Best Of! + Buenos Aires

As mentioned in previous posts, we’ve (sort of) terminado traveling at this point — besides (likely) weekend trips in Patagonia. We’ve found an awesome city, Villa la Angostura, and plan to stay through the end of the kids’ semester, December 12. Then back to the US and (hopefully) not regular life. This will be the last post….

Below we’ve ranked some of our favorite sites and experiences from the trip, with links to the original posts describing them. I favored the foreign locales, as I speculate many of you have seen the US locales. Also included several two-week vacation suggestions and our quick take on Buenos Aires.

Best Drives

  1. Carretera Austral, Chile
  2. Atacama Desert, Chile to Yala, Argentina
  3. Central to Southern Coast, Oregon
  4. Colca Canyon, Peru
  5. Highway 175, Mexico TIE Hummingbird Highway, Belize 

Best Ruins

  1. Tikal, Guatemala
  2. Palenque, Mexico
  3. Teoithuacan, Mexico
  4. Monte Alban, Mexico
  5. Cholula, Mexico TIE Uyu Uyu, Peru

Best Junk Food

  1. Hot Nuts
  2. Sponches
  3. Pringles (the most ubiquitous junk we could find)
  4. Tillamook Beef Sticks
  5. Megatube Queso 3Ds

Best Big Cities

  1. Cartagena, Colombia
  2. Buenos Aires, Argentina (see below)
  3. Mexico City, Mexico
  4. Quito, Ecuador 
  5. Medellin, Colombia

Best Medium Cities

  1. Guanajuato, Mexico 
  2. Antigua, Guatemala 
  3. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico 
  4. Puerto Varas, Chile 
  5. San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico 

Best Small Towns

  1. Jardin, Colombia TIE Villa la Angostura, Argentina
  2. Frutillar, Chile
  3. El Chalten, Argentina
  4. Cafayate, Argentina
  5. Brookings, Oregon

Best Beers

  1. Pub — Cuenca, Ecuador
  2. Tropera — Various Locations in Chile
  3. Cherusker — Baños, Ecuador
  4. Various — Buenos Aires, Argentina (huge craft beer scene here)
  5. Cadejo Brewing, El Salvador

Best Beaches

  1. Playa de Balandra, Mexico
  2. Islas de San Blas, Panama
  3. Galapagos, Ecuador
  4. Bahia Conception, Mexico
  5. Playa Manual Antonio, Costa Rica TIE Playa Arrecife, Costa Rica

Best Excursions

  1. Whale Watching in Bahia Magdalena, Mexico
  2. Somoto Canyon Tour, Nicaragua
  3. Sailing Between Panama and Colombia
  4. Reserva de Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca, Mexico 
  5. Snorkeling in the Silk Cayes, Belize

Best Nature

  1. Parque Pumalin & Parque Patagonia, Chile
  2. Southeast Baja California, Mexico
  3. Colca Canyon, Peru
  4. Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina 
  5. Zona Cafetera & Valle de Cocora, Colombia 

Best Eats

  1. Saltena Empanadas in Argentina
  2. Fish Tacos in Baja Mexico
  3. Pretty Much Anything in Mexico 
  4. Fried Empanadas in Colombia
  5. Asado in Argentina

Best Campground

  1. Pasaj Cap — Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
  2. Rancho la Mesa — Patzcuaro, Mexico
  3. Maya Belle — Palenque, Mexico
  4. Clarissa Falls Resort — Clarissa Falls, Belize
  5. Ibarra, Ecuador (didn’t post on this one, but a cool German dude ran a cool campground with awesome food and beers) TIE Laguna Bacalar, Mexico TIE Las Lajas Beach Cabins — Las Lajas, Panama  TIE Ecocamp Huacachina — Huacachina, Peru

Two-Week Vacations

I wrote this in an earlier post: “One aspect of overlanding that we’ve come to appreciate is the actual overlanding. The driving. When you fly, you teleport from one, likely, developed and/or touristy location to another, avoiding the in-betweens. The in-betweens, the meat between countries’ well-traveled skin, though, have been the most interesting. Revealing. For us at least.”

Hence, I wrote the vacation suggestions below with the self-plagiarized quote above in mind. These are vacations that you can — and should — fly into one port, rent a car, and then overland around. You’ll see way more that way. It’ll also get you off the well-traveled routes and save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. You’ll need at least two weeks. More if you can afford it.

If you want more specific information on any of these trips — like places we visited and/or crashed — just shoot me a message.

Extreme Nature: Carretera Austral 

Fly to Puerto Montt, Chile. Rent a car. Pack sleeping bags and a tent for camping (though you’ll also be able to stay in some inns and cabañas a few nights). Drive either the entire route from Puerto Montt to O’Higgins and back, which takes you through two amazing national parks, Parque Pumalin and Parque Patagonia. If you have more than two weeks, I’d suggest exiting Chile at Parque Patagonia (as we did) and then driving to Los Glaciers National Park, El Chalten, and  Torres Del Paine in Argentina. You’d probably need four weeks (at least) to complete this trip.

Get RuinedPalenque to Tikal

Fly to Villahermosa (likely connects in Cancun; you can probably find a cheap local airline from Cancun to Villahermosa). Rent a car. Or hop on a tourist bus (many run this route). Head to Palenque first. Stay at the Maya Belle (you can both camp or rent rooms here) for a few nights. Eat food everywhere you see it. Then drive to Laguna Bacalar. Stay here for a few more nights, perhaps a week. Check with your rental car company to ensure they’ll let you cross into Guatemala (most will); if not, return your car here and take a tour bus. Then head to Tikal. Spend a few nights here exploring the ruins. (If you have more than two weeks, couple it with the trip below.)

Inner Guat: Tikal to Lago Atitlan 

You can fly straight to Tikal. However, you can also fly to Belize City — and if you have more than two weeks, I’d certainly recommend this; that way, you can visit Placencia, Belize first — and either rent a car here (ensure you can take it over the border) or take a bus to Flores, Guatemala and rent a car there. Drive up to Tikal. Spend a few nights exploring the ruins (our favorite). Then drive back to Rio Dulce. Spend more than a few nights taking in the sights and sounds of this unique city. Then drive to Antigua. Crash and enjoy for a couple nights. Then head to Lake Atitlan and stay at Pasaj Cap (either camp or in their rentals). Spend four or five nights here. Take a water taxi to a different town each day or your stay. Head back.

Awesome Lagos: Chile and Argentina

Fly to Bariloche, Argentina. If your airline stops in Buenos Aires, ask for a layover (most airlines will give you a two to three night stopover without changing the cost of your ticket), because, as mentioned below, it’s an awesome city. Spend a couple days in Bariloche. Then take the Route of the Seven Lakes toward San Martin de Los Andes. Camp or stay lakeside almost anywhere and everywhere. Ensure you spend at least a few nights saying/camping in or near Villa la Angostura — if you’re camping, we’d recommend the lakeside campground on Lago Correntoso.

Highs & Lows: Atacama Desert in Chile & Northern Argentina 

Fly to Calama, Chile. Rent a car (once again, ensure they’ll let you cross the border). Drive to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Camp a few nights in the desert — or stay in any number of lodging options, from rustic to highfalutin. Visit one or two salt lagoons. Then drive toward Argentina. Stop every few turns to take in the sights, from volcanoes to lagoons to flamingos to guanacos. Stop at Salinas Grandes, the world’s third largest salt flat. Drive toward Purmamarca. Spend a few days exploring the town and The Hills of Seven Colors. Drive toward Yala, Argentina. Stop for a night or two. Then head toward Cafayate, Argentina. Drink as much wine and eat as many Salta empanadas as you can tolerate. Head back to Calama.

Off-the-Beaten Baja: Bahia Conception to La Paz 

Fly in and out of La Paz. First head to San Carlos, Baja California Sur to see the gray whales. Spend a night or two. Then, if you’re feeling ambitions and have the time, head north to Bahia de Los Angeles. Stay a night or two. Then head back south stopping (at least) at the following locations: Mulege, Bahia Conception, Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, and Loreto. Tent camping is best in Baja. However, most of the locations above have inexpensive cabañas to rent as well. Then spend a week in La Paz. The town is okay — the boardwalk is pretty cool — but the real treat here are the surrounding beaches. Playa Balandra was our favorite beach on this trip. And Playa El Tecolote and Playa El Saltito weren’t far behind. Fly home.

Between the Coasts: Costa Rica

Costa Rica is touristy. Mucho mucho. However, between the fortissimo of tourissimo, you can find solace. And plenty of nature. We’d recommend that you fly into San Jose. Then either rent a car, a camper van (like from this company), or a 4×4 SUV with a rooftop tent (like from this company). Head to the very touristy, though very cool, Manuel Antonio National Park first. Get it out of the way. Spend a few days exploring and lounging on the beaches — if you have more than two weeks, from here, consider driving down to the Osa Peninsula for more nature and beaches and less tourists. Then drive to the cloud forests, Santa Elena and/or Monteverde, in the middle of the country. Spend a few nights exploring. Tons of wildlife here. Finally, head to the oft overlooked (and thus less touristy) Caribbean coast. Camp (or rent a little cabaña) a few more than a few nights at Playa Arrecife or Punta Uva. Scout sloths in the trees. Snorkel. Return to San Jose.

Coast to Coffee: Cartagena to Salento

This one will require a bit more flying. And a bit more skilled driving. First, fly directly to Cartagena. Spend at least five days here. Stay inside the walled section of the city (the old quarter). Take one or two day trips to the Caribbean islands just off the coast and bake yourself. (If you have more time, you can consider renting a car and heading up north to visit Santa Marta and the Ciudad Perdida — we didn’t, but heard great things about both locales.) Then fly to Medellin. Spend two to three days here. Stay in Poblado. Then rent (ensure it’s 4×4!) a car and drive to Jardin. Stay several nights. It’s an awesome town with awesome people. Then drive the hilly, windy, 4×4-y road to Salento. Spend a few nights, visit the Valle de Cocora and coffee plantations, and then return to Medellin.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

This city surprised us. In fact, at first, as alluded to in the previous post, we didn’t find it anything special. Just another city with lots of people and buildings — though it’s quite possible we were simply nostalgic for the nature we’d just seen. That changed after a day or two of exploring.

Buenos Aires checks all the cool city boxes: resides on a major body of water, ample public spaces and parks, captivating architecture, excellent transportation, and a unique culture. They call — and I suppose they are the Argentinians — the Paris of the south. Apropos description, though. It reminded us of Paris, one of our favorite cities in the world. However, while I might give the nod to Paris for architecture and culture, I’d give Buenos Aires the nod for public spaces and congestion (or lack there of). Oh, and tango (see photo above).

It’s one of, if not the, least crowded major cities we’ve ever visited. You won’t hit much if any traffic. You don’t have to shuffle though the hoards on the sidewalks. You won’t smack into selfie sticks at the touristy locales. And you don’t have to show up the parks at the crack of some ungodly hour to get a bench. Everything is tranquilo here. Muy tranquilo. Part of it could be the time of year we visited (winter), but part of it could just be Buenos Aires. One taxi driver, who has also taxied the congested streets of Lima, said the streets here remain calm all year.

The abundance of public spaces also make this, in our opinion, one of the most livable big cities we’ve ever visited. We crisscrossed the city, visited at least a half dozen unique neighborhoods, and we were never more than a few blocks from a awesome park or plaza. You can find your green-space in other words. And each park has its own personality. Some are more refined, a la Le Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Some are more wild, a la Kathryn Albertson Park in Boise. You can find your park soulmate in other words.

Our only regret was not witnessing Buenos Aires, a city that beautifully weaves trees, including massive rubber trees (see photo below), into the tapestry of the city, in the Spring or Fall. We can only imagine how much more striking the streets and parks would be.

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