Category: Travel

Travelogue: Driving from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

My parents came to visit last week and we decided to rent a car and drive over the Andes to visit Mendoza for Vendimia, the grape harvest festival. I’ve already been to Mendoza , but I’d never driven over the Andes, which is always rated one of the best drives in South America.

For someone used to flying into countries or driving between the US and Canada, there are a surprising amount of hoops you have to jump through before you’re even able to go from Chile to Argentina, especially if you’re renting a car. First, you must have a notarized letter of permission from the car owner that says you’re legally able to take the car out of Chile. Next you have to have a special type of insurance for the entire time you’re in Argentina or else Chile won’t let you out and Argentina won’t let you in. You also have to carry proof of insurance with you at all times, especially at the border. If your insurance is expired when you try to come back to Chile, Argentina reserve the right to keep the car until you personally come back with valid insurance. Lastly, you have to have the customs form that lists when the car has gone out/in of Chile in the past.

Paperwork to go from Chile/Argentina. At the end, lots of stamps!
Paperwork to go from Chile/Argentina. At the end, lots of stamps!

If you don’t have ALL of them, you won’t be able to leave and will have to turn around at the border. Make sure you call to reserve your rental car a few days ahead of time, as the agencies need time to get the paperwork in order. Most companies ask for a week in advance, but I was able to do it with two days notice. My insurance and all of the paperwork cost CLP$70.000 (US$140) for five days in Argentina and I probably could have gotten it a little cheaper if I had shopped around.

Once I took care of all of that, we got on the road. We left Santiago and headed northwest into the foothills toward the city of Los Andes. The first hour or so is on nice four lane highway, but as you make your way toward Portillo, the sky center, it turns into a winding two lain highway with some significant dropoffs. It can be frustrating because trucks have to travel incredibly slowly and there aren’t many passing zones.

There’s currently construction on the Chilean side of the border to make the road safer and the countries have agreed alternate traffic. You can go into Argentina from 20:00 to 07:00 and back into Chile from 08:00 to 19:00. This construction is likely to go on for at least another two months.

We arrived at the construction zone at about 18:30 and had to wait until about 20:30 to get moving. There were probably 60 cars ahead of us, plus another 100 behind us by the time we got moving. It ended up being a mess because everyone arrived at the border crossing at the same time. When there’s no construction, you can arrive at any time cross. Total driving time should be around 5 hours. In our case, it took us 7 hours of driving time because we had to wait in a huge line at the border.

Andes looking volcanic

Because of the construction we had to cross at night, so we didn’t get a feeling of just how big the mountains were on the way into Argentina. But I felt myself steadily driving up on nice wide two lane highways. All of the sudden we reached a sign that said “zona de curvas peligrosas” dangerous curves, and we started to go up, straight up. It was mesmerizing watching the cars zigzagging up the hairpin turns, seeing the white and red lights like tiny ants on the mountain above us. There were 28 curves in all and it took us almost 45 minutes to cover the 7km to the top.

The border crossing is located at the top, just before the Cristo Redentador tunnel that connects Chile and Argentina. The countries have partnered together to have a shared border control all in one place. There’s four steps: first, show your auto papers, insurance, permission to leave Chile, etc, that we talked about before. If you don’t have it, Chile won’t let you out of the country and will send you back down the mountain. Second, you have to have the correct papers to leave Chile, your passport or identity card. After those papers are stamped, you move onto Argentinian border control. The Argentinians stamp your passports and check to make sure you have your insurance paid up and that the Chileans have let you take your car out of the country. Another stamp.

Day 7 Daytime crawl down Andes switchbacks with trucks (25)

If you’re from the US, Canada or Australia, you must pay the reciprocity fee ahead of time and bring the printout. The rules just changed in February and they don’t have anyone at the border to take your money. They were nice enough to let us use their personal computer to pay the fee and print out the paper, or they would have sent us back down the mountain and into Chile. Previously, Argentina only collected this fee if you flew into Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires.

Next, you pass to Argentinian customs where they make sure you’re not bringing in contraband or huge amounts of dollars. Since we were clearly tourists, they just asked two questions and let us go. All told, we were at the border for about two and a half hours.  On the return trip, it only took us 30 minutes.

The road down from the border slowly slopes down, following the path of a large river. After about an hour, you arrive at Upsallata, a small resort town in a beautiful valley. From there’s it’s another hour and a half, at least to Mendoza. Make sure to watch out for trucks. We saw three different trucks completely flipped over and could smell burning breaks on countless others. They drive about 20km per hour going down the mountain, making for interesting passing in no passing zone opportunities.

Day 7 Dammed up river

After three days in Mendoza, we drove back to Chile during daylight. The mountains are huge and colors change quickly as you drive farther in. We stopped at Upsallata for a bbq lunch at a truck stop, which was one of the better lunches I’ve had. The owners were preparing their own Sunday family lunch and served us some of what they were going to eat: five cuts of beef, two types of sausage, potatoes, a tomato, onion and lettuce salad and homemade bread. It was just what I needed to make the drive up over the mountains and back into Chile.

The drive itself lived up to its billing. It’s a beautiful, fun drive, but make sure you have all of your paperwork in order or you might get turned around at the border. I wouldn’t want to try it in winter though!

Day 7 Daytime crawl down Andes switchbacks with trucks (16)


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Travelogue Uruguay: Montevideo, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo, Velizas

Uruguay is a small country of about 4m people sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil. Nearly half live in Montevideo, the capital. It sort of feels like an upscale, more laid back Argentina that actually works. People speak the same accented spanish as they do in Argentina, but with seemingly less slang. I took an eight day trip last month during Carnaval for a short vacation.


I arrived into the Montevideo airport, tried to rent a car, but couldn’t find anything, so I immediately took a bus directly to Punta del Este, hoping to find a car there.  I hadn’t realized when I booked the flight that it was going to be Carnaval in Uruguay, but that explained why everything was busy.

Punta del Este is the French Rivera of South America. South Americans with money come from all over to play on the beaches, eat in top restaurants and hobnob with each other. As such, it’s really expensive, but there’s great food and good beaches. Nearly everyone there was in good shape, extremely tan and fairly well dressed. It wasn’t really my style, as Punta is very built up and feels a bit like Florida. After a day and a half it was time to move on.

credit: UNEP
Punta del Este. Credit: UNEP

I took a bus north along the coast to Punta del Diablo, a small town that gets overrun with tourists in the summer. One family used to own all of the land, but has now sold lots to developers for cabins, restaurants and small apartments. Since it was Carnaval and everyone had monday and tuesday off from work, the place was packed. It’s really close to the Brazilian border and you can tell: portuguese is everywhere, the merchants accept reales, caipirinas are on every menu. They also accept Argentine pesos, but at 10 pesos to the dollar, or 2x the official rate. Argentinians were happy to pay.


Punta del Diablo has two huge beaches that were full close to town, but if you walked 10 minutes, you could find beaches with hardly anyone. It was hot and sunny, maybe 90 degrees, in the morning, but every late afternoon it got cold. Try to stay at a cabin instead of a hostel, they’re about the same price.

The surf was pretty high, making the water seem colder than it was. There are tons of little restaurants, mostly catering to tourists. The best ones were farther into town, maybe 3 minutes walk. The first ones were touristy, kind of expensive and lower quality. My favorites were a mexican cantina through the center of town and Il Tano Cucino, an Italian restaurant where the owner makes his own pasta and gnocchis outside each day. It was so good I went twice in one day.

At night during Carnaval, the city came alive. Local kids filled up anything they could find to have massive water fights with each other. Others took to ambushing tourists. My favorite was a kid with a hose who hid behind some bushes to spray people. After I got hit, I watched for 20 minutes as other got destroyed by the water.

Later on in the night, there were two parades with local kids dancing, singing and riding around in floats. Everyone followed the parades, dancing, singing and drinking until they arrived at the beach, between three bars. It morphed into a huge outside dance party with the occacional spray of water from some kids. Everyone was happy. You could tell the Brazilians apart from everyone else by how quickly they moved their feet.

Velizas. Credit: pablodavidflores
Velizas. Credit: pablodavidflores

After a few days in Punta del Diablo I went on a day trip to Velizas, about an hour to the south. It’s a tiny town, much less developed than Punta del Diablo, but the beach was beautiful. The water was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Looking to the south, you can see the huge sand dunes of Cabo Polonio national park. I wished I’d spent a little more time there.


I spent my last two days in Montevideo. I found a great hotel on that happened to have a 65% discount in the old section of town with a view of the “sea.” Although everyone calls it the sea, it’s really the rio de la plata, which at montevideo happens to be one of the widest rivers in the world. The old section is in the middle of being restored. There are boutique hotels, small shops, good restaurants and stores that are going into beautiful old buildings. Montevideo has some incredible arquitecture that is way better preserved than Santiago and the old city is going to be incredible in a few years as people start to move back.

I went for lunch at Mercando Central and sampled Medio y Medio, a half and half mix of white wine and champagne that really sneaks up on you. Uruguayans eat the fourth most beef per capita in the world and for good reason. Their steaks were incredible. Bar Fun Fun is a touristy but eclectic bar that’s been in business since 1895, complete with live tango and music. At night, hardly anyone is around in the old city, except at a few bars. It was a little creepy and felt like a zombie movie, especially compared to the day when it’s filled with people

Bar Fun Fun
Bar Fun Fun

I really liked Uruguay. The country seems stable, people are nice, the cities seemed safe and things seemed to work. People seem to have a really high quality of life. Montevideo is in the middle of gentrification and the old city will be incredible in about 5 years if they continue to make progress. I will definitely be back in the future.



Medio y Medio in Montevideo
Medio y Medio in Montevideo


Travelogue: Buenos Aires

In October I returned from my third trip to Buenos Aires in the last year. This time it was for four short days with my friend Jesse who was visiting from Wisconsin, but other times it’s been for business. There’s so much going on in Buenos Aires that I didn’t feel like it was worth writing a travelogue until I’d had a chance to explore a big portion of the city. What follows is a composite of my three trips to Buenos Aires over the past year.

Buenos Aires is my favorite city in South America and up there with my favorite cities in the world. Although Buenos Aires proper is only 4m, it’s really a huge city of 12m along Mar de La Plata, where the River Plata empties into the sea. Most people in the US assume that since Chile and Argentina share such a long border and are in South America that they have a lot in common. But they’re really different: the accents, clothes, personalities and culture. In reality the two things they have in common are Spanish and a love of asados.

Buenos Aires is a city of amazing food, good looking people, beautiful architecture, wine, beef, culture, nightlife and fashion. It’s the Paris of South America, but with a South American edgy flair. People are generally educated, thanks to good public education and free universities, and love to socialize. Economically, it’s the Italy of South America: fiscal problems, a left wing government that’s nationalized industries and imposed currency controls to try to dedollarize the economy, which has led to rampant inflation and a black market exchange rate. When I first traveled to Buenos Aires in November 2011, the market rate was 4.2 pesos to a dollar and 4.5 to a dollar on the street. One year later it was 4.5:1 officially and 7.5:1 on the street.

People like their leisure time. There’s huge public and private sector unions with massive clout and lots of strikes. While I’ve been in Buenos Aires there have been strikes by truckers, airport baggage handlers and garbage collectors. Theres tons of red tape and bureaucracy and its no coincidence that Spanish speaking LatAm’s biggest entrepreneurial successes have come from Argentina: you learn from a young age how to be entrepreneurial and get things done by bending and breaking the rules. As it stands now, I wouldn’t do business in Argentina, but it is my favorite place to visit.

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Argentina has the best food of anywhere I’ve been in Latin America and quite possibly the world.  While I’ve had my best meal in Latin America in Mendoza, some of the next best have been in Buenos Aires. And it’s not just at the top end. Buenos Aires is a city where people love and appreciate food. You can walk into just about any little cafe, bakery or restaurant and expect a good meal.

Buenos Aires is know for two things: steak and Italian food, but it’s much more than that. But first, lets start with the steak. Argentina has some of the best beef in the world, most of which is produced by cows that eat grass, walking around on ranches in La Pampa, Argentina’s livestock belt. The most popular cut is the Bife Chorizo, which is certainly not any kind of sausage. It’s most closely related to a sirloin or NY Strip steak in the US.  It’s my favorite. They’re also famous for their Malbec, which mostly comes from Mendoza in the north.

bife chorizo and the fixings

We went to La Cabrera, a touristy steak place in Palermo, at about 1030 for dinner. It’s expensive for Argentina, but it was worth it. The 600 gram steak, paired with a full bodied Malbec, was incredible. They gave us free drinks at the end of the meal because they didn’t have a dessert drink I asked about. Buenos Aires has some of the best restaurant service in the world because waiters were a profession up until recently. There’s still guys who have been waiting tables for decades who know everything there is to know about food, wine and service. It’s such a contrast to Chile and many restaurants in the US.

After we finished eating at 1230, we headed out to have a drink. We found a bar filled with interesting people, cheap drinks and interesting decor. After a few Quilmes it was 3am and we decided to go actually go out. We found a club with a line and walked it. Like in Chile people eat and go out late, but Argentina is even later. The place was just getting started. We closed the place at 630 and found our way back to the apartment we rented on Airbnb

Recoleta Cementery – Wikipedia

Argentina has some of, if not the best, gelato in the world and we couldn’t resist grabbing a scoop for breakfast as we walked from Palermo to Recoleta to check out the cemetery where Buenos Aires’ elite are buried. It’s a labyrinth of extremely decorated mausoleums right in the middle of the city. Its amazing to see how much people spent on a cemetery that occupies prime land! After the cemetery, we stopped for a quick sandwich at La Biela under the shade of one of the more interesting trees I’ve ever seen.


After a quick bite, we wandered around Recoleta, taking in the embassies, old mansions and high end shops on our way down toward Av 9 de Julio, the world’s wides boulevard at 14 lanes. We walked down toward the obelisk, teatro colon and finally casa rosada, the presidential palace. The city just oozes history and architectural brilliance. Buenos Aires was on par with London at one point in the 1800s and they used the wealth to build incredible buildings and one of the oldest subways in the world. Unlike London, Buenos Aires hasn’t done much to update the metro, which we took back for the night. We had dinner at Broccolino, an Italian place with incredible lamb ravioli.

cc Intelligent Travel NG Traveler Blog

The next day, we took the Subte (subway), down toward La Boca, the area of the city known for the colored houses and of course the soccer team. The walk from the metro station took us through a few rougher areas, but it was great to see the difference in parts of the city. The entire area is dominated by the imposing La Bombonera, where Boca play their matches. When finally we got to the port, it was super touristy with guys trying to steer us into their bars. We left after some beers and empanadas.

We headed back up toward San Telmo and since it was Sunday we wandered across the famous street market where you’ll find just about everything for sale. We had a late lunch at a small Italian restaurant and walked around the old cobblestone streets. As it got darker and the traffic went away, you could almost feel yourself going back in time. We stopped into a small dive bar full of immigrants from eastern Europe for a cheap drink and hung out for awhile taking in the scene, then headed back up toward Palermo to meet some friends.

Our friends decided they wanted to go out in Puerto Madero, the newly developed area of town along the river, which had sat vacant and underdeveloped for decades. Now its revitalized with glitzy clubs, top restaurants and interesting people. It’s expensive compared to the rest of the city, but we had a good time. It wasn’t really my favorite place because it just doesn’t feel much different from any other big city in the world, maybe because its so new, but my friends and the many other tourists who were there loved it.

CC Luis Argerich

The next day we decided to walk to el Ateno, an old theater that’s been converted into a bookstore. The inside is beautifully converted and it was packed with tourists and locals alike. We stopped for another ice cream and took it all in. We took a taxi back to Palermo and decided to do some shopping. Palermo has many boutiques and you can watch as Argentines and tourists alike shop for fashionable clothes. Although the sticker prices are high, typically $75-$150 for a button down shirt, if you’re exchanging dollars that you brought with you, you can save up to 60%. One store owner heard me speaking in my accented Spanish and asked if I had dollars to spend and quoted me a 50% discount. After our shopping, it was off to the airport. Luckily we’d booked for Aeroparque, which is in the city, instead of Ezezia, which is a $40, hour long drive outside of the city.

Alf Graffiti

There’s so many more amazing places I missed in this post that you’ll have to discover for yourself. Buenos Aires is an incredible city that should be on your list of places to visit if you have the chance. And right now it’s a great value and likely will keep getting better as their economy continues to have problems. I can’t wait to go back again.

Travelogue Colombia: Cartagena, Isla Baru, Tayrona, Taganga

Last month, I headed off to Colombia’s Caribbean coast with six Chilean friends for some much needed vacation. Through a fluke of holidays, my friends could take a two week trip with only 5 days off from their jobs. Colombia is in the middle of some amazing changes: double digit economic growth, improved safety everywhere except near the Panama and Venezuela borders. Construction’s everywhere. Lots of tourism. No noticeable violence. Less corruption. If you have a chance, it’s worth checking out.

Many people in the US think that South American countries have similar cultures, but it can’t be farther from the truth. Colombians are very different from Chileans. They’re open, easygoing, cheerful, love to talk. They seem less classist. They’re happy to smile at you on the street and generally give good customer service. They seem to be more entrepreneurial: I never once saw anyone begging for money, they were always trying to sell something, whether it was a piece of gum, tours, trinkets or even prostitutes.

Our flight to Cartagena stopped in Bogotá at 10pm and had a layover until 630am and we had no intention of staying cooped up in the airport all night. Nearly every Colombian directed us to Andres Carne de Res for dinner and drinks. Like all taxis in Colombia, our minibus taxi didn’t have a meter and we negotiated our rate ahead of time. After 30 minutes, we arrived at the restaurant.

Andres Carne de Res

Andres Carne de Res is a loud, festive mix between a restaurant and a dance club. While the food wasn’t that great and the prices were high, we had a great time just soaking in the atmosphere. After being in Chile for almost a year, it was a welcome experience. People were open, they smiled at you. The servers told jokes. People were happy and they showed it. They were drinking aguardiente and rum. They were dancing on the tables, in the aisles, everywhere. This was one of the only restaurants where we actually got exactly what we ordered. On the Caribbean coast, we’d be lucky to receive 50% of what we ordred. Many times there were substitutions (meat for chicken, fish for beef etc) without any comments.

After we left, we walked around a bit. It was a bit eerie. Not many people were out at 2am on a Thursday, as peoples get up and go to bed earlier than in Chile. I don’t know if this is common or not, but we had to walk through metal detectors and get patted down to get into nearly all of the bars and restaurants in this area of the city. We had a good time, but were exhausted as we got back to the airport to fly to Cartagena. I’m going to have to go back to actually visit Bogota in the future.


Cartagena city walls

I slept the entire flight from Bogota to Cartagena and still was wearing my heavy shirt and winter coat from Chilean winter as I got off the plane in Cartagena. BAM! I was slammed by a wall of heat and humidity that I couldn’t escape until I got back to Chile. It was 80 degrees with 90% humidity at 8am! The first thing I noticed was music. It’s everywhere. On the streets, in taxis, in restaurants. It floats from houses, pulses from plazas. You don’t need headphones because Colombia has a soundtrack. And it’s not just any type of music. It’s happy, up beat, danceable. There’s almost always at least one person dancing and it wasn’t uncommon to walk past a pharmacy or convenience store and see the employees having an impromptu dance party.

We got to our hostel, Media Luna, and decided to explore. Cartagena is an old port city that oozes history. Starting in the 1500s, the Spanish used it as the main port to export gold, silver and other commodities from their South American colonies and built fortresses and city walls to defend it. Throughout the years it was held by the Spanish, by British pirates, attacked by the french, used as a slave trading outpost and much more. Walking through the brightly painted buildings behind the city walls, you can imagine pirates coming ashore to party or the Spanish counting their gold.

Media Luna

There’s not much to do in Cartagena other than walk around. The center is dominated by upscale boutique hotels, high end restaurants and expensive international chain stores and the other parts are dominated by backpackers hostels. Our hostel was a beautifully converted mansion with a small swimming pool. It was full of backpackers, didn’t have locks on the rooms, but served our purposes. If you want to party, stay here. If not, stay somewhere else.

I wasn’t that big of a fan of the city, as the beaches weren’t that nice, but the worst part were the sex and drug tourists and the prevalence of those willing to fulfill those vices. We ran into a middle aged Italian who destroyed a shop and wreaked havoc at our hostel as he was high out of his mind on cocaine. Two Australians who were sharing a prostitute for the week. Middle aged British guys negotiating prostitute prices on the street. Pickpockets, prostitutes and drug dealers seemed to be everywhere. And it was HOT. We had a great time with our fellow tourists, but it just wasn’t my style. After a few days, it was time to move on to Tayrona.

Colombians playing beach baseball with bottle caps and sticks. Not soccer.

Tayrona National Park

We got up at 5am to catch a bus to Tayrona National Park. I slept the entire four hour drive and when I got off the bus, we were at the entrance to the park in the middle of nowhere. There were a few shops and we had breakfast, including a lulo juice which ended up being my favorite. We entered the park and started to walk. It was about and hour and half on a path through humid rainforrest, then onto pristine white sand beaches on the Caribbean. By the time I got to camp, I looked like I’d been in a downpour. We had the option of staying in tents, hammocks or in a cabin with fans, full bathrooms and electricity. Since there were 7 of us and low season, it wasn’t that much more expensive than getting 7 tents. It was the right choice. The tents were miserable because the humid air didn’t move at night and we were subjected to intense tropical downpours for about 2 hours per day. Plus the bugs. Anyone who slept outside got eaten alive.

Colombians are much more formal than Chileans and that point was hammered home when we saw three Colombian friends from Medellin interacting with each other. One guy was annoyed at the other and said “no me gusta la manera en que usted me esta tratando,” the English equivalent would be “sir, I don’t like the way you are treating me.” All my Chilean friends looked at each other, expecting his friend to give him shit for being so formal, but just said “lo siento, tiene razón” “I’m sorry, you’re right.” In Chile or the US, friends would never dream of saying that to each other. They’d say say some variation of “dude stop being a dick.” We saw other examples of Colombia formality that was really different from what I’ve gotten used to in Chile.

The crew in Tayrona

Tayrona was tied for my favorite part of the trip. The national park consists of multiple pristine white sand beaches with warm tropical water. There are a few small shacks that serve food, but otherwise it’s not developed. They had all of the fresh fruit you could imagine in tropical sizes that were 4x what I’m used to seeing. I learned to love 75 cent Aguila beers, arepas, plantains and tropical fruit juice.  There were lots of tourists from all over the world, but the park is big enough that you have privacy, time to think, hang out, swim. At one of the beaches fish would just swim up and nibble at your feet. The whole park was incredibly relaxing. I did absolutely nothing but swim and eat amazing fish and fruit for three days. Although I could have stayed longer, we decided to move onto Taganga the next day.


We took a 45 minute speedboat ride over to Taganga from Tayrona and arrived in a small beachside town of about ~1000. It had a really strange vibe: lots of tourists and lots of locals selling pretty much anything to tourists. We stayed at what seemed to be the only place with hot water, AC and a pool. It was a nice place run by Israelis who went on their trip after their military service and decided to stay. The place is clearly catered to other Israelis, of which there are tons in Taganga, but we were welcomed with open arms.


The places has an even stranger vibe than the town itself, with drugged out Israelis listening to psytrance at all hours of the day. The entire town has an eerie feel straight out of a movie that I can’t quite describe. Between little kids trying to sell us drugs and women, to local girls speaking Hebrew, English and other languages to “cater” to the travelers and foreigners of all nationalities there to party, it just wasn’t my scene. I also witnessed the phenomenon of local girls who didn’t consider themselves prostitutes but would charge guys “if they thought the guys were willing to pay.” Really strange. It just didn’t sit right with me, but we had a great time because we took day trips to incredible beaches each day instead of staying in the city.

Isla Baru

We took the death bus back to Cartagena from Taganga. I call it the death bus because Colombians are crazy drivers. They don’t obey road signs, lane markers or right of way. I consider myself a good driver, but I would have had problems on this “highway.” The road went to a single lane from time to time and drivers steamed ahead, blaring their horn to warn anyone in their way.  People passed without warning. Our driver dozed off multiple times with sheer drop offs to the right only to pull back at the last moment. I put my life in the hands of the driver and just went to sleep.

We made it to Cartagena and then onto Isla Baru. The place was packed. Completely full of people. We were led to believe it was a small beach with no electricity, hammocks, a place to get away. As we arrived, I couldn’t imagine staying 3 days with all those people. Luckily, they were all day trippers. As they left, maybe only 100 people stayed overnight. This was my favorite part of the trip. No electricity besides some generators, fresh fish, white sand beaches, warm water, shooting stars. It was perfect. We rented a cabin with real beds, but quickly realized that was a mistake. If you were out of the breeze, it was unbearable. I slept in a hammock and then under the stars covered in mosquito nets and was perfect. My friends who stayed in the beds slept horribly and were eaten alive. The only drawback were the locals who tried to sell you everything. Aggressively. It got tiresome, but if you ignored them, they went away.

Beach soccer

We saw sex tourism on display yet again. A middle aged Mexican who the locals claimed was a narco had rented the best room above a restaurant for himself and his entourage, which consisted of three body guards and four Colombian prostitutes. He’d drink 2 liters of Absolut per day and had trouble walking anytime after about 10am. He’d force his help to bring his mattress right to the waters edge so he could “hang out” with his prostitutes under the cover of darkness. He bitched out one of his bodyguards worse than I’ve ever heard anyone bitch anyone out in my life. This guy and the bugs were the only downside of Isla Baru.

The coolest part of Isla Baru happened at night. After a day of relaxing on the beach, we bought a few bottles of rum and drank under the stars. One of the locals came over and told us we had to check ou the water at night. He wouldn’t tell us why. We dubiously walked over to the water and splashed around. The water lit up. There’s an algae in the water that when irritated, light up like little LEDs. It was incredibly beautiful. No lights, glowing water and shooting stars. Perfect. I tried again sober the next night and it was just as cool.

Our last day, we took a tiny boat around the islands and ended up on a tiny island where we docked in a bay. We had fresh caught crabs and lobsters right from the bay, drinking fresh drinks out of coconuts. If I ever go back, I’d spend more time on these small islands than on the more developed beaches and cities.

Overall, I had an amazing time. I didn’t bring a working phone, had internet for about three days total and just let my mind go blank. It was great to get closer to a group of friends who I’ve know for awhile. I met some incredible people and really liked the Colombians I met. I’d love to go back to to check out Bogota and Medellin. I have a feeling the country is going to be one the stars of South America over the next few decades.

The crew in Cartagena