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.

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¿Si o No? – El Jardin, Colombia

Paisas, people who live in the Antioquia area of Colombia, are known for their pride. The paisas who live in the picture perfect coffee country town of El Jardin take things to a whole new level.

Jardin Colombia street scene

Traditional architecture thrives in Jardin, and not just around the town’s main plaza.

Taking pride in Jardin, Colombia

In order to become part of Colombia’s elite group of Pueblos Patrimonio a town must have preserved colonial architecture and living traditional culture. The quaint, quiet, colonial town of El Jardin (simply called Jardin) has all of that plus a sense of pride that even casual visitors can feel.

Cathedral Jardin Colombia

The cathedral in Jardin.

Traditional white-washed Colonial buildings are maintained proudly, their vibrant trim gleaming. The streets are clean. The locals, called Jardineros, are friendly with a charming unconscious habit of ending every statement with a rhetorical “¿Si o no?”.

Chiva Jardin Colombia

Chivas, elaborately decorated buses, are an Antioquia tradition.

It’s pleasingly chilly in Jardin and many people bundle up in traditional ponchos. You’re likely to see someone’s fancy prancing horse “parked” at the main plaza while its owner dismounts for a coffee and a bit of showing off. There’s so little motorized traffic in Jardin that we quickly stopped looking both ways before crossing the street. All in all, the place looks and feels largely unchanged for the past 150 years because it is largely unchanged.

Plaza Jardin Colombia

Locals and visitors take full advantage of the picturesque main plaza in Jardin.

What to do in Jardin

We got our first taste of Jardin pride from Roberto who stayed late at the Casa Cultura in order to show us around. As we wandered past antiques, museum-quality pottery, a modern art installation, and more Roberto explained Jardin’s proud past as an agricultural area producing coffee, plantains, sugarcane, and beans. Those crops still exist, however, today Jardin is absolutely a tourist town but it hasn’t sold its soul.

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador

Visiting Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador is a popular day trip from Jardin.

In addition to the Casa Cultural, there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Jardin including visiting one of the nearby trout farms for a bit of fishing (albeit in a modern-day barrel). Too tame for you? There’s also paintball, paragliding, rappelling, and a zipline. You can also take a jeep (30 minutes), horse (1 hour), and hike (30 minutes) to reach Cascada de Cueava del Esplendador where a waterfall tumbles into a cave (around 45,000 COP or about US$15 per person including a big homemade lunch).

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador

Cascada de Cueva del Esplendador.

You’ll notice two illuminated crosses on hillsides facing each other above Jardin. A cable car, built to make it easier for people living in mountain villages to travel to and from town, goes up to each cross and it’s a popular trip at sunset. There are also some surprisingly chic clothing and accessories shops in Jardin.

View of Jardin Colombia from above

Jardin, nestled in the Colombian Andes.

In a town as well-kept and well-loved as Jardin, our favorite activity was simply hanging out in the town’s main square listening to church bells at the Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion (Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) or the occasional music school group practicing al fresco. There are plenty of places to sit in the leafy La Libertad Plaza, which was declared a national monument in 1985, or claim a traditional wooden chair with a rawhide seat and back hand painted with scenes of country life at one of the many coffee shops and bars that surround the plaza.

bar chairs plaza Jardin Colombia

Chairs with hand painted leather panels are a Jardin tradition.

Jardin hotels

Jardin has more than its share of hotels. We checked out many of the economical hotels before choosing to stay at Hotel La Casona located just a half block from the main square. The economical hotel options in Jardin are all fairly similar, but we were sold by the cleanliness and peacefulness of the La Casona (around 20,000 COP or about US$6.50 per person in a private room with private bathroom including breakfast).

Hotel Jardin Colombia

Hotel Jardin.

The most polished place to stay in Jardin is the Hotel Jardin. Located on the main plaza, the building has been meticulously restored even by Jardin standards. Its 11 rooms are atmospheric, spotless, and elegant (around 40,000 COP or about US$13 per person for private rooms with private bathrooms including breakfast). This hotel also has the best mattresses in town.

Note that Jardin gets packed and prices go up on weekends, so try to visit during the week. Also, we found the hardest mattresses in all of Colombia in Jardin. Test the bed before you commit to a room.

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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.

 

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Travel Tripod Review: 3 Legged Thing

Cell phone selfies aside, many people also want to take actual pictures of something other than their chins when they travel. Sometimes travel photography requires using a tripod. The perfect travel tripod should be lightweight, compact, multi-functional and sturdy. We hauled around a heavy and bulky tripod for years before we got our hands on a carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing tripod. After more than nine months of use on the road in South America–over the Andes, to the Galapagos Islands, through the deserts of Peru and into the Amazon–here’s what we think of our 3 Legged Thing.

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber tripod on beach in Peru

Eric and our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing on the beach in Northern Peru.

What is a 3 Legged Thing?

When we started doing our research about carbon fiber travel tripods with a ball head, we looked into the usual suspects. The Gitzo Traveler is awesome, but at US$1,099 it’s way too expensive for many. The Manfrotto BeFree (US$350) was a possibility, but the ball head that comes with this model seemed a little too wimpy to support a DSLR with a heavy telephoto like my amazing Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens (Buy on Amazon) which weighs nearly 4 lbs. The Benro Travel Angel tripods (US$440) aren’t compact enough.

In the end it came down to two models that seemed pretty similar based on their specs: the MeFOTO Globetrotter (US$399) and the 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3 Brian (US$399, Buy on Amazon – note that this is the newer updated model, Albert).

Why did we wind up choosing the 3 Legged Thing? One word: ATTITUDE.

Three Legged Thing, the travel tripods with ‘tude

The British company that makes 3 Legged Thing tripods wanted to “bring more personality to the tripod market.” That started with the company’s name (3LT for short) and it extends to the names of their individual tripod models.

Three Legged Thing 3LT Brian

Unboxing our Brian tripod.

Instead of giving their tripod models a series of mind-numbing numbers for names, they named their original models after famous guitarists. “Who’s going to go into a store and remember a series of numbers?” a 3 Legged Thing spokesperson said to us. Plus, guitarists are cool. We have a Brian, named after Queen lead guitarist (and astrophysicist ??!??!) Brian May. We love Queen!

The company has since introduced new tripod models named after pioneers like Albert Einstein (the Albert replaced our Brian) and Leonardo Di Vinci and they’re about to introduce brand new models in their Punks line of less expensive aluminum tripods.

Just as attitude filled are the names of the replaceable feet for the tripod. Called “footwear,” these feet are sold as accessories for the tripod to be used in a variety of conditions. The standard rubber feet that come with the tripod are called Boots. Pointy metal feet are called Heels and they are perfect for rock and concrete. Longer, javellen-like feet are called Stilettos. And when you need extra grip you’re going to want to put on the Claws.

Three Legged Thing tripod footwear

Cool accessories for our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing. As the company says, “you can’t beat decent footwear.”

Three Legged Thing tripods with attitude

 

Even the packaging has attitude. The 3 Legged Thing boxes are slathered with ramblings, like the cleverness to the right. The main shipping box was also sealed with tape that said “Punks Never mind the Ballheads” in a typeface that, to our minds, riffed on the ransom-note typeface used on the cover of the Sex Pistols album “Never Mind the Bullocks”.

Using the Three Legged Thing Tripos in a canopy Tower in the Amazon

Eric up for daybreak with his Brian on a canopy-top observation tower in the Amazon in Southern Peru.

Why we really love our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod

Okay, cheeky British “taking the piss” attitude may be the first plus about 3 Legged Thing tripods, but a clever name and some cool tape isn’t going to help your travel tripod perform better.  Here are a few more pluses (and a few minuses) about our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod.

  • It’s made of carbon fiber so it’s VERY light – just 4 lbs. 1oz. (1.8 kg).
  • It’s also VERY compact. The legs fold back on themselves and it folds down to a mere 15.75″ (40 cm) which easily fits into luggage or a day pack and it’s also easy to carry attached to a camera bag. 
Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

We have some beef with the carrying case (top image), but we love the compactness of our 3 Legged Thing tripod (bottom image).

  • Its adjustability makes it really versatile. Each leg has five sections. The center column has three sections and it can be removed completely or turned upside-down for a very low camera angle. Each leg can lock in at three different angles (23°, 55° and 80°). What does all this mean? The height of the tripod can vary from a ridiculously low 4.5″ (12 cm)  to a maximum of  72.5″ (1.85 meters).  
  • It has a load capacity of 66 lbs. (30 kg) at the standard 23° leg angle which can securely support my heaviest camera body and lens combination which weighs nearly 6 lbs. (2.7 kg)

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

  • The Airhed 3 Ball Head is practically a work of art (above). It’s a solid yet lightweight head that is easily adjustable and has an easy to use locking knob and 360° panning capability. It has a small built-in bubble level, but, unfortunately, this can easily be covered by the camera when mounted on the head, but there is a second bubble level built into the center column support. As for the mounting plate, it uses the popular Arca Swiss/Peak Design compatible Release Plates. 
  • Sometimes you don’t need a whole tripod but you want a little extra stability. Then there are times when a tripod is just too awkward to use or even prohibited. In about 20 seconds you can transform the Brian tripod into a monopod. Just screw off one of the legs, unscrew the ballhead from the center column and screw it onto the leg that you just removed. Voila! 

3LT Brian tripod details

  • Because 3 Legged Thing tripods are not made of aluminum, like our last tripod was, we don’t have to worry so much about damage after the tripod gets wet. If an aluminum tripod is exposed to seawater, for example, you have to clean and dry it immediately or the metal gets pitted. Our carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing just needs to be wiped off after you’re done shooting. We’ve also used our Brian tripod in sandy and gritty conditions and the legs and leg locks rinse easily without any lingering crunch. 
img_0732

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod at the annual re-building of the only surviving Incan bridge in Peru.

There are a few minuses…

  • The leg and column locks are secure and easy to use. However, several times we have been surprised that the center column was not locked down causing the camera to turn freely.
  • The tripod is stable and well made, but like any light-weight tripod there is a trade-off to stability which can be evident in windy conditions. However, the center column comes with a ballast hook and carabiner which allows you to easily attach a weight, like the tripod bag filled with a few rock, to increase stability in windy conditions.
  • There are a lot of little parts that can come loose and regularly need tightening. For example, the leg and column locks are topped by a screw-in sleeves that are constantly coming loose. Not a big deal and it doesn’t impact functionality, but…
  • The included carry case could be sturdier and slightly roomier. It’s so form fitted that the tripod doesn’t slide in easily. I also like to carry a few accessories with the tripod like my cable release, so its lack of a usable zippered pocket is frustrating. The beige canvas case is also not nearly as durable as the tripod. It would be nice if it were made from a more durable nylon. And why is the case white??!?!

Bottom Line: the 3LT Brian is a light-weight, versatile and easy to use travel tripod. It’s not groundbreaking, since it incorporates nearly all the same features shared by all of the quality carbon fiber travel tripods, but it is extremely well made with nice design and plenty of attitude. 

Three Legged Thing tripod in Peru

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod in Northern Peru.

 

3 Legged Thing thing gave us a Brian tripod to use and review during our Trans-Americas Journey.

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