Fitness, Food, and Fun: Boulder, Colorado

Just a 50 minute drive from Denver, Boulder is a nice town with two sides to it: the university and the nature. CU Boulder takes up several blocks in the center of the town, and parks and canyons fill the rest of Boulder. We drove through the university for about ten minutes, then visited Chautauqua Park and the Flatirons, followed by Pearl Street, Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder Canyon, and Eldorado Canyon.

Chautauqua Park is the place in Boulder where locals go to exercise. You can walk around, hike to the top of the Flatirons (huge sandstone formations), or climb the rocks. Boulder residents are super fit. One woman was running up the mountain, an old couple and their dog were hiking, and several young couples spent the day rock climbing. The park is a nice place to slow down, take a deep breath, and take in a scenic view. The grass is bright green and there are dandelions and flowers everywhere (no wonder people love to exercise there!). On the way up to the top, there are many places to stop and catch your breath or take photos. Be sure to bring a good pair of shoes, water, a granola bar, and high-altitude sunscreen.

For lunch, we ate on Pearl Street in Downtown Boulder. Pearl Street has its fair share of stores (Billabong, Patagonia, Steve Madden, Volcom) and restaurants, as well as a few hippies and homeless folk. In the mood for sandwiches, we sat down at Riffs Urban Fare. I had a delicious Cuban sandwich full of flavorful cubes of pork, while the guys had salmon sandwiches (which they enjoyed). I’ll never forget The Flourless Chocolate Nutella Cake. To digest, we walked up and down Pearl Street. Not surprisingly, my brother spotted a professional rock climber hanging out with friends. Before leaving, we chatted with a cashier at Patagonia and he told us about the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, which he described as “another bike-friendly city with a downtown like Boulder’s.” I looked it up on Google Images and added it to my list of future travels.

Next, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park. As a Floridian, my national parks consist of beaches and the Everglades, so I was excited to go to a different type of national park. I had planned to visit Lower Chaos Canyon, Upper Chaos Canyon, Lake Haiyaha, and Emerald Lake, but we didn’t reach any of those. RMNP is huge. Instead, we saw a big waterfall (Alluvial Falls) and lots of bighorn sheep walking through fields. The park was nice, but we didn’t have time to return. Maybe I’ll stay at the Rocky Mountains on a future trip to Colorado.

Finally, we headed towards Boulder’s canyons for some climbing. Boulder Canyon makes for a nice drive and anywhere you pull off is a great place to walk through nature. During the drive, we saw a deer and walked from boulder to boulder for about an hour. Boulder Canyon was a fun place to boulder due to the various shaded areas and the lack of crowds. Close by is Eldorado Canyon, a park I really liked. It was a sort of retreat for locals (a few families were there for picnics and fishing). A creek runs throughout the park and there is a walking bridge to access a small cave, walking trails, and plenty of rock walls. For $8 plus a nice park ranger, Eldorado was a great end to our stay in Boulder.

Adventures in a Rainforest

Fourteen days is a long time, and, although Puerto Rico has beautiful beaches, I knew I could not spend two weeks straight in the sun.

Of course, I found something different. If you are seeking a unique, full day adventure in Puerto Rico, Acampa Nature Adventure Tours is the way to go. Our journey with Acampa, however, was not a tour. I chose their full day excursion through the Toro Negro Rainforest in Ciales (central PR) because it included several fun hikes, a waterfall climb, a late lunch, zip lines, and swimming.

The day began at sunrise, when our guides, Josue and Reynard, picked us up in San Juan. We joined the three additional couples in their van. Then, the guides drove for about an hour, during which we saw several different ecosystems. The guides, geologists, really seemed to love their job.

We began somewhere on a mountain in Toro Negro and the guides briefed us about the day ahead while handing us safety gear. Both Josue and Reynard were knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. We hiked down a path to taste fresh coffee beans, climbed up a small waterfall, and walked through some clear creeks– nothing more than hip deep, unless you decide to jump in the deep hole for fun.

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Different attitudes towards the waterfall climb

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My brother halfway through

What I enjoyed most about this excursion was that it was not a hike for-six-hours-straight deal. Instead, we went on short, fairly easy hikes, and stopped along the way for some interesting geology. We zoomed back to the camp where we started by a series of 5 zip lines.

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I don’t want to give it all away, but here’s what you need to know:

1.) Lunch was delicious (everyone got up for seconds)

2.) The zip lines were safe (unlike other, more touristic zip line attractions on the island)

3.) Toro Negro Rainforest is higher than El Yunque National Rainforest, Puerto Rico’s main attraction, but it’s definitely not a tourist trap. We have friends who live in Puerto Rico and had never heard of Acampa before we went.

Acampa’s website includes plenty of information from prices, to clothes to wear, to requirements. I also see that they’ve added a 100ft rappel into a hidden canyon to this excursion. Fun!

Another Beautiful Day in Paradise

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While on a road trip in Puerto Rico, my family stopped in a small town called Naguabo to see an island I read about while planning our visit. Riddled with old homes all close together, this town looks abandoned. In front of the houses, however, lies a sidewalk, a wall, and the sea. Soon after we arrived in Naguabo, there seemed to be a street market going on– local families were selling necklaces, hammocks, sweet treats, instruments, and handmade decorations. We walked by each little hut and ended up buying a güiro (a classic Latin American instrument) that was handmade right in front of us by an old man.

Later, we looked for the parking garage where we were supposed to go to in order to meet a man named Frank. After poring through internet sites and books about Puerto Rico, I found this man’s business. I read that Frank, who goes by “Captain Paco,” takes small groups to a close-by island called Cayo Santiago (AKA Monkey Island). This island is home to the University of Puerto Rico’s Caribbean Primate Research Center. What interested me most about Captain Paco’s ad was that his trip included snorkeling. So I called him.

“Another beautiful day in paradise! This is Paco,” he answered. We were already excited. We chose a date and time with him and now he sitting in his boat, waiting for us. We hopped in, eager to see what was to come.

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 Getting ready to go

His boat, La Paseadora, was spacious and comfortable. Captain Paco came well prepared, too: he brought conch shells to call the monkeys, a large sandwich for us to share, some musical instruments, and full snorkeling gear. On the way to the key, he told us a little bit about himself (he’s retired from the Coast Guard) and the history of the island. The island itself is off limits to humans, since there are a bunch of monkeys living there. Anyway, as soon as Captain Paco anchored the boat, we saw the monkeys walking around. I was impressed by the monkeys, since I imagined they would be up in trees the whole time we were there.

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The first monkey we saw

Paco gave us shoes and snorkel gear, then we jumped in and swam to a nearby ship wreck. It isn’t huge like you see in movies or TV ads, but it’s visible and there are fish there. It was nice to relax in the sea and swim with the little fish. We watched them swarm the small chunks of bread we threw in their direction, then quickly swam away :). When we got tired, we took turns kayaking closer to the island. At a certain point, we got off the kayak to walk in the crystal clear water where patches of white sand were surrounded by sea grass teeming with life. We even saw a jelly fish, to which my mom yelled, in the spur of the moment, “Look, a jelly bean!” Before we took off for the mainland, Captain Paco let us get on top of the boat, my dad pulled the anchor in, and we all played instruments.

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Part of the ship wreck

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Playing instruments

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Another beautiful day in paradise it was.

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Travel Tip #1: Never back out too early.

To contact Captain Paco for reservations, call him at 787-850-7881 or 787-316-0441.