Photo: Natalie Southwick
Vancouver, Canada. Queenstown, New Zealand. Cape Town, South Africa. And…. San Gil, Colombia?
San Gil may not make most publications’ list of Top 10 Cities to Get Your Adrenaline Pumping, but that’s just because the folks writing those lists don’t know about it yet. This formerly sleepy town in the northeastern Colombian department of Santander has recently re-branded itself as the “Adventure Capital of Colombia,” and so far it seems to be living up to that reputation, if the legions of happy visitors are any indication.
Photo: Denis Isbister
Photo: Philippa Kikelly
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” penned renowned travel writer Freya Stark in her 1932 book Baghdad Sketches.
I can attest to this. I just completed my very first solo adventure last month, though I will admit, it was less “pleasant sensation” and more terrifying fear that rattled my nerves; at least in the days leading up to the trip.
While I was nervous, the experience was one I can only call amazing. Going it alone meant not only seeing I wanted to see, when I wanted to see it but also getting to eat at this great hole-in-the-wall multiple times and going to bed at 7 p.m. one night after an exhausting day sightseeing.
With its sweeping vistas, rich history and diverse terrain Peru is the perfect place to explore on your own.
The first time I saw a penguin in his natural habitat was right here in Argentina. I was with a marine biologist on a speedboat, both of us bundled up against the cold, gliding through the still bay off the coast of Puerto San Julián. As we approached the rocky coast of a small island, I spotted a small group of black and white birds emerging from the water, their plumage sleek and glossy, waddling one by one along the beach in a comical parade. I grew up with Mary Poppins and trips to the zoo – seeing penguins on the beach, and getting out of the boat to walk around their little colony, was an experience I’ll never forget.
Photo: Kevin Raub
It’s not often we speak of American ruins – after all, the country isn’t old enough to have had anything crumble under the weight of history. You might think, anyway. But deep in the Amazon rainforest, Henry Ford and his Ford Motor Company, on the front end of the 20th Century, took a wildly ambitious yet woefully overreaching idea to task: Build a perfect prefabricated American industrial town – complete with fire hydrants, golf courses, front porches, water towers and sassafras tea – in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, where everyone could ride a carrot-dangled wave of rubber riches to the promised land.
Photo: Eileen Smith
For a thoroughly crazy, unexpected day in what is a fairly quirky city to begin with, stay off the funiculars and out of the museums this Sunday, February 23rd in Valparaíso, Chile. Once a year, parts of this city become an urban downhilling course for some of the world’s best competitors. Valparaíso Cerro Abajo is routinely referred to the world’s most insane downhill race, and if you come to see it, you’ll know why.
All aboard La Trochita – revisiting the landscape that inspired Chatwin, Theroux, and Darwin on a slow train journey through a desolate landscape.
(First, a note: much is made of glaciers, penguins, and whales, but Patagonia is vast, with subtler pleasures to be discovered amid the wide-open spaces and world-famous attractions. In an effort to introduce travelers to a few of these, I’ll be sharing experiences from my own overland travels, starting today in the province of Chubut, where the landscape of the Andes transitions into the Patagonian steppe.)
Photo: Yassef Briceno Garcia
Though Colombia’s Andes may not be as tall as those of its southern neighbors, there are plenty of places to strap on harnesses and scale a few walls. The last few decades have seen an explosion in the popularity of rock climbing among locals, and foreigners finally seem to be getting wise to the wealth of offerings as well. From the jagged volcanic peaks of national parks to vertical rock walls and climbs across the top of caves, Colombia is a climber’s paradise – as long as you know where to look!
The Southern Hemisphere’s largest city is about as intimidating as cities come: A mindblowingly immense concrete jungle of cloud-kissing skyscrapers, intertwining streets and avenues sprouting in all directions with no rhyme or reason, 21 million people going about their hard working, hard playing lives, eating at 12,500 restaurants, drinking 15,000 bars and going home to their houses, condos and high-rise apartments in 96 different neighborhoods, most of which are home to more people than entire cities elsewhere.
It’s a beast.
If you show up in São Paulo without a local to lean on, you’re likely to be overcome with a sensation of “I’m Not a Celebrity but Get Me Outta Here!” very quickly. It’s a city that chews you up and spits you out like no other I have ever visited. But now that I live here, I navigate the streets like I own the place. You can too!
Step aside, Machu Picchu – Colombia has its own arduous hike to a stunning lost city, with some extra Caribbean coastline thrown in.
Far less famous (and less frequently visited) than the Inca Trail, the five-to-six-day trek to the site of Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) is a challenging but rewarding hike along Colombia’s Caribbean coast and into the beautiful Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The almost 47-kilometer hike leaves from the small village of Macheté and winds through the tropical forest, making almost two dozen river crossings and ascending and descending steep inclines before arriving finally to the Lost City itself. The temperature is significant hotter than in the Peruvian Andes and the terrain can often be challenging – it’s certainly not a trek for beginning hikers and it helps to be in good physical condition, but no matter how you get to the end, the spectacular views are worth it!