[contextly_main_module]

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

This post is part 1 of 2 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


Traveling the Infamous BR-319 Road Across the Amazon – 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.

Read more about travel in Brazil

Support us on Patreon


4 Comments - Join the conversation »


Page 1 of 212