Traveling the Infamous BR-319 Road – Manaus to Porto Velho, Brazil

Deep mud. Giant potholes. Rickety wooden bridges. And all in the middle of nowhere. The BR-319, which connects Porto Vehlo to Manaus in the Amazon in northern Brazil, is one of the most infamous roads in the world. While technically a numbered highway, the BR-319 is known as 540 miles (870 km) of travel torture (or driving adventure, depending on your POV). But recently, some of the most hazardous aspects of the road have been improved. Has the BR-319 lost its bite?

BR-319 Manaus to Porto Velho, Brazil

A smooth section of the BR-319, an infamous road linking the Amazonian city of Manaus with the rest of Brazil.

Driving Brazil’s infamous BR-319 road

The BR-319 was built in by the Brazilian military in 1973 and inaugurated in 1976  to link Manaus to the rest of Brazil. However, it was never paved and almost instant neglect meant that extreme weather and persistent jungle vegetation quickly did their worst. In the rainy season the road is often an impassable mess of deep clay pools. Then there are the 40-year-old wooden bridges–rickety,  narrow and best navigated with extreme care and very, very good karma.

A quick search on YouTube offers many entertaining glimpses of the considerable challenges on this infamous highway across the Amazon. Even the two million people living in Manaus don’t really consider their city in the middle of the Amazon jungle to be truly connected to the rest of the country by road. They prefer to fly.

Improvements to the BR-319

Reluctant to beat up our truck on the BR-319 by driving  this torture test round trip, we left our truck in Porto Velho and flew to Manaus. When we got to the city we heard about new regular bus service along the BR-319 from Manaus to Porto Velho (and vice versa), so that’s how we made our return trip. We figured if full-size buses can do the road then the worst sections and barely passable bridges must have been improved.

Bus BR-319 from Manaus to Porto Velho

She may not look like much to you, but this “executive” bus was actually pretty plush and far more comfortable and new than we expected on the BR-319.

Sure, the road is still rough, and bumpy, and mostly made of potholes, and likely a total mess in the rain, and the ferry you have to take over a small river inspires something less than confidence, and the bridges are still made out of wood but, overall, the road was nowhere near as bad as we’d been lead to believe.

Ferry across The Amazon BR-319 Manaus

The bus journey over the infamous BR-319 road out of Manaus begins with a ferry ride over the Amazon River. In front of us is the famous “meeting of the waters” where the dark water of the Rio Negro and the milky-looking water of the Rio Solimões meet but don’t mingle for miles.

The most dramatic moments of the journey happen right out of Manaus when passengers get off the bus and onto a ferry, followed by the empty bus, to cross the Amazon River. The BR-319 is paved (poorly) for about an hour out of Manaus then it’s all dirt (and one short DIY looking ferry) until a couple of hours before reaching Porto Velho when crappy pavement resumes. All of the bad bridges seem to have been fixed up to accommodate full-size buses and we even saw a grader. With no rain in sight, our one-way journey was a relative breeze at just 22 hours.

There’s been talk about improving and paving the entire BR-319 for years. After talking to locals in Manaus, it’s our belief that that will never happen. It’s generally understood that powerful shipping interests in Manaus will never stand for an improvement in the road since that would bite into their profitable monopoly on moving goods to and from Manaus. The city is a free-trade-zone and home to hundreds of factories which means there’s big money in moving goods which now happens exclusively by river. Environmentalists also prefer that the road stay rough to keep the area wild.

So, for now, at least in the dry season, the BR-319 can be taken off the list of the world’s most infamous roads.

Arriving in Porto Velho BR=319 from Manaus. Madiera River

Arriving in Porto Velho on the Madiera River after 22 hours on a bus driving the infamous B-R319 road from Manaus.

How to travel the BR-319 by bus

Multiple bus companies send buses over the BR-319 between Manaus and Porto Velho daily. We booked with the Aruana bus company and paid R/229 each (about US$72). We got a ticket with a reserved seat. You will need to show your passport when booking and again when boarding.

The buses have a toilet at the back so sitting as close to the front of the bus is advised. The toilets get nasty by the end of the journey. Some buses also supply water on board, but don’t count on it.

Our bus had inside storage space overhead that was similar to that found on small airplanes (ie, not very big). The main luggage area under our bus was lined with a grippy material to reduce bouncing and sliding. We were also given big plastic bags to put our luggage in to keep the dust off.  We got a claim ticket for each of our bags and the luggage compartment was locked.

We stopped a few times during the journey for quick (mediocre and cheap) food and (basic and dirty) bathroom breaks. Overall, the bus was comfortable and reasonably clean, though the A/C was VERY cold. Bring layers.

Sadly, this journey is done mostly in the dark which means passengers don’t get much opportunity to see the pristine jungle or look for wildlife.

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Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle – Colombia

South of Medellin farmers found the perfect conditions for growing some of the world’s best coffee. Colombian coffee from this area is so good and the coffee culture so intact that UNESCO inscribed the region as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia. More commonly called the Coffee Triangle, this area has become popular with travelers because of the laid back people, beautiful landscapes and (of course) the coffee. Here are our top hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia including hotels in Manizales, Pereira and Quimbabya.

Top Hotels in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia

Hacienda Buenavista near Quimbaya

When this five room boutique hotel opened in 2014 it ushered in a whole new level of accommodation in the coffee triangle: exclusive, romantic, stylish, modern, gourmet, adults-only. Find out more in our complete review of Hacienda Buenavista.

Hacienda Buenavista - Coffee triangle, Colombia


Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira

The small city of Pereira isn’t a tourist destination in and of itself (it’s more of a business hub), but Pereira is on the way from Medellin to the heart of the coffee region. The Sazagua, named after a chief of the Quimbaya people who used to live here, is on the outskirts of town where things are still rural and peaceful. The stately elegant hotel, which also offers a pool and a spa, makes a great break in your journey. Brass bathroom fixtures and original tile floors give the rooms a homey feel. Book room number one (pictured below) for even more space and an indoor hammock. The hotel restaurant is so good that people stop by just to eat or to have business meetings over a good meal. Bilingual waiters, a peaceful garden setting and a wide-ranging menu including homemade soups and salads (the Cesar salad was excellent with home-made dressing), pork, fish and lots of beef (the steak au poivre was succulent with a truly peppery sauce) keep everyone happy.

Sazagua Hotel & Spa near Pereira


Hacienda Venecia near Manizales

This working coffee farm offers a range of rooms including shared dorms with the use of a kitchen and private rooms in a restored traditional building called the Main House which dates back more than 100 years. Antique furniture, creaking original wood floors and breezy patios make it easy to relax and live like a coffee baron for a few days. There are no keys and no TVs. A good guided coffee tour, which explains coffee growing and processing, is offered and the owners also have a stable of paso fino horses and rides around the plantation can be arranged for experienced riders. Hiking and bird watching are also offered and there’s a pool. Guests returning from activities are greeted with fresh juice and the kitchen turns out delicious traditional meals. An innovative bamboo gazebo, designed by a local architect, is a great place to relax as the resident peacocks stroll the grounds.

Hacienda Venecia near Manizales


Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya

This family run country hotel dovetails perfectly with the culture of Colombia’s coffee country. The two story house was built more than 120 years ago and it retains its traditional paint job, wide wrap around veranda and original wood and tile floors. It was loving restored and modernized as a seven room hotel a couple of decades ago and all rooms have private bathrooms and antiques from the original house. The place is perfectly built to catch the breezes and make the most of the bucolic agricultural land and Andes views that surround it. There’s a pool and a sprawling garden favored by all sorts of bird, a free coffee plantation tour is offered and excellent estate-grown coffee and gourmet traditional meals are served.

Finca Villa Nora near Quimbaya


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Where We’ve Been: September 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Peru & Brazil

We spent July and August traveling in a relatively small area around Cusco and the Sacred Valley in Peru so we logged very few miles. Boy, did we make up for it in September with more than 1,900 miles (3,000 km) driven from Cusco, Peru to Porto Jofre deep in Brazil’s Pantanal area. An additional 550 miles (885 km) were covered by plane from Porto Velho, Brazil up to Manaus in the heart of the Amazon and (a first for us on our Trans-Americas Journey) a 22 hour bus ride from Manaus back to Porto Velho via Brazil’s infamous BR-319 road which is a remote, rough, dirt “highway”. Brazil is big, people. Here’s our road trip driving route for September 2016 in Peru and Brazil.

September 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Peru & Brazil

Our road trip driving route for the month of September actually began on August 30th when, after nearly two months, we broke away from the Cusco region. From Cusco we drove over the Andes and down to Porto Maldonado in the Amazon where we took a side-journey by boat into the Tambopata Nature Reserve.

We left Porto Maldonado and crossed into Brazil which turned out to be the easiest, fastest and most remote border crossing yet. We knew we were really in the middle of nowhere when the mileage sign near at the border indicated we were 2,217 miles (4,373 km) from Rio de Janeiro. Did we mention that Brazil is big?

Peru Brazil Border miles to Rio road trip driving route

We knew we were going to clock some serious miles in September when we saw this mileage sign at the Peru-Brazil border.

For the rest of the month we crossed the Amazon in one way or another. After crossing the border we visited the surprisingly tidy and pleasant city of Rio Branco where we should have stayed longer. Then we continued on to Porto Velho where we took our plane/bus side-trip to Manaus and back.

Once back in Porto Velho we made a 1,000 mile (1,600 km) bee-line to the Pantanal region where we traversed another notorious road, the Trans-Pantaneira Highway, to reach Porto Jofre where we finally saw jaguars in the wild.

You can see all the action in our drive-lapse video, above, which was shot by our Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR Time Lapse Video Camera which is mounted on the dashboard of our truck. Watch as we cross the Amazon region (minute 4 through 12) where, you will note, much of the landscape, except for a few pockets of protected jungle, has been deforested to make way for large cattle ranches. Minute 13 through the end of the video lets you follow along on the Trans-Pantaneira highway which was so filled with wildlife it was like our a South American Safari.

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Back to the Past – Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia

Santa Fe de Antioquia is a popular weekend getaway for paisas (people from the department of Antioquia) who are living in Medellin. They make the 50 mile (80 km) drive from the busy city to go back to the past and enjoy all of the things that have earned this town, founded in 1541, a place Colombia’s elite Pueblos Patrimonio network: colonial architecture and churches, cobblestone streets and a pleasing sense that there’s nothing much to do but grab a beer and soak it all in. You could travel there as a day trip, but we found reasons to stay.

Parque Principal Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Parque Principal in Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia.

Getting to Santa Fe de Antioquia

On our way from  Medellin to Santa Fe de Antioquia, which was the first capital of Antioquia province before Medellin took over, we made a quick stop at the picturesque Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West). When the bridge was finished in 1894, the 950 foot (290 meter) span which crosses the Cauca River, was the longest suspension bridge in South America and the 7th longest in the world. These days the bridge, which is a National Monument, has been restored but only light traffic (motos, small vehicles and foot traffic) is allowed to use it.

Puente de Occident Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West) was the longest suspension bridge in South America when it was completed in 1894.

Exploring Santa Fe de Antioquia

As we mentioned, the main reason to visit Santa Fe de Antioquia is to grab a beer and soak in the Colonial atmosphere. However, we do have a couple of recommendations about two specific things to do and see in town.

Plaza Santa Fe de Antioquia

One of many picturesque plazas in Santa Fe de Antioquia.


colonial architecture Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Restored and preserved Colonial architecture like this is one reason that Santa Fe de Antioquia is part of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio group of historic towns.

Jorge Robledo Ortiz is a lauded Colombian poet and the founder of Santa Fe de Antioquia. Not surprisingly, there’s a charming little museum dedicated to his life,  accomplishments and local legacy. For a glimpse or artists shaping modern Santa Fe de Antioquia, head for La Comedia. This bar and restaurant is a magnet for creative types and doubles as a movie theater. It’s a relaxed place to eat, drink, people watch, enjoy the excellent soundtrack and appreciate the rotating art shows.

Santa Barbara church Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Santa Barbara church in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

colonial architecture Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Colonial architecture, lovingly preserved, in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

In Santa Fe de Antioquia we stayed at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo which is located on a small plaza.It’s been in business since 1946 which explains why the place is filled to the rafters with antiques (or old dusty junk, depending on your POV). They offer a wide range of rooms, a big, inviting pool, and a tranquil atmosphere. But don’t take it from us. Actors Tara Reid and John Leguizamo are up on the celebrity guest wall, so there’s that.


A church view from one of the patios at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

pool Hotel Mariscal Robledo Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

The pool at the Hotel Mariscal Robledo in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

Piasas Santa Fe de Antioquia Colombia

Local paisas hanging out in Santa Fe de Antioquia.

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