Top Travel Gear of the Year 2015

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we’ve told you about in previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, including our Hydro Flask insulated stainless steel water bottles, Karen’s Dell laptop and, of course, One Drop. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2015 including our hardcore coffee savior, Eric’s favorite pants, and our Phantom 3 Pro drone. All road tested. All road approved.

Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel Gear of the Year 2015

Top travel clothing of 2015

 prAna Stretch Zion pants

 

Karen has to practically pry Eric out of his prAna Stretch Zion pants. They’re good looking, tough, comfortable and easily transition from trail to town. Eric loves the slight stretch and his only complaint is that the front pockets are a bit small. Also, we have no idea what the crotch vents are all about…
– Buy them on Amazon

 

 

Colombia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt

After having a melanoma removed in 2015, Karen got even MORE serious about sun protection. A new tool in her no-more-melanoma tool box is a Columbia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt with SPF 40 protection. It’s cool (in both senses of the word) and easy to put on alone or over a tee for an instant boost in UV protection.
– Buy it on Amazon

 

 

Lowa Tempest Hiking shoesEric has been wearing New Balance sneakers for years. In 2015, lured by a seemingly endless stream of glowing reviews, he got his first pair of Lowa Tempest low hikers. He’s never looked back. These shoes bridge the gap between trail running sneakers and hiking boots, look good enough for city wear and they last way longer than his New Balance sneakers ever did (which makes the heftier price tag worth it).
– Buy them on Amazon

 

Kaikuna Hoodie

Hoodies have become a ubiquitous wardrobe staple and that includes your travel wardrobe. There are hundreds of hoodies on the market but only one that’s made from sustainable fabrics and designed by experienced travelers (we know because we traveled with founders Alan and Julie years ago in Nepal – that’s Karen and Julie, above, reuniting in their hoodies in California recently). That would be Kaikuna. The Kaikuna hoodie for women (sorry guys, you’re gonna have to wait for yours) fits slim but doesn’t ride up on your hips, has cool thumb loops to keep sleeves in place no matter how active you are and plenty of hidden pockets and other features to accommodate cell phones and audio gear right in the jacket. The bamboo/cotton mix fabric is way kinder to the planet than cotton or poly and it’s so soft that you’ll want to use your hoodie as a pillow on long bus rides.

 

Mahabis fireplace

What do you think of when you think of slippers? Forget all that. Our wool Mahabis slippers keep our feet warm without making us feel like we’re shuffling around a nursing home. Plus they can be squished into our luggage without doing any permanent damage. Find out more in our full review of our Mahabis slippers.
– Shop the Mahabis collection and get 10% off if you sign up for their newsletter.

 

We don’t advocate packing jeans on a normal backpacking trip. They’re too heavy and they take too long to dry. But we’re not on a normal backpacking trip and jeans play an important part in our road trip wardrobe. When Eric’s not wearing his prAna Zion pants (see above), he’s probably in his Cool Vantage Wranglers. They fit just like his regular cowboy cut Wranglers (slim and comfy), but these jeans are made with a combination of cotton and polyester that allows them to breathe which keeps Eric cool and dry in warmer climates.
Buy them on Amazon

 

Costa del Mar sunglassesWe’ve worn Costa del Mar sunglasses from day one of our Trans-Americas Journey because they’re well-made and have lenses with 100% polarization that protect our eyes from the full spectrum of UV rays. Also, Eric’s Costas now have prescription lenses (which made our list of top travel gear in 2014). However, we don’t always want to look like we’re about to head out into the jungle so Karen was delighted when Costa del Mar added a line of more fashionable frames for women. Same great construction, same protective and scratch resistant lenses and same great warranty, just a lot cuter.

 

Top travel gear of 2015

 InCase ICON laptop BackpackOur Trans-Americas Journey is a working road trip which means that along with the usual clothing and toiletries we also lug laptops, power cords, external drives and research materials with us into and out of hotel rooms. Finding a computer bag that’s roomy, protective and easy to carry is a challenge. Karen’s new InCase ICON Backpack is all of that plus the construction of the bag means it stays compact and trim, not bulgey and sloppy, even when fully loaded. It also has a fleece pocket for my Dell XPS 13 Touch laptop and lots of doo-dad pockets for pens, files, etc and the straps are very comfortable. Karen also loves the bright red color.
Buy the InCase ICON laptop backpack on Amazon

 

BonJour insulated French Press We felt a little ridiculous packing our Bonjour Insulated French Press coffee maker (right) when we left New York City and embarked on our Trans-Americas Journey back in 2006, but, well, coffee.  It’s turned out to be a prized possession. The non-glass construction is very durable and it’s served us well in campsites and during house sits or rentals where no coffee maker (or a crappy coffee maker) is provided. The model we have is not in production anymore and for some reason, the Bonjour website only shows glass models. However, Bonjour does still make a fancy stainless steel insulated French Press  and you can buy it here.

 

 Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zincWe’ve been wearing KINeSYS SPF 30 sunscreen products for years and we will continue to do so. But after Karen’s melanoma removal in 2015 we decided to add some heavier hitters to our arsenal to use when we’re at altitude (and, hence, closer to the sun and more prone to damage), on the water or in any other high UV situation. Lucky for us, KINeSYS recently debuted a new SPF 50 spray and it’s fantastic: non-greasy, fast-absorbing, non-stinging, water-resistant and long-lasting. Zinc is one of the best ingredients for ultimate sun protection but it can be goopey to use and can leave a weird white patina on your skin. Not so with our Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zinc. It’s a bit thick, but it does fully absorb and does not leave a white film behind. Plus, Colombian actress Sofia Vergara swears by it…

 

Top travel tech of 2015

Steiner binoculars at Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

What’s the point of traveling to wildlife rich areas of the world if you don’t have the gear to see what’s out there? In 2015 we upgraded to Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binoculars and, so far, these waterproof, high-powered babies have helped us see all sorts of creatures in places like the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and the Amazon in Peru. To get smart about getting your own quality binoculars check out our post about how to buy the best binoculars for travel.
Buy them on Amazon

 


2015 was the year that the Trans-Americas Journey got airborne with the addition of a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. So far, Eric’s flown 56 flights totaling more than nine hours of flying time covering a distance of more than 52 miles (84 km). He’s captured aerial footage of gorgeous locations including Guatape in Colombia, the massive San Rafael Waterfall in Ecuador (watch that drone footage, above) and the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway. Coming soon: a full post about all the tips and tricks we’ve learned about traveling and filming with a drone.
Buy your Phantom from the DJI store
Buy this from Amazon

Uber logoDuring our recent extended stay in Bogotá, Colombia we finally got hooked on Uber like the rest of the world. We used Uber to get around the city (it’s impossible to park our big truck in big cities like Bogota) and the service was convenient, prompt and often cheaper than regular taxis. The Uber cars were always cleaner than taxis and though crime is down and safety is up across Colombia, it’s still a good idea to avoid flagging down a random taxi and hopping inside. Using Uber was reliable and provided the extra security of a verified driver and a record of our ride at a great price. Rides varied in price from around US$1.50 to a whopping US$3.75 for a 7.5 mile (12km) 30 minute ride that took us clear across the city. If you’re the last person on earth without an Uber account, sign up. You’ll get a bonus and we’ll get a bonus for referring you

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Hotels

Welcome to Part 3 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 3 is our guide to the Best Hotels we stayed at during the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including where to sleep in Mick Jagger’s bed in Peru,  the most dramatic check-in in Ecuador and the best Bed & Beer in Colombia. Part 1 covers the Best Adventures & Activities of 2015, Part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015 the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here’s our travel guide to the best hotels in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru of 2015.

Best Hotels Guide for 2015

Kentitambo Hotel - Leymebamba, Peru

Best bohemichic hotel: The indigenous quechua word “kenti” means “hummingbird”. The Quechua word “tambo” means inn. The Kentitambo Hotel, just outside Leymebamba in Peru, lives up to the name with a hummingbird filled garden surrounding its two large suites. Cobblestone paths wind through the lush flowers. Owner Adriana Von Hagen has created two relaxed and stylish suites, one upstairs (pictured above) and one downstairs, which feature vibrant textiles, lots of sunlight, a porch with a hammock, small deer antlers used as towel hooks and gleaming wood floors. Right across the street is the excellent Museo Leymebamba which houses a collection of artifacts, including 200 mummies.

 

Zen Suites Hotel Quito

Best new mid range hotel in Quito: Hotel Zen Suites, opened in late 2015, is conveniently located between the La Floresta and Mariscal neighborhoods of Quito, Ecuador just 10 minutes by (very affordable) taxi to the city’s colonial center which was part of the very first group of cities inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site way back in 1978. Most of the 47 rooms at the hotel feature great views of the city skyline and surrounding Andes mountains from a wall of floor to ceiling windows and some rooms have private patios. All rooms have plush bedding, rain shower heads and mini fridges. Rooms on the 8th floor have small balconies.There’s also a small but effective gym and a business center. Coffee and tea are available all day and the staff speaks English (not always a given in Ecuador). Rates, from US$97 per night, include a full breakfast buffet, which is much cheaper than similarly appointed hotels in the area.

 

Gocta Lodge, Peru

Best view from bed: The 2,531 foot (771 meter) high Gocta Waterfall, in the town of Cocachimba in northern Peru, has the fifth longest free-falling waterfall drop in the world, which is to say it’s an impressive sight. Make the most of it by booking a room at the sleek and stylish Gocta Lodge where all 10 rooms afford views of the cascade right from bed. Get a room on the second floor for more privacy so you can keep your curtains open all the time.

 

Buga Hostal, Buga Colombia

Best bed and beer: The town of Buga, Colombia is most famous as the site of what some perceive as a miracle. Pilgrims come to the church in Buga regularly. Those who worship good beer should visit as well because Buga is home to Buga Hostal and the Holy Water Ale Cafe, Colombia’s only Bed & Beer. The hostal is affordable and fine. The brew pub attached to the hostal is great, offering a range of delicious beers on tap made by German owner and brew master Stefan Schnur. Bonus: the pizza is legit too.

 

Masphi Eco Lodge - Mindo, Ecuador

Best curtains: The 22 rooms at Masphi Eco Lodge, the most luxurious way to stay in the rain forest in Ecuador, each have a different, vibrantly colored, massive remote-control operated curtain over a wall of windows. Upon check in, the curtain is raised to reveal a stunning view of the rain forest (and its inhabitants) just outside your room (pictured above). Your stay just gets more stunning from there.

 

La Casa Fitzcarraldo hotel - Iquitos Peru Mick Jaggers bed

Best place to sleep in Mick Jagger’s bed: Actors, crew and director Werner Herzog descended on the Peruvian Amazon to film the movie “Fitzcarraldo” which tells the crazy real life tale of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald who moved a 320 ton ship over a mountain to reach a different Amazon tributary. Shooting in the jungle took years. Cast members, including Mick Jagger, came and went.  Somehow, the movie was made (if you haven’t seen it you should fix that). Through it all, cast and crew used a sprawling house in Iquitos, Peru as their base. Today, the executive producer of the movie, Walter Saxer, runs the house as La Casa Fitzcarraldo hotel. You can sleep in Mick Jagger’s room (above) or in the bungalow where Werner Herzog and his wife lived and fought. Don’t miss the chance to chat with Walter to gain even more incredible insights into the making of the movie.

 

Reserva El Cairo Hotel - Salento, Cocora Velley, Colombia

Best new hotel in Colombia: Reserva El Cairo Hotel (above) brings the right mix of modern sustainability and Colombian traditional architecture (the restored and converted house is more than 100 years old) to the Salento area of central Colombia. Nestled in the Cocora Valley, a few miles away from the fray in the picturesque town of Salento, the hotel is surrounded by the storybook beauty of this valley which is home to stands of wax palms which are Colombia’s national tree and the tallest palm on the planet.

 

Tucan Suites in Tarapoto, Peru

Best headboard: The awesome graphics of tucans perched on urban power lines behind the luxe beds at Tucan Suites (above) in Tarapoto, Peru are arresting, playful and the perfect embodiment of this super-chic retreat in the gateway to Peru’s northern Amazon which is a haven for tucans and tourists alike.

 

Aria Amazon Cruise Peru

Best floating luxury hotel: There are many ways to float down the Amazon river but nothing reaches the level of luxury, cuisine and service offered by Aqua Expeditions which operates the Aqua Amazon River Boat and the Aria Amazon River Boat. We spent four days on the Aria which is, essentially, a floating world-class boutique hotel (above). Suites are elegantly designed. Staff members are polished and English-speaking. The food is fantastic with a cuisine program lead by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima. The on-board experience is so good that you almost don’t want to leave the mother ship for guided excursions into the Amazon. Almost.

 

Geisha Love Motel Cali

Best love motel: A love motel is a discreet place, often on the edge of big cities, where lovers (covert or not) can shack up by the hour. They’re ubiquitous, popular and largely without stigma in Latin America were it’s common for couples to live at home where privacy is at a premium.  You can pull into a love motel, park your vehicle in a garage so no one can see your plates, enter your room and register all without ever being face to face with another human. Room service is delivered via a revolving lazy Susan in the wall to retain anonymity. Guests are often supplied with condoms and the better love motels have porn on the TV, Jacuzzis, condoms and even sex toys. The best love motel of 2015, by far, were the Geisha Love Motels in Cali, Colombia with their random, Japanese theme, sex chairs in the rooms which “accommodate 3” plus available “medical assistance” all for 60,000 cop (about US$20) for eight hours. For your convenience, there are two locations in Cali, one north of the city and one south of the city.

 

Egypt themed motel Peru

Best budget hotel with a random Egypt obsession: Rates at Hostal El Aribalo in Catacoas, Peru are a big draw – at just 70 soles (about US$20) for a private room with WiFi, fan,  TV, hot water bathroom and an enormous parking lot it’s a bargain. The other draw is the unique decor. Never mind that the street out front is noisy and there was no mirror in our bathroom (only a huge one in front of the bed…) and the shower didn’t work properly and they’re using a bed skirt as a top sheet…We had King Tut in front of our door and a 14 foot tall sphinx looking over our truck in the parking lot (above). Why, pray tell, are the grounds, halls and rooms at this Peruvian hostal full of Egypt motifs? We have no idea. Frankly, we were a bit scared to ask.

 

W Hotel Bogota bathrobe Estaban Cortazar

Best cold weather bathrobe: Guests in the massive Extreme Wow Suite at the W Bogotá Hotel in Colombia’s capital are treated to robes designed by Bogotá –born fashion designer Estaban Cortazar who was head designer at Ungaro before famously storming out after Lindsey Lohan was brought on board as a consultant (who wouldn’t?). The lush hooded robes, unveiled in August of 2015, are emerald green with gold accents and come with a slim hook-and-clasp belt as well as the usual sash belt (ours are pictured, above) for those of us not quite as svelte as the designer is.

Best hot weather bathrobe: The light, high quality cotton robes on board the Aria Amazon River Boat (see above) come in a chic shade of river stone grey, fit like a dream and aren’t too hot to wear in the Amazon.

Read more about travel in Colombia

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Peru

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 – Best Food & Beverages

Welcome to Part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2015 series of posts. Part 2 is our guide to the Best Food & Beverages we enjoyed during the past year of travel on our little road trip through the Americas including giant Amazon fish, reinvented arepas and the best tacos south of Mexico. Part 1 covers the Best Adventures & Activities of 2015, Part 3 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year.

In 2015 the Trans-Americas Journey explored Colombia, Ecuador and Peru and we drove 7,210 miles (11,603 km) doing it. Want more geeky road trip numbers like how much money we’ve spent on gas and how many borders we’ve driven over? Check out the Trip Facts & Figures page on our website.

And now, in no particular order, here’s our guide to the best food in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador in 2015.

Best Food & Beverages of 2015

Best food city: It’s no contest. Bogotá, Colombia blew our minds, culinarily speaking, and we should know. We spent weeks eating our way through the city, meeting chefs and generally falling in love with the food that’s going on there. There was so much to love that we wrote a comprehensive post about where to eat in Bogotá including 29 amazing places (and one to skip) and then we published another post all about drinking in Bogotá.

 

Aria Amazon River Cruise dining room

Best floating food: The Aria Amazon River Boat is a floating five-star hotel and restaurant that takes guests through the Amazon and its tributaries in northern Peru. The food lives up to the hype thanks to a menu created by Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who runs the award-winning Malabar restaurant in Lima. Meal after meal presented an amazing array of choices, many of them incorporating Amazonian ingredients like paiche fish, yuca and camu camu fruit. About 70% of the menu’s ingredients are sourced from the Amazon basin.  About 100% of it was delicious. In 2016 the company is offering special chef-hosted cruises that include tutorials and visits to local markets. That’s the elegant dining room, above.

Fabianos Pizza Cuenca, Ecuador

Best every day pizza: Fabiano’s Pizza in Cuenca, Ecuador serves legit pizza (see above) at great prices to a crowd that’s heavy on the expats (the place had a festive nursing home vibe). The most expensive 12 slice pizza was around US$17.00 and a generous glass of wine was US$3.50. Cash only. English is spoken (did we mention the expats?).

 

Fabiano’s Pizza Cuenca, Ecuador

Best fish and chips: The beachfront road through Puerto Lopez on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador is home to a string of restaurants that look and smell pretty much the same. We randomly chose one called Carmelitas and, for about US$7, we got a massive plate of fabulous fish and chips (called pescado chicharron on the menu, pictured above). the food was so light, fresh and delicious that we returned the next day for more.

 

 El Comedor Comfort Food in Bogotá li

Best comfort food: El Comedor Comfort Food in Bogotá lives up to its name with their salt encrusted whole chicken, a succulent bird that’s served with roasted potatoes (above) and avocado salad. It’s a local’s favorite and must be ordered ahead.

 

La Fama Barbeque Bogota best pastrami sandwich

Best pastrami sandwich: 2015 was the year that La Fama Barbecue added a pastrami sandwich to the menu (27,000 COP or about US$8.50). The pastrami is brined for 14 hours then slow cooked and smoked. The meat has a perfect patina, it’s thin sliced, super tender and delivers great flavor. The pastrami is served on buttered and toasted rye bread from El Arbol de Pan bakery along with Swiss cheese. A great slaw is served on the side. Au jus dipping sauce also comes with it for some mysterious reason.

 

Apache Burger Bar in Bogotá

Best to-go cup: We love to-go cups because they provide a way for you to take your unfinished drink with you when you leave a bar instead of forfeiting it. We’ve rarely seen to-go cups outside of New Orleans, so we were thrilled when staff at Apache Burger Bar in Bogotá handed us a high quality, high design to-go cup (above) on our way out the door.

 

Arepas Moliendo Café Cuenca, Ecuador

Best reinvented dish: The Colombian owners of Moliendo Café in Cuenca, Ecuador have re-invented the (very) humble arepa by turning the basic ground corn patty into a vessel to be topped with extremely well made Colombian favorites like beans, hogao (a rich sauce of chopped and simmered vegetables), chorizo, chicharron (fried cubes of meaty pork skin), ribs, etc. Orders are around US$3.50 and portions are huge (as you can see above). They also import Postobon soda and Aguila and Poker beer from Colombia.

 

Tacos  Cantina y Punto Bogotá

Best taco south of Mexico: Readers of our travel blog know that we miss the food in Mexico every single day. So we were thrilled to get the chance to sample some dishes from Chef Roberto Ruiz in the days before he opened Cantina y Punto in Bogotá, Colombia in late 2015. Chef Ruiz is from Mexico and his Punto MX restaurant in Madrid is the only Mexican restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star. Working with a brand new staff in a brand new kitchen as construction went on around him, Chef Ruiz proceeded to exceed our expectations with a plate of tuna chicharron tacos on hand made tortillas, his famous guacamole and a fiery, flavorful salsa made from freshly roasted chilies sourced from a Mexican farmer near Medellin (above).

 

Demente - Cartagena, Colombia

Best new beer garden: In November of 2015 Demente Beer Garden opened on Plaza de la Trinidad in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia right next to Demente Tapas Bar. The new beer garden serves Colombian craft beer (including Bogotá Beer Company, Apostol, 3 Cordilleras and Sierra Nevada) and pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven and is every bit as cool as its older sibling.

Best falafel: United Falafel Org (UFO), located next to the weirdly sterile church in the center of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, serves up fluffy falafel balls, great tahini, delicious hot sauce and homemade pitas (US$3.50 for a two ball falafel sandwich or US$6 for a five ball falafel platter). Not into falafel? Rotating specials including eggplant wraps and curries are also on the menu at this tiny, bohemian space where tables are made from old pallettes.

Read more about travel in Colombia

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Peru

 

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