2015 Recap: Dreams do come True – from Backpacking to Luxury Travel #SustainTravel

By Kach Umandap - Howe December 31st, 2015 Posted in Inspiration and Love Stories, Travel Blog, Travel Guides 5 Comments

For everyone who followed us in 2015 – you’ll definitely have noticed the changes in our lifestyle. From running a massage business and teaching English in Peru, which funded our hitch hiking and backpacking trip in South America during the first quarter of the year. Then the second quarter when we volunteered in a Hostel in Costa Rica while building our travel blog. To beginning our 3rd quarter, travelling to 5 South American countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) with my 49-year old mom, to wrapping up our year experiencing luxury travel and hugging Mickey Mouse in Florida, United States of America. You could say that all the hard-work and determination really paid off!

2015 was the most challenging yet exciting year for the both of us  – we’ve traveled every month, built this travel blog from scratch and of course, got ENGAGED!

We traveled to 13 countries within a year … Here’s where we were in 2015.

CHILE – January 2015

We welcomed our year in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile before we headed down to Santiago (the Capital) where we met the guy who left his life in Hollywood to set up his own hostel in Chile. After that, we spent the rest of the month of January hitchhiking in Carretera de Austral in Patagonia Chile (1000 kms). I was able to experience stepping on a Glacier for the first time in my life and the Cuevas del Marmol in Puerto Aysen. (Check out the list of cheap hostels in Chile here.)

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in San Pedro de Atacama, Santiago and Patagonia.

Glacier in Patagonia

Here are some of our stories from that month:

Kach and Jon

AREQUIPA, PERU again – February 2015

We’d been living in Peru since we arrived in South America in June 2014 but decided to do a two-month backpacking trip and land border crossing around Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. On the first week of February, we returned to our home in Arequipa when we received an invitation to attend an Electronic Music and Yoga Festival in Costa Rica.

working in Arequipa Peru

So during that month, we spent most of our time working in our apartment, got our Yellow Fever vaccine, sold our stuff and packed up our life for another unexpected nonstop journey! We were sad to leave our students and massage clients, but life must move on!

Ruta de Sillar, Arequipa Peru
This is Ruta de Sillar, just 20 minutes drive from our house in Arequipa

COSTA RICA – March to May 2015

We initially went to Costa Rica just to attend the Envision Festival but then after 5 days in the country, we found a second hand car being sold for only $1000 so Jonathan and I decided to maximize our visa in Costa Rica (90 days) and travel around the country.. Prior to traveling around Costa Rica, we experienced one of the best sponsored stays in our life because of our Travel blog – with Parador Resort and Spa where we eventually  found a volunteering opportunity in the beautiful beach town of Manuel Antonio. So we worked in the hostel in exchange for food and accommodation while building our blog. *Check this list of Best Backpackers hostels in Costa Rica*

Jonathan with our Costa Rican car, Miguelito
Our Miguelito, he was only $1000 to own! We decided to invest our money in our new baby!
volunteer in Costa Rica
Our Volunteering Family in Costa Rica

In March, we also went to one of the most beautiful destinations in Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula where we met a Nat Geo videographer who invited us on a project he was working on!

Luxury Hotel in Costa Rica
Our luxury stay at Parador Resort and Spa, Costa Rica

In May, we traveled to the Pacific Side of Costa Rica!! It all started in San Jose,  then over to Tortuguero where I finally experienced a private chartered flight, kayaking in the jungle and staying in a beautiful place called Tortuga Lodge with Costa Rica Expeditions! Then down to Puerto Viejo, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica where we swam with horses! We were able to sell our car, Miguelito, to another American backpacker there too – time to move on! After that, we wrapped up our trip at the Tabacon Hotsprings in Arenal Volcano working as Tinggly Ambassadors to review the excursion!

Horseback Riding and Swimming with them in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Horseback Riding and Swimming with them in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

NICARAGUA –  MAY 2015 (Kach Solo Travel)

It was the second week of May when we received our first ever press trip invitation, but it was in Europe! Having a Philippines passport, I needed to get a Schengen visa, then a Croatia visa, but we only had a limited time, so I was not able to go, but Jonathan went with his friend from University on our behalf.

Yoga Detox and Solo Luxury Stay in Aqua Nicaragua
Yoga Detox and Solo Luxury Stay in Aqua Nicaragua
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

So, I planned my solo ten days backpacking trip in Nicaragua where I experienced  Volcano Boarding in Leon, a quick yoga detox in Aqua Nicaragua and just chilled out in San Juan del Sur, which is a famous surf town!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in San Juan del Sur.

CROATIA – MAY 2015 (Jonathan’s Press Trip)

Jonathan attended a one week Press Trip in Istria, Croatia where he was able to experience to taste yummy truffles, sailed and stayed in a lighthouse, went on adrenaline adventure park and a lot more! His older sister even visited him!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Istria.

Istria - Croatia - Two Monkeys Travel 24

PANAMA – JUNE 2015

After ten days of separation which so far was the longest since we got together in 2013, Jonathan and I met up again in Panama City. As Filipino, I needed to get a Panamanian visa so I had already applied for that in Costa Rica (Here’s my story). Just a week stay in Panama City eating Chinese food was enough before we moved on to our next trip. We needed to go to Colombia, but there are only two ways to do that – to fly or to experience the Caribbean Sea sailing to Cartagena via the San Blas Islands. Jonathan insisted that we do the sailing, even though it would cost us $550/each to make the trip, so we booked and joined the lovely couple who own Ave Maria Sailing which is just amazing experience with an awesome Swiss couple.

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Panama and Cartagena.

Panama, Crossing borders in Central America

  •   SAN BLAS ISLANDS – We got engaged while sailing!

In the most unexpected time and location, Jonathan asked me to marry him, I just cried! We already knew we wanted to have family together, but that feeling of a man proposing is still tear-jerking. Rappler even published our engagement story! 

San Blas Sailing - Panama to Cartagena - San Blas Islands
Our San Blas family!
San Blas Sailing - Panama to Cartagena - San Blas Islands
Proud to be ENGAGED with Jonathan Howe

(I asked him why there, he told me so I can enjoy the moment and not have to post it to Facebook immediately! haha! We had three more days on a boat without WIFI, so he was successful!)

COLOMBIA – JUNE 2015

We finally arrived in Cartagena, Colombia and for the first time, I felt like I was back in the Philippines! While in Cartagena, we noticed that hotels were really expensive, we were just 8 months on our travel blogging journey during that time but then Jonathan decided to walk into some nice boutique hotels inside the Walled City and met a French man who ended up hosting us in his boutique hotel for 5 days, on a yacht trip to one of the nearby islands.. great post-engagement celebration!!

Yacht Trip in Cartagena Colombia
Yacht Trip in Cartagena Colombia

We also experienced ‘swimming’ in a small volcano and got washed by old ladies!

Best things to do in Cartagena
Our Volcano experience!
  •   AMAZON TRIP from COLOMBIA to BRAZIL

The flights to Brazil were really expensive so Jonathan, and I had to find another way to save money getting to Brazil. So we flew from Cartagena to Leticia, where the three country borders meet (Peru, Colombia, and Brazil) and we ended up sailing for two weeks in the Amazon sleeping in a hammock!

Hammock in Amazon

Amazon Boat in Brazil Colombia

This was one of the most exciting journeys so far. When we landed in Belem, Brazil we took a flight to Sao Paulo, stayed there for a night and had a welcome dinner at Emiliano Hotel after two weeks of Amazon adventure! The next day, we took a bus to Rio de Janeiro to finally meet my mother (who I hadn’t seen for two years) to travel with her for the next two months!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Belem.

Two Monkeys Travel - things to do in sao paulo 1
Yummy Dinner at Hotel Emiliano in Sao Paulo

BRAZIL and ARGENTINA – JULY 2015

Finally with my mom in Rio de Janeiro, we partnered with some brands and were able to get hosted in nice hotels and tours including the Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro, trip to Christ the Redeemer and Iguassu Falls! We visited most of the coastal towns near Rio de Janiero – Buzios, Paraty, Arraial do Cabo, as well as hanging out on the famous beach of Copacabana where our beautiful sponsored hotel name Porto Bay was just located. We took a hop on hop off bus from the North to the South of Brazil and ended up in Iguassu.

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in  Iguazu Falls and Paraty.

Rio de Janeiro Brazil with my Mama
Rio de Janeiro Brazil with my Mama

hanggliding in Rio de Janeiro

On my birthday, my sister landed in Iguassu after deciding to quit her job and travel with us in South America! We went to the Brazil Side of Iguassu but were refused to enter the Argentina side because we required a visa. So on my 27th birthday, my mom and I took a Helicopter ride over Iguassu! The next day, they went SKYDIVING over Itaupu Dam overlooking Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Iguassu Falls Argentina Side
Jonathan went to Argentina side of Iguassu

Now my mom was indeed a backpacker! Also this time my mom bought us gifts, we finally had a new iPhone and a real DSLR camera to use on our Travel blogging journey (I only had a black and white Nokia phone before this!)

BOLIVIA again– AUGUST 2015 (5 days)

We traveled by land from Brazil to Bolivia, and it took us sleeping on a bus for three nights just to reach La Paz, one of the highest cities in the world! While we were there, we stayed at our friend’s hostel called Adventure Brew where we celebrated our Christmas last year. So happy to return to Bolivia but this time instead of doing extreme activities, we just rode the cable car to see the view of La Paz and walked around the beautiful historic town!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in La Paz / La Paz.

La Paz and the furious
It was not a clear sky that day, but you get to see some mountain tops peaking from the clouds.

PERU again – AUGUST 2015 (2 weeks)

From La Paz, we did another overnight journey to Cuzco, this time we spent most of our time in the Sacred Valley where we first lived when we arrived in Peru in June 2014. We volunteered here for six weeks before we moved to Arequipa, but during this trip, we stayed with one of nicest hotels we’ve ever been which is owned by a young Peruvian couple. INKALLPA is the place to be if you decide to do a Machu Picchu trip. From there, my mom and Krista took the train to Aguas Calientes then walked back the train line track to Hidroelectrica after the Machu Picchu experience.

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

things to do in sacred valley peru - Two Monkeys Travel 26
The lovely family, owner of INKALLPA

Last year, Jonathan and I didn’t have any money, so we ended up just walking the whole 30 km and spent only 70usd per person just to experience this!

Machu Picchu Peru
Last August 2014 in Machu Picchu, Peru

One of the highlights of our trip here was when Jonathan was able to hike and climb to the Skylodge, named as the most exciting hotel in the world! Since I couldn’t do that, I ended up just drinking Pisco sour with Emma (the owner of Inkallpa) and my mom!

things to do in sacred valley peru - Two Monkeys Travel 14
Jonathan’s hike in Skylodge, Sacred Valley

After Cuzco, we went to Mancora, a famous beach party town in north Peru where we celebrated Jonathan’s 31st birthday! After that, Jonathan had to travel to Colombia, via Ecuador, to meet up with his two sisters who were waiting for him there!

ECUADOR –August 2015 (1 week)

Visa Free and Visa-on-Arrival Countries to Visit on 2016 for Filipinos

Since my mom’s flight back to the Middle East was coming soon, we only had a week left in Ecuador then another week in Colombia for her to explore! We went to Banos to experience the swing at the end of the world, as well as doing a quick food trip in Cuenca!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Cuenca / Cuenca.

COLOMBIA again – AUGUST to SEPTEMBER 2015 (2 months)

This was my last week with my mom, so we explored Cali and Bogota. We met up with Jonathan and his siblings there and traveled together exploring the Historic towns of Colombia! My mom had to cook my last Filipino dishes this year, but it’s fine because we will meet her again next year! (Check here for the list of cheap hostels in Bogota)

Two Monkeys Travel - bogota - Colombia 1

After my mom left, Jonathan and I found an apartment in Bogota and paid 3 months rent to catch up with some work (monthly rent was $575USD for a fully furnished 2 bedroom flat), just relax after our non-stop journey since May. During this time, I ended up finishing a lot of TV series.. woohoo!

Our Fully Furnished Apartment in Bogota, Colombia
Our Fully Furnished Apartment in Bogota, Colombia

TURKEY – OCTOBER 2015

We had a great start of the month, we attended one of the most prestigious Travel awards in Latin America, called World Travel Awards, allowing us to meet some important travel related companies and tourism boards. Now excited for 2016!

World Travel Awards in Bogota, Colombia
World Travel Awards in Bogota, Colombia

This month was also amazing, I unexpectedly got my USA Tourist visa after applying at the USA Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, I thought I could only apply in my home country. Then I knew that my dream trip to the Caribbean, Central America, and the USA would be happening soon. Also during that time we got a last-minute invitation to travel to Turkey by the Office of Culture and Tourism. Luckily with my valid USA visa, I didn’t have to go to a Turkish embassy to get my visa, and I could just get it in 10 minutes online… and off we went to Turkey for three weeks!!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Bogota.

Two Monkeys Travel - Pamukkale Turkey 14
Enjoying Pamukkale!

Jonathan and I explored Thrace region, Istanbul, Cappadocia where we met my Aunt and cried while riding a Hot Air Balloon, Pamukkale, Ephesus and even Alacati to meet his family friends!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in IstanbulCappadociaPamukkale, and Ephesus.

Ephesus Turkey
Ephesus Turkey

PS My sister stayed at our Bogota apartment and looked after it while we were away!

Two Monkeys Travel - Cappadocia - Turkey 22

COLOMBIA again– November 2015

After three weeks in Turkey, we flew back to our “home” and just ended up working most of the time in the library to write on the blog. Jonathan got a freelance job writing a guidebook which will be published next year! It was a busy month of working and watching TV series!

Our Fully Furnished Apartment in Bogota, Colombia
Our Fully Furnished Apartment in Bogota, Colombia

FLORIDA, USA – December 2015

This was the best place to wrap up our 2015; I didn’t expect that this trip would even happen! We did a 3-week road trip in Florida with the help of VISIT FLORIDA, the official tourism office of the State! They helped us get sponsored hotels, tours, and even restaurants. We started the trip in Miami then to Del Rey Beach, Naples, Everglades, Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, St Pete, Clearwater and Orlando! YES, my childhood dream finally came true at the age of 27 when we went to Disney World and Universal Studios!!

Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Florida, Miami, Naples, Fort Myers, Clearwater, Orlando, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando.

Naples Grande Luxury Hotel in Florida 2
Naples Grande Luxury Hotel in Florida

We wrapped up our trip to Fort Lauderdale and stayed in the beautiful resort of Lago Mar where we met the owners themselves and got even more inspired to achieve my long term dreams! For Christmas Eve, we stayed at the first hotel where we stayed in Miami, Circa 39 boutique hotel then had a spa massage in Conrad Hilton and wrapped it up with a fine dining dinner in Bourbon Steak Miami.

disneyworld orlando
My first time to visit Disneyworld, dreams do come true!

Who would have thought that these two backpackers would eventually experience all this luxury in the year of 2015? All I know is that I wrote in my diary at the beginning of 2015, that I want to finally experience it again and have a business that would support us even when we’re on the move!

Universal Studios in Orlando
Universal Studios in Orlando

Hard work and law of attraction are indeed working! 

Now, I’m writing this in a public library in Bogota, Colombia while planning for our trips in 2016. 2016 will be ticking off my pre-wedding bucket list! Did I tell you that we just got a new travel gear sponsor?

New Luggage Sponsor - Travel Pro International

New Luggage Sponsor – Travel Pro International

Life is good, dream BIG because dreams do come true!

SM Monkey Section Dividers

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5 thoughts on “2015 Recap: Dreams do come True – from Backpacking to Luxury Travel #SustainTravel

    1. Thank you Tricia! We have a lot of plans this 2016 and I hope we would make it happen! I’m wishing you the best for 2016 too!

  1. Great story and nice piece to read, thanks for sharing! It just goes to show that luxury doesn’t have to cost much 🙂

  2. You had a great year. Very nice stories here. I wanna check them all. I found that the Columbia trip was great. You had a amazing experience like the volcano spa.

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Written by Kach Umandap - Howe

Co-Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 136 countries using her Philippines Passport. In 2016, she got married then a year later bought a sailboat and went on sailing adventures with her two cats - Captain Ahab & Little Zissou in the Caribbean for 2 years. She now lives in Herceg Novi, Montenegro. She writes about her experiences traveling as a Filipina traveler with a PHL Passport. Also tips on backpacking trips, luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.

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