Retracing Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego Locations in real life
During the COVID quarantine period when travel was basically off-limits and I had a ton of time to spend at home watching TV, and imagine my glee when I came across the original Netflix series Carmen Sandiego, based on the original 90s cartoon series and remade in 2019 for today’s audience. Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? That’s the question I asked every new episode as our titular heroine popped up in a new place around the world. It was pretty fun seeing how they depicted actual places I’ve visited and stoking that wanderlust of new places to check out in future. I thought I’d share with you how some of these locations featured in Carmen Sandiego are like in real life based on my own travels.
Some nerding-out up ahead. Did you know that way before I started this travel blog, I used to have a TV blog? It turns out that while I’m not much of an armchair critic, what helped me enjoy shows more was dissecting the information that they provided and figuring out character’s backstories or saving my favourite quotes. Since international travel seems to be off the shelf for a while, I’m indulging my wanderlust and fangirling in other ways :)
- Who is Carmen Sandiego?
- Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 1
- Paris, France (Episode 3)
- Ecuador (Episode 4)
- Amsterdam, Netherlands (Episode 5)
- Sydney, Australia (Episode 6)
- San Francisco, USA (Episode 8)
- Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 2
- Prague, Czech Republic (Episode 1)
- Milan, Italy (episode 4)
- Dubai, United Arab Emirates (episode 6)
- Moscow, Russia (Episode 7)
- Other Locations
- Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 3 (Coming soon)
SPOILER ALERT: Since I’m talking about locations from the show, it will be pretty inevitable that I might give away some spoilers because some of the locations are tied in with the I’ll also try hard not to give away too many spoilers, but be warned that I might do so unintentionally, but seriously you can find everything on Wikipedia or Fandom anyway so it’s not like I’m giving away sacred information. This series is an easy watch as each episode is just 22mins long, and there are only 20 episodes over 2 seasons as of 2020. Go watch it if you can!
Who is Carmen Sandiego?
In the 1990s
A bit of background if you’ve never even heard of Carmen Sandiego – our protagonist is a feisty master thief who educated 90’s children on world geography by going all around the world to steal things. She has an iconic look consisting of a red trenchcoat and a matching fedora.
Back then, Carmen Sandiego was popular edutainment that took the form of video games, TV series as well as TV gameshows. I remember her as a wise-cracking VILE thief who stole the weirdest and most outlandish things in space and time on the run from ACME agents, and the shows were full of the punniest puns which were clues/links to Carmen’s location or what she stole.
This is the theme song that also got stuck in my head, though I’ll admit it’s only the first 2 lines.
Netflix rebooted the series in 2019 with a bit of a twist, while they kept her signature look, they gave Carmen a more interesting backstory, characterisation, made her younger and turned her into more of a heroine. but in the Netflix series she’s escaped from VILE and out-stealing them to bring them down while outwitting ACME on the go. Besides the current 2 seasons on Netflix, there is an interactive episode where you can choose your own storyline, as well as a game that you can play on Google Earth.
In most of the episodes, Carmen and her tech support Player do a simple but educational rundown of the place that they are headed to which gives a bit of context to the events that happen in the episode.
Where on earth is Carmen Sandiego?
Let’s take a look at where Carmen Sandiego has been in the Netflix series in the first two seasons. Here’s a Google Map I made plotting out the places around the world that we see her in (and that I can identify, tell me if I missed anything). When I was younger, most of these places that they visited were only things that I had read about in books, but now quite a lot of years later, it’s pretty fun to identify the places that I’ve actually been to in person, and made me think about some of my old travel memories.
Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 1
In a nutshell, Season 1 introduces Carmen to us as a child growing up in the VILE Academy for fledgling criminals training to be the best thief, realising that she was misguided and how she escapes and tries to outwit VILE by out-stealing them. Along the way, she draws Interpol’s interest, and they in turn draw secret agency ACME’s eye. Everyone’s trying to find Carmen Sandiego while she and her hodgepodge crew skip around the world trying to stay ahead of the game.
In order of episode appearance – those in green are places I’ve personally visited, and some of my stories are below:
- Canary Islands, Spain – there are 8 main islands with Tenerife being the most well known, but likely VILE’s secret island was an obscure unrecorded islet in this area
- Poitiers, France
- Morocco – they never specify where in Morocco the dig site is, but there are several across the country
- Paris, France
- Java, Indonesia – it’s not clear where exactly in Java they are, though from the map on screen it could be forested areas in Central or Eastern Java
- Quito, Ecuador
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Sydney, Australia
- Mumbai, India – specifically the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya national museum though they never mention its name on screen, the silhouette is quite distinct
- San Francisco, USA
Paris, France (Episode 3)
Episode 3 is when Carmen’s current adventures begin (the first 2 episodes are backstory of how she became who she is today, pretty interesting setup), and there is a chase scene right in the beginning in Paris. I don’t have that much to say because I also only spent a very brief time here, but here’s a picture I used quite a lot in the beginnings of this blog when I was a bit more shy about showing my face. I liked the relaxed happy vibe I had going on here, and yes I have my feet in the pools at the Louvre but it was high summer and SUPER HOT.
Ecuador (Episode 4)
Episode 4 saw Carmen heading to Ecuador, and opens to her scuba diving in their waters. While I never saw any wrecks, fancy doubloons or giant tuna, I did manage to scuba dive in the Galapagos Islands during my career break and it was some of the most amazing diving I’d done to date. Hammerheads and other sharks galore!
Read about my Galapagos Islands guide for the solo traveller to see more pix (and a cool video of hammerhead sharks!)
The action moves from sea level up to Quito, second highest capital in the world after La Paz, Bolivia which I also visited later that same trip. South America’s markets were always a great place for cheap colourful eats, though I never knew about all the fish auctions. I did do a local tour and ate a ton of food – mmh tamales yummy.
One thing they weren’t kidding about was the altitude sickness that Carmen succumbs to in the show. It really creeps up on you and is the worst~ I felt its worst effects while further down south in Peru while in Arequipa. Made a trip to Colca Canyon and was absolutely FLOORED when I came back, spending most of my evening without an appetite and sleeping so much. The local remedy is to drink lots of coca tea – that really worked to help me!
Another fun fact – the episode revolved around the Ecuador 8 Escudos Doubloon, and while I never saw one in Ecuador, one thing you’ll probably encounter is the US$1 coin. You can only use it in Ecuador as they use the dollar bill in USA!
Amsterdam, Netherlands (Episode 5)
I visited Amsterdam on the tail end of my jaunt through the Balkans and Baltics mostly because it was one of those famous places that I had never visited at that point. And one thing I ended up doing a lot was catching up on culture and doing lots of museum visits.
Amsterdam’s Museumsplein (Museum Square) is where you’ll find most of the large and famous museums. I visited the Van Gogh Museum because I love Almond Blossom and Starry Night (which is in MoMA), the Foam Museum where they were having a Helmut Newton photography retrospective, the contemporary Stedelijk Museum as well as the Moco Museum because they had a Banksy exhibition.
But of course the most famous must-see is the national museum aka Rijksmuseum, and while I definitely prefer contemporary over classical art, I was curious to see what the big deal was about. The Rijksmuseum is a major location in Episode 5, in particular the Vermeer work Woman reading a letter. While the episode makes it sound like this was the only Vermeer work in the Rijks, you can also see The Milkmaid and View of Houses in Delft.
I remember the highlight being Rembrandt and his humongous Night Watch piece, but as I was looking through my shots, I did actually take a shot of the Woman in Blue – I knew I found the painting familiar when I watched the episode!
Also of note are the many, many canals that crisscross Amsterdam. My hostel was on a lower level that overlooked one. Everywhere I walked I’d cross one canal or another. They are what makes Amsterdam quite unique.
Sydney, Australia (Episode 6)
Episode 6 sees Carmen visit the Sydney Opera House during the opera Carmen and it’s hard to miss that iconic white sail-like roof when in the area. In more recent years I’ve spent time in Melbourne and Western Australia, but the last time I was in Sydney was wayyyy back in the early 2000s on a family trip. We took a road trip from Melbourne through the Blue Mountains and ended up in Sydney, where of course we went to see Darling Harbour where the Opera House is as well as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Sydney actually is just a quick stopover in this episode; the main action takes place in the Outback close to Uluru, which sadly I’ve not seen for myself at this point… someday!
San Francisco, USA (Episode 8)
You can’t miss the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The rolling fog is a pretty incredible experience especially coming from Singapore where fog is non-existent. I never knew the fog was named Karl, but did you know Karl has an Instagram account with over 250k followers? They even have their own book! Sadly because of Karl, I never did get much of a view of the Golden Gate Bridge because it was just perpetually covered up.
The episode highlighted the Golden Gate Bridge, but also mentions other San Francisco highlights. I did get to ride the iconic cable car clinging on to the side for my life and stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf, but I did not visit America’s oldest and largest Chinatown nor did I go to The Rock aka Alcatraz Island. I thought they nailed the chase scene with the hilly streets but I thought it was a missed opportunity not to show the crookedest Lombard Street!
I only spent 4 days wandering around San Francisco but I did cover a fair bit in that time, from visiting its major tourist sights and deciding if they were worth the hype, to exploring San Francisco’s street art scene.
Also if you’re curious about the stamp that was stolen in this episode, the one-cent Black on Magenta is better known as the British Guiana One-cent Magenta and is really worth US$9.5million – it was bought by American shoe designer Stuart Weitzman in 2014. The Smithsonian has a pretty good article about the history of the stamp.
Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 2
Season 2 sees Carmen continuing to caper around the world, but this time with the question of her ancestry and family on her mind. Her crew expands, she sets up a HQ, and learns more secrets along the way about her past and how VILE and ACME really fit in her life.
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Carmen is seen at the Christ the Redeemer viewpoint and conducts a chase through the slopes of the Dona Marta favela. The episode ends with Carmen and Shadow-san likely at Copacabana Beach.
- Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan – specifically Matsumoto Castle, one of the most complete original castles in Japan and a National Treasure. Armor and swords are on display, but I don’t know if the Daisho shown here is actually real.
- Athens, Greece – I visited Athens quite a long time ago with my family so I don’t remember it very well. The team is seen sitting around the Acropolis before they head to Milan for the mission.
- Milan, Italy
- Boston, USA – Zack and Ivy are from South Boston, but I can’t tell if the racetrack is based on a real one
- Dubai, UAE
- Moscow, Russia
- Sydney, Australia
- Auckland, New Zealand – The Sky Tower is featured in the rundown but most of the episode takes place in the outskirts
- Stockholm, Sweden – The City Hall Bell Tower is where Carmen and Jules meet. No idea where the forest that Carmen lands in or the Ice Lodge that Ivy is kidnapped to are!
- Canary Islands
- Botswana – it’s not clear where exactly they are, but they do mention the Kalahari desert that occupies a large part of Botswana. Carmen is later on a train that cuts through the plains – I did something similar in Kenya but the pix don’t look like the current trains that run through Botswana as far as I can tell from online pix
- The Alps – Shadow-san interrupts a VILE handoff in a cablecar ride up the ALPS but it’s never explicitly stated where exactly
- Buenos Aires, Argentina – Shadow-san’s past mission took place in a small town outside of the capital city though it is not known where exactly
Prague, Czech Republic (Episode 1)
Season 2 kicks off with Carmen tailing VILE operatives in Prague‘s Old Town Square, and while we don’t spend a lot of time here, they did a pretty good job with the location and accuracy. While I’m not sure a taxi could actually stop along that road, if you look in my picture below, it seems quite accurate in relation to the location of the Jan Hus Memorial.
Prague was one of those places that I’d wanted to visit for awhile, and I made sure to see the main sights, and of course the Old Town Square is one of the must-sees on the list. The Prague Orloj or Astronomical Clock is like many that you’ll find across Europe, although this has the title of being the oldest clock still in operation. Everyone waits around on the hour for the apostles to appear – it’s one of those things you just need to see once in you life.
I did write about other things in Prague that caught my interest, like climbing up to the top of Charles Bridge, my discovery of Mucha and art nouveau, the first time I ever attended the opera as well as my jaunt to nearby Kutna Hora with its macabre bone church.
Here’s a side note about Matsumoto – while I haven’t been to that part of Japan, the castle shown is very much like several that I have seen in other parts of Japan.
Milan, Italy (episode 4)
This episode was set during Fashion Fest – which in reality is a reference to Fashion Week – and Milan, and while they don’t actually show a lot of Milan’s landmarks because most of it is spent on the runway, they did show two landmarks that I recognised immediately from my visit to Milan in the mid 2000s during winter while on a family trip.
Right when the team lands in Milan, they can be seen in an open town square with the iconic Duomo aka Milan’s Cathedral in the background. This is Piazza del Duomo and one of the main sights to see, but sadly when I was there they were fixing the exterior so it felt like I saw more hoarding than actual architecture. I remember it being very grand and quite opulent inside.
At the end of the episode, there’s a quick glimpse of the iconic covered walkways of the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II to show where Carmen and Shadow-san are shopping. The oldest shopping mall in Milan still in operation, it’s home to all the high-end fashion boutiques so it isn’t surprising that the prices are – to quote Shadow-san – steep. I definitely wasn’t doing any shopping when wandering around here, but it’s very beautiful.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (episode 6)
Episode 6 revolves around a super race car and a party that takes place at the artificial islands of the Palm Jumeirah. They also mention the famously tall Burj Khalifa – I never visited it, just saw it from a distance while driving around the city.
While Dubai can be a fancy ritzy place with super modern architecture, what I love about Dubai are the bits of its older culture still left standing in the shadows of these architectural giants, the abra boats on the creek and the busy souks. Read more about my short time in Dubai or an even older account where I visited Dubai with my dad.
Moscow, Russia (Episode 7)
Moscow only features very briefly in this episode as the team hits what seems like an underground server room in the Kremlin. We see a panned shot of Red Square with the colourful domes of the St Basil’s Cathedral and the red Kremlin wall exterior.
I visited Moscow once with my Dad and my biggest memory is what a pain the visa was to get – it took 4 visits to the Russian embassy just to get that settled! I mostly tagged along with my dad who brought me to see the major sights, and St Basil’s Cathedral is as pretty as you might imagine, though a lot smaller than it might seem from pix. Read more about that memory here.
Most of the action happens in New Zealand after that – I’ve been mostly to the south island, I never actually made it to Auckland as far as I can recall.
Don’t skip through the intro of the show too quickly! How many landmarks do you recognise in the trailer? Maybe these are clues for future locations. Have a watch and scroll down to see if I missed out anything on my list and help me ID those that I couldn’t figure out. I was pretty stoked that Singapore’s Merlion made an appearance at 00:18!
- Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan – those torii gates are quite distinctive, it could be some other spot but I can’t think of anywhere else in Japan which has their torii lined up like that
- Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
- Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA
- ? – it looks like some sort of temple complex but I’m not sure where
- ? – Desert with sand dunes
- Merlion, Singapore
- Taj Mahal, Agra, India
- Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
- Elizabeth Tower aka Big Ben, London, UK
- Statue of Liberty, New York, USA
- Egypt – those look like hieroglyphics on the wall, but it’s not clear where exactly. Perhaps in the Pyramids of Giza?
- East Asia – she’s flying over rooftops that look a lot like stuff I’ve seen in China, Japan and South Korean classical architecture. I want to say China but I can’t tell for sure!
- ? – I’m thinking about Aztec temples in Mexico for some reason, though it also kind of reminds me of Machu Picchu for some reason…
To Steal or Not to Steal
This interactive episode on Netflix lets viewers choose their own adventure and sees Carmen in capers all around the world to save her crew that has been kidnapped by V.I.L.E.
- Shanghai – that skyline is pretty recognisable
- Xi’an, China – home of the terracotta warriors, I’ve never been but really want to see at some point in my life!
- Hell Creek, Montana, USA
- Monte Carlo, Monaco – I spent a day here on my very first solo trip experience to Nice
- L’île d’Oléron – an island off Rochefort on the western coast of France. First time I’ve heard of it, gotta go find out more.
Carmen Sandiego Locations in Season 3 (Coming soon)
The great news is that Carmen Sandiego has been renewed for a third season! No word on when exactly that will be, but I’ll update this again when it comes out. Where do you think Carmen Sandiego is going to go next?
TV, films and books can make for great ways to wanderlust when circumstances don’t allow you to travel physically! It’s also kinda cool to visit places that you’ve only ever seen on screens or in your mind. Here are some other spots that I’ve visited:
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