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It’s been a while since we visited other non-neighboring states other than Florida, New York or Rhode Island, but last month we were adventurous and took a hiking trip to Colorado. We have never officially hiked, nor gone to national parks in the U.S., so this rather spontaneous trip of 12 days was a planning rollercoaster.
We literally booked our flights in late August for a departure date of September 9, and were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to buy hiking boots and gear. The good news, it all worked out in the end, and we enjoyed somewhat winging it for this trip.
Colorado has been on our list of states to visit for a while, and the desire only grew since our friend Jana from GoodLifeXplorers lives there now and posts ridiculously gorgeous pictures of her hikes in the state. While Colorado is well known for its big mountains, and there are plenty of articles on 14,000 ft. climbs, I couldn’t find much on first visits for amateur hikers during my research. So, I hope our posts about this trip will help other newbies like us explore this gorgeous state.
Our 12-day Itinerary
To summarize our trip, we did a big loop clockwise starting with Denver and drove a total of over 500 miles.
Here’s how our itinerary ended up. We only booked the first four nights in hotels before arriving, and played the rest by ear based on our tentative plan.
Location (by letters on map)
|1-3||A, G) Denver|
|3-4||B) Colorado Springs|
|4-6||C) Buena Vista|
|7-9||E) Glenwood Springs|
We’ll be sure to share details and highlights about each of these locations. For now, let’s start with Denver.
Getting to Denver
The Denver airport was nice and had a unique design: its main roof was a fancy tent. We thought that perhaps it’s a design meant to withstand tornados better, but who knows. Speaking of tornados, I didn’t even realize that this state was prone to them until I saw a designated tornado room at the airport. What?! I got freaked out for a moment, but then remembered the movie Twister and that I all need is an underground pipe and a belt to stay put. 🙂
RTD Rail Lines
Denver just finished building a new railway path from the airport to the city, and getting from the airport gate to the tracks was a matter of walking and riding a few escalators. The train leaves every 15 minutes for most part of the day. Just be sure to pay for your $9 per person ticket in advance of getting on the train.
There are some machines to purchase tickets on the side, which we missed on the way to Denver. We thought you could pay on the train like in Philly, so we just got on without tickets. Thankfully, no one did a ticket check, because apparently we would’ve been fined. So, learn from us and buy your ticket before getting on.
Free MallRide Shuttle
Once you get to Union Station, which is in the heart of downtown, you may not even need to catch Uber or a taxi to take you to your hotel. Try staying closer to 16th Street Mall, which is the main street going from Union Station down to the Capitol building. 16th Street has Free MallRide shuttles going up and down throughout the day and they are quite convenient. You can click here for the schedule.
Our hotel was only one block off 16th Street, so we caught the bus and saved on transportation. No other vehicles are allowed to drive on this street, except bike taxis, who come out primarily during the dinner and nightlife hours.
We caught a ride one night with a bike taxi, since we were running late and didn’t see the free bus on the horizon. He normally charges $2 per block, but since he was going in the direction of our restaurant anyway, suggested that we just tip him whatever we wanted. We gave him $10, instead of the $16 the 8 blocks would cost, and all were happy. I had fun during this experience as well, as the Colorado dry air made it a perfect night to be outside.
A bizarre experience with a crazy cab driver
We had the most bizarre experience with a cabbie who took us a short distance away to a restaurant. We were having a good conversation with him about his Denver experience and where he came from on the way, but everything turned south once we arrived to our destination.
When we arrived the meter read about $6, but he pressed buttons a few times and it read about $8 and change. He then turned of the meter and said that the fare was $9. I asked him why the meter price hiked up, and he couldn’t answer clearly. I asked several times and he finally said it was an extra passenger fee. So while adding the extra fee, he conveniently rounded it up to $9.
We took out our credit card to pay and he got all worked up about how much the fees will cost him. Mr. Enchumbao had a $20 bill in his wallet, so we passed it to him and waited for change.
He took the bill, and asked “How much for tip, $3 or $5?” In a normal situation, the cab driver gives you the change and you give them the tip. So, we kept asking for the change first and he went back to the same question in a louder tone: “How much for tip, $3 or $5?” Finally, aggravated and fed up with his rude behavior, we said: Neither, take $10 total! That crazy psycho! Who in their right mind is going to pay $13 for what was obviously a $6 ride?
Needless to say, that was a major turnoff. $10 was more than we would have paid if he was honest. At the end he was outraged by how little tip that was. What?! As an immigrant, I understand cultural differences, but he was just plain rude.
When I suggested that harassing clients for tip is not going to help him get much, he actually had the audacity to tell to us to get out of his car! After exiting, we took his cab number (55776, jot it down in case you visit Denver). I also wrote a complaint to Union Taxi the next day, but to no surprise, they didn’t respond. Bottom line, just avoid Union Taxi or this driver in particular, when in town.. 🙂 At least Uber drivers are rated, so you know what to expect.
Lots of transportation options available
During our three days in Denver, and after that awful cabby interaction, we continued to rely on the Free MallRide shuttle, regular buses and Uber to get around longer distances. (If you haven’t signed up for Uber services you can sign up here and get a sign-up bonus. We get one as well, if you use the link.) We also did a good bit of walking, which we enjoy anyway.
On our last morning, we picked up a car at a Hertz location downtown, which was a lot cheaper than getting it at the airport. By delaying the car rental, we saved money on the first two days, as Denver was pretty easy to get around without a car. It also saved us from having to worry about parking.
As I mentioned earlier, we stayed one block off the 16th Street Mall, which made getting around quite convenient. Late last year, we made it a point to do some travel hacking, so that we could save on travel. Our first two nights in Denver were free! We booked them with reward points. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at the Convention Center. The value of the two nights was $324. We got a 20% discount in points by using the mall link from one of our major credit cards and ended up using 27,000 points.
This is quite a big hotel, with a nice lobby and super quick elevators that made my ears pops getting to our 25th floor. The rooms were clean, spacious enough and the bed was super comfy. We both slept like babies and were reminiscing about this bed most of the trip (except in Buena Vista, where we hit another comfy bed jackpot).
We checked TripAdvisor for top things to do in Denver and slimmed it down to things of interest for us, which included visiting the botanic gardens, the cathedral, dancing at night, trying our new restaurants and lots of people-watching.
I have traveled around Europe quite a bit and have seen many beautiful cathedrals, but I have to say that the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is one of my favorites. Considering it’s a modern construction, I am impressed by how much detail they put into it. It’s so beautiful on the inside. We walked in after brunch in the area on a Saturday and it was mostly empty. There was a staff member setting up for service later on and I appreciated him being friendly and welcoming even though it was apparent we were there as tourists and not to pray. We sat down for a few minutes to simply appreciate the quiet harmony and the beautiful scenery. Oh, and it’s free to enter, which is always a bonus for us FI-minded folks. Strongly recommended!
Denver Botanic Gardens
After visiting the Cathedral, we caught a local bus right outside towards the Botanic Gardens, which is the top attraction in Denver. We got off parallel to the street where the gardens are located, and walked about 15 minutes to the entrance. The entrance fee is $12.50 per person, but check their website for special events. Sometimes they have free entrance days. We came a week too early to take advantage of the one in September. FI bummer, but still worth it!
These gardens aren’t very big, so you can definitely see all the exhibitions in about 1-2 hours at a leisurely pace. My favorite spot was by the lilly pond. It’s so beautiful and scenic, and there is a cafe right in front of it, where you can grab a bite and people-watch. There were also a nice amount of benches in cozy spots throughout the gardens, so you can take breaks and enjoy the nature.
On the way back, we ended up walking back all the way to the hotel with a few strategic rest and people-watching stops. The return took us about 45 minutes.
Dance the night away at La Rumba
We love dancing and found one place in the city that had a live Salsa band on a Saturday. La Rumba was only a five minute cab ride from our hotel. The cover was $10 per person. They have a big dance floor in the main room and a separate bar area, pictured below. After the salsa band finished playing, the DJ came on and played a nice mixture of merengue, bachata, salsa and other Latin music. We had a good time, although I was missing the quality of the dancers back home.
On our way from the Botanic Gardens, we walked through the Cheesman Park, saw a wedding party taking some pictures, locals playing on the grass fields or relaxing under a tree. The park used to be a cemetery and then it was converted to a park, to provide amenities to new residents in 1907.
Indulging and savoring
We aren’t the kind of tourists who go to museums or on day tours much, but are hard-core gastronomic tourists. Our goals is to try as many great restaurants as possible, without breaking the budget, when in a new place. Here are the restaurants we tried and how our tummies voted.
On our first night we had a very pleasant dinner with our friend and blogger Mrs. Goodlife and her hubby at Root Down. We had such delightful conversations and so much to catch up on that we barely got to talk about blogging. One funny mention from Mrs. G was about the video of the Instagram Husbands, as our hubbies waited patiently until we photographed the meals to take a bite.
Do you have an Instagram Husband/Wife/Partner? Check out the hilarious video if this is all new to you!
“We used to eat our food. Now we just take pictures of it.”
Speaking of food! Root Down serves a lot of fresh and local ingredients and has a nice hit vibe. On taste, I’d give this place a 7 out of 10. The food was pretty good, but nothing to rave about. We tried the tuna appetizer, the veggie sliders and the curry soup. Mrs. G had the gnocchi and seemed quite pleased.
This was our favorite meal in Denver. We went here for brunch on a Sunday and got an outside table on the cozy street. This restaurant is located in Larimer Square, which is a block with restaurants, shops and some residences in Downtown Denver. Rioja is also a great people-watching spot.
We had an omelet and asked the chef to add some mushrooms. These babies were to die for. We also had the breakfast veggie sandwich, which was so promising, but the bread was sweetened, which took over the other flavors. They had some banging coffee as well, so overall it was a hit and we’d return here again. Overall score is 9 out of 10. It would have been a 10 if the bread on the sandwich wasn’t so sweet.
Sassafras American Eatery
It’s hard to know what to make of this place when you first walk in. Depending on the table you sit at, it may feel like a trendy restaurant, a diner, or a quirky local place. We had the french toast and the eggs Benedict. Great locally-grown coffee is a must to try as well. Overall yumminess score is 7 out of 10. Having discovered Rioja the next day, we would have skipped this place in comparison.
We really enjoyed our meal at The Kitchen. The outside seating was perfect the night we came and we got a good deal of people-watching in between bites.
Heads up about downtown Denver overall: there are many homeless people along 16th Street Mall and you also smell pot here or there when walking around. It feels safe during the day, but at night I wouldn’t recommend going for extended walks just to be safe. Uber it around or catch the free bus if you want to go out for the night.
Our Colorado trip cost
The spending chart below captures our costs for transportation, lodging, and entertainment for our entire trip. We didn’t cook during our trip. As a result we ended up eating out at least once a day or buying fruits and veggies that didn’t require any cooking. We don’t bother including dining cost, since groceries and dining prices are pretty similar across the U.S. We report those under our annual spending reports as part of our Food & Dining expenses.
|Parking near airport||$97||
|Activities||$128||Iron Mountain Hot Springs = $46
Maroon Bells Entrance Fee = $10
Pikes Peak = $24
Dancing at La Rumba = $23
Denver Botanic Gardens = $25
Most of these charges were entrance fees.
Other shots of Denver
Our two-night stay in Denver was just right. It gave us enough time to walk around and see the city without it getting old. We enjoyed the activities we did, but were ready to explore the mountainous parts of the state after being on the flatland. Up next: Colorado Springs. Look out for our post on that leg of our CO adventure soon.