Monthly Archive: August 2014

I love Lima!

After a long and stressful 20 hour bus ride from Mancora, Brandon and I were really excited to get to Lima.  We spent a few days in Lima 2 years ago when we did our Incan Trail trip, so we knew exactly what to expect and where we wanted to stay.  We rented a room on Airbnb in the neighborhood of Miraflores, which is the nicest neighborhood in Lima (maybe all of Peru?).  It is on a cliff that looks right over the ocean, so the views are beautiful!

Miraflores Sign


Miraflores has all the comforts of Chicago, so we made sure to take advantage of them since we are about to travel into Bolivia, where there will be few. We declared an “American Day” when we got there and headed over to Larcomar, a shopping mall built into the side of a cliff. The mall is exactly like any that you would go to in the U.S. – complete with Gap, Banana Republic, North Face and many other American stores, as well as restaurants. We had burgers and fries at Chili’s (where they even had American ketchup!) and returned to the mall later to watch a movie in English and have giant sodas and popcorn.

Larcomar from the side


One thing that I had been looking forward to doing in Lima was running. Between high altitudes, travel and packed schedules, I hadn’t run more than 2 or 3 miles at a time since getting to South America. Lima has awesome paths that overlook the ocean so I made sure to pound out a few 4-mile runs – man, were my legs sore!


There are tons of parks along the path that Brandon and I explored. One of the more famous ones is Love Park – it has a giant statue of a couple making out. Right after we snapped a picture next to it, we remembered that we did the same thing in 2012 – so here the pictures are for a comparison (first is now, second 2012). The weather wasn’t as nice as the last time we were here – but I can handle a winter that means highs in the upper 60’s and overcast skies more than Chicago’s brutal weather.

Love Park 2014

Love Park 2012

Besides Chili’s, we had a few other food cravings that we wanted to fulfill. We grabbed sushi one night and then the next day went to a different neighborhood called Barranco to try a place called Burrito Bar. Those who know Brandon know that he LOVES Chipotle – as in probably ate there at least once a week in Chicago – so I did a search to see what Lima had to offer by way of burritos. Although you ordered at the table and not at the counter, this place was pretty spot on. Barbacoa, carnitas or chicken burritos, tacos or salads with cilantro lime rice and different beans, toppings, and salsas to choose from. The burritos even came wrapped in tinfoil!


We explored the rest of the neighborhood a bit too. There were some really nice parks and even a Chocolate Museum – those who know me know that we obviously went in for a tour!

Barranco Sign

Barranco Park

Chocolate Museum

I love Lima! Out of all the places that we’ve visited so far, Lima is the place that I could stay the longest. It has all the amenities that I like – diverse food, good shopping, lots of beautiful parks – and awesome bike lanes! Check these out – there are even bike specific traffic lights! Chicago’s got a lot of catching up to do…

Bike lane


A few days relaxing in Mancora, Peru

After spending a day busing from Banos to Guayaquil and another day busing from Guayaquil across the border into Peru, we knew that we would need a couple days to stretch our legs so we booked a few nights in Mancora, Peru.  Mancora is in the north of Peru and has about 9,000 inhabitants.  Although it is a beach and surfing destination, we didn’t go swimming because it is winter here so mostly overcast and the highs were only low 70’s.

BeachResturants by Beach

"Main street"

We stayed at a pretty bare bones “tiki” hostel at the top of the hill overlooking the town.  It had a great common area (and decent internet!) so it was a good place to relax.  I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more than 2 nights in Mancora, though.  The town just felt a little dirty and there were way too many stray dogs for my liking.  But it was nice to eat seafood on the beach and to recharge before our 20 hours bus ride to Lima!


View from the top


We stayed in Guayaquil 3 separate times, usually while on our way to another place in Ecuador, so it is worth mentioning briefly… Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and its main port. It’s a bit of a transportation hub for the country given its location, so it was a natural place to stay while on our way to other places.

We weren’t terribly adventurous in Guayaquil, with the main purpose of our visits to recharge our batteries before heading onward. Most of our time was spent exploring the area surrounding Malecon 2000 which runs along the Rio Guayas and checking out the colorful Las Penas neighborhood. Outside of that, we laid pretty low.

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Banos de Agua Santa – Hiking, Biking, Swinging, and Amazon’ing

We followed up our adventure-filled trip to the Galapagos Islands with 4 days in the small city of Banos de Agua Santa. Banos is the adventure capital of Ecuador, situated roughly 180 kilometers south of Quito and nestled in the Andes Mountains. The area is quite scenic.

Banos We are a long way from home
On our first full day in town, we went for a hike up the mountains to reach ‘Casa del Arbol’, which is affectionately known as the ‘Swing at the End of the World’. It’s a pretty barebones swing which swings out over the edge of cliff. It was a bit unnerving, but definitely worth it. Although, it was probably the second scariest thing we did that day, with being chased by rabid dogs (salivating at the prospect of taking a bite out of a couple of gringos) while hiking up the mountain coming in at the number one spot.

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Aside from the punk dogs, it was a great hike which yielded some great views of Banos and the general region.

Our next day was spent riding bikes on a highway that wraps through the Andes. The route we took was known as ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ (Route of the Wateralls). We took this route for about 25 km, and thankfully much of it was going downhill. It took us by numerous waterfalls which were little side trips off of the main highway.

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Our last full day was spent in the Amazon. Banos is pretty close to the outskirts of the Amazon, so we were able to pretty easily setup a day trip that would take us into the jungle. The day featured a visit to an area where monkeys were being rehabilitated, a visit to a small indigenous village, canoeing down the Rio Puyo, and hiking through the jungle to a waterfall.

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Galapagos – Isabela

We popped over to Isabela Island for a 3 days in between our time in Santa Cruz.  I actually like Isabela more than Santa Cruz – although the actual land size of the island is the largest in the Galapagos, the population is the smallest of the inhabited islands.  The town we stayed in was really laid back and everything was within a few blocks from the beach.  Our hostel was right on the beach though and the views were great!  The name was Caleta Iguana and there were iguanas everywhere!


View from Caleta Iguana

Iguanas at hotel

The first day we took it easy and just rented bikes to ride along the ocean out to the Wall of Tears, a wall built by prisoners (super sad story, but beautiful views).  We saw some animals along the way.


Brandon meets Turtle

Sea Lions

TurtleWall of Tears

The next day we went snorkeling!  Jen, Brandon and I all agreed it was the coolest part of the trip.  The boat ride out was really bumpy!


We saw tons of animals while we were snorkeling including fish, sea horses, a giant turtle, penguins, several different kinds of rays and SHARKS!  The sharks liked to hide in caves so our guides had us hold our breath and then they would shove us underwater and into the cave with the sharks.  At first it was really freaky but after the 3rd or 4th time, we got used to it 🙂  The underwater shots are all a bit blurry, but you can still see the animals.

Giant Sea Turtle

Snorkeling with turtle


Golden Rays

School of Golden Rays

Shark cave

Erin with penguin

Sea horse


We also went to an area formed by lava tunnels that was home to a lot of blue footed boobies.  It was mating season so the males kept puffing up and dancing around the females.

Blue footed boobies

Mating dance


For our last day on the island, we went hiking to 2 volcanoes.  The first one has one of the largest craters in the world, but unfortunately was pretty foggy.  The second was really interesting as we hiked across lava flows and checked out the different rock from the different eruptions.  We hiked for almost 6 hours and the first and last 30 minutes were through mud several inches thick – good thing we rented giant boots!

Erin at volcano

Iguana at Volcano



View from the top