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

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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.

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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

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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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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Best Hotels

This post is part 2 of 4 in the series Best of 2017

Two boutique hotel surprises in Bolivia, a terrific value in the mountains of Peru, a hip beach sleep in Chile, and more great hotels in South America! Welcome to part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series–our guide to the Best Hotels of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2017, Part 3 covers the Best Food and Beverages 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 hotels of 2017

Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel - Huaraz, Peru

Views of the Cordillera Blanca from the yellow room at Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel in Peru.

Best bed with a view: Book the yellow room at Cuesta Serena Boutique Hotel, a stylish and homey retreat near Huaraz, Peru. With huge windows on two sides, this rooms offers spectacular views of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range including Huascarán which is the highest mountain in Peru and the fourth highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere at 22,205 feet (6,768 meters).


Hotel Atix - La Paz, Bolivia

Hotel Atix in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best boutique hotel in La Paz, Bolivia: The capital of Bolivia got its first boutique hotel (albeit, on the large side with 53 rooms) when the Atix Hotel (atix means “the one who thrives” in the Quechua language) opened in La Paz in 2017. Rooms are more or less as you’d expect, though native wood headboards, their own bottled water, and universal electrical outlets are nice touches. The public spaces are full of large-scale, modern art by Bolivian artist Gastón Ugalde, the plunge pool in the roof top bar is a surprise (though mostly for show), and the hotel restaurant has big ambitions. When you make a reservation directly on the hotel’s website a portion of the rate goes to the Alalay Foundation.


Inboccalupo Hotel, - Santa Cruz Bolivia

The plunge pool at Inboccalupo boutique hotel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Best boutique hotel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia: If we were surprised by the Atix in La Paz, we were flabbergasted by Inboccalupo in Santa Cruz. Also opened in 2017, it nails the boutique hotel manifesto: a passionate owner with a vision for the style and service of the place, a fearless playfulness, all the comforts. Twenty rooms, including six duplex suites which are more like small apartments, all have a different theme (National Geographic, A Clockwork Orange, The Beatles, etc. pulled off with flair. Try to ignore the somewhat frustrating website and just book a room.


Hotel Apacheta - Arica, Chile

Serious beach vibes at Hotel Apacheta in Arica, Chile.

Best beach hotel: It’s been a long time since a hotel has given us a cool California beach vibe, but that’s exactly what you get at Hotel Apacheta in Arica, Chile which offers 18 rooms (all with ocean views) so close to the Pacific that it nearly laps at the foundation. Opened in 2015, the hotel has a found-object chicness with simple pine boards, wicker furniture, subdued colors, and stark angles working together to create a lot of beach house cool.


Cabañas Umajalanta- Totoro, Bolivia

Cabañas Umajalanta near Totoro, Bolivia.

Best community run hotel: Cabañas Umajalanta is about 15 minutes from the town of Totoro, Bolivia which is the gateway to Totoro National Park. Opened in 2014, it’s a community project operated with a Swiss NGO and Tupiza Tours. It offers three standalone cabañas, each with two rooms that sleep up to three people including private bathrooms, a glassed-in area that creates a warm greenhouse effect, great views, and good beds (240BS, about US$35, including breakfast). Members of the local community built the place and all the furniture and only locals are employed which is benefiting dozens of local families. Even if you don’t stay here, you’ll pass the place on your way to the Ciudad Itas area of the park, so stop in for a delicious traditional lunch (30BS, about US$4.50).


 Estancia Las Carrerras - Tafí de Valle, Argentina

Room #10 at Estancia Las Carreras in Argentina is in a building that dates back to 1779.

Best room from 1779: There are just 10 rooms at Estancia Las Carrerras in Tafí de Valle, Argentina which is part of a 22,240 acre (9,000 hectare) working dairy farm. Room #10 is in a building that was built by Jesuits in 1779. It has a traditional bamboo, grass, and rawhide ceiling, original tile flooring, and thick adobe walls but its far from a monk’s cell. Estancia Las Carreras has been in the same family for 10 generations and the current owners have ensured that even this historic habitation has a completely modern bathroom and a working fireplace.


Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas - Salta, Argentina

Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas, near Salta, was built in 1609 and is one of the oldest estancaias in Argentina.

Best room from 1609: Estancia el Bordo de las Lanzas in Northern Argentina, near Salta, is one of the oldest estancias (farms) in Argentina. Parts of the building dates back to 1609 and rooms here are part museum, part hotel but never stuffy thanks to the vibrant and thoroughly modern family members who are running the place. While preserving history, they are perfecting rustic hospitality with great food and generous service. 


 Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge - Bolivia

The spectacular setting of Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge in Bolivia.

Best place to unplug: Refugio Los Volcanes Eco Lodge, between Samaipata and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is located next to Amboro National Park in a setting that reminded us of Yosemite Valley. This all-solar retreat is so remote that there’s no cell or Wi-Fi service. Unplug and hit the trails, look for condors, swim in waterfalls, and enjoy the good honest food courtesy of long-time staff from the nearest village.


Hotel B - Lima, Peru

Despite a steady stream of new comers, Hotel B in Lima is still a top hotel in Peru.

Best boutique hotel in Peru: The range and quality of hotels in Peru keeps improving and during our nearly 18 months of travel in Peru we’ve stayed in most of the country’s top hotels. Despite increasing competition, Hotel B, opened in Lima in 2013, is still top of the heap. The converted mansion is filled with art and opulence and the staff can’t be beat. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and attention to cuisine is apparent even in the breakfast buffet. Look for new rooms and amenities to debut in 2018.


Best value for money: You can certainly find cheaper digs in Huaraz, Peru. However, we doubt you will find better value for money than Villa Valencia Hotel and Bungalows. Located about a 10 minute walk from the center of Huaraz, they offer super clean double room with lots of light and space including a kitchen, a dining table and sofa, a bedroom, and a private bathroom. Cable TV, W-iFi, parking, a superb included breakfast, and very helpful staff round out this good value package (we paid US$30 for our room).


Hotel Museo Cayara, - Potosi, Bolivia

The buildings, art collection, and history at Hotel Museo Cayara in Bolivia date back to 1575.

Best museum hotel: Hotel Museo Cayara, outside Potosi, Bolivia, was originally built in 1575 (some paperwork indicates even a few years earlier) by a colleague of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It’s been owned by two marquisas and hosted revolutionary hero Antonio José de Sucre (you can still see the intact bedroom where he slept). In 2010 the hacienda was renovated and turned into a 17 room hotel which is dripping with art and history. Rooms have antique religious art, good beds, modern bathrooms, and heating (it’s located 2,000 feet / 600 meters lower than the city of Potosi, it’s still cold). All staff comes from the local village and breakfast features butter and milk from the dairy farm that’s still operated on the large property.


Atemporal boutique hotel in Lima, Peru

The playful keychains at Atemporal in Lima, Peru are just one example of the attention to detail that makes this boutique hotel special.

Best key chains: There are nine rooms at the hip Atemporal boutique hotel in Lima, Peru and there are also nine letters in the word atemporal. So the playful owners, who excel at attention to detail, decided that each room key would come on a key chain featuring an oversized letter from the hotel’s name rendered in chic black velvet. And, yes, a hotel that drills down to that level of detail has the rest of the hospitality puzzle figured out too.


 El Huarango Hotel Chile

Two of the rooms at El Huarango hotel in Chile which is made mostly out of boulder-like chunks of salt from the surrounding desert.

Best value hotel made out of salt: In 2004 Marco and Coco moved to a spot near La Tirana, Chile where they didn’t just settle in the desert, they settled in a salt-encrusted desert. They moved into a tent and began building El Huarango almost entirely from boulder-like chunks of salt from their land. El Huarango is named for the Quechua word for a mimosa-like species of tree that grows there but, ironically, it’s shrub-like and not good for building which is why salt was used. Coco and Marco now offer four stylish and comfortable rooms and one cabin with a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, plus camping spots and an RV spot all within the serenity of their 45 acres (18 hectares) of desert. The place is off the grid with solar power and meals are cooked on a solar cooker.


Luna Salada Hotel del Sal - Uyuni, Bolivia

Almost everything is made from neatly cut blocks of salt at Luna Salada Hotel del Sal at the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

Best spendy hotel made out of salt: It’s all salt all the time at Luna Salada Hotel del Sal & Spa. First of all, almost everything in this 49 room hotel is made of precisely cut blocks of salt from the famous Uyuni Salt Flat, the largest in the world. This includes walls, ceilings, floors, tables, benches, fireplaces, the spa, numerous sitting areas, and more. The hotel is also built on a low rise on the edge of the Uyuni Salt Flat, so even your views are made of salt. It’s worth splurging on the newer rooms.


Libreria del Desierto - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Desert House near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile was our favorite Airbnb rental of the year.

Best Airbnb: Over the past year or so we’ve ended up staying in more and more Airbnb accommodations. Desert House, in the village of Solor near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, stood out from the crowd. Valentina and Diego (and their daughter Sofia) offer a private room with bathroom plus use of the kitchen, living room, washing machine, parking space, Wi-Fi, and a full breakfast including bread and chocolate croissants from the French baker in town, fresh juice, fruit, yogurt, coffee and tea, eggs, cheese, and meat served on a gorgeous inlaid wooden table from Switzerland. Diego is a poet and Valentina is an archaeologist and director of the acclaimed museum in San Pedro de Atacama. Their Desert House, an experimental modern design completed in 2016, features white washed wood, soaring ceilings, a grated floor and elevated area for poetry readings and art installations, and skylights positioned perfectly for seeing stars from bed.

New to Airbnb? Book your first stay and get this $40 discount


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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Top Travel Adventures

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2017

Rodeo riding in Chile, a death road in Bolivia, hiking and trekking in Peru, on horseback through the Atacama, remote art in Argentina, and much, much more! Welcome to part 1 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series, our guide to the Top Travel Adventures of the year. Part 2 covers the Best Hotels of 2017, part 3 covers the Best Food and Beverages 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 Top Travel Adventures of 2017

Hike Totoro Canyon Bolivia

The hike into Vergel Canyon in Totoro National Park in Bolivia must be one of the easiest canyon hikes in the world.

Best easy canyon hike: Hiking to the bottom of a canyon is cool and, by definition, usually pretty hard work with long, steep descents and ascents. However, in Bolivia’s Totoro National Park you can get to a dramatic waterfall in the bottom of the dramatic Vergel Canyon on a well-made trail that’s not too long and not too steep. It took us about 30 minutes to tackle the approximately 850 steps from the rim walking at a casual pace and stopping to admire a pair of red-fronted macaws.


Hike Colca Canyon Condors Peru

Don’t forget to look up from the trail every now and then in Peru’s Colca Canyon for the chance to see Andean condors.

Best hard canyon hike: The Colca Canyon in Peru is massive so it follows that getting into and out of the canyon is going to require some serious hiking. Our three-day, two night Colca Canyon hike started with a relentless five-hour, 5,000 foot (1,540 meters) descent from the town of Cabanaconde on the rim down to Llahuar on the canyon floor. Hiking around in the canyon required more up and down, and getting out of the Colca Canyon from Sangalle back up to Cabanaconde required a climb of more than 5,000 feet pretty much straight up. Was it worth it? Check out our story about hiking in the Colca Canyon for Intrepid Travel.


Chilean rodeao media luna

Karen getting the hang of Chile’s demanding rodeo event.

Best rodeo: Rodeo in Chile is different. First of all, the ring is a media luna (half moon) not a full circle. Second of all, there’s really only one event which involves riding a Chilean stallion that’s galloping sideways while pushing a running cow into the wooden walls of the media luna with the horse’s chest. This is all done while wearing snazzy traditional gear including dinner-plate-sized spurs. While visiting some of the men who run the rodeo near San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, Karen was given a crash course in this riding technique by Don Ramon Bascur, then she was set loose in the media luna.


Salar de Uyuni Isla Incahuasi Bolivia

Isla Huacachina in the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.

Best salty adventure: The Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world and its enormous expanse is mostly flat and white as far as the eye can see. However, there are some natural interruptions in the landscape. Cruzzani Tours at Hotel Luna Salada (which is made almost entirely out of salt blocks from the salt flat) took us to Isla Icanhuasi. After visiting a local salt harvester to see his low-tech process from salt flat to shopping bag, we drove onto the salt flat itself and Ivan, our driver, helped us take some wacky Uyuni photos with props and everything. Then it was on to Isla Incahuasi where our guide, Emmy, explained that the island is a coral rise that’s covered in cactus. A short walk to the top of the island delivered 360-degree views of the salt flat before returning to the vehicle so Ivan could drive us to another area of the salt flat where we had snacks and wine as the sunset.


Driving north yungas death road Bolivia

Heading down the Death Road in Bolivia.

Best death road: A short stretch of narrow, winding dirt road in Bolivia was dubbed The Death Road after hundreds lost their lives on it. Here’s what happened when we drove Bolivia’s Death Road.


San Pedro de Atacama horseback riding Valle del Muerte

On horseback across the Atacama.

Best horseback riding: The explora group of hotels in Chile and Peru pioneered the concept of luxury all-inclusive base camps and they did that by paying close attention to every detail, right down to breeding and training their own horses. At explora Atacama the stable is home to about 20 big, fit horses bred and trained to thrive in the high altitude desert conditions. Karen rode a lot while at explora Atacama and it was all amazing. If you’re an experienced rider, don’t miss the Cornises ride which includes a dramatic section straight down a massive sand dune.


Parque Puri Beter in San Pedro de Atacama

Hiking with horses in the Atacama.

Best non-horseback riding: Karen has been around horses since she was six years old, but during our visit to Parque Puri Beter in San Pedro de Atacama, part of the Tata Mallku Foundation, we got the chance to interact with horses in a brand new way by walking with them through the surrounding desert without halters or leads of any kind. The horses were let out as a herd and we followed on foot, going wherever they went at whatever pace they went. Before long we felt like we were just part of the herd in a way that was unique and powerful.


Floating Islands Lake Titicaca

Visiting some of the famous floating islands on Lake Titikaka in Peru.

Best floating island adventure: The owners of the Libertador hotel group in Peru also own a tour company called Venturia and a tour desk is located at most Libertador hotel lobbies. Venturia is the only tour company offering guided trips on Lake Titikaka in outrigger canoes. We took their Uros Tour in an outrigger to visit one of the famous floating islands on Lake Titikaka. Our guide, Yair, was born in Lima where he got deep into regattas with outrigger canoes (which are called Polynesian canoes in Peru). Yair brought outriggers, which are very stable and easy to paddle, to Lake Titikaka. Most tourists visit the lake’s islands, which are made by lashing together floating chunks of natural reed beds, in motor boats. However, we quietly paddled the outrigger through peaceful channels on the lake to reach Uros Island where we visited one family’s man-made island home. 


Train Lima to Huancayo Peru Ferrocarrill Central Andina

Riding the highest railway in the Americas in Peru.

Best adventure on rails: You don’t get on the tourist train which runs between Lima and Huancayo for the service, food, or amenities. The train, operated by Ferrocarrill Central Andina, is dirty (even in a tourist class car), staff members are surly, and the food is airplane grade. But the scenery and the numbers are spectacular. This train travels 214 miles (346 km) through the Andes past waterfalls, grazing llamas, and, honestly, a few pretty scary looking mines. The route goes from sea level in Lima to an elevation of 15,843 feet (4,829 meters) which makes this train the highest railway in the Americas. Along the way, the train navigates a wide array of engineering marvels including 6 zigzags, 69 tunnels (one spirals like a pig’s tail and one is nearly 3,400 feet / 1,000 meters long) and 58 bridges. The one-way journey takes about 14 hours, which, honestly is a long time to be on a train. 


Turell Museum Colome Winery Argentina

It’s an adventure just getting to the only James Turrell museum outside the US.

Best art adventure: The only museum devoted to artist James Turrell outside the US is located on the grounds of  Bodega Colome in Argentina, one of the most remote and most high-altitude vineyards and wineries in the world. From the nearest city, it takes at least a day of driving through scenic valleys to reach Colome and the James Turrrell Museum there which was created after Colome owner, US winemaker Donald Hess, met Turrell and fell in love with his work. Turrell designed the space which contains installations which are all about natural and artificial light and how it changes perceptions. It sounds simple, but it’s complex stuff that definitely plays with your head. Free guided tours are given (in English) at 3 pm and 5 pm for a maximum of eight people (reservations are a must, closed Mondays). We toured the small museum for more than two hours and it was one of the best museum experiences we’ve ever had and an adventure to boot.


Santa Cruz trek Rinrijirka mountain & Tawliquicha lake

Another day, another view on the Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

Best multi-day hike: The Santa Cruz Trek in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru is one of the most famous multi-day hikes in the country. In 32 miles (51 km) the route delivers high passes (one is more than 15,000 feet / 4,500 meters), mountain lakes, snowy peaks, and challenging trails. Get the day-by-day highlights and trail tips in our post about what you need to know about the Santa Cruz trek.


Ballooning over the Atacama.

Best soft adventure: Don’t let anyone tell you that soft adventures don’t count. Case in point: a hot air balloon ride over the Atacama Desert. The same folks behind Balloons over Bagan in Myanmar recently began offering hot air balloon rides out of San Pedro de Atacama. The premium Balloons over Atacama trips include pre-flight coffee, tea, and fresh (and legit) croissants from the French baker in town plus champagne afterward. We love hot air balloons because of the alternate perspective they offer and because traveling (mostly) in silence at the whim of the wind is so peaceful. As we write this, flights have been suspended while a court ruling gets resolved. We hope they’re up and running again soon.


Cerro Toco Volcano San Pedro de Atacama Chile

At 18,386 feet on top of Cerro Toco in Chile.

Best high peak day hike: When was the last time you were able to hike up to 18,386 feet (5,604 meters) in just one day? You can do it in the Atacama Desert on a peak called Cerro Toco, a stratovolcano not far from San Pedro de Atacama. We did this hike with Arturo, a guide from Hotel Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, who was born in the region. After driving about an hour from the hotel we’d reached around 16,000 feet (4,876 meters). From there we hit the trail for about an hour, ascending about a mile (2 km) to the top. It was steep and snowy in places, but not difficult overall, though the air was pretty thin. At the top, we got spectacular views of Bolivia and the perfect cone of Licancabur Volcano. We’ve been this high in the Himalayas, but only after days or even weeks of walking. Only in the Atacama can you have breakfast at your hotel, bag an 18,000+ foot peak, and be back at the hotel in time for lunch.


Quebrada de las Flechas Cafayate Argentina

Easy road trip bliss in Northern Argentina.

Best softcore epic drive: The roughly 300 mile (480 km) loop that connects Salta to Cafayate to Molinos to Cachi and back to Salta is partly paved and there are towns along the way and you really don’t need a hardcore vehicle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an epic drive.The scenery is amazing including Southwest style desert, rock and mesa landscapes, swirling rock formations, forests of cactus and much more. This route also travels through Los Cardones National Park where you can see wild guanacos (a cruder ancestor of llamas) and condors.


Drive Isluga National Park Chile

Driving the back roads between Colchane and Putre involves gorgeous scenery and washboarded roads.

Best midcore epic drive: The back road route that connects Colchane to Putre in Northern Chile travels through four parks and protected areas, past inviting hot springs, grazing vincuñas, flocks of flamingos, and much more natural beauty that makes the sometimes challenging roads (and occasional military checkpoint) worth it.


Drive Puno Argentina

We didn’t see many other vehicles while driving through the Puna de Argentina, but there were plenty of llamas.

Best hardcore epic drive in Argentina: The Puna region of Northern Argentina is not easy. It’s remote. It’s high altitude. It’s a huge desert.The rough track roads are so bad speed is sometimes reduced to 10 mph or even less. Sometimes you’re driving on a salt flat (where we got a flat tire). But this is also the place to see thousands of migrating flamingos, wind-whipped sandstone formations, and eerie wide open spaces that sometimes make you feel like you’re on another planet. If you don’t feel like doing the driving, organize your Puna de Argentina adventure through Socompa Adventure Travel which specializes in the area and also runs the best lodging in the area.


Drive Puno ADrive Bolivia Uyuni SW circuit Sol de manana geyserrgentina

At a geyser field on the southwest circuit out of Uyuni, Bolivia.

Best hardcore epic drive in Bolivia: The tracks and back roads that make up the so-called southwest circuit out of Uyuni, Bolivia are quite possibly the most challenging roads we’ve driven. Sandy, full of never-ending extreme washboarding, rock-hard frozen sections, and all at high altitude where temperatures plummet each night. The payoff is a series of lakes, flamingos, and a field of venting hot springs. Just don’t expect to have the place to yourself. Despite the challenges, this route is popular with tour groups and they fly along the roads in beat-up Toyota 4Runners, creating more and more washboarding.


Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about travel in Peru


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