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Friday, June 22, 2018

Not Your Father’s Holiday Inn

I visited two Holiday Inns in the Cartagena area and was impressed with both properties. At the Holiday Inn Express Cartagena Bocagrande, I met the representative from Colombia Tourism, who noted that the country has had a remarkable surge of travelers, a 28% increase between 2016 and 2017. It's not surprising when you consider that a room at this new hotel (not like any Holiday Inn I've seen in the US) is less than 100 dollars a night including a buffet breakfast, with rooftop pool, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Even more impressive was the Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros property just north of the airport. This is a contemporary resort on the beach with outdoor pool, large fitness center, and breakfast buffet. I just looked at the cost for tonight and it's only $103 US. A 15-minute drive from Old Town on a wide stretch of beach, this is an affordable find. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/22/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Day Trip to Rosario Islands from Cartagena

Only an hour by boat from Cartagena, the Rosario Islands are home to the only underwater national park in Colombia. We snorkeled for 45 minutes with a guide and spotted wonderful coral formations and large schools of neon-colored fish. You also have the option of scuba diving or sea kayaking in the mangroves. Then we had a glorious lunch of fried red snapper and an Aguila beer, before going for a dip in the warm waters and passing out on my chaise lounge chair. Several couples on our boat spent the night at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, perfect for that romantic and very private retreat, especially when the daytrippers leave. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/21/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Allure of Cartagena

Cartagena is one of those Spanish Colonial cities that seems to be built with the traveler in mind. Behind the fortress walls are narrow streets, large plazas, 17th-century churches, and row after of charming restaurants, boutique shops, and salsa dance clubs. The fortress reminded me of Old San Juan while the streets of Old Town Cartagena felt similar to the French Quarter of New Orleans. I loved strolling and taking photos of the colorful adobe-like homes and the lush tropical foliage like bougainvillea flowing from the terraces. An added bonus to Cartagena is the long stretch of beach and warm waters to swim. You can choose to stay in the Old Town at the historic Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara or the smaller boutique property, Movich Cartagena, with its glorious views of the city at night from its rooftop bar and pool. But I wanted to be right on the beach, so instead chose to stay at the Intercontinental Cartagena de Indias in the newer Bocagrande section of the city. I loved waking up to their breakfast buffet (juicy mangoes were in season when I was there in early June) and going to the outdoor terrace to look out over the expanse of water. It was also a joy to return to the hotel after a day of sightseeing (the Old Town is only a 5-minute Uber or Taxi) and sip mojitos in the infinity pool, with those same breathtaking views. The temperatures were much hotter and more humid than Medellin since you're back at sea level, ideal for a winter or late fall getaway. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Strolling the Poblado Neighborhood in Medellin

The Intercontinental Medellin, where I stayed in town, is only a 5-minute taxi ride down the hillside to the upscale neighborhood of Poblado. I started the day at the Santa Fe Shopping Mall to find souvenirs, then headed south along the wide boulevard of Carrera 43A, stopping at one of the outdoor restaurants for hot out-of-the-oven arepas stuffed with cheese and corn. At Poblado Park, I turned right and headed slightly uphill to the narrow streets of Via Primavera. Carrera 35 is home to fashionable clothing shops, restaurants, breweries, and a charming bakery and café, Como Pez en el Agua, where I stopped for an almond croissant and cappuccino. That night I would return to the area for dinner at OCI.Mde, one of the city's finest restaurants. Earth, Wind & Fire was blaring on the radio (always a good sign) as I walked in and ordered the best caipirinha I ever tasted, paired with an appetizer of fresh tuna sashimi dipped in a tangy soy sauce. Dinner was braised short ribs, cooked 12 hours in a cashew sauce. When it arrived on the table, it was so tender it fell off the bone. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, June 18, 2018

The Value of a Top-Notch Guide on Vacation: Pablo Ospina in Medellin

Many clients are obsessed with finding the best lodging within their price range when traveling, as they should be. But equally, if not more important, is the unparalleled value of a good guide. Take Pablo Ospina, who was recommended to me by Latin Excursions, our go-to tour operator in Colombia and other countries in South America. Pablo chose to meet me my first day in Medellin, knowing that the city was on holiday and the traffic was far less than usual (wow, did I realize that the next day when the city was back in swing and it took forever to get downtown). Pablo's first stop was Comuna 13 to see the magnificent and ever-growing street art in this neighborhood, which not too long ago was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of South America. While we strolled, Pablo gave me the history of Medellin, this city of 4 million nestled in the valley close to a mile high. When Pablo was growing up, there were car bombs and constant fighting between the government and the guerilla forces of FARC, with the remnants of Escobar's drug ring thrown in for more chaos. Now the city has rose from the ashes and what a remarkable job it's doing. Not only is it safe, but it has one of the best climates in the world, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Many people are retiring to the city to enjoy the weather and the only public transit system in Colombia, which includes cable cars and outdoor escalators.

When we descended from Communa 13 on the escalators and spotted about 5 tour groups heading up to the street art (we had the place to ourselves since Pablo wisely headed here first), we took a cable car up into the hillside for glorious vistas of the city ringed by jagged peaks. Then it was on to the city center to see the Botero sculptures and his paintings in the nearby Museo de Antioquia. Botero not only donated his impressive sculptures, paintings, and watercolors to his boyhood museum, he bequeathed his collection of contemporary art by Stella, Frankenthaler, and Andy Katz, among others. For lunch, we headed to the large botanical garden in the center of the city and its signature restaurant, In Situ. One sip of the sublime coconut lemonade and that would be my drink of choice throughout the week. After lunch, we strolled the gardens and spotted large lizards amidst the orchids and bamboo trees. Seven hours after picking me up, Pablo dropped me back off at my hotel, the Intercontinental Medellin. But not before outlining what I should do the following day on my own. That's what you call an excellent guide, one that I will happily recommend for all clients headed to Medellin! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/18/18 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, June 15, 2018

Happy Father’s Day from ActiveTravels

I often joke with my kids that they grew up in the pages of The Boston Globe (the photos on the left are Melanie from a story on mid-coast Maine and Jake from a story on Costa Rica). Lately, I've been writing about our family trips for Virtuoso Traveler, like the stellar time we had in Switzerland with Backroads last summer. This is what I live for, creating Dream Day experiences with my family. And it's probably the number one reason we started ActiveTravels, to hopefully form lasting memories for other families. Thankfully, you don't have to always travel the world to savor a moment with your children. On Monday, we threw the bikes on the back of the car and drove to Arlington, Massachusetts, to bike along the Minuteman Bike Trail to Davis Square and the latest trail extension into Somerville. It was a leisurely spin, stopping for cold brews, and watching a family of newborn swans, and it was glorious. On Father's Day, we're heading to Chinatown for dim sum and then strolling to SoWa Open Market to listen to music, see the art, and grab a beer. Have a Fantastic Father's Day and get out there with the kids to create an unforgettable experience! 

I want to thank Amy for her wonderful job showing us around the Big Island of Hawaii and the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario. I'll be back next with blogs on my recent trip to Medellin and Cartagena. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/15/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Stay at the Windermere House in the Muskoka Region of Ontario

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

For our anniversary, my husband Josh and I decided to venture north of Toronto to check out "cottage country" in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Not quite as far as Algonquin Provincial Park (our next outing), and very popular with people in the City, Muskoka offers 1,600 lakes, just two hours from Toronto. 
 
We really enjoyed our stay at the Windermere House, known as "The Lady of the Lake," which has proudly stood over Lake Rosseau since 1870. It was early in the season, so the full fleet of watercraft to enjoy the lake was not ready (we wanted to goof off and paddle boat...no luck), and the lake water was chilly. However, the chairs on the lawn made for a great scenic reading spot, the pool was lovely, and the pub patio dining was excellent (especially our $24 anniversary banana split sundae; a mere $18.50 USD). We walked and walked in the area, enjoying the sunshine and the lake views. People with homes in Muskoka include Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Goldie Hawn. You can see why. Remote, yet accessible and beautiful.   
 
On our way back to Toronto, we stopped in Gravenhurst, one of the main towns in the region, nicknamed "Sawdust City" because of the long history of logging in Muskoka. Interestingly, from 1940 to 1946, Gravenhurst was the site of a Prisoners of War camp for Nazi officers (at its peak, it held 489 prisoners). After WWII, Irving Ungerman, well-known in Toronto's Jewish community, and the child of immigrant parents who ran a small butcher shop in Kensington Market, bought the POW camp and turned it into a kosher resort called "The Gateway" which was very successful from the mid-50s to 60s. Our detour to Gravenhurst was far more trivial -- a delicious stop at Sawdust City Brewing Company for some craft beer and smoked lake trout (Milford Bay Smoked Trout).   
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/14/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Big Island Off the Beaten Track, Part Three

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches
 
This is the last post about my May 2018 week in Hawaii. For this one, I'm going to focus on a few unusual and not-to-be missed sites we visited other than the ones already described in Holualoa and Hawi. So much fun!
 
One day, driving along, my daughter and I saw a small sign on the side of the road for the Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary. We both love to be outdoors so we gave the botanical garden a try. We were not disappointed in the hours we spent wandering the paths through unique plant and rock arrangements, orchards, and groves, including the world's first galaxy garden, a 100-foot diameter outdoor scale model of the Milky Way, mapped in living plants and flowers. Who knew?
 
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a US National Historic Park on the site where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a kapu (ancient law) could avoid certain death by fleeing to this place of refuge, or puʻuhonua. The offender would be absolved by a priest and freed to leave. While it has a slightly reconstructed hokey feel, I was glad to understand more about historic Hawaiian communities from long ago through an archeological site tour including: the authentic 400-year-old "Great Wall," temple platforms, thatched structures, and royal fishponds. 
 
Many people recommended "snorkeling with Manta Rays experience" which was cool but crowded (so be prepared). Due to bright lights shining from hotels on land, plankton and the manta rays which feed on them have concentrated in certain areas on the Big Island. We went out with Fair Wind Charters on their evening Manta Snorkel, leaving from Keauhou Bay, and were surrounded by other boats and lots of excited tourists. Mantas are very gentle - no teeth, stingers or barbs -- and, while we were holding onto a floating frame looking down, they swam all around us in a graceful show, taking in large quantities of plankton through open mouths. This outing requires a comfort with wearing a wetsuit, being in the water for a long time, and using a snorkel, but no special "skill". Definitely something you won't see or do ever again! 
 
In the Hawaiian language, lomi means "to knead, to rub, or soothe," and lomilomi massage practitioners use their palms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, and even sticks and stones. Historically, future practitioners were selected in childhood, around age 5, based on birth signs such as weather events, birthmarks (especially on the head), and kind behavior, and they required a decade or more of study. Lomilomi today, like so many ancient art forms, has been corrupted. Beware if you are trying to get a lomilomi massage; seek someone specially trained, like Teresa at Ka Lima Hana Kukui. Her massage is still a modernized version of lomilomi, but she grew up watching her grandparents performing lomilomi massage using Kukui nut oil, and her massage was wonderful. 
 
Please contact ActiveTravels if you are interested in any aspect of Hawaii and ask Amy for Big Island recommendations. We'd be glad to help. Don't worry too much about heading to the Big Island with the unpredictability of the Kilauea volcano; it is 100+ miles away from the Kona airport!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/13/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Big Island Off the Beaten Track, Part Two

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

After our time in and around Holualoa, my daughter and I headed to the northern half of the Big Island. Our base there was Hawi, pronounced "hah-vee," a really fun and unique town. Located on the slopes of the Kohala mountain, Hawi has become a popular tourist destination in recent years due to its artists' shops, delicious restaurants, and beautiful scenery. During the 19th century, profitable sugar cane plantations were established bringing many Japanese and Filipino laborers. With the decline of the sugar cane industry in the mid-20th century, Hawi adapted. We stayed on a small lush farm just outside of town, enjoyed the produce there, and also ate very locally and happily at Sweet Potato Kitchen, Sushi Rock, and Bamboo Restaurant, all housed in former plantation buildings. 
 
The best experiences we had outside of Hawi was driving the Kohala Mountain Road from Hawi to Waimea, horseback riding on a ranch near Waimea, visiting the Waipio Valley, and then hiking in the Pololu Valley. As you drive north to Hawi from Kailua-Kona, you see mostly black lava fields along the road, then enter an incredibly green area, full of ranches which date back to 1840s, older than the oldest ranches in the continental United States by more than 30 years! Kohala Mountain Road, which we traversed on our way to horseback riding at Dahana Ranch, is stunning. At Dahana, we grew to understand the paniolo (cowboy) world better through a guided ride (which required no real horse knowledge, just a willingness). Dahana is a working ranch, not a tourist trap: they breed, raise and train a variety of horses and ponies, and also manage a 140 head cow/calf operation for beef and rodeo bucking stock. 
 
After riding, we wanted to stretch our own legs. From Waimea to Honokaa, our destination was the Waipio Valley Overlook. We didn't have a chance to really explore the Valley floor as we had no 4WD car, but we admired the view and walked a way. We saved our real hiking for the Pololu Valley on the way back to Hawi. This was a highlight, recommended by a friend who had lived on the Big Island. Down a steep trail for about ½ hour, after parking at literally at the end of the road, we soaked in the dramatic northeastern Big Island coastline. At the bottom, we were rewarded by a fairly isolated black sand beach, a lone woman practicing yoga, and a few brave souls camping overnight. Spectacular!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/12/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, June 11, 2018

Big Island Off the Beaten Track, Part One

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches 

Traveling in Hawaii has long been on my bucket list of adventures. Finally, last month, I spent a week with my 20-year old daughter on the Big Island. Ahead of time, we rerouted our itinerary to avoid the small area in the southeast affected by the Kilauea volcano. And the journey was truly memorable. I'll be sharing three separate aspects of our trip. Rent a 4WD vehicle, explore the full range of possibility, and enjoy. 
 
After landing at Kona Airport on the Island's west side, we began our trip with several days in Holualoa. Holualoa is a small artist and coffee community in the hills above Kailua-Kona. Mamalohoa Highway winds through the heart of the town, past the wonderful Holuakoa Gardens and Cafe, where we relished several meals, including one with fresh "opah" fish and our first taste of Kona Brewing Company's Longboard Island Lager. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced (organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, and fish), and eaten under twinkling lights woven into the wood framing. 
 
Satisfied after eating, we wandered into a dozen or more art galleries, bought jewelry, and chatted with folks who have chosen to live and create in this historic island town. We also visited Hula Daddy Coffee Farm, which, like many other coffee producers on the upland slopes of Kona, use the high elevation, constant cloud coverage, and rich volcanic soil to create quality coffee. In fact, one of their coffees (Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, 100% Kona SL-28, Roast: Medium-Light) was selected as the No. 2 coffee on Coffee Review's list of the Top 30 Coffees of 2017.
 
Our destination on yet another outing was to pay homage to Holualoa's past as a small Japanese village. We stopped at several sites including a Japanese cemetery, many old buildings from the early 1900s, and Doris' Place grocery. Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii primarily as sugar laborers in the late 1800s and then worked the coffee country. The cemetery was full of coral and lava rock headstones inscribed with kanji. The markers on buildings included "Dr. Hayashi's Office and Home, 1897." Lastly, Doris' Place, staffed since 1948 by Doris herself. We walked in on the store's 70th anniversary celebration, quite a treat. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/11/18 at 08:00 AM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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