Stop 10: San Andres, Colombia

The Colombian anomaly

Prior to our travels, little did we know Colombia had its own slice of the Carribean; there’s Providencia, home to the world’s third largest barrier reef, and there’s San Andres, the sea horse-shaped island renowned for easy going island life and its duty-free shops. Geographically, the islands sit closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Culturally, its distinction from the mainland is reflected largely in the locals speaking in a mixture of Spanish and English-based Creole. For us, it was a nice change from speaking our pigeon Spanish on the mainland.

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Stop 9: Bogota, Colombia

Colombia, a country which up until recent years, has been plagued with horrific violence; from drug wars and guerilla warfare to “social cleansing” and corruption. So much so that its widely diverse natural beauties (the Carribean coast, cloudforests, Andean mountains) and man-made wonders (colonial towns like Cartagena), were completely overshadowed and buried away from foreigners. It has since gone through tremendous transformation, boosting its meager 50,000 visitors/year during the 90s (including diplomats and business-related visits) to a whopping 5million/year, firmly on any tourists’ agenda. Helpfully summed up by the tourism board slogan, “The only risk now is you’ll never want to leave”. Our families had doubts about our visit because of its reputation, but after our 5 action-packed weeks around the country, we can agree Colombia has been our favorite country through our travels in South America.

Bogota. The city with divided opinions

Bogota is the third highest capital in the world (after Bolivia’s La Paz and Equador’s Quito), and sits at 2600m. We had failed to prepare ourselves so it was no wonder why Jackie’s head felt like two screws were being twisted in her temples (although Jon was fine!) and why she felt the need to wear a few more layers. Jon wasn’t prepared to let go of shorts and flip flops quite yet, although he did deign to put a jumper on.

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Stop 8: Rio de Janeiro

The city of hedonists, samba and a lot of flesh

From all the things we’ve heard about Rio – its white sand beaches, its beautifully diverse people, a Carnival that draws the world in – we had high expectations to say the least. But being with a cynical Englishman, Jon did not expect the city to live up to them. We had plenty of warning before we came. And its dangerous reputation is not entirely undeserved, but in hindsight they are exaggerated. That said, we were extra cautious when we were out and made use of the fanny pack (for the Brits: bum bag) Jackie had been lugging around for three months.

When we planned our route around the continent, we chose to spend only a week in Brazil. The country is enormous (this statement seems a bit futile now), bigger than the US (sans Alaska), not to mention unfriendly to the wallet so we decided to devote more of our time to the countries along the west coast. It was only by pure coincidence that we were to land in Rio during the Carnaval, which had its own pros and cons.

Pros:
+ A chance to revel with the city’s infectious buzz during its biggest calendar event

Cons:
– Mill about with the extra 3million visitors in town
– Inflated cost of everything from dorm beds (£50/night) to entrance fees
– Normalacy thrown awry given the week of festivities
– Bumper to bumper traffic

Regardless of the crowds, our week in Rio exceeded all expectations and can only be described as EPIC in all dimensions.

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Stop 7: Iguazú Falls

The spectacular waterfall that ruined all subsequent waterfalls

Visiting the falls was an indisputable stop we had to make. And without exaggeration or unnecessary repetition of what all the guidebooks say, it is truly one of nature’s most impressive works. The waterfalls conveniently fall between two countries: Argentina and Brazil. Paraguay missed out on getting a piece by being a couple of kilometers down the river. Given a week at the breathtaking site, we were able to soak it up from both countries and appreciate it from multiple angles.
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Stop 6: North Argentina

The slow journey to Igauzu Falls

Argentina, like its neighbour Chile, is an exceptionally long country. We have hiked its serene snow capped mountains in the south, strolled extensively through its busy European-style capital, and because time permitted us to slowly make our way to the iconic falls up north, we decided to make a detour out west to get a holistic view of the country.

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