Paracas and the Ballestas Islands

f4ZXWugK9DQQdURtpd3KOkfv6HECie9OS-9wr3o3_4KJ3Yl51K6vYGN7uH5RiAPfDwJuADlh-XYxh1mqtW3pugvSnP18UNjA1IfgeuTlLzCVw0H9YoZIpRLbeM0vsm1J3sQpRlZQwzqMx-Zqt2CbTQHZXjCW4RhC29EsC5zuu-13vofW8VPdZUjs95As strange as it seems from May to September, there is no sunshine in Lima. If you imagine an overcast day that lasts for five months, then you are getting close to imagining it. Therefore, it is necessary to get out and find some direct sunlight. One of the places is Paracas, three or so islands to the south of Lima. Go for a weekend. There is a national park and sunlight. Maybe. If you really want to make sure, go down to Ica, location of the Nazca lines. Make sure to stop at the pitstop at marker 52 for breakfast.

IMG_4693We went for a weekend. Paracas is a small town that seems to exist nowadays for the tourism related to the Paracas National Reserve, a vast sandy national park, and the Ballestas Islands which is part of the park but a separate boat tour. These islands were the source of guano, bird poo, which is used for many products, including fertilizer. It was a big industry. The birds still produce and they like to aim for the tourists (wear a hat and long sleeves). You will also see sea lions sunbathing. The boat ride is two hours with no toilet, no roof, and lots of wind and water. Be prepared.

IMG_4932As much as I enjoyed the boat ride and watching the local fauna (a man and his 12 offspring) on the boat, I actually preferred driving around the desert part of the reserve and finding well appointed viewing platforms and amenities along the way.IMG_4542

One Week Tour of Bogota

A view of Bogota, city of eight million.
A view of Bogota, city of eight million.

I’ve had quite a few visitors recently and I’m expecting quite a few more, so I thought I’d try to get my “tour of Bogota” blog posting done before someone else asks me where they should take their visitors.

If you visit Bogota (for work perhaps) and only have one week here, this is my suggestion of what to do.

Try to visit most of the centrally located attractions after work. The old town of Bogota is called La Candelaria and in it are located the Gold Museum, the Botero Museum, Bolivar plaza, the president’s residence, and mount Montserrate (eat up there if you want). For dinner on the other nights, eat in Parque 93 (Mercado does Colombian food) and the Zona rosa (or Zona G, etc.). The part of the street around Cevicheria Central has several good restaurants including Di Luca and Agadon though they do not specialize in Colombian cuisine. A must try is Andres carne de res (or include the Chia location on Saturday’s outing if you want the loud and raucous experience), and cevicheria La Mar. Harry Sasson has interesting architecture (don’t be deceived by the dark exterior). Also, it’s hard to find but usually there’s a car parked in the jungle that constitutes their lawn. You may catch a glimpse of the politically powerful dining there. If you want to try the other Colombian chains, eat at Crepes and Waffles for lunch, Bogota Beer Company, and sip coffee (or “tinto” as it’s called here) at the coffee chains, Oma and Juan Valdez. Colombian food to try are arepas, empanadas, ajiaco, sancocho, criolla potatoes, obleas, and fresh lulo juice.

"La naturaleza" or nature, near the Guatavita Lagoon.
“La naturaleza” or nature, near the Guatavita Lagoon. This is actually a view of the hydroelectric reservoir.

Then on Saturday, hire a car and driver (some are about $12/hour . Or you can use tour companies) and go out of Bogota to the Zipaquira town (salt cathedral fame) and go up to Guatavita Lagoon (source of the El Dorado legend). Be prepared that you can only hike to the lagoon with a tour and it takes two hours. Or visit the little town of San Francisco as you enjoy the back country lanes and the beauty of Colombia’s landscape.

On Sunday, get up early (like at 6 or 7) and go see Paloquemao market. Do breakfast/brunch (from 8-12) at Club Colombia, Avenida 82, No. 9-11 (unless you want the real deal at the market), then do Ciclovia (when the streets are closed so that people can exercise).  You can include a view of Bogota from the Colpatria Tower, Avenida Carrera 7, No. 24-89, (for the view from the 48th floor, and you only have to walk up two flights of stairs), the Calle 26 flea market, the San Alejo pulgas (stalls), Carrera 7, No. 24-70, (link in Spanish), the Macarena area (includes quirky cafes like the dog café, Azimus, Carrera 5, No. 26A-64, and La Juqueteria – the playhouse, Carrera 4), the old bull fighting ring, and National Museum (Museo Nacional), Carrera 7, No. 28-66. Then take a cab up to Usaquen to walk around the adorable streets and the Sunday market (some flea but mostly artisan). Eat at La Mar for dinner.

Colorful walls in Guasca.
Colorful walls in Guasca.

If you have a second weekend, then I’d suggest going to Cartagena (even if just for one day — or add a few days just to go there). If you have more time, then visit Medellin, Cali, Santa Marta, Letitia (for an Amazon tour).

Notes: Never let your credit card out of your sight. They will be swipe it at the table with a mobile unit. If asked “cuantas cuotas?” the answer is one (unless you want to do a layaway plan for your two dollar coffee). Use an app like Tappsi to get cabs. No cab ride should be more than 35,000 ($17). Ask to use “el metro” which is the meter. It doesn’t always count in currency, instead, it’s  a code with a corresponding amount on the taxi fare chart or on the meter. Lock the doors when you are in the cab. Also, remember that the altitude may take your breath away. Heed the need for oxygen and take it slow (like sitting in meetings) for the first day or so.

One last thing about visiting Bogota. It’s always 65 F and the sun will come out almost every day. So every day is a good day to visit. All year round (okay, it rained at 2:30 p.m. every day in October and November, but the sun came out in the morning!).

Rent a horse on the shores of the reservoir.
Rent a horse on the shores of the reservoir.

 

Tour Dhaka in One Day – Visit Bangladesh

Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):

When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…

The river in Dhaka.
The river in Dhaka.

Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).

Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):

“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.

Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.

Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.

Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.

Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)

Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.

Bracelets made from conch shell.
Bracelets made from conch shell.

Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.

Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.

New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.

BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.

On another day:

Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”

Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.

Go to the spa. Get mehendi(henna) tattoos. It wears off after a few weeks.

Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).

Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.

Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.

Explore! Or try some of the restaurants and find more than the 100 I tried.

Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!

Day Boat Trip Out of Dhaka

Our proud prow.
Our proud prow.

It is possible to take a one day boat trip out of Dhaka. We used a company that charged around 2,500 Taka per adult if there there at least 20 adults. The boat is spacious (and shaped like a peacock!) and we had it all to ourselves. Lunch and several touristy stops were included: we had a quick walk to an old estate, a stop for a swim (dolphins were also promised but alas), and a visit to a village where the laborers make “jamdani” saris. The “jamdani” clothe is a woven gauze and very expensive due to the labor involved in weaving it.

The country estate.
The country estate.
Jamdani weavers working on saris.
Jamdani weavers working on saris.

I enjoyed sitting on the rooftop deck, in a comfy chair, watching the river float by. Plus, there is a toilet on the boat. So the day out included two hours in traffic, six hours on the boat, and an hour back to Dhaka.

Grab a chair in the shade and enjoy the breeze.
Grab a chair in the shade and enjoy the breeze.