Que Hubo ?

#16 Montevideo


We wake up early to take the boat to Colonia, a small town 60km away of Buenos Aires across the estuary of Rio de la Plata. Colonia is a small town with a tiny, pretty historical center.

After walking around the old houses and the pier we take a bus to Montevideo, a 2h drive through the countryside. Landscapes look surprisingly “European”, with the addition of a few palm trees here and there.

Uruguay is a small country that sits a bit in the shadow of its larger neighbours: it isn’t much talked about, and is much less frequented by tourists than for example Argentina or Brazil. Its economy is nothing stellar, Montevideo has a few sights to offer but can’t really compete with Buenos Aires, nor does local food really stand out. And yet, there is something really refreshing about spending a few days here: the rythm of life is more relaxed, people are really friendly and always up for chatting a bit, Uruguay gives the impression of a country living a modest life at its own speed. Uruguay is also a really progressive country: same sex marriage and abortion as well as marijuana dealing are legal here, and Uruguayan women got the right to vote almost 30 years before French ones did!

We spend those three days walking between Ciudad Vieja, the historical center hosting a mix of historical and nondescript buildings, el Cordón, the area around the university where our hostel is and where many students go out at night, and some more peripheral districts on the seaside.

Our favorite places in Montevideo end up being three bars, Finisterre, Andorra and Flores. Finisterre is run by a cooperative of 10 friends running it together but for the past four years. It has a great ambience, serves artisanal beer and very decent food. We had a great time chatting with the waiters about life in Uruguay. Andorra serves delightful sandwiches and has a nice terrasse, they were screening a Chaplin movie in the background the day we went there. Las Flores serves both pizzas and drinks, and is a very popular place with locals. We get to know Obdulio Trasante, a former player of the Peñarol soccer team, who now practices cycling for a change.

Because of the inflation, going out in Uruguay is significantly more expensive than in any other country we’ve visited in our trip: prices here are similar to Parisian ones, even though people here don’t earn that much. People do however still eat outside and have drinks, they enjoy life even on a limited budget.

On the second day, a group of Colombian musicians move into the hotel. They are a Mugra band, a gender linked to carnavals and mixing polyphonic singing, dance and theater. We’re lucky enough to hear them rehearsing the last morning we spend in the patio before heading to the airport, and to exchange a bit about this kind of art which is new to us.

#15 Buenos Aires


We arrive in Buenos Aires in the morning and use 40 of our USD to take a cab to the hostel. No partner bank of us in this country: we need to pay 6% fee for a withdrawal (but payments with a MasterCard are free of charge).

We booked the hostel a few days earlier. Although Palermo had a big head starts as the place to be according to various sources, we decided for the more historical San Telmo, not without some doubts.

We hang around San Telmo’s market (it’s Sunday) and have lunch in the Mercado.

We then walk along the river from Puerto Madero to the Microcentro, further away from the agitation. It offers clear perspectives over the river and the skycrappers and allows us to pass by the Puente de la Mujer, the iconic bridge of the city that evokes Tango by its shape.

We arrive at the Centro Cultural Kirchner. It’s an impressive classical building hosting a number of exhibitions and a gigantic metal cow holding a concert hall. We discover David Lynch makes great sketches!

We head back south and walk through the emblematic Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada.

We stop by El Gaucho, a small empanadas place overloaded with decorations. They were really good (especially the one with Roquefort!).

After checking in in the America del Sur hostel (a highly recommendable place), we have a bite at the nice Banco Rojo small restaurant and finish the evening in the Gibraltar. This big, Irish, local favourite bar has a nice atmosphere, even if prices increased significantly in the last years and there are now a bit less students.

The second day starts with a coffee at Cafe Tortoni. It’s a XIXth century establishment now overly touristic and expensive but nevertheless beautiful.

We then walk all day long through the city’s most iconic neighborhoods.

Congreso and Microcentro are the working centers of the city. They include a large amount of nice period buildings of different styles (classic, art deco and other) such as the Palacio Barolo and the Water Company Palace, and give an overall impression of relative architectural consistency.

Buildings are typically 5 to 10 story high and many streets are single lane.

Retiro and Recoleta are made of bigger and more modern buildings. There are many parks around, bordering the (hidden) ocean. They are quiet and relatively chic residential areas.

We finally end up in the celebrated Palermo. The Baez street, supposedly the heart of barrio Cañitas, a district where young people go out, is a succession of single-story houses hosting inauthentic trendy bars.
The rest of the streets we walk in appear to us as surprisingly residential and banal, and we need a bit of time to find a terrace.
After a beer at the Dixton, we head to the Parilla Don Julio meat restaurant. A crowd of elegant people are waiting in front of the restaurant and the waiting time is around an hour. We move to La Cabrera Parrilla, another well rated meat place where we enjoyed watching people even more than eating the meat (that was overcooked and not so tasty to tell the truth).

The third and last day is lazier. After an enjoyable breakfast at the Rivas, a nicely furnished café close to our hostel, we walk to La Boca.

It’s a popular neighborhood featuring period architecture and the stadium of one of the two football clubs of the city.

A few streets became a touristic must-do, particularly because of the distinct way houses got painted by the inhabitants, using the leftovers of boat paint.

Before going to dinner, we enjoy watching some tango on the so cosy Plaza Dorrego.

La Brigada offers us the Argentinian meat experience we were looking for as well as a great evening. It’s an old two story restaurant overly decorated with fútbol scarfes, empty wine magnums and the like, where we got a table immediately.

Next to us, half a dozen of casually dressed businessman are having fun around a big table. They are joined every half an hour by young and plastically perfect bimbos dressed in a light and flashy manner.
The waiter discretely shares our amusement. He later told us they were top models.
Once again, San Telmo beats Palermo to the ground!

We say goodbye to Buenos Aires early on the next day from the boat that brings us to Montevideo.

#14 Cajón del Maipo


On Friday, we go camping for a night with Francisca and Cristóbal at Cajón del Maipo, in the mountains East of Santiago.

Francisca is a circus artist, we meet her where she trains every day in Buin, a small village South of Santiago. After experiencing that climbing a chinese pole is definitely much harder than it looks, we head to Francisca’s house in Huelquén before starting our trip to the Cajón.

It takes around 3 hours of driving first on roads, then on dirt tracks to get to our camping spot at Termas de Plomo. On the way, we pass by the Embalse el Yeso, a stretch of water of varying colors resulting from a dam downstream. The landscape around is a bit moon-like, with mountains of many colors from purple to bordeaux, from gray to emerald. Goats, cow and horses roam around free.

We make it to the campsite at dusk and arm the tents.

The temperature falls pretty sharply at night, but we’re lucky enough to find some wood. We gather around the fire for the rest of the evening before going to sleep. The wind blows give us little rest.

In the morning, we drive back and spend the rest of our last day in Chile with our friends.

#13 Valparaiso


Valparaiso seats on a strip of hills bordering the Pacific ocean, facing north. While most of them host modest or working neighborhoods, particularly on the highest parts of the hills, they all participate in shaping the striking general view and the charm Valparaiso is known for.

Houses come in a wide range of styles, materials and finish: chic modern iron and glass buildings may sit next to shacks clad with corrugated metal. It evokes Miyasaki’s universe.

Colours and murals are everywhere, on mosaics, facades or rocks.

Another surprise on a different note is the presence of stray dogs, which we’re not used to see any longer in Europe (don’t watch at them or they may turn into a wolf pack).

A few hills are particularly lively and in some parts more upscale, showing tidier constructions or offering a high concentration of cafés and restaurants.

El Plano, the flat part directly bordering the ocean, is a more banal but pleasant area that includes docks and a period market.

Thierry got us the guest room of a photo studio for the only night we’ll spend there. It’s a charming former three-story hotel built around an inner patio.

In the evening we have dinner at El Pimenton. We order a chorrillana, a local filling meal consisting in meat pieces topping a large amount of French fries. An enjoyable mix of soul and reggae is provided by the local DJ La Máquina del Beat.

On the next day, we walk through the city and visit Pablo Neruda’s house and then fill us up at the great Empanadas Famosas popular restaurant.

We head back to Santiago to see a theater play about Violetta Parra, after taking one of the city hill “elevator”.

#12 Santiago


We get in the airport well in time, but learn there that Avianca overbooked the flight, and that we’re on the waiting list… Now we know one good reason to do online check-in as soon as it opens! We still wait in the boarding room but no luck, we stay stranded in Bogota… After some negotiating, we manage to get a compensation in cash (instead of vouchers) and Avianca takes us to a hotel for the night. We wake up after 3h of sleep to catch the plane of 7:30am, and land at 4pm in Santiago. We get a cab to German’s house, an old friend of Adrien.

German and his family prepared some pulmai, a typical food with mussels, meat and sausages. After “lunch” (it’s already around 6pm) we decide to go hang out a bit in the center to get a first glimpse of the city. We start in barrio Lastarria, a lively and trendy part in the very center before walking to barrio Bellavista, concentrating a large numbers of bars in Santiago. We end up seating at Galindo, a popular place open for over 40 years.


On our way, German tells us about some elements of Chile’s history and mythology: Pedro de Valdivia, the Spaniard who conquered Chile, Caupolicán, the Mapuche (indigenous) chef that got impaled on top of cerro Santa Lucía after being defeated by him, or Lautaro, a young Mapuche who grew with the Spanish conquistadors, learning their war and horse riding skills before fleeing to rejoin his people and killing Pedro de Valdivia. He also talks about Salvador Allende’s government, the first socialist government in Chile which got toppled by Pinochet, leading to a bloody dictature of 17 years.

There are a lot of street artists in Santiago and people are a good audience. Even more than in Bogota, wall paintings are everywhere, some municipalities of Santiago even encourage them. Music is however less ubiquitous than in Colombia, and fortunately less loud when it’s on!

We start our Monday at Palacio de la Moneda, the government palace that got bombed during Pinochet’s coup, but that is still in use today. From there, we head to cerro Santa Lucía and climb on top, where we get a 360° panorama of the hodgepodge of buildings and houses of different styles and times that make up Santiago. A guitarist is playing a nice medley of songs from Victor Jara, on of Chile’s iconic singers that got killed during the first days of the dictature for his political opinions.

We then dive in the busy crowds of paseo Ahumada, one of the center’s busiest streets around lunch time. After passing through Plaza de Armas, the city’s central square, we arrive at Mercado Central, a nice indoor market with various lunch options. There, we eat great empanadas at Emporio Zunino.

We pass by chance by the Piojera, a really typical bar in Santiago serving Terremoto, an infamous drink made of cheap white wine, grenadine and ice cream, actually consumed by locals.

Aftergoing through that ordeal (an extra liter of beer was needed to wash the Terremoto down), we head back to Bellavista to meet Mouss, a friend of Charles passing by Chile.

On Tuesday, we head to barrios Brasil and Republica. Those districts host a number of universities, and have a nice scene of cafes and restaurants, although those are more disseminated and less easy to find than in the more touristic areas. Barrio Republica is also home to the architectural gem of Concha y Toro, a small group of streets made up of houses of different styles from gothic to neoclassical. In the evening, we meet with Johan, a friend of Adrien, again in Bellavista.

Wednesday, we meet Thierry and his wife Luz for lunch. Thierry is a good friend of Charles’ dad who made Valparaiso his home dozens of years ago, where he reconverted as a painter known as Loro Coirón. Afterwards, we go to the Pajaritos bus station to take our bus to Valparaíso.

#11 Parque Tayrona


We leave Cartagena in the afternoon and after a rather longer than expected bus ride make it to Santa Marta, our “base camp” for entering the Tayrona natural park. Santa Marta is not so much of a touristic hotspot as Cartagena, but has nevertheless a small center of colonial houses and a good restaurants and nightlife offering.

We take a bus the next morning for the park, get to the camping spot after a 2h hike, and set up the tent and a hammock for Charles.

Tayrona is a fairly heavily frequented park, and its infrastructure reflects that: the camping place is massive and also rents hammocks, tents and bungalows, and there are several restaurants all along the footpaths accessible to the public. Those are however well integrated in the landscape, and the park regulates the businesses that are allowed to operate. In other words, while Tayrona is not the most pristine park you can visit, it is still very well preserved and offers unique landscapes definitely worth seeing.

We spend the first day walking around a bit and at the beach of La Piscina, one of the two beaches where swimming is safe.

We wake up early on the second day and walk to Cabo San Juan, the last accessible part of the park and the start of the footpath to Pueblito, an indigenous village hidden in the forest. The majority of Tayrona is not accessible to the public and is used to preserve the nature. The park is also closed in February to let indigenous people living here perform their rituals, and give time to the nature to regenerate itself.

Maureen and Adrien hike up to Pueblito, a 1:30 walk on a stone path through the forest. The weather is hot and humid, we do sweat a lot on the way! Pueblito used to be populated by up to 2000 people in the past, nowadays only a handful of families live there. We get to observe the houses made of woven palm trees and the terrasses. On the way back, we’re lucky enough to get to see some monkeys jumping from branch to branch, and a variety of colorful lizards and butterflies.

Meanwhile, Charles walks around the other paths and wilder beaches where swimming is strongly discouraged by signs reminding of the hundred of people who died trying.

We meet again at Cabo San Juan, have lunch at the Piscina beach and spend a few hours there before heading back to the entrance of the park and to Santa Marta, where we have dinner in a nice seafood restaurant held by a French guy from Marseille.

#10 Cartagena


We leave Salento in the morning and take the bus to Pereira, from where our plane to Cartagena leaves. We land in the afternoon and get a room in a rudimentary but clean hostel before exploring the streets following to the letter the Lonely Planet recommandations: “drop the guide and walk around”. Most houses in Cartagena are one or two story high, which gives the city a very human size.

We start with the district of Getsemani where our hotel is, a warm, popular and trendy area.

The street food we find there is the best meal we end up eating.

We follow with a visit to the historical center through the puerta del reloj, the most touristic part of the city next to the cathedral. Craft stands, carriage rides, traditional dances, all the standards are here. We follow with a walk on the walls (Cartagena is a former stronghold) before heading to plaza San Diego, a slightly less touristy area that stays on the fancy side.

In search of something simpler, we go back to Getsemani on plaza de la Trinidad, which is now even more packed with people sitting all around. Street artists use the square as a stage: guitar singers are followed by breakdance dancers, and street sellers provide everything from cold beers to quirky fridge magnets. There is a very good ambiance.

On the next day, we go to the main city market to get a feel of how the city is outside touristy areas.

#9 Hiking Cocora valley


We wake up pretty early in the morning to catch a Jeep to Cocora valley at 7:30am. Most transportation around Salento is done using “Willys”, old jeeps that came in from the US in the 50s and that can carry up to 13 people (some say more) easily.

From Cocora village, we start our hike up following the Quindío Cárdenas river first, and then climbing all the way up to 2900m high through the first before coming down to the Finca La Montaña. We meet a lot of (French) tourists on the way, Salento has become way more touristy then when I came here last time! After a small break, we go observe some hummingbirds at the Acaime natural reserve before picknicking along river Quindío, and heading back to the Cocora village and Salento.

#8 Coffee tour in Salento


In the afternoon, we come back to Salento to visit the coffee plantation Don Elías, a few kilometers away from the village. This plantation is quite small and is entirely organic. Luckily for them, only few parasites survive 1700m above the sea, and they mix the coffee plants with other fruit trees that are more attractive to bugs and serve as a distraction. The visit is supposed to last 45 min but we stay almost 2h there, listening to the guide and observing all the steps in the making of a coffee bean.

We come back standing on the back of a Jeep, under the rain.

In the evening, we end up by chance in a karaoke bar where Charles gets to sing a bit while we sip on mojitos.

#7 Filandia


We decide to keep the big hike in the Cocora valley for the day after and instead visit Filandia, another small village nearby with colorful houses surrounded by mountains and coffee plantations. A local specialty here is the “trucha” (trout), portions are as usual in Colombia big enough to feed two people!

#6 Arriving in Salento


The bus for Salento leaves at 10pm, and is supposed to take between 8 and 10h to take us to Armenia, from where we’ll head to Salento, a small town in the mountains of the eje cafetero (coffee area). Sleeping in a bus proves to be difficult as the driver goes pretty fast, and the road winds a lot. In the end, we make it in 6h only to Armenia, arriving a bit after 4am there. Because no buses leave to Salento yet, we try to sleep for a bit in the station, but the security guards somehow keep asking us to move somewhere else.

We arrive in Salento around 6am, and find a hostel there where we get to rest in hammocks for a bit before the room is ready.

#5 Bogotá


We arrive in Bogota in the afternoon, and after getting the tickets for the day after to Armenia we head for a short walk to the Candelaria, the historical center of the city. Even though it’s only 6:30pm, the streets are already very lively with bars pumping loud music outside. The ambience changes a lot depending on the area, from trendy bars along Carrera 3 to more popular canteens and street sellers on Carrera 7. We then head towards Santiago’s father place to meet Charles and Santiago before heading out for the night.

Santiago takes us to “Andres Carne de Rez”, a huge restaurant / bar / dancing occupying an entire building over three floors. The place is packed despite its sheer size, but we manage to find a table and taste various kinds of Colombian dishes: empanadas, morcilla, chicharron, arepas… Everything at Andres is carefully decorated, with walls covered with random-but-carefully-chosen items.

We go dancing for a bit afterwards, before heading to a Bogotan brewery for a last beer.

On Saturday, Santiago takes us for a walk across various districts in Bogota: we start with barrio Chico next to his place, a rather upscale neighborhood, before heading to plaza de Torros (corridas are still allowed here), and then to the Candelaria. We then go back North to Chapinero to have lunch, and spend a part of the afternoon walking around this lively district. The architecture changes a lot depending on which part of the city you’re in: from modern residential towers and large malls in Barrio Chico to a mix of 70s-style buildings North of Candelaria, from old Colonial houses in the Candelaria to a mix of brick buildings, English style houses and adobe walls in Chapinero and Quinta Camacho.

After exploring Chapinero, Santiago drives us up the mountains to the Mirador de la Paloma to get a glimpse of Bogota at sunset. We realize how widespread the city is, and we can only see a part of it!We drive back down and then to Usaquen, another area of Bogota with colonial houses, but in a fairly wealthy neighborhood. After a quick bite there, it’s time to head to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Armenia. It’s been really interesting to see different faces of the city, we’re really grateful to Santiago to have taken the time to walk us around (and to his father for hosting us and driving us to the terminal!).

#4 Mongui and the páramo of Ocetá


We manage to get our bus at 5:55am (yay!), and make it to Mongui, a small village 1h away from Sogamoso. Mongui is with Villa de Leyva a preserved village, all houses are painted white and green and streets are paved with massive cobblestones.

The hike up the paramo takes around 3h, from 2900m up to 3800m high. Up there, we meet a couple of guides who tell us that camping in the paramo is not allowed (too bad, the person we had asked in the village thought it was possible), and that a part of the trek is now closed because the terrain it crosses is private. Oh well, the paramo is already really nice as it is, we take our time to walk around it and take a nap in the sun.

Halfway on our way back, we feel a few drops of water. Despite our optimism, the few drops turn into a downpour, we put our jackets and backpack rain cover and keep on going. At some point, we realise that what’s falling on us is not water but ice!

We’ll have to walk a good 1.5h to make it to the hotel, completely drenched. To go out for dinner, we have to use whatever dry things we still have, which amounts to not much: we’re both wearing sandals with socks, Maureen wears my shorts above her tights and my polar cloth… We’re both pretty happy about the walk anyway, it was worth it!

In the morning, we take some time to visit Mongui a bit more. Mongui is famous for its soccer ball factories, which one can visit. There are indeed plenty of shops selling balls in all sizes and styles.

Thanks to the sunny patio (and the chimney) of the hotel, most of our clothes dried during the night, and our shoes as well. We take a bus back to Sogamoso around noon and then head to Bogotá to meet Santiago, and Charles who arrives in Colombia today!

#3 Villa de Leyva


We take it easy in the morning after our first full night in a while. The restaurant nearby agreed to sell us eggs and tomatoes, so we even get a warm breakfast! We start the walk down to the bus stop (3km away from the park) around noon.

The bus comes on time (miracle!) and we take a stroll in Villa de Leyva, a beautiful colonial town.

In the evening, we head towards Sogamoso on our way to the next park, the Páramo de Ocetá. Although Sogamoso is not a very attractive town, we manage to find a nice bar and go early to bed to catch a bus at 6am the day after!

#2 To the Cocuy… Wait no Iguaque


After a night in the bus between Medellin and Bucaramanga, we make it to the terminal early in the morning. We hop right away on another bus to Malaga (the one in Colombia), a 130km trip which takes… 7h through a winding, mostly unpaved road.

The trip is however really scenic, crossing mountains and small villages.

Once in Malaga, we take a shared taxi to Capitanejos, where we arrive too late to catch the last bus to Güican (the entrance to the natural park of El Cocuy, our final goal). It looks however that some buses to Güican pass through Soata later, so we take yet another bus to Soata, which we reach around 7:30pm. There is in theory a bus passing around 9pm, which we wait for… And wait… And it never comes. There’s also (in theory) another bus at half past midnight which we wait for… And wait again… And nothing. It’s 1:30am, we’re on the sidewalk waiting, it’s been 27h on the road, the last shop closed and it’s getting cold.

A bus passes heading to Bogota and Tunja, where we know there’s another natural park, although a smaller one. We give up on El Cocuy and hop on that bus, ride 4h and make it to Tunja, hop on another bus to Villa de Leyva, then another to the park of Iguaque and finally we arrive! After two nights in a bus (and the better part of the second one on a sidewalk), we’re pretty tired, but we start the walk up to the lake anyway (we need to come back before the night), 3h through a variety of landscapes from 2900m high up to a zone of “paramo” at 3600m high, a typical Colombian landscapes of short vegetation and “freilejones”, cactus-like plants that look like small characters from a distance.

We take a short nap by the lake, and climb down all the way to the campsite. After a “luxurious” dinner (for camping) of rice and tomatoes, we can finally go to bed for a well deserved night!

#1 A wedding in Medellin


After an uneventful flight, we make it to Medellin where we meet Maureen’s family, as well as Claudia and her parents. An expedition to the Peñol de Guatape is planned the day after, with most of the other wedding guests coming from abroad. El Peñol is a large stone standing in the middle of many small islands resulting from the flooding of the area after a dam was built.

The village of Guatape nearby is full of colored houses.

We spend the evening in Poblado, a trendy district of Medellin (some locals say it became too upscale and touristy and prefer other areas like Laureles to go out).

On Friday we visit Plaza Botero in the morning, a central square of Medellin hosting various sculptures of the artist, and walk a bit around the area before having lunch in the Plaza Minorista market. Once again we order way too much food (a menu for one really feeds two easily), but manage to make through most of the liver, rice, frijoles and soup that we got.

In the afternoon we all meet again to take a chiva to the wedding place in Santa Fe, a bit outside Medellin. Chivas are party buses (although this one was fitted with benches since we had a 2h drive ahead of us), brightly colored and equipped with a *loud* sound system. People usually just take a ride around town in them while dancing inside.

Traffic in Medellin being pretty crazy, it took over 1.5h just to get outside the city…

Saturday was wedding day, we got to enjoy the pool in the morning before heading to the church of Santa Fe for the ceremony, and then back to the hotel for the party in the evening.

Sunday was lazy day, enjoying the pool again before heading back to Medellin in the afternoon for a bit of extra sightseeing. We checked out the cabins to Santo Domingo district, a lively area on the slopes of Medellin. Medellin is surrounded by hills dotted with houses and towers, which makes for very nice views in the evening with all the lights.

We then head to Carrera 70 in the district of Laureles near the university, a lively area full of bars and fondas, those typical places where one can eat and dance salsa.

In the evening we take an overnight bus towards Bucaramanga, the first stop on our way to the natural park of Cocuy.