Colombia ~ Cartagena

In Cartagena with fruit sellers dressed in the colors of the Colombian flag just before my shirt became drenched in the heat.

For obsessive travelers — even if vaccinated — travel planning is still tricky as the pandemic lingers on.

I wanted to go ① somewhere I'd not yet visited ② that is warm, ③ is not too far away, and ④ does not require an entry quarantine.

Exploring lists of "must see" places in South America, I saw Cartagena often listed in the top ten. It's a short nonstop due south of Miami. Plus, the weather forecast was hot and sunny. No arrival quarantine, just a negative test.

Cartagena alone looked like it held more than enough to enjoy exploring on foot for many days. No need to hop around Colombia; I'd been to Bogotá and Medellín previously.

Cartagena turned out to be an ideal choice!

Once a key city in the Spanish empire, Cartagena is now home to over a million people. A high, thick wall runs 11 kilometers around the old colonial city (foreground above).

Most blocks in Cartagena's large old town are immaculate, colorful, meticulously preserved, and topped off by bougainvillea. Except in the midday sun, I never tired of just walking around for hours.

Cartagena's Cathedral

Plazas, big and small, dot the old town, usually surrounded by outdoor cafes.

The elegant Santa Clara Sofitel, in the heart of the old town, was built as a convent in 1621.

Near the hotel is La Serrezuela, a new upscale shopping center featuring a nightly show of fountains dancing to "Nessun Dorma" and then "We Will Rock You."


Next to the walled old town is Getsemani, a poorer barrio now being gentrified. Without the colonial heritage to maintain, Getsemani is free to be more bohemian.

Getsemani is noted for its creative street art. It was fun to walk around without a guidebook and "discover" for myself some of the more striking murals. 

You won't see multi-colored balustrades and exotic murals in the colonial district.

Bottom line: Loved Cartagena.
Extended my stay there from a week to ten days. You can see the basics in three days, but it was a fascinating, charming place to hang out longer.

Tucson, Tecate, Puerto Vallarta

Hiking in Arizona's Sonora Desert filled with giant Saguaro cacti.

Post-Vaccine Travel

Summer of 2020 I volunteered for the Moderna vaccine trial, got lucky and was accepted. Got lucky again in the fall when I got the actual vaccine not the placebo.

After finally being officially “unmasked,” I started traveling again, extra cautiously at first staying within the US. Then, feeling increasingly liberated, to Mexico and Colombia.

Incidentally, this New York Times article was extremely influential in shaping my optimism about the protective power of the vaccine.

Tucson, Arizona

Time to see my wonderful, peripatetic sister Kathy currently residing in sunny Tucson — and hike the hills nearby — and stay at Canyon Ranch wellness retreat for more exercise and healthy food.

Stunning Agua Caliente Park in Tucson looks like a Moroccan oasis.

When I think of the American West, I think of these big, iconic, fantastic cacti. But I learned that actually the Saguaro cactus grows only in the Sonoran desert, mainly southern Arizona and just across the border in Mexico.

Hiking with awesome sister Kathy in Saguaro Natl. Park, and aerobic swimming with competitive guest Kyle at Canyon Ranch.

Tecate, Mexico

Weather back home was getting colder, so I went for another sunny destination: Rancho la Puerta, a hiking and health retreat in Tecate, just south of San Diego.

Like Canyon Ranch in Tucson, this place was also operating at about 20% capacity, but was not cutting back on its activities. It was another weird but wonderful experience, as if you have booked a big place for your exclusive use with a few of your new friends.

Little hike up to Alex's Oak with Rancho la Puerta below.

Hike being lead by Connie, one of the best trainers ever.

Canyon Ranch in Tucson is impressive, but I still far prefer Rancho la Puerta in Tecate — much more camaraderie, convenient hiking, warm staff, and better hourly options. I stayed ten perfect days until the weather in northern Mexico started turning cold and then I went south to...

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

My first visit to Puerto Vallarta (aka PV) was a wonderful, warm, ten-day getaway.

Mexico had just declared the state of Jalisco a "red zone" due to increased Covid-19 cases. This was a strong test of my Moderna vaccinations. While the beaches were windy and spacious, I was not exactly in an antiseptic bubble since I was enjoying restaurant meals with people and a daily vacation massage.

I'd been in contact with fewer people in the stricter environments of Tucson and Tecate. But Moderna passed my Puerto Vallarta test without a cough.

In a typical winter high season, I'm not sure I'd like Puerto Vallarta with mobs of people. But due to the pandemic, PV was not crowded at all.

Only occasionally would someone stroll by and briefly block the view.

PV's warm latitude is right in line with Hawaii and it's a lot closer.

Nice daily walk for a couple of miles along PV's beautifully landscaped Malecon with sculptures and shops, but no crowds of tourists.

Dusk at the Playa Los Muertos pier.

Where to next?
How about Cartagena, Colombia, which is supposed to be extraordinary?

Virtual Travel via The Voice

What to do with airports off limits?
When trips are nixed?

I can turn to virtual travel via my guilty pleasure:
Versions of The Voice in many dozens of countries.

India ~ Ganges

Typical scene of people bathing and washing colorful clothes along the Ganges as viewed from our ship on a trip up the river.

After my two-week cruise in Assam going

India ~ Assam

In Assam at a Bodo silk-weaving village before watching a beautiful Bagudumba dance.

Galápagos Islands

A couple of the famed Galápagos blue-footed boobies; like most creatures here, they are naively unafraid of humans.

Columbia ~ Medellín

Medellín's most famous artist and sculptor was Fernando Botero known for his smooth bloated creations. (Some bloating in front of the sculpture too.)

French Polynesia

Helmet diving in Bora Bora, one of the highlights of this ill-fated trip.
Solar eclipse trips can take you to fascinating locales and dazzle you with mind-blowing celestial thrills.

Explore (Click on a country to open its link.)