Where We’ve Been: 2016 Recap & December 2016 Road Trip Driving Route in Brazil, Bolivia & Argentina

2016 was a big year on our little road trip through the Americas with a total of 15,200 miles (24,462 km) on the road. While that pales in comparison to the miles we were putting on annually when we were in North America nearly a decade ago, it’s double the mileage of most recent years.

All those miles really got us around and in 2016 we visited or revisited seven countries: Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. Our previous record was five countries in one year back in 2011 when we were in Central America. We also had a record eight border crossings in 2016, bringing our total border crossings for the Journey so far to 56. For more amazing road trip stats, visit our freshly updated Facts & Figures page.

Brazil-Bolivia and Bolivia-Argentina border crossing

We’ve now reached the most southerly point on the Journey so far after crossing the Tropic of Capricorn just north of Salta, Argentina. This took us out of the tropics where we’ve been since 2009 when we crossed the Tropic of Cancer south of Durango, Mexico. However, in typical Trans-Americas Journey fashion, we’re not quite done with tropical latitudes yet. We’ll be crossing back over the Tropic of Capricorn and heading north to return to Peru in a few months.

Check out our South American road trip driving route for all of 2016 in our map, below.

December 2016 Road Trip Driving Route – Brazil, Bolivia & Argentina

December 2016 was a big month too with 1,877 miles (3,021 km) of driving in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina.

We started December 2016 in Bonito, Brazil and from there we headed up to the Southern Pantanal where we saw more jaguars before driving to the border town of Corumbá where we crossed into Bolivia for the first (but not the last) time.

San Ignacio de Velasco Mission Bolivia

The mission church in San Igancio de Velasco on the missions circuit in Bolivia.

We only spent eight days in Boliva, focusing on the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. These architecturally unique churches, one of them a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were built in the early 1700s. They eventually fell into disrepair but were passionately rescued and brought back to their original glory.

After a few days on the missions circuit we headed to Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s two principal cities. Then it was time to make a beeline to the Argentinean border to settle into a housesitting opportunity in Salta. 

Come along on our road trip in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina in December 2016 and see what we saw through the windshield of our truck in our drive-lapse video, made with our dash-mounted Brinno time-lapse camera, below.

And check out our road trip driving route for December 2016, below.

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Saints and Satchels – Jericó, Colombia

Jericó is not the biggest or most famous colonial town in Colombia. It is, however, the birthplace of Colombia’s first saint and home to the most renowned makers of a traditional Colombian bag called a carriel. Tranquil and picturesque, the saints and satchels of this Pueblo Patrimonio should be part of your Colombian travels.

Jerico, Colombia

It’s not the most famous colonial town in Colombia, but Jericó certainly has its charms.

Sainthood in Jericó

Sister Laura Montoya, was born in Jericó in 1874. She made a name for herself by devoting her time and religious energy to indigenous people whose souls were pretty much ignored at the time. Her work continues to this day through the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena organizations which she founded. Sister Laura, sometimes referred to as Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena, was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013, creating Colombia’s first saint.

Saint Laura Jerico, Colombia

A procession of religious dignitaries passes by a wall celebrating Colombia’s first saint, Sister Laura Montoya, who was born in Jericó.

There are a number of churches in Jericó including the Catedral Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes on the main square. It’s huge beyond proportion and of modern design incorporating lots of brick. Honestly, it’s somewhat soulless but local believers and those who pilgrimage to Jericó don’t seem to mind.

There are also a lot of shops in Jericó selling religious paraphernalia, including many items with sister Montoya’s image on them. There’s also a huge “Christ the Redeemer” style statue on a hill above town.

Cathedral Jerico Colombia

The cathedral in Jericó dwarfs all other buildings.

We were in Jericó during celebrations marking 100 years of the diocese in Jericó and town was full of religious big wigs from around the world. As we sat in the main plaza watching religious leaders take part in a procession and move in and out of the cathedral a local television station interviewed us even though, as we explained, we are not Catholic.

Antioquia architecture, Jerico, Colombia

Restored architecture like this is part of the reason why Jericó is one the list of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio.

Shopping in Jericó 

People don’t travel to Jericó just to pay their respects to sister Montoya. Town is also known as the place to buy the best traditional carriel bags. Dating back hundreds of years, the carriel is a traditional Antioquian bag which was used primarily by men to carry a long list of items during long journeys. Many paisas (people how live in the Antioquia region) still use the bag daily.

carriel bag - Antioquia, Colombia

The beloved carriel bag.

It is a flamboyant thing made of rawhide or fur and black patent leather with red piping and other elaborate decoration plus a gusseted bottom that allows the bag to expand. It’s basically a fancy saddlebag for people to carry. We first saw carriel bags during the annual Flower Fair in Medellin during which they’re carried by men of all ages and backgrounds as they celebrate paisa heritage.

making Carriel bag Jerico bag

A craftsman in Jericó working on a traditional carriel bag.

At the time of writing this post there was a vintage carriel for sale on e-Bay for US$265 and a handful of fashion blogs and designers had picked up on the style of the carriel, including Tory Burch who made one that looks nearly identical to the original, but with a US$995 price tag.

making carriel bag Jerico, Colombia

A craftsman working on a traditional carriel bag in Jericó.

In Jericó you can get the real thing from more than 10 stores selling carriels. Many also offer more fashionable versions of the bags, like clutches and wallets, and you can often watch the hand-work being made in small workshops at the back of the shop.

Jerico Carriel bags

Jericó has many shops selling hand-crafted carriel bags.

Hotels in Jericó

We’d hoped to stay at a small and economical hotel called Las Cometas, but the driveway was too steep for our truck. Instead, we ended up at Hotel Porton Plaza, an atmospheric traditional building a few blocks from the plaza where 60,000 COP (about US$20) got us an enormous room with a private bathroom and breakfast. Hotel Rio Piedras, just a few stops off the square, looked like the most sophisticated stay in town.

plaza Jerico, Colombia

The festive plaza in Jericó, Colombia.

Jericó’s relaxing main plaza has many cafes and bars selling coffee and beer at affordable prices.

Jerico, Colombia

Jericó, Colombia is full of cobblestone streets and restored colonial architecture.

 

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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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