Blog Postings

Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

So there we were…standing on a beautiful white sand beach while looking at the snow-capped Andes in the background.

We left San Gil on an overnight bus to Santa Marta.  This definitely brought us back to our old travelin’ days and of course it was not comfortable but it was the most efficient way to get to the coast without wasting a day of travel.  We landed in Taganga, a town that used to be a sleepy little fishing village until travelers started making their way there to access Tayrona National Park.  The town is now a full on backpacker ghetto and as Jason puts it a “real dump”.  We based ourselves here to do a bit of diving and to explore the nearby national park.  The first afternoon we headed out for a two tank boat dive.  It was the first time either of us had been in the water in about a year so it felt good to get out again.  We realized though once we got on the boat, our dive guide didn’t speak a word of English.  This might not seem important when you are underwater, but as he went over hand signals and explained the dive, we were pretty lost.  Besides the language barrier, the diving was pretty decent; we saw a few eels, some lobster and lots of colorful fish.  For us, it wasn’t so much about what we saw, it was just nice being under the water again.

The next day we headed into Tayrona National Park, which is known for its many nice beaches.  To get into the park, you get dropped off at the main gate and then you hike along the coast, visiting all the beaches along the way.  There are several places to sleep inside the park and you can walk as far as you want before grabbing a place to spend the night.  We decided to stay at the popular Cabo San Juan beach and we made our way there by walking through the lush green jungle and along a few beaches for about two hours.  It was a beautiful (and very hot) walk where we got to see some monkeys and a few lizards.  When we arrived, we were able to book one of the popular hammocks that swing up in a cabana above the ocean.  The cabana holds about 15 hammocks out in the open overlooking the water, it was a picturesque place to spend the night, but turned out being one of the most miserable night sleeps we both had.  Sleeping in a hammock might sound like fun, but for both of us, it was extremely uncomfortable and surprisingly cold.  But it is all about the experience, right?   After a restless night sleep, we headed back out of the park the following day.  We met some wonderful fellow Americans in the park and they offered us a seat on their private shuttle back which was a nice way to head back into town.

Wanting to relax a bit, we spent the following day just hanging by our hotel pool before jumping on another bus to make our way to Palomino.  Palomino sits on a lovely stretch of sand just a few hours from Taganga.  It was much less touristic and definitely more peaceful then where we came from, so we enjoyed a few days here lounging around in hammocks and on the beach.  Once of the cool things about Palomino is that while standing at the ocean, you can look behind you and see 20,000 ft snow capped mountains.  We have never seen anything like it in the world, but it made for a beautiful backdrop.

With time winding down, we headed back the same way we came and travelled onward to Cartagena.  The city is full of old colonial charm and we found it to be a very pleasant place to end our trip.  The old part of the city is surrounded by a large fort and inside the walls are wonderfully preserved buildings with stunning Spanish Colonial architecture.  The best thing to do there is get lost in the city and that is exactly what we did.  We wandered around the blistering hot streets until we couldn’t take it anymore and had to escape to our air conditioned hotel room.  As our time wrapped up, Jason asked “what would you tell people about a Colombia?” and we agreed that it is a misunderstood country that is extremely safe and is so diverse with wonderful, warm people and tons of great places to visit.  We hope that more people will give Colombia a chance, as you will not be disappointed.

Highlights

  • Floating the river in Palomino straight down into the ocean, we got a little sunburned, but it was a fun way to spend a few hours
  • Cartagena as a whole was a wonderful city to spend a few days
  • The beaches of Tayrona National Park
  • Palominos snow capped peaks, it was one of the most stunning places we saw
  • Our wonderful rooms in Cartagena, thank you Dad for the Hilton points, it was a great hotel!

Lowlights

  • The horrible facilities inside Tayrona, they make a KILLING on what tourists pay to get into the park and the area is poorly maintained
  • Our night spent in the park, sleeping in a hammock is overrated

 

First beach in Tayrona National Park
First beach in Tayrona National Park
Second beach in Tayrona
Second beach in Tayrona
That's our hammock cabana in the background!
That’s our hammock cabana in the background!
Stunning sunrise over Cabo San Juan
Stunning sunrise over Cabo San Juan
Palomino's stretch of sand
Palomino’s stretch of sand
View from our hostel in Palomino
View from our hostel in Palomino
Enjoying being beach bums again!
Enjoying being beach bums again!
View of the peaks from the ocean
View of the peaks from the ocean
Cartagena
Cartagena
Cartagena's old city inside the fort
Cartagena’s old city inside the fort
On top of the fort walls
On top of the fort walls
Looking out at Cartagena's new city and more ritzy area, Bocagrande
Looking out at Cartagena’s new city and more ritzy area, Bocagrande

Colombian Honeymoon Parte Dos

So there we were…floating over Colombia’s spectacular landscape from high up in the sky around the hills of San Gil.
 
After our quiet time in Villa de Leyva, we were ready for some more action so we headed to San Gil, a town that is known as the adventure capital of Colombia.  The surrounding hillside boasts a variety of adrenaline activities including white water rafting, abseiling, mountain biking and paragliding.  We really wanted to do the mountain bike trip, but we arrived late in the day and the only tour going while we were in town was full.  So we settled into our wonderful room at Macando hostel and pondered our choices.  We decided on an afternoon paragliding trip, neither one of us have ever done this activity before and we thought it would be a great way to see the surrounding hills from above.
 
Since our trip was not until the afternoon, we decided to venture out in the city for the morning.  We started at the local market which is always a great place to wonder and people watch.  The fresh fruit always looks so refreshing and for breakfast we had a yummy fruit salad full from one of the stands.  Strolling out of the market and along the Rio Fonce (the local river) we landed inside the Parque El Gallinera which is known for its “Old Man’s Beard” trees.  It was soon time for our paragliding and we hopped in the car with 3 local teenagers (our guides) who bumped extremely loud Colombian and American rap music for most of the ride up.  Once we got to the top, we really didn’t have to do much to get up in the air.  Our guides just had us sit back and relax while they caught some wind and off we went.  The views were spectacular with many tobacco and coffee fields below as well as Chicamocha Canyon off in the distance.  The ride only lasted 20 minutes or so, but we both had a great time.  We mentioned it would be a fun activity to learn how to do ourselves back home!
 
The following day we caught a bus to another nearby colonial city Barichara.  Looking slightly similar to Villa de Leyva, the old buildings, main square and churches all had the same “old city” feel.  The dramatic views though from the edge of the town have helped name this one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia.  The town looks out over some very large mountains, making for picturesque views in all directions.  We left the city sweaty and hot and ready for a dip, so we jumped in a taxi to take us out to Cascadas de Juan Curi , a stunning 120 meter waterfall outside of town.  Afternoon showers are common here and right as we started our short hike up to the waterfall, the rain came down on us.  It eventually passed, but the weather made the waterfall slightly chilly for swimming.  We hung out though for an hour or so before hitching a ride back to San Gil just in time to catch our 13 hour overnight bus ride to Santa Marta…more to come from the Caribbean Coast!
 
Highlights
  • Our room in San Gil, our hostel had some new private rooms and it was one of the nicest rooms we have stayed in so far
  • El Mana, a wonderful restaurant in San Gil, they do a set menu everyday for lunch and we ate there as much as we could because it was some of the best food we have had yet
  • Paragliding over the Colombian country side
  • Our side trips to Barichara & the Juan Curi waterfall, it was nice exploring the area

Lowlights

  • Not being able to do the bike trip, it was supposed to be an epic day of riding over 50 km and we heard really great things about the tour…we will just have to come back and do it again next time!
Barbas de viejo (old man's beard)
Barbas de viejo (old man’s beard)
One of the birds in Parque El Gallineral
One of the birds in Parque El Gallinera
Paragliding over the hills around San Gil
Paragliding over the hills around San Gil
Jason taking off
Jason taking off
After the paragliding adventure
After the paragliding adventure
Views in every direction
Views in every direction in Barichara
Cemetery with interesting stone tombs in Barichara
Cemetery with interesting stone tombs
Sweeping views of the area surrounding Barichara
Sweeping views of the area surrounding Barichara
The best way to enjoy the city is to just wander the old streets
The best way to enjoy the city is to just wander the old streets
Jason with his Hormigas Culonas (fat-bottom ants), a culinary tradition that dates back 500 years...yum!
Jason with his Hormigas Culonas (fat-bottom ants), a culinary tradition that dates back 500 years…yum!
Enjoying the falls once the rain stopped
Enjoying the falls once the rain stopped
Cascadas de Juan Curi
Cascadas de Juan Curi

Colombian Honeymoon

So there we were…beginning our honeymoon the best way we know how – by sleeping in the Fort Lauderdale airport – ahh, life on the road again for The Blyth’s!

Many people asked us if we were going to write a blog about this trip and we had shrugged it off as a short adventure and that there might not be much to report home about, but given the misconception many people have about Colombia, we thought it would be helpful to share more about our trip and what a wonderful experience we have had so far.

It took us a day or two to get our travel legs back but when we arrived in Bogotá after a sleepless overnight in the airport, the crazy taxi driver brought us both back to reality.  We quickly realized we were back on the road and in a place where taxi drivers find it acceptable to go 100 mph while you can’t find a seatbelt in the backseat.  After settling into our private room at the hostel, we headed out to find some food and explore the city.  One of the first things you notice when wandering the streets is the graffiti everywhere.  You think it must be legal because there is so much of it, but we learned it is in fact against the law.  The second thing we noticed was all the policemen, not only roaming the streets but also stationed on several main blocks.  In a country like this, we were a bit unsure if they would be on our side if something went down,  but it made us feel slightly better none the less.  La Candeleria (the area where we were staying) is considered the ‘old city’ and the historic buildings and narrow streets gave it a lot of charm for such a big city.  We spent our time checking out all the nearby sites, old churches, the main square and the many judicial buildings that surround it.

It didn’t take us long to be ready to move on from the capital city and we soon landed in what felt like a world away.  We arrived in Villa de Leyva later than expected after a “direct” bus not only stopped a million times to let people on and off, but also took the most indirect way possible.  We quickly found a cute hostel just off the main street, dropped our bags and went out exploring.  Visiting here is like taking a step back in time. The streets are made from original cobblestone, all of the buildings are painted white with terracotta roofs and the town sits below a wonderful backdrop of rolling green mountains.  When you wander the narrow streets and you can’t help but eventually run into Plaza Mayor, the main square with a large church, straight out of an old Spanish western movie.  After popping in a few restaurants to check out some menus for dinner, we were stunned at the prices, but after a stroll around the plaza, we quickly realized that we were not the only tourists.  This is where rich Colombians, many from Bogotá, come to spend their weekends, spending money that we were a little shocked so many of them had.  So far we have found all of Colombia to be very expensive and wonder how many locals can pay these prices based on the average low salary.  All of the accommodation, food and transportation has been much higher than we anticipated.

Even though we only spent one night in Villa de Leyva, we had a great time.  We did what all the local tourists do; we wandered the quiet streets, drank beer in the Plaza, ate an expensive pizza at a nearby restaurant and just soaked up the cities charm.  Before leaving, we were able to explore the surrounding hills with a quick hike to get views from above.  Overall,  it was a short trip, but definitely a highlight for us so far.

Now off to do some more adventures before hitting the beach…more to come!

Highlights

  • Doing a Bogotá Bike Tour where we got to explore the city by bike.  We were able to cover a lot of ground and get a lot of insight about the country from our guide.  We are also thankful neither one of us got hit by a car or bus, there were a few close calls.
  • The quaint cit of Villa de Leyva and the surrounding hills
  • The beautiful countryside we have passed so far on our bus rides, the country is stunning in all directions

Lowlights

  • A noisy room in Bogotá with loud guests which made for some sleepless nights (are we getting old or what?)
  • Our “direct” bus that took 2 hours longer than it should have, we don’t have as much travel time as before so it was frusterating!

 

Bogotá’s main square – Plaza de Bolivar
Bogotá’s street graffiti
Bogota Bike Tour
More street graffiti
Views of Bogotá from above
Charming streets of Villa de Leyva
Plaza Mayor and its beautiful backdrop
Villa de Leyva
Views from our hike in the hills around Villa de Leyva
Amazing sunset around the Plaza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kalalau Trail – The Garden of Eden

So there we were…hiking on the trail when a 60+ year old naked man wearing nothing more than a backpack passed us on the trail and said “welcome to the Garden of Eden…”

Since we had known that we were coming to Hawaii for several months, Jason brought up taking a trip to Kauai to hike the Kalalau trail along the Na Pali Coast.  I had never heard of the trail, but after hearing what Jason had to say about the hike and reading online that it was one of the most beautiful hikes int he world, we quickly made the decision to stop over after leaving Maui.  We also mentioned the hike to my brother Josh since he wasn’t able to come join on us on our trip and he decided to fly over and join as well.

So, we said goodbye to my parents again (this time knowing they would see us again soon) and we flew to Lihue, Kauai.  Josh didn’t arrive until the day after us so we spent our time cruising the coastline and visiting the stunning Waimea Canyon until he arrived.  Once Josh arrived, we settled in to our hotel for an early night sleep before beginning the hike.  Up the next morning at 4:30 am, we made the hour drive north to Ke’e beach where the trail began.

Moving slowly this early in the morning, we climbed the steep steps in the beginning of the trail which brought us to a wonderful cliff edge where we watched the sun rise around us. After only a few miles, we began to realize why this hike is so popular.  The trail followed along the coastline the entire way, curving in toward beautiful waterfalls and then out again along drop-offs that fell into the ocean.  The trail was not very wide in some areas and it was important to watch our footing at all times.  The scariest part of the whole trail was about half way to the beach when we had to walk down loose rock and unstable ground as the ocean pounded below right over the edge.  We had heard about this area of the trail beforehand and even though it wasn’t as bad as we had thought, we were happy when it was over.

As we continued along the trail, the green backdrop up against the blue ocean became more and more amazing.  All three of us stopped several times just to take it all in.  As we made it to mile 9, the sign for Kalalau beach (our final destination) appeared and so did more spectacular views.  From above, we could see the amazing stretch of white sand with beautiful green mountains towering over it.  Happy to be almost to our campsite, we climbed down toward the ocean and eventually made our way to “the beach”.

Arriving at Kalalau beach was an experience we had been slightly prepared for.  A few people had mentioned the naked hippies and when our 60 year old naked friend passed us on the trail, we had a feeling for what we were getting ourselves in to.  Walking through the camping area, we found everyone from long-term tenants who had made this place a home to people like us who were just passing through for a night or two.  Because we were limited on time and camping gear, we were only staying for one night.  The beach is only accessible by hiking the 11-miles in/out or by hiring a boat to drop you off and pick you up.  We were so happy that we had made the hike and got to see all the views along the way, but we all commented on how next time, we will hire a boat so we can bring a cooler with some beer and stay for more than one night.

Since we didn’t carry a tent (it was too heavy), we laid out our tarp on the beach, thinking that would be the most comfortable place to sleep.  When the sun started to set, a few dark clouds rolled in and we began to worry.  Jason remembered an area near by with a cliff overhead where we could sleep underneath, so we moved our set up a little ways down the beach.  Lucky for us, it didn’t rain and in the morning, we awoke to a typical day at Kalalau beach…several different naked men were up brewing coffee, cooking breakfast and doing yoga.  🙂

After our wonderful morning show, we had a quick breakfast and got back on the trail for our 11 mile hike out.  It was a long and tiring trip out, but eventually we made our way back to Ke’e beach where we celebrated with a quick dip in the ocean before heading to our hotel.

The following day we gave our legs some rest and relaxed together at the hotel before heading back out to Waimea Canyon.  Josh didn’t get a chance to see the canyon since we went before he arrived so I took another trip with him so he could see the great views as well.  Soon it was time for Josh to head back to Maui.  We spent our last day loungin’ at the beach and snorkeling around Tunnel Beach.  We saw a few cool fish, but after all of the snorkeling we did around Asia, Kauai just didn’t compare.

Once Josh had flown back to Maui, it was time for us to move on as well.  We boarded a flight to Honolulu where we spent just one night before heading back to the mainland.  We are very thankful to Scott & Robin (my parent’s friends) for putting us up and taking great care of us in Honolulu, we enjoyed checking out Diamond Head and Waikiki for a few days.

Finally it was time to jump on our plane to LAX.  We were very excited to make our way to southern California not only to see many friends but to celebrate the marriage of our friends Erick & Mandy!

Highlights

  • Of course the Kalalau trail and all of its naked hippies
  • The drive through Waimea canyon, it was so nice, some of us did it twice!
  • Having more quality time with Josh
  • Scoring some awesome burritos from a taco truck in Poipu
  • The entire north coast of Kauai, the backdrop is fantastic

Lowlights

  • So many noisy helicopters and boats along the Na Pali coast while hiking, we know other people want to see the great views too, but it took away from the secluded atmosphere of the hike
Waimea Canyon
First view of the Na Pali Coast from the end of Waimea Canyon
Trying to take in the beauty of the hike
The pictures don't do it justice
After making it past the "sketchy" part of the trail with steep dropoffs
So happy we could share this with Josh
Catching our first glance of Kalalau beach and its beautiful backdrop
Best campsite ever!
Enjoying the sunset at Kalalau beach
It really was the Garden of Eden
Heading back out on day two
Made it past the sketchy cliff area again on the way back
Na Pali Coast - great views around ever corner
Tunnels beach
Enjoying Kauai beach time with Josh
The views from Hanalei town

Maui Wowee

Wowee…it has been too long since we have posted anything!  Sorry about that, we have finally made it back to the US and have been busy seeing a lot of friends and family.

Our flight out of Manila was direct to Honolulu where we switched planes and made our way to Maui.  My brother Josh picked us up from the airport and greeted us with the customary Hawaiian “lei”.  We quickly made our way to his house in Kihei and discussed the best way to surprise my Mom who didn’t know we were back yet.  My Mom and Dad were staying at a nice condo down the road from my brother’s house and with some help from my Dad, Jason and I slowly rounded the corner on their patio and entered in the back siding door.  Immediately my Mom looked up and screamed “oh my gosh, what are you guys going here?!!”  After some hugs and a few tears, we settled in with my parents and my Mom explained that she actually already knew that I was coming to Hawaii.  After months of lying to her and many of our friends, she knew along!  She didn’t know that Jason was coming though and she thought that we were going back to The Philippines after a few weeks.  She was excited to have us both home and even more ecstatic to find out we were home for good!

Even though she knew we were coming and the surprise didn’t work out as well as we had planned, it was so great seeing my family again and to be there in person to celebrate my parent’s anniversary.  Our time in Maui was a great way to transition back to the US.  We kept busy with so many different things.  Josh and his girlfriend Heather took us out several times to teach us how to do stand-up paddle boarding, we did several hikes as a family, we drove the road to Hana and even enjoyed a sunset cocktail cruise to celebrate my parent’s 30th anniversary.  We did so much, we thought we would let our photos tell the story…enjoy!

Arriving in the US - Josh picking us up in Maui!
Suprising my Mom and seeing my parents for the first time
Enjoying some drinks with Josh and his girlfriend Heather
Beach time and stand-up paddleboarding with the family
Jason getting the hang of SUP
Dad looking great on his board!
Josh and Heather showing off their SUP skills
So many amazing views!
Enjoying some sunset cocktails
Swinging bridges hike with the family
Celebrating my parents 30th anniversary on the sunset cruise
Love seeing the American flag!
After the sunset cruise
Hiking the Haleakala crater
Mom and Dad taking in the spectacular crater views
More family time
Love my Dad!
Black sand beach on the road to Hana
Jason enjoying the 400 ft Waimoku waterfall
Falling in love does rock...doesn't it?

The Philippines – Our Final Stop in Asia

So there we were…eating, drinking, napping, swimming, snorkeling…eating, drinking, napping, swimming…

After our time in Borneo, we were ready for some chilled out beach time and that is exactly what we got.  Because it was currently typhoon season in The Philippines, we had to choose our destination carefully.  We decided on the large island of Palawan which sits in an area that normally does not see too much rain this time of year.  After a flight into Manila, we flew on to Puerto Princesa, the biggest city in Palawan.  It was not a place you really want to hang out for too long so after one night, we traveled to our first destination of Sabang.

Anyone who comes to Palawan is heading to Sabang to visit the underground river.  An amazing cave system has been created with a freshwater river flowing into the ocean.  The best way to view the caves is by taking a boat ride up river through the inside.  Upon arriving in Sabang, we were very pleasantly surprised to realize that besides the underground river, there was also a beautiful beach to hang out at.  Most people only come and visit the river during the day so around sunset, the beach cleared out and it felt like our own little island paradise.  We were only planning on staying for two nights, but with its relaxed vibe and spectacular beach, we kept extending our stay.

After five nights in Sabang and a quick trip to the underground river, we found some travellers to share a boat to a private island which was home to the Coconut Island Beach Resort.  The morning we left on the boat, the clouds rolled in and it looked like a storm might begin.  Neither of us really thought much of it until we got on our tiny banka (boat) and started getting out on the ocean.  The huge swells and white caps not only got us (and all of our bags) soaking wet, they almost tipped over our rickety boat.  We thought for sure that we were going over and would have to swim to shore.  Three hours later, we were so thankful to pull around and see the resort up ahead.  The boat ride had been one of the scariest rides we have had on this trip!

Unfortunately, several days of rain followed and the resort quickly cleared out with people heading back to the mainland of Palawan.  We decided to stay one extra day and got lucky with sunny weather.  We ended up being the only people still at the resort so we had the entire island and beach to ourselves!  It was a fantastic place to hang out once the weather cleared up. 

Moving on from Coconut Garden, we took another boat (this one was much more sturdy!) to the nearest city of Port Barton.  More beach time and more beautiful sunsets, we spent several days here before moving onto our final destination of El Nido.  El Nido is also a place that is on everyone’s list who comes to Palawan.  In the northern part of the island, the sleepy fishing town is always busy with tourists coming to explore the surrounding Bacuit archipelago.  Right off shore, huge limestone cliffs jet out of the water.  As our trip was soon coming to an end, we spent most of our time in El Nido just relaxing and drinking San Miguel (the local beer).  One of the days, we hired a boat to take us out on the water to see some of the spectacular scenery and secluded beaches surrounding the town.  We had made friends with an Australian named Kerry in Port Barton and much of our time in El Nido was spent with him.  He joined us for our boat ride and together we visited some beautiful coves and picture perfect beaches. 

All good things must come to end though and eventually it was time to leave Palawan and head back to Manila.  We spent our days in Manila scouring the shopping malls and markets for some good, cheap knockoffs and loaded up our bags for the trip home.  After 14 months on the road, it was finally time to head stateside.  We were heading to Maui to surprise my Mom for my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary and even though we wouldn’t be home for several more months, leaving Manila was emotional.  Looking back at all the amazing things we have done, people we have met and things we have seen, it was hard not to be sentimental.  We have many great things to look forward to back in the States, but just knowing we were leaving the craziness of backpacking around the would was tough to think about.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading about our adventure and we hope that you will continue to read the blog as we have a few more places to report on before starting our life back in Denver!  Stay tuned!

Highlights

  • Cruisin’ the dark passages of the underground river
  • The wide distribution of cheap San Miguel beer and dirt cheap Tanduay rum
  • Island hopping around El Nido
  • Chilled out time in Sabang

Lowlights

  • Horrible boat ride from Sabang to Coconut Garden Resort, we were lucky we got there safely
Beach in Sabang
Exploring the area around Sabang
Entrance to the underground river
Our own private beach at Coconut Garden Resort
Local basketball game on the backroads of Port Barton
The colorful Filipino Jeepney
One of the many amazing sunsets around Port Barton
Hiking around El Nido
Jason and Kerry enjoying our private beach outside of El Nido
The view in front of our hotel in El Nido
Enjoying the scenery around the Bacuit archipelago
Amazing views around El Nido
Becky trying to bargin for a puppy to bring home on our last day in Manila
Our last night out in Manila before flying to Maui

The Legendary Sipadan

So there we were…exploring the underwater life at one of the top diving destinations in the world.

When diving in Indonesia, everyone we met said “you’re going to Borneo? You MUST go diving at Sipadan!” We had never heard of this place before, probably since we were a bit new to diving, but after doing some research online, we made a plan to visit the infamous island of Sipadan to see what it was all about. This was, yet again, another thing in Borneo where we had to plan ahead, but this time we did! Only 120 permits are given out for diving at Sipadan each day and they can be sold out months in advance. This being our last stop in Borneo, it was easy to work out some dates and email some diving operators. After several “we are sold out” emails, we came across Billabong Scuba who had two permits for us.

After ending our time at the river, our day of diving at Sipadan was still almost a week away. Once again, we tried to visit another jungle park for animals spotting, but again, since we didn’t plan ahead, the accommodation was full and we were not able to go. So, we decided to head to Semporna (the coastal, gateway town to Sipadan) to see if we could do more fun diving around some of the other surrounding islands. Semporna turned out to be one of the worst towns we have visited and not a place you want to spend more than one night. We quickly tried to find an alternative place to spend a few days and came across Singamata Resort. The entire hotel is built on stilts over the clear blue water so you can leave your room and step right down into the water, it was exactly what we were looking for. Since they also had a dive shop, Becky decided to do her PADI Advanced Diving Course (Jason didn’t want to do his) and Jason spent his days snorkeling and visiting the surrounding islands on some fun dives. It was a great place to relax and dive for several days before it was time for our reservation at Billabong.

Several years ago there used to be accommodation out on the island of Sipadan, but to protect the area and underwater life, they ordered all dive centers to leave. Now, all the dive shops operate out on the island of Mabul, a short boat ride away from dive sites. This is where Billabong’s accommodation was and where we bunkered down for several days. In order to get a Sipadan permit, you first had to dive around Mabul, which turned out to have some great things to see. Doing three dives, we saw a lot of frogfish, many turtles, a large jellyfish, some eels, stingrays and even a spotted eagle ray. We were very happy with our diving around Mabul but were anxious to see what Sipadan was all about.

The next morning, it was finally time to head out to the legendary Sipadan. A beautiful white-sand beach greeted us as the boat pulled in and we hoped off to register. After a quick briefing by our dive master, we jumped in and soon spotted our first of many turtles. The entire island is surrounded by a huge, deep wall and each dive site is similar with beautiful, colorful corals and plenty of big fish. The animal to spot here is the hammerhead shark, but to find them you must be very lucky. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any hammerheads, but on all three dives, the underwater life was overwhelming. We saw too many turtles to count, sometimes three or four all around us swimming, a few sleeping on the coral wall and we even saw some stuck together in a turtle sandwich mating. We spotted about 20 sharks, huge schools of jackfish, barracuda, another eagle ray and many other supersized fish. Everywhere we looked there was something impressive swimming around us. So did it live up to the hype? You bet it did! Now we know why so many people told us to go there, it was the one of the best days of diving we have done of this whole trip.

After visiting Singamata and then diving around Mabul and Sipadan, we both needed a break from the water. We spent our last few days in Borneo just relaxing at Billabong before heading back to Kota Kinabalu where we had to catch a flight. Next stop, The Philippines, where we are looking forward to becoming a beach bum for several weeks!

Highlights

  • Of course, diving at Sipadan, it was an amazing underwater experience
  • The other diving around the islands, we saw a lot of unique things and were able to practice our underwater photography
  • Becky finishing her PADI Advanced Course

Lowlights

  • Having too much time in Malaysian Borneo, we booked plane tickets to far in advance so we were kind of ‘stuck’ there with not enough to do. This led to many boring days.
Enjoying the view over Singamata, the floating resort
Catching the end of a wonderful sunset at Singamata
Sunset over some of the homes in Mabul
Cock fighting on the back streets of Mabul island
Always love seeing turtles
Large crocodilefish
Head of a snake eel - the rest of his body is buried under the sand
Frogfish
Giant jellyfish
Spotted eagle ray
Jason below the tornado of jackfish
Yellowtail barracuda
Grey reef shark
Happy diving at Sipadan