Overlanding in Brazil: our summary of safety, road conditions and tolls, overnight camping, sights, supplies, and other topics relevant to overlanders.
From our experience, it is a big mistake not to include Brazil in a South America Overland itinerary. After having finished our second trip around the continent, we now reply to people who ask “What is your favourite country in South America?” with “Brazil, for its people and its sights.”
Yet so many overlanders by-pass Brazil, for various reasons. Brazil is not on the main Pan-American Highway path, which goes down the west side of the continent. Some people simply run out of time, and others are afraid to travel in Brazil. There are also those who simply want to avoid the visa fees, which apply to visitors from specific countries.
Our Travels in Brazil
We have entered Brazil three times – four if you count a short one-night stay, crossing into Santana do Livramento from Rivera in Uruguay (in order to get another 90 days in Uruguay, and to buy some cheap food and fuel).
Our first visit this trip was in October 2016, when we had arranged to travel across Brazil with some other overlander friends. The plan was to visit Iguaçu Falls, Bonito, the southern Pantanal together, and then to cross into Bolivia. Well, it soon turned out that we had different ideas of what would be a good day’s drive, so we decided to go our separate ways.
We then decided to stay in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the south, to visit some new places and revisit some of the mountain regions we had passed through in 2008. Since we were also keen to see the World Heritage listed Jesuit missions , we exited Brazil towards the Misiones province of Argentina after around 3 weeks in the country.
After our one night stand (see above) we entered Brazil for the final time, again from Uruguay, in early April 2017. This time we had the idea to see as much as possible without rushing it. Lucky for us, the border officials didn’t take our earlier stay into account, and stamped us in for the full 90 days.
It was southern autumn, and we first mostly followed the coast as far as the northern tip of the Espírito Santo province, where we turned around to attend a medical appointment in the province of Rio de Janeiro. After that we drove inland, through the state of Minas Gerais and its countless historic sights, onward to Brasilia, and finally visited the North-Pantanal. We exited via a small border into Bolivia.
Everybody is aware of the Amazon rainforest. The Atlantic Forest in the south is just as lush, home to more species, and under the same threat of destruction.
The Sights in Brazil
There is much more to Brazil than just Samba, Carnival, and Caipirinhas. We explored interesting UNESCO World Heritage sites, regions with strong evidence of their European roots, wineries, the famous architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, world-class street art, and of course some of the most threatened, yet very unique tropical environments. Last, but not not least, let’s not forget their countless beaches.
Another example of a UNESCO World Heritage listed historic town: Diamantina, which also came to riches from mining.
Brazilians really take care of their heritage. This is in the historic mining town of Mariana.
Safety in Brazil
Security seems to be one of the most important topics for people who think about whether to visit Brazil or not. Even from Brazilians we heard constant reminders of how “dangerous” their country is. I don’t want to play down such concerns, but we never ever felt threatened or had the feeling, in any form, that we shouldn’t be at a particular place at a particular time. We actually felt safer in Brazil than in a number of places in Peru!
Of course, Brazil is plagued by some of the worst violence in some of its neighbourhoods. You really don’t want to get stuck in a favela at dusk or later; actually, you probably never want to enter any favela on your own. But why would you? Except when your GPS gives you wrong directions. Well, trust me, you don’t have to listen to it all the time! ;) Violent incidents in poor neighbourhoods are replayed on all media and give the country a bad reputation – even in the minds of locals.
We really felt that with a minimum of common sense, overlanding in Brazil was no different to other countries. As a matter of fact, since we were out of season, and most beach places were more or less deserted, we had an easy time finding quiet overnight places, which always felt safe (more under camping further down).
So our advice would be: listen to your “inner voice”; don’t camp where it doesn’t feel right; always keep doors and windows closed overnight; don’t open your door for anybody; don’t flash your wealth around (expensive camera, jewellery, iPad, etc.), and you’ll be right!
A typical beach scene on Florianópolis.
Further north the coast get dryer – here a beach near Buzios.
Brazilian Road Conditions
Road conditions in Brazil can vary from first-class to absolutely shocking, and everything in between. Most of the toll highways are good to very good, but often very crowded with speeding trucks. You will encounter the most expensive road tolls along the coast; inland toll booths are often hundreds of kilometres apart.
Most country roads are free of tolls; often nice and wide, and easy to drive. Others can be fairly narrow with overgrown edges and therefore slow. Unpaved roads are no worse than in neighbouring countries – except in the Amazon basin, which we didn’t visit.
Speed bumps are the worst in Brazil! Honestly! You can find them on country roads, with no houses around, simply because you approach a dangerous bend; and certainly all through settlements, from the tiniest village to large cities. And not only one every 100 metres or so – oh no! They usually come in sets of two, three, or four, close together, possibly with a speed camera added just before the first one.
Speed cameras in Brazil are another nuisance: they are everywhere, most with a warning sign, but some without. What makes them worse is that almost all Brazilian drivers jam their foot on their brake right in front of them, usually passing a camera at around half the permitted speed. When you’re in a truck behind them, it takes you quite some time (and Diesel) to get back up to cruising speed.
We avoided most of the toll road between Porto Alegre and Vittoria – the BR101 and BR116 along the coast. We found the short bits that we drove relatively expensive. Inland we couldn’t really complain about the road charges.
One of the many wonky wooden bridges in the Pantanal (these can be scary).
Border Crossings and Visas
Whether you need a visa for Brazil depends entirely on your citizenship – your passport. Most Europeans don’t need one, US-Americans, Canadians, Japanese, and Australians (us!) need a visa, as do many African and Asian nationals.
As with most countries, Brazil’s visa regulations are “tit-for-tat”, meaning you get as much time as Brazilians get in your home country. This can work in your favour, too! For us it meant that we were able to easily receive an extension of another 90 days because Brazilians can visit Australia for up to 180 days per year.
European Schengen citizens can enter visa free but, since the Schengen only allows 90 days in any 180 day period, Europeans shouldn’t expect an extension in Brazil (occasionally we heard of travellers who had received one – but these are exceptions).
The biggest concern for overlanders will be that Brazil is a bloody big country with very few land borders in its vast north. With the current crisis in Venezuela, it’s impossible to cross that border, which leaves you with one border into Guyana and one into French Guiana. The next is one in the west is in Assis Brasil, along the BR317, connecting the newly constructed Interoceanic Highway with southern Peru.
We found almost all Brazilian border crossings fairly easy and correct. In most cases we were lucky enough to find officials with basic English. Even when we extended our visa in Angra dos Reis, the woman at the Federal Police spoke good English.
I say “almost all”, because the crossing from Rivera/Uruguay to Santana do Livramento was anything but straight forward. Here the border runs through the middle of the town, and the offices for both sides are well away from the actual border – hidden in suburbian streets. Use the iOverlander app to find them; the information on this was accurate when we crossed.
You also receive a 90-day TIP (temporary import permit for your vehicle) from the customs office at the same border. The process is computerised and all data is accessible for a possible extension at the next customs office.
A typical example of a stunning building by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s best known architect.
Shops & Services in Brazil
Most of Brazil where we travelled is fairly densely populated, so the next shop is never far away. Unlike 2008, this time around we found supermarkets in almost every medium to large town. Whereas in 2008 these offered not much in the way of fresh supplies, now all have a wide selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, sometimes fresh fish, and bread. Be careful though, some can be outrageously expensive compared with small local shops!
One thing, which makes supermarket shopping more complicated, is the fact that there seem to be very few nationwide chains. You’re in one area, getting used to looking for a particular name of markets, and then you drive on for 2-300 kilometres and never see the same name again – so you start from scratch. From São Paulo north, even in Brasilia, we often encountered the Pão de Açúcar markets, which were often the most expensive. But the same group also owns the cheaper Extra, which you can find frequently.
It wasn’t too difficult to find decent bread in Brazil, but this organic sourdough bakery in Ubatuba was special.
If you like to eat out you can find many buffet style self-serve restaurants, where you pay for the weight of what’s on your plate – a fair pricing for people after a small(-ish) lunch. We loved the Sushi restaurants in buffet style, where you can pick only one piece of roll instead of a full roll with the same ingredients.
Even more inviting are the icecream buffets in Brazil: they also are self-service, so you can pick tiny bits of several flavours, try them all and be charged by weight. And believe us: some offer more flavours than you can count.
One thing, which is very difficult to find in Brazil, is a laundry service at reasonable prices. The aren’t many to start with, and then the majority charge per piece – you might as well buy new clothes… The few we discovered (2: one in Ubatuba, one in Diamantina) we added to the iOverlander app.
Another essential item for many overland travellers is difficult (to impossible) to refill in Brazil: propane gas! To this day we don’t know of a single overlander who has managed to have their cylinders refilled. The reason is that Brazil has very unusual propane bottles without a valve on top. So better make certain that all your cylinders are full before you enter Brazil. We use our gas for cooking, hot water for showers, and for heating. Since we didn’t need to heat much we managed to stretch our two 11 kilogram bottles for the nearly six months we were travelling in Brazil.
A typical large highway “posto” in Brazil. If you look closely you can see the empty pit on the left.
What surprised us the most are Brazil’s service stations. The bigger ones of these, mostly along major roads, really deserve this name. First of all, they are cheaper than other fuel stations – one way to recoup some of the road tolls. The attendants almost always rush out to wash your windows. In the lane where you fill up diesel trucks, they usually have pits for the entire length of the pumps. So, while you fill your truck’s tank, they can perform minor service work. The labour of a grease service or an oil change is mostly completely free; for an oil change you only pay the price of the material used (oil and filter). The few times we used this service, we never had any complaints about the quality of their work either.
During our overland trip through Colombia, we found a lot of amazing street art in truly unexpected places: along highways, in hidden rural hamlets, and in small towns, which are often not marked on maps. Most of these murals will never been seen by the ‘average traveller’; we discovered them due to our preference for taking the back roads, usually away from the highlights listed in most guidebooks.
A colourful street art gallery with examples of murals we found in rural regions and small towns of Colombia. Beautiful motifs adorning public spaces.
Our latest street art post opens the door to a number of interesting questions:
What is street art?
Is it an urban phenomenon, strongly rooted in the subculture of cities?
Obviously not (anymore), as this post shows that urban art has now reached the countryside; it has outgrown its confinement to chic-shabby corners of large metropolitan centres.
Is street art the same as graffiti?
These are often mixed up by the general public. In the artists’ view, there is a clear distinction. The term ‘graffiti’ refers to a style of elaborate writing, often seen in so-called ‘tags’. Street art always incorporates some form of imagery.
Although, in Latin America, and particularly in Colombia, they seem to be interchangeable. You hear guides talk about graffiti when they’re obviously standing in front of a street art mural.
While graffiti artists place their work in public, generally speaking they are not interested in the public understanding their work; they want to speak to other graffiti artists. Street artists want everyone to view and be engaged by their work. They are trying to make a statement.
Quoted from a worthwhile article to read on the topic ‘graffiti versus street art’ .
Once you let the above statement sink in, you will understand why street art isn’t necessarily confined to the urban environment.
Is street art always painted or sprayed onto walls?
In our definition, the boundaries are becoming more fluid. For us any visual two-dimensional art*) in a public place, is some form of street art.
If you can see it from a street and it’s on a wall then we call it street art.
*) I’m using the term ‘two-dimensional’ to distinguish from sculpture and other forms of century-old public art. Although, in a way, you could call them ‘Street Art’ too.
Besides spray paint and stencils, more and more street artists are starting to use other media to create their work, e.g. mosaic tiles. So we have included some full tile mosaics and other tile work in this gallery. To the viewer, it doesn’t matter if these art pieces are considered by purists as ‘street art’ or not. There are some excellent examples at the end of this post, which certainly blur the lines.
Has street art become a tourist attraction?
Yes and no. In large municipalities it certainly appears so, by the numerous ‘street art tours’ offered in many city centres. Small towns often install a mural or several, to beautify their town centre and make it more attractive. But most street art is still created by artists eager to show off their work in public places, and to contribute to making the street scape more colourful.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description. Photos in order from south to north.
Many overlanders arrive in Uruguay on RoRo-vessels from Europe. But they are often eager to go south, and thus miss out on exploring what this country has to offer. Being such a small country, without sensational landscape features, Uruguay is simply overlooked. Yet we experienced it as an easy and pleasant place for overlanding, and the people were mostly very laid-back and inviting.
Overlanding in Uruguay: our summary of road conditions, road tolls, safety, overnight camping, supplies, and other topics relevant to overland travellers.
Our Overland Travels in Uruguay
Like many others, our truck also arrived in Montevideo‘s port – in early May 2014. At that time, I was eager to meet up with Yasha in Chile, so I left as soon as possible after having cleared all customs procedures .
But we returned to travel overland through Uruguay – twice (four times, if you count two brief border crossings in-and-out). The second visit was in September 2015, to meet some German friends, with whom we wanted to explore some of Brazil. Again, we didn’t spend much time; just long enough to get a visa for Brazil, meet our friends, and drive on. This changed in 2016, when we arrived on New Years Eve and didn’t leave until early April.
We had planned to fulfil a volunteer job for a month, and later we waited for mail with new bank cards. The volunteer work was cut short, and the cards arrived later than expected, which gave us plenty of time to explore Uruguay.
The Sights of Uruguay
Who says Uruguay has no mountains? Well, it has at least some decent hills. Like here, close to Cerro Catedral.
As mentioned above, unlike its neighbours, Uruguay doesn’t have many spectacular natural sights. It’s a pleasantly green country, of rolling hills and large fields, with quaint little towns spread out fairly evenly in between. The highest ‘mountain’ is Cerro Catedral, at a mere 513 metres.
Yet Uruguay makes up for its size with quite a few ‘man-made’ sights and events. The country has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which couldn’t be more different: the old historic town of Colonia del Sacramento, and the former ANGUS meat works of Fray Bentos .
Old classic cars are a common sight in Uruguay (so much so, that we have a dedicated post about them). Here are several parked outside a cafe in Colonia del Sacramento, one of Uruguay’s World Heritage sites.
As well as in Colonia del Sacramento, there are many fine examples of Art-Deco buildings in Montevideo and, surprisingly, even in many smaller towns in Uruguay. Some are beautifully renovated; others in sad need of some TLC.
Uruguay also has a long standing Gaucho culture, rivalling the one in neighbouring Argentina. To this day, farmers in rural areas are eager to keep this culture, and its paraphernalia, alive – as you can witness, driving through farmland and at several of its famous Gaucho festivals . Please note: there’s also a smaller, more touristy Gaucho festival in Montevideo during the Criolla Week (around Easter), and Rocha holds the “Fiesta de la Primavera Gaucha” annually, on the 3rd weekend in September. Both are easier to get to, but the one in Tacuarembó is the most authentic.
Gauchos aren’t only a thing of festivals, like here in Tacuarembó – you see them riding next to the road in rural regions of Uruguay.
If you’re in the country at the right time, don’t miss the ‘longest carnival of the world’! Las Llamadas in Montevideo is a colourful and fascinating spectacle, with deep roots in the black African culture.
And finally, there are some interesting street art projects in Uruguay. You can find examples in our ‘Street Art Galleries’ .
Street art is a big thing in Uruguay. This town, San Gregorio, is all dedicated to large impressive murals.
Road Conditions in Uruguay
Most of the roads in Uruguay are very good, although the constant up-and-down, following the gentle contours of every hill, can make overtaking a tad difficult.
Most roads in Uruguay are in as good condition as you would find in Europe and North America. There are exceptions, notably in the west along the Rio Uruguay, where we found some main roads in shocking condition.
In towns, we never had any problems navigating or finding parking reasonably close to shops or the town centre. As in Argentina, most towns in Uruguay follow a grid pattern with one-way traffic on alternating roads.
Road tolls in Uruguay are very reasonable, as long as your vehicle has single rear wheels (like our Berta has). We never had any discussion about the size of our overland camper putting it in a more expensive category. There aren’t many pay stations; the most are found between Colonia and Punta del Este = north and south of Montevideo.
The same fee structure applies to the more expensive bridge tolls, when you want to cross the Rio Uruguay into Argentina. As long as the toll is charged by the Uruguayans, it’s cheap. But be careful, at some of the crossings the Argentinians charge the bridge toll, and then you pay a lot more!
A rural scene with a horseman transporting a pig – somewhere in the north of Uruguay.
Most border crossings in and out of Uruguay were fairly easy and straight forward. The notable exception was in Rivera in the far rural north of the country; there the official border with Brazil runs through the middle of town. The Uruguayan border police are in the south of town in a small nondescript building on a main road. We didn’t find the customs house at all, but we also didn’t need to because our vehicle permit was still valid. This might cause problems though, if you are arriving for the first time through this border. The Brazilian offices are hidden in a residential part of town on the north side – without GPS points on iOverlander we wouldn’t have found them…
It appears that you can enter and exit Uruguay as often as you like, and receive a 90 day permit to stay every time.
One point, which is very interesting for long-term overlanders, is the fact that Uruguay issues a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for your vehicle for 12 months. This is made use of by many who want to interrupt their trip and fly home for a longer period. Note: there were some upheavals in late 2016, when Uruguayan customs confiscated many vehicles, which had been left in the country under this rule. But the courts decided that it was okay and released the vehicles back to their owners in early 2017.
Shops & Services in Uruguay
Shopping in Uruguay: mate is as popular here as it is in the neighbouring Argentina. You find mate and mate drinking paraphernalia everywhere.
If you want/need anything special, you have a good chance of finding it in Montevideo. We noticed already in 2014 that there was an extensive range of LED lights and alternative power things, like solar chargers, for sale. No wonder Uruguay is a leader in alternative power generation.
Also, we needed to repair our fridge door locks and I found a small manufacturer for all sorts of springs in Montevideo. Their springs (for less than a dollar) in our locks are still working to this day; the alternative was to buy new complete handles from Europe for €49 each, plus outrageously expensive postage.
Personally, we didn’t like that so many products in Uruguayan shops originated from China. Even in supermarkets you have to check, as most food is imported (and still not cheap). If you go to a hardware store, many items can be sub-standard imports.
Out in the countryside, you’ll find a supermarket in almost every regional town of 20,000 people or more. The two dominant chains are DISCO and Ta-Ta, where DISCO is a bit more upmarket.
Another thing is fuel prices! Uruguay sells the most expensive fuel in all of South America – price levels are above what you would pay in Germany. Prices seem to be set by the government, as we never noticed any difference from one place to another. Good thing the country is so small…
Overnight Places in Uruguay
One of our countless beautiful free camping spots in Uruguay, overlooking the river of the same name – outside Salto.
I dare say that we found some of the most beautiful and quietest places to free camp in Uruguay. On the way south, from Fray Bentos to Montevideo, we stayed on an ‘official camping ground’ at the edge of a river, which was completely free. They had large grassy areas, lots of shade trees, clean bathrooms, play areas, beaches, and even a small zoo for kids. Unfortunately we were in a hurry (unusual for us!) and couldn’t stay more than one night.
It seems to be worthwhile asking locals for recommendations; this helped us a few times. One night we stayed at a horse racing track after we asked at their bar; we straight away made new friends, and were invited for a traditional Uruguayan meal.
Safety in Uruguay
Uruguay feels really safe – everywhere. The locals are usually very relaxed and friendly. I don’t think we ever saw any evidence of violence, anywhere! Even drunk crowds at Carnival and the Gaucho festival were reasonably well behaved.
Are you on Pinterest?
Enjoyed this? PIN this!
We really enjoyed our time in Uruguay. To us it felt a bit like taking a holiday , a break from our regular travels. Almost everything seemed so easy. The country has a very relaxed feeling and the locals are usually very friendly and helpful. As mentioned before, we probably found some of the nicest free camping places in Uruguay, which meant we didn’t move as much or quickly as we would otherwise…
Who would want to leave a free camping spot like this, especially if you can also pick up free WiFi? We stayed at this embalse outside Tacuarembo for nearly 2 weeks – almost always alone.
For Pan-American travellers, Chile is a popular country for overlanding. In most parts, you can easily find places to camp overnight. The country has well-developed infrastructure; it’s uncomplicated to find supplies, like vehicle spare parts; and it also has decent internet access.
South from around La Serena, Chile is fairly densely populated. Despite that, its main attractions are the various landscapes you will encounter. It’s also a favoured place for travellers to start their Pan-American overlanding trip in reverse, because it is relatively easy to buy a vehicle in Chile, and to fit it out.
Overlanding in Chile: our summary of road conditions, road tolls, safety, overnight camping, supplies, and other topics relevant to overland travellers.
Our Travels in Chile
Chile was the first country this trip, and we really explored it. We had visited parts of Chile’s north and south during our first visit in 2008/9, but at that time it was the end of our trip and this time it was at the beginning. This fact brings a completely different energy to overland travel.
First, Yasha taught English in Santiago for 10 months. She actually arrived in South America 2 months earlier than me and our truck Berta. I met up with her there, and spent parts of her contract time with her, in and around Santiago. But I also spent time out of the city, exploring nearby areas. Take all this into account, and our actual real travel time together comes to around 5 months.
If you stay off the main toll highways you might spot things like this: ox carts used for carrying logs.
When her work ended, we headed slowly south, exploring the coast and some inland areas, as far as the Lake District around Osorno. From there we crossed over into Argentina. This was our first of many border crossings into and out of Chile. Nearly every time we left, we thought it was the last, but somehow we kept finding ourselves back in Chile.
The shortest time we left for was 1 day – the longest, more than a year! Our final visit lasted only one night! We crossed from Peru in order to get a new visa and vehicle permit for that country. Driving into Arica for a day was the easiest solution.
The Sights in Chile
Compared with its neighbour, Peru to the North, it doesn’t offer many well-preserved historic sights of interest. Chile is more about nature! From the barren, yet colourful Atacama Desert around San Pedro to the countless glaciers covering many of its mountain peaks.
Surfers will find umpteen beaches with good breaks along the over 4,000 kilometres of coastline. Some tourists visit during the southern winter for Chile’s excellent ski slopes. The far south is characterised by large wilderness regions along the Carretera Austral, which we experienced overlanding in Chile in 2009. The most popular area in the south is the “Torres del Paine” National Park.
Some of the many glaciers you can find in Chile. I photographed these in the last light of the day along the Carretera Austral.
Road Conditions in Chile
Most roads, even secondary roads, in Chile are good. One thing we hated, with our wide overland truck, is that many secondary rural roads are really narrow. There aren’t any road reserves; all fences go right up to the road edge. Then people plant trees along the fence line and the branches of these jut far out into the road, making it difficult for taller vehicles to get through without damage.
Some secondary roads in Chile are really narrow. You just can’t avoid getting your camper scratched from overhanging branches.
Unpaved roads seem to be regularly maintained. In the Lake District we drove one, which was compacted with old engine oil (a dubious environmental solution); in the north, most dirt roads are hardened by spraying salt water on the surface and rolling them. You can drive these salt-hardened roads like any sealed surface, but remember to wash the undercarriage of your vehicle afterwards!
Here a dirt road was being sprayed with used engine oil. Environmentally a disaster – but it keeps the dust down.
One of the many salt-hardened roads you can find in the north of Chile. They are easy to drive and provide good traction. Just wash your vehicle thoroughly once you have finished with them.
Streets in smaller towns are often very narrow, and not always suitable for wider vehicles. Parking is even more difficult, as almost every town has paid parking with attendants, who really aren’t willing to let you park anything bigger than an ordinary car.
Most of Chile’s towns have fairly narrow streets, which make it difficult to find parking for an oversize camper – particularly since there are so many cars in Chile.
Road tolls in Chile are expensive. If you’re driving anything larger than a smallish van, your vehicle is usually classified as a truck, and then it gets really expensive. For some inexplicable reason, small trucks often pay more than twice the rate of buses; our overland truck is actually smaller and lighter than any small 20-seat passenger bus, but I never had much luck arguing this point.
When you travel overland in Chile in a larger vehicle try to avoid toll roads as much as possible – it can get really expensive because they will push you into the truck rate.
Wherever possible, we tried to avoid toll roads in Chile, although the going can then be really slow. In the far north and south there isn’t any alternative to Ruta 5 – so you have to pay. To find our way around ‘peajes’ (toll booths) we used the small map booklet, which can be bought cheaply at COPEC fuel stations. It’s a good little map – well worth looking for when overlanding in Chile.
Border Crossings into Chile
Many overlanders believe that Chile’s borders are difficult. We never really had this experience. Yes, they are usually thorough but, at the same time, reasonably efficient and organised – something we cannot say about all South American borders. We never had to unpack our camper, but inspectors came into it and usually opened the most obvious cupboards, and always the fridge.
Chile’s borders are fairly easy to cross if you comply with the strict quarantine rules and avoid peak holiday weekends.
The main issue when overlanding into Chile, will be carrying food across borders. Chile’s quarantine is strict – almost as bad as we’re used to from Australia. You cannot bring any fresh fruit and vegetables, no meat or sausages, and certainly no honey. We also heard of travellers who had bags of dog food confiscated.
But, on the other hand, I managed to bring milk products (butter, yoghurt, cheese) from Argentina on my various ‘visa runs’. During my second such ‘visa run’, the agricultural inspector explained to me that dairy products were okay as long as the original packaging wasn’t opened or damaged and had proper labelling, which showed that the product was made from pasteurised milk. My tip for those who think, like me, that cheese in Argentina is more tasty…
Shops & Services
In Santiago you can literally buy everything – except maybe a specific brand and model of a computer, camera (our experience), or other electronics. I even found a solar panel to replace a shattered one, for the same price I had paid in Germany a year before.
The selection of some of the imported foreign goods you can find at every Jumbo supermarket in Chile. That’s one reason many overlanders like to shop here – despite the high prices.
There are Supermarkets in every major town, often 2 or 3 competing chains. Jumbo is the most expensive, but it stocks many imported goods that foreigners like so much. Lider is Walmart-owned, so US-Americans will either love or hate it. Look out for wine specials in either Santa Isabel (sister company of Jumbo), Lider or Unimarc: 3 bottles for CLP 3990, CLP 6990, or CLP 9990 – they are usually worth it!
For anything fresh (fruit or vegetables, even bread, butter, and cheese), it’s worthwhile visiting the local markets . You can often save 50% or more!
Many fuel stations along major highways in Chile cater for truck drivers, so they are also good for travellers overlanding. They often have clean showers and good, free WiFi; one that we know of even has washing machines. Again, the above mentioned COPEC map booklet lists all these facilities. Fuel in larger cities is usually slightly more expensive than on the highways.
Overnight Places in Chile
The middle of Chile is probably the most difficult to find a place to camp wild. Let me define our idea of the middle: from around La Ligua, north of Santiago, down to Osorno in the south. Free camping is easier along the coast and the mountains than anywhere near Ruta 5. This is the main agricultural region of Chile, dominated by large wineries and farms. Most of Chile’s export crops are grown here, and the land is usually fenced in – right up to the road edge.
In Cachagua, on the coast, we were sent away by the village’s private security guards – within 5 minutes of arrival. Still, every day we managed to find somewhere to park for the night; occasionally not the most picturesque places, because Chile has the same problem with rubbish scattered in the country side as most of its neighbouring countries.
During our overland trip through Chile we found many picturesque places to camp overnight. Here a small selection: under Araucaria trees, next to Mapuche totem poles, at the coast in Pichilemu, outside San Pedro de Atacama.
A second issue, we encountered a few too many times, at quiet looking beaches near towns, was that young people come to the beach, in the middle of the night, to continue their party after the nightclubs closed down. So unexpected loud music, and excessive drunk behaviour, might wake you up way after midnight.
On the other hand, Chile has many camping places. These are mostly for families camping in tents, and not necessarily suitable for any big overland camper or tall vehicles with a roof top tent. Some even have the parking away from the camping shelters, so you would have to carry all gear in.
You can find recommended overland camping spots on iOverlander or on our dare2go camping list , which we stopped updating (reason: everybody seems to be using iOverlander by now).
Safety in Chile
It’s sad to say, but Chile isn’t the safest country to travel in. We know of more overlanders, who have been robbed in this country, which appears so orderly and safe on the surface, than in any other countries. We weren’t robbed, but our worst experience overlanding also happened in Chile.
In Santiago and Valparaiso it can be pickpockets; along the beaches in the north, and many towns throughout the country, it’s people breaking into cars – often smashing the glass in the process. The most dangerous cities seem to be Antofagasta and Iquique. So be cautious!
There are some problems with the native Mapuches in the central and far south of Chile. The Mapuches feel cheated out of their land rights, so it frequently comes to violent demonstrations. We also drove through large wild fires – reportedly lit by the Mapuche people.
Flowering cacti somewhere south and inland from La Serena in Chile.
But, in contrast, you don’t have to deal with as much corruption as in other Latin American countries. We have never heard of anyone overlanding in Chile, who has been stopped by the police and asked for a bribe.
Country Specific Observations
Chile is one of the few countries where travel in RVs and the idea of overlanding is gaining real popularity. As a matter of fact, it is the only South-American country where you can legally sell a camper van or RV – providing it is registered as such (a special use vehicle). We travelled with an American truck camper on our first trip, which we advertised and sold in Chile. Our buyer still owns it, and uses it quite frequently; one year he drove it all the way to Ushuaia.
With our old camper along the Carretera Austral. We sold this vehicle LEGALLY to a local family in Santiago de Chile; they’re still using it!
Because RVs aren’t an unusual sight in Chile, overlanding vehicles don’t attract as much attention as in countries further north; except, of course, by people who admire the lifestyle and want to know more about your journey.
Santiago seems to be one of the few places, where many overlanders arrive to buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a van and fit it out for a Pan-Americana trip. Prices for used vehicles are comparatively low and the bureaucratic hurdles are manageable, although regulations seem to change frequently. We don’t have personal experience of this, so we don’t have any detailed advice to give.
If you want to explore for a shorter period, like a few weeks, you can also rent camping vehicles in Chile. There are numerous companies renting them, from basic vans, like Wicked Campers from Australia, to small pick-up campers. Search the internet for offers, as we have noticed that some companies don’t stay in the market for long.
No, this is not a Texan flag. This patriotic Chileno painted his roof with Chile’s national flag.
Chile is considered the ‘richest’ of all South American countries, and it shows in many ways. The life in the cities is quite sophisticated, as is the shopping. You don’t see many homeless people (only abandoned former pet dogs), and the police aren’t as corrupt as elsewhere.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the country has a lot to offer. In more remote areas (where outdoorsy people like to go) it’s normally easy to find a quiet and often picturesque place to camp for a night or two. We are sure you will enjoy your time, overlanding in Chile!
Not all small towns are created equally. Here we take you to the tourist network of small heritage towns we visited during our time in Colombia.
Some of the small towns of Colombia are the most significant historically. If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Colombia, you should see the Pueblos Patrimonio de Colombia. The Ministry of Culture has declared these 17 small heritage towns “Assets of cultural interest”.
During our 6 months in Colombia, we visited 11 of them and would encourage you to see as many as you can.
The Heritage Towns of Colombia We Saw
These historic colonial towns are presented to you in the order we visited them, from the south to the north of Colombia.
Small Historic Towns of Colombia: El Jardín is as brightly coloured as most small towns in Colombia’s coffee region, but it’s located further north, closer to Medellin. This makes it a popular weekend destination for visitors from Colombia’s second largest city.
We ended our post, The Small Towns of Colombia’s Coffee Region , with Jardín. Although it’s not technically in the Coffee Region, it was just too beautiful to leave out. It is full of colourful buildings, adorned with colourful flowers. There seems to be an unofficial competition in Colombia for who can squeeze the most flower pots on their balcony!
The town was settled by the Spanish in the late 1800s, and it hasn’t changed much in over 100years. Aside from the delight of wandering around this small town to see the colonial churches and other buildings; or sitting on one of the many colourfully painted chairs in the main plaza, drinking a tinto; there are many other activities in this town.
It is famous for the gallitos de las rocas – the Andean cock-of-the-rock; a beautiful red-plumed bird, which can be seen in the mornings and evenings in the Reserva Natural Gallito de la Roca, on the edge of town. Unfortunately, the path into the reserve was just a bit too difficult for us to descend, but for younger and fitter visitors it should pose no problem.
There are also caves and waterfalls and lovely green nature surrounding the town, and various activities like hiking, mountain biking, and paragliding are available. It’s close enough to Medellín to attract many weekend visitors from that city.
Small Heritage Towns of Colombia: the town of Honda lays on the banks of the Magdalena. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the main port for bringing goods from the Caribbean sea into the capital, Bogota. Since then, the once mighty river carries too much sediment to be ship-able. In the background, the large Bavaria brewery, once an important part of the local economy, now unfortunately closed (as is the port).
We passed through Honda on our way from Medellín to Bogotá. It’s situated on the River Magdalena, the longest river in Colombia. Several rivers and streams feed the great river at Honda, and it is known as the city of bridges.
Our intention had been to stay at least a night, somewhere in the old city. We arrived at the plaza, and parked Berta in a level spot, under the shade of a big, old tree. Coming from the mountain heights of Medellín, we couldn’t believe how hot it was at around 150m in altitude.
The old town was originally founded in 1539. It is very appealing to wander around in, with the Cathedral of our Lady of the Rosary dominating the plaza, and any number of narrow, cobbled streets filled with colourfully painted historic houses. Make sure you take a walk down Calle de las Trampas.
It reached its ‘heyday’ in the last half of the 19th century as an off-loading point, on the Río Magdalena, for goods shipped from the Caribbean coast along the river and then by road to Bogotá.
You could certainly spend some time in this heritage town, but the height of summer was not the time for us. We decided to drive on and try to find somewhere to sleep that was at least a few degrees cooler.
Small Historic Towns of Colombia: Villa de San Miguel de las Guaduas in the Cundinamarca province used to be an important stop on the way to the port of Bogota in Honda. We stopped by chance in this small town and really liked it, particularly for its many cozy restaurants and drinking places around the main plaza.
The next small town we reached was Guaduas, an important stopping point historically on the road from Honda to Bogotá. It was founded in 1572, abandoned, and re-founded in 1644. At 1000m high, it was much more pleasant than the heat of Honda.
It’s not one of Colombia’s colourful towns; its buildings are all white, with tiled roofs and brown doors, balconies, and other trims. It gives a certain cohesiveness to colonial buildings. Everything looks neat and well-preserved.
Constitution Plaza is a social place that is used by many locals, particularly in the evenings. It is also dominated by a beautiful church – Catedral de San Miguel Arcángel (Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel). The weather in this part of Colombia lends itself to community gatherings in the cool of the evening. We joined them after dinner and enjoyed an evening of watching how the locals spend their time.
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Villa de Leyva is probably the best known historic town of Colombia. Its dry and warm climate and its vicinity to Bogota makes it a popular weekend destination. The main plaza of Villa de Leyva is said to be the largest paved square in South America.
After 2 weeks in Bogotá, we were eager to re-visit another of our favourite historic towns of Colombia. We had been to Villa de Leyva twice in 2008.
This heritage town is supposed to have perfect weather! It also has the largest main plaza we have seen anywhere, surrounded by splendid white-washed, tile-roofed colonial buildings. In fact, the whole town follows the white-washed and dark woodwork, usually green or brown, theme. Even newer buildings keep to the same appearance. It has been designated a National Monument since 1954.
Make no mistake, Villa de Leyva is a tourist town. Both Colombian and International tourists flock there. We arrived just before Christmas and stayed until almost New Year – there were always people, everywhere. We compared it to the Easter holidays we had spent there in 2008 and are sure the tourist numbers have risen considerably.
The town centre of Villa de Leyva caters mostly to tourists. Initially visitors from Colombia, now increasingly foreign tourists as well. You can find all sorts of shops and services, among them a very good European style bakery (the best we found in Colombia!).
Villa de Leyva was declared a National Monument of Colombia as early as 1954. Many houses in the centre of town date back to 16th or 17th century. A fairly strict building code ensures that newer buildings, like this beautiful courtyard hotel, blend in.
If you ever get tired of wandering the streets of the colonial town that is often claimed as being the most beautiful in Colombia, there are two other places in the surrounding areas that we visited that might attract your interest:
Museo el Fósil: a museum that is built around the skeleton of a kronosaurus. It’s the largest fossil that has been discovered in this region.
Convento Ecce-Homo: although it is no longer a functioning monastery, it is open to the public as a museum. It has the most beautiful courtyard garden and its stone floors are full of fossils.
This area is rich in fossils. Have a close look at any stonework as you wander through the town and you will see many of them; even in the cobblestones that pave the streets. But, as I wrote the last time when we visited Villa de Leyva in 2008 :
It is easy to spend time wandering the streets of this beautiful town, but the novelty of walking on cobblestones wears off faster than the interest in the architecture.
Small Heritage Towns of Colombia: Monguí is said to be the most beautiful village in the Boyacá Department. Its second claim to fame is its cottage industry of producing footballs. The main square of the town is dominated by the “Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Monguí” and the adjoining Franciscan convent.
This small heritage town seems to be ‘in the middle of nowhere’, but is famous for 2 things: being a heritage town and making footballs!
Monguí is more of a village than a town, but it has a large plaza with a church – Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Monguí – and the Convent of the Franciscans taking up one side of it. The Municipal Hall is also an impressive building, with its ground floor sloping downhill. It and the church are the only unpainted buildings around the plaza. The rest are white-washed and tile-roofed with an unusual trim colour – predominantly dark green on the woodwork, but with detailed brushwork in red and gold. Monguí looks like it celebrates Christmas all year round!
Even the ‘football factories’ were housed in historical buildings with the same colour scheme – a little incongruous perhaps, but it seems to work.
We spent less than 2 hours walking around the town, but it did impress us.
El Socorro, Santander
Small Historic Towns of Colombia: El Socorro is probably one everybody drives straight past, although it’s on a main highway south of Barichara. The main sight might be its old Royal Tax Collection house, which dates back to 17th century. The pleasant surprise: it has a pedestrian zone!
Historically, Socorro is famous as the birthplace of the Comunero Revolt or Commoners’ Rebellion , against the oppression of Spanish rule, in 1781. It was also the capital of the department of Santander between 1862 and 1886.
Today it’s a small, historic town that you can walk around in an hour or two. There are a couple of statues, around the Plaza de la Independencia, of people who died as a result of the revolt: José Antonio Galán, a mestizo farmer, and María Antonia Santos Plata, a peasant, who were executed by the Spanish for the parts they played as leaders of the revolution.
The colonial features of El Socorro were what interested us, and it took us only a couple of hours to walk around and see them. They have some very old and impressive buildings. But to tourists, who love adventure sports, they offer rappelling (abseiling), paragliding, canyoning, bungee jumping and paint ball.
Small Heritage Towns of Colombia: Barichara can get busy with local tourists during long weekends and holidays. At other times, it’s a small, sleepy town with cobbled streets, white houses, and terracotta tiled roofs. A plus for overlanders: it’s a pleasant town to camp, on top of the hill overlooking the canyon!
After spending just a couple of hours in this delightful colonial town in 2008, this time we stayed 5 days. Barichara may even be our favourite heritage town of Colombia – of those we’ve seen.
The distinctive yellow sandstone, combined with white-washed, tile-roofed houses, and various coloured woodwork, makes it a real feast for the eyes. Watch out for the delicately carved sandstone surrounds of some of the lovely wooden doors. It’s built on the side of a hill, which makes it a bit of a workout sometimes, but also rewards you with some spectacular views over the rooftops to the mountains in the distance.
Small Historic Towns of Colombia: if you stroll through Barichara, you will find many old Spanish built chapels and churches, mostly simple structures made from local sandstone. This one is Capilla Santa Barbara.
As well as wandering and enjoying the colonial architecture, we would recommend the following things to do in Barichara:
Go to one of the miradors overlooking the Suarez River canyon. This was also the view from our camping place.
Take a walk along a section of the Camino Real, down through the canyon to the small town of Guane. You can return easily by bus.
Check out all the churches of Barichara, built from sandstone. Capilla de Jesús, next to the cemetery; Capilla de Santa Bárbara on Plaza de Santa Bárbara; Capilla de San Antonio; and of course, the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción on the Plaza.
Visit the cemetery, where the yellow sandstone is also in abundance, marking the graves.
Spend some time sitting in the shady central plaza and watch the world go by.
Visit the Jorge Delgado Sierra Parque para las Artes – a beautiful garden, full of sculptures by local artists. It’s next to the Plaza de Santa Bárbara, and from the top of the garden you get an amazing view of the Suarez River canyon in one direction and the mountains in the other.
As in most places in Colombia, Barichara also offers the possibility to involve yourself in extreme sports, if that is your interest.
San Juan Girón, Santander
Small Historic Towns of Colombia: we had already visited San Juan Girón in 2008. Years later, the sleepy historic centre hasn’t changed much, but the town has expanded around it’s edges and nearly become one with neighbouring Floridablanca and Bucaramanga.
The municipality of Girón is actually part of the Metropolitan area of Bucaramanga, but the place to visit is the old town, full of well-preserved white colonial houses. It’s nestled in a bend of the Río de Oro, with a feeder creek running through it. This gives rise to the many bridges that it is also famous for.
We had also visited in 2008, but were keen to return. You only need an hour to walk slowly around the old town, but there are places to sit, museums to visit – although usually only open on weekends and public holidays – restaurants and tourist shops.
It is easy to see why it is included in this tourism network, and is definitely worth the short detour if you are passing by Bucaramanga on your way through Colombia.
La Playa de Belén, Norte de Santander
Small Heritage Towns of Colombia: La Playa de Belén in Norte de Santander is possibly a little out of the way for most travellers. It’s a sleepy little place in an amazingly eroded landscape. This is the view over the town from the cemetery.
There is more to La Playa de Belén (literally Bethlehem Beach) than beautiful white buildings adorned with colourful terracotta flower pots, tiled roofs, and brown painted woodwork. It is also set in a quite remarkable landscape of weathered rock formations.
The town is in a relatively level valley, but it’s possible to climb to various viewpoints around it to see the settlement from above, and the surrounding landscape. We chose to climb the stair to the cemetery. It is 150m above the town, and the stair is the only access. So the dead are carried up to their final resting place.
The final in our 4 part series, sharing international overlander stories in answer to our question: What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
Every year more people are setting out to overland the Americas; to travel the Pan-American Highway. Here is our 4th and final post in the series of Overlander stories, where they answer the question:
What inspired you to travel the Pan-American Highway?
Our final five include a Brazilian couple who decided life is too short to put your dreams on hold; a couple who met travelling and decided to travel the Pan-American Highway with their 3 kids; a travelling couple, who found the experience of overlanding together strengthened their relationship; a Canadian couple who gave up successful corporate careers to follow their dreams; and a young couple, who took off together, barely a year after they met.
We hope you will find inspiration to travel in their stories.
Our good friends, Bia & Paolo – Asfalto, Terra e Mar
Paulo & Bia – On a sunny day on the Oregon coast, we met another couple of overlanders heading south. We exchanged contacts, lots of information, and they took a picture of us.
Who are we? An aquarian and a gemini, a designer and an economist, Bia (42) and Paulo (46) from Brazil…we’re just two regular people, who dream about traveling the world. In fact, we’ve always been curious to know what’s around the corner, to discover what’s next and to surf the perfect wave. We used to work hard to travel for the few weeks we could, and then work even harder to save money for the next trip.
When we lived in Australia, back in 2002, we had our first overlander experience. At that time we rented a Wicked van and traveled 5000 km in only 2 months, but it was enough to infect us.
Back home, we planned to have a vehicle one day that could be our home, taking us everywhere we wanted to travel, without a schedule, stopping wherever we liked, staying as long as we wanted.
These plans were waiting for retirement, but life has its own time, and showed us that living today is the most important thing. At only 40 years old, Paulo experienced a type of melanoma common to people over 70, and that made us reconsider our plans for the future.
We moved to a smaller town, and started a business. For a couple of years we had this perfect, simple life until we had an offer to sell our restaurant…it was a sign! We sold it, and after long research, put the money into a reliable truck and a camper made in Brazil. Then we were free to go!
We started with a short 80 day trip to Patagonia Argentina, Ushuaia and the Carretera Austral in Chile. Since it was just a test drive, we went back home to make some adjustments to the camper, and to plan a little bit more.
Planning is never easy; it takes effort and time, but making changes is sometimes even harder when you have to rely on other people to do the job. While we were waiting, the POS (Parked Overlander Syndrome, the best way we could define our bored mood) hit us hard! We even thought we would never accomplish this dream. But, when we met other experienced overlanders, we realized that even when you think you have everything planned there’s always something missing, there are always things to be done, so better hit the road soon and everything will be easier to figure out on the way. One thing is certain: WE LEARNED A LOT! And now we can make a lot of improvements and repairs with confidence!
Somewhere in Baja – Wild camping in Baja is just perfect, warm waters, good waves and everyday a beautiful sunset
Snowing in Alaska – For tropical people like us, watching the snow in Alaska was just magical
We launched ourselves into the long journey in September 2016. As surfers, we drove along the coast exploring the Pacific Ocean all the way from Chiloe Island in Chile to the frozen waters of Seward in Alaska. When there are no waves or it’s impossible to follow the coast, we adventure into the mountains, lakes, rivers and national parks. We love being outdoors, but we also love new cultures, art, food and animals, so we try to balance doing a little bit of everything (just avoiding big cities!).
Having a new landscape every day, discovering new places, and surfing the best waves of our lives, is all amazing, but meeting people has been the best experience by far! It’s amazing how they open their houses and their hearts and receive us with open arms. Every time we had any kind of problem, in the end we felt blessed by meeting good people! All these experiences we’ve been living just show us that essentially humankind is good, and it gives us hope for the future.
We don’t drive as slowly as others travellers, but we live one day at a time and still have all the way back to Brazil. So much more is to come!
Schutte’s Gone Walkabout: Alicia, Paul & their 3 kids
Enjoying Perito Merino Glacier. (dare2go: this was the view from our camper window when we spent the night next to the glacier, back in 2009.)
We’re Schutte’s Gone Walkabout, an Australian/Canadian family of 5: Alicia (40), Paul (42), Zaire (8), Adelina (6) and Nyssa (3). Paul is a mechanical fitter and I’m a home/world schooling mom.
Paul and I met overlanding through Africa in 2004 on a TransAfrica trip from England to South Africa. Paul was driving overland trucks and I was a passenger. Paul also drove from England to Kazakhstan in a Toyota Corolla. Both Paul and I separately overlanded through America & Canada in our early 20’s.
For us the question was never, would we overland with our children? The question was, when and where would we overland.
We love that with overlanding, the kids have a place to call home; this has proven to be very comforting for them in the past year. A space they feel completely ‘at home’. We all enjoy the freedom to explore in our own time, at our own pace.
We have spent a lot of time exploring Western Australia with our camper trailer. We also travelled around New Zealand’s North & South Island for a month in a bus converted into a camper in 2015.
Most recently, we spent 2017 travelling from Vancouver, Canada to the bottom of South America in our F350 and truck camper. One of the most challenging parts of our trip was sticking to a schedule. Paul had 13 months off work, so we had to work to an end date. Paul’s work offered 4 years at 80% of his pay with the 5th year off getting paid the 80% they had withheld, which allowed us to finance the trip as well as provide the security of returning home to employment. Next time we would prefer to work it, without the end date.
Lots of people comment on the fact we are travelling with children. Travelling with small children isn’t always easy, but life isn’t always easy. We hope that showing the children around world will influence them in a positive way as they get older. We may not all look the same or speak the same languages, but we’re all people. We’ve met so many friendly and helpful people along the way, both locals and other travellers. Children seem to open a lot of doors as well, interactions that we may not have had without them. They bring smiles to a lot of people’s faces.
Paul and the kids servicing the truck. (dare2go: These kids are amazing! We met them for just a few hours one day and were impressed by their enthusiasm for everything around them.)
Meditating on the roof. I loved escaping the morning chaos for a few minutes to just breath.
A few family favorites along the way were the Monarch butterflies in Mexico, peering into an active volcano in Nicaragua, driving into the Amazon in Ecuador, Ibera in Argentina , and all of the amazing people along the way.
As we make our way home, we’re already planning the next adventures.
We are Out of the Office: Matt, Clo & Wilbur the Landcruiser
This picture was taken at the beginning of the trip in the USA as we began our 14 hour long hike in the Grand Tetons. Matt was trying out the beard style!
Clo was born in the south of France and spent most of her life in Paris and a few other cities in Europe before moving to Singapore in 2013. Matt was born in Germany but grew up in the US (Washington state), and for the last fifteen years he’s been mostly living abroad in different countries.
What previous overland experiences had we had? None at all!
Matt had taken family road trips since he was a kid and traveled quite a lot as an adult, but wasn’t even aware of overlanding until recently. Clo only became aware of what overlanding was when we started talking about traveling through the Americas.
Matt was unhappy with his job and career, and wanted to take a break. He talked about it with Clo, a lot, and the mode of travel we decided to follow turns out to be called overlanding. Clo had already left her regular professional routine behind in Paris when she moved to Singapore, so this seemed like an awesome way to keep on exploring. We were married a few years ago in Singapore as well, so why not take a multi-year honeymoon?
Matt: For me, the unquestionably best part is the travel itself. Exploring new places, meeting new people, solving problems. And all of that with my wife, has been, and continues to be, amazing.
Clo: The best part has been how surprised I’ve been at how easy it is. My fears (not getting along with my husband, feeling threatened on the road, having unfixable car problems, etc.) have not been nearly as serious as I expected. In fact, there are other things that have been even more enjoyable than I expected. I should have done this ages ago!
This picture was take on the amazing road to go to Urique!! This is the craziest and most beautiful road we have been on (for hours). The cold beer at the bottom of the canyon was well deserved!!
This picture was taken on the road in Mexico. Living in your truck and driving a little bit every day you have to go through all kind of weather and road condition. And you start loving that view from your seat.
For Matt it has been both exciting and relaxing. The biggest impact on my life has been helping me to be more understanding and patient as a husband.
Clo has also found her relationship with her husband to have improved significantly. I’ve learned to give importance only to the things that are actually important. I’ve also realized it’s easier in many ways, when we are traveling: there’s always something new to see, something to do, a place to go. The travel itself helps to prevent us from creating big problems from small ones.
Our house was paid off, so we rent it out to finance our month to month expenses. In addition, we have our savings from the couple of years prior to the trip. Clo also works at a few festivals as a photographer throughout the year, and occasionally sells photographs.
Phil & Nathalie from Canada: 25 years corporate life – at 45, nomad life
Nathalie & Phil: Getting our groove on the Atlantic Coast of Argentina near Camarones
Hi we’re Marquestra, a mid-life couple’s quest for travel.
After 25 years of corporate life and too many responsibilities, we both knew it was time for a change. We’d recently attended funerals for friends and family members who hadn’t reached 50 or barely passed it. In 2013, we’d been leading a privileged life; we travelled luxuriously and managed to amass a comfy cushion of assets. Although Phil was the principal of his advertising agency, the local economy was in a downturn; the globalization of design was rising and the bottom line was getting quite thin. Times were changing and we needed to do so too.
For many years, we’d repeated to ourselves a typical phrase we’d heard oh so often… “when we retire we’ll travel more” or “when we have the money, we’ll do this or that…” The day Phil’s office lease was up, we came to a crossroad: renew the lease and carry on or not? One night, Nathalie said: “WHY DON’T WE JUST SELL EVERYTHING AND DRIVE TO THE END OF THE WORLD?”
A few months later, we’d sold almost everything we owned, outfitted our Jeep Wrangler into an overlanding rig, pulled the plug on conventions, and didn’t look back. We were headed on a voyage from Montreal to the tip of South America and back, driving through the Americas!
We decided to drive to Miami and have our Wrangler aka Redbird shipped to Montevideo, Uruguay in a maritime container. It ended up being a great idea. By starting our adventure in a 1st world region, we had time to adjust to living on the road without too much of the culture shock that goes with it. Once fully immersed, we knew we’d be ready to handle whatever Central America and Mexico threw at us.
We picked up Redbird in the port of Montevideo in Uruguay and went south, all the way to Ushuaia, Patagonia. Once we’d reached the end of the world, we started back up towards Chile, Bolivia and Peru. When we reached Ecuador, our confidence and comfort level was now pretty high; enough that we decided to venture through Colombia, a country we had initially elected to opt out of, simply prompted by fear! After meeting many overlanders who had just been through Colombia safely, we got sold on the idea. We learned that travel advice should only be taken from people who have actually BEEN THERE. By the time we got to Central America, our Spanish was efficient, our travel skills were well perfected and our street smarts were sharply honed.
Bolivia Snow : What a morning surprise? Bush Camping in the Riserva Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia at 13,800 ft elevation, the rain had turned to snow during the night.
Torres del Paine: One of the many highlights of our trip,Torres del Paine, Chile
This journey had affected our way of life in so many ways. We learned a lot from our overlanding journey; especially that we can adapt to ANYTHING. Nowadays, we choose to travel on a level that makes us connect more with the people and cultures of the countries we visit. Life on the road has taught us that together we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.
Looking back, who would have thought that two luxury travellers would survive a 10 month overlanding trip to South & Central America, while sleeping on their truck in an RTT (roof top tent), or even hostels! That surely couldn’t have been us?
Fast forward to 2017, we’ve recently retired Redbird, adapting once again to new opportunities… We’re now digital nomads, semi location independent, house-sitting around the world as we escape our crazy Canadian winters.
El Sunzal, El Salvador: Ekain posing with all his ladies.
A little over a year ago, we (Melissa and Ekain) met for the first time in Panama City. Ekain, a 28-year-old from the Basque Country, had moved there three years before to start his career. I, Melissa, a 24-year-old from Haiti, was doing a six-month internship as part of my master’s..
We spent exactly 2 weeks in Bogota; most our photos from that time are street art pictures. Not that Bogota doesn’t offer any other sights (see link at the end of this post!), but street art is one of our passions and Bogota has so much to show. In this post, I am only concentrating on the wonderful street art pieces we found in and around Candelaria. This is Bogota’s historic centre, and where most backpackers stay as well.
Bogota’s Candelaria, the historic district, is full of wonderful and quirky street art pieces, small and large. In this gallery we show some of the best. This is the work of a French street artist and was only finished a few weeks before our arrival. It’s all painted with rollers and brushes.
A couple of weeks ago I published my first post of Bogota street art , in which I concentrated on murals found outside the historic centre. For both posts I had to be a little selective, showing only the very best, because I simply have too many photos to squeeze into two posts…
Street Art Walking Tour in Bogota
One day we joined a street art walking tour with Bogota Graffiti . These are tours for tips with an experienced guide, often local street artists themselves. You see, street art rarely pays or, if the artist gets paid, it’s often very little. Unless, of course, they are one of the world-renowned street art elite. But most of them are just happy to find a public canvas to express their latest ideas. The paint they use doesn’t come cheap either…
So joining this tour is a good way to support street artists, and to have each work explained by an insider of the scene. Our guide, Carlos, wasn’t a street artist but was studying visual design and seemed to be very much in touch with what was going on in his city. He certainly knew a lot about the history of individual pieces, their artists, how collaborations came to be, and so forth.
Bogota street art tour: a cat adorns this business front, with a homeless person sleeping right next to it.
Unfortunately, the tour has such a fast pace that you won’t always find the time and space to snap the best pictures of individual murals and, at the same time, follow your guide’s commentary.
These explanations were often very detailed; covering technique, background of the artist, persons shown in images, their place in history, and current political context. It can be all a bit much to take in if you haven’t read up on Colombia’s recent past beforehand. Even then, you might be lost because many characters are of local importance. Carlos certainly didn’t hide his own political views on Colombia’s politicians, police forces, corruption, and industrial magnates.
I certainly learned a lot during the tour – and forgot a lot of it straight afterwards! Or better: I learned a lot, but it was so much information in such a short time that I fear I would mix up too many of the facts. Still, I have tried to give you some information in the individual image descriptions.
So enjoy the photos from our walking tour:
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
Finally we arrived. The streets aren’t paved with gold, but the museums are full of it; and conversely, the streets are full of art. Bogotá, ‘una ciudad 2600 metros más cerca de las estrellas’, which is ‘above your expectations’ and ‘mejor para todos’. These are tag lines from the Instituto Distrital de Turismo .
Bogotá, a city with art in the streets and gold in the museums. At 2600m, it’s a ciudad 2600 metros más cerca de las estrellas and above your expectations.
Bogota became our home for 10 weeks in 2008, and we had really been looking forward to our return to the city this trip. So we booked an apartment in Teusaquillo for 2 weeks, searching for museum gold and street art.
‘When we lived in Bogota’ , as we often refer to that previous visit, we really enjoyed the friendly and helpful people we met. But we were there for major repairs on our truck, and had little time for any other activities. We saw the inside of many workshops but this time we were determined to see something of the capital city of the country that became our favourite on our first Pan-American trip.
Here we share what we did in 2 weeks in Bogota.
El Museo de Oro
Bogotá Gold Museum: This shows the modern, organised display you will find in this very impressive museum.
The Gold Museum of Bogota is famous. In 2008 it was closed for extensive renovations. We were very disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to visit.
This time it was right on the top of our list. In fact, we visited it on our very first foray into the historical centre of Bogota. And what a pleasant surprise – people over 60 were admitted free. We love it when this happens. It feels like such a gift of respect.
There are over 30,000 pieces of gold work from pre-Hispanic cultures on display, as well as around 20,000 objects of ceramic, textiles, and precious stones. We love the ancient history of South America, and the craftsmanship collected in the Gold Museum is almost overwhelming.
I don’t know what it was like pre-renovation, but we were totally impressed by the display of this vast collection, and the information provided (including the audio-guide I took).
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
This is probably the most beautiful, intricate, and treasured exhibit in Bogotá’s Gold Museum. It tells the story of a raft going out into a lake to present a gift of precious stones and metals to the gods – by dropping it over the side.
If you have spent any time checking out dare2go, you will already know we are great fans of street art. And Bogota definitely didn’t disappoint! Our first street art sightings were as we drove into the city on our way to our accommodation. We saw one large piece in the process of creation.
The volume of street art in Bogota is overwhelming. Simple daily tasks like going to the corner shop, on the way to the supermarket, or looking for a cash machine, always took longer because we were constantly stopping to admire and photograph yet another amazing piece of public art.
Much of Colombia’s street art evolves out of the troubles the country has seen. We experienced this in Comuna 13 in Medellin , and it was again obvious with many pieces in Bogotá, especially along Calle 26.
It’s always good to just walk in a city, and see what you find.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: some of the street art to be found in the locality we called home for 2 weeks in the city.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: Some more street art from this locality, on the way to the supermarket. Damning comments on humanity’s priorities.
Walking the Streets – Teusaquillo
Bogotá has 20 localidades (localities) and Teusaquillo is the 13th. It is located just out of the city centre and we found it to be a convenient walk to many of the places we wanted to go.
One day, we went out walking in search of a supermarket and an ATM. We found them, but also found the National Museum.
Another day we walked, in a different direction, to a Carulla – this is a rather upmarket supermarket chain in Colombia, but it sells good bread. To reach it we walked along the ParkWay. It is an avenue divided by a large park, built in the 1950s to beautify the city and create green areas. There are also bike paths, which we rode along on our bicycle tour.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: The beautiful ParkWay, constructed in the 1950s, bringing green spaces to the city. Photo: Wikimedia
The streets surrounding our rental were also full of street art. Avenida 28, with its huge street art gallery, was within easy walking distance. We visited it several times.
Teusaquillo, Bogotá: this locality has a long history of migration. Here we see urban architecture with a British influence.
Walking the Streets – La Candelaria
The 17th Localidad of Bogotá is known as the Historic Centre. Therefore, it has hostels, hotels, restaurants and lots of tourists. But it is also a beautiful historic area and we spent a lot of time just wandering around it.
Plaza de Bolivar is the original centre of the city, where Bogotá was founded on August 6, 1538. The Congress of Colombia, the Supreme Court, the Mayor’s office, and the Cathedral of Colombia surround this great Plaza.
There are many museums and we chose to re-visit the Botero Museum.
And lots and lots of fantastic street art!
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
Cycling is a very popular activity in Colombia. In 2008, we were surprised and impressed by the closure of major arterial roads and city streets on Sundays and public holidays, for the use of cyclists, walkers, runners, skaters and so on. It seemed like a very innovative idea, which we hadn’t seen elsewhere. Now it is popular in many cities in South America.
So we opted for a bicycle tour on a Sunday. I hadn’t been on a bicycle since we left Australia almost 5 years ago. But you know what they say: a skill that is learned and never forgotten is “just like riding a bike.”
Our tour was with Bogotravel , but there are other options and we don’t necessarily recommend this company as a standout – we have no point of comparison, and there were aspects of their service, which we found a little disappointing.
But the actual tour was a great experience. Felipe, our guide, spoke good English, and looked after us all very well. We shared the tour with 2 friendly German girls.
The tour included fruit tasting at a local fruit market, cycling through historical areas with colonial architecture, some city parks, a coffee shop with tasting available, and Avenida 26 – the largest street gallery of graffiti in Bogotá. It began at 10:30 and lasted around 4 hours.
This post has turned out to be a much larger Bogota street art gallery than I had expected, despite the fact that I have only included pieces from outside Candelaria, the old part of Colombia’s Capital. I will leave this more popular historic centre for a second street art gallery from Bogotá.
You can find outstanding street art all over Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. This gallery concentrates on murals we explored outside of the city centre.
The street art scene in Colombia is very alive and diverse. Street art has been de-criminalised in Colombia and Bogotá, in particular, attracts a quite a lot of international street artists, who leave their mark on the city’s walls.
The reason I am concentrating on murals outside the tourist part of the city is simple: I want to encourage you to venture out and keep your eyes open! To give you an orientation, I have included specific locations in each street art photo description.
But you will be forgiven if you cannot find each and every piece shown in this gallery. First of all, some pieces won’t be around indefinitely, as they are on walls surrounding sites destined for new construction work.
Other murals will have deteriorated and lost their appeal, so street artists might simply paint over them. In the very short time we spent in Bogota, we witnessed five new pieces in the making and one being completely repainted – and we didn’t even go out that frequently!
The bright colours of this new piece on Avenida Medellin (south side, somewhere between Carrera 86 and 72) caught our attention the day we arrived in Bogotá. Here it’s still very unfinished, but a week later we came past it again.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
It’s a shame that we never got to see the fully completed picture!
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
But that’s all part of the fun when you go out to explore a city for its street art! It’s an ever evolving scene, with new outstanding murals popping up in the most unexpected locations.
A little Spanish knowledge might help you to understand the messages included in many murals. Often they refer back to Colombia’s violent past or the current state of government. The more you know about the country’s politics the better you will understand the messages told through street art.
Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.
I often speak about making memories. You see, I have a theory that the more different experiences you have, the more memories you make, the longer life feels to be. Since becoming nomads, we hardly ever make statements like: “Hasn’t this year flown by?” In fact, it seems like much more than almost 5 years since we packed up our lives in Australia, flew to Europe, and began building our home for this life.
It’s all the places we’ve been, all the sights we’ve seen and all the people we’ve met that become the memories we make. As we approach the end of our time in South America, I am reflecting on some of those memories – taking them out, one by one, to enjoy their flavour again.
Making memories with people you meet, places you go, and sights you see make for a fulfilled year. The more you have, the longer your life seems to be.
I would like to share some of my best memories from 2017 with you, month by month.
The year started with excitement: my sister and her husband were coming from England to spend 3 weeks on the road with us. I hadn’t seen her since we left Australia in March 2013. It was a joyous reunion full of laughter and tears.
They arrived in Cusco and we shared the Sacred Valley with them before driving to Puno and Lake Titicaca, and then to Arequipa. Some of my favourite memories from Peru, on our first South American trip, are from these places. It was so special to be making new ones with my sister.
With all the places we’ve been and all the experiences we’ve had in 2017, my favourite memory is still the time spent with my sister. Here we are just sitting and having a chat in Cusco.
Chinchero: a small place in the Sacred Valley. It has ruins, a church built on Inca ruins, and this very colourful market. We visited in 2008, but it was lovely to revisit with Bron & Bob.
First we had to leave Peru – we had been 2 months in the country and needed another 3 months to travel slowly north. The only option for more time in Peru is to leave and come back. But you seem to be able to do this as often as you like. So we left Arequipa (possibly the most beautiful city in Peru) for Arica in Chile. We exited Peru and returned the next day, then began moving north.
The coastline of Peru is not very inspiring, so we were happy to leave it near Paracas, where we headed inland to Ayacucho – a city recommended to us by a Peruvian we had met along the way. Of all the cities we visited in Peru, this one has a special place in our memories. It has a violent history that it has overcome. Its people are so happy to have visitors, but it’s not yet over-run. A great place to have visited before it’s really discovered!
There are many things to do and see, in and around Ayacucho, including a Wari ruin site. The Wari started our ongoing interest in pre-Incan sites in Peru.
Ayacucho is a lovely colonial city, high in the Peruvian Andes. It has transformed itself from its violent past to be a city in waiting – for the visitors to come. A beautiful memory from 2017
Just one example of the amazing, colouful Andes. No wonder these mountains are one of the memories I like to take out and revisit from time to time. These particular mountains are on the way from Pisco to Ayacucho in Peru.
Although we had no intention, nor inclination, to return to Lima, we were glad that life interfered and brought us to that city again. We revisited the Larco Museum on Juergen’s birthday, and it was even better than the first visit in 2008! Months later, memories of the beautiful environment, the food in the restaurant, and the well-organised, informative and amazing exhibits are still clear in my mind.
We revisited the Larco Museum on Juergen’s birthday and had a special lunch in this lovely environment. Revisiting this museum was an incredible surprise – it was even better than the first time.
In March, terrible floods hit Peru. Because of them, we had to change our plans many times due to not being able to take the roads we wanted to. At other times we just had to wait until a particular landslide had been cleared so that we could proceed. It gave us time to be grateful for the life we lead and to think about the local people, for whom this devastation was a tragedy. Memories are not always beautiful.
Remnants of Peru’s catastrophic floods along the Pan-American Highway. They may have inconvenienced us a little, but were devastating to the country and its people.
Ultimately, we reached La Selva and enjoyed what we experienced of the Peruvian Amazon immensely. So many memories of green forests, butterflies and birds, and mountain landscapes; interspersed with semi-flooded roads that gave us pause.
Our fifth month in Peru; still finding more interesting sights and making lasting memories. Now we were heading slowly back towards the coast. But there was much to see along the way, some more memorable than others.
Karajia: we came there to meet up with some overlanding friends we had met in Argentina. We found them, but also a quite amazing burial site – decorated sarcophagi on a cliff face. This unusual place is fixed indelibly in my brain. Sometimes a sight stays as a full-colour memory that pops back up unexpectedly. This is one of mine.
Karajia: we had no expectations for this sight. But it amazed us. How did they get those sarcophagi, with a body inside, up on the cliff face? Just one of the incredible memory making sights of 2017.
This road is only just wide enough for Berta – one wheel on each white line! Was it worth it? Yes, the scenery was incredible. Would we do it again? Not on your life!!! No wonder it’s one of the strongest memories of the year.
Nearing the end of our 3 month visa, we ended up on the north coast of Peru at Swiss Wassi . We only had a couple of days before our visa expired, but it was so nice that we drove to Ecuador for 2 days and then returned with another new visa for Peru.
We decided it was the time and place for a holiday, after the long journey through Peru . Sometimes you just have to stop for a while and process the many memories you’ve been making. We stayed 3 weeks in this beautiful place, sharing stories with many other interesting travellers as they came and went.
The perfect place for making perfect holiday memories. Sunsets over the Pacific Ocean like this – every day. Swiss Wassi in northern Peru.
We arrived in Ecuador in the last week of May, and revisited Cuenca, Vilcabamba and the Ingapirca ruin site , before heading north towards Bogota. Ecuador is a small country and diesel is very cheap, so it was a small thing to drive halfway through the country to visit a festival.
And what a festival it was: The Celebration of Octava de Corpus Christi in Pujilí . It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our time in Ecuador, and was responsible for the making of many colourful memories.
June found us back in Ecuador, revisiting memories of 2008 – until we reached Pujili for it’s Corpus Christi Festival. Then we found the highlight of the month – an abundance of colourful memories to be made.
We returned to Cuenca after the festival. Spending time there provided us with many new memories. It also evoked the pleasant memories we had made in 2008. Revisiting a place you have loved has a lot of advantages.
From there we went to the Pacific Coast of Ecuador – a place entirely new to us. The two highlights of our time on the coast were meeting Peter & Maria in Salinas and whale watching in Puerto Lopez. The memories are ours to keep.
We really enjoyed returning to Cuenca, and made a lot of new memories while revisiting some of the old ones. This is the flower market, with plenty of Cuenca’s colonial architecture as a backdrop.
The coast of Ecuador was a new experience for us. Being befriended by Peter & Maria in Salinas was a lovely start to the memories we made along the way.
After a very brief stop in Quito, we arrived in Ibarra, and finally met Graham. He is an Australian expat, who has lived in Ibarra for 13 years. He invites overlanders to stay at his property overlooking the city, where he has a nursery. We had stayed there in 2008, but he was in Australia at that time.
One morning Graham asked: Do you want to come up to the lookout? Sure, I answered. So we all piled into his pickup, and wound our way up a gravel road. We finally stopped at this beautiful meadow. It had views down into the city and up to a snow-capped volcano. This is Graham & Amalia with Leah in front. Behind are other overlanders who shared the experience he gave us.
We stayed for over 2 weeks – another ‘holiday’ at the end of our time in Ecuador ! It’s a beautiful place and we have great memories of time spent telling stories over a cuppa with him, Amalia and their delightful 4 year old daughter, Leah. There were also other overlanders, who joined the group. They all came and went while we were there. We also spent time with a German couple, Jens & Kristina, who are living nearby.
More new friends we met in Ibarra. I think Jens and Kristina might be suffering a bit from ‘parked overlander syndrome’, but we shared some great stories of our adventures over lunch.
This was truly a time of relaxing friendships. It’s the memories of times like these that help us during other times, when we don’t meet any overlanders and don’t get to speak English (or German) for long periods, except to each other.
We had been looking forward to returning to our favourite country of our previous trip since arriving to South America. And here we were in Colombia, at last…
A repeat of a photo we took in 2008 in the San Agustin archaeological site. We remembered it well and enjoyed it again.
Down into the tombs of Tierradentro. Some of the experiences that are most scary, make the most indelible memories.
We also made wonderful memories in Salento , where we entered the coffee region. Our plan was a few days, but we ended up staying at La Serrano for 2 weeks. It was interesting because it’s a hostel, guest house and overland camping site. Among the guests there was a mixture of countries, ages, and transport modes. We had many communal gatherings where eating, drinking and story-telling were the priorities. The included breakfast made this a daily..
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.