done any official research whatsoever. While there, I talked with many people and picked up tips and tricks which made the most of my week on the amazing islands, but this article will share a list of 5 things you should know before you take a Galapagos Islands vacation.

Giant tortoise Galapagos Islands

1. There are hefty taxes to get on to the island. Before you check in at the airport you must scan your luggage, and pay a $20 tax for visiting the islands. Don’t lose this ticket stub because you need to show it when you leave the islands! Upon arrival to the islands you must pay $100 to enter if you’re not from South America, $50 if you’re from South America, and $8 if you’re from Ecuador. Blue Footed Boobies

2. If you want to see the 3 main islands and make the most of a trip that is 7 days or less, look in to flying into an airport on one island and flying out on another island. You could fly in to Santa Cruz, spend a few days, then take a boat to Isabela, spend another few days, then come back to Santa Cruz and pass on to San Cristobal to spend your last few days. Boats do not go from Isabela to San Cristobal or vice versa, you must pass through Santa Cruz.Marine iguanas Galapagos Islands

3. If you’re flying out of Santa Cruz, you have two (or three) options for how to get to the airport. Option 1- take a taxi to the bus station ($1) and catch a bus at either 6:30, 7, 7:30 or 8AM. Apparently once the buses fill up they leave, so these times are approximate. I arrived at 7:45 and there were no more buses. I had to pay the full $18 to be taken to the canal in the taxi, which is Option 2. If you have an early flight, you could also try and talk to one of the dive shops (Option 3) beforehand to hitch a ride with them when they take off at 7am to head to the same canal which you must cross to get to the airport. They will charge you a little something, but it will be less than the $18 taxi fee. My flight was at 12:45 and I ended up leaving at 7:35 from Puerto Ayora to get to the airport and wait for a few hours. It’s not so bad. There are gift shops, places to eat, and places to sit, both inside and outside. Make sure you have something to do to pass the time. Galapagos Islands

4. If you do one paid tour on the Galapagos, make it the Los Tuneles tour on Isabela Island! With this snorkeling trip you will see as much marine life as you do while scuba diving, and you will also walk across amazing lava bridges and encounter hundreds of blue footed boobies, as well as spot dozens of penguins and sea lions. It is amazing to swim up close and personal with sea turtles, white tip reef sharks and rays, as well as massive schools of fish and even sea horses! In low season the tour costs around $75, and in high season it’s around $90, but it is totally worth every penny. Isabela island is by far the most natural and beautiful of the islands. On Isabela you can also see flamingos, and visit a giant tortoise hatching center, as well as snorkel for free at Concha Perla.

Los Tuneles Galapagos Islands

5. It’s actually kind of chilly! Despite being right around the equator, I found the Galapagos to be quite chilly. However, take this information with a grain of salt. I was there in September when the island was being affected by El Niño and I had several cloudy days. Bring long, lightweight pants as a safety precaution. I used mine every night. Also, having a room with hot water was much appreciated because after spending some time swimming in the ocean I felt chilled to the bone, and it was nice to come back to the room and warm up with the hot water. Galapagos IslandsThese are just a few useful things I learned while traveling the Galapagos Islands. Have you ever been, or would you like to go? What are some things that you would share with other tourists who are about to take a Galapagos Islands vacation?

sunset on Galapagos Islands

A Month in Ecuador

Ecuador. According to the tourism board, it’s all you need. I came into the country from Colombia, which lies to Ecuador’s north, and left via the coastal boarder crossing to Peru in the south. During my month in Ecuador I made my way through all sorts of incredible places, from cloud forests to crater lakes to capital cities to the coast, and even hopped over to the magical Galápagos Islands. It all proved to show me that the tourism board was right… You can’t help but love life while traveling in Ecuador.

Ecuador

 Coming in, I crossed the boarder from Ipiales, Colombia to Tulcan, Ecuador. My first stop was a uniquely manicured cemetery of all places! I spent an hour walking around and admiring the hedges trimmed to look like ancient Gods before I caught a bus to Otavalo, a city famous for its indigenous market.

Ecuador

 I spent one luxurious night in Otavalo at the Rincon de la Viajera and seriously considered spending another night for the bed alone. The next day I explored around Otavalo. My first stop was the market, which was a site to behold, from the distinct clothing of the indigenous people, to the beautifully woven tapestries to the knitted handbags and colorful trinkets. My one purchase was a colorful “cinta” which the women use to wrap their hair in a “trenza”. After the market I hiked over to the Peguche waterfall, where I had a bit of nature time before I caught an early evening bus to make my way 3.5 hours to the capital city of Quito.

Ecuador

 I rarely say a city is a highlight of a trip for me, but I really enjoyed Quito’s old town, and the people I met while in the city. I spent two days exploring around, visiting the churches and the art galleries and even accidentally bumping in to the President of Ecuador.

Ecuador

 From Quito I took a quick trip up to the cloud forest of Mindo. This was lovely and lush, with many waterfalls and birds, which are two of my favorite aspects of nature. While I was there, the “Tarabita” tour of the waterfalls was closed for maintenance, but I managed to meet a local who took me on the same trails, chasing after waterfalls and spotting birds along the way. He taught me that boys in tourist towns are not to be completely trusted, but I was still able to enjoy a fantastic afternoon in the nature with him before hightailing it back to Quito, to then continue on to Quilotoa.

Ecuador

 Quilotoa was spectacular. People visit to hike down to the crater lake or to walk around the magnificent crater rim, both of which are absolutely breathtaking, literally and figuratively. The town was cold and deserted, and full of indigenous people fully decked out with skirts, sweaters, ponchos, top hats and layered necklaces in the case of the women. It was a dry, almost desert-like landscape, and two nights was plenty for me, but the fact that we stayed at a place called Hosteria Alpaca, which had delicious community style breakfasts and dinners, 5 star beds, and personal wood stoves in each room made it a pleasant experience.

Quilotoa Ecuador

 From Quilotoa I continued on to Baños, a place known for extreme adventures and waterfalls. I had a rainy few days there, but a cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition, and I enjoyed my visit nonetheless. Biking from waterfall to waterfall, soaking in thermal baths so hot they were literally cooking me alive, swinging into the great unknown at Casa del Arbol, and standing next to the powerful hurricane-like waterfall of El Pailon del Diablo, were all things I will never forget about my time there.

El Pailon del Diablo

 After Baños I took a night bus and made my way to the Ecuadorian coastal town of Puerto Lopez. It was the time of year to see humpback whales migrating, and although I didn’t take an official boat tour, I did see them spouting up water when I was running along the shoreline. My favorite part about Puerto Lopez was meeting a wonderful German travel buddy, visiting the Los Frailes entrance of the National Park, and drinking delicious coffee at a cafe called Etnias. My least favorite part of the coastal town was the constant leering men.

Puerto Lopez Ecuador

 From Puerto Lopez I made my way down the coast to spend one night in a calm town called Olón, which had a beach that stretched out for miles. It was a beautiful place for my morning run and yoga practice. While there I caught a parade of all the locals kids dressed in their gym uniforms and it was absolutely precious to watch them march throughout the town chanting their class anthems.

School Pride in Olon

 Montañitas was my next stop, and it was just five minutes up the road from Olón. This was the loudest town I have ever visited in my entire life. It is known for being a party town, and it lived up to the reputation. The music would start around noon and blast until 5am or beyond. I am lucky I can sleep through just about anything, but I could literally feel the bass vibrating in my chest. I was told that if you stay “across the bridge” it’s a calmer atmosphere, and that might be true, but where I stayed (Hostel Moai) was in direct line of the clubs. Although it was a really nice place, it was anything but quiet.

Montanitas Ecuador

 After Montañitas I continued down the coast to Guayaquil and spent a day there getting to know the iguana park, the malecón (boardwalk) and hiking up the colorful Cerro Santa Ana. Guayaquil is home to the airport that brought me to my next stop: the Galápagos Islands.

Cerro Santa Ana

 The Galápagos Islands were the true highlight of my time in Ecuador. The sheer quantity of exotic animals was amazing and the fact that they were so curious and playful was a true delight. I never expected to have penguins and seals literally look me in the eyes while snorkeling, or to have schools of hammerheads and golden rays swim by while scuba diving. Every day on the islands was special and full of surprises.

Blue Footed Boobies

 After a week on the Galápagos I flew back to Guayaquil, and spent a day at the home of my Couchsurfing host in the nearby town of Naranjal, eating delicious home cooked bolon soup and playing with kittens before continuing on to Cuenca.
The city of Cuenca is full of things to do, places to see and people to meet, however when I got there I was tired, and learned that a package I had been waiting for had finally arrived in Guayaquil. I decided to head back and get it personally, but first I spent one day touring around the city admiring the graffiti, the galleries, the ruins, the churches, the architecture, the markets and the hat making shop.

Cuenca Hats

 Back in Guayaquil I was happy to reunite with my German friend from Puerto Lopez and to be back in the house of my Couchsurfing host. It felt a bit like “home” after being on the go for nearly a month straight.
Overall my month in Ecuador was pretty incredible. The country has a bit of everything: jungles, cloud forests, volcanoes, mountain ranges, historical cities, ruins, beaches and the incredible Galápagos Islands. I saw more wildlife here than in Colombia, and also saw more people dressed in beautiful traditional indigenous clothing.

Quechua kids

 As a traveler, Ecuador is more expensive than Colombia when it comes to food and lodging, although to a normal vacationer $2.50 for a meal or $15 for a room is typically considered extremely cheap. However the transportation in Ecuador is incredibly inexpensive due to the fact that they have the third-largest oil reserves in South America. Overall, it is extremely easy and affordable to spend a month in Ecuador.
One thing I loved about the country is that the people speak more slowly, so having conversations is typically quite easy, but one thing I detested was that the men were constantly coming on to me, trying to take my hand or charm me with lies. After I came back from the Galápagos I had been planning to spend another week or so exploring the southern areas of Ecuador, but when it came down to it, I was really ready to move on, so I did. One month in Ecuador was just right.
From Guayaquil we caught a bus to Huayaquillas to cross the boarder into Peru, saying, “Hasta luego!” to Ecuador.

Boarder Crossing to Peru

Say Hello to Strangers

The world isn’t full of dangerous people, it’s full of friends you haven’t met yet.

As I travel the world, non-travelers always ask me, “Don’t you get lonely?”

My response is, “I am never alone.”

Traveling on your own teaches you many very valuable lessons, two of which are:
1. How to be happy with your own company
2. How to make friends quickly with complete strangers

The first is a deep personal journey I’ll let you embark on in your own time. However, allow me to elaborate on the latter, as making friends with strangers has always been my specialty.

When it comes to saying hello to strangers and making a new friend, it comes down to five simple steps.

1. Look people in the eyes. Project your positive energy with a warm smile. Typically you will get a feel for people with matching energies and will be able to understand if they are receptive to meeting someone new.

Say Hello to Strangers
An invitation for a run through the mountains and laughs shared over traditional food was all it took to become lifelong friends with this wonderful Costa Rican couple.

2. Embrace small talk. Break the ice by commenting on things relative to the moment. If you have a sense of humor, use it.

Anna Purna Base Camp
We met when I thought I had altitude sickness. The bloke in the middle laughed at me and told me we were too low for that to be possible. The next day these guys became my hiking partners, and we eventually hiked our way up to the AnnaPurna Base Camp.

3. Ask questions. Getting to know someone requires effort and interest. You’re not going to make a new friend staring down at your phone screen. It requieres active engagement and a bit of enthusiasm.

Tayrona National Park
I brought this crew together through asking lots of questions. From starting conversations in the middle of the street, to the shared shuttle bus, to the line in Tayrona National Park, our pack kept growing.

4. Don’t be shy. Tell people you are looking for friends to hang out with. People aren’t mind readers, sometimes you need to put yourself out there in order to make things happen.

eating in the hostel prison
We became friends after a free walking tour in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and we all decided to continue exploring the city together, after a quick coffee and chocolate ball, of course.

5. Make plans. After you have broken the ice and successfully engaged someone in conversation, make follow up plans if you want to hang out with this person again. This requires putting yourself out there a little bit more. You can ask them if they have plans that night or that weekend, or see if they are interested in joining you to do  something that you were thinking of doing yourself. Then get their contact information. If you just give out your information, you might find yourself waiting around, and that’s not how you want to be spending your time!

Poon Hill Loop

Of course these five steps are only the beginning. You must always trust your intuition. Don’t go wandering off with every stranger you meet. But do keep an open mind, and the next time you find yourself looking to say hello to strangers and to potentially make a new friend, think of these five steps.

Perfect example of all of the above:

I was recently in Mindo, Ecuador, a place which is best appreciated when you have a local friend who will show you the secret spots. While I was at a public waterfall, a local “lifeguard” reprimanded me for climbing on some rocks and we got to talking. We talked about the nature, the river, the waterfall and our beautiful surroundings. He told me all about how he loved to hike to the waterfalls for free, and I brazenly told him, “I need a friend like you!” and asked him what we was up to the following day. He happened to have the day off, and we made plans to go bird watching and waterfall chasing. With just the right stroke of luck and ambition, I had turned a stranger into a friend, and secured a personal tour of the coolest places that Mindo had to offer. Give it a try and see who you meet.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

Well, I had already seen the coasts, the forests, the rivers and the meadows full of sky-high palms, so why not see what the Colombian desert had to offer? This was essentially my reasoning when I decided to head down to Desierto de la Tatacoa on my way to Ecuador. It was a short, hot, dry, dusty trip, but the sunset and sunrise over the red desert lands alone were worth it.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

While traveling in Tierra Dentro I had met a swiss couple and they had spoken very highly of Desierto de la Tatacoa, so when I noticed it was en route towards the southern boarder I thought it would make a good pit-stop. I took a Magdalena night bus from Medellin to Neiva, leaving the city around 7pm and pulling in to the desert-like region around 6am. I caught a struck of luck as I walked through the station and found a van “camioneta” filling up outside of the station. I was the last seat, and for 15,000 pesos I loaded my bags into the back and sat down next to two other female travelers, one from Spain, the other from France.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

“Where did you two meet?” I asked. They both looked at me and laughed. They had only just met. We were all solo female travelers, embarking into the great unknown of the harsh, hot, desert. The 40kms flew by as the French traveler shelled out details on places to go in Ecuador, my next destination.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

Our Cootrana van driver stopped at a convenience store, where he told us it was a good idea to buy supplies, especially water because we couldn’t drink it in the desert. I hadn’t heard this, but it didn’t surprise me. The French girl had recently had her debit card stolen while on a bus, so she was short on cash and she opted out of buying water, but I took his word and bought a few big bottles. This turned out to be a lie. The water is available and absolutely drinkable in the desert.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

As we arrived to Desierto de la Tatacoa I caught my first glimpse of the red rainbow ridges of dry, crumbling earth which make up the labyrinth-like desert. It was so beautiful it gave me goosebumps. There was a flurry of excitement in the van. We were here!

Desierto de la Tatacoa

The driver took us to a place called Hostal Noches de Saturno, which he proudly told us “had a swimming pool”. The owner was kind, and after trying to charge us triple what we were willing to pay, he reduced his prices to 10,000 pesos each for a tent, and 6,000 pesos for me with my personal hammock. I ended up sleeping slung up under a roof nearby all the goats and pigs and whatever other animals were there. The food was not great, but it was not bad, and it was reasonably priced, considering we were in the middle of nowhere. We paid 5,000 pesos for a breakfast of eggs, arepa, coffee, hot chocolate and bread.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

After eating, the five of us from the van set off to explore the desert. We embarked on what we thought was the trail into the red desert, but it wasn’t the correct trail, and we ended up getting extremely lost, walking through a field full of cows and cattle, and asking a farmer for directions back to civilization. The two girls who did the talking started to lead us, but immediately they diverted from his directions. Being as Spanish isn’t my native language, and the other two were fluent, I figured maybe I had heard wrong, but I was nearly 100% sure the farmer had told us to stay left after crossing the stream, and that if we went right we were goners. When I voiced my opinion the girls shrugged it off. I decided it was better to stick together than to separate. Two hours later we were still doing circles in nasty desert brush, full of cactus spikes and thorny plants.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

The only saving grace was that the sun wasn’t fully out. As we finally saw the beacon Observatory glimmering in the distance I again started to enjoy the walk, knowing that we were kind of close to where we needed to be. The landscape was indeed beautiful, full of pink blooms on small round cactus plants, and we even startled two wolf-like creatures, black, gray and white, with bushy tails that reminded me of a raccoon.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

Walking in the desert is intense. I was happy I had both a hat and sunglasses, and I smothered on 30spf before taking off, so thankfully I was not burned. I used my hiking sandals, and because we went off the beaten path I had to be extra careful for thorns and debris. For anyone embarking on this hike I would recommend close-toed shoes with a thick sole. One of the girls stepped on a cactus spine and it lodged right through her shoe and into her heel. As you can imagine it was not pleasant.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

When we emerged onto the road, we came out through a very simple restaurant and hostel called El Tigre, and they kindly filled our water bottles before we continued. We had emerged about a 30 minute walk up the road from Saturno, and we ended up stopping at another hostel El Cabrito to refill our bottles again. The owner was making sweet arrequipe balls, and offered us one each to try. This place was totally chill,  with plants and birds and a hammock for each private room.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

When we came back to Saturno, we all crashed. I slept so hard that when a dust storm brutally blew through I could barely be bothered to lift my head. After a solid afternoon nap, I woke up to take a blissfully cold shower, and got dressed to set out for sunset.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

The same group from the morning set off towards the Observatory, and this time we found the “Cusco Loop” as it is called, which was located by an apparently nameless restaurant on the side of the road, with plentiful outdoor seating and a “parqueador”. This is the true path through the exquisite red desert. We sat above it all, soaking in the view and letting the warm desert breeze caress our skin.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

The sunset was magnificent, playing with shadows and light on the already diverse shades of red which stretched out before us. The dark blue shadows of mountains floated in the distance, and the silhouettes of cactus speckled the skyline.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

For dinner, we ate at the lone white restaurant across from the Observatory. Your options were chicken (pollo), beef (res) or vegetarian (vegetariano), and it came with salad, rice, fried potatoes, fried yuca, and juice. It was delicious, and cost 12,000 pesos with meat, or 8,000 pesos without. There was ice cold beer for 3,000 and it was a treat to be savored.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

We heard the Observatory was absolutely worth a visit, if the sky was clear, but unfortunately it was mostly cloudy. After dinner we spread out and marveled at the stars we could see, until the clouds swallowed them up. I did, however, happen to turn my head just at right time to catch an amazing shooting star as it soared across the sky. I’ll let you know how the wish turns out.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

We called it an early night, and as I settled into my hammock I was hot, but was so tired I fell asleep instantly. The next morning I woke with the noises of the animals, before the sun, around 5am.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

I decided to get up and considered walking to the “Gray Desert” which was located 8km in the opposite direction of the “Red Desert” which we had seen the night before. A small group from Saturno was planning to go there by motorbike, a 30,000 peso tour offered by the hostel, but in the end I decided to go back to the beautiful red desert on my own. Two skinny dogs accompanied me, and were playful companions throughout my morning sunrise walk.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

The Cusco Loop was absolutely beautiful and I was happy I was able to experience it. I took my time, exploring off the beaten path, but always coming back to it, as I had learned the day before that I have zero sense of direction in the lands of the desert.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

On my way back to Saturno’s I decided to have breakfast at a hostel called El Posada del Sol Verano or Doña Lilia’s place. It was delicious, and the place was gorgeous. I would definitely recommend staying there. Doña Lilia was a sweetheart.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

When I finally walked back up to Saturno’s I arrived at the same time as two police officers on 4-wheelers. They were rolling up to take a police report. The Spanish girl had taken a morning walk to the Gray Desert and had been robbed at knifepoint by a young kid on a motorcycle. He had stolen her money and her cell phone. I was instantly grateful for my four legged companions who had stayed by my side the whole morning, barking at every motorcycle or bicycle or car that approached us. Apparently robberies are not common, but you just never know.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

All in all, I was happy to visit Desierto de la Taticoa as it was beautiful, and the one-day, one-night time frame was just right. If you have visited Arizona, New Mexico or Utah in the United States you have had the opportunity to see some spectacular red deserts, but if you have never experienced a desert, or if you love the hot, dry, deserted landscape that comes with a desert, then a trip to Desierto de la Tatacoa is recommended.

Desierto de la Tatacoa

5 Questions to Serve As Your Compass to Success 

Have you ever heard the saying that you are the summation of the five people you spend the most time with? That these five people affect your perspective, your habits and the way you generally live your life, so you should take care as to who you have “in your circle”? 

As I travel, I change my surroundings every few days, so I don’t have a set group influencing me, but even so, when I find myself in the company of those who do not have the same values or lifestyle I deem important I take notice and I take care, because you can walk the line for some time, but if you cross over from good habits to bad, it’s an effort to get back on track. 

I recently was staying with a kind family in Colombia, and although they were nice, I found myself slipping into their way of life: late nights and late mornings, overeating and eating out, and simply existing versus making the most of my precious and valuable time on this planet. 

A blessing and a curse of mine is that I can be a chameleon and adapt to my surroundings very easily. I am a “go with the flow” type of person, so the path of least resistance was to join their way of life. I found myself frustrated from time to time, but I reminded myself that this situation wasn’t permanent, and I tried to take my personal choices when possible which lead me down the healthy lifestyle path that makes me happy. 

During this time, I read a quote which really spoke to me, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” It was simple yet profound and it reminded me that I am in control of my life, my goals, my outcome, and if I want to be successful and happy I need to actively take these things into my own hands. 

When I think of things that determine whether or not I will have a successful day or life, a few things come to mind. Below are 5 quick questions outlining the general aspects to use as a “compass” for life’s decisions. Take a read and keep them in mind. You might just find them useful as well. 

*How do you start your day? 

The way we start our day has an impact on our outlook and our overall productivity. Are you starting your mornings early and on a positive note? Meditation, exercise and a healthy breakfast with at least one cup of coffee, that’s how I like to start mine. 

  


*What kind of food do you eat? 

You know that saying “you are what you eat”? It is true. The things we put in our bodies act as our fuel for life. Are you getting your greens, or is your life made up of processed sugars and carbs, prepared and packaged by someone else? 

  

*Who do you surround yourself with? 

Are the people around you fountains of inspiration, or do they drain you of your natural energy and enthusiasm? It is important to consider this because your energy in life matters, and those you share it with can also reflect it back to you. If you’re around people who are negative black holes, then you will find yourself constantly giving without getting any positive feedback in the process, and that is just plain draining. 

   

*Are you on the path to achieving your dreams? 

Is what you’re doing helping you put one foot in front of the other to bring you closer to your dreams? If not, is what you’re doing really worth your time? Sometimes we have responsibilities which we need to take care of, and other times we are just in a rut because we’re doing what we think is expected of us. Think twice before you continue blindly doing what you have always done. Is it bringing you one step closer to your happiest self? 

  

*Have you learned something new? 

Keep your eyes and ears open. Observe. Let the world be your teacher. Whether it’s about yourself, someone else, or things that are going on or have happened in the world, it’s important to continuously learn and expand our minds. 

  

There you have it. Life is short, live it well, and let these 5 questions serve as your compass to success. 

What I Learned From Love, Loss and Moving Forward 

I remember one year ago exactly, I was laying on my floor in Costa Rica, in a pile of my clothes, packing up my life and crying my heart out. 

I remember thinking about the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and thinking that whoever said that was crazy; that heartbreak was the worst pain I had ever felt and that I would never wish it on my worst enemy. 

I also remember thinking about the saying, “If you love something, set it free, and if it comes back it was meant to be.” I knew I was being released because someone loved me enough to let me go; to let me fly and achieve my dreams. I also knew deep down that I couldn’t stay in Costa Rica without first pursuing my dream of world travel. 

But holy sh*t did it hurt like hell to leave a life I loved. 

Flash forward one year. I’m here to tell you that life goes on! Time heals wounds

Sure, heartbreak is still the worst pain I have ever felt, and I still wouldn’t wish it oh my worst enemy, but I now agree that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

I learned so much from that love that has helped me to become a better person, and I have taken this on to share with others

I learned compassion, for both myself and others. I learned to look at the world with open eyes and embrace the beautiful flaws. And when it comes to my own imperfections, I remember that if someone out there could love those things about me, then I should certainly love them too. 

I learned to relish the moments of cultural exchange, where I can teach and learn and grow from each interaction. 

I learned that having a childlike curiosity keeps you both interested and interesting. Ask questions. You start to realize you don’t know what you don’t know. It keeps you in a state where you are constantly learning and growing. 

I learned to care for my health, and to develop my spirituality. Both of these have served as beacons which guide me in the best direction for my life. 

I learned to flourish in a life of Spanglish, which in turn opened up a whole new sector of the world. 

I learned to help others, and to give and to give, and to give some more. 

I learned to never settle. There are people out there who help you to be the best you can be. Seek them out and hold yourself up to these standards.
I learned so much from that love, and for that, I will be eternally grateful

Eventually, I was able to pick myself back up, dust myself off, pat myself on the back and continue on down my own trail. Did I look back? Yes, far too many times. But now I am looking forward again, and as the song says, the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

  

10 Reasons to Come to Colombia

When I first came to Colombia I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it would be my gateway to traveling South America, and I had a few sights on my “Amazing Places” list that resided in this country, but after a month and a half of traveling this spectacular country all I have to say is: Pack your bags and make Colombia your next destination! It is amazing.

Colombia is a country that should not be missed, and after reading this list of 10 reasons to come to Colombia, you will understand why…

1. The scenery 
Colombian scenery is breathtaking, no matter if you’re walking around a colorful old colonial town, hiking in the jungle, relaxing at the beach, or simply driving from one city to another through the layers of mountains.
Santa Barbara Colombia

2. The people 
Colombians are some of the happiest, friendliest and most attractive people I have met in all my travels! Try speaking a little Spanish with them and it will get you a long way…Otherwise, just smile, and they will smile back at you. English is still developing here as tourism starts to kick off, so you will benefit greatly if you brush up on the basics of Spanish before you visit. Try using an app like DuoLingo, or read this article for more tips on learning a language.
Silvia Market

3.There is always something to celebrate 
In one month I witnessed at least three “holidays”, which always fall on a Monday to give people a long weekend. I absolutely love that concept! The funny thing is, a lot of the time people don’t even know what the holiday is- they just know that they have the day off work, so why not live it up and celebrate? I like that concept too… Happy EVERY Day in Colombia! Santa Elena Feria de las Flores

4. The fresh fruits are phenomenal 
I thought that I had been exposed to plentiful exotic fruits after two years of living in Costa Rica, but Colombia raised the bar to my standards once again. You can indulge in delicious fruits morning, noon, and night, whether they’re fresh from a tree, fresh from the market, or freshly squeezed. Just make sure you don’t go “giving papaya”, aka making yourself or your objects an easy target.
Colombian fruit

5. The dancing culture
Even if you don’t think you like to dance, you should still take a lesson while traveling in Colombia. Whether it be a professional lesson, or some tips from the man at the corner bar, you will be surprised at how much fun you have as you sway your hips and spin around to the Latin tunes that pump through the air. Delirio Colombia

6. The nature 
As mentioned above, Colombia has it all, from beaches to mountains, from oceans to rivers to waterfalls and even some hot desert land. If you like to get lost in the nature, there are plentiful opportunities to get out there and explore. A few of my personal favorites have been Minca, a cloud forest with rivers and waterfalls, Tayrona National Park, tucked in to the jungle and located along the aquamarine beaches of the Caribbean and Valle de Cocora, a mountainous meadow speckled with sky-high Palm trees that make you feel as though you just stepped into the world of Dr. Seuss.
Valle de Cocora

7. The flowers 
Colombia is covered with flower farms, from roses to hydrangeas to carnations and beyond, and if you’re a flower enthusiast, or you simply want to experience life in the country, then take a trip to one of these spectacular farms and let yourself be wowed. IMG_0084

8. The prices 
Colombia is just getting started with tourism, so it is the perfect time to take a visit. Many places are familiarizing themselves with the needs and desires of tourists, but the place hasn’t been completely exploited yet, and the prices are half what you would pay in other countries. Think $2-8 for a really lush local restaurant meal, and $1-10 for many excursions.
Colombian soup

9. The coffee
It is seriously the best I have ever tasted. You can drink it “tinto” which is black, or “pintada” which is with milk. Oftentimes they will add natural panela sugar cane to the mix without consulting you first, but it adds a delicious twist to the flavor of the coffee. You can also tour coffee plantations, which are typically located in the beautiful mountainous regions. The oldest operating coffee plantation in Colombia, La Victoria, can be visited on a trip to Minca. It is still running with the hydropower of the nearby river, and German owner Mickey has quite a story about regaining control of the plantation from the guerrilla back in the 80s, if you’re lucky enough to meet and speak with him over a cup of complimentary coffee. Colombian Coffee

10. The colorful cities
Colombia is a country with dozens of quaint cities bursting with color. You can spend hours walking the streets “oooh”ing and “ahhh”ing over the spectacular colors of the doors, window frames, and the beautiful combinations of one house next to another. A few of my favorite places to wander the streets were Guatape, Salento and Cartagena. Colorful Cartagena

There you have it. 10 reasons to come to Colombia. Now it’s up to you to come see for yourself.