Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How positive thinking changed how I travel

Having a positive mindset has dramatically changed how I travel

You see so much about positive thinking, optimism and the like and how it's the key to success in just about everything nowadays (it really is) and recently, it got me thinking.

I only recently came round to the positive thinking brigade but I've realised how much it has dramatically changed the way I go about things, particularly when I'm on the road travelling.

And I really can't believe I was resistant to optimism for so long.

As well as how much time I have wasted being negative.

A few years back, you could probably say I was that one eternal pessimist that everyone could rely on to put a downer on everything.

But then let's just say the world worked in its weird and wonderful ways, that at the time was pretty difficult to deal with, but it lead to me having an epiphany that I needed to shake things up a bit and change because I was drifting, with no direction and I wasn't a happy bunny.

In the slightest.

It coincided perfectly with my year abroad - I may have mentioned I had a year abroad once or twice? - which was quite possibly ONE OF THE BEST YEARS OF MY LIFE (#studyabroadbecause what I just said), and throughout the duration of my year abroad, my mindset changed dramatically.

I definitely intend on having many more amazing, incredible, adventurous years but my year abroad will stick out as being life-changing because it was finally the year I learnt to be positive and have an optimistic outlook on life.

Being positive has helped me so much. This positivity quote from Roy M. Goodman sums it upAnd you what?

It's true what they say, positive thinking is the way to go.

From then on, I like to think, other than a few blips, I've been pretty positive and it's completely changed my travels, and my life as whole, for a variety of reasons, which I'm about to tell you.

Positive thinking has changed how I travel because...

I'm a lot more confident

Beforehand, I'd be a bit of a shrinking violet because in one way or another, I talked myself out of doing whatever spontaneous thought I'd come up with. Although my gap year was great for boosting my confidence, when I jetted off around the world, on my Todd (sorry, it had to be done) at the ripe old age of 18, I was still lacking in the confidence department because I would talk myself out of things.

Now, nothing can stop me (uh oh) and my confidence looks set to keep soaring.

Although maybe a little bit too much.

I deal with bad situations better

Of course, dealing with bad situations is no walk in the park, regardless how you see it. But whilst what happens to you is usually a case of good or bad luck, the only thing you have control over is how you deal with it.

It's not just dealing with bad situations that have got easier with being optimistic, it's also confronting the fear of the unknown.

You can choose whether to dwell on it and leave it behind. I know which option is easier (in the long run).

How positive thinking change my travels | Todd's Travels Travel Blog - a little bit out of the ordinary.

I'm a yes person

Yes I know, it's a huge cliché but it was that or 'I have richer travel experiences" and that just sounds a bit obnoxious and pretentious. Positive thinking has really helped me embrace being on the road and taking those opportunities that you otherwise wouldn't get at home.

There are so many times I have to pinch myself because I know how truly lucky I am to be out on road and it's such a big waste of my time if I turn down opportunities that I'm probably never going to ever have again.

I'm more body confident

I could talk until the cows come home about my old body issues and just about all of them stemmed from my worst enemy, myself. When you're on the road, you realise how many different types of beautiful there is and you see so many women and men just owning it and not giving a sh*t. That's when you realise that is way more sexy than just gorgeous looks. Sparkling personality and confidence will get you even further.

Being positive has also meant I'm kinder on myself and treat myself better. Before I used to swear I was going on a diet tomorrow or some load of tosh like that, but now I realise, it's all about LIFESTYLE CHANGES, the whole 80/20 moderation rule and no faddy diets. It also means I no longer get myself in a vicious circle of starve, binge, repeat and I make sure I make time for exercise because all those endorphins are pretty damn good.

I'm still not at the stage when I don't wince every time I see myself in photos (I AM SO UNPHOTOGENIC IT HURTS) but I no longer hesitate being in a bikini on the beach. I'm getting there.

My personal perspective is better

Travelling by yourself gives you a lot of time to think and sometimes that time thinking can lead to a huge over analysis of every past mistake, present misdemeanours and potential future catastrophes that do little good.

So much so that I practically thought I was having a quarter-life crisis, when really I just needed to take a few breathes, have a good nap and probably eat something too (hanger is a true affliction, people).

Once I started to think positively, things started to go my way and things almost slotted themselves into place. As the great Willie Nelson says, "Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."

Whilst the whole "what is my calling in life" anxiety is still quietly in the background, worrying about something that is yet to happen is never to make me a happy bairn. So at the minute, my mentality is pursue what makes me happy, work hard and somehow, life will work in its weird and wonderful ways and things will, bit by, bit fall into place.

Mi plan es bailar hasta que todo se solucione.
Dancing is a great way to stay positive

I wish I had the answers for what made me think more positively and impart my wisdom like some knowledgeable oracle but sadly, I'm not.

To be honest, I think the only pearls of wisdom I can impart is that I scrawled through Pinterest endlessly and looked for inspirational quotes (sad, but true) when I was meant to do more pressing work as well as develop a massive addiction to self-improvement articles.

But whatever your method is to think more optimistically, there's one thing for sure - it enhances your travels, your mentality and your perspective on life tenfold. Don't be stubborn like me and resist it.

Give the whole "glass half full" thing a try.

How do you stay positive? How has positive thinking changed for you?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Everything you need to know about going to Parque Tayrona

Destination Travel Guide To Parque Tayrona National Park, Magdalena, Colombia
If you've even contemplated going to Colombia, you will have seen or heard about Parque Tayrona.

The above photo of Cabo San Juan del Guía or photos of it from different (and better) angles, that conveniently have no people in the photos, is everywhere from the Colombian tourism board's publicity, the front cover of the Lonely Planet guide, travel blogs or no doubt, via word of mouth, you'd be hard pushed to have not heard or seen anything about it.

Even if you hadn't heard anything about Parque Tayrona before you got to Colombia, you will soon be well acquainted with the national park as travellers everywhere will be telling you all about Parque Tayrona.

So you've heard all the hype, your curiosity is peaked and you want to go. But before you go, you'd better prepare yourself, it's a bit of a trek to get there.

Before you go to Parque Tayrona

Trekking to Parque Tayrona isn't difficult, you just need a bit of advance planning.
Arrecifes beach

The majority of Parque Tayrona is only accessible by foot, so leave your big backpack at your hostel in Santa Marta and then take everything you need in a smaller backpack. Regardless of if you decide to do the 11/2-2 hours trek on foot or hop on a horse, you'll have to carry your stuff somewhere along the way. Make it easy on yourself and pack as light as possible.

That said, trying bring a big 5L bottle of water, whilst it's a pain to lug around a big bottle of water, you'll need to rehydrate loads and as everything is at a premium, you'll be paying double for your water ($4,000 COP for a 1L bottle).

Park entrance hours are 8am-5pm but get there before 3pm to ensure entry. If you can, get there for when the park opens before the majority of people arrive and it gets too hot and sticky to trek through the jungle.

In unspoilt paradise, there are no ATMs and you can only pay by card for food at Cabo San Juan del Guía, so save yourself the stress and withdraw more than enough money in Santa Marta for the duration of your stay in Parque Tayrona.

When packing remember plastic bags or alcohol aren't allowed into the park so make sure you leave them out of your rucksack because entrance staff will confiscate them.

Packing List for Parque Tayrona

What to Bring:

Shorts and a quick drying top (exercise tops are great) to trek in
Trainers for the trek in (you can bring hiking boots if you want but trainers are more than fine)
Flip flops
Light, loose clothing
Warm clothes for night time - I was seriously under-prepared for how cold it got. This is absolutely *essential* if you're sleeping in a hammock.
Sun cream
Insect Repellent
Toilet paper/tissues
Pack of cards
Snacks - Cereal bars, dried fruit and nuts, sweets, fruit
Water - as much as you can manage without it weighing you down too much.

How to Get to Parque Tayrona

Cabo San Juan del Guia, Parque Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Cabo San Juan del Guía at dusk

You can get the bus from Santa Marta or Palomino and the journey will take about an hour costing $6,000 COP.

To get the bus from Santa Marta, you need to head up to the market on Calle 11 with Carrera 11. You'll know you've got the right place as you'll hear Tayrona shouted everywhere.

It's fairly straightforward from there.

From Palomino, you get the bus by the petrol station. Make sure you ask them to tell you when to get off because they'll carry on driving to Santa Marta (true story/it happened to me).

Entering the Park

The gates open at 8am so you can enter the park from then on until about 3pm.

*BEFORE YOU QUEUE* You must watch the presentation and get a ticket to prove you've done it before you queue. If you don't have the ticket and you queue, you'll be taken out to listen to it and have to queue once again.

The talk goes through all the dos and don'ts, most of which are straightforward, but here's the main ones:

DON'T swim on Arrecifes beach, the riptide is incredibly strong and people have drowned swimming there. Don't be part of the statistics.

DON'T decide to have a cheeky wander in the jungle at night. The park is home is to a variety of animals, such as snakes, monkeys and jaguars (Lions and tigers and bears, oh my), who stay out of the way during the day. When night falls, however, different story. A guy had to be airlifted to hospital just before I got there because he got bitten by a snake, walking the jungle path at night (true story).

DON'T get too close to the lagoons on Cañaveral and Arrecifes as they're home to resident caymans. Seeing as they can grow up to be 4 meters long, I don't fancy my chances and I doubt most would either.

Once you've watched the presentation, you'll be given the ticket and then you're free to queue.

Entrance fee for foreigners is $38,000 COP. If you're Colombian or if you're a foreign resident with a Cédula de Extranjería it's $15,000 COP and for students under 26 with valid student ID, it's $8,000 COP. So it's worth bringing your student ID or your Cédula de Extranjería if you have them.

Once you've paid, you're good to go.

The Trek

You can catch the buseta to the last possible point vehicles can go for $3000 COP. It's takes about 10-15 minutes and it takes 5 km off your walk.

Then you get dropped at the car park and you're free to roam the park. The path is fairly straightforward and well signposted so even those who are slightly lacking in the sense of direction department (ie. me) would struggle to get lost.

Trek to Parque Tayrona beaches.

If you fancy it, you can hire a horse to Arrecifes for about $18,000 COP if I remember correctly.

After a bit of hike uphill, you eventually get to the beaches and it's straight on along the beach from then on in.

You'll first hit Cañaveral, which is where the luxury eco-huts are based. Prices are pretty steep to stay here but this is the accommodation option with the most amenities available.

There are also camping sites in between Cañaveral and Arrecifes. Prices were about $15,000 COP for a hammock and $20,000 COP for a tent.

Arrecifes beach is one of the most beautiful beaches Parque Tayrona in Colombia has to offer.
Cañaveral Beach

Then you'll pass Arrecifes, which in my humble opinion, is the most beautiful beach. It's rugged, maybe not quite the idea you had of Parque Tayrona, but the beach that stretches out in front of you, goes on and on and on. Sadly you can't swim here but take the opportunity to dip your feet in to cool off after your uphill hike.

Next is La Piscinita where, you may be able to guess, you can swim. If you fancy a cheeky dip, go for it. But if you want to carry onto to San Juan del Guía, it's only another 10-15 minutes walk.

From above, Cabo San Juan del Guia in Parque Tayrona.
Cabo San Juan del Guía

San Juan del Guía is where the majority of the accommodation is based. You have the option of hammocks or tents. If you somehow know the right people, you can stay in the cabañas above the hammocks on the rocks.

To check-in for accommodation, you'll have to queue up to reserve at 2pm. People start queuing up at 1:30pm so if you want the hammocks on the rocks you better stake out your place in line early. A tent for two cost $50,000 COP per night. A hammock by the beach costs $20,000 COP per night and a hammock on the rocks costs $25,000 COP. If you're going to sleep in a hammock, bring warm clothes, it gets so breezy at night that I had to fashion a blanket out of my towel, it was that cold. The one upside of the sea breeze is the fact you won't need a mosquito net, but heed this advice - it gets chilly.

Eating in Parque Tayrona

As you've probably guessed, food is expensive in Tayrona and there's not the most exciting culinary offerings. Expect to pay around $12,000 COP for some basic pasta with tomato sauce and about $20,000 COP for grilled chicken, rice and salad.

You can bring noodles or pasta and ask for it to be cooked for you. You give them a tip (about $7,000 COP) and this is a great way to save a lot of money. I wish I had known about this before I went.

That said, you must get the bread that they sell on the beach. For $5,000 COP you get a bread stuffed with ham and cheese, cheese, tomato and basil, ham and it's a cheap and cheerful lunch. If you time it right you can get a freshly baked, warm chocolate bread and my god, it is so, so, so good.

You can also get your usual ice lollies and ice cold Aguilas on the beach too.

There's also a small shop that sells snacks and drinks too, but at an inflated price, so bring plenty of snacks and you should be good to go.

Things to Do in Parque Tayrona

La Piscinita Parque Tayrona, Magdalena, Colombia
Cove between La Pisicinita and Arrecifes

There's not a great amount to do in Parque Tayrona but that's the whole beauty of it. However, there are a few activities you can partake in whilst there:

Snorkelling in La Piscinita: Just off the shore of La Piscinita, there are some coral reefs to have a look at. You can rent equipment there at the beach.

Trek to Pueblito: If you really can't sit still for long, a hike up to the Tayrona indigenous village of Pueblito will do the trick. It takes about 2-3 hours hiking up hill and you'll reach the village at the top. You can do the trek to Pueblito as an alternative route to leave the park, going via the Calabazo entrance, which will take you about 4 hours to complete.

Flora and fauna tour: Before you start on your trek to the beaches, there's also the option of going on a wildlife tour on the Sendero de las Nueve Piedras path. Tours are offered by guides at the entrance costing around $15,000 COP.

Get up early: The magic of Parque Tayrona is slightly lost when you have to share it with everyone else. But if you get up early at the crack of dawn to explore the park, you realise its true beauty. I practically had the park to myself when I took the above picture (aside from my stray dog companion) and it was such a gorgeous moment that was hard to capture.

Otherwise, kick back, relax, get stuck into a good book and relax. Maybe get up and about and take a few cheeky photos. At night, there's not a huge amount to do, other than play a few games of cards and if you're lucky, do some stargazing too. That's the beauty of the simplicity of the place and that's the best way to enjoy Parque Tayrona.

Have you been to Parque Tayrona? What advice would you add?

Monday, March 16, 2015


#ExploreTheElements Thomas Cook UK Title Image

Late to the party as per and cutting it as finely as possible, being on time when it comes to deadlines and important stuff is sadly not my strong point but that's the way I roll (yes, I was that student who was always flapping at the uni office 5 minutes before the deadline).

You may or may not have seen various amazing, incredible and inspiring #ExploretheElements entries already on the internet that just make you want to get out and explore this beautiful place we all call home but if you haven't, you should definitely check it out.

Basically, bloggers are being asked by Thomas Cook UK to enter a photo for each of the four elements: earth, air, water and fire. Then Thomas Cook UK has got some snazzy expert judges to have a look over each of the four categories. They'll decide a winner for each of the categories and they could win a MacBook Air (nice nod to the competition), a FujiFilm X-T1 camera (ooh) or an iPhone 6 with Bose noise cancelling headphones. The overall winner will win £5,000 travel fund (big oooh indeed).

Obviously, my curiosity was peaked and I love a good competition so I had to join in, so without further ado, here are my four elements:


#ExploretheElements Air Entry: Loch Lomond on an Overcast Day

This may be a surprising entry for air but bear with me.

I was absolutely desperate we got to Loch Lomond before the sun went in, but true to Todd family form, we missed the dying moments of the sun. But then I realised how beautiful it looked in all of its overcast and rugged beauty, especially when you noticed that the water is so clear that it reflected the sky (hence the air entry). Because we were in the middle of quite possibly one of the most Baltic winters I can remember, it felt like we had the whole Loch to ourselves and the air was so still, it was incredible.

The more I travel, the more I realise there is so much beauty to be discovered, pretty much on my doorstep.


#ExploretheElements Fire Entry Dinosaur Valley, San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama embodied fire. Everywhere was a rich, terracotta hue and when it was sunrise or sunset, the changing of colours from rich fiery reds to cold purples was so amazing, words cannot do it any justice. Nor can any of my photos, but I think this photo from Dinosaur Valley (best name ever) slightly - great use of artistic license - looks like dancing flames, as well as the ridges of a stegosaurus.


#ExploretheElements Earth Entry, Valle de Cocora, Colombia

As if you needed reminding that we are mere drops in the ocean when it comes to nature, come to Valle de Cocora in Colombia. Home to the tallest wax palm trees in the world that can grow up to 60 metres, throughout the whole walk you are constantly made to feel tiny. Those trees you see as specks in the distance will soon turn out to be just as overbearing, as the first gigantesque trees you encountered once you get up, close and personal with them.


#ExploretheElements Water Entry Parque Tayrona

If there's one thing I'll remember about Parque Tayrona, it's this scene from above. It was early morning, no one else was about - apart from my newly found stray dog companion - and the tide was in. The water in Parque Tayrona is so clear and you can understand why the Tayrona hold the area so dear for their rituals. Take me back.

So nomination time (although I'm cutting it very, very fine and you've probably already been nominated), thanks to the lovely Kirsten from Kirst Over the World for the nomination (check her blog outtt), now is time I hand over the baton to these lovely lads and lasses:

Lizzie from Nomad Notebook
Rebecca from Creative Nomad
Ed from REXY Edventures
Cassandra from Gee, Cassandra
Alex from Backpacking Brunette

What's been your favourite #ExploretheElements photo so far?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mam's number one piece of advice

Happy Mother's Day to all the brilliant mothers in the UK!

(Elsewhere, don't panic, I think you have another couple months left until it's your turn.)

A rare photo of mam, who is still poised as ever to take another photo.

Obviously I'm going to claim I have the best mam ever, but as we all know, they're all pretty damn good. Also, for any one who wants to buy northern related mother's day gifts that actually say mam instead of mum, can I direct you to Geordie Gifts. BEST. DISCOVERY. EVER. (I may or may not have bought the 'Me Angel of the North' plaque)

Even when I'm far, far away, like I am right now, living the whole strong, independent woman lifestyle, there are still times when I cry out for my mam.

Like say this weekend, I was ill, not feeling the most chipper and feeling pretty sorry for myself. All I wanted to do was to be home and have my mam look after me (even at the ripe old age of 23).

And of course, there are times when I hugely miss her (shout out to my lovely dad too) and want nothing more than to be home, even with my perpetually itchy feet.

But luckily, although mam and dad may not agree, they've pretty much brought me up to go off galavanting around the world, and with that I always bear in mind, mam's number one piece of advice.

Mam's Number One Piece of Advice.

It is so wonderfully simple.

Blunt but straight to the point and it's something to bear in mind, every step of the way, wherever life may take us, whether it's to do with friendships, travel, work or love, you may as well just address the elephant in the room or go out and ask for what you want rather than just pussyfooting around the issue at heart and waiting for something to happen.

I've followed this piece of advice for a while now, and whilst in the beginning it was difficult to get used as it is quite an un-British thing to do, now I've done away with the British idea of patience and etiquette, you find life gets a lot easier.

Sure, sometimes, even if you do ask, you don't get.

But at least you're never thinking the dreaded 'what if'. You can pick up the pieces, move on and start asking away.

And then you may well get what you wanted all along.

See, mams do know best.

So once again, happy mother's day to all the excellent mother figures in our lives, let's all take time to appreciate what they've done for us and have a lovely time celebrating.

What's the best piece of advice your mam has given you?

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Essential Capurganá and Sapzurro Travel Guide

Ultimate Destination Guide to Capurganá and Sapzurro, Chocó, Colombia

Capurganá had been on my to-go list ever since I saw a vlog from Que Llevar Travel, which was pretty much as soon as I got home from Colombia the first time round.

I had waited a long time to go to Capurganá but luckily, it was worth the wait.

Turns out, Capurganá and Sapzurro are the places to go to if you really want to indulge in the whole Caribbean laid-back attitude.

It's the Caribbean stripped back to its finest, most natural and yes, you could say, most basic form.

But that's the beauty of going there.

You know the whole "getting away from it all" saying? That is where Capurganá and Sapzurro comes in.

You get to do the whole kicking back and relaxing without feeling stressed out with hoards of tourists or persistent vendors hassling you with tacky souvenirs. You can even have a few days off the whole Facey B circus too, wi-fi is pretty hard to come by and it's probably not going to handle the 100s of photos that you will feel compelled to upload onto Instagram  as the place is just so photogenic.

You'll just have to wait.

And while you do, why not grab a book, play a game of cards or just have a cheeky siesta on the beach?

Capurganá and Sapzurro are those kind of places.

Anyhoo enough of spiel, here's the nitty gritty and all the things you need to know before going there.

Before you go

Whatever you do, make sure you bring plenty of cash as there are no ATMs in Capurganá nor Sapzurro. The only feasible alternative is getting a daily $30,000 COP cash advance at Hostal Capurganá if you stay there and then pay by card. If you're heading to Panamá, you'll need dollars as well as Colombian Pesos. Make sure you have more than enough to last the duration of your trip.

As touched upon previously, wi-fi is available but don't expect lightening speed internet. Come to Capurganá and Sapzurro to switch off and reconnect when you're back. That's what escaping to this Caribbean paradise is all about.

There's not a huge amount in the way of supermarkets so either sample the culinary delights of the local restaurants or prepare yourself to make some pretty basic meals.

How to Get to Capurganá and Sapzurro

Capurganá beach, Capurganá and Sapzurro Destination Guide

If you're coming from Medellín, you have a few options :

Bus - Go to Terminal del Norte (right next to the Caribe Metro Station) and get the bus to Turbo (approx. 8 hours $55,000 COP). If you don't wish to stay the night in Turbo, get a bus around 7pm-8pm to make sure you get to Turbo in time for the lancha (speedboat) the next morning.

Alternatively, you could time your visit with the lancha leaving from Necoclí. Get the bus from the same terminal in Medellín and go to Necoclí (approx 12 hours $70,000 COP). It leaves every Monday and Friday ($55,000COP one way) and only takes an hour to arrive at Capurganá. The crossing is said to be gentler than from Turbo.

If you're coming from Cartagena, you'll need to get a bus to Montería (approx 6 hours) and then another to Turbo (approx 4 hours). It costs $90,000 COP approximately.

From Turbo, you'll get a two hour lancha to Capurganá ($55,000 COP one way with 10kg luggage allowance, if your backpack is over you'll have to pay an additional supplement of $500 COP per kg). Try to be first in line for your ticket as it's a bumpy ride and you want to be as near to the back of the speedboat as possible. Although at Turbo, they let Colombians on before foreigners so you're very likely to be close to the front. Buy bin bags at the port to protect all of your bags as it's a high likelihood you'll get soaked. Try to avoid doing the crossing January-March like I did, apparently the sea is roughest during this time and the lancha back to Turbo was not fun.

Plane - You can fly to Acandí from Medellín with ADA (50 mins, prices fluctuate from $200,000 COP to $300,000 COP one way). Then it's a 40 minute lancha journey to Capurganá ($20,000 COP one way).

If you're coming from Bogotá, you can fly into Apartadó with Satena (approx one hour, about $200,000 COP one way) and get a half an hour taxi into Turbo. You will have to stay overnight as the lancha and flight times don't coincide. Or you can go via Medellín and fly to Acandí like above.

If you wish to go straight to Sapzurro from Capurganá, it costs an extra $7,000 COP for another 20 minute lancha journey.

Where to Stay in Capurganá and Sapzurro

Capurganá Coco Loco Beach Shack, Chocó, Colombia

La Bohemia Hostal, Capurganá

On location alone, La Bohemia is my number one choice. And I would have definitely have stayed there had it not been for needing wi-fi. It's in the jungle but still conveniently close to the beach and it is just such a chilled out hostel. The managers are super nice too and it feels like you're in a dream, considering all you can hear are is the buzz of crickets and the occasional rustling in the trees. The location is quite difficult to describe especially as there isn't particularly any form of formal addresses in Capurganá. But if you ask someone for directions, someone down the line will know.

$15,000 COP per night in a dorm.

Hostal Capurganá, Capurganá

If you can't go without wi-fi for work or otherwise, Hostal Capurganá is the (pretty much only) place to go. There are a few internet cafés but this is just about the only accommodation option that offers internet included. It does make an impact on the price but it is a nice, clean hostel with friendly and helpful staff on reception. Slightly lacks the atmosphere of La Bohemia, but a useful hub if you need to work (although don't hold on the wi-fi being the most reliable). Close to the dock, go up the street furtherest away from the dock (there are only two) and it's 50m on your left.

$20,000 COP per night in a dorm.

Hospedaje/Camping Nelly, Capurganá

Good budget option. Based close to the dock, right next to the bridge to the beach, Hospedaje/Camping Nelly is a great budget option. You can camp and there's also private rooms with hammocks. Facilities are basic but considering it's likely you won't be spending a lot of time in your room, it's a great deal.

$7,000 COP per night camping, $15,000 COP per night in private room with hammock.

Hostal El Chileno, Sapzurro

You can camp, sleep in a hammock, dorm or even have your own private room with a fan and private bathroom at El Chileno. There's a social area with even more hammocks and a kitchen if you fancy doing your own cooking. It also has an on-site restaurant which serves breakfasts and lunches.

$10,000-$12,000 COP per night camping, $10,000 per night in a hammock, $15,000 per night in a dorm and $35,000-$50,000 per night in a private room with fan and private bathroom.

Where to eat in Capurganá

Sapzurro shore, Capurgana, Choco, Colombia. Destination Guide to Capurganá and Sapzurro.

El Bucanero
Right next to Hostal Capurganá, I ate there on my first day there and the cazuela de mariscos (seafood stew) is heaven. It was a whole $22,000 COP so a bit over my usual budget but it was jam-packed with seafood, served with two huge patacones (plantain fritters) as well as rice and it was so much that I had to take half of it away - because wasting it would have been sacrilege. They also do a menú del día for $12,000 COP as well as ceviche de camarones and other seafood dishes. Highly recommended.

At the top right corner of the football field is a tiny Colombian lady with a little shop selling arepas with all sorts of toppings: eggs and hogao (tomato and onion sauce), shredded beef, shredded chicken or with cheese. They all come with the option of vegetables, which is a welcome change considering vegetables are sometimes sadly in short supply in Colombian cuisine. You can also get jugos naturales too and it's a pretty cheap but filling lunch.

Posada del Gecko
I sadly don't remember the name of the hostel's restaurant but Posada del Gecko's restaurant is excellent if you fancy a change from Colombian fare. Owned by an Italian, it specialises in delicious pastas and pizzas, so you know you're in for a good meal.

What to do in Capurganá and Sapzurro

Hike from Capurganá to Sapzurro

Make your way to the football field and follow the street at the top left hand corner (the street with the school on). Turn left just before the bridge and follow the path. It's pretty straight forward from there. The hike will take you about an hour - two hours depending on how fast you walk and if you spot any wildlife in the jungle. It is one hell of a sweaty walk, with a huge climb uphill, so bring plenty of water and pack light. There's a stop point that asks for a voluntary donation for the upkeep of the trail (if I remember correctly it's about $5000 COP). The walk is worth it even on an overcast day like when I did it, when you're treated to a panoramic view of both Capurganá and Sapzurro at the top.

Sapzurro panorama, Chocó, Colombia
View of Sapzurro from the top
Capurganá panoramo, Chocó, Colombia
View of Capurganá from the top

Snorkel or Scuba Dive

Capurganá is close to some incredible, untouched coral reefs and with the crystal clear waters of the San Blas islands not far away, you'll be treated to some amazing dive sites. Visibility is best April-November so if you're big into diving, time your visit for this period.

Pop into Panamá

Just a 30 minute walk from Sapzurro, you can pop into Panamá (bring your passport to be on the safe side). La Miel also happens to be beautiful beach so it makes the jaunt into Panamá all the more worth it. There's also a duty-free shop where you can get a bottle of Flor de Caña Rum (aka nectar of the gods) for $8. From Capurganá, you can also walk half an hour or take a 10 minute lancha to Bahía Aguacate, a gorgeous beach with luscious green jungle surrounding it.

Go to the San Blas Islands

This is something I haven't done but because I got told so much about it, I'm incorporating a Kuna Yala tour into my visa run in May. I heard nothing but good things about the 4 day San Blas Adventures tour (Marce, one of the guides is lovely). You can also do a day trip to the Kuna Yala but it deserves way more time than that.

Other than that, there's not much more to do than la dolce far niente. Get yourself a few good reads, chill out on the beach and job's a good'un.

Have you been to Capurganá and Sapzurro? What would you recommend doing?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thoughts on Returning to Colombia

It's almost like coming home.

Everything seemed so familiar even at Bogotá airport.

I knew where I was going and I didn't even have to think about it.

There's nothing like the mixture of the rush of anticipation and excitement and the feeling of anxiety and "Sh*t, what the hell am I meant to be doing or going?" when you reach a new destination.

That said, there's something like reaching a well-known place and knowing exactly what you need to do. The familiarity is a huge comfort.

Especially, when you've been away for almost two years.

Street Art in Plaza de la Trinidad, Getsemaní, Cartagena

Even when I was just in the shuttle to the airport hotel, it all came back to me - the hoards of cars beeping their horns and erratically changing lanes (despite the fact it was Día sin carro) and hearing snippets of salsa, vallenato or reggaeton blaring out of cars and street stalls.

I was back in Colombia.

Then when I was sitting at breakfast, when I hadn't even left the hotel to venture outside, the constant wishes of "buen provecho" and salsa music in the background couldn't help but put a massive grin on my face.

And when I finally arrived back in Medellín, it was a huge case of déjà vu. Like the first time I arrived, bright-eyed, bushy tailed and slightly naive, I was greeted with a huge cloak of grey clouds and muggy heat.

You can't have it your way every time.

Medellín from Cerro Nutibara.

Then I passed by familiar sites and all the memories come flooding back: that's the bar where I met so-and-so, that's the park where I started my first night out in Medellín and that's the corner where I may have or may not have slightly lost my little remaining dignity and made a massive tit out of myself.

It's crazy how much you forget stuff until you're given a memory prompt.

I did my usual and went for a cheeky wander to reacquaint myself with Medellín and that's when it hit me - all of the little things I've missed about being here.

The constant hustle and bustle on the streets whether it's the vendors selling avocados, avena or Chiclets, the street performers that pop up when it's a red light or the minuteros with their old school Nokia phones that are on every street corner.

It's a paradise for people-watchers (or plain nosey people) like me.

Getsemaní, Cartagena. Pastel Colour Houses with moto in foreground.

Up on the coast, even the rickety old buses, that are at times a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat ride, that speed around erratically add a bit of excitement to your usual journey. Although having a driver beep his horn, soliciting passengers for the entirety of the four journey from Turbo to Montería perhaps doesn't figure as a personal travel highlight.

But the Caribbean chilled out, laid back atmosphere makes up for it. You can easily while hours away wandering around, being amazed by the explosion of pastel colours on every house.

Sitting back and relaxing in a hammock in Parque Tayrona, Colombia

And then on the beaches, you're never too far away from a ice-cold Aguila that always seems to present itself at the very moment you're parched and need to quench your thirst.

Once again, there's some music in the background, whether it's vallenato, champeta or at times reggae to further remind you that you're in the Caribbean. You are never far away from music in Colombia or South America for that matter.

Beer in hand, music in the background and the gentle ocean breeze - what more could you want?

It's times like these when you sit back, relax and really count your blessings.

Colombia, it's so good to be back.