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2012 Backpack ME Awards

Here are some of the things that made us happy during 2012.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to make our travels more pleasant and to YOU for sharing this adventure with us!
 
 

Best Top-notch Hotel

 

1. NOI Vitacura, Santiago de Chile (Chile)

Marvelous bathroom at NOI Vitacura Hotel, Santiago de Chile

Marvelous bathroom at NOI Vitacura Hotel, Santiago de Chile

 

2. Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge, Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

A&Z at the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge, Galapagos Islands

A&Z at the Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge, Galapagos Islands

 

3. Grand Hyatt, Sao Paulo (Brazil)

Outdoor pool at Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo, Brazil

Outdoor pool at Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo, Brazil

What makes a great hotel? For us, it’s a combination of comfortable rooms, excellent facilities, friendly staff and delicious food. All of the above properties, like 5 star hotels should, have no problem complying with that. But then there is the X factor, that little something that WOWs you, the unique details that make you want to go back.

In the case of NOI Vitacura was one of the most comfortable rooms we’ve ever stayed at plus a bathtub with an hydromassage tub placed by an extremely large window overlooking the city – you’d enter NOI Vitacura’s bathroom at night and feel you just landed in New York City!

Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge in Puerto Ayora (Galapagos Islands) is one of those hotels that you’d see in a movie and wonder if they made the place up for the sake of the plot or it could really exist. Here we enjoyed the most wonderful view we could have ever asked for from a room plus breakfast in the company of chilled out sea lions and iguanas. And non of this was staged, it was just the natural magic of Galapagos…

Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo is everything a 5 star urban hotel could be. Apart from a magnificent room and bathroom, the service provided makes you feel like a star! We loved in indoor heated swimming pool and, above all, the scrumptious room service food that was always served by the most courteous staff.
 
 

Best Hostel / B&B / Guesthouse

 

1. Palafito Cucao, Chiloe Island (Chile)

Palafito Cucao, Chile

Palafito Cucao, Chile

 

2. La Casa Verde, Banos (Ecuador)

View from La Casa Verde, Banos - Ecuador

View from La Casa Verde, Banos – Ecuador

 

3. Chicago Getaway Hostel (USA)

Ashray enjoying the free printing at Chicago Getaway Hostel, USA

Ashray enjoying the free printing at Chicago Getaway Hostel, USA

Palafito Cucao is supposedly a hostel but we think it’s more of a lodge. Not being a luxurious place as such, it is extremely beautiful and it’s surroundings are indeed a luxury we were glad we got to enjoy! This place is, 5 star hotels aside, on our very top of places we felt in love with and would like to go back one day!

La Casa Verde in Ecuador and Getaway Hostel in Chicago, that couldn’t be any more different amongst them, are great places to stay at too! La Casa Verde has the rural charm of Banos but offering comfy pretty rooms and great food. In Chicago, Getaway Hostel is a place that works as hostels should, but unfortunately not always do: good facilities, tons of extras (games, group activities, free internet and printing, ATM, etc), included hearty breakfast and a dynamic vibe of young travelers to hang out with.
 
 

Yummiest Breakfast

 

1. Radisson Decapolis Miraflores in Lima (Peru)

Beautiful fruits during desayuno at Radisson Decapolis in Lima, Peru

Beautiful fruits during desayuno at Radisson Decapolis in Lima, Peru

 

2. Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo, (Brazil)

Breakfast, aka Cafe da Manha, at Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Breakfast, aka Cafe da Manha, at Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo, Brazil

 

3. NOI Vitacura in Santiago (Chile)

Breakfast buffet at NOI Vitacura hotel in Santiago de Chile

Breakfast buffet at NOI Vitacura hotel in Santiago de Chile

If there is something to look forward to every time we stay at a 5 star hotel, that is a breakfast buffet to die for. Radisson Decapolis in Lima is far from being the most expensive place we spent the night at in South America, yet it was the one that left our jaws wide open first thing in the morning. Their breakfast includes a wide variety of the usual items found on a continental breakfast (special kudos for the quality and diversity of fresh fruits!) plus a menu of cooked items made to order. French toast, pancakes, eggs and meats are presented along side popular Peruvian and South American breakfast favorites. All tastes and diets are covered!

Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo and NOI Vitacura were also super efficient in making us happy first thing in the morning!
 
 

Greatest Hospitality

 

1. Rex at Weskar Lodge, Puerto Natales (Chile)

Homey Weskar Lodge in Puerto Natales, Southern Chile

Homey Weskar Lodge in Puerto Natales, Southern Chile

 

2. Sabrina & John in Queens – Airbnb rental in USA

These breakfast and note are examples of how nice Sabrina & John are!

This breakfast and note are examples of how nice Sabrina & John are!

 

3. Pancho at Palafito Cucao, Chiloe (Chile)

Pancho being Pancho at Palafito Cucao, Chile

Pancho being Pancho at Palafito Cucao, Chile

When you are on the road you have no family or constant friends around. That is why it feels even better when you encounter extremely friendly hotel staff, that welcome you as if coming home of old friends.

In Chile, we were lucky to feel extremely comfortable at Weskar Lodge Puerto Natales. To add to the magnificent views in this place, we had the pleasure to meet Rex, an Indian man who served us dinner every time, politely suggested dinning options, talked about the place and life in general and make our stay even more pleasant.

In New York City, after we were scared away by the hotel prices, we ended up booking a flat through Airbnb – best decision EVER! We were hosted by New-yorkers Sabrina and John, who are an extremely welcoming couple and made our stay perfect. Not only their flat is spacious and pleasant  they made sure to stock the fridge for us, give us recommendations of things to do and places to go and, to top up the NYC experience, welcomed us to share travel experiences over a bottle of wine in front of the fire on a cool night.

Pancho in Palafito Cucao was as chilled out as someone can get. He was funny, played guitar around the lodge and even presented us with warm red wine with orange and cinnamon one night by the fireplace – great hospitality!
 
 

Most Pleasant Beach

 

1. Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya (Mexico)

End of day at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

End of day at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

2. Anakena, Easter Island (Chile)

Palm trees at paradise like Anakena Beach in Easter Island, Chile

Palm trees at paradise like Anakena Beach in Easter Island, Chile

 

3. Playa Samara (Costa Rica)

Bee enjoying the good life at Playa Samara, Costa Rica

Bee enjoying the good life at Playa Samara, Costa Rica

What makes a beach “the best”? This can be a rather subjective thing, but for us, a great beach consists of beautiful clean surroundings, soft sand to lay yourself on and, of course, clear inviting waters at moderate temperatures. Anakena in Easter Island was as if out of movie set: transparent waters, white sands, coconut palm trees and Moai status contributing majorly to the WOW factor. The waters in Samara, Costa Rica, were of a more brownish tone, yet the sand was extensive, the greenery beyond the sand of a luscious tone and the atmosphere was young and fresh. But no beach won the love of our bodies in swimming suit as the ones found in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We could have lounged around in there, in and outside the water, for countless days. Words won’t do justice to this place, so we’ll let images do the trick!
 
 

Coolest Tour Company

 

Grado 10 in San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)

Grado 10 tour bus in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Grado 10 tour bus in the Atacama Desert, Chile

In all of these years of traveling separately and together, we have never come across a tour company as cool as Grado 10. Hands down, one of the most dynamic, fun and entertaining travel companies we had the pleasure to go around with. See all the cool things we did together!
 
 

Deal of the year!

 
Hotel Hacienda de Castilla in Cancun (Mexico)

Bee playing with Natalie Portman in Hacienda de Castilla, Cancun

Bee playing with Natalie Portman in Hacienda de Castilla, Cancun

USD 20 got us a spacious room with a great private bathroom in Cancun, the city that is supposedly too pricey! This was the first week of our travels in Latin America and we learnt that, even in expensive places, there always tends to be an alternative. Our room at Hacienda de Castilla had 2 double beds, towels folded in funny shapes and a ton of amenities really unusual for a budget place. Outside, there was even a pool and the friendly receptionist looked like an older version of Many from Modern Family. Those were great times!

 
 

Best Countries to Eat at:

 

Mexico

Delicious tacos in Mexico City

Delicious tacos in Mexico City

 

Peru

A sample of Peruvian food in Lima

A sample of Peruvian food in Lima

Food – have I ever mentioned how much we love eating around the world?! It’s easy to miss traveling when you get hungry in one given place!
Mexico is number 1 on our top of the pops when it comes to food. Not only Mexican cuisine is distinct, the flavors are absolutely unique, Mexicans also love to eat – that is why you’ll never starve in Mexico. Between restaurants and street food stalls selling snacks, tacos and juices there is always something to munch on in otherwise also amazing Mexico!

Peru is another example of country that has a great cuisine: being this the case, it’s easy to associate a rich cuisine with countries or regions with rich cultural tradition and ancient history. In Peru, the cuisines from the coast, highlands (Andes) and Amazon are very different amongst them and add to the variety of flavors and textures available.
 
 

The Meal Deal Honorary Mentions

 

Quesadillas at Comedor de Lupita, Lagos de Montebello (Mexico)

This is not Lupita's stall, but it looked very similar

This is not Lupita's stall, but it looked very similar

 

Tuna Ponzu at Aventura Lodge, Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

Mouthwatering tuna ponzu in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Mouthwatering tuna ponzu in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

In Lagos de Montebello we had the most amazing quesadillas with chorizo (Spanish paprika spiced sausage) and zucchini flower. Comedor de Lupita, being a simple shack by the lake, has to be one of the most rustic places we’ve ever ate at. Yet, when I’m hungry, I often have the image of the owner and cook, Lupita, appearing in my mind. Maybe it was the view, or the fact that we were extremely hungry, but those quesadillas will be in my heart for a very, very long time!…

We won’t ever get tired of raving about this hotel in Galapagos Islands – we indeed spent an incredible time over there! Not only we ate with the company of sea lions, we savored the freshest and tastiest food! Mega kudos go out to the mostly raw fresh tuna ponzu, with a crust of black and white sesame seeds and simmered in soy sauce. My mouth salivates as I write.

 

 

This was a pretty good year!

2012: you have treated us well, and we can’t really complain! Still, there were a few experiences that made the good parts stand out even more, even if for the sake of contrast if nothing else.

Also, check out the 2012 Piggy Awards, with a listing of all the disgusting places we stayed at, yucky food we ate and asshole people we had to deal with! All with great fun though!


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