Cartagena, Colombia |An amazing day in this vibrant holiday destination

Old Town

Cartagena is a popular holiday destination for Latin Americans, located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Despite what assumptions are made about Colombia, I found Cartagena to be safe and made a very welcome addition my ever-expanding list of favourite places. The walled old town is picturesque with  cobblestone roads, colourful restored colonial architecture and an endless choice of trendy bars and restaurants.  A short cab ride down the road is Bocagrande,  where the old town connects to the newer beach area. It has an endless choice of hotels and apartments along the warm watered coastline.

I stayed in Cartagena for a week which was almost enough time to experience what this city has to offer. One of my favourite nights was on the weekend, as the hip area of Getsemani within the old town became even more alive. (Although I feel most nights would be alive, especially during the hot high-season). I started with dinner at Demente in the busy square Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad. A bar/restaurant within a restored ruin – with a good vibe and an equally hip menu including tapas, creative mains, gourmet pizzas and drinks to start the night. Whilst sitting at the bar I meet an inspirational fellow Australian who had visited the area six years earlier and didn’t want to leave, so she didn’t. By setting up a tour agency she has been lucky enough to keep the holiday feeling alive every day. She also introduced me to Demente’s legendary coconut pie. I will eternally be grateful to this individual.


Stepping out of the restaurant back into the square Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad was an incredible experience, as the crowds had grown even more.  This is a must-visit hot spot if you’re there on the weekend, with a combination of locals and travelers. Within the square salsa music spilled out from nearby bars, teenagers kicked a soccer ball around, an older couple was salsa dancing in the midst of the crowds and bodies lined the curb sitting on old cardboard boxes drinking beer and rum purchased from a nearby corner store. At one stage I shared a curbside seat with a French traveler, who like my new friend from the restaurant couldn’t bare to leave Colombia so had created opportunities to stay an extra nine months. Unfortunately he wasn’t as business savvy and will have to leave the country soon – commendable effort though. I could have stayed on my cardboard box chatting to interesting people all night, but after staying two hours more the planned in the plaza, I felt a salsa club calling.

Also located in Getsemani is Cafe Havana the most popular (with good reason) salsa club in town. The club was packed shoulder to shoulder, but for those who were determined there was still room to dance and everybody was pretty accommodating for the amateur. The atmosphere is fun and vibrant.  The loud music from the live band made it a little difficult for anyone to understand my  ‘not so polished’ Spanish,  so we were grateful to meet Canandians in the club to share the experience with. If an experience is about a feeling, then the passion and energy I felt in this room was the perfect end, to a perfect night in Cartagena.

To appreciate Colombias Carribean coast make sure you

  • Visit Cafe del Mar at sunset – Cartegena is apparently famous for it’s sunsets. This bar is lucky to have the top spot along the old town wall. Grab a drink and skip the overpriced food, as it’s not great. Or just sit on the wall and enjoy the music coming from the bar and take it in.
    Café del Mar
    Cartagena sunset and Café del Mar


  • Spend at least one day at Isla del Rosario (Rosario Islands) – I went to Playa Blanca and unlike the beaches at Bocagrande, the turquoise waters are crystal clear and have an amazing reef to snorkel over. There are also various accommodation options on the islands if a day isn’t enough. The one hour bumpy speedboat ride over to the islands was ‘rough’, but fun at the same time.
Playa Blanca, Isla del Rosario
Playa Blanca, Isla del Rosario

My next blog will be on the land of Tequila and Tacos – Hola Mexico!!! Check out my Instagram account ‘Belindness’ for other places I visit.

Belindaness xoxo

Peru | Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu

Plaza de Armas Plaza de Armas

Arriving in Cusco I immediately noticed the thin air. With an altitude of 3400 metres it’s easy to spot the newbies in town – we all walked up the hills (and trust me this town has some short but steep inclines) panting and needing to stop every few meters. At times I felt like a 95 year old who’d just done an aerobics class. I was unlucky enough to suffer altitude sickness for a few days, but at least I was only horizontal in bed for one day. As a starting point for treks, It’s recommend for those doing the Machu Picchu climb to give yourself at least two days in Cusco first to adjust to the high altitude.

Many people only visit Cusco as an entry point to Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley and the smaller surrounding towns. The small city centre is where all the visitors stay. Being an entry and exit point for trekkers the town buzzes with the excitement for those who are about to head off on their adventure, or who have just come back. With stunning stonemasonry (like what most people recognise about Machu Picchu) buildings it has been important that the city remain fairly unchanged, as it is now World Heritage Site. I found it easy to lose myself exploring the many beautiful (and very narrow) cobblestoned streets around the city. Which is made even more interesting as you are often sandwiched up against the walls alongside locals trying to avoid your toes getting run over by a car.

For me it turned into a daily challenge to see how many people I could skim past and jump back up onto the footpath (I use the term footpath very loosely – more like a thin path of cobblestones) before the next stream of cars come up the road.

I found a few good foodie destinations tucked away in the backstreets. For a casual meal my favourite was Green Point Vegan. Fellow carnivores do not avoid this place, you won’t be disappointed. The price, serving sizes and quality of the food is amazing (it’s often challenging to find this combination in Cusco). I had the vegetable korma served with rice, roti bread and Brazil nut butter. They also use Brazil nut milk in their smoothies and porridge. They do an impressive 3 course-rotating menu each day which is worth a try. Cicciolina Tapas Bar restaurant is my other pick for the quality of the food and variety. Tapas only make up a small portion of the menu. I was so impressed by their glazed lamb shank that I came back the next day for the lunch and had an amazing roasted beef gourmet sandwich, which was worth the second visit.


For me the whole city had a very special feel and I felt connected to its spiritual energy, which was the perfect compliment to my visit to Machu Picchu. Maybe it is because the Inca people who are Indigenous to the area are strongly connected to the land and believe that the forces of nature drive their way of life. I felt really lucky that I could feel this and since leaving Peru have felt so enriched by this energy.

I had high expectations for my visit to Machu Picchu after my time in Cusco and in some ways was not disappointed. However, while it was an impressive site, having so many other tourists there at one time (all trying to get the perfect selfie) did take away from my own personal experience. But rest assured you can always find a lot of breathtaking postcard moments. For keen trekkers it’s well worth doing the Inca Trail trek or getting there early to take in the sunrise and feel the energy of the site before the busloads of tourists arrive.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

My next post will be on Cartagena, Colombia where I enjoyed the famous sunsets and continued to indulge in cheap (and tasty) South America beer. My Instagram account ‘Belindaness’ has pictures of all the other places I visit to share my experiences.

Belindaness xoxo

Rio de Janeiro and Paraty, Brazil | The two sides of Brazil

During my visit to Brazil I was lucky enough to visit two amazing, but totally different sides of Brazil’s beaches – the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro and the relaxed small town of Paraty.

Copacabana Beach is the most well known area for travellers to Rio de Janero however, Leblon for me is a much nicer and safer area (less cheesy too). I liked not being hassled on the beach – would I really buy a cheap bikini or fake weed from a shady character asking highly inflated prices? It’s neighbouring beach Ipanema (you might recognise the name as a Brazilian thong brand) also has less ‘cheese’. If you want to visit Copacabana beach it’s still easily accessible by foot or bike. Leblon is mostly locals and seen as the ‘swanky’ end of town, with only a few hotels and more Airbnb type accommodation, which worked out well as I like to mix up my accommodation while travelling – who doesn’t love having a washing machine occasionally! Even with the areas high-end status, the prices at the many bars, Botecos (name for local watering holes that mostly serve local dishes) and nice restaurants were still cheaper, or on par with back home. Regardless of which beach you’re sitting on, the views of surf, mountains and colourful favelas in the distance is pretty special to see all at once.


How I enjoyed the beach-side living in Rio de Janeiro

Botecos in Leblon

I unintentionally went on a Boteco lunch mission during my time in Leblon to compare the roast meat sandwiches and shrimp pies – best inhaled with chilli sauce or chilli oil. Ok maybe the mission was intentional. Gourmet sandwiches are a big thing in South America. A lot of the Boteco’s had similar menus, but their mini pies (usually a small starter) were all made slightly differently. There are many scattered around – some are very small establishments with no seating and only a bench to eat, drink your beer and of course watch the soccer while others are more like a cafe style. Two of the more popular Botecos in Leblon (and the ones that had the best sandwiches!) are:

Jobi – My favourite because the roast beef had a chorizo baked into it. Meat wrapped in more tasty meat – what more could you ask for! No further explanation needed. The shrimp pie had a crumbly and buttery texture. Yum! I also came back here one night for a few local cerveza’s (beers) as it is very popular with locals and friends catching up after work so had a really good vibe.

Jobi shrimp pie and roast meat Sandwich
Jobi shrimp pie and roast meat sandwich

Boteco Belmonte – A larger Boteco with a more extensive menu including a variety of grilled meats and sides making it ideal for more formal dinners as well. This Boteco felt a bit more formal however, nobody seemed to notice me sneaking in wearing workout gear after a long day of cycling through Rio! South Americans seem to have large meals at lunchtime, so I saw it as my duty to try the sandwich and two shrimp pies here. They were too good to stop at one.

Belmonte shrimp pie and chilli sauce
Belmonte shrimp pie and homemade chilli sauce

Don’t leave Rio without doing

A bike Tour with Rio by Bike – A special mention to this operator because the tour was one of my favourite days in Rio. I generally don’t do too many tours as I’ve been known to get bored and sometimes sneak off. But not this day, I didn’t want it to end. Our guide was super chilled, passionate about the city and actually provided interesting information. Doing a round trip from Copacabana beach to Centro and the bits in-between including the colourful Selaron steps, I got to see the real Rio. Motorists in Brazil still aren’t fully accustomed to seeing bikes as a mode of transport and sharing the road with cyclist as with other continents. So having a guide who effortlessly navigated us through traffic was really helpful and good for people like myself who sometimes get caught up in the moment, so tend to be clumsy.

Rio by bike tour
Rio by bike tour

Sugarloaf mountain at sunset – The worst kept secret in Rio, but absolutely a must-do. The mountains are accessed by cable cars that can apparently have very long lines, so best to avoid on weekends. I was there during the week so it was quieter, yet I was still fearful of losing an eye from the sea of selfie-sticks, so I can’t imagine what weekends are like. There is also a bar at the top of the mountain so you can celebrate the day with a toast of Brahma (local Brazilian beer) and the best views of the city. The fog hadn’t fully lifted the day I visited however, the view was still pretty special.

Sugarloaf mountain at sunset
Sugarloaf mountain at sunset

Paraty, Brazil | The other beach to visit in Brazil – Where beaches, bikes and beers collide!

After being teased by many Brazilians I’ve finally learned learnt that Partay is pronounced Para-chi. A few hours drive between Rio de Janerio and Sao Paulo. With it’s Portuguese colonial architecture the beachside town is a laidback, friendly sleepy town that is the perfect post big-city detox. A place where cars give way to dogs, horses and bikes (sometimes they have no choice as dogs like to plonk themselves in the middle of the road to take an afternoon siesta). I stayed in Jabaquera – the secluded beach is just out of the old town. Although nothing is far in this small town. Jabaquera beach had mild temperature waters and relaxed beachy restaurants scattered on the sand, making lunch and beer easily accessible. Having a hire bike from the local operator Sou + Bike I never felt the need to have a car. It’s a town where you can go for a bike ride and stumble across amazing waterfalls (I discovered the hard way the waterfalls come after riding up a few very steep hills – I definitely earned my indulgent dinner that night), pick up groceries on the way home and then ride to dinner.

Jabaquara beach and Pedra Branca falls
Jabaquara beach and Pedra Branca falls
Paraty old town
Paraty old town


My next post will be from Peru after visiting Lima and Cusco. Unless of course I drop my phone from the side of the mountain whilst getting the standard tourist selfie at the top of the Machu Picchu  – if you are female and have been on any online dating sites, you know the one!

Like my Facebook page ‘Belindness’ for some of the other places I visit in-between posts.

Belindaness xoxo

Why not do an adult gap year|Pause everyday life and do whatever you want

What could be better than walking out from work on a Friday afternoon and saying, ‘adios, see you in six months’? Well, that’s what I just did. A few months ago I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be great to pause ‘everyday’ life and take an ‘adult gap year’ and do… well… whatever I want for six months, eliminating any kind of monotonous routine’.

“How often in life would I have an opportunity to leave my two ‘pet’ pot plants in the capable hands of family and have a solid six months of spreading my Belindaness”.

My random adventure begins with three months in South America. I will be zig zagging my way around Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cuba. I will follow this with another three months of having no alarm clock, no timetable, no restrictions and having some short trips, foodie excursions and a little travel within Australia and New Zealand. I will be free to soak up a bit more of that infinite knowledge that comes from meeting new people and experiencing endless, exciting excursions. After all, everyday should be an adventurous excursion – that’s what life is all about.

Travel may be the ‘school of life’ however, random everyday encounters with people are also valuable learning opportunities. We just happen to be able to experience them at a sped up pace when there is no need to walk into work every day. I am very much looking forward to my biggest decision each day being, whether or not I am hitting the beach or, where I’ll eat later.

Being a passionate foodie I’m hoping to soak up as much local culture and food as possible, wherever I go – whether it be home or abroad. Food touches the heart and soul of tastebuds everywhere. Who doesn’t love that twinkle of butterflies when you notice the waiter coming your way or seeing something on a menu that you’ve never sampled before.

Stay tuned for my first post in South America around mid-June. I can be technologically challenged after all. I only just learnt that an RSS ‘feed’ is not a list of restaurants, so attempting connecting to Wi-Fi in a foreign country will be a learning experience.

Belindaness xoxo