San Gil

San Gil was not originally in our travel plans but we had enough good things about Colombia’s “adventure capital” that we decided to head out to the East of the country to check it out.

Our hostel was located a fair way out of town and we had to endure a fairly bumpy and hazardous taxi drive along some washed out dirt roads before finally arriving.

The hostel had some great views out over the valley, a nice hammock to chill on and a Tarzan swing!! We settled in for the night and then the next day we were off paragliding.

We bused it up to the top of the Chicamocha canyon which was over 2,000m in depth. Things got off to a bit of a slow start with a take-off delayed due to bad weather. In true South American style a make shift soccer pitch was marked out (using the parachutes we would be gliding with as goals) and a game started! A couple hours later our guides finally decided the weather conditions were right, or that they had finally had enough after two hours of soccer, and it was time to take off.

We were strapped to our pilots, the parachutes went up and before we knew it we were soaring over the canyon! It was a very calm and relaxing flight spiralling up into the clouds. Jen and I both landed safely back at our take-off area but unfortunately one of the other members of the group got blown off course and ended up having to trek out of the canyon!


The next day it was off the Baricharra, “the prettiest town in Colombia”. We wandered through it’s streets paved with cobble stones, past whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs that gave the feeling that it hardly changed in the last 300 years. We did a short walk to nearby town of Guane before returning to San Gil.

Back in San Gil we tried to get a taxi back to our hostel but none of the taxi drivers wanted to take on the dodgy mountain road. Eventually we had to jump on the back of two motorbikes whose drivers were the only ones game enough to make the trip. Tristan’s driver, however, didn’t seem too concerned as he took out his mobile phone to text on as he sped along. To make matters worse Tristan only had one hand with which to hold on as he clutched Jen’s bottle of red in the other!



Things did not get off to a good start in Bogota. After being dropped off on the overnight bus we made our way to the hostel that Tristan had insisted on booked. Jen was a bit sceptical as the hostel only had one review online but Tristan had assured her it would be fine… plus it was cheap!

Not surprisingly when we arrived the owner did not speak any english and did not have any record of our booking. Nevertheless he told us to return in one hour for a reason we could not understand. We took ourselves of to a nearby cafe and had breakfast where the owners turned out to be Kiwis!

When we returned to the hostel we were told that there was no room for us but the owner’s friends had a hostel with a room. We were asked if we liked animals to which we gave a hesitant yes. When we arrived we were greeted by a dog, some birds and a crowing rooster right outside our room! Lucky us!

After settling into our room (aka sleeping all morning because overnight buses are terrible) we headed off on a bike tour of the city. The tour had a little bit of everything as we stopped by some landmarks to take in some history, enjoyed some local fruits, played some Tejo, saw some street art and then enjoyed a freshly brewed coffee! Needless to say it was a hectic ride. As we walking home we were lured into a taco restaurant by some promises of craft beer and we met the owner who turned out to be from Australia!

The next day it was off to climb Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain that stands out 3,152 metres above sea level and dominates the city. There was both the options of a cable car and train to the top but being the suckers for punishment, we decided to take on the 1,500+ stairs.

Unfortunately, it turned out that we weren’t the only ones with this idea and being a public holiday we had to battle with what seemed like half of Bogota to reach the top. Somehow we prevailed through the crowds and Jen was able to keep her patience! At the top we stopped to take in some nice views of the city before tackling the crowds again to make it to bottom.

We had been on the road for over 5 months at this point and we decided it was finally time to take the plunge and visit our first museum! We headed to Museo de Botero which showcased the paintings and sculputes of Fernando Botero one of Colombia’s most famous artists known for his “fat”figurs, including a fat Mona Lisa! We found one painting which scarily looked liked Tristan.

The Coffee Region

Our first stop on our tour of the coffee region was a little romantic cabana set in the lush green forest outside of Armenia. We enjoyed a couple days relaxing in the tranquil setting with views from our deck out to the forest. It was a short walk from our room down to a nearby river with a small waterfall with a refreshing dip.

It was then off to the town of Salento which is nestled between the gorgeous green mountains of which the coffee region is famous for. The town itself is filled with traditional brightly coloured houses. We were “glamping” in the grounds of a hostel a short walk from the town. We were again treated with some amazing views from our tent.

In Salento we met up with our friends for a night of beers and Tejo. What is Tejo you ask? It is Colombia’s national past-time which naturally involves lots of explosions! The game consists of throwing a rock at a ring of small packages filled with gunpowder. When you are on target you were rewarded with a very satisfying KABOOM!!


The next day we jumped in the back of a jeep and were off to Valle de Corcora, The day did not start well as we trudged through deep mud with the rain pouring down. We eventually made it up through the dense cloud forest to a small cafe serving hot chocolate where we we could see lots of hummingbirds buzzing around and feeding!

Finally, as we began our final ascent the rain cleared and the sun came out giving us incredible views of the valley and the famous wax palms! The plans are Colombia’s national tree and are the largest plans in the world at over 60m high! The towering palms were an impressive sight set in the brilliant green valley.

Of course a trip to the coffee region would not be complete with a tour of a coffee plantation and we trekked to a nearby farm to hear about the process of growing, picking and roasting the coffee beans. At the end of tour we enjoyed a nice freshly brewed cup and then it was off on the overnight bus to Bogota!


The next stop on our Colombian journey was the gritty city of Cali, known as the home of salsa! We had told ourselves that we were having no more dancing lessons after the mangling of the Tango in  Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, we somehow found ourselves in small, sweaty room filled with about 20 other backpackers trying to follow our enthusiastic instructors as the salsa music blared. We put up a valiant effort but eventually Salsa defeated us and we retired to the cool night air and our cervazas. Once again vowing to stay clear of any dance lessons.

Earlier that day we had taken on the advice of some fellow travellers to climb the cerro de las tres cruces, three crosses high in the mountains overlooking the city. We had read that it was best to go early in the morning for the climb but for some reason decided not to heed this advice instead setting off in the middle of the day. It was a long, brutal climb to the peak in the burning sun with little respite in the shade. We regretted our early morning indolence but continued on. Along the way we were being passed by many locals running up and then somehow managing a work out at the Flinstones gym at the top.

When we finally reached the top we rewarded ourselves with a fresh juice whilst we relaxed and took in the views of the city.DSC02771DSC02774DSC02778DSC02782DSC02787


23rd of June- It was time to say goodbye to Ecuador and head across the border into Colombia. We passed through immigration on the Ecuadorean side and then had to walk across a bridge with our bags into Colombia. Once through Colombian immigration, Tristan negotiated a price with the first person that approached him to take us to a nearby town where we would catch a bus to Popayan.

A price was agreed and the man took us to his car which turned out to be just his personal car and not an official “taxi”. Nevertheless, albeit with a growing level concern on Jen’s behalf, we piled in with our bags. The man then proceeded to drive us in a circle around the immigration building before asking us to hop out of his car and hop into another one. For obvious reasons Jen was furious at Tristan for not listening to her in the first place. We grabbed our bags and took off in the opposite direction. It was a strange and slightly concerning welcome to Colombia!

We eventually made it to Popayan and had more taxi trouble when our driver dropped us off 10 blocks from our hostel! It was with some relief that we finally checked into our hostel before heading out for a delicious Lebanese meal for a first night in Colombia!

The next day we spent exploring the small colonial city of popayan. The city is known as the “white city” as the buildings all have white facades. We took off on a run up a nearby hill overlooking the city and were rewarded with some lovely views.



Located in the cloud forest of the Andes Mountains, is the small adventure town of Mindo. We had one day in the town and were determined to fit as much in as possible.

First on the list was tubing! We had heard many stories of tubing down tranquil rivers all over the world usually with an esky floating alongside. Tubing in Mindo turned out to be quite a different experience! We hopped in the back of a ute driving through town as random Ecuadorians ran alongside us and jumped in the tray with us. It later turned out these were our guides! A few blocks later a raft made up 5 tubes was thrown on top of the ute and we were off to the river!

Standing next to the gushing river we received our safety briefing (delivered entirely in Spanish) and were given our helmets and life jackets. We were starting to realise that this may not be the idyllic float we had anticipated!

The only information that we had been decipher from the rapid fire Spanish that was directed at us during the safety briefing was hold on to the ropes tightly and keep your legs up. So as the tubes were thrown into the river we jumped on and did just that. It was a rough and bumpy ride over rocks and down rapids but we came out the other end (relatively) unscathed.

We barely had time to cough up the last of the river water when were in the back of another pick-up truck and off on a waterfall hike! To get to the start of the hike we were required to catch a dodgy looking cable over the rainforest canopy. When we were dropped off on the other side we were told that after we had after we had finished hiking and needed to catch the cable car back simply to pick up a big stick and hit the cable three times. Someone on the other side would hear the banging and come and collect us!

We enjoyed a nice hike to several different waterfalls and enjoyed a refreshing dip as the afternoon storm hit. Fortunately, someone noticed our banging on the cable and we went back across the valley in the cable car and caught another ride back into town.

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It was then time for our final activity and the one Jen was most excited about… chocolate tour and tasting!! We received a tour explaining the complete process involved in making chocolate in a local farm and then sat down and enjoyed some free samples. We had been told from people that we had met that we would be more than full of chocolate after the tour was over. These people clearly had not met Jen and after the tour had ended we had to return later that night for Dinner!


It was a long and bouncy ride from Cotopaxi National Park sitting in the back of a trooper but we somehow managed to make without Jen using the sick bag! We were very nervous about checking into our first “party” hostel of the trip. Things were off to a good start when we turned up just in for Trivia!! We joined a team with fellow some fellow travellers we had met in Cotopaxi and finished up a respectable third place and were in bed by 11pm.
The next day we wondered around the streets of downtown Quito and happened to stumble across a parade in the square. Next it was off to visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional for a fantastic view across the city.

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Our last night at the hostel did not prove quite so tame as the first when we indulged in a few too many happy hour specials and somehow ended up piling into a taxi with a few new friends for a night out in Quito. It turned out to be a bit of a random night with shots, fish bowls, running into friends from Wollongong and from a our Dragoman trip!

It was a sad and sorry Tristan and Jen the next morning, struggling to pack their bags in time for the 11am check out so we could attempt to make the bus to Mindo.

Secret Garden- Cotopaxi

Following a couple of nights “roughing it” along the Quilotoa loop, we were excited to check into the Secret Garden lodge at Cotopaxi. Not only were we staying in very cute hobbit holes with views looking out towards the towering and majestic Cotopaxi Volcano but (and definitely much more impressive) we had the benefit of all you can banana bread!! Jen was in heaven!


After filling up on more than our fair share of banana bread, we headed off for our first activity. A waterfall hike finished off with a jump from the top of one of the waterfalls into the icy water.


We spent the afternoon relaxing in the hammock enjoying beautiful views of Cotopaxi before tucking into one of the best meals of the trip. A delicious fish red Thai curry.


The place we called home for two nights! Lucky us!


The next day we were up early to tackle the Pasochoa summit trek. This trek was so muddy that we ditched our hiking books (or in Tristan’s case his joggers) and swapped them for their trusty gumboots. After three hours of slipping and sliding through the mud, we reached the summit of the volcano at 4,220m giving us panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. During our struggles up the mountain we were put to shame by the hostel’s dogs, a 12 year-old Daschund and an even older Dalmatian!

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On our last day at Secret garden, Jen decided to have a “chill” day relaxing in the hammocks while Tristan was off to mountain bike down the world’s tallest active volcano. Some members of his group were put off by the condition of the bikes when we stopped to collect them and pulled out of the bike ride but Tristan was determined to continue.

The group drove up to parking area on Volcano Cotopaxi at 4,600m before hiking up to the refuge at 4,800m. After returning to the car park it was then time to jump on the bikes!

Things did not get off to a good start with Tristan’s derailleur snapping in half on the first corner. But a quick change of bikes and Tristan was off again! Descending over 1,000m on a hard tail bike with dodgy brakes over rough corrugated roads was not the most enjoyable experience. Things got worse though when one of the pedals snapped off. Despite the offer of a third bike to break Tristan took this as a sign that it might be time to pack it in for the day and head back to the hostel. It was then time to head to Equador’s capital Quito!


Quilotoa Loop


It had been a good couple of weeks since our last multi-day trek and Jen was starting to miss that feeling of being sweaty, sun-burnt and out-of-breath tramping up some mountains at altitude. Accordingly, we made plans to take off on the Quilotoa loop trek!

The Quilotoa loop is a walk through some beautiful and remote towns in the Ecuadorean highlands with the spectral grand finale of Laguna de Quilotoa. The laguna is a 3km wide lake situated in a volcanic crater with the crater rim standing at 3,915m.

They say you can’t do the loop without getting lost and we were certainly no exception! The set of directions we were given read more like a treasure map and had us tramping through local villager’s backyards searching for tiny goat tracks hidden by the thick scrub.

Tristan (despite previous bad experiences from Adventure Races) took charge leading Jen and our new German friend Desi off into the wild. He began to think at one point that he might have made a mistake when the path he chose lead off into a swamp. However, he kept going for another couple of kilometres just to be sure. Fortunately, Desi was present as a potential witness to prevent matricide taking place when he finally admitted that he might have made a “small” mistake that meant back tracking those couple of kilometres through the swamp and up a hill. It was a frosty walk from that point on… and then it started to rain.

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Somehow we managed to make it to our accomodation for the first night without coming to any physical blows. At our hostel we were lucky enough to be upgraded from our dorm to a private bungalow complete with fireplace!

The comfort of our accomodation was not able to erase the painful memory of the hike for Desi and, following her violent glimpse into married life, she feigned an illness and was off on the first bus the next morning to Latacunga.

Day 2 did not get off to a much better start when our new walking companion was chased by some vicious dogs. Upon hearing the screams everyone did the right thing by taking off as fast as they could in the opposite direction, leaving poor Ali to her fate.

Thankfully, Tristan had relinquished the navigating duties which meant our second day did not involve any major deviations from the suggested path. After a tough climb out of the canyon we were greeted with some beautiful views over the valley and then continued on to our hostel in Chugcilan.

We started off early for Day 3 (the last day of the hike) and the toughest. It was 1,000m elevation gain from the town of Chugcilan up to the rim of the crater overlooking Quilota laguna. This meant of course that we would first need to descend a couple of hundred metres before even starting the climb!

We somehow managed to make it to the top and when we did were rewarded with some gorgeous views that made it all the worthwhile. Finally we made it back to our hostel where Jen crashed into a heap and said for 100th time she did not want to do any more hikes!

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Our next stop in Ecuador was the adventure town of Baños. Situated in the Central Highlands, the town is surrounded by towering mountains and beautiful waterfalls.

For our first activity we rented a buggy and took off along the ruta de las cascadas. Driving a long the roads winding mountain with crazy Ecuadorean drivers overtaking at every opportunity was a hair raising experience. It was even more dangerous on the way back when Jen decided to drive. The road went through tunnels and along the side of the canyon giving us spectacular views.

At the end of the loop we parked our buggy and hiked down into the canyon for an up close view of the Devil’s Cauldron. There was a path cut into the rock leading to a cave behind the waterfall which allowed you to experience the powerful gushing waterfall up close.

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After surviving the return trip to Banos with Jen behind the wheel we headed up to Casa de Arbol, a treehouse and swing giving amazing views over the city.

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The next day in Banos happened to be a rainy day. We spent the morning playing an intense game of Janga and watching Netflix. In the afternoon we decided to venture out and climb what felt like a million steps to the top of the mountain to try another swing. This one appeared to be a little more dangerous because our harness was literally tied to a very worn out piece of rope.


Our last day in Banos was another action packed one, Tristan got up early to go canyoning. Slipping, sliding and abseiling down lots of waterfalls in the rainforest. In the afternoon we headed to Parque Aventura for some zip lining. The first zipline was headfirst down into the gorge, zooming over the river. At the end you feel like you are about to crash into the cliff wall but the brakes come on at the last second (lucky we were in the brace position). After the zipline we headed across a long bouncy suspension bridge with our trusty guide running out in front of us bouncing and swinging the bridge as much as possible. At the end of the bridge you reach the base of the cliff and climb up about 200metres over the raging river. We reached the top with shaky legs and then it was off on the final zipline back to the other side of the river.