Date of stay: December 2012
Tour or pre planned: Pre planned
I travelled to Argentina with my wife over Christmas and New Years 2012/13 for our honeymoon. We began planning the trip months in advance, as we soon realised that three weeks just weren’t enough to see everything that the country had to offer. Argentina is actually the 8th largest country in the world and the distances between regions can be vast. We settled on a circuit made up of "Buenos Aires – Puerto Madryn – Lake district – Mendoza – Cordoba – Buenos Aires". This meant missing out on many fantastic locations including Iguazu Falls and Tierra del Fuego that I really wanted to see, but that will have to wait for a return trip!
First up was Buenos Aires. The temperature was hot, but we were determined to make the most of our time and went out pounding the streets to see the sites. We were staying in a neighborhood called Palermo Soho, in a fantastic hotel called Legado Mitico. Palermo is a trendy spot dotted with boutique fashion stores, little cafes and of course some great Argentinian Steak Houses! It is a little way from the city centre, but we still managed to walk it ok. One point to note is that the Lonely Planet map for Buenos Aires which we were following marked some dangerous areas to avoid as tourists, so be careful when you are walking the streets that you know where you are.
We took in as many sites as we could:
La Recoleta Cemetery, which is a maze of tombs of incredible architecture. Although it may sound a bit morbid walking around a cemetery, it does give a great sense of history to Argentina, and some of the famous icons in its history have their graves here. Of course follow the crowds to see the tomb for Eva Perón.
Avenida 9 de Julio, the craziest road I have ever seen and is apparently the widest avenue in the world. It has 9 lanes in each direction, but like most of Argentinian roads, drivers seem to be blind to the road markings and squeeze in at least a couple of extra lanes of traffic!
Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada, the Presidential Offices. The area has a strong history and is where the revolution that led to the independence of Argentina began.
La Boca neighborhood located near the port. This area is famous for its brightly coloured houses, apparently as the result of leftover paint for the ships at the port and for tango artists. It’s pretty touristy, but is still interesting and definitely worth a wander around.
San Telmo antique markets on Sunday morning. The markets are mostly antiques around Plaza Dorrego where I saw guitars made from armadillos, traditional hand woven rugs and guacho knives. Leading out from the square along the streets are more arts and crafts stalls. It’s a busy place with a lively atmosphere.
From Buenos Aires we took the first of five overnight buses that we used to get around Argentina. We used a bus company called AndesMar on recommendation from a friend who lives in Argentina. They were cheap and reliable, although all the bus companies seemed to operate with basically the same buses, but some come with wifi, ours did not. The buses are pretty amazing in that the seats fold down as beds. I was a bit skeptical being 6’3”, but they were really comfortable. We went for semi-cama seating for most trips where the seats lie back at an angle, but splashed out for a couple of trips and went for the suite option where the seats fold completely flat! The buses have tv screens for watching movies and serve food and drink and even sometimes champagne. The food was not great to be honest, but the journeys were so much cheaper than flying, they saved on paying for a night’s accommodation and seem to be how the locals get about the country. All-in-all if you are doing a lot of travelling I would really recommend taking the overnight buses.
Next stop was Peninsula Valdes. This is the bit on the map that sticks out into the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and is surrounded by two large gulfs. It is most famous for its wildlife, however we arrived the day after the last whales were spotted for the season. So we tried to make the most of the location with a fantastic kayak trip where we got up close with sea lions and dolphins. Hire cars were fairly expensive in this area, but we needed one to get about as it was very isolated. We stayed on the peninsula in a small town called Puerto Piramides named after the pyramid-shaped cliffs along the coast. The name of the hotel was del Nomade Eco-Lodge and was a lovely basic hotel promoting responsible tourism. The staff were very helpful, helping us plan trips, made a great breakfast every morning and we really enjoyed the stay. From the hotel we drove for a day trip to the north of the peninsula to Estancia San Lorenzo (http://www.pinguinospuntanorte.com.ar/). Here we had a fantastic meal on the terrace of the main building looking out over the ranch and then headed off in a four wheel drive to visit the colony of around 250,000 penguins. It was amazing walking along in the blistering sun among penguins with young chicks who did not mind us at all and then watching them entering the waves down on the beach. This stretch of coast is also famous for the Orcas that deliberately beach themselves in order to capture unwitting seals, but we were not lucky enough to see this spectacle. While out and about on the peninsula we spotted many other types of wildlife including guanacos, armadillos, wild cats, and even a tarantula wandering across the road.
After a night bus journey across the country, we arrived in the Lake District at a town called Bariloche, which is known as being a mini-Switzerland. We didn’t stay in town, but driving through could see many buildings that resembled alpine chalets. However, there was a bit of a tacky side to it, and not quite as awe-inspiring as the guide book led us to believe. After an initial disappointment with the hotel we had booked, (Hotel Tronador) the service was so bad that we left only an hour after arriving (I would recommend avoiding this place completely), we went onto Estancia Peuma Hue, which was a lovely spot right next to Lake Gutierrez. The staff were absolutely amazing, went out of their way to make our stay perfect, and everyday made sure that we could do all of the activities that we wanted from horse riding, kayaking, great hiking and whitewater rafting trips on the river across into Chile. We went on the white water rafting with a company called Extremo Sur (www.extremosur.com) and went on the Río Manso a la Frontera trip. The guides were fantastic and although we capsized a couple of times they had the situation under control and they were very experienced on the river. At the end we went to a local farmhouse where they cooked up a massive local BBQ called an asado.
It was an all-inclusive stay at Estancia Peuma Hue, so we didn’t have to leave the ranch at all. The food and drink was really good and we timed our stay so that we were there for Christmas. On Christmas Eve they organised a concert with a classical trio playing in their small stone chapel. It really did sum up our stay and although it was quite an expensive stop on our trip, it was our honeymoon after all and well worth it!
After our next overnight bus trip we arrived in Mendoza where we stayed with some friends. The city is a beautiful place with the Andes as a backdrop and vineyards as far as you can see. There are so many different wineries here and the whole city seems to be involved in the industry. We went for a wine tasting tour with Mendoza Wine Camp who offer a wide range of tours. The guide was very knowledgeable and had a great relationship with the all wineries that we visited, in fact in one staff member at the winery ended up directing questions to our guide when they couldn’t answer them. We learned a lot about the winemaking process, sampled a few different local products and then even had our own turn at mixing a bottle of wine. It was a great day and I would highly recommend this company in Mendoza.
One of the days we were there we hired a car with a driver to take us up into the Andes. It was strange going from the heat of Mendoza up to the chill of the mountains, but the trip was absolutely brilliant. As we drove higher and higher there was a real change in the landscape and the peaks and the colours of the terrain were just breathtaking. We saw such amazing views on the trip and once we got talking to the driver he was able to give us some really interesting information on the drive.
Our final stop on the circuit of Argentina before returning to Buenos Aires was just outside Cordoba at Estancia Los Potreros, which is a traditionally run gaucho ranch. The ranch really felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, and each day we went of for horse riding treks across the land and amongst the cattle. The gauchos led the way and kept a real eye out over the land and the animals as they went. I am not a great horse rider but managed to keep up and have a great time cantering along the trails. My limited horse riding ability really shone through on the day where we all tried our hand at polo. This was great fun though and was followed up with gaucho games where we raced the horses around barrels and other obstacles at top speed (that is to say the top speed that I could handle and definitely not the top speed for the horse!) Again, we savoured asados and great food just as we had all across the country.
As we got on our last overnight bus and headed back for to Buenos Aires for our final day in Argentina, we were really sad to be leaving this place. In some ways I am happy that we did not squeeze everything into this trip, as we now have a perfect excuse to head back to Argentina, and I can well and truly say this was the most amazing trip I have ever been on...... so far!
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: N/A - Self planned
Would you recommend your hotel/hostel: Yes – Various as mentioned but avoid Hotel Tronador
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5