Where We’ve Been: 2017 South American Road Trip Recap

What a year! Even though we spent the past 2.5 months of 2017 renting an apartment in Lima, Peru where we focused on work, not driving, we still managed to rack up 14,906 miles (23,989 km) on our South American road trip in 2017 in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Countries visited in 2017

Oh, the borders we’ve crossed…

We also had five border crossings in 2017, bringing our total border crossings so far on our little road trip to 61. For more geeky road trip tallies, visit our freshly updated Facts & Figures page. And check out our South American road trip driving route for all of 2017 in our map, below.

2017 South American road trip recap

We began 2017 house sitting in Salta, Argentina. We spent the first two months of the year exploring the very North of Argentina and driving in some of the most remote and spectacular places we’ve been in our 10+ years of driving the Americas including Cafayate and the Puna de Argentina. In March we crossed the Andes into Northern Chile where we spent nearly two months exploring the unique landscapes and mountains around San Pedro de Atacama. From there we drove north along the coast to return to Peru.

Vicuna Argentine Puna

An elegant vicuña in the Puna de Argentina.

In April, re-entered Peru and, for the next three months, we continued to explore this fascinating country. We started in Arequipa and hiked the Colca Canyon. From there we discovered Peru’s primary pisco and wine-producing area around Ica. Then we headed up to the Cordillera Blanca, the most breathtaking mountains we’ve visited since our time traveling around the Himalayas in the mid 1990s. After trekking, hiking, and exploring these beautiful mountains we once again headed south, passing through Lima (again), then Ayacucho, and on to Puno and Lake Titicaca which is the highest navigable lake in the world. 

Laguna Paron Cordillera BlancaPeru

Laguna Paron in the spectacular Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

In July we entered Bolivia and spent the next three months getting to know this surprising country. We started in Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca, then we explored the absolutely buzzing capital city of La Paz. At 11,975 feet (3,650 metes), La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. From there we headed south to the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world. From here we explored the rugged and remote southwest corner of Bolivia, another one of the most epic drives we’ve done. Then we explored what must be one of the least known wine regions in the world in the Tarija area of Bolivia.

Uyuni Salt Flats FBolivia

Our truck on the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

From there it was up to Potosi, whose Cerro Rico mines contributed a good part of the wealth stolen from the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Spanish. Then we visited the historic capital of Sucre. After exploring the Santa Cruz and Cochabamba areas, our three-month stay was up. In October we crossed from Bolivia into Chile, then back into Peru where we spent the remainder of the year in an apartment in Lima catching up on work and developing a new website which we’ll be bringing to you shortly.

Here’s more about travel in Peru

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Chile

 

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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2017

We continue to use and love top travel gear from years past, including Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, our Mahabis slippers, our DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone, and our Brinno time-lapse video dash cam as our road trip travel adventure through the Americas continues. Now we present our list of top travel gear of the year for 2017 including our “magic shirts” (we won’t travel without them), the best truck shades yet, amazing off-roading maps, and more.

Top travel gear of the year 2017

https://www.amazon.com/Car-Window-Shade-Sunshade-Protection/dp/B00KL3ALGO/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1515700752&linkCode=ll1&tag=transamerijou-20&linkId=f4ceb6f072a89a38e93b3849550cf75c

Enovoe is a company that makes baby products, so what the heck are we doing with their stuff on our road trip? Well, babies don’t like to bake in the sun in vehicles and neither do we so we bought Enovoe cling sunshades and they really work. They cling well yet come on and off the windows easily when necessary without leaving any mess behind, and they really block the sun. They also block the view and they don’t cling well if the shades or the windows get dusty, but a quick wipe down fixes that problem. We also put these shades up in all the windows whenever we park the truck to help reduce sun damage to the interior.
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Lewis N Clark immersion coil

We’ve traveled with an immersion coil for years. It’s a small, cheap, genius gadget for boiling water for tea, instant soup, and instant coffee and that comes in very handy when we’re traveling in cold places where a hot beverage is always welcome. The problem is, our immersion coil is 110 volt and many South American countries are 220 volt so for more than a year we have been without an immersion coil. Then we got a Lewis N Clark immersion coil which has a range of 120 volt to 240 volt which means we can use it wherever we roam. 

 

Wearing our Patagonia R1 layer

We call our Patagoina R1Fleece Pullovers “magic shirts” because the Regulator Fleece is lightweight, durable, and compressible and because the shirts keep us warm on their own or as a base layer in a wide range of climates. We’ve been traveling with R1 Fleece Pullovers since 2001, when we bought them at Patagonia’s annual Avalanche Sale in New York City. We still use those original shirts, now 17 years old. That’s us, above, wearing our original R1s in Ecuador (the caps were borrowed) We added a newer version of the R1 a few years ago. This year we’ll move on to our third round of Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullovers and we’d never dream of traveling anywhere without them. 
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Viajeros 4x4 mapsThis one’s a freebie. If you are driving in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, or Southern Peru and you plan on doing any exploring or off-roading off the beaten path,these downloadable GPS maps from Viajeros Mapas 4X4 are indispensable. They’re extremely detailed and they include just about every road, dirt track, 4×4 track, and trail that exists throughout the region. We were tipped off to these maps by Fabrizio Ghilardi, owner of Socompa Travel, when he was helping us plan an amazing off-road drive through a remote corner of the Puna de Argentina. As per his recommendation, we downloaded the maps to our phone and a remote and unsigned route, which would have been impossible to explain, was suddenly easy to navigate. The maps are regularly updated, but the site is only in Spanish. 

 

Canon 7d body

Running around a city, trekking through the rain, shooting in sandy and dusty conditions…our little road trip is pretty hard on Eric’s camera bodies. A nearly destroyed Canon 80D was recently retired after many years of us, so he needed a new 2/3-sensor body to complement his full-frame Canon 6D so he got a new Canon 7D Mark II which is holding up to the rigors of the road. Now the only question is which body will he get this year now that the 6D needs to be retired… 
Buy on Amazon  |   Buy on B&H Photo

 

Use Buff as camera protector

Buffs are great. They keep your neck warm, can be used as a headband, and can be pulled up over your head for extra warmth or sun protection. We now present one more thing that a Buff can do: In dusty situations, slide your camera and lens inside a Buff and secure it with a rubber band around the lens to protect your kit against grit. Eric has a Buff shoved into his camera bag at all times.
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use Booking.com

Lately we’ve been using Booking.com a lot. It lists many budget and mid-range hotels in Latin America and while the site is ugly to look at we find it easy to use to learn crucial details about a property and make bookings. We were also impressed with how customer service reps at Booking.com handled our complaint about a hotel in La Paz, Bolivia that we’d booked through the site which then proceeded to try to scam us into paying hotel tax which foreigners are exempt from paying in Bolivia. Not only did the customer service rep help us clarify the true law, they also contacted the hotel and made a note in the property’s file about the complaint which they seemed genuinely concerned about. 
Use this link and get $20 off your first Booking.com stay

 

Hydro Flask insulated coffee flasks

In 2014 we ditched our plastic water bottles and switched to Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated bottles. In 2017 we added Hydro Flask insulated coffee flasks to the mix. If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the color sure will…
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Polysporin for travel

The key to packing smart is taking only essentials and trying to choose stuff that does double duty. A tube of Polysporin is small, lightweight, and does triple duty. Of course, it’s great at healing cuts, scrapes, and burns but it’s also fantastic at healing chapped lips and dry cuticles. A tube is always with us.
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 Squish collapsible colander

Because we travel in a truck we have room for things like a collapsible colander which is handier than you think because shared kitchen facilities in hotels and hostels often don’t have this piece of kitchen gear and even some apartments we’ve rented don’t have a colander in the kitchen. Our Squish collapsible colander is a sturdy mix of silicone and hard plastic, it works great and it flattens down to the dimensions of a dinner plate when not in use. Our only complaint is that the holes are a bit too big for rinsing rice or barley.
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Travel with Gold Bond powder

When traveling to steamy climates, don’t forget to take some original Gold Bond powder with you. It’s tingly and cooling and helps avoid chafing. 
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APC in-line surge protectors

Since this is a working road trip we spend a lot of time working on our laptops, often in countries with surge-prone electrical supplies. Yes, we have a big boxy surge protector, but as a back up to that and as the first line of defense in situations when our huge surge protector isn’t in use, we rely on these nifty APC in-line surge protectors. When added to your existing computer power cord they insert a level of surge protection. Before you order, be sure to check how many prongs (2 or 3) your power cord has.
Buy on Amazon  |  Buy on B&H Photo

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Best Food & Beverages

It will surprise no one that this year was dominated by outstanding eats and drinks in Lima, Peru. That city continues to be on fire for foodies. But don’t worry. We found wonderful wine, chefs, bars, and more in Bolivia and Argentina as well. Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series, our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2017, part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and part 4 tells you all about our Top Travel Gear of the Year.

Now, in no particular order, we present:

The best food & beverages of 2017

Palmiro Ocamp's 1087 Restaurante Lima

Just a few of the theatrical and tasty morsels included in the new tasting menu at 1087 Restaurante in Lima.

Best new tasting menu in Lima: The latest chef to toss his toque into the vibrant tasting menu scene in Lima, Peru is Peruvian chef Palmiro Ocampo. In May of 2017 he turned the top floor of his 1087 Restaurante into a tasting menu only venue with more than a touch of theater (420 soles, about US$130 with wine pairings or 300 soles, about US$92, without pairings for a 12-course menu plus 3-4 starters). Ring the buzzer and mirrored doors open revealing a man holding a wooden box. Take the small bag out of the box, climb the stairs, and enter a space that feels like transplanted jungle complete with dangling trees and a jungle soundtrack the chef recorded himself. The experience starts at the bar around the open kitchen then proceeds to private tables where the tasting menu, called Allin Yyaykuy Allin Mikuy which means “good to think, good to eat” in the Incan Quechua language which survives in Peru to this day, begins. One course is eaten in the dark with only a small black light flashlight to guide you in a nod to the Inca’s prowess at reading the stars. Though the Incans probably would not recognize courses such as jerky-like beef tongue in a clay emulsion with achiote and cocao paired with a Spanish Conca del Riu Anoia which is a new sparkling wine denomination in competition with cava. A potato dish called El Trueque was a revelation of textures from rich pureed potatoes to a creamy whole potato to the shaved dust of pungent dried potatoes to a crispy cracker covered in gold which creates a ring of golden liquid around the whole plate.

 

Gustu La Paz Bolivia

Lunch at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia is an incredible value for money.

Best chart-topping value: A 15-course tasting menu at Restaurant Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia will set you back about US$90 and it’s worth every penny. However, if your travel budget is more limited, you’re still in luck. Every day Gustu, which is #14 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, serves a three-course lunch for 105BS (about US$15). Choose from two appetizer and two main course options and a dessert and enjoy. Lunch dishes are less experimental than the tasting menu dishes but are still centered on Bolivian ingredients. Add a glass of surprisingly good Bolivian wine (more on that below) or a Bolivian craft beer for 20BS (about US$3).

 

Pisco Sour Museo del Pisco

A pisco sour at Museo del Pisco in Lima.

Best pisco sour: Confession: we do not love Peru’s ubiquitous cocktail. Pisco sours are usually just too sweet and foamy for us with not enough pisco flavor – more like a dessert than an adult beverage. At Museo del Pisco in downtown Lima (there’s one in Cusco and one in Arequipa too) the pisco sours are made to order as you want them. there are more than 100 piscos to choose from, including infused piscos and the knowledgeable staff are there to guide you. We particularly enjoyed a pisco sour made with pisco infused with coca leaves which added a welcome earthiness and bitterness. And always order your pisco sours with less sugar.

 

 Dondoh Lima

Even the coasters get the robata “live fire” treatment at Dondoh in Lima.

Best coasters: Dondoh, a Japanese style robata grill in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima, Peru, opened in the fall of 2016 (learn more in our story for New Worlder). It’s a “live fire” place and they’ve cleverly incorporated burn marks on their coasters which are the perfect complement to the restaurant’s creative cocktails and one of the largest whiskey selections in Peru.

 

 Propiedad Publica restaurant La Paz

Italian done right at Propiedad Publica in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best Italian food: CIA trained chef Gabriella Prudencio learned how to make pasta during her time in the kitchen at Mario Batali’s restaurnats. Back home in Bolivia, Gabriella has taken those skills and run with them at her Propiedad Publica restaurant in La Paz. The  focaccia is homemade and legit. The greens come from her family’s hydroponic farm and are used to make amazing salads like butter lettuce with nuts and gorgonzola. The pastas are, of course, homemade and a wide range of sauces are made to order. Even the sides, things like baked cauliflower and carrots in brown butter, are finessed. She also has a great wine selection. Try the Marquez de la Vina Bonarda which is made in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the US the Bonarda varietal is called Charbono and the bottle took us right back to tasting rooms in California. Gabriella offers a good value set lunch (80BS, about US$12) for an entree, pasta of your choice, juice, and dessert) and dinner is a la carte.

 

Barbarian brew pub Lima

The new Barbarian brew pub in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima.

Best brew pub: The craft brew scene in Peru is growing and improving every year. A leader is a brewery called Barbarian which produces a wide range of high quality beers and has two true brew pubs in Lima. The newest Barbarian brew pub just opened in Barranco which is our favorite neighborhood in the city (their original brew pub is in Miraflores). Here you’ll find more than a half-dozen Barbarian brews on tap along with a hand-selected array of beers from many other Peurvian breweries. It’s a great place to sample Peruvian craft beer in a cool environment (great music, playful decor) with good food (burgers, wings, salads, and sandwiches).

 

House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina

Learning to make empanadas (sort of) at House of Jasmines in Argentina.

Best hotel cooking class: When a Relais & Chateaux hotel offers a cooking class, you sign up. That’s how Karen found herself in the kitchen with Chef Andres at House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina. Chef Andres proceeded to teach her how to make the beloved Argentinean empanada. Sort of. She’s still struggling with her technique, but even her funny-looking empanadas tasted great, especially with a glass of Argentinean Torrontes.

 

HB Bronze coffee shop La Paz

All things coffee at HB Bronze in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best coffee shop: At HB Bronze coffee shop in downtown La Paz, Bolivia, they’re serious about sourcing the best Bolivian coffee (including geisha) and then treating it right. All the major methods of brewing are available and staff are meticulously trained. Coffee is also featured in a wide range of inventive cocktails (see below) and the space is elegant (wood, bronze, lots of natural light) yet casual. There’s also a menu of salads, sandwiches, charcuterie plates, desserts and more.

 

 HB Bronze cocktail

This cocktail totally fooled us.

Best gross-sounding cocktail that turned out to be great: When Boris Alarcon, the gregarious owner of HB Bronze, handed us a Parkeriosinho cocktail made with papaya soda (a full-on obsession in Bolivia), Campari, gin, and coffee liqueur we had our doubts. The thing looked like a welcome drink on a Carnival cruise. Then we tasted it: mellow, balanced, refreshing, and just the right mix of bitter and sweet. Bonus: it represents the bands of color in the Bolivian flag.

 

Jeronimo restaurant Lima

Chef Moma’s food is even more creative than his awesome business card.

Best business card: Chef Moma Adrianzar of Jeronimo in Lima, Peru is doing things differently. In a city full of ceviche (not a complaint), chifa, and interpretations of Peruvian food, he’s offering a wide-ranging menu with something for everyone (from pulled pork, to tacos, to, yes, ceviche). That’s why the place is always packed. The chef’s business card is further expression of his creativity and individualism, but go for the food.

 

Ali Pacha reataurant La Paz

Yes, this is vegan food but only at Ali Pacha in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best vegan: You do not have to be vegan (we’re clearly not) to be thrilled and satisfied by the food at Ali Pacha in downtown La Paz, Bolivia. The place is the creation of chef Sebastián Quiroga who went from meat eater to vegan. Unwilling to compromise on flavor just because he’d transitioned to a plant-based menu, Sebastián has worked hard to turn the principles of veganism into strengths, not constraints. Along with a young and enthusiastic staff (some of whom have also become vegan), the kitchen turns out completely uncompromising dishes like smoked beet ceviche, French radishes in walnut sauce, and the best home-baked bread in the city all served in an elegant room. Choose 3, 5, or 7 course lunch and dinner menus (100B to 200BS or about US$15 to US$30 without beverages) and prepare to re-think vegan. In 2017 Sebastián, who looks more like a hippie than a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, opened UMAWI bar above the restaurant where the growing crop of Bolivian spirits (1825 Vodka, Killa Andean Moonshine whiskey, and Gin La Republica) are well utilized.

 

cocktail class: Hotel B Lima

Karen fine-tuning her bar tending skills with Jose Luis Valencia at Hotel B in Lima.

Best hotel cocktail class: Hotel B in Lima, Peru is one of the best hotels in the entire country. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and home of award-winning barman Jose Luis Valencia. The hotel offers a cocktail making class with Jose Luis (190 soles or about US$60) during which you learn to make three cocktails (one with pisco, one with gin, and one with rum) each paired with an elegant snack. Jose Luis speaks excellent English and is knowledgeable, engaging, and passionate.

 

Wines of tarija Bolivia

We found some excellent Bolivian wines and you should too.

Best wine surprise: Who knew Bolivian wine makers are producing some very good wine? Well, one guy knew–Bertil Tottenborg, the sommelier (and general service czar) of Gustu in La Paz (see above). He generously shared his knowledge with us and that guided our time in Tarija and Valle de Cinti where the bulk of Bolivia’s wine is made. Standouts include Sausini and Bodega Magnus in Tarija and Casa de Campo and Cepas de Fuego in Valle de Cinti which is also home to a young winemaker producing extreme natural wine that’s not quite for sale yet. Don’t expect to see these bottles in your local wine shop. Every drop is sold within Bolivia so you’ll have to come down and try it for yourself.

 

 La Whiskeria bar Humo La Paz

La Whiskeria in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best bar: La Whiskeria is a tiny bar in La Paz, Bolivia but it makes a big impression. The decor looks like it was done by the set designer for Twin Peaks (in a good way). It’s dark. Furniture is upholstered in quilted red leather. There’s wood paneling and a fireplace. In fact, the place has been used as a movie set. The bartender, Josue Grajeda, is a master of cocktails that are inventive but not silly. It’s an appealing combination of ambiance and libation.

Best medialuna: In Argentina breakfast is not breakfast without a medialuna – a kind of breadier croissant brushed with a sweet, sticky icing. They vary widely in quality, but the best we’ve had (so far) were on the breakfast buffet at Finca Valentina Casa de Campo, a country hotel just outside Salta, Argentina. They’re baked fresh daily and arrive piping hot and flaky.

 

Juicy Lucy hamburber Lima

The burgers at Juicy Lucy in Lima live up to their name.

Best burger: Juicy Lucy, a gourmet mini-chain in Lima, Peru, offers a range of burgers (from 28 soles, or about US$9 with fries) plus a fried chicken sandwich and a veg panini. The buns were tasty but not too bready, the patties were simply spiced and very juicy (you’ll go through at lest 5 napkins), and the fries were great. But why no beer?

 

Hotel Maury bar pisco sour Lima

This is Eloy Caudros and he’s probably been making cocktails at this bar in Lima longer than you’ve been legal to drink.

Best historic bar: Bar Maury (sometimes called the Morris Bar) in the run down Hotel Maury in downtown Lima has been around since 1821 and claims to be the birthplace of the pisco sour (disputed). What’s not disputed is that winning race horses were once brought into the bar for a tipple (we saw the photos). The bar has changed little since those day and the dark wood paneling, moody lighting, and scruffy atmosphere remain. The bar tenders haven’t changed either. We met old-timer Eloy Caudros there with Melanie Asher, owner and distiller of Macchu Pisco, and he whipped up a few pisco sours for us using Melanie’s awesome creations. He’ll do the same for you.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

It took us a long time to get to Rafael restaurant in Lima and maybe we were saving the best for last.

Best place we should have eaten at years ago: We don’t know why it took us so long to get to one of the many restaurants from acclaimed Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling who has places in Bogotá, Colombia and in Lima, Peru. Our meal at Rafael in Lima, which is  #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, was a nearly perfect mix of atmosphere (casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art) servcie (attentive but patient waiters with an excellent grasp on the menu), and food including a long list of appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork. We shared a tuna tiradito starter that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella. The restaurant bar, which features an impressive array of libations including a number of bourbons, offers a tapas menu if you just want to dip a toe. 

Best dinner party with a star chef: When one of the buzziest chefs in Latin America invites you over for dinner you say yes. We assumed we would be joining a large group of people. After all, we’d just met this chef. We arrived with a bottle of pisco as a gift and were shocked to discover that the dinner party was really just us, the chef, and two others. Intimate to say the least. Oh, and delicious. And we’re not naming names.

Check out more top eats in Latin America in our post about Eating Our Way through the 50 Best List.

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Peru

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Best Hotels

Two boutique hotel surprises in Bolivia, a terrific value in the mountains of Peru, a hip beach sleep in Chile, and more great hotels in South America! Welcome to part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series–our guide to the Best Hotels of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2017, Part 3 covers the Best Food and Beverages of the year and part 4 tells you all about our Top Travel Gear of the year.

Now, in no particular order, we present:

The best hotels of 2017

Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel - Huaraz, Peru

Views of the Cordillera Blanca from the yellow room at Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel in Peru.

Best bed with a view: Book the yellow room at Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel, a stylish and homey retreat near Huaraz, Peru. With huge windows on two sides, this rooms offers spectacular views of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range including Huascarán which is the highest mountain in Peru and the fourth highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere at 22,205 feet (6,768 meters).

 

Hotel Atix - La Paz, Bolivia

Hotel Atix in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best boutique hotel in La Paz, Bolivia: The capital of Bolivia got its first boutique hotel (albeit, on the large side with 53 rooms) when the Atix Hotel (atix means “the one who thrives” in the Quechua language) opened in La Paz in 2017. Rooms are more or less as you’d expect, though native wood headboards, their own bottled water, and universal electrical outlets are nice touches. The public spaces are full of large-scale, modern art by Bolivian artist Gastón Ugalde, the plunge pool in the roof top bar is a surprise (though mostly for show), and the hotel restaurant has big ambitions. When you make a reservation directly on the hotel’s website a portion of the rate goes to the Alalay Foundation.

 

Inboccalupo Hotel, - Santa Cruz Bolivia

The plunge pool at Inboccalupo boutique hotel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Best boutique hotel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia: If we were surprised by the Atix in La Paz, we were flabbergasted by Inboccalupo in Santa Cruz. Also opened in 2017, it nails the boutique hotel manifesto: a passionate owner with a vision for the style and service of the place, a fearless playfulness, all the comforts. Twenty rooms, including six duplex suites which are more like small apartments, all have a different theme (National Geographic, A Clockwork Orange, The Beatles, etc. pulled off with flair. Try to ignore the somewhat frustrating website and just book a room.

 

Hotel Apacheta - Arica, Chile

Serious beach vibes at Hotel Apacheta in Arica, Chile.

Best beach hotel: It’s been a long time since a hotel has given us a cool California beach vibe, but that’s exactly what you get at Hotel Apacheta in Arica, Chile which offers 18 rooms (all with ocean views) so close to the Pacific that it nearly laps at the foundation. Opened in 2015, the hotel has a found-object chicness with simple pine boards, wicker furniture, subdued colors, and stark angles working together to create a lot of beach house cool.

 

Cabañas Umajalanta- Totoro, Bolivia

Cabañas Umajalanta near Totoro, Bolivia.

Best community run hotel: Cabañas Umajalanta is about 15 minutes from the town of Totoro, Bolivia which is the gateway to Totoro National Park. Opened in 2014, it’s a community project operated with a Swiss NGO and Tupiza Tours. It offers three standalone cabañas, each with two rooms that sleep up to three people including private bathrooms, a glassed-in area that creates a warm greenhouse effect, great views, and good beds (240BS, about US$35, including breakfast). Members of the local community built the place and all the furniture and only locals are employed which is benefiting dozens of local families. Even if you don’t stay here, you’ll pass the place on your way to the Ciudad Itas area of the park, so stop in for a delicious traditional lunch (30BS, about US$4.50).

 

 Estancia Las Carrerras - Tafí de Valle, Argentina

Room #10 at Estancia Las Carreras in Argentina is in a building that dates back to 1779.

Best room from 1779: There are just 10 rooms at Estancia Las Carrerras in Tafí de Valle, Argentina which is part of a 22,240 acre (9,000 hectare) working dairy farm. Room #10 is in a building that was built by Jesuits in 1779. It has a traditional bamboo, grass, and rawhide ceiling, original tile flooring, and thick adobe walls but its far from a monk’s cell. Estancia Las Carreras has been in the same family for 10 generations and the current owners have ensured that even this historic habitation has a completely modern bathroom and a working fireplace.

 

Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas - Salta, Argentina

Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas, near Salta, was built in 1609 and is one of the oldest estancaias in Argentina.

Best room from 1609: Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas in Northern Argentina, near Salta, is one of the oldest estancias (farms) in Argentina. Parts of the building dates back to 1609 and rooms here are part museum, part hotel but never stuffy thanks to the vibrant and thoroughly modern family members who are running the place. While preserving history, they are perfecting rustic hospitality with great food and generous service. 

 

 Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge - Bolivia

The spectacular setting of Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge in Bolivia.

Best place to unplug: Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge, between Samaipata and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is located next to Amboro National Park in a setting that reminded us of Yosemite Valley. This all-solar retreat is so remote that there’s no cell or Wi-Fi service. Unplug and hit the trails, look for condors, swim in waterfalls, and enjoy the good honest food courtesy of long-time staff from the nearest village.

 

Hotel B - Lima, Peru

Despite a steady stream of new comers, Hotel B in Lima is still a top hotel in Peru.

Best boutique hotel in Peru: The range and quality of hotels in Peru keeps improving and during our nearly 18 months of travel in Peru we’ve stayed in most of the country’s top hotels. Despite increasing competition, Hotel B, opened in Lima in 2013, is still top of the heap. The converted mansion is filled with art and opulence and the staff can’t be beat. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and attention to cuisine is apparent even in the breakfast buffet. Look for new rooms and amenities to debut in 2018.

 

Best value for money: You can certainly find cheaper digs in Huaraz, Peru. However, we doubt you will find better value for money than Villa Valencia Hotel and Bungalows. Located about a 10 minute walk from the center of Huaraz, they offer super clean double room with lots of light and space including a kitchen, a dining table and sofa, a bedroom, and a private bathroom. Cable TV, W-iFi, parking, a superb included breakfast, and very helpful staff round out this good value package (we paid US$30 for our room).

 

Hotel Museo Cayara, - Potosi, Bolivia

The buildings, art collection, and history at Hotel Museo Cayara in Bolivia date back to 1575.

Best museum hotel: Hotel Museo Cayara, outside Potosi, Bolivia, was originally built in 1575 (some paperwork indicates even a few years earlier) by a colleague of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It’s been owned by two marquisas and hosted revolutionary hero Antonio José de Sucre (you can still see the intact bedroom where he slept). In 2010 the hacienda was renovated and turned into a 17 room hotel which is dripping with art and history. Rooms have antique religious art, good beds, modern bathrooms, and heating (it’s located 2,000 feet / 600 meters lower than the city of Potosi, it’s still cold). All staff comes from the local village and breakfast features butter and milk from the dairy farm that’s still operated on the large property.

 

Atemporal boutique hotel in Lima, Peru

The playful keychains at Atemporal in Lima, Peru are just one example of the attention to detail that makes this boutique hotel special.

Best key chains: There are nine rooms at the hip Atemporal boutique hotel in Lima, Peru and there are also nine letters in the word atemporal. So the playful owners, who excel at attention to detail, decided that each room key would come on a key chain featuring an oversized letter from the hotel’s name rendered in chic black velvet. And, yes, a hotel that drills down to that level of detail has the rest of the hospitality puzzle figured out too.

 

 El Huarango Hotel Chile

Two of the rooms at El Huarango hotel in Chile which is made mostly out of boulder-like chunks of salt from the surrounding desert.

Best value hotel made out of salt: In 2004 Marco and Coco moved to a spot near La Tirana, Chile where they didn’t just settle in the desert, they settled in a salt-encrusted desert. They moved into a tent and began building El Huarango almost entirely from boulder-like chunks of salt from their land. El Huarango is named for the Quechua word for a mimosa-like species of tree that grows there but, ironically, it’s shrub-like and not good for building which is why salt was used. Coco and Marco now offer four stylish and comfortable rooms and one cabin with a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, plus camping spots and an RV spot all within the serenity of their 45 acres (18 hectares) of desert. The place is off the grid with solar power and meals are cooked on a solar cooker.

 

Luna Salada Hotel del Sal - Uyuni, Bolivia

Almost everything is made from neatly cut blocks of salt at Luna Salada Hotel del Sal at the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

Best spendy hotel made out of salt: It’s all salt all the time at Luna Salada Hotel del Sal & Spa. First of all, almost everything in this 49 room hotel is made of precisely cut blocks of salt from the famous Uyuni Salt Flat, the largest in the world. This includes walls, ceilings, floors, tables, benches, fireplaces, the spa, numerous sitting areas, and more. The hotel is also built on a low rise on the edge of the Uyuni Salt Flat, so even your views are made of salt. It’s worth splurging on the newer rooms.

 

Libreria del Desierto - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Desert House near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile was our favorite Airbnb rental of the year.

Best Airbnb: Over the past year or so we’ve ended up staying in more and more Airbnb accommodations. Desert House, in the village of Solor near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, stood out from the crowd. Valentina and Diego (and their daughter Sofia) offer a private room with bathroom plus use of the kitchen, living room, washing machine, parking space, Wi-Fi, and a full breakfast including bread and chocolate croissants from the French baker in town, fresh juice, fruit, yogurt, coffee and tea, eggs, cheese, and meat served on a gorgeous inlaid wooden table from Switzerland. Diego is a poet and Valentina is an archaeologist and director of the acclaimed museum in San Pedro de Atacama. Their Desert House, an experimental modern design completed in 2016, features white washed wood, soaring ceilings, a grated floor and elevated area for poetry readings and art installations, and skylights positioned perfectly for seeing stars from bed.

New to Airbnb? Book your first stay and get this $40 discount

 

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about travel in Peru

 

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