Cartagena de Indias, casually referred to as Cartagena, is the beauty queen of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Splashed with bright colours, Colonial architecture, kilometres of historic defence walls surrounding the city, and lively music wafting through the sultry Caribbean air, there’s something special about this magical city that has to be felt to be understood. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its “strategic location, this eminent example of the military architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries was also one of the most important ports of the Caribbean,” Cartagena is Colombia’s second most popular city with visitors.
I rose before the sun on another tranquil day in Antigua, Guatemala’s magnificent crown jewel, on the penultimate day of my solo trip through the Central American country that had already captured my heart. My alarm went off at 5:30am; I rubbed my eyes, stepped into the clothes I had laid out the night before, and ate a quick breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel before catching a pre-arranged shuttle to Guatemala City. For the final leg of my week in Guatemala, I would base myself in the small city of Flores. From there I would visit the mystical Mayan ruins of Tikal.
My first trip to Guatemala began with a blissful three days in the spiritually charged village of San Marcos, peacefully tucked along the shore of Lake Atitlán, one of the most gorgeous places I have been lucky enough to experience thus far in my travels. Even though I could have stayed there for weeks, months, forever, I only had a week in Guatemala and my itinerary told me that it was time to move on. Next stop: Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage city bursting with colonial architecture at the base of three volcanoes; Acatenango, Volcán de Agua and Volcán de Fuego, an active stratovolcano that erupted twice in 2018 alone.
A glow-in-the-dark map of the Solar System graced my bedroom wall when I was a little girl, accented by luminescent cutouts of stars, moons and planets pasted to my ceiling. As I gazed upon my artificial universe, my mind drifted to far-off worlds, fueling dreams about the endless wonders of the universe and who else might be out there with us. My passions turned to travel and the arts as I grew older, but I still find joy in gazing upon the heavens and letting my mind fly high amongst the stars. The Jasper Dark Sky Festival, presented by Rocky Mountaineer, aims to connect people of all ages to the wonders of our universe and to stargaze in one of the world’s largest dark-sky preserves.
Puebla is not a name that often crosses travelers’ lips. The medium-sized city of 1.5 million people is a treasure trove of colonial architecture and has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is one of the great culinary capitals of Mexico, home to many classic Mexican dishes such as the ubiquitous mole poblano, a dark, rich sauce of 20 ingredients including chili peppers and chocolate. Despite the beauty of the historic centre, the endless opportunities for delicious meals, the proximity to Mexico City and Popocatépetl volcano, the second highest peak in Mexico, looming nearby, foreign tourists often overlook Puebla.
Teotihuacan. The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead. These words conjure images of complex ancient civilizations, ferocious warriors and a way of life that modern people could only imagine in their wildest dreams. Mexico is famous around the world for its wealth of ruins and archaeological sites, and Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the most famous of them all. The ancient city is only 48km, or 30 miles, south west of Mexico City, making it the perfect place to get out of the bustling city for a day and to discover some Mesoamerican history. Never content with only the easiest option, we decided to tack on a visit Tula, a much less visited archaeological site featuring towering Toltec warriors atop a lone pyramid.
The 737 began its final descent into Mexico City shortly after midnight; the jet-black sky preventing me from seeing my first glimpse of the largest city in North America sprawled out below. Mexico is one of the top destinations for Canadians year after year, yet it was my first time visiting the country. The majority of those tourists plop themselves down beside the resort pool and don’t move for a week, but our plans were different. My travel partner and I are avid travelers and some of our vacation destinations in the past have garnered quizzical looks, and Mexico City was no exception. The city is a hub of Mexican culture, the home of brilliant examples of many architectural styles; it claims to have the most museums in the world, is a Mecca of Mexican cuisine, and is near to some of the most important ruins around. Despite all of this, it is often dismissed as a travel destination due to preconceived misconceptions about safety and culture. Continue reading Hola! Mexico City→
Full of spectacular and abundant natural beauty, Banff is Canada’s outdoor playground, nestled in the Rocky Mountains and busy with visitors from around the globe all year round. In the winter, the town is full of people who love to hit the slopes at one of the three world-class hills in the area. Since I am not even close to proficient in skiing or snowboarding, I tend to save my trips for the summer, when the days are warm and the sun doesn’t go down until late at night. Expedia.ca encouraged me to see what I was missing, so I made the four-hour drive south at the beginning of March to experience what the area has to offer in the chillier months. Continue reading Beyond the bunny hill: Getting outdoorsy in Banff→
The colourful colonial town of Granada is one of Nicaragua’s main tourist draws. Low buildings splashed with paint in every shade of the rainbow line cobblestone streets, people on bikes and on foot lazily ambling in the heat while active volcanoes loom in the not-so-distant background. After hiking through Mombacho volcano’s cloud forest, my travel companion and I were deposited in the historic centre of town.
The throngs of tourists the travel literature promised were nowhere to be seen. We settled into our casa, cozy rooms dotted around a courtyard with a shallow pool, reminiscent of the riads we loved so much in Morocco. We walked the sun-drenched streets without aim, settling in to the slow pace of life. On occasion we passed small squares with pretty trees and fountains at their centres. Our meanderings took us to Iglesia de Merced, a church was originally built in the 16th century, destroyed by pirates, and rebuilt in the late 1700s. It was damaged and repaired yet again in the mid-1800s. For the price of a mere dollar, we climbed the narrow stairwell to the top of the bell tower for the famous postcard views of the low-slung buildings with Mombacho to the south and Lake Nicaragua to the east. The rooftop is small and the bell is never far from your ears. As I was serenely enjoying the views, the giant bell was rung violently by men out of my sight, causing my head to spin for hours afterward.
Growing up and living in Canada for my whole life has produced in me an automatic desire to hibernate in the winter, a hard shell that protects me against the cold and snow and keeps me going until summer finally comes around again. This desire is, however, slightly outweighed by the desire to do, to be, to see and experience new things. Jasper in January, held in 2016 for the 27th time, was the perfect opportunity for me to push my own boundaries and experience the glory of the Canadian winter.
Held over three consecutive weekends in January, the festival celebrates all things frosty and is split into three different themes – Adventure, Appetites and Arts. I dove right in to the winter adventure experiences with Winterstruck, an outdoor celebration of all things winter, set on the frozen surface of Pyramid Lake, a five-minute shuttle ride from the Jasper townsite.