The Best of South America

This post was prompted by someone filling out the contact form on our website. It always makes us feel good when we hear that other people find our travels interesting, especially those planning their own trips!

So without further ado, these are some of the highlights of our travels in South America

Galapagos Islands

Wildlife so thick they have to stack it.

Wildlife so thick they have to stack it.


Investigating whale bones

Yes, it was a lot of money (about three months worth of our normal budget) but it was so cool. I’ve never been anywhere before that you had to be careful where you walk because you might accidentally step on the wildlife. From arid moonscapes of hardened lava covering entire islands to lush, cloud covered volcanic peaks, the archipelago is justifiably famous.

We lived aboard a smaller tour boat with about 10 other guests for a week. It was great to relax and not have to worry about shopping and cooking for a little while, and the tours on the islands were varied and educational.

Quinn enjoyed a week out of the van, and the other guests on the trip were very friendly and welcoming toward him. It’s definitely a part of the trip we’ll always remember fondly!

Traveling with Friends

Time with friends and family is precious

Time with friends and family is precious

Long term travel can be lonely at times, even for a family. We treasured the times we were able to spend time with new friends, meet up with old friends, and especially when our families made the extra effort to join us for a part of our journey.


We weren't the only ones enjoying the views.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the views.

Being from Colorado, we love the outdoors. We’re most at home in the mountains, hiking, biking, or just soaking the alpine sun and fresh air. You’d think that when the time comes to take a vacation, we’d want to do something we can’t do at home – go to the beach or experience city life. On the contrary, some of our most enjoyable vacations have been when we travel somewhere to be in the mountains.

It’s no surprise, then, that we loved Patagonia. With another beautiful lakeside camping spot around every turn and small mountain villages that made us want to rent a house and move in, Central Patagonia reminded us of home. And perhaps that’s what we needed after two years away.

Peninsula Valdez, Argentina

Another sunset from our campsite.

Another sunset from our campsite.

One of the best things about overlanding is the ability to camp in remote places – you never have to get back to your hotel at the end of the day because your hotel is with you all the time. And some of the best places are wild camps. Just find a level spot on the beach and call it home for the night. Or for the week.

Peninsula Valdez is one of our favorite such spots. Somewhat remote and desolate, its numerous sheltered bays serve as home to mother whales and the calves while the babies are taught how to be whales. We spent four fantastic days camping on a beach on the peninsula. We played in the rocks, went for walks on the beach, and yes, watched the whales.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

With the cold air and the white salt, you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for an actic landscape.

With the cold air and the white salt, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an arctic landscape.

“Like nowhere else on Earth.” That’s the official tagline for a destination I’ve heard advertised on TV. But that’s exactly what comes to mind when you experience the world’s largest salt flat. Let your 7 year old drive? Sure. Leave your car in gear and jump out to walk alongside it? No problem. Get a 4 ton van up to 85mph? Yep – It’s the smoothest, flattest surfaced we’d driven on in months.

When the sun begins to dip below the horizon, the cold bites at your nose, and all you can see for miles is salt plus the occasional hill rising from the plain the scene looks like nothing so much as a frozen lake with islands in it. Bundle up in your down and walk out onto the salt to marvel at the bright red sunset, then retreat into to your cozy sleeping bag. It’s a harsh, yet spectacular environment.

Rio de Janero, Brazil

The view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain makes it obvious why Rio is considered one of the world's most beautiful cities.

The view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain makes it obvious why Rio is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Set on Brazil’s coastline and justifiably famous for it’s amazing beaches and backed by thousand foot jungle-clad cliffs, Rio is stunning. Views abound from the many lookouts including the famous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain. On the subway it’s common to see people clad in business attire alongside beach-bound surfers. Topped off by a wide variety of international food and yet maintaining it’s laid-back atmosphere, Rio should be on every traveler’s hit list.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

This is a small fraction of the falls.

This is a small fraction of the falls.

Off the beaten path it is certainly not, but there’s a reason why Iguazu is considered one of South America’s biggest tourist attractions. It’s not one single waterfall, it’s thousands of them covering a huge area. We spent two days there – one on the Argentina side and one on the Brazil side. Sure it was crowded and touristy, but we’re very happy to have seen this natural wonder for ourselves.

Cheap Wine

Aging at Domaine Bousquet

Aging at Domaine Bousquet

Last but certainly not least is the abundance of cheap wine in Chile and Argentina. Sold in the grocery stores everywhere, we quickly got used to a new price scale. Everyday bottle of good, drinkable wine? Less than $5. Want to splurge on a nice bottle of reserve malbec? $7-8. We visited the Domaine Bousquet vineyard outside of Mendoza and bought their grand reserve for about $10 per bottle after the case discount. We looked it up online while we were there, and a those bottles go for $24 in the States. I was at a liquor store this afternoon and bought an Argentinean bottle on sale for $12 that I paid $3.50 for there. Sigh.  Enjoy it while you are there!

Jen and I discussed this post for awhile over dinner this evening and we agree that “best of” memories are very dependent on the situation. A ho-hum place can yield a great experience just by meeting a bunch of really cool people and having a good time together. A place that gets five stars on trip advisor might be the worst experience of the trip if you happen to get ripped off there.

We also, of course, came up with some great experiences that I missed here, including some specific museums and other places we visited. Stay tuned – that will be the subject of an upcoming post!

A big thank you to all of our readers, and especially to Diana who is planning her own trip and was the inspiration for this post! If you have a topic you’d like to see covered here, please let us know in the comments.