[contextly_main_module]

Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 – Best Food & Beverages

This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

Crunchy ceviche in Peru, a chart-topping steal in Brazil, an epic Bloody Mary in Ecuador, a big surprise burger in Bolivia and more! Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 series–our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2016, Part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year. But now, in no particular order, here’s our guide to the…

Best food and beverages of 2016

Casa do Porco Sao Paulo San Ze pig

Chopped pork and sides at A Casa do Porco in Sao Paulo, Brazil – our chart-topping steal of the year.

Best chart-topping steal

Casa Do Porco restaurant Sao Paulo Brazil

Chef Jefferson Rueda with some of the porky goodness at his A Casa do Porco restaurant in Sao Paulo.

A Casa do Porco in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil debuted on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 at number 24. There’s a reason for that remarkably high entry: chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above) cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else and his nose-to-tail dishes are inventive yet never overworked. He’s not a meddler. Pork sushi roll with raw pork (top right), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes (top left) which he tops with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans. We could go on and on.

Prices are remarkably affordable (on par with many ho-hum eateries in Sao Paulo) which is why there’s usually a line out the door at this no reservations place. Insider tips: go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do). And even if you’re really on a budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s the biggest sandwich bargain in the city–perhaps the whole country.

Best reinvention of a beloved classic

Ceviche crocante - Restaurante Bilbao Tumbes, Peru

Crunchy ceviche. Repeat. Crunchy ceviche.

Peru is the land of ceviche and if you ask a Peruvian, no one else does it right. At Restaurante Bilbao in Tumbes, Peru, Spanish chef David Saez has daringly put his own twist on the classic. To make his award-winning ceviche crocante (crunchy ceviche) he prepares classic Peruvian ceviche with fish, crab and shrimp. Here comes the twist. He dices up the seafood and squeezes out as much liquid as possible. Then he makes balls out of the seafood mixture, mixes it with egg and panko, then flash fries the balls. The result is a citrusy take on a crab cake.

Best bartender

Leonardo Massonni bartender Acougue Central restaurant Sao Paulo

Açougue bartender Leonardo Massoni and some of his meat-friendly cocktail creations.

Leonardo Massoni (pictured above) is just 28-years-old but he’s already caught the eye of Brazilian star chef Alex Atala whose Sao Paulo restaurant  D.O.M. is  #3 on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Atala installed Massoni behind the bar at his newest restaurant, Açougue Central which opened in the city’s Vila Madalena neighborhood in 2016. Açougue means butcher in Portuguese and the restaurant is all about using all parts of the animal, including cuts that are usually considered inferior.

Massoni has taken that mission to heart, invading the kitchen frequently to consult with chef Alejandro Peyrou about ingredients and flavor profiles which he then incorporates into his bar work to create cocktails that compliment the food like wine. For example, ossobucco infused vodka which Massoni uses to make a splendidly meaty Bloody Mary. There’s a classic robo de galo and a cachaça and tonic and so much more including a fantastic glassware collection.

The creative tide flows both ways too. The crispy pig ears (pictured top right), which the kitchen produces by simmered pig ears for hours in water flavored with onion and spices, then pressing them before deep-frying, are the best bar snack of the year.

Best burger

Baracus Burger - Santa Cruz, Bolivia

A great burger in Bolivia.

We were only in Bolivia for eight days in 2016, but that was enough time to find something delicious to eat. There are only four burgers on the menu at Baracus Burger in central Santa Cruz, Bolivia (from around Bs42, or about US$6). We went for the classic cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. The patty was hefty, tasty, and not over cooked. The bun had sesame seeds on it. And all burgers come with fresh-cut, skin on fries which were crispy and moist (if over salted). Our runner-up burger of the year: Hamburgueria do Barão in Uberlandia, Brazil which has the added benefit of having a selection of Brazilian craft beers to choose from.

Best business card

Cerveza Zenith - Cusco, Peru

Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru is making great craft beer and handing out clever bottle-shaped business cards.

We really, really liked the craft beer being made by Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru. We also liked the owner’s business card. Tip: On most Friday and Saturday nights Aussie founder Zac Lanham opens the brewery as an informal bar. Stop by and check out the beers. He might even give you a card.

Best way to play with your food

Jambu Restaurant Brasillia

A really playful palette cleanser in Brazil.

Young Brazilian chef Leandro Nunes, who is Cordon Bleu trained and worked at Noma, serves a very playful palette cleanser at his Jambu Restaurante in Brasilia, Brazil. First, you pop a fresh, bright yellow jambu flower in your mouth and chew the Amazonian herb until your mouth starts to water and gets all tingly like a low volt electrical current (in a good way). Then you pop in a piece of Brazil nut wrapped in pear leather and let the oil from the nut and the sugar from the fruit cancel out the effects of the jambu. Then pop in a crunchy, completely natural, and totally untreated ant which burst with lemongrass flavor. It’s so much fun.

Best cocktail as a meal

Bloody Mary @ Zfood Pescaderia - Quito, Ecuador

Zfood combines a Bloody Mary with a seafood cocktail in Quito, Ecuador.

It’s a Bloody Mary. It’s a seafood cocktail. It’s both! Just order one (US$15) at Zfood Pescaderia in Quito, Ecuador. 

Best chef on a mission

chef Palmiro Ocampo 1087 Bistro - Lima Peru

Keep your eye on Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo.

At 1087 Bistro in Lima, owner and chef Palmiro Ocampo practices what he preaches about using the whole ingredient to reduce food waste and alleviate hunger using “culinary recycling” techniques (learn more in our story about Ocampo’s mission for Good magazine). Dishes like cartilage grilled chicken (yes, made using cartilage that would normally be thrown away) are elegant, unexpected, and delicious. He can even make plantain peels taste great. That’s why Ocampo was in charge of Peru’s famous Mistura food festival in 2016. Keep your eye on this rising star.

Best wine bar

Ovo e Uva wine bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Get serious about wine in a casual atmosphere at Ovo e Uva in Sao Paulo.

Ovo e Uva, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is a relaxed place that’s serious about wine. The wine list runs to nearly 200 bottles coming from all over the world including the usual suspects plus Greece, Hungary, Lebanon, Uruguay and, of course, Brazil. More than 20 bottles are offered by the glass (R$19 to R$38 per glass or about US$6 to US$11) and Ovo e Uva has a large wine-preservation system to keep all those open bottles fresh. There’s also a menu of wine-friendly food like a charcuterie plate and grilled octopus over risotto. The restaurant also hosts monthly themed wine get togethers for a maximum of 15 people and it’s also a wine store. Pick up a bottle to take away and get 10% off the price.

Best Italian food

Chef Massimo Ristorante Trastavere - Cuenca, Ecuador

Chef Massimo brings Roman food traditions to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Chef Massimo, who was born in Rome, opened Ristorante Trastavere in Cuenca, Ecuador in 2015. He makes homemade pasta, gnocchi, bread, and sauces. He makes his own mozzarella, smokes his own fish, and cures his own meats too. The food, served on red and white checked tablecloths in a small dining room above his even smaller open kitchen, is extraordinary as is Massimo’s passion for what he does. Rumor has it he’s opening a pizza joint in Cuenca too.

Best old man bar

Juanito Bodgea Bar - Barranco neighborhood of Lima

Time stands still in Juanito Bodega Bar in Lima.

You know what an old man bar is, right? It’s a place that’s been around forever, probably always owned by the same family, and certainly frequented by the same patrons (and their offspring). Old man bars are usually short on ambiance but long on history and some intangible something that makes up for the iffy bathroom and mostly non-existent service. Prices and tolerance for BS are both low.

Beloved by starving artists and politicians alike, Juanito Bodgea Bar in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima, Peru is a quintessential old man bar. Opened in 1937, it’s still owned by the same family, albeit next door to the original location where an exact replica of the original bar was re-created. The ceiling is high, the lights are bright, the insect zapper works overtime.

Drink prices are, by far, the cheapest in the area. There are, of course, pisco sours but we prefer chilcanos (pisco and ginger ale) which can be had for as little as PEN7 (about US$2) depending on which pisco you choose, and there are many to choose from. And if you get hungry, don’t worry. Juanito’s (as everyone calls it) is also know for its sandwiches. 

Best extreme dessert

King Kong - Lambayeque, Peru

One of many shops around Lembayeque, Peru selling the beloved King Kong dessert.

A King Kong, made mainly in and around the city of Lambayeque in northern Peru, is a regional treat comprised of rectangular sheets of a crisp and moist cake/cookie hybrid layered with a gooey spread called manjarblanco, which is similar to dulce de leche, and fruit paste. This beloved sugar bomb has been made since the early 1900s and was first baked as a more elaborate and much larger version of an alfajor. It was so large that appreciative customers nicknamed the dessert King Kong.

Best brew pub

Cervezeria del Valle - Valle Sagrada, Peru

Peru is having a beer moment with lots and lots of quality craft brews across the country. Cervezeria del Valle in the Sacred Valley is a relatively young operating but is already one of the country’s most awarded and most ambitious breweries. Big bonus: they have a simple and inviting brew pub next to a river where beers are poured, food is cooked, and good music is played.

Best fried bread on the street

Yuquitas Martin - Barranoc, Lima

Peru’s most famous chef loves these fried breads and we did too.

Every year Lima hosts the massive Mistura food festival. During that festival, Peruvian food both high and low is prepared, eaten, and judged. This includes the humble yuquita which is a beloved fried bread made with yuca flour. Think of yuquitas a longer, lighter doughnut s. In the Barranco neighborhood of Lima you will find a cart emblazoned with the name Yuquitas Martin (it’s usually on Grau Street across from a store called DeliFrance). Here, for PEN1.50 (about US$0.50), you get a bag of five fresh, light, delicious yuquitas. Martin’s humble fried bread on the street has won awards at Mistura (as noted on his cart) and Peruvian superstar chef Gaston Acurio endorses them (also noted). Martin usually sells out by 11am, so be quick. We suggest getting two bags. 

Best bar on a budget

Boteco Paramount bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Barman Neto with his daughter on the business end of his new budget bar Boteca Paramount in Sao Paulo.

Jose Francisco Neto (whose business card awesomely says “Barman Neto”) opened Boteco Paramount in 2016 on the edge of the Pinieros neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His idea was to make high quality, handcrafted cocktails at a fraction of the cost most city bars charge. He has accomplished just that. In his tiny, basic bar (it still looks pretty much like the simple tienda it no doubt previously was) you can get a classic caprinha for R$10 (about US$3) or splurge and get an artesenal caprinha, made with fresh chili peppers or muddled tangerine, for example, for R$14 (about US$4.30). All the standard cocktails are also on offer at similarly bargain prices. Whatever you order, enjoy while listening to Jose’s eclectic playlist (Paula Abdul, Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush). If you’re lucky, Jose’s daughter Beatriz will be around drawing pictures and generally being adorable.

Best cure for what ails you

Leche de Tigre @ Al Toke Pez - Lima, Peru

Get the cure for what ails you at this hole-in-the-wall in Lima.

You could easily drive right past Al Toke Pez which is a closet-sized establishment on a busy street in Lima. Sandwiched between auto part stores, this six stool eatery dishes up amazing leche de tigre with sliced onions and a bit of fresh ceviche and a fried fish strip or two on top. It comes to you in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon and they do a roaring take away business (probably because it only has six stools) (PEN3 to PEN5 or about US$0.90 to US$1.50). It’s zippy and energizing and the guy on the stool next to us assured us it’s also full of vitamins and pure protein. Many say its the best hangover cure in the city.

Best food with rules

Tiesto's - Cuenca, Ecuador

Diners at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador need to be ready to play with flavors and follow a few rules.

Juan Carlos Solano, owner and chef at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador, knows what’s best. While there is a menu at his restaurant, the self-taught chef is just as likely to tell you what you’re having for dinner and then leave it to the well-trained waiters at this Cuenca institution to tell you how to eat it. House made condiments on the table are meant to be eaten in a specific order and in specific combinations, for example. No willy nilly dipping of bread allowed. That’s because Solano is all about playing with flavors and whether he’s cooking prawns or pork, at his restaurant the flavor game has rules.

Best pizza

Bassano Italian Pizzeria - Huncahco, Peru

At Bassano Italian Pizzeria in Huanchaco, a small beach town in Northern Peru, they make pizza in a wood-fired oven and it shows. The thin crust is crunchy and chewy with just enough salt and wood char. A wide range of toppings are offered including cherry tomatoes and arugula the owners grow themselves. Prices are reasonable too–from PEN25 to PEN38 or about US$7.50 to US$11 (depending on toppings) for a large, 14” pie that yields eights slices. Personal size pizzas are also available. Plus it’s BYOB. Hours are unpredictable, so send a message through the pizzeria’s Facebook page before arriving.

Best unexpected star

chef Samuel Ortega. Shamuico Espai Gastronomic - Saraguro, Ecuado

Chef Samuel Ortega has brought skills learned in Europe back home to Saraguro, Ecuador.

We did not expect to find remarkable food in  Saraguro, Ecuador a small remote town an hour from Loja. Then we walked into Shamuico Espai Gastronomic run by local chef Samuel Ortega. Ortega moved to Spain with his family when he was 12 and honed his kitchen skills in Europe including time working at Il Bulli.

When Ortega was 24 he returned to Saraguro and opened his own place in a 160 year old building on the square that he restored with his architect sister. Ortega says 90% of the ingredients he uses come from the rich agricultural area around Saraguro or from his own small kitchen garden. His sometimes unorthodox needs have even inspired local farmers to experiment with different crops. Grab a table inside a modern dining room with skylights and a view into the open kitchen or outdoors in the traditional central courtyard and enjoy drinks, snacks, or polished full plates at incredibly reasonable prices. We did.

Best original cocktail

La Chalupa restaurant - Cuenca, Ecuador,

You can taste the wildness in this cocktail inspired by Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.

Bernardo, the bartender at La Chalupa restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, wanted to create a cocktail that embodies the wild earthiness of nearby Cajas National Park. His Cajas Spirit cocktail is made with rum or tequila that he infuses with herbs harvested from the park plus tonic water, lime juice, and Angostura bitters (around US$5). It’s bracing and refreshing, just like a hike in its namesake park.

Best tasting menu

Central Restaurant Lima

You can believe the hype about Central in Lima.

Few restaurants or chefs have generated more hype in the past couple of years than Virgilio Martinez and his Lima restaurant Central. Central is #1 on the 2016  list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for the third year in a row and #4 on the 2016 list of The World’s Best Restaurants. You can’t talk about top restaurants without mentioning Central and Martinez just released another book. Luckily, you get served more than hype and book reviews at Central.

We sat down to face the 12 course Mater Ecosystems tasting menu and for the next three hours we got schooled in just how good cuisine can be when skill and vision meet. In Martinez’s case, his vision is to celebrate and explore Peruvian ingredients from all altitudes and geographic locations, honoring their provenance. His skill is in being able to re-invent them as well. At one point we were eating bark and clay. And loving it.

Best sushi

Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Fresh fish is king and the chef knows it at Tsuri in Sao Paulo.

Brazil has the largest population of citizens of Japanese descent of any country outside Japan and Brazil is full of Japanese restaurants, including in the city of Sao Paulo. Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar, opened in 2016 by the same family behind the wildly popular Aragón Mediterranean restaurant, could have been just one more, but it’s not. More than just sushi, the inventive menu also includes edamame with truffle oil, scallops with foi gras, tempura, and more. But sushi is where Tsuri really excels, in part because Japanese Brazilian chef Sergio Kubo knows that his real job doesn’t start until the restaurant closes for the night. That’s when, fortified with saki, he heads to the city’s fish market to find the best products for the following day. And all that saki? Chef Kubo says it helps him pick the best fish because it enables him to see the freshest ones winking at him.

Best dream-come-true meal

Osso Carniceria & Salumeria - Lima, Peru

Finally.

We’ve been dreaming about eating at Osso Carniceria & Salumeria in Lima, Peru ever since we read this amazing story about its creator, Renzo Garibaldi (pictured below). In 2016 we sat down with Garibaldi for a long lunch that included amazing tartare and small bites of exquisitely aged and sliced beef. Even better, Garibaldi told us about his latest projects (read our piece about Garibaldi’s two new restaurants in Lima for NewWorlder.com), so now we’re dreaming about eating there too. Good thing we’re returning to Lima later this year…

Renzo Garibaldi Osso restaurant - Lima, Peru

 

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Peru

Read more about travel in Brazil

Read more about travel in Bolivia

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 – Top Travel Adventures

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

Jaguar spotting in Brazil, trekking the Andes in Peru, mud slogging and (really) close-encounters with condors in Ecuador, tapir sex, and more! Welcome to Part 1 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 series–our guide to the Top Travel Adventures of the year. Part 2 covers the Best Hotels 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 are our…

Top travel adventures of 2016

Raimbow Mountain Ausangate Peru

Peru’s Rainbow Mountain which we visited during the Apu’s Trail hike around Ausangate.

Best mountain trek

Andean Lodges Ausangate Trek Peru

Karen hoofing it up an other Andean slope during the Apu’s Trail hike around Ausangate in Peru.

Everybody knows about the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, that’s why it’s so crowded you have to make your plans and reservations months in advance. But Peru is full of other even more spectacular ways to trek in the Andes. If you’re seeking time in the mountains, spectacular scenery, and difficult but rewarding trails then trekking around 20,945 foot (6,384 meter) Ausangate Mountain is hard to beat.

There are many ways to get into this region which is not far from Cusco. We went with Andean Lodges, which has built a string of comfortable lodges (wood stove for heat, no electricity, good beds in private rooms with bathrooms that offer hot water during certain hours), on their 4-day/5-night Apu’s Trail route around this massive and sacred mountain. It delivered everything we were looking for and then some, including visiting Peru’s increasingly popular Rainbow Mountain, then continuing down the trail to an even more spectacular high-altitude landscapes which nearly no one visits.

We haven’t loved a multi-day hike this much since we were tramping around the Himalayas.

Best slog through the mud

El Altar Trek Ecuador

The crater lake in El Altar volcano, our reward (plus condors!) for the muddy slog up.

El Altar is an extinct volcano so named because someone thought its nine peaks looked like nuns and friars worshiping. Nuns or not, it is a beautiful volcano with a lovely crater lake and it sits at the head of a wide, wind-swept valley. It’s the kind of beauty that needs to be earned, which may explain why the hike to El Altar (there are no roads, though you may see left over materials from one ill-fated attempt) is so difficult.

The trail starts from Hacienda Releche in the tiny town of Candelaria and almost immediately it is a steep, slippery slog up an increasingly muddy trail. We wore our rubber boots  (and you should too) and there were points on the trail when they were almost sucked off our feet by mud. The stuff was nearly knee-deep in places. Around six hours later we arrived at the Collares plain with El Altar just ahead of us.

This is where the owners of Hacienda Releche have built Refugios Capac Urcu (Capac Urcu is another name for El Altar) with plenty of dorm rooms with bunk beds and shared bathrooms and a big kitchen. You can carry up what you need (sleeping bag, food, etc) or hire a horse and horseman from the hacienda. After such a slog up we recommend spending at least two nights in the refugio. The plain and the volcano are lovely places to explore on foot but the weather at more than 11,000 feet (3,400 meters) is changeable so you’ll want to hang around for good weather for as long as you can.

Did we mention that El Altar is also condor country? When we hiked up the flank of the volcano to the crater lake we had an extremely close encounter with a condor that flew by at eye level no more than 10 feet (3 meters) from Eric. Check out our condor fly by video, for proof.

Best XXX wild animal encounter

Tapir sex

You can’t unsee this: tapir sex.

We hadn’t been in the boat for more than five minutes when our boatman from Pousada do Rio Mutum in Brazil’s Pantanal Norte cut the engine and our guide pointed out two tapirs swimming a few hundred feet in front of the boat. Though big and clumsy looking, tapirs are great swimmers and we watched in silence as they made it to shore. That’s when the male decided it was sexy-time and, after appearing to give the female a kiss (truly), he got down to business. Turns out they’re way more graceful in the water than they are in the bedroom. Cue Barry White.

Best horseback riding to an archaeological site

horseback riding ruins chiclayo peru

Riding easy-gaited Peruvian horses through protected dry forest to an archaeological site.

Peru is full of archaeological sites and we visited most of them by car and on foot. However, at Rancho Santana, near Chiclayo, you can visit way off-the-beaten-path sites on horseback. Swiss owner Andrea has about a dozen Peruvian Paso horses and offers a variety of rides (S/55, about US$17, for a three-hour ride to one site; S/75, about US$23, for a five-hour ride to three sites, or multi-day rides).

We chose the three-hour ride to Huaca Sontillo (sometimes written Santillo), passing through the Pómac Forest Historical Sanctuary, an enormous protected dry forest, via a private entrance that Andrea has special permission to use. It was hot and dry but the scenery was great and it was fun to experience the unique ultra-smooth gait of these horses (when horse and rider click it’s like riding a moving sofa).

The Sontillo site is only minimally excavated and when we walked to the top of the only visible structure there were still a lot of bits of pottery around. There is also basic accommodation at Rancho Santana (fan, bathroom) for those who want to hang out or do multiple rides.

 Best mystery from the air

nazca lines

The Nazca Lines are a unique combination of art, culture, and mystery and they’re best seen from the air – something their creators could never do (unless you subscribe to the alien artist theory).

No one truly understands how the Nazca Line in Peru were made or what they were for. That mystery makes them even more compelling. The best way to see massive earth art like the lines is from the air. Our thanks to Alas Peruanas for taking us on a 30 minute flight over the lines. The plane was small, the altitude was low, the turns were many, and the lines were amazing. We recommend staying at the new B Hotel Nasca Suites. It’s right across the highway from the airport and out of the hub-bub of central Nasca. A pool was going in when we were there too.

Best cave float

Bola do Quebo is about a 1-hour drive each way from Bom Jardim town in northern Brazil (about 40 minutes of the drive is on a dirt road, parts of which are very washboarded). The small operation at Bola do Quebo supplies beefy and smartly designed tubes, helmets, life vests, and water shoes for a 30 minute adventure down a 1.2 mile (2 km) stretch of the clear and fairly shallow River (R$75, about US$23 per person).

The highlight of the float is a 1,000 foot (304 meter) long cave which the river flows through. The heart-pumping entry into the cave takes you over two small but startling rapids which plunge you into the darkness of the cave. The combination of the bumpy ride and the sudden pitch blackness is dramatic and disorienting.

Need to know: As with 99% of the amazing watery attractions around Bom Jardim, you really need your own vehicle to get there. There is no food or beverages available on site. There is a passable toilet. Put on sunscreen. Don’t take anything that’s not waterproof with you on the tube. Put your sunglasses on a lanyard because you’ll want to take them off while you are in the dark cave. Wear a long-sleeve shirt or a skin for sun protection and to keep your arms from chafing on tube as you paddle and steer.

 Best drive for wildlife

Jabiru stork Transpantaneira Highway Pantanal Brazil

Huge jabiru storks, just one of the many species we saw at very close range while driving the Transpantaneira Highway in Brazil.

It took us eight hours to complete the 90 mile (145 km) Transpantaneira Highway from Pocone to Porto Jofre in the Pantanal Norte in Brazil. Why? Well, this dirt road is in pretty rough shape even under the best conditions. But the main reason the drive took so long was that we spent a lot of time stopped to look at and photograph wildlife. Here’s a short list of what we saw: hyacinth macaws, about 500 caiman, capybaras, great black hawks, cappuchin monkeys, cocoi herons, black-collared hawks, white-capped herons, jabiru storks, wood storks, crab eating foxes, rhea… We felt like Marlon Perkins (look him up, millennials). This critter-filled drive was worth every pothole, rut, and all 120+ of the (often super sketchy) wooden bridges along the way. 

 Best wild animal first

Jaguar pantanal brazil

You never forget your first time.

We spend a lot of time and energy trying to see wildlife. It’s one of our favorite things. Yet, despite years of looking and hundreds of miles of walking, we had never seen a jaguar in the wild. The pantanal region of Brazil is said to be one of the few places on earth where jaguar sightings are virtually guaranteed. We are skeptical of wildlife guarantees. Still, we headed to Hotel Pantanal Norte in Porto Jofre on the Cuiabá River at the end of the Transpantaneira Highway with high hopes. We were not disappointed. After a few hours on the river we saw a female jaguar and two older cubs on the bank in tall grass and we were able to observe them from our boat for a few minutes before the trio slipped deeper into the forest and out of sight. Sometimes you can believe the hype.

 Best drive for scenery

Sondondo Valley Peru

Part of the Sondondo Valley including slopes with Incan terraces which the locals still use to grow crops.

On our way to Puquio we missed the turn off for the Sondondo Valley and we’re very glad we returned later to explore it. The road into the valley is narrow but well paved and the valley itself varies from wide and semi-lush with herds of llamas and alpacas roaming around to narrow and cliff-lined, perfect for the condors who live here. There are also Incan terraces still being used by farmers, hot springs, and waterfalls. The tiny town of Andamarca seemed to have basic guest houses. The road through the valley appears to go all the way to Ayacucho, but we did not go that far so we don’t know if the paving continues or if the road quality worsens.

Best South American safari vehicle

 Refugio Ecologico Caiman safari vehicle

Safari in style at Refugio Ecologico Caiman in Brazil.

The open-sided, high clearance vehicles used for driving excursions and night safaris at eco lodges in Latin America are usually cobbled together rattletraps with uncomfortable seats and jarring suspensions. Not so at Refugio Ecologico Caiman in the Pantanal Sur in Brazil. The custom trucks used to transport guests on wildlife spotting excursions at this extraordinary private protected area  and eco lodge are brand new customized Toyota’s that are quiet, have comfortable padded seats, good suspension and are rugged enough to go off-roading where the animals are. There’s even a cool guide/spotters seat off the right hand corner of the front bumper. Seems like the jaguars like the vehicle too. We saw loads of them during our stay at Caiman.

 Best guide

Puma Tambopata Reserve Peru

Look closer. No, CLOSER. There’s a young puma looking back at you.

Rainforest Expeditions has been leading the eco way in the Tambopata area of southern Peru since they started as a macaw research and rescue center in 1989. The organization continues to do serious science (including brand new interactive Wired Amazon programs) and now operates three surprisingly upscale lodges in the area.

With chops like that it was no surprise that we had the best guide of the year during our stay with Rainforest Expeditions. His name is  Paul. He  grew up in remote village nearby on the Manu River and he knows Tambopata and its inhabitants intimately. True story: he had a pet jaguar growing up. He’s also funny and easy-going and willing to go the extra mile. For example, when he noticed cat prints and scat on a trail during a morning walk he suggested that we return to the same trail for a night walk to increase our chances of seeing the animal that left the pug marks.

The return visit paid off and we all got a (fleeting) glimpse of a young puma at night, something we never would have seen without Paul.

 Best THIRD visit to the Galapagos

Mating Blue Footed Boobies Galapagos

Blue footed boobies doing their bill-clacking mating dance in the Galapagos Islands.

Yeah, it was a Galapagos embarrassment of riches in 2016 with our third visit to Ecuador’s most iconic destination. You won’t believe us when we tell you it was work, but it was. Look! We did this travel guide to the Galapagos for Travel + Leisure magazine and this review of the fantastic Pikaia Lodge plus this piece about a new extra eco luxury boat.

Read more about travel in Brazil

Read more about travel in Ecuador

Read more about travel in Peru

 

Support us on Patreon


2 Comments - Join the conversation »


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


Where We’ve Been: November 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Brazil

In November 2016 we drove more than 2,200 miles (3,540 km) in Brazil. We started the month in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, north of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and ended in the western state of Mato Grosso Sur. Our plans were interrupted by emergency surgery, but here’s how our road trip driving route in Brazil panned out for November 2016. Come along on our Brazil road trip and see what we saw through the windshield of our truck in the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

November 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Brazil


 

Our road trip driving route for the month of November began north of Brasilia in the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. From there we made a beeline to the bustling metropolis of Sao Paulo. After spending a few weeks in Sao Paulo we headed west toward the Bolivian border and prepared to cross before our Brazil visas expired.

On the way to the border we stopped in the small tourist destination of Bonito looking forward to snorkeling and diving in the area’s famous crystal-clear, spring-fed rivers. However, Karen developed appendicitis which required us to rush to nearby Campo Grande, the capital of Mato Grosso state, for emergency surgery. The remainder of November was spent recuperating in Campo Grande.

Waterfall Chapada dos Veadeiros Brazil

Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Brazil.

See what we saw out there on the road in the drive-lapse video, below, made by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

 

Read more about travel in Brazil

 

Support us on Patreon


Leave a comment


Where We’ve Been: October 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Brazil

We spent October 2016 driving over 1,500 miles (2,414 km) in Central Brazil. We started off deep in the Northern Pantanal and ended in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park north of Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. Here’s our road trip driving route for October 2016 in Brazil. Come along on our Brazil road trip and see what we saw through the windshield of our truck in the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

October 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Brazil


 

Our road trip driving route for the month of October began in Porto Jofre at the end of the wildlife-filled Transpantaneira Highway in Brazil’s vast Pantanal region in Mato Grosso state. In the Pantanal we visited Hotel Pantanal Norte, Araras Ecolodge and Pousada do Rio Mutum searching for (and finding) some of the Pantanal’s famed wildlife including jaguars. Following our time in the Pantanal, we drove north to Cuiabá, the state capital. From there we visited Bom Jardim in Nobres to snorkel in its crystal clear, spring-fed rivers followed by a visit to Chapada dos Guimarães National Park with landscapes that some compare to the US Southwest.

From there we headed west toward Brazil’s modernist capital, Brasilia, stopping in the beautiful colonial towns of Goiás and Pirenópolis along the way. In Brasilia, we drove along the city’s Monumental Axis road which is lined with examples of the distinct modernist architecture of famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (pictured below and see 12:38 in our drive-lapse video at the end of this post).

Oscar Niemeyer's modernist archtecture -Brazilia, Brazil

From Brasilia we headed north to Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park where we ended the month.

See what we saw out there on the road in the drive-lapse video, below, made by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

 

Read more about travel in Brazil

 

Support us on Patreon


1 Comment - Join the conversation


Page 1 of 212