Tag Archives: Brazil

South America Route Planning: 10 Reasons to go beyond the PanAm

You’re doing your overland South America route planning. Hitting the PanAmerican north/south corridor route between Colombia and Tierra del Fuego is the way to do it, right? A PanAm road-trip down the western side of South America is a terrific, jaw-droppingly gorgeous drive. With adventures galore… stunning scenery, awesome mountains, simmering volcanos, breath-taking hikes, challenging routes, relaxing hot-springs, interesting towns, tasty food and fascinating historic sites. All these are served with a generous sprinkling of llamas and the occasional chunky chap in a brightly coloured poncho. Sounds just the ticket for ‘doing’ South America doesn’t it?

But we’d really like to encourage you to think  ‘beyond the PanAm’. There is so much more to South America than doing the Andes with a few side-trips to beaches or jungle camps. Here are just 10 of the highlights you’re missing if you limit your South America trip to the PanAm corridor:

1. Jaguars and Pantanal Wildlife

Jaguar Pantanal

1. Jaguar – Pantanal Wildlife, Brazil

The Andes wildlife is nice, but you’ll quickly get a bit blasé seeing yet another llama/alpaca/vicuña/ guanaco wandering the PanAm. Brazil’s Panatanal is one of the best areas on the planet for wildlife and certainly the best place in South America. In season, there’s a good chance of spotting jaguars. And there are anteaters, giant otters, caimans, capybaras, plus more wetland birds than you can shake a stick at. The density and diversity of wildlife here is astonishing. Tootle down the road from Poconé to Porto Jofre and it’s all there, just sitting at the side of the track (well, except for the Jags which do take a bit of hunting out)! The Pantanal is unmissable for any wildlife lover and a visit here ties in nicely with its neighbour and the next thing you’re missing…

2. Jesuit Missions 

Jesuit Missions Bolivia

2. Jesuit Missions, Bolivia

The Andes are full of interesting Inca stuff, but the east has a different history. Argentina and Paraguay have their Jesuit Missions but being brutally honest, they’re little more than piles of rubble compared to Bolivia. The best Missions by far, are in the east Bolivian lowlands between Santa Cruz and the Brazil border. The extraordinary art, craftsmanship and restoration work on this network of beautiful Jesuit communities must be seen to be believed. An unforgettable part of South American overlanding.

3. Rocket launches

arianne rocket launch kourou

3. Arianne Rocket launch, French Guiana

Did you know that from the space station in Kourou, French Guiana you can watch a real, live rocket launch? And that they launch normally twice, sometimes three times per month?

It’s one of the most spectacular sights on the planet and one of the highlights of our whole South America trip. And it’s FREE!

4. The best beaches

Yes, there’s the odd little gem of a beach on the Caribbean coast of Colombia or in northern Ecuador, but it’s an indisputable fact that by far the best beaches of South America are on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Some of the best surfing and kite-surfing in the world too. Missing the fine Brazilian beaches is your loss 😊

Trindade Beach Brazil

4. Best Beaches, Brazil

5. Giant Leather-back turtles

Oh but we already saw turtles in Belize/Galapagos/Timbuktu/ Wherever… “. But wait. The giant leatherbacks of French Guiana and Suriname are no ordinary turtles. These are monster, giant leatherback turtles. They are huge. Up to 2.2m (7ft) long and weighing up to a whopping 700kg (1,500lbs). Forget all your previous turtle experiences, watching these prehistoric monsters nest on the beach is an utterly unique and extraordinary experience.

6. Río de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

6. View from Sugarloaf over Rio, Brazil

If you think you can ‘do’ South America without sipping a Caipirinha on Copacabana beach, or taking in the Sugar Loaf view, or the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue…. Think again! 😊

Rio is just the super-coolest place. Stick to the tourist areas and soak-up what Brazil is all about!

7. European Caribbean Culture in The Guyanas

Think you can speak English? Well try again in the former British colony of Guyana. Let’s just say they have their own way with ‘our’ words and the place has a rather Jamaican feel maan 😊  In Suriname the primary language is Dutch; you get the best creole cuisine on the continent there. And French Guiana… did you know that it’s in the European Union? They speak only French, spend the Euro and have the best croissants outside Paris. All this with a Caribbean twist. The Guyanas are an amazing mix of cultures that few vehicle-based overlanders get to see. A bit of effort to get up that way, but you’re worth it!

So... Suriname Paramaribo

7. European Caribbean Culture, Suriname

8. Lencois Maranhenses

Lencois Maranhenses GoPro

8. Lencois Maranhenses, Brazil

Wow! Just Wow! The extraordinary dunes and fresh-water lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses are remote, but certainly up there as one of our ultra-mega-highlights of the whole continent. Equal in natural ‘wow-factor’ to the awesome Salar de Uyuni or Torres del Paine, but much, much less visited… simply because it just happens not to be on the Pan-Am super-highway.

9. Paraguayan Chaco

Chaco Paraguay

9. Chaco scenery, Paraguay

South America’s vast and starkly beautiful flatland. It runs across eastern Bolivia, northern Argentina, into Brazil and most of Paraguay. Roads can be tough going and the fierce heat in summer is relentless (yeah… we found that out by accident! ☹) but it’s a fascinating side of South America. The views are ‘other-wordly’ and it’s off the beaten track – a unique insight into one of South America’s little visited sides.

10. Real Amazon Adventure 

Nice day for a jungle drive Guyana

10. Real Amazon Adventure

Well yes… you can of course get a taste of the Amazon jungle in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru within just a few hours’ drive or a short flight from the PanAm, and that is indeed a great experience. But only by crossing Brazil do you get a true feel for the vastness of this dense wilderness, the people who live there and the issues the region faces. If you like dirt-roading, you can drive over 800km through the jungle between Manaus and Porto Velho. If you don’t like dirt-roading… put your vehicle on an Amazon barge and take it all in from the water. Either way, it’s a real Amazon adventure.

The toughest thing writing this was limiting the list to just ten things so I’m going to cheat and add in a few more. We left out viewing the spectacular Iguassu Falls, puzzling over the ancient petroglyphs of Aishalton, wandering the Portugese colonial Ouro Preto, touring the impressive Itaipu Dam, mulling-over the fascinating beef-history of Uruguay at Fray Bentos, swimming with Amazon pink river dolphins, investigating the ‘Ruta del Che’, ‘losing a leg’ in the fervedouros of Parque Jalapão, visiting the Royal Palace of Petropolis, staying in the jungle with African Maroon tribes, wondering at the striking architecture of Brasilia, catching the capoeira ‘street fights’ in Salvador, checking out the bold pink opera house of Manaus, snorkelling in aquamarine rivers with fresh-water tropical fish in Bonito. We really only skimmed the surface; I’m sure you’d find more.

south america route planning

Click on the map to link to South America Route Planning map

Now here’s a final route-planning thought to end on… if you limit your trip to the PanAm corridor you miss over half of the continent. Look at a map. The PanAm corridor misses 7 of the continent’s 13 countries. It’s hard to say that you are ‘doing’ South America whilst setting foot in less than half of the countries. More importantly, the PanAm doesn’t even touch the largest, most diverse and most fabulously colourful country on the continent. OK… admittedly it’s quite a commitment and a slog to make it all the way up to the Guyanas. But we beg you to pleeeeease at least consider the epic Brazil… it deserves at least a teeny smidgeon of your adventure time. It’s a South America utterly at odds with the PanAm corridor. Don’t take our word for it… check it out for yourself 😊

Links to the country blog pages:  Brazil  Paraguay  French Guiana  Suriname  Guyana

South America Route Planning

Mud-roading Cuthbert – The Videos

A belated Happy New Year for 2018!  Over the Christmas chill-out, Marcus ‘Spielberg‘ Tuck has put together some more video stuff from our 2017 moochings around South America in Cuthbert. Four short videos: hiking through Colombia’s towering wax-palms, a super-moon setting at dawn, and the mega-adventure double-feature-set: mud-roads through the Amazon jungle of Guyana and Brazil on the infamous BR-319.

First ‘proper’ blog of 2018 coming soon, but in the meantime… get your popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show 🙂

Cuthbert across the Amazon – July 2017. Brazil’s infamous BR-319 mud road: over 850km from Manaus to Porto Velho. At the end of the wet season, a bit of winching and towing was required (click here for the blog story)

Cuthbert across Guyana – July 2017. A long, slow drive dodging pot-holes and some rather ‘iffy’ sections through the jungle and southern plains of Guyana (click here for the blog story)

Cocora Valley – December 2017. A hike through the stunning Cocora Valley of towering wax-palms, near Salento, Colombia.

Super-moon set at Sunrise – December 2017. Great drone footage of a super-moon setting at dawn in Aguadas, Colombia.

South America Overlanding Video Fest!!

Central Colombia is as good a place as any to take a bit of time out and rustle up a few much-overdue videos of our South America travels. We love it here and are more than happy to stay-put near Medellin for a while, but if we’re honest… our sojourn is actually less our choice and more enforced by Iveco. Remember way back, weeks ago, we placed an order for spare parts with Iveco (Navitrans, in Colombia) which were going to arrive second week of November? Well… surprise, surprise, they didn’t arrive on time and we had a week of sitting around waiting. Anyway… here for your delectation and delight, are the results of our South America Overlanding Videos Fest week:

Lencois Maranhenses – March 2017. The deep-water drive to the stunning Lencois Maranhenses in north-east Brazil (click here for the blog)

Salar de Uyuni and the Laguna Route – July 2016. Driving across the gob-smackingly beautiful scenery of the worlds biggest salt-pan on the Bolivian altiplano (click here for the blog)

Climbing to the Skylodge – Sept 2016. A rock-climb and zip-lining adventure to stay overnight in a bubble hanging at 400m off the side of a cliff in Peru’s Sacred Valley (click here for the blog)

Click here to see more of our South America overlanding videos

Click here to see our South America Blog page

Amazon-ing Overlanding

The Amazon: awesome, exciting, wildlife, adventure, river eco-zone? Or hot, humid, over-bearing, mud-ridden, insect-infested swamp? The Amazon jungle has been all of these things to us (and more) over the last few months. With highs and lows. Most recently we cut diagonally across the Amazon overland driving the BR-319 mud road. As we now leave Brazil and the Amazon for the last time on this trip, heading west again into the Peruvian Andes, we’ve taken a quick scan back over this sometimes challenging but rewarding overlanding route.Amazon overland Continue reading

Driving the BR-319 (with free pants and a soup tin)

The BR-319 is one of Brazil’s most notorious routes, a mud-road cutting diagonally across the centre of the Amazon rainforest. After our dolphin swim and tourist-time in the city of Manaus, it’s time for a bit of ‘proper’ overlanding. On one of the most remote tracks in South America, we get some free pants and find a novel use for a Campbell’s soup tin!
BR-319 Continue reading

Manaus and the Venezuela Option

We’re back in Brazil. Friendliest country in South America, maybe even on the planet! French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana have been a fascinating, enjoyable de-tour and one that relatively few travellers make when overlanding South America. But Brazil puts them all in the shade when it comes to enthusiastic welcomes. Even when we can’t understand a word they say, Brazilians say it with a big smile and a thumbs-up! Now we’re in far north Brazil wondering what to do next…

Manaus Opera Houses

Manaus Opera House – challenging those fancy Europeans!

Continue reading

Amazon Delta

You can’t just drive across the Amazon Delta you know… you’d get a bit wet. Cuthbert earned his ‘Water-fording Proficiency’ badge reaching the Lençóis Maranhenses but this time we need to put him on a barge which zig-zags over 38 hours between the mangroves and islands, crossing the Amazon Delta. Compared to the much travelled western side of the continent, this north-eastern route of South America is, even in the dry season, relatively little trodden by the ‘overlanding community’. In the currently prevailing rainy season, even fewer travellers venture up here. Hmmm… maybe there’s a good reason for that!! crossing the amazon delta Continue reading