Top Travel Gear of the Year 2017

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

We continue to use and love top travel gear from years past, including Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, our Mahabis slippers, our DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone, and our Brinno time-lapse video dash cam as our road trip travel adventure through the Americas continues. Now we present our list of top travel gear of the year for 2017 including our “magic shirts” (we won’t travel without them), the best truck shades yet, amazing off-roading maps, and more.

Top travel gear of the year 2017

https://www.amazon.com/Car-Window-Shade-Sunshade-Protection/dp/B00KL3ALGO/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1515700752&linkCode=ll1&tag=transamerijou-20&linkId=f4ceb6f072a89a38e93b3849550cf75c

Enovoe is a company that makes baby products, so what the heck are we doing with their stuff on our road trip? Well, babies don’t like to bake in the sun in vehicles and neither do we so we bought Enovoe cling sunshades and they really work. They cling well yet come on and off the windows easily when necessary without leaving any mess behind, and they really block the sun. They also block the view and they don’t cling well if the shades or the windows get dusty, but a quick wipe down fixes that problem. We also put these shades up in all the windows whenever we park the truck to help reduce sun damage to the interior.
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Lewis N Clark immersion coil

We’ve traveled with an immersion coil for years. It’s a small, cheap, genius gadget for boiling water for tea, instant soup, and instant coffee and that comes in very handy when we’re traveling in cold places where a hot beverage is always welcome. The problem is, our immersion coil is 110 volt and many South American countries are 220 volt so for more than a year we have been without an immersion coil. Then we got a Lewis N Clark immersion coil which has a range of 120 volt to 240 volt which means we can use it wherever we roam. 

 

Wearing our Patagonia R1 layer

We call our Patagoina R1Fleece Pullovers “magic shirts” because the Regulator Fleece is lightweight, durable, and compressible and because the shirts keep us warm on their own or as a base layer in a wide range of climates. We’ve been traveling with R1 Fleece Pullovers since 2001, when we bought them at Patagonia’s annual Avalanche Sale in New York City. We still use those original shirts, now 17 years old. That’s us, above, wearing our original R1s in Ecuador (the caps were borrowed) We added a newer version of the R1 a few years ago. This year we’ll move on to our third round of Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullovers and we’d never dream of traveling anywhere without them. 
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Viajeros 4x4 mapsThis one’s a freebie. If you are driving in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, or Southern Peru and you plan on doing any exploring or off-roading off the beaten path,these downloadable GPS maps from Viajeros Mapas 4X4 are indispensable. They’re extremely detailed and they include just about every road, dirt track, 4×4 track, and trail that exists throughout the region. We were tipped off to these maps by Fabrizio Ghilardi, owner of Socompa Travel, when he was helping us plan an amazing off-road drive through a remote corner of the Puna de Argentina. As per his recommendation, we downloaded the maps to our phone and a remote and unsigned route, which would have been impossible to explain, was suddenly easy to navigate. The maps are regularly updated, but the site is only in Spanish. 

 

Canon 7d body

Running around a city, trekking through the rain, shooting in sandy and dusty conditions…our little road trip is pretty hard on Eric’s camera bodies. A nearly destroyed Canon 80D was recently retired after many years of us, so he needed a new 2/3-sensor body to complement his full-frame Canon 6D so he got a new Canon 7D Mark II which is holding up to the rigors of the road. Now the only question is which body will he get this year now that the 6D needs to be retired… 
Buy on Amazon  |   Buy on B&H Photo

 

Use Buff as camera protector

Buffs are great. They keep your neck warm, can be used as a headband, and can be pulled up over your head for extra warmth or sun protection. We now present one more thing that a Buff can do: In dusty situations, slide your camera and lens inside a Buff and secure it with a rubber band around the lens to protect your kit against grit. Eric has a Buff shoved into his camera bag at all times.
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use Booking.com

Lately we’ve been using Booking.com a lot. It lists many budget and mid-range hotels in Latin America and while the site is ugly to look at we find it easy to use to learn crucial details about a property and make bookings. We were also impressed with how customer service reps at Booking.com handled our complaint about a hotel in La Paz, Bolivia that we’d booked through the site which then proceeded to try to scam us into paying hotel tax which foreigners are exempt from paying in Bolivia. Not only did the customer service rep help us clarify the true law, they also contacted the hotel and made a note in the property’s file about the complaint which they seemed genuinely concerned about. 
Use this link and get $20 off your first Booking.com stay

 

Hydro Flask insulated coffee flasks

In 2014 we ditched our plastic water bottles and switched to Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated bottles. In 2017 we added Hydro Flask insulated coffee flasks to the mix. If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the color sure will…
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Polysporin for travel

The key to packing smart is taking only essentials and trying to choose stuff that does double duty. A tube of Polysporin is small, lightweight, and does triple duty. Of course, it’s great at healing cuts, scrapes, and burns but it’s also fantastic at healing chapped lips and dry cuticles. A tube is always with us.
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 Squish collapsible colander

Because we travel in a truck we have room for things like a collapsible colander which is handier than you think because shared kitchen facilities in hotels and hostels often don’t have this piece of kitchen gear and even some apartments we’ve rented don’t have a colander in the kitchen. Our Squish collapsible colander is a sturdy mix of silicone and hard plastic, it works great and it flattens down to the dimensions of a dinner plate when not in use. Our only complaint is that the holes are a bit too big for rinsing rice or barley.
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Travel with Gold Bond powder

When traveling to steamy climates, don’t forget to take some original Gold Bond powder with you. It’s tingly and cooling and helps avoid chafing. 
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APC in-line surge protectors

Since this is a working road trip we spend a lot of time working on our laptops, often in countries with surge-prone electrical supplies. Yes, we have a big boxy surge protector, but as a back up to that and as the first line of defense in situations when our huge surge protector isn’t in use, we rely on these nifty APC in-line surge protectors. When added to your existing computer power cord they insert a level of surge protection. Before you order, be sure to check how many prongs (2 or 3) your power cord has.
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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

 

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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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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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

We’ve come to love and rely on a lot of tried and tested travel gear over the years–from Karen’s Kaikuna hoodie to Eric’s prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses to this nifty thing that lets us take booze in a backpack. Now we present our short but sweet list of top travel gear of the year 2016 including a game-changing lens, a really cool cool bag and hiking boots that were perfect straight out of the box.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

Canon-100-400mm-zoom-animals

There’s no question that the most valued new piece of travel gear in 2016 was Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. He got a tease with this lens in the Galapagos when another passenger on our M/V Origin cruise let him use his lens. The difference in the quality of the wildlife shots was stunning, so we scraped together our pennies (more than 200,000 of them) and got one. This lens has helped Eric get great shots all year-long (a few of his favorites are above) and though it’s big and heavy and pricey it’s already proven its value time and again.  

Buy on B&H Photo  |  Buy on Amazon

 

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

It’s hard to find a good travel tripod which combines durability and versatility in a compact and lightweight package. After years of looking, we found one. Don’t let the goofy name of 3 Legged Thing tripods fool you. They really do rock (in more ways than one). See why in our full review of our 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3  Brian tripod.

BUY ON B&H PHOTO  |  BUY ON AMAZON

 

colombia-thermal-tote

Sometimes we need to keep snacks and leftovers cold, for example, when we have a long day on the road with no chance of a lunch stop. Enter our Columbia insulated cold bag. It stays cold, doesn’t leak or sweat, holds more than you’d think, is easy to clean, dries out fast after use, and folds up small and compact when not in use. The only bummer is that the Velcro, which holds the bag snugly folded up when it’s empty, is located on the bottom, so if you fill the tote and then put it down on the ground the Velcro picks up grit. It looks like the specific model we have has been discontinued and only the bigger and beefier Columbia PFG Perfect Cast 45L Thermal Tote is available now.

Buy on Amazon

 

Brinno TLC200 Pro drivelapse timelapse camera

Time-lapse video is great, unless you’re the one who has to shoot and edit it. For years Eric spent hours every month piecing together then speeding up images taken by a GoPro mounted to the dash of our truck so that we could show readers a month’s worth of driving in just a few minutes. It was such a time-consuming pain the neck that we stopped making the videos altogether and then stopped publishing our end-of-the-month driving posts. Then we heard about Brinno cameras which automatically take time-lapse footage. It was a bit tricky mounting the camera on our dashboard (you can see our workaround, above), but ever since Eric figured that out this camera has made making time-lapse video so easy that we started publishing our end of the month Where We’ve Been driving posts again, complete with Brinno footage.

Buy on Amazon

 

merrill

There’s a cardinal rule about hiking boots. It goes like this: ALWAYS break them in on the trail before you really, really need them. Karen ignored that rule. She had a new pair of boots from a maker she’d worn before. They seemed like good boots. They felt fine on her feet when she tried them on. She settled. Then she wore them on one simple short hike and her feet were in agony. Luckily, there are some fairly well-stocked outdoor gear stores in Cusco, Peru so we were able to find a pair of Merrell Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex hiking boots at the same price we would have paid in the US. Karen loved them straight out of the box and they proved comfortable and rugged during the multi-day Andean treks we did in 2016.

Buy on Amazon

 

Curaprox 5460 Ultrasoft toothbrush

Even the lightest packers need to bring a toothbrush. In 2016 a dentist in Sao Paulo recommended that we try toothbrushes made by a Swiss company called Curaprox. She raved about how gentle yet efficient they were, so we splurged, paying about US$7 per toothbrush in Brazil. We were immediately hooked. So soft! So easy to use! So effective! So many great colors! We’ve now stocked up just in case we don’t find Curaprox in other countries. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good medical care when traveling. These toothbrushes have been around for years but this Brazilian dentist was the first to tell us about them.

Buy on Amazon

 

Rubber boots El Altar Ecuador

Sometimes the most humble piece of equipment ends up being key. This was the case with our ordinary rubber boots which got us through the muddy, muddy trail to El Altar volcano in Ecuador which would have made short work of regular hiking boots.

Buy on Amazon

 

 

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 – Best Food & Beverages

This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

Crunchy ceviche in Peru, a chart-topping steal in Brazil, an epic Bloody Mary in Ecuador, a big surprise burger in Bolivia and more! Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 series–our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2016, Part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year. But now, in no particular order, here’s our guide to the…

Best food and beverages of 2016

Casa do Porco Sao Paulo San Ze pig

Chopped pork and sides at A Casa do Porco in Sao Paulo, Brazil – our chart-topping steal of the year.

Best chart-topping steal

Casa Do Porco restaurant Sao Paulo Brazil

Chef Jefferson Rueda with some of the porky goodness at his A Casa do Porco restaurant in Sao Paulo.

A Casa do Porco in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil debuted on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 at number 24. There’s a reason for that remarkably high entry: chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above) cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else and his nose-to-tail dishes are inventive yet never overworked. He’s not a meddler. Pork sushi roll with raw pork (top right), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes (top left) which he tops with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans. We could go on and on.

Prices are remarkably affordable (on par with many ho-hum eateries in Sao Paulo) which is why there’s usually a line out the door at this no reservations place. Insider tips: go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do). And even if you’re really on a budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s the biggest sandwich bargain in the city–perhaps the whole country.

Best reinvention of a beloved classic

Ceviche crocante - Restaurante Bilbao Tumbes, Peru

Crunchy ceviche. Repeat. Crunchy ceviche.

Peru is the land of ceviche and if you ask a Peruvian, no one else does it right. At Restaurante Bilbao in Tumbes, Peru, Spanish chef David Saez has daringly put his own twist on the classic. To make his award-winning ceviche crocante (crunchy ceviche) he prepares classic Peruvian ceviche with fish, crab and shrimp. Here comes the twist. He dices up the seafood and squeezes out as much liquid as possible. Then he makes balls out of the seafood mixture, mixes it with egg and panko, then flash fries the balls. The result is a citrusy take on a crab cake.

Best bartender

Leonardo Massonni bartender Acougue Central restaurant Sao Paulo

Açougue bartender Leonardo Massoni and some of his meat-friendly cocktail creations.

Leonardo Massoni (pictured above) is just 28-years-old but he’s already caught the eye of Brazilian star chef Alex Atala whose Sao Paulo restaurant  D.O.M. is  #3 on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Atala installed Massoni behind the bar at his newest restaurant, Açougue Central which opened in the city’s Vila Madalena neighborhood in 2016. Açougue means butcher in Portuguese and the restaurant is all about using all parts of the animal, including cuts that are usually considered inferior.

Massoni has taken that mission to heart, invading the kitchen frequently to consult with chef Alejandro Peyrou about ingredients and flavor profiles which he then incorporates into his bar work to create cocktails that compliment the food like wine. For example, ossobucco infused vodka which Massoni uses to make a splendidly meaty Bloody Mary. There’s a classic robo de galo and a cachaça and tonic and so much more including a fantastic glassware collection.

The creative tide flows both ways too. The crispy pig ears (pictured top right), which the kitchen produces by simmered pig ears for hours in water flavored with onion and spices, then pressing them before deep-frying, are the best bar snack of the year.

Best burger

Baracus Burger - Santa Cruz, Bolivia

A great burger in Bolivia.

We were only in Bolivia for eight days in 2016, but that was enough time to find something delicious to eat. There are only four burgers on the menu at Baracus Burger in central Santa Cruz, Bolivia (from around Bs42, or about US$6). We went for the classic cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. The patty was hefty, tasty, and not over cooked. The bun had sesame seeds on it. And all burgers come with fresh-cut, skin on fries which were crispy and moist (if over salted). Our runner-up burger of the year: Hamburgueria do Barão in Uberlandia, Brazil which has the added benefit of having a selection of Brazilian craft beers to choose from.

Best business card

Cerveza Zenith - Cusco, Peru

Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru is making great craft beer and handing out clever bottle-shaped business cards.

We really, really liked the craft beer being made by Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru. We also liked the owner’s business card. Tip: On most Friday and Saturday nights Aussie founder Zac Lanham opens the brewery as an informal bar. Stop by and check out the beers. He might even give you a card.

Best way to play with your food

Jambu Restaurant Brasillia

A really playful palette cleanser in Brazil.

Young Brazilian chef Leandro Nunes, who is Cordon Bleu trained and worked at Noma, serves a very playful palette cleanser at his Jambu Restaurante in Brasilia, Brazil. First, you pop a fresh, bright yellow jambu flower in your mouth and chew the Amazonian herb until your mouth starts to water and gets all tingly like a low volt electrical current (in a good way). Then you pop in a piece of Brazil nut wrapped in pear leather and let the oil from the nut and the sugar from the fruit cancel out the effects of the jambu. Then pop in a crunchy, completely natural, and totally untreated ant which burst with lemongrass flavor. It’s so much fun.

Best cocktail as a meal

Bloody Mary @ Zfood Pescaderia - Quito, Ecuador

Zfood combines a Bloody Mary with a seafood cocktail in Quito, Ecuador.

It’s a Bloody Mary. It’s a seafood cocktail. It’s both! Just order one (US$15) at Zfood Pescaderia in Quito, Ecuador. 

Best chef on a mission

chef Palmiro Ocampo 1087 Bistro - Lima Peru

Keep your eye on Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo.

At 1087 Bistro in Lima, owner and chef Palmiro Ocampo practices what he preaches about using the whole ingredient to reduce food waste and alleviate hunger using “culinary recycling” techniques (learn more in our story about Ocampo’s mission for Good magazine). Dishes like cartilage grilled chicken (yes, made using cartilage that would normally be thrown away) are elegant, unexpected, and delicious. He can even make plantain peels taste great. That’s why Ocampo was in charge of Peru’s famous Mistura food festival in 2016. Keep your eye on this rising star.

Best wine bar

Ovo e Uva wine bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Get serious about wine in a casual atmosphere at Ovo e Uva in Sao Paulo.

Ovo e Uva, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is a relaxed place that’s serious about wine. The wine list runs to nearly 200 bottles coming from all over the world including the usual suspects plus Greece, Hungary, Lebanon, Uruguay and, of course, Brazil. More than 20 bottles are offered by the glass (R$19 to R$38 per glass or about US$6 to US$11) and Ovo e Uva has a large wine-preservation system to keep all those open bottles fresh. There’s also a menu of wine-friendly food like a charcuterie plate and grilled octopus over risotto. The restaurant also hosts monthly themed wine get togethers for a maximum of 15 people and it’s also a wine store. Pick up a bottle to take away and get 10% off the price.

Best Italian food

Chef Massimo Ristorante Trastavere - Cuenca, Ecuador

Chef Massimo brings Roman food traditions to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Chef Massimo, who was born in Rome, opened Ristorante Trastavere in Cuenca, Ecuador in 2015. He makes homemade pasta, gnocchi, bread, and sauces. He makes his own mozzarella, smokes his own fish, and cures his own meats too. The food, served on red and white checked tablecloths in a small dining room above his even smaller open kitchen, is extraordinary as is Massimo’s passion for what he does. Rumor has it he’s opening a pizza joint in Cuenca too.

Best old man bar

Juanito Bodgea Bar - Barranco neighborhood of Lima

Time stands still in Juanito Bodega Bar in Lima.

You know what an old man bar is, right? It’s a place that’s been around forever, probably always owned by the same family, and certainly frequented by the same patrons (and their offspring). Old man bars are usually short on ambiance but long on history and some intangible something that makes up for the iffy bathroom and mostly non-existent service. Prices and tolerance for BS are both low.

Beloved by starving artists and politicians alike, Juanito Bodgea Bar in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima, Peru is a quintessential old man bar. Opened in 1937, it’s still owned by the same family, albeit next door to the original location where an exact replica of the original bar was re-created. The ceiling is high, the lights are bright, the insect zapper works overtime.

Drink prices are, by far, the cheapest in the area. There are, of course, pisco sours but we prefer chilcanos (pisco and ginger ale) which can be had for as little as PEN7 (about US$2) depending on which pisco you choose, and there are many to choose from. And if you get hungry, don’t worry. Juanito’s (as everyone calls it) is also know for its sandwiches. 

Best extreme dessert

King Kong - Lambayeque, Peru

One of many shops around Lembayeque, Peru selling the beloved King Kong dessert.

A King Kong, made mainly in and around the city of Lambayeque in northern Peru, is a regional treat comprised of rectangular sheets of a crisp and moist cake/cookie hybrid layered with a gooey spread called manjarblanco, which is similar to dulce de leche, and fruit paste. This beloved sugar bomb has been made since the early 1900s and was first baked as a more elaborate and much larger version of an alfajor. It was so large that appreciative customers nicknamed the dessert King Kong.

Best brew pub

Cervezeria del Valle - Valle Sagrada, Peru

Peru is having a beer moment with lots and lots of quality craft brews across the country. Cervezeria del Valle in the Sacred Valley is a relatively young operating but is already one of the country’s most awarded and most ambitious breweries. Big bonus: they have a simple and inviting brew pub next to a river where beers are poured, food is cooked, and good music is played.

Best fried bread on the street

Yuquitas Martin - Barranoc, Lima

Peru’s most famous chef loves these fried breads and we did too.

Every year Lima hosts the massive Mistura food festival. During that festival, Peruvian food both high and low is prepared, eaten, and judged. This includes the humble yuquita which is a beloved fried bread made with yuca flour. Think of yuquitas a longer, lighter doughnut s. In the Barranco neighborhood of Lima you will find a cart emblazoned with the name Yuquitas Martin (it’s usually on Grau Street across from a store called DeliFrance). Here, for PEN1.50 (about US$0.50), you get a bag of five fresh, light, delicious yuquitas. Martin’s humble fried bread on the street has won awards at Mistura (as noted on his cart) and Peruvian superstar chef Gaston Acurio endorses them (also noted). Martin usually sells out by 11am, so be quick. We suggest getting two bags. 

Best bar on a budget

Boteco Paramount bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Barman Neto with his daughter on the business end of his new budget bar Boteca Paramount in Sao Paulo.

Jose Francisco Neto (whose business card awesomely says “Barman Neto”) opened Boteco Paramount in 2016 on the edge of the Pinieros neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His idea was to make high quality, handcrafted cocktails at a fraction of the cost most city bars charge. He has accomplished just that. In his tiny, basic bar (it still looks pretty much like the simple tienda it no doubt previously was) you can get a classic caprinha for R$10 (about US$3) or splurge and get an artesenal caprinha, made with fresh chili peppers or muddled tangerine, for example, for R$14 (about US$4.30). All the standard cocktails are also on offer at similarly bargain prices. Whatever you order, enjoy while listening to Jose’s eclectic playlist (Paula Abdul, Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush). If you’re lucky, Jose’s daughter Beatriz will be around drawing pictures and generally being adorable.

Best cure for what ails you

Leche de Tigre @ Al Toke Pez - Lima, Peru

Get the cure for what ails you at this hole-in-the-wall in Lima.

You could easily drive right past Al Toke Pez which is a closet-sized establishment on a busy street in Lima. Sandwiched between auto part stores, this six stool eatery dishes up amazing leche de tigre with sliced onions and a bit of fresh ceviche and a fried fish strip or two on top. It comes to you in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon and they do a roaring take away business (probably because it only has six stools) (PEN3 to PEN5 or about US$0.90 to US$1.50). It’s zippy and energizing and the guy on the stool next to us assured us it’s also full of vitamins and pure protein. Many say its the best hangover cure in the city.

Best food with rules

Tiesto's - Cuenca, Ecuador

Diners at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador need to be ready to play with flavors and follow a few rules.

Juan Carlos Solano, owner and chef at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador, knows what’s best. While there is a menu at his restaurant, the self-taught chef is just as likely to tell you what you’re having for dinner and then leave it to the well-trained waiters at this Cuenca institution to tell you how to eat it. House made condiments on the table are meant to be eaten in a specific order and in specific combinations, for example. No willy nilly dipping of bread allowed. That’s because Solano is all about playing with flavors and whether he’s cooking prawns or pork, at his restaurant the flavor game has rules.

Best pizza

Bassano Italian Pizzeria - Huncahco, Peru

At Bassano Italian Pizzeria in Huanchaco, a small beach town in Northern Peru, they make pizza in a wood-fired oven and it shows. The thin crust is crunchy and chewy with just enough salt and wood char. A wide range of toppings are offered including cherry tomatoes and arugula the owners grow themselves. Prices are reasonable too–from PEN25 to PEN38 or about US$7.50 to US$11 (depending on toppings) for a large, 14” pie that yields eights slices. Personal size pizzas are also available. Plus it’s BYOB. Hours are unpredictable, so send a message through the pizzeria’s Facebook page before arriving.

Best unexpected star

chef Samuel Ortega. Shamuico Espai Gastronomic - Saraguro, Ecuado

Chef Samuel Ortega has brought skills learned in Europe back home to Saraguro, Ecuador.

We did not expect to find remarkable food in  Saraguro, Ecuador a small remote town an hour from Loja. Then we walked into Shamuico Espai Gastronomic run by local chef Samuel Ortega. Ortega moved to Spain with his family when he was 12 and honed his kitchen skills in Europe including time working at Il Bulli.

When Ortega was 24 he returned to Saraguro and opened his own place in a 160 year old building on the square that he restored with his architect sister. Ortega says 90% of the ingredients he uses come from the rich agricultural area around Saraguro or from his own small kitchen garden. His sometimes unorthodox needs have even inspired local farmers to experiment with different crops. Grab a table inside a modern dining room with skylights and a view into the open kitchen or outdoors in the traditional central courtyard and enjoy drinks, snacks, or polished full plates at incredibly reasonable prices. We did.

Best original cocktail

La Chalupa restaurant - Cuenca, Ecuador,

You can taste the wildness in this cocktail inspired by Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.

Bernardo, the bartender at La Chalupa restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, wanted to create a cocktail that embodies the wild earthiness of nearby Cajas National Park. His Cajas Spirit cocktail is made with rum or tequila that he infuses with herbs harvested from the park plus tonic water, lime juice, and Angostura bitters (around US$5). It’s bracing and refreshing, just like a hike in its namesake park.

Best tasting menu

Central Restaurant Lima

You can believe the hype about Central in Lima.

Few restaurants or chefs have generated more hype in the past couple of years than Virgilio Martinez and his Lima restaurant Central. Central is #1 on the 2016  list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for the third year in a row and #4 on the 2016 list of The World’s Best Restaurants. You can’t talk about top restaurants without mentioning Central and Martinez just released another book. Luckily, you get served more than hype and book reviews at Central.

We sat down to face the 12 course Mater Ecosystems tasting menu and for the next three hours we got schooled in just how good cuisine can be when skill and vision meet. In Martinez’s case, his vision is to celebrate and explore Peruvian ingredients from all altitudes and geographic locations, honoring their provenance. His skill is in being able to re-invent them as well. At one point we were eating bark and clay. And loving it.

Best sushi

Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Fresh fish is king and the chef knows it at Tsuri in Sao Paulo.

Brazil has the largest population of citizens of Japanese descent of any country outside Japan and Brazil is full of Japanese restaurants, including in the city of Sao Paulo. Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar, opened in 2016 by the same family behind the wildly popular Aragón Mediterranean restaurant, could have been just one more, but it’s not. More than just sushi, the inventive menu also includes edamame with truffle oil, scallops with foi gras, tempura, and more. But sushi is where Tsuri really excels, in part because Japanese Brazilian chef Sergio Kubo knows that his real job doesn’t start until the restaurant closes for the night. That’s when, fortified with saki, he heads to the city’s fish market to find the best products for the following day. And all that saki? Chef Kubo says it helps him pick the best fish because it enables him to see the freshest ones winking at him.

Best dream-come-true meal

Osso Carniceria & Salumeria - Lima, Peru

Finally.

We’ve been dreaming about eating at Osso Carniceria & Salumeria in Lima, Peru ever since we read this amazing story about its creator, Renzo Garibaldi (pictured below). In 2016 we sat down with Garibaldi for a long lunch that included amazing tartare and small bites of exquisitely aged and sliced beef. Even better, Garibaldi told us about his latest projects (read our piece about Garibaldi’s two new restaurants in Lima for NewWorlder.com), so now we’re dreaming about eating there too. Good thing we’re returning to Lima later this year…

Renzo Garibaldi Osso restaurant - Lima, Peru

 

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