Since we have been back from our Latin American Adventure (it seems like a lifetime ago!), people have asked us what was our favorite thing. Unfortunately, it is not a question that we can answer easily as the whole traveling experience was amazing, even when it wasn’t. It was our first time doing any of this, so our traveling adventure was a whole new learning curve for us.
I can honestly say that what we enjoyed most about traveling was when we spent time outdoors and meeting other people. Fortunately, we had been very lucky with the weather, even when we had snow! Because we spent the most time traveling around Argentina, about two months in total, (and 6 weeks before we went to Chile), it was probably our favorite country of the five we visited. The landscape is so varied, and it is also where we saw the most wildlife. Below are what we feel are the highlights of our stay in Argentina. As Bob is not a big fan of cities I haven’t included them here although I have written about them elsewhere.
Going up to Iguazu Falls from Buenos Aires was our first experience traveling by long distance bus, and it was very comfortable. It was our hotel and transport for about 18 hours. Iguazu Falls is amazing! We spent two days visiting the park. There are many trails to walk along on. We saw many different butterflies, lizards, guinea pigs, coati and monkeys. The Argentine side is where you get really up close and personal with the falls. We didn’t go to the Brazilian side as I would have had to pay a hefty visa to go into Brazil because I still have an American passport, but that is where you can get the full view of the falls. The climate is quite tropical and was very warm for springtime, which was why we decided to come here first.
Puerto Madryn is a pleasant enough seaside town halfway down the coast from Buenos Aires in Patagonia, but the main attraction is going to the Peninsula Valdes from here to see the penguins, sea lions, and if you are lucky, whales. The Welsh settled this area in the 1800’s and you can do day trips to Trelew from here and have yourself an afternoon tea. There are also trips to Tombo from here where you can get up close and personal with the penguins. These are Magellanic Penguins that make nests in the ground and when we went to see them there were eggs in the nests.
The bus journey from Puerto Madryn to Ushuaia seemed never-ending. This leg of Patagonia is so flat that the sunset can last for nearly an hour. There was barely a bend in the road. It is hard to imagine how sheep can survive in this area as most of the land is like a desert. It was very exciting to finally see a hill in the distance and then have them turn into mountains. Before getting to Ushuaia, we had to go through border control through Chile, and cross the Magellan Straight on a ferry back into Argentina again. Ushuaia is considered to be the most southerly town in the world and is also known as Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire. It is also called the end of the world. Ushuaia is a town that was built by prisoners. In fact, it housed the southernmost prison on the planet which is now a museum. The town/city is well geared up for trekkers and climbers. There are a few really good restaurants, but most of the entertainment seems to be outdoors, exploring the landscape. While we were here, we had some rain, sun, and snow! Most of the time, the weather was pleasant. It was spring!
To visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, one usually gets an excursion from El Calafate which is the main form of tourism in this area. Words cannot describe how magnificent this glacier is and is something that should not be missed. Bob and I did a mini-trek on the glacier and the experience was incredible. You can see how small we are compared to the ice!
If we knew how amazingly beautiful El Chaltén was going to be, we would have booked a few extra days. It was also here that Bob learned the difference between a hostal and a hostel. A hostal is basically a small hotel where you cannot cook your own food, so we gave ours to some young people we had met in Ushuaia (they were in a hostel). The first day of trekking to see Mount Fitz Roy and the glacier nearly killed us, but it was so worth it.
Bariloche is like the Lake District in the UK meeting the Alps and was so beautiful that we stayed here for 10 days. Bob was hoping to get in some fishing, but it was still too early in the season so we did a lot of walking instead. We stayed in a small hotel on Gutiérrez Lake where we had to walk 2k each day to take the bus. It was springtime which meant the weather was warm and pleasant, if not windy, and cooler in the evening. There are many pine trees, mainly Douglas Fir, that have been transplanted here, along with Lupins that grow like weeds and many varieties of Broom. Although the climate is quite dry, the place is very green. In the winter, skiing is a big attraction. We only went into the town a couple of times. There are many chocolate shops, but there are also some good restaurants and bars. The architecture is very much in the Swiss style but has other influences that can be seen pretty much anywhere in the country side of Europe, being made mainly of natural materials such as stone and wood.
Mendoza is one of the largest wine growing areas in Argentina. It is amazing considering the vines grow in a desert climate at high altitude. However, this is what makes the wine so consistently good in Argentina. The watering of the plants is controlled by man and not by nature, so there is no need to worry about having too wet weather and having a bad crop. The city of Mendoza is fairly understated, with low rise buildings (the town was raised by an earthquake and re-built in the 1840’s), many sycamore trees to provide cooling shade, and 3 foot deep irrigation channels between the road and pavements that you need to be careful that you don’t fall into. There are many excursions that one can do from Mendoza. We we went on four: We did the High Andes Tour where you could see the top of Mt. Aconcagua, we went on a wine and olive oil tasting tour, we went horseback riding in the desert, and we went white water rafting! Mendoza is where we went into Chile from (and where we had a bag stolen at the bus station with the camera and photos of the horseback riding) and so did the High Andes Tour twice, but without the stops!
We hired a car for the first time and took a little road trip out of Salta to Cachi and Cafayate. The landscape was amazing and constantly changed. We went from green countryside to colorful desert mountains. Bob was in his element driving a 4×4. We really didn’t do any hiking as we only had the car for a few days. But we would certainly come back to this area to do more exploring. It was quite hot in the daytime and for the time of year that we were here. Might be best to come back in Spring rather than at the end of summer. We learned more about wine growing as Cafayate is another high altitude wine growing region. Although not as large a wine region as Mendoza, the area grows vines at some of the highest in the world, over 3000 meters and produces some spectacular wines, such as torrontés which is characteristic to the area. The fresh fruit is just as delicious as the wine.
We could quite easily come back to any of these places as each one is so different and beautiful. Although we are not great big fans of cities, we never had any trouble or felt unsafe in them. If we had a problem at the bus station in Mendoza, that was partly our fault for not paying enough attention and getting side-tracked. It certainly didn’t happen again. There are always going to be opportunists having a go at the tourists and one can usually spot them if you keep your eyes open. However, there are so many lovely people out there one would miss an opportunity if you constantly thought you would have to be on your guard. What made our journey around Argentina so great was the people we came across. Most people are friendly and are willing to help if you need it and we want to thank all of those who helped make our trip better for being in contact with them, and that goes out to our fellow travelers we met along the way too!