One thing that always breaks my heart is talking to people who’ve been to Vietnam and learn they took a bus from Hue straight to Hoi An. A bus! It’s a shame because, even though it may be easier, it doesn’t quite compare to the beauty that is riding the SE3 train. Granted the train doesn’t go all the way to Hoi An and a taxi may be needed to complete the last stretch of the ride, but with views like this does it really matter?
The train ride starts slowly but quickly picks up the pace. For about an hour or so nothing really happens apart from passing the odd town, but then… the quick change of scenery hits you like a brick. Suddenly you’re surrounded by lush greenery that seems to swallow the train whole, not to mention the outstanding views of the sea! This stretch of the SE3 route is considered one of the most scenic in the world for a reason, too bad so many tourists overlook it.
For lovers of ancient civilisations, few places are as exciting as the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. The amount of incredibly preserved Mayan ruins to discover, each one better than the next, makes it an authentic playground for explorers and history lovers alike. While not my favourite of the lot (that would have to be Palenque), Chichen Itza is by far the most impressive. There’s a reason it is the most recognised Mayan ruin in the world!
Contrary to popular belief, the famous limestone pyramid is actually called Temple of Kukulcán and is part of a much larger (and very interesting) complex called… Chichen Itza! The pyramid sits in the middle of an archeological site where a large Mayan city existed some 1,500 years ago. While the surrounding ruins are extremely well preserved and a delight to explore, its imposing scale unsurprisingly makes Kukulcán the crown jewel of Chichen Itza.
After my time in Riohacha came to an end, I had two options: go back to Santa Marta, or make a brief stop in Palomino – a sleepy coastal town with a tremendous reputation among backpackers, located somewhere between both cities. Since Palomino already featured on my list of places to visit before I left Colombia I figured it would make much more sense to visit it now rather than having to come back some other time.
When it comes to public squares, Europe is a hard place to beat. That’s a fact. There are thousands of them, each one prettier than the next. Spain, for example, is well known for its magnificent plazas. And even though I haven’t yet had a chance to visit them all, I think Plaza de España will forever be my favourite. Located in Seville, the capital of the Andalucia region, it takes little time to conquer the heart of anyone who visits it.
Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, this huge half-circle square is a marvel to look at. While the walls feature impressive tiles representing each of the Spanish provinces, its most striking detail is the artificial lake that runs across its length. During the day boats can be rented and visitors make the most of it by rowing up and down the lake. It’s a fantastic sight, and one of the reasons that make it one of my favourite squares in the world.
One of the disadvantages of sleeping on the beach is that once the sun is up you can’t really sleep anymore. Which wasn’t all that bad because we had a long day ahead of us. After a tasty breakfast, we waited for the other groups to get ready (since we were all moving together in a sort of convoy) and headed towards the first stop of the day: the Parque Eólico de Jepirachi. A wind farm, basically. It was fun to get close to the towering wind turbines although they’re not much of an attraction per se.
I’m not much of a waterfall kind of guy. I mean, I do like them when they’re big and spectacular but otherwise they just fail to grab my attention. As such, you won’t be surprised to learn that when I travel I’m very cautious about going out of my way to see a waterfall. It’s a rare occasion, let’s put it that way. The Pailón del Diablo, however, is one of those exceptions that didn’t make me think twice. I simply had to see it.
Located near the small town of Baños, the best way to get there is by renting a mountain bike and making your way through the spectacular Ruta de las Cascadas. What awaits at the other end is the aptly named Pailón del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron: an impressive waterfall with a viewpoint that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Lord of the Rings movie. You’ll get very close to the waterfall and obviously drenched, which is part of what makes it so much fun!
While Riohacha may not have all that much going on, it still sees a lot of visitors. The reason for this is quite simple: the city is the gateway to Alta Guajira, the northern – and wildest – part of La Guajira department. When I say wildest what I really mean is that it’s mostly deserted, has no roads, and features some truly unique landscapes. It is also where you can visit the northernmost point in both Colombia and South America at Punta Gallinas, a big part of its appeal and – yes, you guessed it – the reason I could not miss this experience.
Back in 2016 I did a small trip to the Persian Gulf to see what the fuss was about. Truth be told, I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of countries I visited but… I quite liked Qatar. Doha, the capital, has a different vibe from the other cities in the gulf and somehow feels less artificial. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the amount of museums, and good ones at that!
The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha’s flagship museum, is by far the most impressive. It features an interesting collection of Islamic art throughout the centuries housed in a gorgeous modern building designed by I. M. Pei (the same guy who designed the iconic Louvre Pyramid!). The main hall is its most striking feature, especially this ginormous window overlooking the Doha skyline at the opposite end of the Corniche. It’s a beautiful museum, and better yet: free!
After a very productive month in Santa Marta I figured it was time to take a little break. Well, not quite a “break” but a temporary change of scenery. See, I’m not the biggest fan of NYE celebrations and whenever I get the chance to escape to some remote place, I do it. Pyongyang? Check. Somewhere in Cabo Verde? Check. Timisoara? Check. Vietnamese jungle? Yeah, check. The list goes on!
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit New York City a few times and always look forward to the next one. It’s a city that, perhaps thanks to Hollywood, we all sort of already know even before we get there. The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square… who doesn’t know these landmarks? They are all so iconic. Yet my favourite thing to do in New York is just wander about aimlessly. From the Upper West to the Lower East, Times Square and across the bridge – it doesn’t really matter.
I know some people prefer to stay in places like Brooklyn but for me the Big Apple is all about the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. I took this photo on a snowy day while walking on NYC’s most famous avenue (the 5th!) with a privileged view of the Empire State Building. It’s a fantastic sight that will leave anyone with a sore neck from constantly looking up. Make no mistake, views like this are part of what makes New York such a special place!