Photo Essay: Colorful Colonial Buildings in Cartagena, Colombia

We’ve traveled to more than our share of world-class preserved Colonial cities, including Antigua, Guatemala and the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City. Both are gorgeous, but both are handily outdone by the beauty and ambiance of the restored Colonial architecture in the petite, walkable historic center of Cartagena, Colombia. Everywhere you look in this UNESCO World Heritage Site city, which was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, you see fabulous color, playful details (the door knockers are amazing, for example) and living history. Here are some of our favorite examples of colorful Colonial buildings in Cartagena.

IMG_6129_Cartagena IMG_5866_Cartagena IMG_0752_Cartagena IMG_5889_Cartagena IMG_5775_Cartagena IMG_6132_Cartagena IMG_5882_Cartagena IMG_6092_Cartagena
IMG_5901_CartagenaIMG_6056_Cartagena
IMG_5837_CartagenaIMG_5762_Cartagena IMG_0760_Cartagena IMG_5781_Cartagena IMG_5904_Cartagena IMG_5925_Cartagena IMG_6058_Cartagena IMG_6091_Cartagena IMG_6109_Cartagena IMG_6758_Cartagena IMG_0749_Cartagena IMG_5706_Cartagena IMG_5836_Cartagena IMG_5872_Cartagena IMG_5894_Cartagena IMG_6124_Cartagena

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How to Buy the Best Binoculars for Travel

If you’re like us, seeing wildlife is a big part of the thrill of travel and we’ve had plenty of exciting wild animal encounters throughout the Americas including an amazing array of birds in Belize, penguins in Antarctica and these guys in the Galapagos Islands. It helps that Karen inherited eagle eyes from her dad. It also helps to have a good pair of binoculars, like our new Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binos (buy on Amazon or B&H), made by the only company in the world that focuses solely on binoculars. Of course, price matters. However, no matter what your bino budget is here are the basics about how to buy the best binoculars for adventure travel.

lizard on Steiner binoculars

Our Steiner binoculars made friends with the locals at Anaconda Lodge in the Amazon in Ecuador.

How to buy binoculars: key terms

All binoculars come with a confounding set of numbers, such as 8X42. Once and for all, here’s what those numbers mean.

The first number refers to the power of magnification. In the case of 8X42, those binoculars have the power to make things look eight times bigger than they would with the naked eye. So, if you’re looking at something that’s 800 feet away it will look like it’s only 100 feet away.

The number that appears after the X refers to the size of the objective lens in millimeters. The larger the number, the larger the objective lens. Why does that matter? Because larger objective lenses let in more light which means you see brighter images. This is especially important in low light situations like dense forests, cloudy days or at dusk or dawn.

Steiner binoculars - Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

Karen and her Steiners in Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador.

How to buy binoculars: lens coatings

Like cameras, binoculars are only as good as the lenses and one of the key elements of the lenses is the coating on the outside. This coating controls how you see wave lengths of light which affects how you see color when using the binoculars. Low end binoculars often have lens coatings which drop some wave lengths which can result in color distortion.

Higher end binoculars, like Steiners, apply multiple coatings to ensure all wave lengths reach your eye ensuring that you see all colors true to life. Steiner actually created a new lens coating process for its binoculars.

Steiner binoculars - Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Karen and her Steiners in the Galapagos Islands.

How to buy binoculars: focus

It’s true that different binoculars are suited to different needs because seeing a small close object in low light conditions, like spotting a bird in dense jungle, requires different performance than seeing a large object far away in bright light, like a whale in the ocean at distance. For most people, it’s not practical to buy binoculars for each and every situation. That’s where a little something called Sports Auto Focus, offered on many Steiner binoculars models, comes in.

Our Steiner binoculars have Sport Auto Focus and it’s terrific. Karen set the focus of the binoculars one time and the Sport Auto Focus now maintains her settings between 60 feet (20 meters) and infinity. This means she can be looking at a blue footed boobie on the shore of a nearby island one second, then whip around and look out to sea at a pod of dolphins in the far distance without the need to change the focus at all. It’s honestly our favorite thing about our Steiners.

Steiner-binoculars-searching-for-whales

Karen and her Steiners in the Galapagos Islands.

How to buy binoculars: durability

In recent years it’s become easier to find lighter binoculars that are still high quality, which is good news for travelers. But the truth is that quality lenses and a durable body add weight. Our Steiners, for example, weigh 18.5 ounces, in part because they are housed in tough rubber which guards against damage from drops and bumps and provides a comfy, grippy surface in your hands.

For us, a bit of extra weight was worth it for better lenses and better body protection and carrying our Steiners has never been an issue thanks, in part, to the nifty strap we talk about in the next section.

Besides dropping, the other big travel threat to binoculars is moisture inside the binoculars. We’ve taken our Steiners into many super humid situations with confidence because most Steiner models have a nitrogen pressure system which uses dry nitrogen inside the binoculars to reduce the internal oxygen content (and, therefore, any humidity in the oxygen) to a minimum.

How to buy binoculars: worthy accessories

Since Eric almost always has a camera to his face, Karen is the one most often using the binoculars and she’s been carrying binoculars around her neck for decades but she never went for the cross-chest strap accessory because, well, they just scream “bird geek!”. However, we got a cross-chest strap for our Steiners and it makes a world of difference.

First, the weight of the binoculars is evenly distributed, so neck ache is eliminated. The chest straps also means that Karen can walk quickly, run or even gallop on horseback without having a pair of binocular banging against her chest because the cross strap holds them in place. Yes, she looks like a bird geek, but the benefits are worth it.

Another smart accessory to consider is a small, detachable external floatation device that will keep your binoculars afloat if they fall into the water.

There are many more math-intensive things to consider–like field of vision,  zoom configurations and prisms–when buying binoculars, but these binoculars basics should get you started. This hyper-detailed binoculars buying guide from B&H is a great resource if you feel like studying up even more.

Steiner binoculars - TatacoaDesert, Colombia

Karen and her Steiners in the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia.

Steiner Optics supplied a pair of binoculars for us to use and review out here on the road.

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Mountain Mercy – Minca, Colombia

After a few days in the sweltering beach town of Taganga and in sunny, coastal Tayrona National Park we were more than ready for a cool down. In northern Colombia, with its sweaty, slow, Caribbean heat, that means one thing: time to travel to the mountain town of Minca.

The road up to Minca, about nine miles (14 km) from Santa Marta, is narrow, winding and rough but we were undeterred in our quest to get to Finca San Souci which we originally read about the finca in this post from the folks at Life Remotely. We were not disappointed.

Minca view Los Pinos Colombia

The town of Minca, Colombia is in the Sierra Nevada mountains which means cooler temperatures and views like this.

Cool camping in Colombia

Started nearly 20 years ago by Chris, from Germany, and his Colombian wife, Finca San Souci has some basic rooms but we jumped at the chance to do some camping in Colombia and set up our tent for 10,000 COP (about US$4) per person per night including access to a clean cold water shower, two shared toilets and a very cool outdoor kitchen with running water and a fireplace.

There’s also a small swimming pool at Finca San Souci but we are delighted to say it was too cool to use it. At more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Minca delivered the cool temperatures we were after.

Tip: if you’re going to camp in Minca bring groceries and supplies from Santa Marta. There are very few stores or facilities up in Minca. There are no ATMs in Minca either.

SteriPen water purification Minca Colombia

Karen, left, and Teresa (part of the duo we shipped our vehicles with from Panama to Colombia) in a battle of the SteriPENs in the outdoor kitchen at Finca San Souci in Minca.

Travel is better with friends

Another great amenity? Travel mates. Since shipping our truck from Panama to Colombia, we’d been convoying around Colombia with our awesome shipping partners, George and Teresa and “Vida”, their (mostly) trusty Toyota. They’d come up to Minca with us and as we set up our tent on the big, flat lawn they relaxed since Taco has a pop up roof tent that makes camping a breeze.

Besides cool weather, Minca is known for its coffee and its natural beauty. There are hiking trails past waterfalls and up to scenic viewpoints like Los Pinos at more than 5,500 feet (1,700 meters). Wildlife loves the region too. We saw toucans every day in the trees near our tent.

Toucans Minca Colombia

Toucans were our neighbors a we camped at Finca San Souci in Minca.

Minca was one of the most relaxing places we visited in Colombia and we still can’t figure out why there aren’t more tourists in Minca. We liked it so much that the four of us ended up staying for three days and in all that time only two other guests showed up at Finca San Souci.

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