Tourist Information for Rome

Rome is a great place to be a tourist. I’m not a tourist, but I get asked a lot of questions… so here is the info, all in one place. Even more info on the official site for Rome. I start with the most “must-do” places and what is nearby. First, COVID rules are on this site. As you can see from the map below, most of Rome is within a two-mile/three-kilometer radius, but you may end up walking ten miles/14 kilometers criss crossing it! Or 28,000 steps, for those counting steps.

Most of the green dots are tourist attractions. From tiramisu to gelato is about 3 miles/5 kilometers.

Vatican City: For the museums (the entrance is on the side of the Vatican) including the Sistine Chapel, buy tickets online. For St. Peter’s Basilica (and to climb up the dome), get in line inside the plaza at the Vatican. Open most days except Wednesday when they are only open for one hour.

Castel Sant’Angelo: It’s a museum, mausoleum, has those angels on the bridge, and you can walk to the Vatican from here.

Coliseum and forum (they are combined as an open-air museum). Buy tickets here on the official site, although there are many tour companies that sell tickets. Most people are okay with the two-hour tour (which can run on, but you can leave). Open 9 am to 7:15 pm every day, with last entry one hour before closing. Times change during the winter. While over here, check out the neighborhood of Monti. It’s up the hill from the forum (above the Colosseum, on the map).

Centro historico/Historic center — Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish steps (which is near Via del Corso for shopping/people watching), Alter to the Fatherland (called the wedding cake — it’s impossible to miss. Also on the piazza where Mussolini gave his speeches, and located between the center and the forum): All free but you may need to get a timed entry for the Pantheon (open 9-7 every day but last entry at 6:30 pm). While you are in this part of the city, try to walk down Old Government Street (Via del governo vecchio), as it is picturesque in parts. I like Forno Monteforte cafe/bakery which is on this street but way down. If you have time, when you are near Monti or Trevi, visit Quirinale, the palace of the president.

Campo de fiori market: You will probably run across this when wandering around downtown. Open from 8 am to 2 pm. Overly touristy, but hey, this is Rome.

Jewish Quarter: It is famous and quaint. There were Jewish people living in Rome before the time of Christ. Look for the small brass cobblestone plaques marking where Jewish people once lived before being taken in WWII. If you need an address to locate it, go to a cheese store called Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto, 9a/11.

Trastevere: This is an area that was once a separate small town. Now filled with students and artsy types. It’s adorable. These days, it’s too crowded for me, but it’s probably a must-see. Get gelato at Otaleg.

Campodoglio: Is the hill with the Capitoline museum and the mayor’s office. But, I like it for the view of the forum. Free and great at sunset.

Circus Maximus: Free. It’s a huge area that was once a sports area. Near my favorite farmers market. If visiting on a weekend, I would recommend the local zero kilometer market to see the foods (fresh cheese, meats, oil, fruit, and breads — all produced within 68 miles of Rome) available. The market is closed in August.

La Bocca della Verità (address is Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18) – Mouth of Truth: Made famous by the film, Roman Holiday. It’s near the Circus Maximus. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm. I think it’s free or you pay a small donation.

Keyhole of the Knights of Malta/Aventine hill/orange garden (good for a view and at sunset)/rose garden: The Aventine hill is beside the Circus Maximus. Open all the time and free but especially popular at sunset. The keyhole allows you to see three “lands” — the Knights of Malta’s garden (the Knights of Malta are an independent entity), Italy, and the Vatican. And according to a local, you can also see a fourth kingdom — heaven.

Ask for this place to get to the keyhole and walk down from there.

Borghese museum and gardens: The Borghese Gallery houses masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio, among others. Tickets are 27 euro and there is timed entry all day from 9 am to 5 pm (they close at 7). The parks is called Villa Borghese and it is free. It includes the national gallery, zoo, a lake, rental bikes, and so much more. It’s the green lung of the city.

Baths of Caracalla: Open for concerts in the summer. Closed on Mondays.

Baths of Diocletian: Closed Mondays.

Testaccio Market: This market is visited by many food and travel shows. Open 8-4 or so because it also has lunch options.

Trionfale Market: Open 7:30-1:30, located near the Vatican, this is the largest of the produce markets in Rome. There are many local markets all over Rome but as a tourist, you probably won’t visit them.

There are many churches and museums to visit as well especially if you want to see some of the masterpieces in a quieter setting. But, that’s a much deeper level of tourism than your first, second, or third visit. Here are some other things to do on visit two or three.

Via Appia: The famous road is a park just south of Rome (there are many bit os this road outside Rome) and it can be a fun outing.

There are things to do outside Rome as well making for good day trips. Here are some ideas:

Naples for a day (boardwalk, museum for the items from Pompeii, pizza, downtown). I wrote about this here.

Pompeii: Info on how to get there and buy tickets.

Wine tasting lunch at Torre in Pietra: I love this.

Sabine valley wine tasting/olive oil tasting: I also love this.

Plus, as a tourist in Rome/Italy… gelato, tiramisu, wine (ask for the local — Italy has more varietals than France — some so local that they are only grown within a few miles of the place you try it), prosciutto, or pizza, every day. See my list of where to eat.

Now some practical matters.

Money

Euro (each country in the euro zone makes their own euro but you can use them all over the euro zone) is the currency. There are ATMs all over the city. You can also exchange money all over the city. Most places take cash and credit card, but vendors pay a fee for credit card use so I usually use cash if it’s under 25 euro. Most grocery shopping and meals are under 30 euro and I don’t find Rome to be excessively expensive.

Tipping

The general rule is that you do not need to tip in Italy. Americans have a reputation as good tippers so many places will expect that Americans will tip well. But, you do not have to tip at all. Most restaurants will already have included a “service” or “pane/bread” charge to your bill, usually around one to three euro per person. If you think the service was excellent, you can leave a tip of a few euro or ten percent. No one should make you feel wrong for not tipping. Nor for leaving one or two euro. Lots of places like gelato shops, will have a tip jar. You can use that if you want to tip them. Again, no obligation to tip.

In taxis, you can round up to the whole euro. Otherwise no tipping in taxis. At hairdressers, beauty salons, massage therapists, etc., you can leave a tip if you thought they were good. But, it is not expected. Never more than ten percent. If you go on a tour, like food tour, you can tip if you want to, but again, you do not have to.

Transportation

From/To Rome airport (FCO is the airport code because the airport is in the town of Fiumicino about 30 kilometers/18 miles from Rome): There are buses that go direct from the airport to all over the city for as little as five euro. Also, the Leonardo Express to/from Roma Termini train station for 18 euro. Taxis have a fixed rate to the walls of old Rome. 50 euro from Leonardo da Vinci Rome airport and then meter. There are private limo services starting at 50 euro. Read more about this here. The SIT bus stops near the Vatican which is convenient if you are staying in Prati. Most buses and trains connect to Roma Termini.

Getting around: Most of what you will want to see in Rome is within a three-kilometer/two-mile radius. But you may get tired of walking. You can buy a 24-, 48-, 72-pass that will let you use all buses, trains, trams, and the Metro. Some passes also let you get into museums for the same price.

Taxis: Taxis are white and you should not flag one down… supposedly. There are taxi stands all over the city. You can also download the ItTaxi app and order a taxi to your location. Even as a tourist. You can pay with cash or credit card in all taxis.

To travel by regional train (to Naples or Florence, for example), there are two train companies, TrenItalia and Italo. You can download their apps and purchase tickets from your phone. Or buy them at the station, but remember to validate!

Phone Card

While there is a lot of WIFI and you can download maps, but if you want to buy a phone SIM card, TIM sells them for 45 euro for the first month and nine euro after that. So if you are here for more than a week, it might be worth it. Other local companies are Vodafone and Windtre.

Water and bathrooms

The water is free from the fountains. Perfectly clean and cool. Learn how to drink from one of the “nasone” fountains. Bathrooms are harder to find. Generally, you need to use them at a restaurant or coffee bar.

Safety

Rome is safe, also at night. But, don’t let your credit card out of your sight. Wear all your valuables on the front of your body, from groin to armpit. Anything on your back will be pickpocketed. Thieves are the biggest danger. Oh, and the traffic.

Accessibility

Rome is not a place for wheelchair users. It can be done, but there are so many steps and crooked cobblestones everywhere. Mostly, there are stairs everywhere and no ramps.

Language

Italians speak more English than every before. I doubt in Rome that a tourist would need to learn Italian, but a “Buongiorno” is always appreciated. If pressed, use Google translate. Plus, most of the service people in Rome speak English (many are from Bangladesh and the Philippines). Also, there are more tourists in Rome than Italians, so ask another tourist. They probably have the answers, as they are going to the same places.

This photo of the Trevi Fountain was taken last year, empty due to COVID.

Having now lived in Rome for over a year, my conclusion is that Italy is an awesome place to be a tourist. As I learn more practical tips from my visitors, I’ll update this article.

Cook Italy – Food Tour in Bologna

Bologna’s streets will make it hard to move on.

Do you know someone who is so extremely picky? As in, never satisfied? Oh, maybe YOU are that friend.

If you are one of those people who has such high standards for everything and never quite finds things up to scratch, then Carmelita of Cook Italy is the guide for you.

She will talk a lot about tortellini.

We booked her for a food tour. I mentioned some of the places earlier. We met at an excellent pastry shop where I am glad that I got a good breakfast.

Carmelita then showed us the formerly great, the famous, the touristy, and the abominably disgraced. She then showed us the still great shops and vendors downtown. Along the way, we had a snack stop and the history of why Bologna, “La Grasso” is translated too literally — the nickname refers to the bounty that is Bologna.

[A note about bologna, boloney — mortadella. It is a whole separate food product in Italy. It can be eaten sliced, cubed, and in a meat pate like a smear. There are required amounts of lardons per product and, of course, there are standards. People eat it like proscuitto. Yes, just like having slices of proscuitto on a charcuterie board… that’s how they eat mortadella.]

Bologna is a bountiful foodie city with warm red brick porticoes, shopping opportunities galore, and enough foodie gems for a month of feasts. One of the best things about the tour was being taken to the “horse” emporium.

This shop is a knife shop but so much more.

Carmelita ended our tour at an enoteca who kindly stored our wine while we went to Carmelita’s newest “project” – a new gelateria called Sablé. Check it out!

The pastry chef who owns Sable.

Carmelita also offers cooking classes. I found her through a friend, even though I see that she is famous on TripAdvisor. For a food tour, this was the least amount of food that we ate but the pace was very nice for the more mature traveler. It was a relaxed tour. Carmelita is very communicative and will send all kinds of recommendations even after the tour. A tour with Cook Italy is a gently paced tour.

But Carmelita’s standards and critique of the gastronomy scene is fierce and pointed. Carmelita is passionate about those she disdains and even more passionate about those whom she admires. If you want that style of guide, then she is for you.

Those hams are all the same because of special selection.

Here are some of Cook Italy’s recommendations:

Best aperitivo

Gamberini via Ugo Bassi
I Conoscenti via Mazzini
Stefano Cardi same street

Best gelato

Sablè  – in a Class of its own
Cremeria Santo Stefano – via Santo Stefano
Cremeria Cavour – in Piazza Cavour

Best little cakes  

Pasticceria mignon

Regina de Quadri – via Castiglione
La Borbonica  – via Riva Reno
Stefano Cardi as before
Gamberini as before

Inside Enoteca Italiana

As my friend commented, we had the least amount of food on this food tour. But, we did stop for a quick snack, and then for the light lunch. Also, a balsamic tasting. For three hours, the tour cost 280 euro for the group.

Carmelita will also come after you after the tour to write reviews. Beware. In the nicest way, but you are forewarned.

I Love Olive Oil — Tasting with Johnny Madge

Tomato bruschetta

Tomatoes are juicy and red,
Olive oil is gold and green,
Mozzarella is creamy and white,
And Johnny Madge is keen.

I felt inspired to write a cheesy poem!

Johnny Madge loves, lives, breathes olive oil. He even has “I Love Olive Oil” written on his van. Oddly, that is the least of the reasons to go on his olive oil tour. Sorry, Johnny. It’s not just about the oil.

Imagine living here.

If anyone is a natural at what they do, then it’s the legendary Johnny Madge. Taking an olive oil tasting class with him feels less like a class, and more like you just happen to have a wise friend who is an expert on olive oil… wild plants… wine… life? There are some professors and tour guides who seem scripted in their style of teaching. All respect to them, but Johnny is not one of them. Johnny Madge speaks with the ease of someone who knows vastly more than they are telling you. It reminds of advice a writing teacher once told me, “Make sure you know everything about the character, and then put none of that in your story.” Once in a while you meet people who are more than the product they sell. The fact that he has a British accent just makes everything he says sound more credible. It’s easy to get a crush on him (olive oil joke).

Johnny Madge inside an olive tree.

As I said, the olive oil tasting was a minor part of the day. The whole day was a celebration of good extra virgin olive oil (and the lifestyle that it symbolizes). Johnny Madge has a sensational high rating on TripAdvisor and rightly so.

He will pick you up from the train station in Fara Sabina (a small town about 35 minutes on the regional train line from Rome) in his van which can seat eight. If you drive your own car, you can follow him like the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The whole day had that fairytale feel to it as we meandered the undulating lanes.

You might wonder what could take so long. The pace is set by the lovely small streets along the neat rows of olive trees, the green hedges, and azure sky above gently rolling country. The tour starts in an olive tree orchard. Johnny will tell you about olive trees, the recent devastating fires, harvesting, and other facts about the trees. Did you know that an olive tree can survive a fire? As you walk around enjoying the clean air of the countryside, he will show wild edible plants like wild fennel, and explain other plants if you ask him (I asked about a seed that I found which it turns out inspired Leonardo da Vinci to invent the helicopter). Or you can wander away and sit in the shade of an olive tree. There are no demands that you pay attention and no exam. No stress.

Don’t drizzle, pour.

After the orchard, he takes you to visit the largest olive tree in Europe. The tree is famous for being large, but it was comforting to meet such an old tree. It is perhaps 2,000 years old but no one really knows. Olive oil trees hollow out making it hard to count rings. When we were there admiring the tree, the owner came out to chat with Johnny. They were clearly friends catching up with each other.

Then back to admire the vegetable garden. All the while, Johnny regales you with stories and anecdotes, pointing out this and that along the way. As a city person, it’s interesting to see Swiss chard growing like a weed. One could feel the pace of life slowing down to that sweet art of doing nothing (a saying in Italian)… the art of enjoying the sweet life.

The mill is entering prime time. They got game.

After this, we went to an olive oil mill, Il Frantoio Saporito, which, with a new store, a new YouTube video, new Instagram account, is ready for primetime. They got game.

Outside the main hangar-size building, there is a metal car scale built in to the parking lot. When the local farmers need their olives processed, they drive their olive-laden cars on to the scale. After the initial weigh-in, the car is emptied of olives. Then the car is weighed again. The client pays by weight. I say client because it turns out that many Italians own a small patch of olive trees and make their own olive oil each year. After the weighing, the olives get cleaned, crushed, and spun. In the old days, the olive mash would be squeezed in reed mats but now, the oil is extracted using centrifugal force. Super high quality olive oil is spun for a mere seven minutes — thus ensuring that minimal heat is created — making it truly cold pressed. Most extra virgin olive oil is spun for 30 minutes. After spinning, the oil is filtered. Olive oil doesn’t need to be filtered but it’s better to avoid the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.

There is also something about what can be called “virgin” and “extra virgin” — the “virgin” olive oil is defective. Shocker. I think that he explained that defective doesn’t mean undrinkable. But I wasn’t paying attention… I guess I’ll have to go on another tour. If you want to geek out a bit, read this newsletter. Olive oil’s quality is not based on color. How deep is that? Professional tastings happen with blue glasses.

When we came by, they surprised us with bruschetta (the green is pistacchio paste).

The mill has just opened a shop on site where small bottles of olive oil cost 5 euro and large bottles cost 8 euro. I didn’t get a photo of the shop because I was too busy shopping! They also sell flavored oils, but not garlic flavor (Romans really don’t eat much garlic), and spreads like pistachio with pesto. I think I spent around 90 euros… because I wasn’t sure when I’d get back. That said, the mill will deliver and you can purchase online. I don’t know if it was pre-arranged (despite what Johnny said) but when we visited the mill, they gave us freshly made bruschetta, which had been toasted on the olive tree wood barbecue. I’m not sure it gets better than that, in terms of experiential shopping experiences.

Maybe it was a mirage.

From the mill, we could see our lunch destination, across the valley, past neat green fields, impossibly pretty. Can this be real?

This course was maybe fourth?

Lunch was a leisurely feast of multiple courses including creamy cannelloni beans, crunchy bruschetta with tomato, cheese, golden oven roasted potatoes, yummy lasagne, and not too sweet apple pie. Johnny brought lots of wine to pair, but it was mostly about the olive oil pairings. Every dish had olive oil. At this point, Johnny explained how to taste olive oil and we tried a few straight up. I did not like most of the oil when tasted alone. I preferred the oil on the food. We actually started with olive oil on a chocolate crostini which brought happy memories of my days in El Cacaotal in Lima. I can’t wait to get these food nerds together and watch them nerd out.

Chocolate crostini.

To contact Johnny for olive oil tastings, or to feature him in your documentary or to hire him as an expert (he was in Pasta Grannies! Name drop!), here is how to contact him: Johnny Madge, oliveoil@johnnymadge.com, www.johnnymadge.com, +39 328 339 8479. He speaks English and Italian.

The olive oil tour, including lunch, wine, and olive oil tasting, cost 110 euro per person. The train costs 2.80 euro each way. You can also drive there in 35 minutes and leave your car at the train station or follow him around the countryside.

The vegetarian lasagne made me want to be vegetarian.

The day out was fabulous. Johnny loves olive oil and after a day with him, you might love olive oil as much as Johnny. Or maybe him.

A pomegranate tree in bloom.

If you really want to get an idea of how pleasant the day was (I mean, how olive oil is made!), enjoy this video by the mill again.

I end this with a version of the roses are red poem from Les Mis. We did go a-touring in the countryside of Rome where the pomegranate blossoms were orange and I loved, loved, loved it.

We will buy very pretty things
A-walking through the suburbs.
Violets are blue, roses are red,
Violets are blue, I love my loves.

I have also made a video of my own. Nothing compared to the mill’s… but, enjoy the song by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. It’s perfect.

See and Eat Rome with Sophie

Suppli

Want to try Roman foods? Wish you had a Roman friend who lights up a shop when she walks in? Wish you were Stanley Tucci? Then try a food tour with Sophie Minchilli, on her tour called “Rome with Sophie”. It is a pleasant walk with some history but mainly food tastings. You may try suppli, cheese, wine, cookies, pizza, prosciutto, gelato, coffee, and visit old markets and neighborhoods of Rome. We chose the “three neighborhoods tour” of Campo di Fiori, Jewish ghetto, and Trastevere. Sophie has known some of the shop owners all her life and it shows. You get a real “insider’s” tour. It is clear that they love her. You might risk feeling the same way.

Roman pizza

The tour cost 140 Euro but she gave us a COVID discount. The max group size is six people and the tour takes about three hours. She does tours starting late morning and also late afternoon. Ours started at 11 a.m., as she accommodated our schedule, but it’s better to start earlier to avoid the crowds. The food tour was a good intro. It’s more an array, rather than an in-depth lesson in food, but good if you are new to Rome or just visiting. As you fill up on food, Sophie will adapt the tour. Some can’t hack it to the prosciutto or gelato stop. The day we went, we forewent the gelato for a sit down with an alcohol-free aperitif. Along the way, Sophie will get you snacks, answer questions, and explain food in Rome.

In the Jewish ghetto, we learned about the brass markers embedded in the cobblestones to mark where once there lived a Jewish family, killed during WWII. But, we also sat outside at the only table at a 400-year-old shop, eating cheese, feeling the ambience of ghetto life.

Sophie is half American/Italian and much beloved in her neighborhoods. If you want a tour in English and with someone young, she’s the perfect person. She and her mom, Elizabeth Minchilli, run longer tours of Puglia, and Sophie is expanding to one-day outings in Lazio (the region that includes Rome). Elizabeth Minchilli is an author (and friend of Elizabeth Gilbert, for those who are fans of Eat, Pray, Love) and well connected to the other tour guides in Rome. Sophie offers three tours in Rome and accepts payment via PayPal and cash. With her mother, Sophie also does food tours in other parts of Italy so you can spend a whole week with them and really feel Italian!

Puntarelli

Sophie Minchilli

Food Tours and Culinary Services in Rome

http://www.sophieminchilli.com

Instagram: @sminchilli

On Tripadvisor

A savory cookie.

My favorite part of the tour was the ghetto. I also enjoyed the spontaneous non-alcoholic aperitif discovery. I don’t know what it’s called but it was orange and bitter, yet refreshing, and slightly addictive.


M’s Adventures Lima Edition Nueva Andina Cuisine Tour – 3 Days

Bites to whet your appetite at Statera

Five years ago, I visited Lima for a weekend. My friend and her family, are my experts on Peruvian food and culture. She turned the weekend into a Peruvian food tour. Now that I have lived in Lima for a few years, here are my recommendations for a three-day food tour of Lima. Of course, if you plan your travel here around reservations at Central or Maido, then do that or go to one of the other places on my list of 100 places to try. This list is focused on showing your visitors some of the variety and best of “nueva andina” cuisine.

Must Do

El Cacaotal, Jr. Colina 128A, Barranco: Closed on Sundays. Grab a coffee or hot chocolate at this premiere chocolate “library” of Peruvian fine chocolates.

Dinner (open from 7:30 p.m. except for Cosme that is open from 6 p.m. Reservations are better but not requisite. Merito does not take reservations, show up at 7:20 p.m. and stand in line)
Statera, Av. Mariscal La Mar 463: The former R&D chef at Central, who also worked at Noma, opened his own place. All the inventiveness and intellectual complexity of Central but without the prices and hype.
Cosme, Tudela Y Varela 160-162, San Isidro (the other side of the street is Miraflores): Cozy and delicious.
Jeronimo,
Merito, Jr. 28 De Julio 206, Barranco: Venezuelan chefs who worked at Central = haute cuisine with a Venezuelan influence.

Half a fish at La Picanteria.

Lunch (these cevicherias, like all traditional ceviche places, are only open for lunch and sometimes breakfast)
La Preferida, Calle Julian Arias Aragüez 698, Miraflores: This original location is very local to this upper-middle class neighborhood. No tourists.
La Picanteria, Calle Santa Rosa 388, Surquillo: Internet-famous. Lots of food tours go here. Pick the fish and have it cooked two ways. Family style eating. Also serves non-fish.
Al Toke Pez, Av. Angamos 886, Surquillo: the chef is famous for being a Ph.D. who has chosen to honor his father’s culinary tradition (his father opened Matsuei) by opening a hole-in-the-wall.
Breakfast
El Pan de la Chola, Av. La Mar 918, Miraflores: Still my number one restaurant. This is consistently good food, good service, and world class
Cordanos, Jirón Ancash 202, Cercado de Lima: If you are touristing downtown, this former political moshpit near the main square, still serves atmosphere with good food.
La Isolina, Av. San Martin 101, Barranco: This place is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The owner is the son of Isolina, who opened La Red. La Isolina serves her recipes. The son has now opened Las Reyes in a tribute to his mom and her sisters (as in “the King girls”), all good cooks.
Las Vecinas, Jirón Domeyer 219, Barranco: Just down the street from La Isolina. Gluten-free, vegetarian, healthy, and all those other feel good options. Cute interior too.
Markets
Here is my list of eco-bio-farmers’ markets. If you want to buy the plates that you ate off of at the fancy places, shop at Jallpa Nina or Dedalo.

Ham and cheese with avocado added, at El Pan de la Chola.

Kuelap – 10,000 Monumental Steps!

RRtWEL4ekhQ5e9hCh89oAcmbuJtmRcHllsNmx3MxzihyObYVd_N94ag6vCdt6jzpjcwkw2ji27uG4aN_9pEBPDYs9OP-CRLE5UpOfS83hJi8lxHUu74V86wWTXqnnFeH6wZmR-nW2strbfEDb_6TIifq4QYzwR2ShwyZxZ7Zjghuwoi4S3jVfHUB52The hot spot to visit in Peru is still Machu Picchu. But, when you have done that, you might want to see the newest hot spot — Kuelap! Cuelap/Kuelap is located up near the town of Chachapoyas in a region called Amazonas, not to be confused with the Amazon river area. Kuelap is older than Machu Picchu and it’s not as majestic but it’s also got a few million fewer visitors (not that it felt that way!). Chachapoyas is up at 8,000 feet so be prepared to suffer for the view.

IMG-5725Kuelap is nearby and one can take Peru’s first cable car or “teleferico” up to the base of the archaeological site. One takes a bus to the cable car, then the 20 minute cable car ride over the ravine, then a three kilometer walk up flat stone steps. If you have good knees and are relatively fit, you can get up to the citadel and through in a bit over an hour. If you have bad knees, you can also take a horse up to the base of the citadel. If you want to walk all the way up and have bad knees… it can take two hours. There are many rest stops and nice views along the way, but it is an uphill walk. All the way.

TsvrOtm4NpTC1Dk6sFnydn1bvETgtQ6M1uFD9_HzrM-FmvxyBt4QbmarjtVBk3H6jACyyWseUH_dBN2kBa3yOGUqYFaA-AiRiRTr6sgn5wEENqmXWkxK4JxyuDGJErJIABWu5cNX83eIXxkweL3NyOoj0J8P8W0XZ6pPQsYMs01aY5rLEj6OwgVEJVA nice thing about Kuelap is that due to its cultural designation, there are scaffolds and walkways all over so that the cultural heritage won’t get rubbed away by visitors. You can’t even sit down.

IMG-5718But, at the base at the end of the cable car ride, where you buy your tickets, is a cafe, a museum, souvenirs, and lots of walls at just the right height for sitting on. The cafe may have one of the best views around but they don’t seem to advertise that.

IMG-5711There are many things to see in the Chachapoyas area including the famous Gocta Falls, but more about that another time.

 

Seeing the Blue Footed Boobie in the Galapagos

The blue footed boobie.
The blue footed boobie.

For some it’s simply the name that makes them giggle. I was actually excited to see their blue feet. When I did see the birds, I was more delighted than I expected. They were adorable.

Our mid-luxury boat.
Our mid-luxury boat.

The Galapagos is a major tourist destination (and on many a bucket list) and I’d recommend it if you like birds and wildlife. It’s not a foodie destination. Some recommend going on a “land cruise” where one stays at a different hotel each night on a different island. I stayed on a “mid luxury” boat in a cabin with a window and private bathroom (about the size of a telephone box). It cost $1,500 for three nights and four days (first day getting there plus tortoises) and the last day seeing baby animals in the mangrove forest and then flying out by 10 a.m. With the flight from Quito (which stops in Guayaqil for an hour making the trip longer) costing about $500, you can see how much the trip cost. Also, there is a $100 and a $20 fee for the islands. But, the food is included on the boat. Tips for the crew and guide are extra.

The sea iguanas are plentiful as is their funk.
The sea iguanas are plentiful as is their funk.

We did see lots of birds plus sea turtles, sea lions, sea iguanas, land iguanas, more birds, giant tortoises, tortoise babies (we could have done with one less tortoise siting), and eagle rays, and sharks (white tipped and the black tipped). There was snorkeling so one could swim with the sea lions and the sharks… oh, and lots of birds.

A baby sea turtle.
A baby sea turtle.

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.

 

Salt of the Earth Underground in Zipaquirá

Another chapel.
Another chapel.

Zip-ah-what? I played tourist for a day and visited the salt cathedral of Zipaquira. There’s no spelunking or crawling along on one’s knees. This place is a walk in the dark, more like doing a pilgrimage (like in Jerusalem on the via dolorosa) underground. The one-mile walk leads you through tunnels which lead to the stations of the cross. The goal is the large church at the bottom. At each station, there is a cross carved from salt and some kneeling posts. At some of the stops, there is piped music playing “Ave maria” which adds to the atmosphere.

One of the stations of the cross.
One of the stations of the cross.

As an experience, the salt cathedral is well organized and our English-speaking guide was both pleasant and audible (he wore a microphone). All the guides wear yellow hardhats so catching a glimpse of them in the mines adds to the experience.

The big cathedral.
The big cathedral.

At various photogenic locations along the way, the staff will take photos of you which you can then buy at the end of the tour. The end of the tour, at 180 meters below ground, has a host of trinket and jewelry shops, plus cafes. For those of us not moved religiously, the whole thing is a bit like a ride at an amusement park. Apparently, the Catedral de Sal is one of the “must see” things to do before dying. That seems like a bit of advertising exaggeration. The original salt cathedral was carved by the original salt miners seeking salvation in the salt. But, they were not engineers and therefore the original cathedral is too unstable for visitors. Hence this modern version.

A reflection of the salt ceiling.
A reflection of the salt ceiling.

It is possible to take the train, very slowly, from Bogota, and I imagine that is an experience worth trying.

I also think it is better to try to get away from the crowds. Alone in the quiet dark spaces, all the better to imagine meeting that knight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, guarding the holy grail. Maybe the grail is made of salt?

A deep cup of coffee.
A deep cup of coffee.

 

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!