[contextly_main_module]

Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 – Best Hotels

This post is part 2 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

An RV hotel on the beach in Peru, the best luxury sleep in the Galapagos, a floating budget hotel in Brazil, the most over-the-top honeymoon suite we’ve ever seen, and more great hotels in South America! Welcome to Part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 series–our guide to the Best Hotels of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2016, Part 3 covers the Best Food and Beverages of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our favorite Travel Gear of the year. But now, in no particular order, here’s our travel guide to…

The best hotels of 2016

Hotel Unique Sao Paulo

The appropriately named Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Best check-in

Best check-in Hotel Unique Sao Paulo

Staff at Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo, Brazil get check in (and so many other things) right.

Checking into a hotel is tedious. Didn’t you already give all of that information when you made your reservation? Some hotels think the answer is to forego check-in for some kind of check-in light as if answering the same questions in your room instead of the lobby makes it better. We think the answer is to simply improve the check-in experience in order to make a stellar, tone-setting first impression. Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo, Brazil gets it right with capable, amenable staff plus champagne along with a bowl of beloved Brazilian sweets. Check-in on a Friday and there will also be trays of popcorn. And we all know how well popcorn and champagne go together. Believe it or not, the Hotel Unique experience just gets better from there.

Best rooms with three walls

Rainforest Expeditions Tambopata Amazon Peru

The owners of the Amazon lodges operated by Rainforest Expeditions know that you want to be in the jungle, so rooms only have three walls.

Rainforest Expeditions runs three lodges in the Tambopata Reserve in the Amazon in Peru and each of them offers a lot of things: excellent guides (including Paul, our favorite guide of the year), comfortable facilities, great staff and terrific food. What they don’t offer is rooms with four walls. Every room at every Rainforest Expeditions lodge has only three walls. The fourth wall is left open to the jungle which means macaws can fly into your room if they feel like it (and they do). Beds have good nets over them and, honestly, bugs were never a big problem so don’t freak out. The idea is to really immerse yourself in the sounds, sights, and smells of the jungle. That’s what you’re there for, after all.

Best view from bed

hotel-el-crater-quito

Admiring the crater from bed at Hotel El Crater in Ecuador.

Hotel El Crater near Quito, Ecuador was built right on the rim of the extinct Pululahua volcano (which is one of only two volcanic craters in the world that are inhabited). To take full advantage of the view, rooms have a wall of windows facing the crater and the bed is placed just so. When the fog lifts in the morning, the crater reveals itself and you don’t even have to get out of bed to see it.

Best hotel if you still mourn Mad Men

Brasilia Palace Hotel

Cold, hard, Mad Men modernism at the Brasilia Palace hotel in Brasilia, Brazil.

The first hotel built in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, still looks, feels, and acts like it’s the late 1950s when the Brasilia Palace Hotel opened its doors. Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (who also oversaw its renovation after the building was abandoned and looted following a major fire), the 156 room hotel is all about modernism, open space, angles, and a kind of cold, hard futurism. Room 201, known as the Oscar Suite, has an Eames lounge chair and some truly groovy blue beading in the bathroom. Don Draper would approve.

Best problem solving

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

Rooms like this and a polished staff make the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel the best choice in Aguas Calientes, Peru.

We had a problem. Potentially a BIG problem. The date on our entry tickets for Machu Picchu did not match the day we intended to enter the Incan archaeological site. We were being assured by random ticket agents and tour operators that it didn’t matter, but we weren’t buying it. We returned to the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where we were staying as part of our Lares trek to Machu Picchu with Mountain Lodges of Peru, and asked the staff what we should do. They gave the correct answer: we should do nothing. They would handle everything. They called the regional tourism authorities, verified that the date discrepancy would not matter, and laid our fears to rest in a matter of moments.

Best breakfast buffet

Casarao Villa do Imperio in Pirenopolis, Brazil

Breakfast is served and the champagne is flowing at Casarao Villa do Imperio in Pirenopolis, Brazil.

Hotel breakfasts in Brazil are almost always a buffet affair, usually heavy on cakes. Hotel Casarao Villa do Imperio in Pirenopolis, Brazil takes the beloved Brazilian breakfast buffet to new heights with a very wide range of house-baked sweet and savory treats, eggs to order, good coffee and free-flowing champagne. 

Best hotel room in a boat

The newest room at the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, was built into a beached wooden boat and offers a queen size bed, a jetted tub in the bathroom, and a private furnished deck with ocean views. 

Best X-rated room

Room 69 at Anaconda Lodge, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Room 69 at Anaconda Lodge in Puerto Maldonado, Peru.

Room 69 at Anaconada Lodge, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru (gateway to the Tampopata area), features a wooden bed with four enormous penises carved into the bed posts, bedside tables with boobs that serve as drawer handles, and a table supported by the bent over legs and backsides of two women instead of traditional legs. The furniture was carved by a local artist based on designs by the owners, Donald and Wadee, who swear the artist wasn’t too shocked. The other bungalows at Anaconda Lodge are all totally G-rated, by the way, and the Thai food made by Wadee and her daughter (they’re from Thailand) is the best we’ve had, so far, in Latin America.

Best new place to sleep with jaguars

Pousada do Rio Mutum have debuted the Mutum Expediciones boat hotel

The new Mutum Expediciones boat hotel offers the chance to spend the night on a river whose banks are frequented by jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal.

During the dry season, jaguars are routinely seen on the banks of the Cuiabá River in the Pantanal grasslands of Brazil. There are plenty of lodges on dry land which offer boat trips on the river to look for jaguars. Now there’s a new way to sleep on the river too. The team behind Pousada do Rio Mutum have debuted the Mutum Expediciones boat hotel. It has six small cabins with bathrooms, air conditioning, TV, and a mini-fridge plus a roomy common area and ample outdoor lounging areas. Rates include all meals and a fridge full of cold beer.

Best luxury hotel with a heart

Sol y Luna Hotel, in the Sacred Valley of Peru

Style, space, and a real sense of civic duty make Sol y Luna a special luxury hotel in Peru’s Sacred Valley.

Sol y Luna Hotel, in the Sacred Valley of Peru, was started in 2000 as a way to fund the owner’s primary passion: the Sol y Luna Intercultural Colegio which was created to give a better level of education to students of all backgrounds, including many from poor families in communities with weak or no schools at all. Both the hotel and the school are thriving. The school has educated hundreds of students, including more than 150 enrolled right now, and the hotel is now part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group of boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants. And for good reason. The hotel is an art-filled oasis with a spa, lovingly tended grounds, excellent service, a fabulous stable of horses and some truly stunning rooms. An outdoor solar-heated pool was unveiled this year.

Best city hotel that feels like a country home

Second Home Peru - Lima

Welcome home to Second Home Peru in Lima.

Lima, Peru is a big, bustling city but you leave all that behind the moment you step through the garden gate at Second Home Peru. This eight room hotel in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood feels like a country home, because that’s what it was. Built in 1911, the Tudor style house was a summer home for rich city folk who took a trolley to Barranco from Lima. Most recently it was the family home of Peruvian artist Victor Delfin. He still lives there and has his studio there, but the main Tudor home was turned into a hotel and spectacular ocean view rooms were added on the edge of the property as well. There’s a Second Home in Cusco as well which creates a similar “city haven” atmosphere in Cusco’s San Blas neighborhood.

Best floating budget hotel

Abare SUP & Food - Manaus, Brazil

Abare SUP & Food draws weekend crowds near Manaus, Brazil and now a new budget hotel floats right beside it.

Diogo de Vasconuelo has a winner on his hands with Abare SUP & Food, a popular floating restaurant and standup paddle board spot on the Turuma River which feeds into the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil. At the end of 2016 he added Abare Hostel, a floating budget hotel, to the operation. Private rooms with double bunks, air-conditioning, and private bathrooms go for R$180 (about US$55) and there are also beds in a men’s dorm and a women’s dorm with air-conditioning, lockers, and a shared bathroom for R$80 (about US$25) per person. Breakfast at Abare SUP & Food, floating right next door, is included. 

Best hotel with its own Incan terraces

Explora Valle Sagrado Peru

Designers of the Explora Valle Sagrada luxury base camp changed their plans when Incan terraces were discovered on the all-inclusive hotel’s construction site.

When the property was being leveled for the new Explora Valle Sagrada in Peru’s Sacred Valley, a startling discovery was made: Incan terraces. Lots of them. The government stepped in and put the hotel project on hold until archaeologists could do careful excavation. Ultimately, the footprint of the Explora Valle Sagrada project was shifted and now the all-inclusive, luxury adventure base camp hotel is arranged around the terraces which are still being excavated by experts. Read our full review of the impressive Explora Valle Sagrada for LuxuryLatinAmerica.com.

Best luxury hotel in the Galapagos

Pikaia Lodge Galapagos

Pikaia Lodge, the best luxury hotel in the Galapagos.

These are the facts. We’ve been to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador three times in the past two years and we’ve been on assignment so we’ve stayed at or at least toured most of the existing luxury hotels in the Galapagos. Nothing holds a candle to Pikaia Lodge. Yes, there’s a chance that a new luxury hotel could open in the Galapagos that would best the Pikaia, but we doubt it. See why in our full review of Pikaia Lodge for LuxuryLatinAmerica.com.

Best new Amazon suite

Juma Amazon Lodge - Manaus, Brazil

Inside the panorama suite at Juma Amazon Lodge in Brazil.

Juma Amazon Lodge, outside of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon, debuted a panorama suite in 2016. Built on stilts over the water, it’s a spacious round room with floor-to-ceiling screens (no glass) on all sides and a wrap around deck with hammocks, a table, and chairs.

Best key chain

Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba - Sacred Valley, Peru

It’s in the details at the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba hotel in Peru’s Sacred Valley.

This year the Inkaterra group of hotels in celebrating 40 years in Peru where they now have seven properties. Their newest is the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. While service was still an issue when we were at the hotel, there was a remarkable level of attention to detail in other aspects including the extremely comfortable, spacious, and stylish stand-alone casitas and in executive chef Rafael Casin’s “earth to plate” cuisine using ingredients from the valley.

Even room keys were given their due with keys dangling from a gorgeous ring adorned with braided strands of alpaca and wool yarn in a rainbow of natural dye colors. The key rings were handmade by workers at Threads of Peru, a Cusco-based not-for-profit organization focused on preserving and promoting traditional Peruvian textile arts around the world.

Best rural homestay

Q’eswachaka bridge building festival

Now there are some simple but charming places to stay near the site of the annual Q’eswachaka bridge festival during which a rare Incan grass bridge is re-built by villagers.

Every June, communities near Quehue in northern Peru re-build a traditional Incan bridge that’s made entirely out of grass. It’s one of the last remaining bridges of its kind and even though a modern vehicle bridge was put in nearby, the Q’eswachaka bridge building festival remains an important cultural event. Travelers who want to see the festival have to two choices: make the long drive from Cusco to the site of the bridge, stay for a few hours, then make drive back, or camp in the cold in a few locations near the bridge. Now there’s a third choice.

A small network of Casas Habitantes have been built in villages near the bridge. Funded by BanBif Bank, locals made simple rooms to rent to visitors with electricity, real mattresses, shared bathrooms with flushing toilets and a simple shared kitchen. We stayed in a room built by Justo Callasi which was cozy and clean and warm and just a 5-minute drive from the bridge (US$12 double occupancy, bring your own food and take out all of your trash). This allowed us to experience the whole 3-day festival with ease. To book, contact the Patronato de Cultura Machu Picchu which administers these Casas Habitantes and others around Peru (info@patronatomachupicchu.org in Spanish).

Best RV hotel

Bamboo Paracas Eco Bungalows RV hotel

Bamboo Paracas Eco Bungalows on the beach in Paracas, Peru is the country’s first RV hotel.

Despite the name, there are no bungalows at Bamboo Paracas Eco Bungalows. That’s because it’s the first hotel in Peru that uses RVs for rooms. Thirty custom-built RVs are permanently parked on the beach. Each has electricity, a plumbed toilet and shower, a full kitchen and a sandy front yard with your own grill and picnic tables. There’s a communal pool, a small snack bar and stand up paddle boards plus kitesurfing and windsurfing to take advantage of the area’s legendary coastal winds. This year, owners Pablo and Felix Gilardi and their partners have also opened the Paracas 360 Eco Hostel in central Paracas offering shared RV accommodation with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities for those on a tighter budget.

Best presents

DCO Suites, Lounge & Spa - Mancora, Peru

DCO Suites, Lounge & Spa just south of Mancora, Peru is a shot of chic right on the beach.

When you check into the sexy and chic DCO Suites, Lounge & Spa on the beach south of Mancora, Peru you are showered with gifts. First, a glass of champagne, then a beach kit including a cotton sarong and a bottle of after-sun soothing gel, then an iPod nano loaded with music to play in your room. Though the sound of crashing waves was enough of a soundtrack for us.

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Brazil

Read more about travel in Peru

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Where We’ve Been: 2016 Recap & December 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Brazil, Bolivia & Argentina

2016 was a big year on our little road trip through the Americas with a total of 15,200 miles (24,462 km) on the road. While that pales in comparison to the miles we were putting on annually when we were in North America nearly a decade ago, it’s double the mileage of most recent years.

All those miles really got us around and in 2016 we visited or revisited seven countries: Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. Our previous record was five countries in one year back in 2011 when we were in Central America. We also had a record eight border crossings in 2016, bringing our total border crossings for the Journey so far to 56. For more amazing road trip stats, visit our freshly updated Facts & Figures page.

Brazil-Bolivia and Bolivia-Argentina border crossing

We’ve now reached the most southerly point on the Journey so far after crossing the Tropic of Capricorn just north of Salta, Argentina. This took us out of the tropics where we’ve been since 2009 when we crossed the Tropic of Cancer south of Durango, Mexico. However, in typical Trans-Americas Journey fashion, we’re not quite done with tropical latitudes yet. We’ll be crossing back over the Tropic of Capricorn and heading north to return to Peru in a few months.

Check out our South American road trip driving route for all of 2016 in our map, below.

December 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Brazil, Bolivia & Argentina

December 2016 was a big month too with 1,877 miles (3,021 km) of driving in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina.

We started December 2016 in Bonito, Brazil and from there we headed up to the Southern Pantanal where we saw more jaguars before driving to the border town of Corumbá where we crossed into Bolivia for the first (but not the last) time.

San Ignacio de Velasco Mission Bolivia

The mission church in San Igancio de Velasco on the missions circuit in Bolivia.

We only spent eight days in Boliva, focusing on the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. These architecturally unique churches, one of them a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were built in the early 1700s. They eventually fell into disrepair but were passionately rescued and brought back to their original glory.

After a few days on the missions circuit we headed to Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s two principal cities. Then it was time to make a beeline to the Argentinean border to settle into a housesitting opportunity in Salta. 

Come along on our road trip in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina in December 2016 and see what we saw through the windshield of our truck in our drive-lapse video, made with our dash-mounted Brinno time-lapse camera, below.

And check out our road trip driving route for December 2016, below.

Read more about travel in Brazil

Read more about travel in Bolivia

Read more about travel in Argentina

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Border Crossing 101: Corumbá, Brazil to Puerto Quijana, Bolivia

The border crossing out of Corumbá, Brazil and into Puerto Quijana, Bolivia is pretty laid back, unless you happen to have a US passport.

From: Corumbá, Brazil

To: Puerto Quijana, Bolivia

Date: December 12, 2016

Corumba Brazil to Boliva border crossing

The border between Corumbá, Brazil and Puerto Quijana, Bolivia and a pretty good argument against mini-obelisks.

Lay of the land: The Brazil side of the border is casual chaos with two (often very long) lines forming around one dingy concrete building. One line is for exiting Brazil, one line is for entering Brazil. Be sure you’re in the right line. Once you make it to the window, the exit formalities are quick and easy. FYI: If you over stay your visa in Brazil you are charged 8.5 R$ (about US $1.20) per day which you pay for when you return to Brazil. You are free to leave the country even if you have over stay fees on your record.

After crossing a very short bridge you are on the Bolivia side of the border where the immigration building is a dirty concrete box with a half-hearted air conditioner. If you hold a US passport, be sure to read the “Need to know” section below. For everyone else, immigration proceedings should be quick and easy.

The aduana (customs) office, which handles temporary importation permits for vehicles, is a block from the immigration office and it looks like a fancy new aduana building will soon be completed. The process of getting the necessary paperwork for our truck was quick, easy, and free and officials barely looked at our vehicle or cargo.

Elapsed time: Seven hours including two hours wasted in Corumbá at the Bolivian consulate and time spent submitting our visa application online plus 2.5 hours in line to exit Brazil plus 2.5 hours on the Bolivia side getting our visas and temporary importation paperwork for the truck. Note: if you already have a Bolivian visa, or come from a country who doesn’t need one your crossing time will be quicker, though there is almost always a line to exit Brazil at this border.

Number of days given: 30 days which is renewable in 30 day chunks for a total of 90 days in Bolivia per calendar year.

Fees: US passport holders pay US $160 per person for a Bolivian visa that’s good for 10 years.

Vehicle insurance needed: Bolivia does not require foreign drivers to carry insurance for 30 days or less in the country. We suggest printing out and carrying this document, in Spanish, with you so you can show Article 5, section a to any officials who are unaware of the law or are fishing for a bribe.

Where to fill up: Fuel is more expensive in Brazil than it is in Bolivia where we paid between 2.79 R$ (US $0.85)  and 3.58 R$ (US $1.08) per liter for diesel with the highest prices near the borders. However, we recommend filling up in Brazil before you cross into Bolivia. First of all, there are only a handful of stations on the 405 mile (650 km) highway from this border to the city of Santa Cruz. In addition, it can be difficult to find a station anywhere in the country that will fill your foreign-plated vehicle. That’s because there are two prices for fuel in Bolivia, one for locals and a higher one for foreigners, which for diesel was 3.72 Bs (US $0.54) and 8.8 Bs (US $1.28) per liter when we were there. Some gas stations simply won’t sell fuel to foreigners (often the case near the border), even at the higher foreigner price. Others will readily sell you fuel at the local price, as long as it’s not going directly into the vehicle’s tank. For example, filling up jerricans is quite common in Bolivia and many stations will fill your can(s) (called gallones in Bolivia), sometimes with your vehicle pulled right up to the pump. Other times you have to pull away and walk up with your jerrican. Other stations, or rather, attendants, will fill your tank for a small tip or for a negotiated rate between the local and foreigner price because they are willing to break the law for some extra cash. Sometimes you get lucky and get fuel at the local price. Tip: We had good luck getting stations to fill our Transfer Flow auxiliary fuel tank because, we argued, it’s an outside tank with a separate filling intake so, like jerricans, the fuel is not going into our foreign vehicle but into a separate receptacle.

Welcome to Boliva - Brazil Porto Quijano border crossing

The small bridge that connects Corumbá, Brazil to Puerto Quijana, Bolivia.

Need to know (for US passport holders): The following advice is for US passport holders and anyone else from countries in what Bolivia calls Group III which is an illustrious crowd that includes anyone from Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, the US, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, etc.

In an act of reciprocity for the hoops the US government makes Bolivian citizens jump through in order to get a US visa, US citizens must pay US $160 per person for a Bolivian visa. This must be paid in US dollars and they must be perfect dollars (no tears, holes or writing). Also, Bolivian immigration officials often don’t have any change, so you need exact cash. But paying is the easy part. 

In addition to the fee, US citizens must also provide extensive paperwork including:

  • months of bank statements
  • proof of hotel reservations in Bolivia or a letter of invitation from a Bolivian citizen
  • proof of yellow fever vaccination with copies
  • passport valid for at least six months
  • a travel itinerary in Bolivia (we simply typed one up)
  • a copy of your passport main page
  • a passport photo

We were urged by other travelers to visit the Bolivian consulate in Corumbá (Rua 7 de Setembro between Delomore and Avenida General Rindon, #47, 3231-5605, open 8:30am to 4:30pm weekdays only) to apply for the visa BEFORE going to the border, so we did, armed with all of the requirements.

The woman at the consulate told us to go away and file everything electronically including uploading all supporting documents, which we spent two hours doing. We returned to the consulate with all of the online work done but the woman was gone and two dudes at the consulate said they couldn’t do anything for us because they didn’t have any stickers (they meant the visa sticker that gets put into your US passport). They told us to go to the border to get our visas, so we headed to the border about 10 minutes from town. Frankly, we doubt the consulate ever has the stickers (and other travelers have said the same) so our advice is to just go to the border and tell Bolivian officials at the border that the consulate in town is out of stickers and that they sent you to the border.

The line was so long to exit Brazil that we waited in the sun for 2.5 hours to get checked out of the country. Then we drove across a very short bridge to the immigration office on the Bolivian side (open 7am to 5pm). We told immigration officials that we’d already completed all the paperwork online and they told us they didn’t care. At the border they need hard copies of everything.

All seemed to be in order, except our hotel reservation from booking.com which was made using our account which is in Eric’s name. Since Karen’s name didn’t appear on the reservation confirmation page we were told to go make a reservation in her name. Eric ran to an internet cafe and did that, but the confirmation page only displayed a number, not Karen’s name.

The back and forth over this went on for half an hour or so before they agreed to accept our original booking confirmation with just Eric’s name on it for both of our applications.

After more than an hour it was finally time to pay (see above). We were not given a receipt since the price is on the actual visa which is a full-page sticker with a protective clear cover. The Bolivian visa is good for 10 years and we were told that we would not have to provide the same paperwork when we re-enter Bolivia. We’ll see.

You can of course apply for your visa in the US before departing or at one of the many Bolivian embassies and consulates in the area including in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and others in Brazil.

Oh, and be aware that you gain an hour when crossing from Brazil to Bolivia between October and February because Brazil does daylight savings time and Bolivia does not.

Duty free finds: You’re kidding, right?

Overall border rating: Between the lines on the Brazil side and the time-consuming and sometimes baffling visa process for US passport holders who want to enter Bolivia, this border crossing was one of the longest we’ve had yet. However, now that we have our Bolivian visas, which are good for 10 years, future crossings into Bolivia should be quicker and smoother. We hope.

Here’s the online Bolivian visa application form to use if you are applying in advance in the US or at one of the embassies or consulates in Brazil, or just in case the Bolivian consulate in Corumbá is ever able to issue visas.

Given the very real possibility of delays at this border, here are some tips about where to sleep on both sides.

Sleeping in Corumbá, Brazil: We stayed at the Virginia Palace Hotel (180 R$ for a cleanish double room with private bathroom, WiFi, breakfast and large parking lot). The Santa Rita Hotel is a bit cheaper but their parking area can only accommodate small vehicles.

Sleeping in Puerto Quijano, Bolivia: We stayed at Hotel Silvia on the main drag which was brand new in December 2016 (220 Bs for a very clean double room with bathroom, cable TV with CNN, WiFi, a basic breakfast, and a large parking lot).

Money: The ATM at the Banco Bisa next to the Hotel Silvia operates in English and Spanish and you can choose to get bolivianos or dollars if you need them.

Read more about travel in Brazil

Read more about travel in Bolivia

Support us on Patreon


1 Comment - Join the conversation