Colombia was a whirlwind of places to visit. The last stop on our northern tour was a little town called Santa Veronica. You will not find this town on tour lists. Our hostel manager in Santa Marta had not even heard of it! We choose Santa Veronica because of its proximity to Xielo Skydive and for being known for kite-surfing. This little town has so much to offer; it has great people and allowed us leave the tourist districts!
And getting there was part of the adventure. We booked a MarSol bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena and asked if we could get dropped off in Santa Veronica. There are no regular shuttles through Santa Veronica, so it was this or a city bus. Our hostel owner in Santa Veronica told us to look for the “Sombrero Restaurant.”
A few hours into the drive, the shuttle stops and the driver yells back that we are at the Sombrero Restaurant. Yay, we made it!
But we were on the side of the highway, several KMs away from the hostel with no obvious means of transportation. We wander over to the restaurant and I ask in Spanish if they could call us a taxi. The server looks at me and says “no taxis, you are in Colombia now.” Well the big cities had taxis, but we quickly realized we were no longer in the tourist area. We asked about Touk Touks, but apparently none travel to the highway.
Well… Looking at our bewilderment and huge backpacks; the guy walked out, whistled to a group on motorbikes and waved them over. I told them our destination and showed them on my phone. They told us to get on the bikes. I started to wondered about the wisdom of jumping on a motorcycle with strangers, on the side of the road. Down the highway I could see a police check point, so I figured we were relatively safe.
I was in a long flower print dress, carrying a huge backpack, hanging onto our driver with a hand suitcase balancing across the handle bars of the motorcycle. What a sight we must have been, as we sped down the road into Santa Veronica.
We made a hard right onto a bumpy dirt road. We flew uphill past fenced houses before stopping in front of the hostel. I didn’t have small change, so offered the equivalent of $10 CAD to both guys and they argued me into giving them less because I overpaid!
We stayed at Casa Agua Vela Hostel and were greeted by three huge friendly dogs and a beautiful sunset. I knew I was going to like this place already! Check in was more relaxed and the atmosphere perfect.
Our hostel owner let us know this town is safe and we would be fine to walk around at night. We tried out a fried chicken restaurant down the road for dinner and enjoyed ice cream from a road side shop. This town is small and had no real grocery store, although you can buy some goods from the small walk-up shops.
We had a few meals at the chicken restaurant and enjoyed another dinner at a new restaurant that belonged to a friend of the hostel owners. This was a lovely little bar built into the front yard of a fenced house. The neighbor made the food (which was delicious) and passed it over the fence. The atmosphere was relaxed, the food great and the drinks well made. A beautiful night enjoyed under the stars.
While in Santa Veronica we took a day trip to a VERY small town that used a dry riverbed as their primary method of transportation. A short hike off the highway found us walking through this quaint little town. As it was near Christmas, we saw the creative way that locals decorated for the occasion. We met local women who made purses to take to neighboring towns to sell and spent some time swinging from a rope swing that the people who live there use. Another highlight of the trip was this town.
Santa Veronica itself was a vacation spot for locals, so you will find lots of people at the beach during the day. We enjoyed an afternoon of sea kayaking in some seriously large waves.
We really liked this town for its atmosphere, ability to meet locals and the fact that it was not tourist driven. There were no people trying to sell you things! I think this town was one of my favourite spots and I’m so glad we happened upon it.
Read about other trips in Colombia:
Travelling on a budget sometimes means we land ourselves with long layovers. Although this might not seem ideal, we found this to be a fun and unique way to travel. We often save several hundred dollars and get the opportunity to visit a new place!
On our trip home from Colombia, we had a 8 hour layover in Panama City, Panama. A quick google told us that this city has a lot to offer. People often visit the Panama Canal, but as we like outdoor adventures, we decided to visit the Metropolitan Natural Park. The Park is about a 25 minute taxi drive from the airport, which seemed like a good choice for a few hours of hiking.
The entry into the park was very affordable at a few dollars each. There are five trails to choose from with different loops throughout the park. The Mono Tití Road has a lookout point with an amazing city view. We decided to double back and continue further in the park after seeing the view in the hopes of seeing more wildlife. Even though we were there is the hot afternoon, we saw several coatis, capybaras, lots of birds and lizards. We also saw two tame racoons that live with the people that run the park. They were very friendly and cute!
On our way out we decided to visit the butterfly sanctuary for USD $5 each. A staff member who speaks English and Spanish took us on a tour of the facility, let us hold some butterflies and answered questions before leaving us to explore.
Overall, this was an easy and fun excursion if you find yourself with several hours in Panama. We likely had time for another stop, but we decided to have dinner at the airport before boarding.
- You will have to clear customs to enter Panama and pass security on the way back. If you have large luggage it is best to check it through to the final destination
- Taxis are more expensive then South America. Be prepared to pay USD $35 for a taxi from the airport
- To cut costs, exit through the bus terminal and start walking. We picked up a taxi just outside the airport to Metropolitan Park for USD $25
- There was more English, but know some Spanish words
2017 you have been a wild ride with lots of great things to reflect on. I have a lot to be grateful for this year!
Kicked off 2017 in onsie-style with some of the best skydiving people.
Said hello to the new year with winter skydiving
Horseback rode on a beach in Mexio
Skydived onto a (different) beach in Mexico
Re-entering the show ring at the National level after many years away (just for fun)
Amazing times at the cottage with good friends
Riding a giant inflatable shark out of a plane! Photo: Revesz Media
Continue to be grateful for the cool places I go for work, including Canada 150
Summer camp for adults – skydiving style
For the first time in 12 years, having a part-border on my horse & watching their success
Attending beautiful weddings (sometimes I am not at the barn or skydiving)
Back country camping with my mom
Gourmet Food and Wine show with great friends!
Traveling to Colombia with my amazing guy
Ringing in the new year skiing and relaxing at Horse Shoe Valley
After a few days in Cartagena, we were more comfortable navigating Colombia and my conversational Spanish was improving. We looked forward to our trip to explore the Northern Coast of Colombia. On to the next adventure!
Santa Marta is a popular destination for travelers and a great stepping off point for trips to Parque Tayrona. Later in the week we would spend a night in the park.
We stayed in Rodadero, which is in Santa Marta, but is its own separate community. We booked a MarSal bus from Cartagena. Remember to ask your bus driver to drop you in Rodadero at the bus office instead of going into the main part of Santa Marta.
We stayed in the beautiful Calle 11 hostel. From the street you arrive at a huge white painted door with a buzzer. Once inside you pass tiny white lights hanging in tress before emerging to a beautiful white castle. I cannot say enough good things about this lovely hostel and the fantastic staff. You feel like you are staying in paradise here! It is just a short walk to the beach too.
Rodadero is very safe to walk around a night. This area has a hip feel – there are a number of restaurants and shops within walking distance. You will often see horse carriages clattering by on the streets at night, which gives Rodadero a romantic feel. This area is where many Colombians and South Americas have vacation homes or come to relax.
Rodadero is a short 10 minute taxi drive to the main section of Santa Marta, but we spent most of our time on day trips or enjoying Rodadero itself.
We booked a day trip to Crystal Beach for snorkeling and lunch. Crystal beach is inside Parque Tayrona although at an opposite side to the camping and accommodations.
Tayrona is about a 45 minute bus ride to the park entrance, where you will have to be registered by passport or ID. The park tracks people coming and going, which is good to ensure everyone is safe. It is COP 45,000 a person to enter the park. From here it was about a 30 minute ride to where we boarded boats to the private beach.
Crystal beach is boat access only and is a pretty little place to visit. The visibility for snorkeling was not great, so if you are an avid snorkeler I would recommend checking out Rosario islands near Cartagena – we heard these were better. We still enjoyed looking at all the fist that came right up to check us out!
We had lunch at a small restaurant on the beach before walking down the shoreline. They gave us several hours to relax before the boats return to the bus. The beach was lovely, but we were anxious to get back and continue exploring Rodadero.
Overall, another beautiful area of Colombia that was well worth the visit. Rodadero is known for the best beaches on the northern coast of Colombia. Most Colombia beaches are rockier, not like the “traditional” Caribbean beaches. Santa Marta (Rodadero) certainly felt like more of a vacation city and had the relaxed feeling to go along with it. Although all of Colombia seemed to have a more relaxed, slow pace to life then we have back home – which is refreshing!
- Rodadero had less English then Cartagena: learn some Spanish, as very few people speak English in Colombia. I crammed for about 6 months using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. If you try to speak some Spanish, most people were very willing to help out.
- In Rodadero we stayed at Calle 11 hostel
- We booked all hostels through: www.booking.com
- Rodadero has many grocery stores and banks, so a good area to stock up. The smaller towns like Santa Veronica, had no banks and only road side “grocery stores.”
- I get asked about safety a lot: we had no problems in Colombia, walked around at night, and are visible foreigners. We googled cities in advance, stuck to safer areas, and asked hostel owners for recommendations on walking around. We were careful and aware, but still walked a lot and explored. Colombia has improved the political climate/safety issues significantly in the last 10 years.
- We found Rodadero VERY safe, but there have been occasional reports of robberies in Santa Marta central. If you are concerned, stay in Rodadero.
- To enter Parque Tayrona, it’s advertised to have proof of a yellow fever vaccine. We were never asked for this, but it’s still a good idea since you are technically in a jungle.
- Crystal Beach was lovely, but I might suggest there are equally as nice beaches in Rodadero. If this is your only excursion to Parque Tayrona, I would 100% go! Buy your own mask and snorkel at a shop in Rodadero (for the same price as renting) and do your own thing.
Read about our other adventures in Colombia:
Over the last year, we heard great things about travelling to Colombia. I was intrigued by the country, so it was natural pick for our next trip.
I cannot say enough good things about the country. The people are lovely, the culture is interesting, the landscape is beautiful and we found it safe. We decided to stick to the northern coast in the Caribbean area. We originally wanted to visit Medellin and fly to Cartagena, but our short timeline convinced us to stick to the northern coast.
We flew into Cartagena to start our journey along the northern coast of Colombia. There is an interesting Caribbean influence in this part of Colombia. We stayed in Getsemani, which is outside the Walled City, but still within the “outer wall” of the old city. This is a beautiful, colourful and hip area of the city.
It feels less touristy and gave us a better taste of the city. This area has local music, great food and a busy late night atmosphere, especially on weekends. It’s lovely to walk through the streets and meet locals sitting outside their homes.
Getsemani is walking distance to the Walled City and Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – both of, which are worth a visit. The Walled City is certainly touristy, but it’s pretty for an afternoon walk. This area has lots of shops, restaurants and places to buy souvenirs.
San Felipe is a fort dating back to 1536 with an interesting history. We explored on our own (plus watched a video on their history) in about 2 hours. The best part is that they allow visitors to explore the tunnels deep below the fort.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo
We took a day trip to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. El Totumo is a mud volcano – yes you heard right mud! It also happens to be the smallest volcano in the country, but its uniqueness makes it worth the visit. Legend has it this was once a volcano with lava and I priest blessed it to become mud. The mud is supposed to have minerals that are good for you skin.
We climbed up the staircase built on the side of the volcano and looked down at the mud below. We were hesitant at first, but the mud was buoyant and warm – much more pleasant than expected. Although the mud is incredibly deep, it’s impossible to sink. You just float on the surface, as the occasional bubble of sulphur comes up.
For COP 4,000 you can get a massage in the volcano and for an additional COP 4,000 someone will take pictures with your camera. You cannot bring one in yourself because they do not want them dropped in the volcano.
Washing off the mud is almost as interesting as the volcano itself. We walked down the cobblestone path towards the lake below. A lady quickly appeared and sat us down in the shallow water. She had a small bowl to wash water over our head. If you are self-conscious, leave that feeling at the door! Bathing suits were moved around, boobs were scrubbed, ears were cleaned out and my boyfriend lost his shorts for a few minutes. The group we walked down with, after the whirlwind experience, left clean (for another COP 4,000).
We added a lunch on the beach and a mangrove tour to our excursion. The mangrove tour was very interesting and beautiful. A boat took us through the tunnels inside the mangroves before emerging to a large, but shallow lake.
Cartagena and the area around it were beautiful. I would highly recommend this area as a stepping off point to the northern coast.
Stay tuned for an overview of our next stops in Colombia – Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona and Santa Veronica.
- If you are Canadian, you will pay a reciprocity fee of about $80 CAD on entering the country. A lot of people at the airport did not know this and were surprised to pay this at customs. This is in response to Canadian’s biometric data fee for Colombians entering Canada.
- Learn some Spanish, as very few people speak English in Colombia. I crammed for about 6 months using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. If you try to speak some Spanish, most people were very willing to help out.
- We opted to stay in hostels with private rooms and an attached bathroom. We found that these were overall nicer than any of the mid-range hotels in Colombia. I am guilty of thinking of the hostels as party places, but all the ones we stayed at were clean, friendly and family/couple oriented.
- I get asked about safety a lot: we had no problems in Colombia, walked around at night, and are visible foreigners. We googled cities in advance, stuck to safer areas, and asked hostel owners for recommendations on walking around. We were careful and aware, but still walked a lot and explored. Colombia has improved the political climate/safety issues significantly in the last 10 years. I would recommend the country!
- In Cartagena we stayed at Patio de Getsemani
- We booked all hostels through: booking.com
- We booked tours through a local travel agency in Cartagena: juanballena.com
- We used the MarSol private shuttle service. You can call to book or visit the office in each city. They offered a door-to-door service for the starting and end locations, and will usually stop on the road in between if you ask.
- We used Taxis, but asked our hostels to call their preferred person (for safety). All our taxi drivers were pleasant and usually wanted to chat (in my broken Spanish).
Read about our other adventures in Colombia:
Facebook recently reminded my of a memory from three years ago.
Three years ago this crazy skydiving journey started with a tandem. I thought I would do one tandem to try out skydiving since my dad was skydiver. I thought it would be a fun way to remember him, as I always heard about it skydiving growing up from family. Well one tandem turned to two then three, and before I knew it I had enrolled in skydiving school!
Three years later and 240ish jumps I’ve met awesome new friends and get to be part of an amazing community! My life has changed in significant ways I could never imagine. I’m more confident, go for things I want and have a great support system.
I would not change one minute of it and hey it’s pretty cool to be part something my dad loved!
Tandem to skydiver….
We arrived at Algonquin Park on a crispy morning with a bright blue sky. I was looking forward to disconnecting and using the time to enjoy nature. I did not get to Algonquin the previous year, so this weekend was anticipated. After a busy summer of skydiving, a hectic work schedule and busy weekends, a weekend away was what I needed. No cellphone reception and relaxing by the lake sounded perfect!
We wanted to stay away from the increasing busy-ness of the HWY 60 corridor. We decided on the Magnetawan Lake access point with two nights on Daisy Lake. Although I have done this route before, I never stayed on Daisy Lake. We thought this would be great for a mother-daughter weekend. In the spirit of relaxation, we decided on an easier trip with fewer portages.
After getting our permits, we headed down the long road to Magnetawan. The dirt road was better than usual and we arrived to the lake around 10:15am. We paddled to sunny skies and low winds – a paddlers dream. It was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday morning in August.
We quickly reached at the 135m portage into Hambone, which was muddy but manageable as it is a well-worn portage. As we canoed across Hambone, we were surprised to find it had very few campers on it.
The water was so high, we were excited to skip the 55m portage into Acme pond. Luck and water was on our side because we navigated the small river to the right of the portage with little trouble.
Acme Pond was a quick windless paddle before beaching on the 420m portage into Daisy Lake. I remember this portage being relatively easy, but this year it was very muddy. This was also the longest portage I’ve ever carried a canoe on my own. I’ve travelled significantly longer portages, but this was a first with a canoe over my own head! Navigating through mud and trying not to slip made this portage take longer. It was a satisfying victory putting the canoe down in the river before entering Daisy Lake.
We had our hopes on the last campsite on the eastern side of the lake, but it was a Saturday, so we decided to check out all the sites on the way. The first two towards the Dolly Lake portage were bushy and unremarkable, but not terrible. The one before the island was a pretty rocky site, although with less tent spots. We almost stayed, but a rowdy group on the island convinced us to continue on.
The first island site looked nice, but the second was another unremarkable one. We had our fingers crossed as we paddled up Daisy. The campsite on the west shore was pleasant and we were prepared to stay, but to our excitement, the site we were hoping for was open.
The campsite is a little peninsula, so gets both the sunrise and sunset. It has a great fire pit and lots of tent spots. Overall a perfect spot to base camp and relax. Although it was August, the nights were around 7C, so we enjoyed the fire before turning in to get warm and read.
The evening before, some campers appeared across the narrow. Their voices carried easily, so we decided to explore down the river. We quickly arrived at the 135m portage that was usually easy, but it was slick with mud. We both enjoy paddling rivers, so continued on. We cruised down the river with the current and quickly came to the next portage.
We debated continuing on the river, but decided against it as we had to turn around to our campsite for the night. We crossed the 450m (another muddy one) on foot and enjoyed a lunch under the warm sun. After a rest we headed for home and to explore the falls on the previous portage.
The 135m portage has pretty little falls that would be good swimming on a warmer day. The water was high at the falls and we enjoyed exploring them before continuing on.
The afternoon and evening was enjoyed with a book, some wine and good company. Lying on the sunny rocks with the water glistening in the cool breeze was just the disconnection I was hoping for. Dinner was pasta cooked over the fire with s’mores for dessert. The evening was a bit warmer, so we stayed up and enjoyed the evening before turning in.
I awoke early and decided to watch the sunrise. A thick fog was hanging over the glass-like water. The sun rose and I could feel some warmth in the air. We enjoyed another egg breakfast before tearing down camp. We were off down Daisy Lake with a last glance at our lovely site.
It was surprising how many people moved in Sunday because the lake was now full. The 420m portage was already busy with people coming in for the week. This was surprising, but people must be taking advantage of the last week of August.
Our trip out was relatively easy, but the portages were quickly turning to traffic jams. The Hambone-Magnetewan portage was the worst with 5-6 canoes travelling in.
Overall the trip was lovely and just what I was hoping for. Algonquin has this way of putting the mind at ease. Fingers crossed that I will find more time for Algonquin next year.
A moment of silence, as I stepped back and let myself fall. It was a new sensation and almost peaceful.
It was not my first time jumping from a helicopter, but maybe the first time I really appreciated the experience.
For a non-skydiver, falling out of a plane or helicopter might seem like nearly the same experience, but they are actually quiet difference. Many skydivers try a helicopter jump because they are chasing the experience of “dead air.” That moment of silent air, where you actually get the sensation of falling.
In an airplane the forward speed prevents people from feeling as though they are falling when they leave the plane. It’s probably closer to being sucked away from the plane then anything. It also tends to be loud, as the wind rushes past your face. This fast air is what allows skydivers to maneuver and perform in the air.
Dead air is pretty much the opposite. Jumping from the stationary helicopter means you truly feel like your falling – until you speed up to terminal velocity.
For the thrill seeker it is the next experience after skydiving. It gives you a bit of an idea of what BASE jumping might feel like, although I never intend to try that.
It was interesting, after all the anxiety of the flight up, that moment of stepping off and falling back was strangely serene. Time slowed down. It was a few moments in time that I remember vividly and will not forget.
A lack of waterfalls can sometimes be beautiful. It is a reminder to have an open mind to different possibilities in life.
We were in Ottawa, Illinois and looking for something to do. Skydiving had brought us to the area, but clouds had put us on hold. Our options were to drive to Chicago or find something local to do. As I generally prefer forests to cities, we decided to do some googling of state parks.
Starved Rock State Park with a promise of waterfalls and sandstone canyons seemed like the natural choice. Upon arrival, signs informed us that recent dry weather meant the waterfalls would not be flowing. We decided to continue on and were very pleasantly surprised by what we found.
We started out at the visitors centre and walked to the first outlook named after the park. Although there was a nice view, this lookout was busy and touristy because of its proximity to the visitor centre. After a quick stop we continued on to more rustic trails deeper in the park. As we continued on, the paved trail dropped off into a pretty forest. Well worth the walk!
The first and probably my favourite stop was French Canyon, which has a dried out waterfall. This canyon was unique because you could walk up a dry stone river bed to get into the canyon. After some exploring we hiked up along the edge of the canyon before continuing onto Wildcat Canyon.
The trail between the two was heavily forested, but the forest floor was uniquely sandy. The sand gave way to occasional boardwalks before we emerged to the much larger Wildcat Canyon. This one was impressive in height, but also drew in more crowds. Our walk back took us along the sandy trails on the banks of the Illinois river. We stopped up a few look outs, but the canyons were really the main attraction for me.
Starved Rock State Park was voted the number one attraction in Illinois. I would suggest arriving in the morning because the park was really becoming busy on our way out. The parking lot was packed even on a Thursday! Overall a beautiful park with unique features that is well worth the visit.