As we think back to all the places we visited in the Americas it becomes difficult to make a definitive list of favorites or even what criteria makes a favorite in the first place. Most spots that made the list are all about location and natural wonder but some places were made great by the atmosphere and people we met. Nearly everyday of this trip has been list-worthy in one way or another and as we go through our photos the top ten places list keeps morphing and crying out for inclusion of all the magical places, not just a paltry ten. For example, we visited many ancient ruins, especially in Mexico and Peru. These places were spell-binding and historically significant yet they aren’t on the list. Perhaps the true criteria for the top ten list should be: are we drawn to a place to such a degree that we would go out of our way in order to return one day? Below are some places we will do just that.
Listed by chronological order visited, not by favorites.
US: Nevada hot springs
A simple GPS coordinate brought us to a remote area in the middle of a wide desert valley of scrub brush and sand. Hidden amongst the small hills were half-a-dozen thermal hot springs. These pools are not developed and are well off the tourist route. Over time other travelers have added some small improvements such as building stone steps or laying carpet remnants next to the water but for the most part these pools are rustic and unrefined. We camped next to a pool and had the entire area to ourselves. After sunset we relaxed in the hot water looking at the stars and listening to the lonely sounds of the desert– it was magnificent. The pools are spread out over a few acres and are of different temperatures and quality so some exploring is in order before choosing a campsite. The provided GPS coordinate is for our favorite: 39.32701, -116.85587
US: Grand Canyon North Rim free campsite
We were tipped off about this remote forest area along the north rim of the Grand Canyon after chatting up a park ranger and asking about free camping in the region. The North Rim takes second fiddle to the other side of the canyon but still has spectacular views, more evergreen forest, and far fewer people than the commercialized and crowded South Rim. This spot was our favorite type of campsite: great view, lots of trees, no one else around, and free. The GPS coordinates are: 36.43815, -112.07954
Mexico: Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico is actually made up of a series of interconnected canyons rivaling the Grand Canyon in the United States in scale and grandeur. Copper Canyon is the term given to the whole canyon region and we explored two of the canyons: Urique and Batopilas.
The ride into Urique Canyon was a challenging dirt track that descended quickly. It was one of the steepest descents we have ever made on the motorcycles. The narrow dirt road was comprised of tight switchbacks, dust, and fatal cliffs edging the road. The late-afternoon light in this amazing geological wonder created a dreamscape straight out of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. Once we finally arrived at the bottom of the canyon we camped for a week and relished in the bizarre tropical microclimate only found deep inside these canyons. See the video of the ride into Urique: Ride into Urique.
The ride into Batopilas Canyon was not nearly as hair-raising as Urique but still adventurous enough to make it seem like a milestone when we finally ended up in the cute little town of Batopilas with its quiet cobblestone streets and multi-colored buildings. The road into Batopilas is likely to be fully paved by the time of this writing but the scenery is worth the trip even it the road is now “easy” by overland motorcyclist standards. Check out the video:Leaving Batopilas.
Mexico: Overlander Oasis, El Tule, Oaxaca
El Tule is a sleepy little town in the suburbs of Oaxaca. On its own, El Tule could be easily overlooked but, along with the hospitality of expat Canadians, Calvin and Leanne, El Tule and Overlander Oasis became one of the highlights of Mexico for us.
Overlander Oasis is a tiny private campground that Calvin and Leanne built especially for overlanders on a quiet residential lot. We initially planned on a couple of nights here but liked it so much we lingered for a week. Calvin and Leanne made us feel like family and it is an easy place to just be. The village of El Tule has some very tasty parrilla restaurants and is a great place to spend a couple of days exploring or using as a home base for visiting the nearby mountains and indigenous villages or day tripping into Oaxaca City. The GPS coordinates are 17.04473, -96.64008, and website www.overlanderoasis.com
A beach town that is just right, that is to say, tiny and quiet. We camped for one night and then later moved into a thatch hut built on stilts over the beach with high-tide coming right up to our steps. The hammock on our bungalow porch was just the spot to watch the world go by. Along Zipolite’s beach there are locals walking down the sand selling tasty treats: pastries in the morning, pizza in the afternoon, fresh coconuts and snacks all day. With a pocketful of change you never need to leave your beach blanket. Nudity is legal at Zipolite (one of two beaches in Mexico with this status) so the views can be interesting at times. But not to worry, we kept our swimsuits on as did the majority of people and nudity is strictly an optional affair.
Driving into Belize from any other country is a little jarring to the senses. Immediately you leave Spanish speaking Latin America and find yourself in the sphere of rum, reggae, and Caribbean English. Sartagena is not on the way to anywhere and few people make their way out to this remote village. This isolation creates a laidback and authentic atmosphere that is not too tainted by tourism. It’s location on the Caribbean shore surrounded by jungle forest and wildlife preserves make the cozy feeling of isolation all the more complete. Hard to say why we liked it so much here, only that we did.
The town is a ten-block by ten-block jewel nestled into a remote valley. The village is surrounded on all sides by lush mountains that are dotted with coffee plantations. The central plaza is one of the liveliest we have seen in all of South America with dozens of brightly colored tables throughout where you can sit and enjoy a drink and a snack while you, and everyone else, watches the world go by.
Ecuador: Amazon tour
The Amazon Rain Forest is the stuff of childhood legend and our trip to South America would not have been complete without a trip into this primordial Eden. After an all-night bus trip east from Quito we boarded a motorized canoe just after dawn and journeyed deep into the forest using creeks and flooded forest as a liquid trail. Our lodge was a series of thatch huts in the forest; the compound was small and primitive but comfortable and clean. We spent the next four days with a naturalist and guide exploring the surrounding forest, river, and visiting indigenous people who make this part of the Amazon Basin their home. See additional article including information on the tour company we used (http://www.carpedm.ca).
A short video tells the story: Leaving the motorcycles behind for a trip deep into the Amazon
Argentina: Rio Traful free camp, Lakes District, Patagonia
The lakes region of Argentina is a spectacular example of Patagonia at its finest with snow-capped peaks towering over countless lakes and wild evergreen forests. This is not an official campsite but is really just a sandy beach at the end of an unmarked dirt track. It is a uniquely gorgeous spot, secluded and private, at the heart of Patagonia in all its glory. GPS coordinates: -40.612485, -71.565944.
Chile: Camping Las Torres Del Simpson, Rio Simpson, Carretera Austral
A man named Nacho operates this small campground on his family farm where he also raises sheep and grows produce for the local market. From the moment we arrived we knew we were being included into someone’s home and Nacho made sure we were comfortable, informed, and knew our way around. Gaucho culture is very important to Nacho so to begin our education on local history he gave us a mate etiquette lesson and showed us the proper way to take this cherished hot beverage. During our stay we also learned about organic farming and all about rural life in Chilean Patagonia. Nearby Rio Simpson is a world-class trout fishery and it is only steps away from Nacho’s place. Mike found the good fishing spots a kilometer downstream and caught many large Brown Trout. GPS coordinates are: -45.42425, -72.44091.