While the title for this entry is a blogger’s cliché, it truly emphasises the off-the-beaten-track discovery of this remote, ancient city in the jungle. It also highlights the importance of the journey itself as part of this unforgettable experience. Unlike many sites of South American ruins (most notably Machu Picchu), La Ciudad Perdida can only be accessed by a 2-day trek along a tricky jungle track. This culminates in a (physically) breathtaking climb up 1,200 steps – and of course there’s the return hike. Like so many multi-day adventures, I was blessed with the presence of some fantastic companions, making the experience that bit more rewarding and memorable.
Overall, I spent ten days in the region around Santa Marta, including excursions to ‘la ciudad peridida’ and Tayrona National Park. Five nights were spent at the fantastic ‘The Dreamer’ hostel just outside of town – not bothering to venture into Santa Marta itself – which culminated in four happy hours (8 hours to be precise)! Days were spent relaxing at the nearby beaches or by the pool, watching films, attempting to blog and recovering from restless nights camping, days trekking and the occasional hangover!
My visit to the beautiful city of Cartagena de Indias, the main spanish port on the caribbean coast, took in the colonial architecture within the fortified walls of the historic old town, the impregnable Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and a boat trip to a beautiful yet crowded beach in the nearby Islas del Rosario. I was eager for my first taste of Columbian nightlife and the excellent courtyard hostel bar proved to be a great place to meet fellow travellers as i left the World Cup wagon and joined the South American backpacker trail.
After five and a half days cruising along the Amazon River, our journey to the edge of Brazil was complete but it was a somewhat unsettling transition into Colombia. My Colombian friend, Fernando, assured me that this was not the real Colombia but simply another Amazonian town with the subtle changes in currency, flag, language and food. Indeed the presence of jungle lingered with the daily spectacle of screeching parrots (or perricos) and nearby Via Tarapacá, a road lined with botanical gardens, swimming holes and canopy adventures.
Spending a week sleeping in a hammock on a boat travelling along the Amazon River truly sounded like the tonic for a World Cup hangover. And yet I was unsure of what exactly to expect. So here I will try to convey this unique experience by identifying how best to prepare, what to expect and reveal the (mostly positive) discoveries I made along the way. Warning: May contain sunsets.
Once again, I scheduled myself in Manaus to watch the World Cup, this time for the two final matches. After their embarrassing defeat in the semi-final, the hosts looked to claim some honour in the third place playoff against the Netherlands, who only got knocked out by penalties to Argentina. To cause an almighty upset in neighbouring Brazil, the Argentines would have to overcome mighty Germany, so it looked to be a final to truly relish. I enjoyed three fun nights with my new American friends and lazed around my hostel waiting for my boat’s departure to the Colombian border where I would continue my South American adventure.
The Amazon Basin contains 6 million square kilometres of river and jungle, just over half of which lies in Brazilian territory. My trip into its depths was probably the culmination of my Brazilian travels, provoking my imagination to images of wild cats, snakes, monkeys and macaws, amongst dense jungle, giant trees and along eerie rivers. Guidebooks, tour agencies and online reviews of course dispel such unlikely notions (at least for the usual 3-5 day excursions). So what exactly did I discover during my jungle experience?
My initial two night stay in Manaus was geared towards watching both World Cup semi-finals and organising a trip into the surrounding Amazon Jungle. A dream Brazil v Argentina final was still possible but the hosts faced Germany as significant under-dogs with captain Thiago Silva suspended and star player Neymar injured. The second semi-final pitted my other favourite team Holland against South American giants, Argentina. Was it to be a surprise or sadness, cause for celebration or catastrophe?
Belo Horizonte was hot, Rio was hotter, but heading North to Salvador felt more like tropical Brazilian climate. I ended up spending 5 nights in the state capital of Bahia, visiting the old town of Pelourinho, watching the scintillating World Cup quarter final ties and trying to soak up some sun. My visit didn’t go exactly to plan but I will describe my changing fortunes…
Back in São Paulo. Was 9 days not enough? Probably. But I achieved just as much in the centre of the city in this 36 hour period as anyone visiting São Paulo needs to: a night in Vila Madalena, a visit to the excellent ‘Museu do Futebol’ and a stroll along Paulista Avenue. More importantly, I met up with some friends (both old and new) and had a blast!