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South America

Alma Restaurant at Casa San Agustin – Cartagena, Colombia

Casa San Agustin is a world class luxury boutique hotel sitting in the heart of Cartagena’s enchanting Old Walled City. It is the epitome of romance and old world charm mixed with the lively culture and history of Cartagena. We spent some time there and loved every minute of it. Their hospitality is excellent, the property is stunning, and the dining is unforgettable! I can’t say enough good things about the hotel. It is by far the best hotel in Cartagena and worth a visit.

Whether you stay there or not, you should experience their mixologists and exquisite dining at Alma Restaurant, under the direction of Executive Chef Heberto Eljach. We had one of the best meals we’ve ever had abroad at Alma. There is a variety of seating areas, from their beautiful open air courtyard accompanied by tropical foliage to their indoor rooms, filled with rich leather furniture and rustic tables. The bar area is swanky and understandably gets quite busy at night.

To start with, Jonathan tried a Caipirinha, his South American favorite, and I had a fancy gin and tonic made with 24 year old gin. Alma is well known for its craft cocktails. We spoke with the bartenders, and they truly are passionate about creating unique and tasty drinks.

Following cocktails, we tried two cold appetizers. One was a burrata di bufala (buffalo cheese) surrounded by a nest of tomatoes, lettuce, tomato chutney, pesto, and balsamic vinegar. It was a more advanced version of a caprese salad and tasted better too. Our other appetizer was a unique ceviche with a Cartagena twist. It featured shrimp in a Kola Roman sauce and double fried plantains, which really are twice as crispy and delicious as regular fried plantains. Kola Roman is a red soda made famous in Cartagena in the 1800s, and it reminds me of Big Red if you haven’t had a chance to try it for yourself. The shrimp ceviche paired with the soda-based sauce was a unique and tasty twist on regular ceviche.

Now on to the mains, where I had the best soup of my life. Alma makes a Cartagena style seafood chowder that is to die for. Name a seafood, and it’s in this dish. It’s made with lobster, shrimp, squid, octopus, prawns and mussels, all in a lobster bisque made with coconut milk and served over coconut rice. This is something you must try if you are in Cartagena. Do not leave the city without trying it. I mean it! The other main course we tried gets five stars for presentation. It was a red snapper cooked with onions and tomatoes, all wrapped in a palm leaf. Delicious!

Did we try dessert? Of course we did. Something is wrong with us if we don’t get dessert. We tasted coconut lemon sorbet, coconut pie, ghost berries with shimmery gold dust, and a meringue with ice cream. They topped the meal off in a sweet, refreshing, and very Colombian way.

Overall, we give Casa San Agustin and Alma a solid five star review for creating a luxurious ambiance, amazing food, and excellent hospitality. This hotel is a must-see while in Cartagena and a perfect combination of romance and culture!

Floral maxi dress here

How to Eat Piranha

It was 8:00 AM. I had been awake for nearly an hour already. I had a strange, lingering headache from what I feared was one of those brain-eating amoebas. I suspected I contracted it while swimming in the Black River, an Amazonian tributary. Will I die at the advancing age of 26? Perhaps, but not before I catch some piranha. I felt good, energetic.

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The Amazon River

Often referred to as “Earth’s Lung”, the Amazon rainforest is 2.124 million square miles of sprawling vegetation that pumps out over 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. The region can receive rainfall in excess of 175 inches annually, more water than parts of the American Southwest see in a decade; these deluges feed the Amazon river and her many tributaries, which wind a path through the rainforest for over 4,000 miles. This is the largest river in the world, by volume.

Traveling the Amazon’s waters by boat during the middle of low-tide season is the best form of transportation to be found in the region. And so we set off from Iquitos, Peru, fondly dubbed the Capital of the Peruvian Amazon, aboard the Aqua Aria, a river boat that would take us roughly 100 miles up and down the Amazon River. Along the journey we caught and ate Piranha, danced with indigenous peoples the from Cocama-Cocamilla tribe near the San Martin de Tipishca reserve, weathered a notorious Amazonian rainstorm, swam with pink dolphins, bartered with locals, dodged poisonous dart frogs, and macheted our way through thick forest. When venturing into this part of the world, authentic adventure is never far from reach and only one thing is certain: expect the unexpected.

As seen in Gear Patrol.

Review: Aria Amazon Riverboat Cruise

Riverboat cruises are not exactly new, but tell us you’ve put one on the Amazon River and you’ve got our undivided attention. Aqua Expeditions, which specializes in “luxury cruises on the world’s greatest rivers”, is doing that very thing, pushing the envelope of luxury and adventure with their ship, the Aria Amazon. The Aria — which shoved off from Iquitos, Peru, fondly dubbed the Capital of the Peruvian Amazon — was constructed in 2011 on the successful heels of her sister ship, the Aqua. At 147 feet in length, the grandeur of the Aria is a stark contrast to the rickety canoes and logging cargo ships otherwise found floating these waterways. She’s equipped with 16 well-manicured suites sporting California king-sized beds and luxurious Peruvian cotton, bathrooms with rainshowers, polished timber flooring, accent lighting, and panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows that face the forest.

As beautiful as the Aria is, your trip is about exploration and adventure of the singular Amazon rainforest. To that end, the ship is equipped with skiffs that take guests on various excursions and day-trips to leave the safe trappings of the Aria and embark on uncaged, unplanned adventure. Travel off the Amazon River and down the Marañon River to see animals in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and villages near San Pedro de Tipishca. Whether you’re opting for the three, four, or seven day itinerary, each day presents the chance to see over 200 species of birds, 13 species of monkeys, crocodiles and caimans, tarantulas, poisonous dart frogs, pink and grey dolphins, tree boas and maybe even a jaguar. With ice-cold water or a Cusquena always at the ready, these skiff adventures make the trip worth every penny.

The Aria comes with a full schedule, if you choose to participate. The excursions and festive meals are the main affair, but you’ll find the times in between marked with siestas, lounging on the observation deck or panoramic lounge, taking advantage of their exercise room or fulfilling an appointment with the on-board masseuse. At the end of the trip, you’ll be wished farewell by a group of gregarious crewmen who channel popular music through native Peruvian instruments. We dare you to sit silent as they outro with John Denver’s Country Road. It’s a beautiful thing, and a great bookend to what can easily be called the trip of a lifetime.

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