It’s Colombia (Not Columbia!)

It’s no secret how much we loved our six weeks in Colombia. Here are a few facts, observations and rumors about this fantastic country that make it such a special place.

  • While many people still think that Colombia is too dangerous to visit, the truth is that remarkable strides have been made over the past 10 years to reduce crime and increase security. As a result, growth in tourism has been on the fast track. By some estimates, tourism is growing 12% per year, and it’s predicted that by 2023 Colombia is expected to receive 15 million tourists. Join the movement, buy your ticket today and prepare to fall in love with Colombia!


  • Yes, it’s true. Despite being “discovered” by Christoper Columbus, the country of Colombia spells its name differently than the magnificent Columbia River, Columbia Sportswear and all things “Columbia” that you’ll find across the United States. The fine citizens of Colombia have had enough with everyone misspelling their name, so a year ago a digital-media executive helped create the “It’s Colombia, not Columbia” marketing campaign. The campaign has picked up speed and now tens of thousands of Colombians are alert and ready to correct anyone on social media who gets it wrong. #itscolombianotcolumbia

Colombia keep calm red

  • We have found Colombians to be incredibly friendly. Along with Argentinians, they rank among the nicest people we’ve come across in South America. Colombians are lively and full of laughter. They love loud music and dancing. According to the Barometer of Happiness and Hope report, Colombia was the happiest country in the world in 2013 and 2014 (source: Colombia Reports). The culture of happiness here is remarkable given their violent and contentious not-so distant past.

Cartagena Fruit Woman

  • Colombia has been at war with itself for 50 years, one of the longest running civil wars in the world. There are several main players, including the drug cartels, right-winged paramilitaries, leftist paramilitary groups like FARC, and the government army. Over five million people, mostly from the countryside, have been displaced. Recent peace talks in Havana have led to a tentative treaty that will be voted on by the people in March. As you can imagine, this is a very complicated and emotional issue for Colombians. (photo credit:

Colombia peace talk

  • On a lighter note, Colombians like to drink their coffee “tinto” (dark) and they buy it from vendors on the street corners, no frills attached. The Juan Valdez coffee shops that can be found in big cities cater to all the gringos looking for a Starbucks experience while in South America.


  • We’ve noticed more people of all ages, grandmas included, wearing national team futbol jerseys in Colombia than in any other country that we’ve visited in South America. Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup for the first time in 16 years and they surprised the world by making it to the quarterfinals. They eventually lost to Brazil, the host country, but they returned home heroes. The yellow, blue and red jerseys can be seen far and wide and represent the passion and pride Colombians feel for their country.

Colombia soccer team

  • With mountains, jungles, coffee and cacao farms, deserts, modern cities and small pueblos, Colombia has it all. Sitting on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the country boasts over 300 beaches. Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world with 340 different types of ecosystems. There are 58 National Parks here, which is the same number as the US.

Colombia, not Columbia2

  • There are only two seasons in Colombia: winter (the rainy season), and summer (the dry season). With that said, weather patterns are predictable and you can basically choose which climate you want to live in, year-round. Imagine having the same weather, month after month. Love the intense heat, relentless humidity and beautiful beaches? You should live in and around Cartagena on the Caribbean. Would you rather live in the mountains at 8,000 feet and wear a jacket as soon as the sun goes down at 6:00 every day? Move to Bogota. Or how about Medellin, where the days are warm and the nights cool. You pick.


  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize winner, was from Colombia. I felt so lucky when I came across a used copy of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” at my hostel. I had the absolute pleasure of reading it while spending time in northern Colombia, the setting of this wonderful book.

100 Years of Solitude

  • There are motorbikes all over the crowded streets of Colombia, from big cities to little villages. It’s common to see drivers carrying an extra helmet in the crook of their arm because more often than not, they will pick up someone and serve as their taxi. In northern Colombia the only taxis available were motorbikes. When my friends and I wanted to go somewhere, a flock of drivers would show up, one for each of us. We’d put our backpacks on the handlebars and jump on behind the young driver (always a young driver!). This was my favorite mode of transportation in all of South America.



  • Colombia is ranked number six in world (behind the USA, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Spain) for cosmetic surgery. Social pressures coupled with family support and affordable procedures make surgeries extremely popular here. Rumor has it that in Medellin there is even a free cosmetic surgery program in the city’s poorest neighborhood. How about that? The medical students practice their skills while the people “benefit” from getting bigger boobs and butts. Going shopping? Don’t forget to buy your padded undies to make your bootie bigger!

Big Butts

  • While futbol is the most popular sport in Colombia (duh!), its most traditional sport is called Tejo. This highly unusual game involves launching heavy, rock-like projectiles at a target surrounded by explosives. We had a great time playing this crazy game with our friends Liz and Alex while we were in Solento. To see what tejo is all about, check out Anthony Bourdain’s short video. I think I know the perfect family-friendly activity to play at our next annual July 4th shindig in Michigan….


Well, have I convinced you? When are YOU coming to visit?

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands

Last year my father-in-law visited the Galapagos Islands and he said it was one of the best trips he’s ever taken. Since we were already in Ecuador, he encouraged us to make it part of our travels. He generously gifted us the excursion so we could experience the magic of the Galapagos. Thanks, dad, we are so grateful!

The Galapagos are an archipelago of 20 volcanic islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was largely formed by his time spent on the islands. The Galapagos are special for numerous reasons, including the large number of endemic species and the protections put into place beginning in the 1930’s. It was amazing for us to observe the abundance of wildlife in their natural state. Since the animals live without the threat of humans, they are amazingly fearless in the close proximity of people. This allows for exceptional observation not found in most other places.

We loved spending 10 days in the Galapagos. The first five days we were on our own to explore Isabela and Santa Cruz Islands. Our last five days we indulged in the luxury of a boat, visiting numerous islands uninhabited by man. We found this combination to be an ideal way to experience the islands.

Blue-Footed Boobie

This guy won best in show.


Isabela + Santa Cruz Islands

There are numerous activities one can partake in without needing a tour group or a guide. We walked along miles of coastline, swam at quiet beaches, spent hours watching the crabs and black land iguanas co-mingle, and visited the turtle breeding center. We hung out with other backpackers and simply enjoyed the breathtaking beauty of the islands.


Los Tuneles Snorkeling

This awesome day trip consisted of an hour boat ride each way, speeding way out into the Pacific to reach our destination.  We snorkeled in and around lava formations with penguins, sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, rays and loads of other fish. Can you see the penguin behind my head? Whee!


Majestic Cruise

There were 16 of us on board the 117-foot long Majestic and we all had a fun time together. Our days were full with different activities designed to observe the wildlife from all angels like snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and walking along beautiful beaches. The landscapes on each island varied significantly. Our Ecuadorian naturalist was excellent and full of detailed information.  The food was delicious and plentiful. There was even fresh fruit juice or hot chocolate every time we came back onto the boat accompanied by salty snacks. We were spoiled —  and we enjoyed every minute.


We highly recommend visiting the Galapagos! Many of you have this destination on your Bucket List and I couldn’t agree more. If you have any questions, please ask, and if you’re looking for a travel partner we can probably work something out. Viva Galapagos!

Ecuador: Quito + the Pacific Coast

The six weeks we spent in Ecuador are best defined by relationships. We met so many wonderful people and developed long-lasting friendships, like with our new Cuenca family: Diana, Ines, John, Bill and Rodolfo. We also ran into people we’d crossed paths with before in other countries. The social aspect of Ecuador greatly enhanced our experiences as a whole.


Quito, at an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level, sits on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The city has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas and we had a great time exploring as much as we could by foot. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked Quito.

We found Quito’s Central Mercado to be top notch. While it wasn’t the biggest we’ve seen, it was definitely the cleanest local market we’ve yet to visit. Like other markets, there were stalls upon stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers in addition to a large section of food prepared on site. There were also lots of juice stands with women busy making fresh juice to order. We ate lunch there a few times and I happily drank glasses of fresh juice before, during and after my meal of rice, avocado, fried plantains and spicy aji.

Quito street vendors sold crunchy treats like Lupini beans (similar to Lima beans) and chifles (green plantains) — both are thinly sliced, fried and tossed with salt. Adding spicy aji makes them even tastier. Yum!

We typically go on a “Free Walking Tour” when we arrive to a city, and Quito was no exception. Our guide was fantastic and entertained us for three hours with facts and stories about the history of Quito and Ecuador.

At the end of the tour we were approached by a couple from New Zealand, Liz and Alex, who remembered meeting us on a boat ride coming home from Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia…. more than three months ago! I’m normally really good with remembering people, but I drew a blank, which was totally awkward for a few minutes. Luckily Liz isn’t easily offended so we ended up laughing and grabbing lunch. The four of us spent much of our time in Quito together and we agreed that our paths would have to cross again at some point soon.

We also reconnected with our Australian friend Adrian, whom we hadn’t seen in six weeks. He volunteered with us at the Hilo Rojo school in Turjillo, Peru. We had a great time catching up with him in Quito. We introduced him to Liz and Alex and the five of us had a lot of fun hanging out together. We took the city’s Teleferico (cable car) up to 13,000 feet for an incredible view of Quito, ate lunch together at the local market, walked around old town and climbed up the towers of the basilica.


Ecuadorian Coast Beach #1: Canoa

We’d heard for a long time that the Ecuadorian coast was a special place and we were excited to check out some of its beautiful beaches… but of course, that would require another long-distance journey by bus. We left Quito, high up in the Andes, and took a bus eight hours down to the Pacific coast where we landed in Canoa.

Located on the central Ecuadorian coast, Canoa is a laid-back fishing village. We stayed in a hostel 200 yards from the ocean. We conveniently had to walk past a fresh juice cart every time we went to the beach, which meant I had my share of fresh mora (blackberry) juice. Blackberries are one of the many fruits grown in abundance in Ecuador, and it quickly became my juice de jour. Harry, of course, had his share of cerveza.

Canoa boasts 11 miles of beach, making it the longest stretch of beach in Ecuador. Since we were there in the off-season it was mostly desolate and we enjoyed having most of the place to ourselves.


Ecuadorian Coast Beach #2: Olón

Guess what we did when we left Canoa? We hopped onto a bus and headed south to Olón, another beach town. Well, to be specific, we actually had to use three different buses to go 144 miles along the coastline. The entire affair took us seven hours.

We were happy to be on the coast during low-season because Olón was a sleepy oasis with just a few cabanas decorating the beautiful, sandy beach. We stayed in a small hostel and Elizabeth, the owner, lived on the property. We really enjoyed the time we spent with her, and we were happy to help her with her English while we practiced our Spanish.

There were only two other guests staying in the hostel and they happened to be American. Sandy recently moved to Cotacachi, a small town in northern Ecuador, and Tayo came down to visit her for a few months. There were traveling around Ecuador for a few weeks, also enjoying the beautiful coastline. We had a few meals together and shared travel stories which included lots of big laughs. They invited us to come visit them at Sandy’s apartment if we were ever near Cotacachi. Meeting them definitely made our stay in Olón much more entertaining and enjoyable. We’d really like to see these two again!

IMG_2653IMG_2642 IMG_2672IMG_2614IMG_2682

Next Up: Galapagos Islands