Lessons to Make You a Better Traveler

We have been fortunate to have had many great mentors throughout our lives who have imparted words of wisdom to us that have molded our thoughts and actions.  Most of the best advice that we’ve received apply to all parts of our lives, whether with family, work, or traveling.  Usually they are amazingly simple and yet very powerful when applied consistently.  Hopefully you’ll find them to be as useful over time as we have found them to be.

  1. Treat others as you want to be treated (the golden rule) – Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated EVERYONE that we met in the same manner that we hope and expect to be treated.  Sure, we learned this rule as children, but it is probably the most important piece of advice that hopefully all people can learn.  Whenever we travel someplace, anyplace, we want to learn about the customs and traditions of the locals.  We respect their religions, beliefs, and social expectations.  Having an understanding and respect does not mean that you have agree with or do things that conflict with your own personal beliefs, but you must have empathy and understand where they are coming from.  You would be surprised how much better your experience will be if you are friendly and honestly express your desire to understand the culture of the place that you are visiting.

    Talking to an Old Woman in Bolivia
    Talking to an Old Woman in Bolivia
  2. Make decisions quickly and act upon them – This doesn’t mean that you don’t do your due diligence and get as many facts as possible before making a decision, but too often people become paralyzed by fear of making a mistake or spend so much time thinking about the decision that the opportunity passes them by.  We have a lot of military in our family and the motto for an officer on the battlefield is that the only bad decision is no decision, this is surprisingly true of life in general.  Will this lead to some mistakes?  Sure, but you don’t grow and learn without making a few mistakes.  More often than not, just deciding to go someplace and making it happen has led to some of our best experiences.  If you wait for all of the stars to align and the moment to be perfect, you’re likely to miss out on some of the best experiences of your life.

    Our First Trip to Europe was Planned in a Few Weeks
    Our First Trip to Europe was Planned in a Few Weeks
  3. Never stop learning – Learning is growth and the moment that you stop learning new and interesting things is the moment that you stop truly living.  Obviously it is hard to go through life and not continue to learn new things, but don’t just learn through osmosis, actively seek out and find new things to learn that might interest you.  Pick a country that you’ve never heard about and learn as much as you can and then go visit there.  Understand the history of a place, what has influenced its culture, the leaders of the past and the regional forces that shape their current beliefs and society.  Learn as much of the language as possible and use it when you visit.

    We've Learned to be Better Travelers
    We’ve Learned to be Better Travelers
  4. Strive for continuous improvement – None of us are perfect and those people who think that they are should be avoided like the plague.  In all aspects of life, we periodically seriously reflect on our current state and consider how we can improve in our relationships, work positions, health (mental and physical), as well as our travel goals and expectations.  Even during our travels, we will ask ourselves if we’re seeing the most relevant and interesting sights that mean the most to us or are we just following a list from a guidebook?  Are we talking to the locals and getting the best advice on places to see and food to eat?  We’ll come home from a trip and talk about our experiences and what things we could have done better and use that information on our next trip.

    Lunch at a Moroccan Restaurant
    Lunch at a Moroccan Restaurant
  5. Step out of your comfort zone – It is easy to get complacent and accept the normal routine, whether at work or in your personal life, but some of the most rewarding opportunities come from pushing your limits.  That might mean doing an activity that makes you uncomfortable, like zip-lining, parachuting, or just spending the night in a forest.  We’re not suggesting that you pursue dangerous activities, but just that you try something that perhaps you’ve never previously considered.  It might be going to a country that makes you uncomfortable, but it could be as simple as trying food that you’ve never heard of.  Growth comes from new experiences that most likely reset your image of what you’re capable of doing or achieving.

    India Definitely Stretched Our Bounderies
    India Definitely Stretched Our Boundaries

There isn’t anything earth shattering here, just simple concepts that, when followed consistently, will improve your life and our case, our travels as well.

Cochabamba in the Heart of Bolivia

Located in the center of Bolivia, Cochabamba is a wonderful city to start an adventure in this diverse country. Like many cities in South America, Cochabamba has a history that was dominated by the Spanish and many of the buildings and churches date back to 1500’s. In addition to the city itself, Cochabamba is also an excellent location to launch several different short trips, including going to Carrasco National Park. Cochabamba is considered the gastronomical heart of Bolivia as well and was where we had our first taste of Pique Macho.

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Fountain in Downtown Cochabamba
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Templo de la Recoleta
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Dome in the Santa Teresa Convent
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Parrots Outside of Our Hotel
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Church Tower

There are several churches in Cochabamba, including the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iglesia Santa Teresa with its accompanying convent, and the colorful Templo de la Recoleta. The Santa Teresa Convent has been converted into a museum and is definitely worth taking the time to tour. In addition the churches, another noteworthy site to visit is the Palacio Portales, which is a mansion that was built by a local tin baron who actually never lived in the beautiful building. The palace also offers tours in both English and Spanish and is worth spending the time to visit and to walk around the beautiful garden.

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Courtyard at the Convent
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Walking the Hallways
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Metropolitan Cathedral
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The Main Square of Cochabamba
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Beautiful Church

One of the things that makes Cochabamba such a wonderful city to visit is that the temperatures remain spring-like all year long. There are several parks and squares in Cochabamba with beautiful flowers that take advantage of the moderate temperatures. Families come out to these common areas to play, relax, and walk through the open air markets that are located nearby. As is typical, these parks and squares feature fountains and monuments at their centers. To get better views of the city, you can take the cable car to top of San Pedro Hill where the Cristo de la Concordia overlooks the city.

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Colorful Flowers in the City
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Families in the Main Square

 

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Cristo de la Concordia
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Beautiful Park Downtown
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Colorful Building in Cochabamba

One of the day trips that we took out of Cochabamba was to visit the ancient ruins at Incallajta. Walking around these amazing ruins was truly amazing, especially due to the fact that we were able to walk all around this historic site without any other visitors. Making our day even more interesting was the discovery of an old Spanish church on the road to Incallajta that our guide had never seen before. At the end of the day, we went to the “ghost village” of Chimboata where we saw how truly difficult life can be for the rural people of Bolivia.

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The Ruins of Incallajta
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Ghost Village of Chimboata
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Ancient Spanish Church
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Santa Teresa Convent
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Walking Among the Ruins of Incallajta

We also took a two-day trip into the Amazon Jungle where we stayed at an ecolodge and had our first taste of the rainforest. We took what was called a canopy tour, which was really an afternoon of ziplining from the tops of trees across rivers and canyons. The following day we took a tour in Carrasco National Park that had us hiking through the jungle, climbing into caves with rare birds and bats, and seeing cocoa fields that were intruding onto the park lands. Driving from Cochabamba to our ecolodge was probably as interesting of an experience as seeing the park itself and would prepare us for our trip down “Death Road” later during our trip.

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Soaring Through the Jungle
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An Interesting Drive
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Getting Into Carrasco National Park
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Looking Out of the Convent
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Palacio Portales

With so many opportunities for adventure, Cochabamba is a wonderful city to visit in the beautiful country of Bolivia. The people are extremely friendly, although you will not find too many people who speak anything other than Spanish or Quechua. We spent about five days in Cochabamba, which was about the minimum amount of time if you want to take advantage of doing some day trips from the city.

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Unique Architecture in Cochabamba
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Condors are an Important Symbol in Bolivia
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Statue Outside of a Church
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View from San Pedro Hill

 

Adventures in the Rainforest

We have been fortunate enough to take several trips to Central and South America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama. During each of the trips, we specifically made a point of getting into the jungle and seeing different wildlife and plants. Each of them was unique in their own ways and we stayed in eco lodges in both Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these experiences were quite unique and we have many wonderful memories. Here are some of our favorite rainforest adventures that we’ve had during our travels.

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Up Close and Personal with Monkeys in Panama
  1. Monkey Islands in Panama – One of the most interesting things that we did during our time in Panama was to take a boat passed the famous locks and going to the Monkey Islands. Our boat would pull up to the islands and the monkeys would climb down from the trees to take grapes and bananas from our hands. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do that, but since the monkeys rely on humans for the survival, we felt okay with the experience.
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    Hiking in Carrasco National Park
  2. Visiting Carrasco National Park in Bolivia – Our first Amazon experience was during our trip to Cochabamba when we stayed at an eco lodge and spent a day hiking through Carrasco National Park. We climbed into caves with different varieties of bats, blind birds called Guacharos, poisonous frogs, as well as snakes. It was definitely an interesting way to get introduced to the Amazon Jungle.
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    Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park
  3. Staying at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador – After our experiences in Bolivia, we chose to go even deeper into the jungle during our trip to Ecuador. We spent several days at the Napo Wildlife Center, which is an eco lodge sitting on a lake with caiman, birds, monkeys, and giant river otters. Every day, we would get up early and go into the rainforest to experience different wildlife.
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    Paddling in a Small Canoe in the Amazon
  4. Traveling on the Amazon River – We spent time on a motor boat as well as canoe on the tributaries of the Amazon river. After flying into the tiny town of Coca, Ecuador, we took a boat down the Amazon River where we then got out and hiked to get to our canoes. To say that it was a fascinating experience would certainly be an understatement.
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    Traditional Dance and Music in the Embera Village
     
  5. Visiting Indigenous Villages – We went to indigenous villages in both Panama as well as Ecuador and each was a truly special experience. The local tribes are very friendly and happy to welcome you into their village where they share their traditions, art, and lifestyles. We even danced with the local Emberá tribe members during our time in Panama, which was something we will forever treasure. We know that these types of opportunities are dwindling over time, so it is important to take advantage of any chance that you happen to get.
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    Parrots and Parakeets at the Salt Lick
  6. Bird Watching in the Rainforest – With over a thousand species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest, the opportunities to see birds a quite diverse. We climbed to the top of the forest canopy in Ecuador to see different colorful birds including macaws, toucans, and parrots. Going the parrot clay licks and seeing so many different parrots feeding on the mineral rich soil was absolutely amazing.
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    Canons in Fort San Lorenzo
  7. Fort San Lorenzo in Panama – Going the fort that was captured by the famous Captain Morgan, which is located in the jungles of Panama was a truly educational experience. Whether imagining swash-buckling pirates, canons blasting off of the cliffs, or picturing the ships traveling down the Chagres River, it is something worth making the effort to see when planning a trip to Panama.
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    Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle

Obviously we hope to spend more time in different rainforests in other parts of the world. There is such a diversity in the biology of the jungle that it really takes several days to truly get an understanding of everything that there is to see. If you ever get a chance to spend a few nights in the rainforest, we’d highly recommend it as it allows you to see it both during the day, but also at dawn and dusk when the animals are the most active.