Day 2 In Bogotá, Colombia

After eating breakfast in the morning, we hopped onto the tour bus and drove to La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. It is said that Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with 1,887 species of birds alone in the country. Besides for its bio-diversity, our tour guide explained that Colombia is also known for four major features— coffee, emeralds, flowers, beautiful women, and cocaine. The size of Bogotá, specifically, can be compared to that of New York or London, and is the one of the three largest cities in South America.

It rains in Bogotá 250 days of the year, so rainy season is practically year-long. During the 19th century in the 1800s, the British arrived in Bogotá to build railroads and neighborhoods, so the fact that so much architecture in the city is based around red brick is due to the English influence. Something interesting about the city is that it is divided by numbers, with each number representing the class of individuals who live there—1 being the lowest socioeconomic level of status and 6 being the highest. The city’s minimum wage comes out to $280 per month, and for apartments in the level 3 district for middle class citizens, apartments cost $290 per month.

The first site that we came across was Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a beautiful church in the city that has become a staple, followed by a church from the 1600’s that survived the Civil War nearly 60 years ago. From there, we walked to Palacio de Nariño, or Nariño’s Palace—the official home and workplace of the President of Colombia. Antonio Nariño was the first person to translate human rights from French to Spanish. He had these rights printed on pamphlets and began passing them out, but was soon imprisoned for doing so. The palace sits on the same location where Nariño was born, and the President lives on third floor, while the rest of the palace contains important artifacts from the country’s history.

Outside the palace stood various military guards, and upon inquiring more information, we learned that one year of military training is mandatory for everyone upon graduating high school unless you have money to get yourself out of the requirement or unless you go directly to college.

As we continued walking, we came across balconies from hundreds of years ago that were influenced by the Arabians. The balconies were designed for the women of the house with the purpose being that the women could look outside, but no one could see inside.

We then saw the first observatory in all of South America that was built in the 1800s. It was meant to be taller than the Catholic Church but the architect was told if he followed through with his plan, he would have his head cut off.

The next sight was a cloister where firstborn girls were sent to spend the rest of the their lives. Their bodies would be painted when they died to preserve them. The second girl in the family would be married off to a wealthy lord, and the third daughter, or the youngest in the family would have to stay with their parents until they died, which some say is a different type of imprisonment as opposed to being sent to the cloister.

Following the cloister, we came across Plaza de Bolívar, named after President Simón Bolívar. The Plaza is home to the National Capital, the Palace of Justice, and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

As we continued walking, we spotted a building where President Simón Bolívar lived. He had a close female friend who often hosted parties and purposely invited various guests—some of whom were known to like the President, and others who openly voiced their dislike towards him. After getting the guests drunk, she approached them and asked what they thought of him. It was in this way that she found out about an attempt to kill him. She told Bolívar about this plan to kill him right before it happened, and he jumped out the window (pictured below) to escape and run while the people who planned to kill him were entering his house.

Across from this building is a theater built in 1793 but completed in 1800 which is very similar to the one in France, with the only difference being that this one is a little smaller. Shortly after seeing the theater, we came across a house where the Colombian version of Dr. Seuss was born, as well as the Red Cross building in Bogotá. From here, we took a tour of Fernando Botero’s museum, but that will be discussed separately in an upcoming post.

Days 6 and 7 In Costa Rica- Last Night and Day In San José

This morning we left the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, and headed back towards San José to spend our last full day in Costa Rica. The scenery that we came across during the drive was breathtaking and we couldn’t have asked for better weather! We even managed to spot monkeys in the trees on the side of the road as well as some interesting looking birds too. We stopped at a local snack and smoothie shop, where we had the opportunity to sample some typical Costa Rican treats, but we were more interested in the smoothies since the fruit here is so fresh and delicious.

Pictured below is also a sign that says, “Pura Vida,” which is a saying you’ll hear a lot throughout the country! The exact translation in English is “pure life,” but the phrase is also used for purposes of saying, “Take it easy,” “Enjoy life,” “All good,” “Purity in life,” “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and even “This is life!” “Pura vida means that no matter what your current situation is, life for someone else can always be less fortunate than your own. So you need to consider that maybe…just maybe, your situation isn’t all that bad and that no matter how little or how much you have in life, we are all here together and life is short” which is why we should live it ‘pura vida style’ (http://www.bestcostaricantours.com).

We stopped for a quick meal in San José, but more noteworthy was our dinner at a local restaurant, which is all pictured below. The food surely didn’t disappoint, and neither did the view in the late afternoon! When we woke up the following morning, we had some free time to spend walking around the city before having to make our way over to the airport. Our first stop was at the Museos del Banco Central which has an enormous collection of over 1,600 Pre-Columbian golden artifacts, dating back to AD 500. It was definitely an interesting sight, but we didn’t stay in the museum too long because there was still more we wanted to see in the city.

We walked around the center of San José for a little while until we made our way over to the National Theater of Costa Rica. The theater was built in 1897 in an attempt to show off the economic improvements of the country, all thanks to the blooming success of coffee exportation. With Italian marble, glass and wood brought in from France, and spacious seating, who could complain?

The theater was a beautiful sight, but as our tour wrapped up, we made sure to grab one last meal before it was time for us to finally depart. And so our trip to Costa Rica had unfortunately concluded, but we had definitely hoped to return sometime in the future!

Day 5 In Costa Rica- Hanging Bridges and Zip-lining In Monteverde

This morning we woke up and enjoyed a delicious assortment of fruit, cheeses, eggs, and bread, all typical of Costa Rica. The food here, especially the fruit is so fresh that it makes you question the quality of what we eat back in the States. After we finished eating, we embarked on our morning tour which was the Selvatura Canopy Tour.

The Selvatura Canopy Tour is known for being one of the best ones in Costa Rica. The cables and platforms are built into the Cloud Forest, which really allows you to feel as though you are in the sky. With 15 cables and 18 viewing platforms stretching over two miles of cloud forest, Selvatura Park has the longest cable length in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Cloud Forest is known for its incredibly diverse ecosystem. It is home to 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, 130 species of mammals, an astounding 500 species of birds, and more than 3,000 species of plants.

We began my viewing all of the “Hanging Bridges,” which have this name due to the fact that the bridges honestly feel as though they are hanging over the entire forest. From there, we zip-lined all throughout the Cloud Forest, which was scary to say the least, but definitely worth the experience. To be able to see the breathtaking views everywhere you look during this exhilarating adventure is truly an experience of a lifetime.

At the end of the tour, we came across a “Tarzan Swing” which is a small platform suspended above ground in which you have to jump off and swing out above the Cloud Forest. There was no way I was going to partake in the Tarzan Swing, but after hearing everyone who did it say how exciting it was, I figured I would give it a try. Here I was boasting about how incredible breakfast tasted, and I felt as though it was about to come back up! I hesitated before jumping off the platform but when I did, a rush of wind hit me in the face. I closed my eyes for a few brief seconds on the way down, but knew I had to open them again if I really wanted to enjoy this. I opened my eyes and saw the cloud forest in front of me as I swung towards it. It was truly invigorating, but I have to admit that I was overcome with gladness when my feet reached the ground upon landing.

The tour was followed up with a much calmer activity, as we entered the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to visit the Gallery of Hummingbirds. Costa Rica is known for having 50 species of hummingbirds, many of which are known to nest around the Cloud Forest. It’s difficult to take pictures of them since they fly so quickly, but if look closely at the pictures below, you can see them eating at their feeding stations. We had to keep a watchful eye though because they had no problem flying right up to us, but there were so many of them flying up to us at once!