Taisa is an environmental planner and yoga instructor from New Jersey and Ernesto is a UX/graphic designer and photographer from Merida, Venezuela. We called Seattle, Washington, home for 14 years and have recently come back after a four year road trip from the USA to South America. We explored all 23 contiguous countries in the Americas.
It so happens that we met at a sports bar almost 20 years ago in the Venezuelan Andes in Ernesto’s home town of Merida. All the best couples meet in a bar, right?
Ernesto was saving up to go to school in the States and was learning English at the time. I (Taisa) was studying Spanish there and was living with a host family. We continued to follow each other from continent to continent and from coast to coast.
Ever since we were both little, seeing the world was our dream. Ernesto always made friends with the exchange students and was enamored with his international stamp collection. And I prioritized my passion by getting a degree in geography which further fueled my desire to travel.
Inspiration for our USA to South America Road Trip
I (Ernesto) was inspired to take this journey about 10 years ago when a cousin mentioned he wanted to travel around South America by bicycle. I thought it would be amazing to join him but it wasn’t something I could do at the time. I had graduated from college, had student loans to pay and had just gotten a job. Nevertheless, the seed was planted. Oh, and my determined cousin did complete that bicycle trip!
Three years later, one day while talking to my co-worker friend Leti, from Chile, I loosely mentioned that I’d like to tour the Americas but that I didn’t really have a plan for it yet. Her reply was the trigger that got me to seriously start planning our trip.
Leti and her family (mom, dad and two siblings) had travelled the PanAm Highway from Seattle to Chile in the 80’s in a Volkswagen Beetle when she was a kid – WHAT?!!! I had a hard time believing it at first but as she was telling me about her memories of the trip, I realized that that was exactly what I wanted to do.
It took years of talking to my friends and family about this dream USA to South America road trip. It also took some time to convince Taisa to get on board and then about three years of actual saving and outfitting our truck. During that time, we were lucky to meet new friends and overlanders who gave us tons of helpful advice and encouraged us to take the plunge.
USA to South America Road Trip: Seattle to Ushuaia
We began our overland adventure in Seattle and drove to the southernmost tip of South America, exploring all 23 contiguous countries along the way. We visited over 100 national parks and enjoyed spotting animals, scoping out the best beaches, secret waterfalls, authentic street food and the most scenic hikes.
The memories that are etched into our hearts are the interactions with the locals and fellow travelers. We made so many special friendships along the way. If you are interested in seeing our exact route you can check it out on our website at overlandtheamericas.com/realtimeroute/ – Click on the “view all tracks” button in the upper right hand corner of the page.
Originally, we planned to be on the road for a year and half and somehow it turned into a four year trip. Our trusty Toyota 4Runner did great! We didn’t have any major breakdowns and only had to start replacing parts from regular (and not so regular) wear and tear at the 3.5 year mark.
The majority of the time we slept in our rooftop tent in the wild, at parks, campgrounds, parking lots, farms, fire stations, hostels or in friends’ driveways. We had awnings and a mosquito net enclosure that provided us more space in inclement weather and in buggy situations.
Ernesto drove 99% of the time when he wasn’t taking photos and videos with the drone. I (Taisa) like driving but Ernesto LOVES driving and claims that it relaxes him.
Favourite Memories from our 4 Year Overland Adventure
It was complex logistically and it was very hot and humid. I was out of my comfort zone but at the same time, I loved the remoteness, simplicity and ease I felt amongst the indigenous communities.
I (Taisa) observed with admiration and awe so many mountain queens working their land, herding, planting, harvesting, weaving and feeding their communities. Their quiet strength was so nurturing to their countries and to travelers like me.
The mountains were where we both felt most at home and inspired. So some of our best memories are amongst the stunning glaciers in Peru and Patagonia. Although we have countless other experiences that we loved like getting up close to the erupting Volcano Fuego in Guatemala or observing a jaguar in its natural habitat in Brazil’s spectacular Pantanal.
Highlights of Central and South America
We weren’t sure what to expect in Central America in terms of infrastructure, safety and urban sprawl but we loved it and didn’t have any mishaps. The roads were very good, the cultures were diverse and colorful, the beaches beautiful and lush. Each country had a myriad of hiking trails, delicious coffee and deep fried treats.
South America has its own uniqueness with fantastic glaciers, more expansive landscapes and slightly easier border crossings with most of them being free (only a handful of countries require visas). What we loved most about Central and South America was the incredible warmth and generosity of the people. They value and celebrate family and friendship.
How we Like to Road Trip through the USA
The US is a fabulous place to road trip through. There are so many beautiful options for camping at national parks and state parks. Also, many national forests and bureau of land management (BLM) lands are free to camp at. Utah is an overlander’s delight especially if you are into dirt roads, wild desert landscapes, petroglyphs, hiking, biking or climbing.
In the past we used to visit cities, but lately we focus on going to wilderness areas, national forests and national parks. The US is such a big and diverse country with so much to offer in terms of outdoor activities. It has some of the most striking and well preserved landscapes we have ever seen.
If you have a shorter time frame, stick to two or three states in the Southwest or in the Pacific Northwest and you will have plenty to see and do. If you have more time, like 6 months or so, you can make quite a dent and see the most iconic national parks and monuments, excluding Alaska.
We think Alaska deserves its own trip! Let go of covering distances and checking boxes. If you can explore the national parks and monuments in the shoulder seasons to beat the crowds, then do so. Otherwise take a deep breath, plan ahead, pay more and reserve campsites online.
Next Journey on the Horizon
For more information about our USA to South America road trip, route planning, gear, overlanding resources or to get in touch please check out our website and social media accounts!