Off to Haiti!!

Wednesday, May 20

I'm in Haiti this next week, so this blog will be a bit quiet! But, follow my adventures on instagram @hopeengaged. I'm currently in Atlanta...spent the night with the sweet Jenna, and am now about to get on my flight to Port Au Prince, Haiti. I get to see my best friend Katharine, and her husband Ted, and learn about their life and work in Haiti!!! I cannot wait! Have a great week friends!!! xoxo

5 Reasons You Should Visit Ecuador in 2015

Monday, May 18

In all our research on South America, Ecuador kept coming up as a crowd favorite. And now having visited, I can attest to why this country makes such positive ripples in the travel realm. If you are considering visiting South America, I want to give you 5 reasons why Ecuador should be on your itinerary:

1. It's Cheap
{picture taken at the swing at the end of the world, here

If you are on a budget, this is the country for you my friend! Generally, meals cost us about $2-5 and lodging around $40-50. Transportation is incredibly cheap with taxi's around $2 anywhere in the city, and buses between major cities costing a mere $3.50! We bused from Cuenca to Baños, and then from Banos to Quito, all for $7 bucks a person!

You'll notice that in Baños, we were able to do a ton of adventure sports, only because the prices were so cheap! Zip Lining cost around $25, Bridge swinging was $20, thermal baths were $20 (for the resort style ones) and $3.5 (for the public ones). My hour long massage costs $25. Activities are cheap and fun...the perfect combo!!

2. They use the American Dollar

Since we're already on the topic of money, Ecuador uses the American dollar, making it very easy to get around. No need to exchange money or try to spend the last few cents before you leave! You can bring your money or get it out of the ATM in Ecuador. When you leave Ecuador, you just take whatever you have left with you and spend it in the US! So easy!

3. The Natural Beauty is Breathtaking
One of the most important reason to visit Ecuador is that you can relax and enjoy the most unbelievable scenery at your doorstep. Particularly in Baños, you will be surrounded by lush green mountains, rushing rivers, and waterfalls galore! While we didn't have time (or money) to visit the Galapagos Islands, i've heard there is no place in the entire world like it! You can't go wrong in Ecuador in terms of beauty!

4. It is Rich in History

I'm pretty sure the history of South America was overlooked by my elementary school teachers, besides the week we spent on the Maya, Incas and Aztecs. So reading about Ecuadorian history was new and fascinating! It was easy to see the influence of the Spanish colonizers, as the architecture paralleled Spain in so many ways. Quito {Part 1, Part 2} has some of the most beautiful buildings in all of South America, and Cuenca is a historical gem in it's own right!

5. It's less touristy

One of the things Kevin and I noticed about Ecuador is that it is way lest touristy than other countries. If you're looking for a bit of a hidden gem before the masses of people "discover" it, definitely consider Ecuador! There were plenty of places we were the only tourists around, and it felt divine!!

I hope you'll give Ecuador a shot in the coming year, I promise it won't disappoint!
And check out Caity in Wanderland's sweet interview she did with me last week {here}
Happy Monday Friends! 

Top 10 Things to do in Cartagena, Colombia

Friday, May 15

Cartagena is a must stop location for any South American itinerary. It's colorful, fun, historical, and teeming with charm. Kevin and I spent 3 lovely days in the city, exploring the various aspects that make Cartagena so special! Below are the Top 10 things we loved to do in Cartagena….

1. Walk the Historic City Center
An absolute favorite of mine…especially at night. The city center is So colorful, and so well preserved! You'll be swept back in time as you stroll along the cobble stone streets passing by ladies with fruit on their head, horse drawn carriages rhythmically passing by. At night, the city is filled with twinkly lights,  guitar playing gentlemen, and lovers strolling down the lane. More pics and info here. 

2. Tour Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillio San Felipe de Barajas is an iconic part of the Cartagena city scape. The fortress was built by the Spanish during the colonial era, construction beginning in 1536. It is built up on a hill, securing a strategic location to defend both sea and land attacks. The fortress gives a great foray into the history of Cartagena, and is worth visiting one of the first days you arrive! To see more of our pics and read about the fortress, click here. 

3. Take a day tour to a surrounding Island
Cartagena has a variety of surrounding islands that offer day (or even over-night excursions). The islands offer more of the white sand beaches you might be imagining when picturing Cartagena! We chose to visit Isla del Encanto, and it was a perfect all-day excursion! We got on a speedboat in the morning, spent the entire day lounging and swimming and eating yummy food, and then boated back in the late afternoon! The perfect restful day! More pics and info here. 

4. Try some street food 
Cartagena has a plethora of tantalizing tastes for you. The most common item is the arepa, a corn cake covered in cheese. Then there's the delicious fresh juices, a favorite being coco-limonada. At night, Kevin and I found the sweetest little empanada spot, and Kevin tried a few flavors. A favorite of mine was the fresh fruit…especially the mangos! Yum!! 

5. Take a Taxi out to Boca Grande
While Boca Grande was not my favorite part of the city, it was absolutely worth exploring. Boca Grande is essentially "Miami Beach" of Colombia. It was built up in the 1950's by rich oil executives, and has the very modern "built-up" look. Kevin and I took a taxi down there one night and found a fun little outdoor restaurant to eat at. We spent the next day at the beach there. It is dense and crowded and has a lot of energy. 

6. Spend a night in Getsemani
Getsemani is a short walk from the old walled city, but is very historical in and of itself. In some ways, I loved Getsemani even more than the city center, as it felt very authentic and local. Walking down the street where our hotel was located, there were young kids playing checkers and chess, riding bikes, and old men sitting out in their rocking chairs laughing the night away. Many new hip restaurants dot the area, and it is so lively and colorful, especially at night! More pics of Getsemani here. 

7. Sample Colombia's #1 coffee, San Alberto
f you are a coffee lover, you can't miss Cafe San Alberto! San Alberto coffee, started in 1972 in Colombia, has won multiple international awards. Known as some of the best coffee in the world, this sweet cafe offers legit pour over coffee that will have you coming back each day! Visit their cafe in the historic city center…the ambiance is super cute too!  {More info on the best restaurants here

8. Walk the Historic City Wall at Sunset
One night Kevin and I took a gorgeous stroll around the old city wall at sunset. We walked hand in hand, and while the sky turned rich hues of pink behind us, we soaked in the magical town to our back, and the ocean to our front. Walking high up on the wall allows you to see much of the city, over to Boca Grande, and of course the expanse of the sea. It was just dreamy! {More pics

9. Relax! 
Take a siesta! Get off your feet! Read, sleep, and just soak in the slow pace of life. Our hotel, properly named Casa Relax, had a lovely courtyard with a pool and several hammocks outlining the property. One afternoon Kevin and I laid in the hammocks and just let our body rest. It was divine! 

10. Pause to Enjoy the very talented street musicians! 
Not all street musicians are equal. We've all had our share of walking by someone playing terribly on the sidewalk. Not so in Cartagena. I don't know what it was…but every musician we walked past was brilliant. One night we stopped at 2 or 3 different performers, as they strummed their guitar so incredibly. Buy a gourmet popsicle at La Paletteria, the cutest little home-made popsicle shop ever, and then find a musician to enjoy! 

Have you been to Cartagena? What would you add? The beauty of this city is that there is more than enough to do and see!! Happy Weekend!! xoxo