How To Travel The World At Wholesale Rates With Genie Traveler

How To Travel The World At Wholesale Rates With Genie Traveler

Genie Traveler is the new way to travel the world at wholesale rates.

If you’re like me and have a passion – or rather obsession – for traveling then you’ll know that the biggest pain point is the costs involved. Searching for hotel deals, cheap flights and various travel hacks becomes a bit of an obsession. We all have limited funds and we want to maximize the travel opportunities we can get for them. I am so hopeless at saving when traveling that I even wrote a post calling myself “an unsuccessful backpacker.”

There are various sites that promise travel deals, cheap airline tickets and discounted hotels but the reality is that these deals just don’t exist. Trust me. I’ve been doing this a long time and while the big sites might seem like they’re offering you deals, the prices they offer are mostly just marketing spin, enticing you in, while not really exposing the limit of their pricing strategy.

The travel industry, specifically the Online Travel Agents (known in the business as OTAs), are a duopoly – there are just two companies that control the market. You might have heard of lots of different brands but 80% of this online travel space is controlled by just two companies – Expedia and Priceline.

You might think when you’re booking flights, hotels, car rentals and more that you can compare the prices and get the best deals by going to a few different sites. But all they do is compete against themselves with small price differences to make you feel like you’re getting a deal.

In fact, because they’re so powerful they enforce something called rate parity and ensure the public rates they offer can’t be undercut. Well, at least in public.

That public part is important. There are also wholesale rates that aren’t available to the general public. These rates can be significantly lower than you can find elsewhere. This is often how your high street travel agency access their inventory and makes bookings on your behalf. There can be a huge difference between the retail rates you and I pay and the actual wholesale rates that are available behind closed doors.

Travel deals do exist. Just not for you. Until now…

Wholesale Rates

Wholesale rates aren’t meant for the likes of you or I. They’re aimed at businesses. Those that buy in bulk. I’m talking about Fortune 500 companies or travel agents. These businesses pay a premium to access these rates, often $50,000 to $250,000. But, because of their scale, it’s worth it for them. The rates are normally 30% to 70% cheaper than the rest of us can get. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less but, even so, that’s some pretty significant savings.

Businesses either sell the products (travel agents), use them to book their own corporate travel and/or as an employee benefit which they can use for their own (and family) personal travel. Access to these wholesale rates are restricted and behind a password protected firewall preventing us from accessing them.

These wholesale feeds are only allowed to be accessed by authorized personnel. The people that can access them must be members or a group, known as a Closed User Group (CUG). If you’re not in a CUG you can’t access these secret rates.

And you can’t get into a CUG. Until now…

How You Can Save With Genie Traveler

I recently teamed up with a company called Genie Traveler that is breaking open these travel myths and exposing the travel industry’s Dirty Little Secret. They’re bringing these wholesale rates straight to the general public and disrupting the OTAs.

They’ve created their own CUG and they’re letting anyone join. Instead of marking up their rates 30% to 70% like the OTAs might do they are making their money in a really ingenious way; they’re charging a small monthly fee for you to access these incredible deals. Rates start at just $3.99 a month (when you pay annually). You can easily save more than the cost of a years membership in just one booking through them.

These guys are fairly new to the marketplace but are already making waves and upsetting the more traditional OTAs.

Of course, I had to check them out for myself.

Travel Savings With Genie Traveler

I wouldn’t have teamed up with Genie Traveler if I hadn’t checked it all out properly myself.

First I had a look at their flights. I didn’t think the deals would be that great. The margins on flights are so small that I really didn’t think they’d be able to do much.

I picked some dates and decided I’d look at a flight from JFK in New York to London Heathrow.  Here’s a screenshot:

image6-min

Genie Traveler’s best deal was $697.17 with British Airways (all inclusive of taxes too).

I then went to the British Airways website to see what I could get it for:

image4-min

British Airways (including taxes) was $983.01.

That’s a $285.84 saving at Genie Traveler or a 41% saving. Now that’s impressive.

I searched a long haul flight on purpose. Savings on short haul flights are not as likely to be so good (unless you’re flying Business Class). If you’re a short haul traveler then the flight savings might not be for you.

Next I went on to look at hotels. I was hoping for some good savings here as I know the margins can be quite good.

I also wanted to check in a few different countries to see how the rates stood up.

First stop, Washington DC.

image2-min

As this was the first place I was checking out I decided to test their top two best deals, especially given that they were at very different price points as well.

The Mayflower Hotel is a beautiful hotel. Genie Traveler shows an incredible 80% saving (note you can only get savings above 70% on their All Travel Elite annual plans which work out at $4.99 a month) from $2,975.60 down to $610.94.

I checked Expedia first:

image7-min

They have it listed at $3,000.

Orbitz also list it for $3,000:

image1-min

Note on the bottom of the Orbitz listing they show prices as well at Hotels.com, Hotwire and Travelocity also all at $3,000.

Genie Traveler are offering incredible value here with their huge 80% savings. If you stayed for one night you’d save $2,364.66. You could buy 40 years of membership at Genie Traveler with that saving (even more if you use a coupon code – more on that soon)!

I then checked the second hotel in Washington DC, Courtyard by Marriott which is showing a 54% discount down from $647.08 to $302.42.

I went to Hotels.com and found this:

image8-min

They’re selling it at $659.

I’ll save you from too many screenshots but Expedia and Travelocity also have it at $659.

Genie Traveler again save you $344.66 on this hotel.

With that done I went to check Europe. I settled on Venice, Italy:

image5-min

The savings weren’t as high for Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal at 39% off but that’s still pretty impressive.

Booking.com lists it at $356 (including breakfast, but Genie Traveler includes breakfast as well):

image11-min

Hotels.com does a little better at $323:

image10-min

But even at the Hotels.com rate it’s still a 38% saving at Genie Traveler.

I went on to check Prague, in the Czech Republic, which has an incredible 86% saving:

image3-min

Although, I found that the best comparison savings I could find worked out at 83% and not 86%. I’ll happily take the 83% though.

image9-min

See again on the Orbitz listing you get prices at Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire and Hotels.com all at $441 compared to the Genie Traveler price of $77.67.

How To Use Genie Traveler

There are a couple of ways to use their service. You can either save massively on your travel budget – that’s probably the option that most people will take. But the other way is to upgrade how you travel. For example, if you normally stay in a 3 star hotel then you can often find a 5 star hotel for the price you would normally pay for a 3 star hotel. In fact, Genie Traveler will even let you search by star rating too (and they use TripAdvisor’s rating system so you know it’s valid).

I’ve given my examples in dollars but there’s an option to switch your currency too, so don’t worry too much if you’re not from the US. Membership though for Genie Traveler is only currently in US dollars though – they’re rolling out more currencies later this year though.

There are no packages (currently) so you would need to book your hotel and your flight separately. They also don’t have car rental although they expect to add that to their site soon.

Is Genie Traveler Worth It?

Is this worth it? Well that’s up to you and what fits for your personal travel needs. Personally, with savings like this, I’m hooked.

But, here’s the best bit. Genie Traveler offer a 7 day free trial. That means you can sign up and check out the deals yourself, all for free. In fact, it’s even better than that – you can book as much as you want during that period and, even if you cancel your free trial, all of those bookings will still be honored.

But wait, it gets even better.

I said earlier that I’d teamed up with them. Well in doing so I’ve negotiated an exclusive discount code just for readers of my blog.

If you sign up before 28 March 2018 on an annual plan then you’ll receive 18% off membership for life. Most promotions give you a deal to sign up but then boost you back up to their normal rate later on. I had a long talk with the team at Genie Traveler and persuaded them that you guys deserve the best. They agreed and made the discount code last for life.

If you want to check them out, and huge savings then make sure you use code CLAUDIA18 for a significant discount. Prices start at just $3.99 if you pay annually. That’s less than a cup of coffee a month or a Netflix subscription yet giving you incredible savings. Go here to sign up (and don’t forget to use your code).

I don’t get anything from you using this code but I just wanted to pass the value on to you. They’ve got 800,000 hotels, a Best Rate Guarantee and 15,000 destinations.

130 million people have been using this technology for the last 20 years. Genie Traveler have now opened this up to the general public to allow us all to get these incredible savings.

Why pay retail like everyone else when you don’t have to?  

Legal Disclaimer: this post is written in cooperation with Genie Traveler.

Pin It For Later

Learn how to travel the world at wholesale rates - via @clautavani

 

My very own top 3 hostel nightmares

My very own top 3 hostel nightmares

We’ve all spent at least one nightmare night in a hostel during our backpacking years, haven’t we? Well, I can count at least 3 that have been less than memorable in terms of getting proper rest, but which somehow managed to stick to my memory for the hilarity and absurdity of what happened.

Fighting the drunk hordes in The Terrace, Antigua (Guatemala)

I had only been in Guatemala for four days. This was meant to be the beginning of my 6 months adventure across Latin America. I was sure I had everything under control and I would be able to face any bad experience that may occur along the way. After the first three nights in Antigua, I decided to spend an extra night before making my way to Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, the lovely hostel where I had been sleeping was all booked up, so I decided to make online reservations for another one. As a backpacker on a tight budget, I was looking for something cheap. The Terrace, at $ 8 per night, breakfast included, in a 4 beds dorm, looked good on the pictures and it had good reviews on hostelworld. One of the most popular hostels in Antigua, indeed: there must be a reason for this, I thought!

Another church - as many others, destroyed by an earthquake

Another church in Antigua – as many others, it has been destroyed by an earthquake

I made my way there in the morning, wanting to drop my backpack and have time to browse around town more. I missed the front door a couple of times before actually finding the place – it was hardly visible. When I finally found the place, I walked in to be welcomed by a 20-something American receptionist (and her lovely dog). She seemed nice enough. The hostel seemed a bit old and in need of refurbishment but I did not think too much of it. I would only be staying here for one night after all. When I was shown to my dorm, I realised it would be worse than what I had expected. A dressed guy was sleeping in his bunk – considering it was around 12 pm, it was a bit odd to me. The dorm was tiny, to say the least. The only window faced an internal covered patio and hardly any natural light or fresh air would come in. You can imagine the stench. The toilet and bathroom in front of the dorm had the mouldiest rug and shower curtain I have ever seen. The wooden door was so rotten that I thought it would fall apart if I pulled it too hard. The electric shower had wires coming out – I thought I might get electrocuted if I did not pay attention (or even if I did).

After a day of walking around and a lovely dinner, still a bit jet legged, I wanted to have an early night and went back to the hotel. I then realised I had accidentally booked at a party hostel, were all the other backpackers except me were in their early twenties. Noise travelled easily in the badly organised place: young boys and girls were all getting ready to spend a night out and party. I thought that, as soon as they would leave, I could finally fall asleep. Wanting to be extra safe I even put my earplugs on. I jumped on the bed to find out that I could feel the wires – this was by far one of the least comfortable beds I had ever slept on. I thought of sleeping on the floor, but there was not enough room to do that. The synthetic sheets on my bed were so old that they would come off the matress, revealing stains. I kept my clothes on, in an attempt not to catch bed bugs (luckly, it worked).

Worried but exhausted I fell asleep but my rest only lasted two hours: that’s when the other guests started making their way back to the hostel. Completely drunk, they kept laughing loudly, screaming, opening doors (which I kept on closing). To top this off, despite my earplugs I could hear them gagging and vomiting (and then laughing about it). The entire affair must have lasted about one hour, without anybody from the reception intervening to stop the noise. When the drunken crew finally collapsed, I sighted and thought I could finally rest a bit more. Or not. One hour later, somebody entered the room, pointing a flashlight at my face, calling for a girl named Myra. I told him off, and said there was no Myra in that room: I was the only girl there and I definitely wasn’t Myra. He then asked if I knew where she was, as he had to wake her up for her bus. I told him to go away, I did not know who this Myra was and I had no idea where she may be.

That was the end of my attempts to rest – I decided to get up, shower, and wait for my ride to Lake Atitlan – where I found a super cool hostel and finally rested my sore bones. However, the cherry on the cake was finding out that The Terrace was actually meant to be the hostel where I was supposed to volunteer in Antigua – I had talked to the owner several times over skype, but I had forgotten the name and despite being offered the position I decided I did not want to work on my first week of travelling.

The lesson I have learned? Always always always check Tripadvisor for reviews, and also check the age of the reviewer. Always read the bad comments – they are usually honest comments. Try not to book online, as you may end up having to pay for a terrible room and thus get stuck. It is better to walk around a bit, check the rooms, the bathrooms, and the overall vibe of the place. And, more than anything else, stay away from The Terrace, in Antigua.

Dancing the night away in Cartagena (Colombia)

I was happy to find Mama Waldy when checking for places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia. Conveniently located in the heart of Getsemani, a cool area undergoing constant restoration, popular among backpackers and with a lovely relaxed feel to it. I soon discovered that the location was just about the only positive thing about this hostel.

Cartagena, Colombia

Tiny streets of Getsemani

Upon checking in, I knew I had made a mistake. This is possibly one of the worst hostels I found in my entire life. It used to be an old colonial house. By the look of it, this had never been restored nor properly cleaned. I arrived there at night, after a day of travelling, to find there was a party going on. My dorm was just on the main lobby, and since there were no keys to the dorms, people could walk in and out as they liked – and by people I mean people, not just guests. In fact, while I was there, somebody who was at the party just did. All the guests belongings were left around for people to grab them if they liked. The room was so dirty (paper, food, clothes, shoes and what not on the floor, under the bed, etc; no bins to place garbage), the bathroom so cramped, small and filthy, that I did not even consider using the toilet. I just locked my stuff away and ran out to eat and breathe.

As I got back past midnight, it was finally quiet. But the dorm was so hot and suffocating (there were no windows in any of the room, just a door to the lobby) that I soon realised I would be unable to sleep there. I walked out and I must have looked so disheartened that one of the owners saw me and asked what was wrong, and I plainly said that my dorm was filthy, hot, and I could not sleep there. He eagerly explained that they cleaned the rooms regularly but there was little they could do against messy backpackers. Possibly, what would help would be putting less beds in a dorm and maybe a hanger and a basket to throw away stuff? Anyways, he thankfully offered to put me in a private room, which was only slightly better – yet, no shower curtain, tiny bathroom, and covered in an inch of dust.

Breakfast was supposedly included, and surely paid for, but consisted of 2 slices of toasted bread (with, I guess, cream cheese or butter), and coffee. Not even served on plates. After all, the kitchen hardly seemed equipped. There was a laundry service. That’s if you fancy your clothes being hung to dry on the roof of the hostel. By which I do not mean hanging lines in the roof, but actual tiles.

What really bothered me the most about Mama Waldy was the music and noise. It only stopped past midnight and was really so loud that, if one is up for an early night and feel tired, one won’t be able to sleep. It felt like being in a disco, really. And since noise travelled really easily and by 6 am people would start waking up, my sleep would be cut short every day.

Running water in Suchitoto (El Salvador)

I arrived in Suchitoto after a very long day of travelling from Leon, Nicaragua, during which I took a bus to the village of Potosi, where I did my immigration formalities; waited on the beach for 3 hours without having the possibility to go back to the village in search of shade, water or food (by then I was legally already out of Nicaragua!), as the Nicaraguan marina would not allow the boat to leave due to the rough sea conditions; eventually, 2 hours on the speed boat along the challenging Gulf of Fonseca during which I got completely soaked due to the bumping and the waves, and various more hours on a bus from La Union to Suchitoto.

By the time I reached my final destination, I was grateful that my hostel room at El Gringo had not been given away, since it was so late. The owner drove me to the hostel, on the other side of town from where he lives. His wife showed me to my room and explained how the keys worked. They immediately left and there was no staff on site.

The reality of the hostel was not hard to spot. My room was below a restaurant, the only window was on a living room which faced an internal living rooom (mind you, that is a big word). The bathroom, which was shared with another room, was no more than a sink in the patio, a wall to separate a toilet and the cold water only shower. And for as hot as it is in Suchitoto, I was not ready to have a cold shower that late at night, and went to bed with my hair full of salt from the Gulf. The room was so humid that it was covered in mould stains and paint was coming off the walls. The sheets so small and so acrylic that they would slide off the bed, so that despite all my efforts to arrange them, I ended up sleeping on the matress. The floor below the bed was so dirty and full of dust, hair, and garbage, that I wondered if it had ever been cleaned. I was so tired anyhow, that I could hardly be bothered with any of this.

Suchitoto, El Salvador

This 97 year old lady keeps on rolling her cigars on a daily basis. What’s her youth secret?

A refreshing shower the morning after and a lovely day in Suchitoto almost made me forget about the terrible hostel. That was, until the new Canadian guest came in. Hard to avoid him since my window gave into the living room where he was relaxing on a rocking chair. So, we chatted along for a few moments, until eventually he decided it was bed time and he’d brush his teeth, and I laid on my bed to do some emailing. That’t when I heard a crushing noise, like that of porcelain plates being broken, and the poor Canadian kid screaming “what the heck!”. I ran out to check what had happened. Water was splashing all over and he was completely wet. The remains of the sink were scattered on the floor: apparently, the guy decided he’d lean on the sink with his hand while brushing his teeth, but despite being a fit guy the sink did not hold his weight and collapsed! You can imagine the hilarity of such a scene. We took pictures, we laughed and eventually we decided that if we did not want to flood the entire place, we had to close all the pipes. It worked, but it meant that we were not even able to flush the toilet.

Suchitoto, El Salvador

Los Tercios waterfalls look a bit like the Giant Causeway

The morning after I was glad to have an early start and having to leave at 6:00 am, leaving the other guest alone to explain to the owner what had happened, and that perhaps restoration and refurbishing was much needed in the hostel!

What’s your worst hostel experience to date?

Click here for more of my misadventures.

Things to do in Bogota and Villa de Leyva

Things to do in Bogota and Villa de Leyva

The huge capital of Colombia takes my breath away, for there are so many things to do in Bogota. Part of the reason is its beauty, but mostly for the altitude: it is located at about 2600 meters above sea level. Add to this the incessant traffic and pollution, and it will be hard to breathe. What is most interesting about Bogotà is that, being the main city of what is considered a tropical country, it leaves me somehow puzzled. I did not really believe that the average temperature is 14 degrees celsius. And it does rain a lot, especially in the rain season – so, I was glad I had packed a raincoat, an umbrella, and warm clothes.

Yet, it is an interesting city to visit and I wanted to spend a few days wandering around its squares and museums: there are many things to do in Bogota. It is modern, very progressive and lively, with a vibrant cultural, political and social scene, and at the same time as relaxed as only a Colombian city may be. It is a city of contrasts: La Candelaria with its elegant colonial buildings on one side, and the skyscrapers and glittering towers on the other.

Candelaria at night is one of the things to do in Bogota

Candelaria at night is one of the things to do in Bogota

Bogotà is the main airport hub and has connections to the rest of the country and the world. It is well connected to Cartagena, and from Bogotà there are flights to Leticia, in the Amazon – this can only be reached via plane.

Things to do in Bogota:

The city is to big and interesting that I am never left wondering what to do in Bogota.

Plaza de Bolivar is the heart of the historic town, and is interesting to see, despite being, according to the Lonely Planet, a mishmash of architectural styles. On the western side of the plaza, the Catedral Primada is Bogotà’s largest church and can be visited for free. The Capilla del Sagrario, right next door, is the only colonial building on the square and there is no admission fee either.

One of the best things to do in Bogota is going for a walk around La Candelaria: located east of Plaza de Bolivar, it is packed with cobbled streets, museums, theaters and cafes and street food.

What to do in Bogota: trying street food!

What to do in Bogota: trying street food!

Things to do in Bogota: snapping as many Renault 4 as possible. This nice man is an institution in Bogota!

Things to do in Bogota: snapping as many Renault 4 as possible. This nice man is an institution in Bogota!

Visit Museo del Oro: I was looking for what to do in Bogota and headed to Museo del Oro. It has the biggest collection in the world of pre-hispanic gold work.

Visit Museo Botero: one of the things to do in Bogota is visiting this incredible museum. It is a great gallery founded by a donation of Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, and there are works of other artists such as Picasso, Mirò, Renoir, Dali, Matisse and Monet.

On of the things to do in Bogota is to go up the Cerro de Montserrate: considered one of Colombia attractions, this is by far my favourite one in town. It is more than a simple mountain. It is a peak that towers over Bogotà, at 3200 meters above sea level, and a symbol of pride for the residents of the city. The view of the city from up there is amazing, but try to go on a clear day to fully enjoy it. There is also a lovely, flowery park at the back. It is possible to go up by teleferico or funicular, or, if up for the challenge, there are 1500 steps to the top. I also advise to wear warm clothes. It gets chilly at that altitude!

Things to do in Bogota: go up to the Parque Montserrate

Things to do in Bogota: go up to the Parque Montserrate

Where to sleep, eat and drink in Bogotà

The city is huge, so I had to consider my options carefully since I didn’t want to blow my budget on transportation. Most travelers opt for some cheap accommodation in La Candelaria, and while I must say the area is pretty and safe, it does get very quiet during the night. It is best to find a hostel that has a kitchen to prepare your meals, as almost everything closes at 7 pm, including fast food chains, and even street food is harder to find after dark. Surely, one of the things to to in Bogota is trying some of the local street food – arepas are delicious, there is a huge variety of fruit too. The best bet for late night food may be the Bogotà Beer Company pub – there are several around town, and one in La Candelaria in Calle 12D No. 4-02: this offers pub staples and great draft beers.

Things to do in Bogota: trying a beer at Bogota Beer Company

Things to do in Bogota: trying a beer at Bogota Beer Company

Villa de Leyva Colombia, the most beautiful colonial town in the country:

When I have had enough of crowded and polluted cities and ran out of things to do in Bogota, one of the best places to visit in Colombia is Villa de Leyva. This is a good place to recharge dead batteries. Declared a national monument in 1954, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this small city is a beautiful colonial settlement perfectly preserved – there is no modern architecture here. The town was funded in 1572 and feels like a walk-through museum: the main plaza is one of the largest squares in the Americas, and nearby there are three perfectly restored colonial mansions that now house cafes, restaurants and craft shops. The weather in Villa de Leyva is pleasant – dry and mild – and many bogotanos come over for the weekend to enjoy the beauty and the climate. There are many activities in the surroundings, such as a number of hiking paths. There is also the possibility to go biking or horse riding.

Colombia tourist attractions: Villa de Leyva

Colombia tourist attractions: Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva can be reached from Bogota with direct buses that take roughly 5 hours, and from Tunja which is about one hour away. It offers many budget options to sleep and eat, such as El Solar Hotel in Calle 10A No. 10-60, a lovely hostel whose owner is a really sweet lady.

Things to do in Colombia: parking your carriage outside

Things to do in Colombia: parking your carriage outside

For more things to do in Colombia, read here.

Why San Gil is among the places to visit in Colombia

Why San Gil is among the places to visit in Colombia

Colombia is a huge country, and it is much more than the old cliches of narco-trafficking and kidnapping. As the Lonely Planet describes it, it is a great cocktail consisting of caribbean atmosphere, the great mountains and glaciars of the Andes, the Amazon, the unique Tatacoa desert, cloud forest, colonial cities, indigenous, Afro-descendants and European cultures, and colourful and friendly people. Top all of this with a great, relaxed atmosphere and here is the perfect place. One could spend months travelling around the country, and still feel unfinished and wanting to explore more.  Furthermore, some of the places to visit in Colombia are so isolated that no roads get there. Leticia – the main starting point for a visit of the Amazon basin – can only be reached by plane.

Why San Gil is among the places to visit in Colombia

By all means, I know I am an adventure seeker, and I know I have a choice of about a million places to visit in Colombia. But, since I was looking for some of the great Colombia tourist attractions combined with fun sports, I headed to San Gil. This is definitely THE place for extreme sports and I could easily fill up my days there with all sorts of activities, from rafting to rappelling, torrentismo (rappelling down a waterfall), horse riding, paragliding, caving, mountain biking, and so much more.

The best thing to do for me, since I didn’t want to burn all my energies was to alternate any of these extreme activities with quieter ones such as swimming in natural pools (such as the Pozo Azul), visiting the nearby waterfalls (Cascadas de Juan Curi) and going on easy, nearby hikes. Although San Gill is small city, it gave me a pleasant and authentic Colombian feel and it is not crowded with travelers. I could enjoy its atmosphere fully during the day, at the local market, or after sunset, when the locals meet for evening drinks in the main square, children happily run around, and everybody is up for a chat.

Things to do in Colombia: go mountain biking with Colombian Bike Junkies

Things to do in Colombia: go mountain biking with Colombian Bike Junkies

Rafting

Among the things to do in Colombia, there is some great rafting. Many companies in San Gil organise whitewater rafting excursions. Unexperienced rafters may prefer opting for the easier Rio Fonce – with rafts of grades 1 to 3.

I was in the mood for something more challenging, so I opted for the Rio Suarez: around 30 dollars for a full day (about 6 hours in total and snacks included, consisting of fresh fruit, local cheese, crisps and drinks). Colombia Rafting Expeditions is the most reliable company in town. I was picked up from my hostel and driven (about one hour drive) to the starting point.

The English speaking guides are very experienced, and did everything to make my day memorable. After a briefing on safety measures, we started rafting down the river. We all got soaking wet, we got the chance to swim in the river carried away by the current, and we even had to get to shore to hike up for a while, and even jumping off cliffs. The only low point is that there is nobody taking pictures for the rafters, so I would advise to carry a waterproof camera.

Things to do in Colombia: go rafting with Colombia Rafting Expeditions

Things to do in Colombia: go rafting with Colombia Rafting Expeditions

Mountain biking

Another one of the things to do in Colombia is mountain biking. Mountain bike tours near San Gil go through the Chicamocha Canyon and they allowed me to visit the beautiful Barichara, an immaculately renovated city of white-washed buildings and stone streets, with a beautiful cathedral and a gorgeous and airy main plaza, which is definitely one of the places to visit in Colombia.

Places to visit in Colombia: Barichara

Places to visit in Colombia: Barichara

The best company running the tour is Colombian Bike Junkies. It is based out of  the restaurant Gringo Mike’s, which is also the meeting point. The trip lasts all day (by which I mean ALL day – do not expect to be back before dark!), it costs around 60 dollars. Ok, that is not cheap but it possibly is the best and most fun among the things to do in Colombia and it is worth saving on other things to embark on this adventure.

Colombia Bike Junkies is reliable, the bikes are in excellent state, and it is organised to the point that when I booked the tour, I was even asked where I wanted to have the front and back breaks, and even a meal preference (yes: a delicious lunch, snacks such as fresh fruit and home baked cookies and water are all included, as well as a “well done” beer after finishing) and my size, as at the end of the day I was given a t-shirt that will always remind me of this great adventure.

There was a very good guide at the front, ready to help with any problems and to give instructions and advice on the technicalities of the path; as well as a guide at the back, driving a jeep and carrying any equipment that may needed to fix bikes on the road, including flat tires. And, to top things off, I didn’t have to worry about taking pictures as the two guides took plenty of shots in key points and moments and shared them with participants. Look at me in full motion:

Things to do in Colombia: mountain biking!

Things to do in Colombia: mountain biking!

The 50 km trip will be tiring: going downhill is challenging for non-expert mountain bikers, yet it is a lot of fun. After the lunch break, the path is an easier (in technical terms!), slightly uphill 16 km road.

By the time I got to the finishing point, I was dusty, sweaty, dirty and, most importantly, happy and accomplished and that beer tasted oh so good!

What do to in Colombia: become a Colombian Bike Junkie

What do to in Colombia: become a Colombian Bike Junkie

Where to sleep and eat in San Gil:

Open House Hostel in San Gil is an excellent option for backpackers. It is very close to the main plaza: it is clean, quiet, and it has nice, comfortable beds, an airy common area and very well equipped kitchen and a nice backyard. My humble advice is to cook at the hostel, as, other than Gringo Mike’s, there aren’t many good options to eat in town and the market sells lovely fresh vegetables and fruit.

How to get to San Gil:

San Gil can be reached by bus from pretty much anywhere in Colombia. There are night buses from Cartagena (the trip lasts 17 hours and goes through Barranquilla); there are regular buses to and from Bogotà (8 hours, around 17 dollars), Medellin (11 hours, around 30 dollars) and Bucaramanga (2 hours), which is the closest airport.

Looking for more things to do in Colombia?

 

Highlights of Sardinia

Highlights of Sardinia

 

My luck has it that I was born and raised in Sardinia, and this is what I call home. I have the chance to explore it one bit at a time, and I am not done exploring yet! I have a few favourite places of course. My hometown, Cagliari; Costa Rei, my favourite vacation spot, and all its surroundings; the area of Golfo di Orosei and Isola dell’Asinara – these are only a few of the amazing places Sardinia has to offer to those who visit.

Sardinia is a great place to travel to in all seasons. Most people enjoy it in the summer, as we have amazing beaches with crystal clear water. I think it is incredible even in spring, fall and winter, despite the rain may be abundant. During spring time, the countryside is blooming, the weather is good for going on amazing hikes (like those to Su Gorropu) and we enjoy long walks on the beach. Spring is when Sant’Efisio, in Cagliari, takes place. A great free event. Fall is mild, and if we are lucky enough we get to go to the beach well into October. This is when the various village festivals are held. I love Cortes Apertas, and Autunno in Barbagia – food sampling, wine tasting, lots of great traditions. My favourite? Su Prugadoriu in Seui – our own very traditional version of Halloween. Finally, did you know that we even have a ski resort in Sardinia? Ok, it is not really a ski destination… but it is nice nonetheless.

One more reason to love Sardinia? The music festivals – jazz lovers will have a huge choice of places and events. And even the book festivals.

We call Sardinia paradise, and for a good reason!

To read more of my posts about the most amazing island in the world, click here