Bucket List Travel Basics for Machu Picchu, Peru

On April 17, 2001, I made a list of places I’d like to visit and Peru was on it because of Machu Picchu. I had just celebrated another birthday, and the scene of my personal strategy planning session was a departure gate in Chicago’s bustling O’Hare International airport. Back then, I used to set 5- and 10-year goals for things I hoped to achieve by a certain age. Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social networking service we all now turn to for travel inspiration had not yet launched (it did so on October 2010), and it was a little under three years before Facebook burst on the scene in February 2004. That’s clear proof my yen for seeing this historic site was not being influenced by any current travel trends, wouldn’t you agree?

This weekend, as I got ready to document my insights and tips on traveling to Machu Picchu, I glanced at the date on my laptop and realized it was April 29, 2018. Wow, I thought to myself, this trip has been a long time coming. Dreams – even if delayed – do come true! Sign og Machu PIcchu Town_Aguas Calientes_Peru

Below are the answers to everything I thought about and asked about before I went. I’ve also thrown in some on-the-ground insights for you as well. Please read this post and bookmark it if you plan to go.

For the best time of year, most people will tell you to book your trip for April to mid-June, or between September and October, since those months fall in the drier seasons and that time-frame keeps you safe from the avalanche of summer tourists. I’ve heard the last two weeks of June to the end of August are super packed.

Peru’s rainy season peaks between late January and March, so you can expect sporadic, light or heavy showers and fog at any time. I was there during the third week of March, but I got lucky because I got to tour the site and take as many pictures as I could before the skies opened up and rained down liquid sunshine.

For the best time of day, I’d recommend going during mid-morning hours (ideally between 8-10:30 a.m.) or in the afternoon from 3-4p.m. The busiest time is from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. If you are an early riser, you’ll be happy to know the first buses leave at 5:30 a.m. to take you to the site’s entrance. However, visibility isn’t great that early in the morning due to misty weather.

BEST WAYS TO GET THERE Getting to Machu PIcchu

Please note that not all of your travel has to be done in one day. I spent two full days exploring Lima, and stayed one night in Cusco before moving on to the Sacred Valley region to allow my body time to acclimatize to the changes in air pressure.  Breaking up the journey also  gives you time for additional things like wandering through local artisan markets, seeing other sights, and sampling a variety of drinks made from corn and local cacao beans.

After Cusco, I then spent one night in Agua Calientes so I could have a good night’s rest before my excursion to Mapi (that’s the name the locals lovingly use for South America’s most famous ruins).

There are simply not enough words to describe the epic greatness that is Machu Picchu. Expect phenomenal views, enlightening insights into the intricacies of Inca history and culture, and that once-in-a lifetime feeling of “I had better soak all of this in right now” as I may never walk this place again. The majesty of Machu Picchu_Peru

Here are a few other things to be aware of:

Opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Plan to spend at least two hours there.

The entry fee to the main grounds is 152,00 Peruvian soles (approx. US$47), which you must purchase IN ADVANCE of the day you plan to visit because there is a daily limit to the number of tickets sold. You do not want to get there and be faced with no availability. This ticket price allows you to enter the grounds twice, and it gives you access to the main ruins you see in pictures, as well as to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate Trail. It does not allow you to hike the Inca Trails to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. Tickets can be bought through a tour company, travel agency, in person in Aguas Calientes, or online. I found a useful guide to buying tickets here.

You’ll be asked to show your passport on the train, bus, and at the entrance.

No matter what you do, it will eventually get crowded and several guides will approach you to offer their services. The price varies based on the number of persons in your group.

Be careful about maneuvering several steps, many of which are uneven and steep, and without railings. (Wear comfortable shoes!) Rocky terrain at Machu Picchu

Altitude sickness is a very real possibility. I didn’t have any issues while touring the main grounds which are about 7,970 feet/2,430 meters above sea level. I just kept an even walking pace and took breaks, if needed. (However, I had to walk very slowly at the higher altitudes in Cusco and Ollantaytambo as I often found myself feeling out of breath.) If you plan to hike the Inca Trails, some sections go above 9,200 feet/2,804 meters, so you could experience symptoms like dizziness, headaches, muscle aches or nausea – regardless of age, gender, or level of fitness. I’d advise you to speak with your doctor before your trip in order to see what medications and tips you can use to better prepare for and/or avoid any adverse health effects.

There are no bathrooms or snack areas once you pass the entry point. Food consumption is actually forbidden inside the site. (Walk with your own bottle of water to stay hydrated because anything at Tinkuy Restaurant, which in inside the  luxury Sanctuary Lodge Hotel situated right outside the entrance, is expensive.)

Plan to pay two soles if you need to use the bathroom.

Budget for a charge of three soles to store your bag at the entrance, if you need to. It’s an invigorating walk around the site, so anything over 10 pounds/5 kilos is not encouraged.

There’s a ban on the use of tripods, although selfie-sticks are allowed.

You’ll be bombarded with multiple photo opps, so pack extra batteries and memory cards for your cameras and phones.

Look for the booth with the optional and complimentary, do-it-yourself passport stamp at the exit. Thatch covered structures at Machu PIcchu_Peru

OTHER COSTS (as at March 2018)

Hotels:  This number will vary depending on the type of accommodation selected and personal travel style preferences.  Three-, four- and five-star hotels are available in addition to Airbnb rentals and hostels.

In Lima, I wanted something nice that was infused with local character, so I opted to stay at a cute little Bed & Breakfast called Hotel de Autor in the coastal and tourist-friendly district of Miraflores. The property has four bedrooms that, as one Travel + Leisure article put it, are “individually designed, mixing vintage artifacts with contemporary furnishings.” Its dining room is a converted garage, and it has a small rooftop garden area and terrace where you can relax after a busy day of sightseeing and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city with a glass of your favorite beverage. The best parts about this property were the short walking distances to many shops and restaurants and the attentiveness of the staff. Miguel Payet was my point person and he was amazing. I paid $112.70 per night, plus taxes. _Peru

In Cusco, my pre-Machu Picchu night was part of a package deal with a tour company called Intrepid Travel. I didn’t like that hotel very much, so on my post Machu Picchu night in Cusco, I opted to stay at a place that was basic, clean and comfortable. It was called the Estancia San Blas. For an affordable rate of $49.97 per night, plus taxes, I was only a few blocks from the main square. Complimentary buffet breakfast was also included.

In Aguas Calientes, I stayed at Hostal Inti Punku Tambo, which was also included in my three-day Intrepid package. The current rate on Booking.com is $117 per night, plus taxes. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was in the center of town and close to everything. For one night, it will do. Rates were expensive there because the town is at the base of the mountain.

Ground Transportation: Costs for the taxis and the train are already outlined in the infographic chart above. A 30-minute bus ride takes you from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The cost is $US 24 dollars for the return trip. Peru Rail


  1. The odd numbers on the train are window seats, so try snagging one of them for amazing views.
  2.  Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before  your scheduled departure time, because they don’t dally when it’s time to leave. There’s no need to panic if you arrive early and don’t see the numbers on the railway cars.  They are put up close to departure time and staff members lead you by groups to your railcar with raised hand signs.
  3. Also, for greater ease in travel, it’s best to leave your wheeled luggage in storage at your hotel in Cusco and just pack a light overnight bag/backpack for your stay in Aguas Calientes.


Here’s the clincher: you can either arrange all this yourself, or you can take the easy route and book a short, yet comprehensive tour package, inclusive of local guides and lodging. That’s what I did! My three-day Intrepid Machu Picchu Explorer (Original) package included two nights hotel accommodations; two breakfasts and one lunch; ground transportation via bus and train; a Half Tourist Ticket Pass, which gives you access to selected archaeological sites in/around Cusco (like Pisac and the Ollantaytambo fortress); an orientation walk around Cusco; and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu with a guided tour. Rates start at US$683 per adult in a twin share room. The cost goes up if you’d rather not have a roomie.

If you only want help with the Machu Picchu portion, several companies  offer all-inclusive day trips. For example, while doing my research I found one day tour from Viator that departed from Cusco. It included hotel pick up and drop off, the cost of your train and bus ticket, plus the site’s entry fee. The price started at US$347. That seemed like a lot to me for just one day, but it all depends on your schedule and budget.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a memorable time!

NOTE: You can also read some general tips about Peru here.

Stunning views at Machu PIcchu


6 random (and useful) things I wish I knew before I visited Peru

I’m going to be really honest and tell you that other than pining for years about seeing Machu Picchu, I never gave much thought to what else I could see or do in Peru if I ever got to go. Crazy, huh? But it’s true.

Sometimes I select a destination based on the single (and shameful) criteria of visiting its most iconic landmark. At other times, my interest is sparked by something I’ve read about the country’s history, culture and customs, or maybe it was scenes from a movie that captured my attention.  And lately, pretty surreal imagery on Instagram is also proving to be a powerful lure.

Whatever my motivation, when I decide on where I’d like to go, I usually give myself time to do thorough research about the place and its people. However, I booked my Peruvian vacation about 10 days before I boarded a plane – in the midst of a hectic work schedule – so I didn’t have the luxury of good prep work ahead of time.

It ended up being a good trip, but a few things caught me off guard. Below are six random (and useful) things I wish I knew before I landed in Lima. 

1. There is no metered cab system. Check with airport information or your hotel front desk about approximate fares and distances to venues, and negotiate your rate with your driver BEFORE you get into the taxi. If you’d rather not haggle, and you have an international plan or steady access to WiFi, use Uber. The app worked fine for me there and with help from residents, I also used a popular local competitor called Taxi Beat. Of course, if something doesn’t feel right about a driver or situation, trust your instincts and don’t get in the vehicle.

2. The lack of regular rainfall in Lima and Cusco, coupled with the need to service the throngs of people living there and visiting on an annual basis, have made maintaining adequate water pressure a huge issue. What’s more, the country is dead serious about being kind to the planet. Less tactfully translated, that means you are asked NOT to flush anything down the toilet. Instead, you’re instructed to use the trash bins provided. Just to be clear, the messaging isn’t focused on the obvious items like accidentally tossed cell phones, or more deliberate waste such as sanitary napkins or tampons. It includes USED toilet tissue. I did a double and triple take, asked the direct question most people would avoid …and the answer is yes, you have to put that in the bin too. The signs are everywhere.

3. As is customary in many places around  the world, the currency conversion rates differ by company. However, in addition to that dymanic, the closer you get to Machu Picchu, the more draconian the exchange rate becomes. If you plan to change money, do it at a bank in Lima. I got 3.31 soles for 1 US dollar while the cambios were offering a rate of 3.25. In Cusco, that rate dropped to 3.21. I didn’t even bother asking what it was in Ollaytantambo (the town where you board a train to take you to the base of Machu Picchu), let alone in Agua Calientes (the place you get the buses to go up to the famous World Wonder).

If you’re more comfortable using credit cards,  take Visa or Mastercard. American Express, though accepted in some places, is definitely NOT a preferred company.

4. Due to the vast differences in geography across the regions, the temperature varies greatly from city to city. I ended up having to dress in layers because I only went with a carry-on and had to optimize on the small space by avoiding bulky (and warm) clothing.

5. The food is ahhhmazing. Had I known how good it would be, I’d have gone to the gym less sporadically before I visited or tried out one of those lose-the-weight-quick diets.  I only found out after I got there that Peru was named Best Culinary Destination in the World  for six consecutive years (2012-2017), and one of my tour guides proudly stated they had such a large variety of cuisines and dishes you could go as long as three years without repeating the same meal. The latter has got to be a stretch of course, but they do utilize a lot of their agricultural products and get creative with their menus. I didn’t have one bad meal while there. The chefs truly combine the best of their coastal, Andean and Amazon jungle traditions.

6. Earthquakes are common in Peru (especially the coastal areas of Lima) because it sits in a seismic zone. Had I known that, perhaps I’d have better prepared myself on their emergency procedures and what to do if I felt tremors. Thankfully, I was told most of them tend to register only three points and under on the Richter scale. The seismic movement is so minimal, you don’t feel it.

Have you been to Peru? If so, what other random facts would you add to this list? Please share them in the comment section below.


A local encounter I’ll never forget

Female vendors in Cartagena

The style of the following story is a little different because it was submitted for a travel writing contest. I didn’t make the shortlist, but it was a good exercise.


My sister and I entered the walled city of Cartagena ready to begin our new adventure.  The air, a salty mix of scents, was ripe with possibility. First, we considered taking a carriage ride to view vibrantly-colored colonial homes now converted to lucrative vacation rentals. Then, we thought about looking for one of the mystical street performers who levitated in mid-air, seemingly defying gravity by supporting his entire body weight with one hand. At the very least, we knew we’d find an eatery where we could sample the region’s rich fusion cuisine that pays homage to its African, Arabic and Spanish heritage.

Walled City, Cartagena

Ultimately, we opted to play it by air, for we trusted the charismatic city to spontaneously spill her secrets.  Plus, we envisioned an expressive storytelling, similar to the non-verbal volumes spoken by the Afro-Caribbean women in bright, traditional costumes who effortlessly balanced fruit bowls atop their heads while sashaying gracefully, hips undulating in visual rhythm.Afro-Colombian women

Suddenly, there they were. A group of six, well-dressed seniors sitting on nondescript plastic chairs in a loosely clustered semi-circle amidst the cacophony of sounds produced by the never-ending square activity. Neither the clicking heels of tourists navigating the concrete sidewalks, the animated tones of vendors hawking wares of every size and shape, nor the excited holiday chatter spilling from the open doors of multiple bars, restaurants and cafés was enough to obliterate their presence. Their quiet camaraderie was a magnetic force that dragged me forcibly into their orbit. Authentci experience in Colombia

I approached the group and asked to take their picture.

“Sí, con mucho gusto,” they replied, and insisted I be in it. My sister snapped the photo enthusiastically. Then, as I murmured thank you and prepared to walk away, one gentleman with a 70 year-old twinkle in his eye invited us to sit and chat. A sure sign of a charmer still in his heyday.

We complied, lingered awhile, and proceeded to share tidbits of our respective cultures. The endearing grandfathers had been friends since high school, and they met from 7-9 p.m. on weekdays to banter about current events, sports and life in general.  As they regaled us with stories about their youth, early careers and families, I became increasingly impressed with the depth and longevity of their friendship.  In that moment, I realized we can make and maintain meaningful connections anywhere. We just need to open up ourselves to the experience.


Do you have an authentic and spontaneous local encounter you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it. Please use the comments section below.

Street food is Cartagena’s best kept secret

I can’t wait to tell you about the day I ate my way through the streets of Cartagena! But first, please give me a minute to stroke my tummy while I reminisce about the explosion of flavors I experienced during that palate-friendly walking tour.

Yum, yum. BURP.

Busy stuffing my hands and face with street goodies. See all those dressings on the side?
Busy stuffing my hands and face with street goodies. See all those dressings on the side?

Even after I booked the excursion, I couldn’t explain what had come over me. I have a very delicate stomach that doesn’t hesitate to let me know when I’ve ingested something that doesn’t go down well. So naturually, I tend to be careful about my food choices when I’m away from home. But all that caution – born of sometimes painful and/or embarrassing repercussions – flew out the window when I visited the vibrant seaport town that dots Colombia’s northern coast.  Cartagena’s fusion of Latin, Caribbean and African cuisines were inspiration enough to defy my fears and make me dive tongue first into the unknown.

The first order of business was taking my probiotic tablet. I gotta keep it teal. My digestive system needs those good bacteria to keep it working like it should!
The first order of business was taking my probiotic tablet. I gotta keep it real. My digestive system needs those small bursts of good bacteria to keep it working like it should!

There was a variety of food carts, trucks and stands scattered throughout the colorful streets of the Walled City and neighboring towns like Getsemani. At almost every corner, vendors sold a wide range of foods that ranged from deep-fried starches to fresh fruit while the locals ignored us tourists and carried on with everyday life.

A domino game in play in Getsemani.
A domino game in play in Getsemani.

And one of the best parts of the experience was the fact that I could relish the delicacies while learning about local culture and folklore.  As far as ambiance goes, eating mango biche while walking past refurbished, colonial-style mansions and admiring multi-hued looms springing from second-floor balcony gardens, wasn’t too bad either.

I started the tour at the Statue of Jose Fernandez by the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid. It was across from The Cocoa and Chocolate Museum.  I just had to pop inside for a little visit before the other members of the group arrived. Cocoa plant

Arepas – These are flatbreads made of white or yellow corn and stuffed with cheese and butter.

Two types of arepas brought to you courtesy pf the local street vendors
Two types of arepas brought to you courtesy of the local street vendors

arepas in the street

Patacones  – As an island girl, I grew up eating friend green plantains accompanied by different proteins for breakfast or supper, but the Colombian version had a different twist to it. They were soaked in a salty, garlic-flavored marinade first, fried to a crispy texture and devoured as the main meal.

See that liquid in the pan to the front? It has the garlic and salt seasoned marinade in it.

Mango Biche – These are thin slices of unripe mango soaked in lime juice and seasonings, prettily displayed like extra-large fries in a cup. It had an unusual flavor; equal parts tarty and savory.

There were so many different fruits for sale all around Cartagena. And they were the fresh, not supermarket-weary variety.
There were so many different fruits for sale all around Cartagena. And they were the fresh, not supermarket-weary variety.

Empanada de huevo – Empanadas are made of corn and stuffed with beef and egg, with a sudeo ( white cream sauce) on top. We learnt these snacks are the scrumptious result of Latin, African, Syrian and Lebanese culinary influences. food container

Matrimonio – once upon a time, a sweet boy named ‘Guava’ met a full-bodied girl named ‘Cheese’ and it was love at first sight.  They hung out, got married, and lived happily ever after. guava and cheese

Chicharron – O.M.G. This pork dish is pure bliss. Crispy on the outside, and flavorful and tender on the inside, it hits the G-spot with every single bite. [Don’t gape at me. I meant G as in gastric!What were YOU thinking?]. I had it with boiled yuca, also known as cassava. Three servings still left me ravenous and yearning for more. Pork belly


Café Mural – I ended the day at a small shop run by David, an engineer who decided to leave his lucrative job in Bogota to pursue his true passion – coffee. The table behind his bar counter looked like a mini science lab. It was stacked with test tubes, multiple-sized measuring cups and other equipment I couldn’t identify. inside cafe

But there was method to what appeared to be his crazy but lovable professor madness. David, whose grandfather owned a coffee farm, lives to experiment with new blends. I don’t drink coffee but the others in my tour group raved about the blends they tasted.  I had a long glass of a mellow chocolate drink that was a fitting end to my day. outside cafe


Editors notes:

In case you want to do something similar, I booked this tour with Cartagena Connections. Tours last between three to four hours and require a two person minimum. They depart at 2:30 p.m. daily. The cost was $30 when I did it.  With that price, you get to sample about eight items but you’re encouraged to take extra pesos and try anything else that catches your eye.

A day trip to Guatapé

Do you know what happens when you decide to book a three-night stay in an unknown destination the day before you fly? I’ll tell you. You fervently hope the domestic airline on the receiving end of your purchase click is reliable, then you scramble like a crazy person to finalize your hotel selection and come up with a workable itinerary for sightseeing.

That’s how I ended up in Medellin, Colombia during the time I was scheduled to be solely on vacation in the coastal town of Cartagena with the world’s best travel buddy (my sister). We were zen and totally chilling until we decided it would be cool to use the opportunity to visit another region of the country.

Although I ended up with uncomfortable tummy issues while there, I am glad we did it.

Scenic countryside on the way to our destination

The first tour we booked was a day trip to the picturesque town of Guatapé. Nestled between curvaceous hills and bordered by debonair lakes, the journey is just under two hours from Medellin.

Our first treat was a food stop to enjoy a traditional Colombian breakfast of hot chocolate, eggs, arepa, cheese and sausage courtesy of a local restaurant called El Rancherito Lo Mejor.

Colombian breakfast of hot chocolate, eggs, empanada, cheese and sausage

The open air setting and bench-styled seating all cleverly positioned around a visible working kitchen added an authentic old-world charm to the experience.

The rustic setting of this restaurant enhanced its laid-back vibe

With sated stomachs, we then drove through scenic countryside that offered up spectacular views of hills and valleys, humble abodes and farms dedicated to different crops.


Soon, we arrived at the town of Marinella, a major cultural center that has been lauded as a place of “stories, guitars and great natural beauty”. The dramatic La Fenix De America monument in the town’s square had everyone on the bus clamoring to get off to take pictures

Dramatic monument in the town's square that is a pivotal point for pictures

After a brief stop to capture the scenery, our bus driver then took us to El Peñol, a small town that had to be relocated after it sunk in the 1960s. Our tour guide said the government had built a hydroelectric dam to supply Medellin and surrounding areas with water but it caused severe flooding in the immediate area. As a result, many buildings were submerged. This picture shows me sitting in a bench before a replica of it.

From there, we boarded a vessel for a relaxing cruise along the Guatapé Reservoir where we saw fishermen passing by in their boats, beautiful mansions perched on the hillsides, and the remains of one of Pablo Escobar’s homes. They also pointed out one formerly occupied by his mother. House of Pablo Escobar

scene on lake in gautape

I also got pulled into an impromptu tourist version of either the vallenato, salsa or merengue. Watch me shake and shimmy like a pro. Riiight!

Lunch went down well in Guatapé at Asados Mi Casita. It was a typical meal of  of beans, chicharron (fried pork belly), plantain, fresh salad and a fried egg. guatpae_meal

I then took a stroll through the cobblestone streets that were reminiscent of Colonial times.

gauatape streets

Shop keepers loitered near their doors, residents went about their daily business and nifty little motochivas zipped up and down the narrow streets. And oh, what a blast of color it was! The vivid buildings made me feel as if I was a guest character in a fun, coloring book.

Many of the lower half of the buildings were adorned with brightly painted “zócalos”. They are murals that depict everyday life. murals on walls

The penultimate stop gave us a chance to climb the world-famous national monument known as La Piedra del Peñol, a giant rock that juts out of the landscape rising to 7000+ feet. Don’t quote me anywhere but to my somewhat warped mind,  I think it resembles an oversized breast punctuated by a very erect nipple if you look at it sideways. Gauatape_el piedra

Attempt the climb only if you are at your fittest. I must say the views at different points along the way are well worth the strenuous 740-step ascent.



Editor’s Notes:

I booked my tour with a company called Tours Guatapé and it cost $69.000 Colombian pesos, inclusive of breakfast and lunch with a Spanish-speaking guide. If you’d like to have English translation, there are no headsets. You must request a bilingual guide ahead of time – at a  premium price. It was nearly three times higher. (Can you guess which option I took? Yup, I depended on my years-old and very rudimentary high school Spanish to make it through the day) Ask for Ale Guia (Spanish speaker) and David (English assistance) as your guides. Also, there is an additional charge to climb La Piedra.

As a side note, given my tummy issues, I’m cautioning you to be careful of the tap water in Medellin. I drank bottled water all the time but I only realized on the second day that the water I asked to be heated for my tea was not boiled. It was tap water put in a cup and heated in a microwave. The next day I was vigilant and asked the kitchen staff to use the water I provided.

Finally, English is not as widely spoken in Medellin as one may expect so please take a dictionary with you or download a foreign language app to assist you with communication.

Cartagena’s legend of Santa Clara

T E N steps.

10 narrow yet sturdy steps protected by a barred gate that goes up to waist level and an area bordered by rectangular-shaped glass. That is all that separates a sunny and vibrant present from a mysterious and brooding past in the small coastal town of Cartagena.  The past is defined by the legend of Santa Clara and the palpable present is proliferated with stylish bar patrons sipping boozy cocktails just above an empty tomb.  

The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.
The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.

Persons acted as if this UNESCO-protected burial site was just another fixture in the very well-appointed room. For me, three words came to mind. Mind-blowing. Weird. Creepy.

The unexpected juxtaposition of a crypt under a bar made my heart race a little and my flesh break out in goosebumps as I cautiously descended the stairs to see into the vault. Given my propensity for travel mishaps, I decided then and there that  it was decidedly not the time to inadvertently trip and enter flat on my face or butt.

Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?
Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?

Yes, you are piecing the puzzle together correctly! There is a crypt that doubles as an exhibition piece within a high-end Sofitel luxury hotel in Colombia. I have never seen anything like it on any of my travels before. When you visit Cartagena, go have a drink in their Bar El Torro or just pop inside like I did for a quick look around. The locals or your tour guide will gladly share the fanciful story of the girl that was buried there.

There are writings on the wall from previous centuries
There are writings on the wall from previous centuries

The legend, as written by Colombian Nobel-prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, is about a 12-year-old child called Servia who had long, unbridled copper hair. Born with her umbilical cord around her neck, her entrance into the world wasn’t easy and she went through life plagued with difficulty. Servia grew up with slaves, then later contracted rabies after being bitten by a disease-filled dog. In an effort to heal her, she was sent to the convent of Santa Clara to be taken care of by nuns, who, in their well-intended but misguided efforts  at finding suitable remedies finally resorted to exorcism, which is believed led to her death. 

Uuniforms ostaff members of El Bar El Torro
Doesn’t he look like he has no arms in this shot? Even the uniforms of the staff members are a little spooky!

Before her passing, it is said that a priest befriended her and used to sneak out of a leper’s hospital regularly to see her.  When they met, legend has it that they ate and recited poetry together, although they were never sexually involved. Oddly, when Servia died Father Cayetano wasn’t around. The story ends with the incredible notion that her red hair continued to grow after her death.

All this BEFORE you even take one drink!

Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance
Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance

It’s no wonder the hotel attracts pampered guests and speculative and curious visitors from all around the globe.


Check back soon for more posts about my trip to Colombia.

Brazilian Futebol & Steak

My short stay in São Paulo passed in a blur of business meetings, conference sessions and networking events. Granted, I went there to work and achieved what I set out to do. But after a nearly eight hour flight, I couldn’t help being disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to squeeze in more sightseeing time.

There I was, in the largest city in South America and by many accounts the world’s seventh largest city overall, and all I got to do was skim the surface of the place. AAArgh!

Still, the trip remains memorable for three things.

  • The unusual architecture of the conference venue (Hotel Unique)
  • Getting to experience a high-energy “partida de futebol” in one of the greatest football-loving nations of the world
  • My first meal at an authentic Brazilian steakhouse

Here are a few pictures that show what I mean.

Hotel Unique Exterior Shot
Hotel Unique Exterior Shot
Another outside angle

Hotel Unique was designed by Ruy Ohtake, a prominent Brazilian architect. It defines luxury and boutique in the city’s dense landscape. Part of its unique features include a huge inverted arch supported by concrete columns with round porthole like windows.

The interior decor was done by another Brazilian, designer Joao Armentano, and is a mixture of spacious and ultra contemporary elements.

Lobby area
Lobby area
Lobby Bar
Lobby Bar – Isn’t this something else?


According to the country’s most famous player, Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé), “Brazil eats, sleeps and drinks football.” I got to see a much anticipated Corinthians vs Ponte Preta quarter final match while I was in town . It aired live on ESPN. Did your see me? lol

These are scenes from what Brazilians call the beautiful game…

Game in progress
Game in progress
Nation of more than 30 million crazy people…
Fans are fans; rain or shine
Fans are fans; rain or shine

Meat, meat…and more MEAT!!!!!!

I always knew about South Americans’ love of red meat. I got a glimpse of it in Buenos Aires but I didn’t truly partake in the true Churrascaria dining experience until I got to São Paulo. At the famous Fogo De Chão, I ate my fill of a variety of rotisserie meats carved table side by Brazilian gauchos.

Through the glass
Through the glass
Choose your cut
Choose your cut
Not a morsel more, please!
Not a morsel more, please!

What are your most memorable tidbits from Brazil?

My brief tango with Argentina

One of the greatest things about the tango is that it has infinite possibilities. There are no fixed rules for timing, speed, or direction and that freedom allows dancers to improvise and live ‘in the moment’.

Some of my best vacation moments happen when I do just that – live in the moment. That’s why I took an extra vacation day to do a quick dance with Argentina after my business conference in June 2010. After three days of touring nothing but plush yet generic meeting room space, I desperately craved a dalliance. Day four was my ballroom and Buenos Aires was my partner. I set my own pace and timing.

The conference was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in the heart of Buenos Aires. Regrettably, I didn’t get remotely close to the country’s famed snow-tipped mountains in the South Chilean border. Nor did I see the magnificent natural beauty of the Perito Moreno Glacier, or any of Iguazu’s breathtaking waterfalls.

Former castle coverted to hotel
A former castle that I snow a hotel

However, what I did see was impressive Spanish Colonial Architecture – with Italian and French influences; fashionably dressed porteños; and a thriving Buenos Aires arts scene. Plus, some of the best leather products on the planet. Luckily, I escaped credit card purgatory by consciously avoiding the handbag stores.

But I couldn’t stay away from the shoes. I tried to be strong, and was quite happy I only ended up buying a pricey pair of thigh high boots. They were SO worth it!!! Let me tell you something, those hot patches of leather shoot my swagger through the roof every time I wear them. Rihanna WHO? In them, I’m the one who is totally badass!

World Cup Fever

Perhaps the best part of my impromptu vacation was the fact that I got to experience a part of the Argentine culture that only kicks into high gear every four years. You could call it World Cup Mania. I toured the official World Cup Village and felt the nervous yet expectant energy bouncing off everyone I interacted with. The love of the game was clear.

2010 World Cup Headquarters
2010 World Cup Headquarters

Massive billboards and posters of their star athletes lined the city center. Blue and white jerseys displayed national pride from every shop window, and everything – speech, transactions, productivity, sheer movement – stopped when a match was in progress. The same thing happens in my country when we watch the track and field events during the Olympic Games.

City Tour

Did I forget to mention that one of my college friends is from Argentina? Lucky for me, he lives in Buenos Aires and he agreed to play tour guide and translator for most of my free day.

We took a three hour bus tour, and did some walking on our own.

The three icons of Arentina_Maradona, Evita Peron,Carlos Gardel
The three icons of Argentina – Maradona, Evita Peron,Carlos Gardel

At various stops along the route, we walked down the colorful streets of el Caminito in La Boca; stopped for tea or coffee in a local cafe, and took pictures at notable landmarks like Maradona’s statue and the Casa Roda. The latter is a baby pink mansion that houses a museum and the executive office of the President of Argentina. La Casa Rosada (equiv of the White House)

While walking, I also caught the tail-end of a union strike. Police battalions were out in large numbers to force back the expected crowds. Strikes appeared to be commonplace occurrences.

In the evening, I went to see a dinner and dance show with one of the conference delegates. My college buddy had ditched me at that point because he refused to watch a dance show for tourists. Well, there was no way I was going to leave Buenos Aires without seeing the famous Argentine tango.

The Argentine Tango
The Argentine Tango

The performances were elegant, energetic and fun to watch. Yo no podía quejarme de nada. _______

Editor’s Notes:

As is the case with any other big city, you need to walk with your wits about you in Buenos Aires. At the dance show, an elderly couple told me that they were robbed on the subway.  The thief used a coughing and hacking technique to get into the husband’s personal space. He lost US $100 and his wallet in the process

Despite my overwhelmingly positive experience in Buenos Aires, I must admit that I had one negative episode myself.  It involved a rather pathetic individual  who spouted a racially discriminatory comment during a tour.

The slight wasn’t directed at me in particular but I’ll be honest, my blood literally ran cold at that moment. I thought long and hard about what to do or say and eventually took the high road.  Especially after I realized that the man was an equal opportunity abuser. He had nothing good to say about Americans, Chileans, Peruvians or Brazilians either.  The irony was that for all his arrogance, he was an immigrant who was in a dead-end job; obviously bitter and frustrated with his circumstance.  Tres touché!