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Photo Essay: The Virgin of Candelaria Festival in Copacabana, Bolivia

The Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria (which is another name for the Virgin of Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia), is so important that they celebrate it twice in Copacabana, Bolivia every year: Once on February 2 and again on August 5. But the festivities in this small city on Lake Titikaka extend well beyond those two days. Here’s what this Bolivian festival looks like, and don’t miss our Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria travel tips at the end of this photo essay.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Cholas, the collective name for Latin women with Amerindian blood, wearing their best traditional finery and dancing up a storm in front of the church in Copacabana, Bolivia. We’re not sure what the albino bear with red hands is all about…

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

It was somewhat rainy during the festial, so plastic bags were used to protect the distinctive felt bowler hats that most cholas wear.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

More dancing cholas and more rain during the Virgin of Candelaria festival in Copacabana, Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

These cholas were wearing dresses with uncommon patterned panels in them.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Men take part in the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria celebrations as dancers and as members of tuba-heavy bands.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Waka Tokori dancers dressed as toros parade around the church in Copacabana, Bolivia during the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

More costumed men in Copacabana.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Celebrating the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Heavily fringed shawls like these make up a vital part of the traditional dress of most cholas in Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more colorful…

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Celebrating the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia.

See the sights and sounds of the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia in our video, below.

Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria travel tips

Should you go to the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in February or in August? Festival events are essentially the same so the big difference is the weather. In August (winter in South America) the climate is dry, but very cold. In February (summer in South America), temperatures are milder (though still quite cold) and the chance of rain is pretty good.

Concerts Festival virgin de la Candelaria Copacabana, Bolivia

One of many bands on many stages in Copacabana, Bolivia during the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria.

We were at the festival in February. Though February 2 is the biggest day, this festival sprawls over a few days. We arrived in Copacabana on February 1 and the party was already raging with plenty of parading dance troops and bands in elaborate costumes and four different stages set up. By evening, those stages were all raging with separate bands. Poor sound mixing and close proximity means that the music does not sound very good, but the partying cholas (the collective name for Latin women with Amerindian blood) and men in front of each stage don’t seem to mind. They drink and dance into the wee hours (unless heavy rain shuts the bands down early).

Blessing the crops Virgen de la Candelaria festival

An early morning offering on the shore of Lake Titikaka to help ensure a good harvest.

Get to the lakes shore by 8 am on February 2 and you may get to see an annual ritual including flowers, singers, drummers, and locals performing offerings to ensure good crops in the coming year.

Musicians Blessing the crops Virgen de la Candelaria festival

A talented group of drummers, dancers, and singers took part in the harvest offering on Lake Titikaka.

After the shoreline rituals, the flowers and participants are loaded onto boats which travel onto the lake where more rituals are performed before the flowers are tossed into the water as an offering to the lake.

Andean Musicians Lake Titicaca

Musicians and dancers heading onto Lake Titikaka during a ceremony and offering to ensure a good harvest.

Watch the culmination of the good harvest ceremony as flowers and other offerings are tossed into Lake Titikaka in our video, below.

On February 3 nothing much was going on. No parades. No dancing cholas. No roving bands. Even the stages were all gone except for one.

On February 4 the town holds a bull fight event in their plaza de toros in the afternoon. Our Lonely Planet described this as a running of the bulls in the streets, but locals told us that this event takes place in the ring, not in the streets which was far less interesting to us.

Overall, this festival was much mellower than we expected. There were never huge crowds and town never felt bursting at the seams.

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

 

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Border Crossing 101: Desaguadero, Peru to Desaguadero, Bolivia

This South American border crossing is the primary link between Peru and Bolivia, but it’s not the only one. The border crossing at Copacabana, Bolivia, for example is small and relaxed. In contrast, the Desaguadero border is a dirty, busy place. However, if you cross at Desaguadero you get a more direct route to La Paz, passing right by Bolivia’s most famous archaeological site, Tiwanaku, and you don’t need to take the ferry that connects Copacabana to La Paz. Here’s how the border between Peru and Bolivia at Desaguadero goes.

Peru side of the Desaguadero crossing

Desaguadero is not a pretty place.

From: Desaquadero, Peru

To: Desaguadero, Bolivia

Date: January 4, 2018

Lay of the land: On the north end of town, on the edge of Lake Titikaka, is the old bridge which is used by individuals and passenger cars so there is very little vehicular traffic. On the south end of town is a newer crossing for the many, many cargo trucks bringing commercial goods into landlocked Bolivia. Immigration and customs facilities are adjacent to each other on both sides of the border, which is separated by a small bridge that crosses the small Desaguadero River as it enters Lake Titikaka. The facilities are old (the computer system went down while our truck paperwork was being processed on the Bolivia side) and cramped, but they eventually get the job done.

Desaguadero Bolivia border crossing

Crossing from Peru into Bolivia.

Elapsed time: 11:45 am to 2:10 pm (2 hours and 35 minutes)

Number of days given: Though you and your vehicle can stay in Bolivia for up to 90 days in any calendar year, they dole out those days in 30 day blocks which means every 30 days you have to visit an immigration office to renew your entry permit and an aduana (customs) office to renew the temporary importation permit for your vehicle. Though sometimes you get lucky. When we crossed the border at Copacabana the customs official there asked us how long we’d like and gave us 90 days on the spot.

Fees: There were no border fees, though there was a 5 soles (US$1.50) fee to drive over the short bridge that connects the Peru side to the Bolivia side. Note that citizens of some countries (including the US) must get a complicated and costly visa.

Desaguadero River entering Lake Titikaka

The Desagaudero River entering Lake Titikaka at the border.

Vehicle insurance needed: Bolivia requires that all drivers have SOAT insurance, though it’s often not sold at borders (including this one) which requires a visit to a SOAT office after entry.

Where to fill up: Fuel in Bolivia is cheap for locals but expensive for foreign drivers unless you can find a station worker willing to sell you fuel “sin factura” at a price somewhere between the two. If you don’t want to pay the high foreigner price for fuel or play the haggling game with station attendants, then fill up in Peru. On the Peru side, fuel prices are higher than the Peruvian average until you get east of Puno, about 100 miles (160 km) away, or until you get down near the coast at least 240 miles (385 km) south of the border.

Chola condom protection PSA Bolivia

A public health announcement in the immigration office on the Bolivia side of the border.

Need to know: This border crossing is at 12,556 feet (3,827 meters) so be prepared for the high altitude. If you’re coming from Cusco or Puno you will probably already be acclimatized. However, if you are coming from Lima or the coast, beware. In a mere 100 miles (160 km) the highway takes you from sea level to well over 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and then slightly down to this border. The towns of Desaguadero on both sides of the border are dirty and unappealing so don’t plan to stay there unless you absolutely have to. Cargo trucks cross at their own facilities, so this border is only for buses and individuals which makes it a bit less hectic and jammed up. When leaving Peru you must show the receipt you got when you entered, so don’t lose that. There are obvious money changers on the Peru side of the border, but on the Bolivian side you will have to ask for money changers in the many shops. Also during certain times of the year you lose an hour going from Peru to Bolivia (or gain an hour in the other direction), so check the time. Another interesting note: no one ever cross-checked the VIN # on our truck to make sure it matched our documents nor did anyone ever inspect the truck. That’s a first. Also, look for our Trans-Americas Journey sticker on both sides of this border.

Flags of Bolivia

Flags of Bolivia: The one on the left represent La Paz Department,  the one in the middle is the Wiphala flag which represents the native people of the Andes, and the one on the right is the Bolivian national flag.

Duty free: Nope

Overall border rating: Dirty, but efficient

Here’s more about travel in Peru

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

 

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Where We’ve Been: January 2018 Road Trip Driving Route in Peru & Bolivia

We spent a grand total of three days in the truck in January 2018, but those days were intense as our South American road trip made a 932 mile (1,500 km) straight shot from Lima, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. Here’s what it looked like.

PanAmerican Highway Peru

The Pan-American Highway in Peru.

January 2018 South American road trip in Peru & Bolivia

We began the new year in Lima, Peru and on January 2 we departed for La Paz, Bolivia. We know heading south down the Pan-American Highway is a long and tedious drive because this is the third time we’ve done it. Though the highway is mostly in good shape, the endless barren desert, curvy coastline, and too many slow trucks makes the coastal stretch hard work.

On the first day, we left Lima early and thanks to the new year holiday truck traffic was lighter than usual. After passing the towns of Pisco, Ica, and Nazca we arrived in the coast town of Chala. The next day continued south across the barren coastal desert landscape to Monquegua, stopping midway to give our hard-working truck a wash and an oil change.

Desaguadero border crossing Peru - Bolivia

Crossing the border from Desagaudero, Peru to Desagauadero, Bolivia.

The third day had us leaving the Pan-American Highway and driving back across the Andes to an elevation of nearly 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) before dropping down to the Altiplano and Lake Titikaka at a mere 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). Here the town of Desaguadero, which has the same name on both the Peru and Bolivia side of the border, straddles a small river as it enters Lake Titikaka. This is where we crossed from Peru into Bolivia.

La Paz, Bolivia

The city of La Paz, Bolivia occupies almost every inch of a deep and complicated canyon which drops down dramatically from the city of El Alto on a very high plateau.

The last leg of the journey took us into the sprawling and insanely congested high altitude city of El Alto which sits above a giant chasm in the earth which holds our final destination for the month: the world’s highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia.

Our complete road trip driving route in Peru and Bolivia in January 2018 is below:

See what we saw out there on the road in Peru and Bolivia in January of 2018 in our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

Here’s more about travel in Peru

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

 

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Glimpsing Two Cultures – Ingapirca Archaeological Site, Ecuador

Ecuador has less than a dozen major archaeological sites. Ingapirca, near Cuenca, is the biggest archaeological site in Ecuador and because it was created by the Cañari people before being expanded by the Incas, Ingapirca a great place to get a glimpse of two cultures.

Ingapirca ruins Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

Exploring Ecuador’s Ingapirca archaeological site

The Ingapirca archaeological site (US$2 per person including a 45 minute guided tour of the site in English or Spanish, guides are mandatory) is sometimes called Inka Pirka. It’s at nearly 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) and the name means Incan Stone Walls in Quechua and there are certainly plenty of walls, but they’re not all Incan.

Ingapirca Incan ruins Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

The first structures at Ingapirca were built by the Cañari people as their capital in the north. By the 15th century, the Incas were on the rise and they ultimately took over Ingapirca which they used as a ceremonial site and a defensive installation. 

Visitors can still see circular holes in the ground which were probably used to store crops. There’s a House of the Virgins where young women were sequestered, and there were neighborhoods where people lived.

Ingapirca archaeology site Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

The Cañari constructed a Temple of the Moon and when the Incas moved in they built a Temple of the Sun, also called The Castle. This oblong building is on a small rise and features the Incas signature precisely cut stonework. However, the odd shape of the temple, dictated by the piece of land that’s it’s on, meant that mortar had to be used in some places even through the Incas almost never used mortar.

Incan walls - Ingapirca Ecuador

Amazing Incan stonework in the curved walls of the Temple of the Sun.

There’s also a museum at the site with displays described in English and Spanish. We recommend that you start there. The 20 minutes it takes to see the museum will give you a little context for the site itself.

Get an overview of the Ingapirca archaeological site in our drone video, below.

There are a handful of small shops and basic restaurants near the entrance to the Ingapirca site. A nearby trail leads to a huge rock called the Incan Face (for reasons you can imagine). As we walked toward the view point over that rock (which does actually look like a classic Incan profile) we passed an old woman selling things out of her home including carved stone amulets, a star-shaped carved stone weapon, and some amazing pottery.

Ingapirca Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

To our untrained eyes it seemed like she had real artifacts from the site. It’s well-known that before the site was protected stones were taken from Ingapirca and used to build other structures in the area, first by the Spanish conquistadors, who arrived before the Incas were done expanding the site, and then by locals. It’s not inconceivable that a few artifacts were spirited out along the way.

Alpaca Ingapirca Ecuador

An alpaca, one of the best things that come with high altitude locations.

Adventures around Ingapirca

The Ingapirca site is only about an hour and a half from Cuenca and you’ll be tempted to simply take one of the many day trips offered from the city. However, if you have the time plan to spend at least one night in the area. It’s lovely countryside through which you can ride horses and hike, in part, on sections of the Inca Trail.

Posada Ingapirca Ecuador

Posada Ingapirca hotel and restaurant.

There’s also a wonderful hotel less than a 10 minute walk from the Ingapirca site. Posada Ingapirca is owned and operated by the same family that runs Hotel Victoria in Cuenca. The original building at Posada Ingapirca is more than 200 years old and the family purchased it and the property in the ’90s. After renovating the property and adding modern bathrooms and electricity to a wide range of rooms it opened as a quaint and comfortable country hotel. 

Posada Ingapirca Ecuador

The dining room is in a 200-year-old building at Posada Ingapirca.

Rooms have thick adobe walls, exposed beams in the ceilings, hand painted head boards and no TVs. Some rooms have fireplaces and hot water bottles are provided at night. Alpacas roam the property and there’s a small cuy (guinea pig) farm. The floor of the main building and restaurant creaks and the whole structure moves when anyone enters or exits.

lake Culebrillas Inca trail hike Ingapirca

Lake Culebrillas in Sangay National Park in Ecuador.

Even if you’re not spending the night at Posada Ingapirca, stop by for a meal (US$10 lunch or dinner). The menu is full of gourmet takes on Ecuadorean classics. We particularly remember the succulent lamb and, of course, the soups.

lake Culebrillas hike Inca trail to Ingapirca Ecuador

Hiking through the paramo.

While we were at Posada Ingapirca we took a fantastic guided hike. After driving about an hour to Lake Culebrillas in the vast Sangay National Park, we started the 8 mile (12 km) route around the lake, along part of the Inca Trail, then across high altitude paramo landscapes at more than 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). The route also passes a rarely visited Inca tambo (roadside or trail-side guest house). Allow about five hours and in wet weather you may want rubber boots.

Tambo Incan Ruins Culebrillas hike Ecuador

Exploring the remains of a remote Incan tambo.

 

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

 

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Where We’ve Been: 2017 South American Road Trip Recap

What a year! Even though we spent the past 2.5 months of 2017 renting an apartment in Lima, Peru where we focused on work, not driving, we still managed to rack up 14,906 miles (23,989 km) on our South American road trip in 2017 in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Countries visited in 2017

Oh, the borders we’ve crossed…

We also had five border crossings in 2017, bringing our total border crossings so far on our little road trip to 61. For more geeky road trip tallies, visit our freshly updated Facts & Figures page. And check out our South American road trip driving route for all of 2017 in our map, below.

2017 South American road trip recap

We began 2017 house sitting in Salta, Argentina. We spent the first two months of the year exploring the very North of Argentina and driving in some of the most remote and spectacular places we’ve been in our 10+ years of driving the Americas including Cafayate and the Puna de Argentina. In March we crossed the Andes into Northern Chile where we spent nearly two months exploring the unique landscapes and mountains around San Pedro de Atacama. From there we drove north along the coast to return to Peru.

Vicuna Argentine Puna

An elegant vicuña in the Puna de Argentina.

In April, re-entered Peru and, for the next three months, we continued to explore this fascinating country. We started in Arequipa and hiked the Colca Canyon. From there we discovered Peru’s primary pisco and wine-producing area around Ica. Then we headed up to the Cordillera Blanca, the most breathtaking mountains we’ve visited since our time traveling around the Himalayas in the mid 1990s. After trekking, hiking, and exploring these beautiful mountains we once again headed south, passing through Lima (again), then Ayacucho, and on to Puno and Lake Titicaca which is the highest navigable lake in the world. 

Laguna Paron Cordillera BlancaPeru

Laguna Paron in the spectacular Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

In July we entered Bolivia and spent the next three months getting to know this surprising country. We started in Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca, then we explored the absolutely buzzing capital city of La Paz. At 11,975 feet (3,650 metes), La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. From there we headed south to the Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world. From here we explored the rugged and remote southwest corner of Bolivia, another one of the most epic drives we’ve done. Then we explored what must be one of the least known wine regions in the world in the Tarija area of Bolivia.

Uyuni Salt Flats FBolivia

Our truck on the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

From there it was up to Potosi, whose Cerro Rico mines contributed a good part of the wealth stolen from the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Spanish. Then we visited the historic capital of Sucre. After exploring the Santa Cruz and Cochabamba areas, our three-month stay was up. In October we crossed from Bolivia into Chile, then back into Peru where we spent the remainder of the year in an apartment in Lima catching up on work and developing a new website which we’ll be bringing to you shortly.

Here’s more about travel in Peru

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Chile

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Best Food & Beverages

This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Best of 2017

It will surprise no one that this year was dominated by outstanding eats and drinks in Lima, Peru. That city continues to be on fire for foodies. But don’t worry. We found wonderful wine, chefs, bars, and more in Bolivia and Argentina as well. Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series, our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2017, part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and part 4 tells you all about our Top Travel Gear of the Year.

Now, in no particular order, we present:

The best food & beverages of 2017

Palmiro Ocamp's 1087 Restaurante Lima

Just a few of the theatrical and tasty morsels included in the new tasting menu at 1087 Restaurante in Lima.

Best new tasting menu in Lima: The latest chef to toss his toque into the vibrant tasting menu scene in Lima, Peru is Peruvian chef Palmiro Ocampo. In May of 2017 he turned the top floor of his 1087 Restaurante into a tasting menu only venue with more than a touch of theater (420 soles, about US$130 with wine pairings or 300 soles, about US$92, without pairings for a 12-course menu plus 3-4 starters). Ring the buzzer and mirrored doors open revealing a man holding a wooden box. Take the small bag out of the box, climb the stairs, and enter a space that feels like transplanted jungle complete with dangling trees and a jungle soundtrack the chef recorded himself. The experience starts at the bar around the open kitchen then proceeds to private tables where the tasting menu, called Allin Yyaykuy Allin Mikuy which means “good to think, good to eat” in the Incan Quechua language which survives in Peru to this day, begins. One course is eaten in the dark with only a small black light flashlight to guide you in a nod to the Inca’s prowess at reading the stars. Though the Incans probably would not recognize courses such as jerky-like beef tongue in a clay emulsion with achiote and cocao paired with a Spanish Conca del Riu Anoia which is a new sparkling wine denomination in competition with cava. A potato dish called El Trueque was a revelation of textures from rich pureed potatoes to a creamy whole potato to the shaved dust of pungent dried potatoes to a crispy cracker covered in gold which creates a ring of golden liquid around the whole plate.

 

Gustu La Paz Bolivia

Lunch at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia is an incredible value for money.

Best chart-topping value: A 15-course tasting menu at Restaurant Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia will set you back about US$90 and it’s worth every penny. However, if your travel budget is more limited, you’re still in luck. Every day Gustu, which is #14 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, serves a three-course lunch for 105BS (about US$15). Choose from two appetizer and two main course options and a dessert and enjoy. Lunch dishes are less experimental than the tasting menu dishes but are still centered on Bolivian ingredients. Add a glass of surprisingly good Bolivian wine (more on that below) or a Bolivian craft beer for 20BS (about US$3).

 

Pisco Sour Museo del Pisco

A pisco sour at Museo del Pisco in Lima.

Best pisco sour: Confession: we do not love Peru’s ubiquitous cocktail. Pisco sours are usually just too sweet and foamy for us with not enough pisco flavor – more like a dessert than an adult beverage. At Museo del Pisco in downtown Lima (there’s one in Cusco and one in Arequipa too) the pisco sours are made to order as you want them. there are more than 100 piscos to choose from, including infused piscos and the knowledgeable staff are there to guide you. We particularly enjoyed a pisco sour made with pisco infused with coca leaves which added a welcome earthiness and bitterness. And always order your pisco sours with less sugar.

 

 Dondoh Lima

Even the coasters get the robata “live fire” treatment at Dondoh in Lima.

Best coasters: Dondoh, a Japanese style robata grill in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima, Peru, opened in the fall of 2016 (learn more in our story for New Worlder). It’s a “live fire” place and they’ve cleverly incorporated burn marks on their coasters which are the perfect complement to the restaurant’s creative cocktails and one of the largest whiskey selections in Peru.

 

 Propiedad Publica restaurant La Paz

Italian done right at Propiedad Publica in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best Italian food: CIA trained chef Gabriella Prudencio learned how to make pasta during her time in the kitchen at Mario Batali’s restaurnats. Back home in Bolivia, Gabriella has taken those skills and run with them at her Propiedad Publica restaurant in La Paz. The  focaccia is homemade and legit. The greens come from her family’s hydroponic farm and are used to make amazing salads like butter lettuce with nuts and gorgonzola. The pastas are, of course, homemade and a wide range of sauces are made to order. Even the sides, things like baked cauliflower and carrots in brown butter, are finessed. She also has a great wine selection. Try the Marquez de la Vina Bonarda which is made in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the US the Bonarda varietal is called Charbono and the bottle took us right back to tasting rooms in California. Gabriella offers a good value set lunch (80BS, about US$12) for an entree, pasta of your choice, juice, and dessert) and dinner is a la carte.

 

Barbarian brew pub Lima

The new Barbarian brew pub in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima.

Best brew pub: The craft brew scene in Peru is growing and improving every year. A leader is a brewery called Barbarian which produces a wide range of high quality beers and has two true brew pubs in Lima. The newest Barbarian brew pub just opened in Barranco which is our favorite neighborhood in the city (their original brew pub is in Miraflores). Here you’ll find more than a half-dozen Barbarian brews on tap along with a hand-selected array of beers from many other Peurvian breweries. It’s a great place to sample Peruvian craft beer in a cool environment (great music, playful decor) with good food (burgers, wings, salads, and sandwiches).

 

House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina

Learning to make empanadas (sort of) at House of Jasmines in Argentina.

Best hotel cooking class: When a Relais & Chateaux hotel offers a cooking class, you sign up. That’s how Karen found herself in the kitchen with Chef Andres at House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina. Chef Andres proceeded to teach her how to make the beloved Argentinean empanada. Sort of. She’s still struggling with her technique, but even her funny-looking empanadas tasted great, especially with a glass of Argentinean Torrontes.

 

HB Bronze coffee shop La Paz

All things coffee at HB Bronze in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best coffee shop: At HB Bronze coffee shop in downtown La Paz, Bolivia, they’re serious about sourcing the best Bolivian coffee (including geisha) and then treating it right. All the major methods of brewing are available and staff are meticulously trained. Coffee is also featured in a wide range of inventive cocktails (see below) and the space is elegant (wood, bronze, lots of natural light) yet casual. There’s also a menu of salads, sandwiches, charcuterie plates, desserts and more.

 

 HB Bronze cocktail

This cocktail totally fooled us.

Best gross-sounding cocktail that turned out to be great: When Boris Alarcon, the gregarious owner of HB Bronze, handed us a Parkeriosinho cocktail made with papaya soda (a full-on obsession in Bolivia), Campari, gin, and coffee liqueur we had our doubts. The thing looked like a welcome drink on a Carnival cruise. Then we tasted it: mellow, balanced, refreshing, and just the right mix of bitter and sweet. Bonus: it represents the bands of color in the Bolivian flag.

 

Jeronimo restaurant Lima

Chef Moma’s food is even more creative than his awesome business card.

Best business card: Chef Moma Adrianzar of Jeronimo in Lima, Peru is doing things differently. In a city full of ceviche (not a complaint), chifa, and interpretations of Peruvian food, he’s offering a wide-ranging menu with something for everyone (from pulled pork, to tacos, to, yes, ceviche). That’s why the place is always packed. The chef’s business card is further expression of his creativity and individualism, but go for the food.

 

Ali Pacha reataurant La Paz

Yes, this is vegan food but only at Ali Pacha in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best vegan: You do not have to be vegan (we’re clearly not) to be thrilled and satisfied by the food at Ali Pacha in downtown La Paz, Bolivia. The place is the creation of chef Sebastián Quiroga who went from meat eater to vegan. Unwilling to compromise on flavor just because he’d transitioned to a plant-based menu, Sebastián has worked hard to turn the principles of veganism into strengths, not constraints. Along with a young and enthusiastic staff (some of whom have also become vegan), the kitchen turns out completely uncompromising dishes like smoked beet ceviche, French radishes in walnut sauce, and the best home-baked bread in the city all served in an elegant room. Choose 3, 5, or 7 course lunch and dinner menus (100B to 200BS or about US$15 to US$30 without beverages) and prepare to re-think vegan. In 2017 Sebastián, who looks more like a hippie than a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, opened UMAWI bar above the restaurant where the growing crop of Bolivian spirits (1825 Vodka, Killa Andean Moonshine whiskey, and Gin La Republica) are well utilized.

 

cocktail class: Hotel B Lima

Karen fine-tuning her bar tending skills with Jose Luis Valencia at Hotel B in Lima.

Best hotel cocktail class: Hotel B in Lima, Peru is one of the best hotels in the entire country. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and home of award-winning barman Jose Luis Valencia. The hotel offers a cocktail making class with Jose Luis (190 soles or about US$60) during which you learn to make three cocktails (one with pisco, one with gin, and one with rum) each paired with an elegant snack. Jose Luis speaks excellent English and is knowledgeable, engaging, and passionate.

 

Wines of tarija Bolivia

We found some excellent Bolivian wines and you should too.

Best wine surprise: Who knew Bolivian wine makers are producing some very good wine? Well, one guy knew–Bertil Tottenborg, the sommelier (and general service czar) of Gustu in La Paz (see above). He generously shared his knowledge with us and that guided our time in Tarija and Valle de Cinti where the bulk of Bolivia’s wine is made. Standouts include Sausini and Bodega Magnus in Tarija and Casa de Campo and Cepas de Fuego in Valle de Cinti which is also home to a young winemaker producing extreme natural wine that’s not quite for sale yet. Don’t expect to see these bottles in your local wine shop. Every drop is sold within Bolivia so you’ll have to come down and try it for yourself.

 

 La Whiskeria bar Humo La Paz

La Whiskeria in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best bar: La Whiskeria is a tiny bar in La Paz, Bolivia but it makes a big impression. The decor looks like it was done by the set designer for Twin Peaks (in a good way). It’s dark. Furniture is upholstered in quilted red leather. There’s wood paneling and a fireplace. In fact, the place has been used as a movie set. The bartender, Josue Grajeda, is a master of cocktails that are inventive but not silly. It’s an appealing combination of ambiance and libation.

Best medialuna: In Argentina breakfast is not breakfast without a medialuna – a kind of breadier croissant brushed with a sweet, sticky icing. They vary widely in quality, but the best we’ve had (so far) were on the breakfast buffet at Finca Valentina Casa de Campo, a country hotel just outside Salta, Argentina. They’re baked fresh daily and arrive piping hot and flaky.

 

Juicy Lucy hamburber Lima

The burgers at Juicy Lucy in Lima live up to their name.

Best burger: Juicy Lucy, a gourmet mini-chain in Lima, Peru, offers a range of burgers (from 28 soles, or about US$9 with fries) plus a fried chicken sandwich and a veg panini. The buns were tasty but not too bready, the patties were simply spiced and very juicy (you’ll go through at lest 5 napkins), and the fries were great. But why no beer?

 

Hotel Maury bar pisco sour Lima

This is Eloy Caudros and he’s probably been making cocktails at this bar in Lima longer than you’ve been legal to drink.

Best historic bar: Bar Maury (sometimes called the Morris Bar) in the run down Hotel Maury in downtown Lima has been around since 1821 and claims to be the birthplace of the pisco sour (disputed). What’s not disputed is that winning race horses were once brought into the bar for a tipple (we saw the photos). The bar has changed little since those day and the dark wood paneling, moody lighting, and scruffy atmosphere remain. The bar tenders haven’t changed either. We met old-timer Eloy Caudros there with Melanie Asher, owner and distiller of Macchu Pisco, and he whipped up a few pisco sours for us using Melanie’s awesome creations. He’ll do the same for you.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

It took us a long time to get to Rafael restaurant in Lima and maybe we were saving the best for last.

Best place we should have eaten at years ago: We don’t know why it took us so long to get to one of the many restaurants from acclaimed Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling who has places in Bogotá, Colombia and in Lima, Peru. Our meal at Rafael in Lima, which is  #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, was a nearly perfect mix of atmosphere (casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art) servcie (attentive but patient waiters with an excellent grasp on the menu), and food including a long list of appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork. We shared a tuna tiradito starter that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella. The restaurant bar, which features an impressive array of libations including a number of bourbons, offers a tapas menu if you just want to dip a toe. 

Best dinner party with a star chef: When one of the buzziest chefs in Latin America invites you over for dinner you say yes. We assumed we would be joining a large group of people. After all, we’d just met this chef. We arrived with a bottle of pisco as a gift and were shocked to discover that the dinner party was really just us, the chef, and two others. Intimate to say the least. Oh, and delicious. And we’re not naming names.

Check out more top eats in Latin America in our post about Eating Our Way through the 50 Best List.

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Peru

 

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