Carnaval in Barranquilla

This post has been long overdue. But better late than never. Jie and I finished up our recent trip to Panama and Colombia with three days in Barranquilla, which coincided with their raucous Carnaval celebration.

When we initially booked this trip and realized we could celebrate at the 2nd biggest carnival in the world behind Rio (at least according to Wikipedia), we jumped at the opportunity. My travels have not often taken me to large cultural celebrations, but how could we pass up the chance to check it out?

Accommodations

Barranquilla, Colombia’s 4th largest city, is not a tourist destination, but during carnival its population swells with the hundreds of thousands of visitors congregating there to celebrate (and party).

You can imagine that with all those visitors it can be pretty tough to find a place to stay, especially at a reasonable price. Right after we booked our airfare, we started looking at our accommodation options in Barranquilla. Hotel prices were multiples higher compared to the rest of the year. So we turned to Airbnb as an alternative and snagged a spare room in the home of a local woman for $65/night, a fraction of what a hotel would cost. Read more of this post

Cartagena’s Charm

The siren song of visiting Cartagena, one of the Caribbean’s oldest and most historic ports of call, inspired my recent trip to Panama and Colombia with Jie.

The Walled City

Cartagena’s well preserved walled city is one of Colombia’s largest tourist attractions for good reason. Its buildings are beautiful and colorful while its streets pulsate with locals and travelers alike. Unlike Panama City’s Casco Viejo, Cartagena’s walled city feels vibrant and lived in. Additionally, it is quite easy to navigate on foot. There is a tourist office right by the iconic Clock Tower at the main entrance to the walled city that offers maps with suggested walking tours, taking much of the guesswork out of finding your way around. Finally, the walls themselves are both free and easy to access. Walking along the wall, especially at sunset or at night is a wonderful way to cap a day in Cartagena. Read more of this post

Guest Post: Panama Canal Zone

I want to share a guest post from my lovely fiancee Jie covering our recent trip along the Panama Canal and excursion through the rain forest in Soberania National Park.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

How can anyone go to Panama without a trip to the famous Panama Canal? There are several ways to see the Canal from Panama City. First method, and the most cost efficient, is to see the ships passing through the Canal at the Visitor Center at the Miraflores Locks. The Visitor Center has a small museum, video exhibit, and a viewing deck where guests are able to see the operation of the Canal for a small entrance fee. Second method is to travel via ground transport along the road that runs parallel to the Canal. Third method is to take the hour long train ride from Panama City to Colon. The train leaves from Panama City in the mornings and returns from Colon in evenings; in the meantime, visitors can spend several hours exploring Colon. Finally, there is the first hand experience on a boat either for a full or a partial transit through the Panama Canal.

Since the inception of our Central and South America trip, one of the foremost items on our bucket list was a boat trip through the Panama Canal. Complete tours, traversing the entire length of the Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic, are only available one Saturday a month. Because we arrived on Saturday morning, it was impossible to do the complete tour unless we chartered a private boat ourselves. Matt and I settled on doing a partial transit of the Canal through the Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks on Sunday. Matt had made reservations with Canal & Bay Tours and was instructed to email the company for the exact time and location a day prior to departure. We emailed and called the company before the scheduled departure per email instructions, and we never received a response. By 9am, we decided that instead of squandering our time, we would instead go see the Soberania National Park, a famous habitat for over a thousand species of plants and animals, and the closest tropical rainforest accessible from Panama City.  Read more of this post

Panama City

As I was walking around the El Dorado neighborhood of Panama City, where I was staying, I started to wonder, am I really in Panama right now? All around me were Chinese restaurants, Chinese stores and (presumably) Chinese people. I knew that Panama was reputed to be diverse, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Jie and I quickly realized that El Dorado is the city’s new Chinatown.

It’s always nice to start a trip with a surprise, and Panama City is filled with them. Like the plethora of US fast food restaurants. Within a quarter mile radius of where we were staying, I saw McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Quiznos, Subway and Popeyes.  Or the bewildering cost structure of the city’s taxis, which supposedly are priced based on the “zones” you travel, only nobody knows what the zones are because they are not posted in the taxis like they are required. So you either have to ask, haggle, or just give the taxis driver a reasonable amount and leave. (As an aside, othe first day, a taxi driver charged us $10, the “tourist rate,” for a short ride from Panama Viejo back to El Dorado mall. By the second day, we learned from chatting with locals that rides anywhere within the city should not be anymore than $10, and within the core of the city it shouldn’t be more than $5.  We started just giving the drivers rates that we thought were reasonable and, to our surprise, the drivers were all ok with it.)

Panama City skyline

View of Panama City from Amador

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: