IGUAZÚ NATIONAL PARK
Today we say goodbye to Brazil and transfer over to Argentina. We'd read mixed reviews on how easy it was to make the border crossing on your own, so to save faffing and time we booked ourselves onto a tour of the Argentinian side of the falls, As part of the tour, if you decide to stay in Argentina rather than transfer back to Brazil, they help to sort the crossing and passport stamps for you! It did make this part of the day very easy, however other than being a glorified taxi service we're not sure how much more we gained from the tour. Our guide, who was lovely, did come around with us for the day in the park, however was more of a babysitter than an actual guide.
Apart from this the actual park was just as spectacular as the Brazilian side. As mentioned previously, the Argentinian side has 75% of the falls, therefore there were more trails to explore in this park. The first trail we walked was the upper circuit, a 2km walk set on top of the waterfalls edge, which allows a vertical view from the top.
After this circuit, part of the group headed off to do a boat ride which goes up close to the falls. We'd decided against doing this, mainly as it's pretty expensive and neither of us were fussed enough seeing them from a boat, we'd seen them from every other angle possible anyway! This involved a fair bit of waiting around for the rest of the group whilst the guide took them down, but eventually those remaining set off to walk the lower circuit.
Another 2km loop, this walk, as the name would suggest, is at foot of the falls, and allows you to go through the jungle too.
We had our first taste of empanada's for lunch, and had another wait for the boat tour to return. Eventually the group was back together and headed for the ecological jungle train which takes you up to the Devil's throat. The train was exclusively designed for the National Park, it runs on Liquefied Petroleum Gas, which does not pollute the environment and has clean combustion, leaving no waste. This also means the top speed is 12mph, so the 3.7km it travels could probably be walked in a similar time, but it's a fun novelty!
The train drops you off for the final trail in the park, to see the Devil's throat (the same end point of the Brazilian trail - obviously just on the other side of the falls!). By this point the sky was pretty grey, but we set off on the 1.2km trail to the Devil's throat, which quite literally walks over the top of the river, and as soon as we were exposed in the open, it tipped it down. Luckily, we'd learnt from the day before that you get pretty wet next to the falls, so had bought our raincoats with us. However the torrential rain lasted so long even the coats felt wet through by the end.
The views are just as spectacular, however with the rain in addition, it was even mistier than the day before so visibility wasn't great. We still managed to get a picture or two when the wind broke the mist occasionally, however didn't stick around quite as long taking pictures as the day before due to being wet through.
Fun fact - At it's highest there is up to 12,743 liters per second of water flowing over Iguazu falls. Our guide exaggerated a little (a lot) stating it was 45million litres per second, which made us research it as it sounded pretty extreme!
The rain started to ease off a little, by which point our underwear had even managed to get soaked, and we caught the train back to the main entrance, We had to wait a while again for the transfer, but eventually got dropped off to our hostel on the Argentinian side. Having a kitchen to cook in again we made the most of this and bought plenty of veg, which we'd been craving, for dinner.
RAIN DAY & GETTING TO TILCARA
The 17th we spent in Puerto Iguazu, the town closest to the Argentinian side of the park, It's a very odd little town, a bit non-existent and only there to act as a gateway to the National Park. Therefore we weren't too bothered when it absolutely tipped it down all day long. Except a couple of trips to the town to print some documents and get snacks, we stayed in the dry and updated the blog! The main excitement of the day, was when lightning must have struck very close to (or actually struck) the hostel, as there was a huge flash, loud bang, and all the power cut out for a while!
The 18th was spent travelling to Tilcara, which is in the north of the country. From Puerto Iguazu, we caught an internal flight to Salta, and then it was a 4hr bus journey from there...
The flight didn’t go quite as smoothly as we’d hoped, with just over a 2hr delay. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but Puerto Iguazú airport is the smallest airport ever, and potentially the least organised. With other flights also delayed that morning (with no announcement being made so a fair bit of confusion for everyone), when it did come time to board, it was carnage. Imagine the complete opposite of a queue and airport security and that’s what you got. There was one person “checking” the passports and boarding passes for 4 different flights all heading through “security” at the same time! Eventually we found our plane, (luckily the right one as all 4 flights were in the same queue and just let loose on the tarmac to board!) although to be fair it was a pretty decent plane/flight. However the drama didn’t end there. We had booked a bus from Salta, onto our end destination of Tilcara. We’d been sensible and allowed plenty of time to make the transfer (a 20 minute taxi ride) from the airport, where we were due to land at 12.40pm to the bus terminal where the bus left at 3.30pm. If we missed this bus, the next direct one was at 10pm, so really wanted to still get our original bus. With the 2hr flight delay however, timings were very tight! Dan stayed pretty optimistic throughout that we’d just make it, Lisa ever the pessimist wasn’t quite as confident, especially when at 3pm our bags still hadn’t made it off the flight. For the first time ever, Dan won, and Lisa didn’t even mind! We amazingly made it to the bus terminal with 5minutes to spare before boarding the bus, what a relief!
The bus journey was very scenic 4hr drive through the mountains. Tilcara is in the very North of Argentina, by the Bolivia and Chile border, in just under two months time we’ll be back up in a very similar area but in these countries. Being up in this region means that we are also at much higher altitude, with Tilcara sitting at 2,400m. So far so good and we've not felt too much of an effect other than getting a bit more out of breath walking up small hills than we should!
Our hostel is our first dorm room of the trip but actually really nice, and thankfully not bunkbeds.
Our first day in Tilcara we spent exploring the town. The northern region of Argentina still has a lot of pre-Hispanic and even pre-Inca influence and ancestry, with traces of human habitation in the area dating back more than 10,000 years. In Tilcara they have a small preserved and mostly rebuilt fortification to show how the people of the region would live back in pre-Inca times called Pucará de Tilcara.
It takes just over an hour to walk around and generally everyone takes longer admiring the scenery.
The afternoon was spent exploring the town and local market in the main square.
One of the key tourist pulls to this region is the Hornocal Mountain Range, a mountainous chain famous for 14 different colours. There are lots of tours offering to take you, however our hostel said it was possible to do by local bus to the nearest town of Humahuaca, followed by a shared taxi to the viewpoint. Wanting to save some money and really get to experience the area (and trying/failing to converse with the locals in Spanish) we opted for the latter.
The bus was easy to get, if not a little bit run down and stopping constantly for every person waving it down anywhere along the road. Humahuaca is around 40km north of Tilcara, which with the constant stops took just over an hour. We didn’t mind though as we felt we really got to see some local life. We’d been told the best time to see the Hornocal was at 2pm when the sun hit the slopes right. Therefore we had some time to kill so had a wander around the town, getting used to the new higher altitude of 3,012m. Again not too bad just that feeling of being unfit, especially when climbing to the top of a hill to see a huge and very impressive monument to celebrate Argentina’s independence.
When the time was right we headed to the area our hostel had said we could find a taxi and just listened for the shouting of “Hornocal” from the drivers. We had a man approach us asking, and after a very confused conversation we agreed with what we thought he was saying and went with it. A bit confused, we followed him towards another taxi driver where an Argentinian couple were waiting for another pair to fill up the car. So off we went. Again it was a scenic drive along a very windy mountainous road, all uphill as we were heading up to a height of 4350m above sea level. The drive up took around half an hour, but the view from the top looking out over the mountain range was spectacular.
There was a walk you could do to another view point, however as we were a little unsure of how long it would take and having a deadline to make our ride back to the town, we decided against it and just sat admiring the view instead. Everyone who had done this walk were huffing and puffing at the steep climb to return to where we were, clearly the altitude taking it's toll.
On our return to the town, we had some more time to kill before our bus back to Tilcara, so decided to properly check out the markets. Due to still being the beginning of the trip, we'd not allowed ourselves to buy any trinkets yet, however walking around the colourful markets it's hard to resist. Our first little gift to ourselves, was purchasing one of the folklore blankets, rationalising to ourselves that we could use it as a blanket throughout our trip, and for £6 it was a bit of a bargain. After an initial misunderstanding with each other over which shade of green we were purchasing, Lisa won and we went for the brighter green - for two people who love black so much the colourfulness of everything here must be growing on us!
There are so many wonderful handmade clay objects, lots of bowls and pots which if we had the space or were flying straight home we could probably stock up our new house with! But instead, we settled for this little incense holder for 60p! The shop where we bought this from was full of incredible pottery and you could even see the workshop and watch stuff being made.
Back in Tilcara that evening, we stumbled across some street art which Dan thinks explains perfectly how the mountains got their colour!
In the evening we headed to a local restaurant which has a traditional menu and musical entertainment. The music was the highlight of the night, which although we sadly are still not (and probably never will be) that proficient in Spanish, we got the gist that the performer was talking us through the different traditional musical styles, instruments and costumes of the Argentinean regions.
PURMAMARCA AND SALINAS GRANDES
After the success of visiting Humahuaca on our own, we felt confident in doing the same to visit Argentina's answer to the salt flats, Salinas Grandes. The nearest town to reach these from was Purmamarca, a 30 minute bus ride south of Tilcara.
We'd read that the salt flats are best to visit in the morning, so decided we'd explore Purmamarca after visiting Salinas Grandes, so looked straight away for a taxi on arrival. These weren't quite in the area we'd been told, but a quick visit to tourist information quickly pointed us in the right direction. It didn't take long for a pair of Argentinian girls to join the taxi so we only had to wait around 5 minutes before we were on our way.
The drive to Salinas Grande was around an hour away from the town, but the taxi drive made a few stops en route to admire the view!
It was another windy drive, but we got to see lots of llama herds in the mountains. We reached a peak of 4170m on the drive before winding back down to 3500m that the salt flats sit at. It wasn't hard to miss when we were approaching!
When we arrived, first thing we both needed to do, was take a visit to the toilets in a building made of salt!
When your on the salt flats, it is very impressive, all you can see for miles each way is white. Lisa even had a taste, surprisingly extremely salty!
Half the fun of the salt flats is it allows you to make some perspective pictures and everywhere you look people are getting funny shots. We had a bit of a play and practice for when we go and see the much bigger (4 times the size) salt flats in Bolivia.
We had around an hour to see the salt flats, even when you opened your mouth you could taste the salt! So that combined with the height, did make us feel a bit dehydrated! After the drive back (which Dan obviously managed to fall asleep in), we explored the town. Again there were lots of lovely markets, but restrained ourselves this time and didn't buy anything. The town is famed for another multi-coloured mountain, this time only 7 colours. Theres a short trek around the town to get to different viewpoints of the mountain.
When we were cooking dinner that evening, we were talking to another girl in the hostel and it turns out she used to play rugby with Rhian in London, such a small world!
24HR BUS TO MENDOZA
The morning of the 22nd was spent prepping for our first 24hr bus of the trip. We bought lots of snacks and water, and queued up with seemingly the whole town to withdraw some cash. Cash is king in Argentina and often the only way you can pay. To make this more annoying, the maximum you can withdraw at a time from a cash point is £100, and every ATM charges you £8 for the pleasure.
Our bus was at 3pm, and the journey was broken up a little, first with a 4hr bus ride back to Salta (the terminal we'd previously rushed to get to after our delayed flight!). Again luckily we'd left just over a 2hr gap between buses as this bus was almost an hour late, but it was a pleasant journey. At the bus terminal in Salta waiting for our next bus, we decided to grab some dinner and mistakenly ordered 2 huge pizza's, which took so long to arrive we had to head straight to the bus and eat them on there. We'd booked ourselves "Cama" seats, which basically means that the seat back reclines to 180' so you can lie practically flat (other than your feet still sort of dangling down which is weird!). Walking on the bus we the seats were pretty nice and roomy, not too bad we thought, we might get some sleep. We settled ourselves in for the night, shoes off, blanket out.
Within 30 minutes of the bus departing, we pulled into another bus terminal and got unceremoniously ushered off the bus, we all had to change to another bus next to us. Everyone trying to get their bags back and then onto the next one wasn't easy, especially now it was pitch black down the side of the bus. But eventually we got ourselves sorted and bags loaded again (oh and you have to tip someone, albeit only 20p a time, for the pleasure of putting your bag on the bus, and taking it off again).
We walked on to the next bus with a little less optimism over our pending ability to sleep. This one was much older, you could half smell the toilet already and the seats were leather and didn't recline half as far back. Not the best start but at least we were on our way again. Around 1am in the morning, just as Dan had fallen asleep and Lisa was getting into her audiobook, the bus stopped again, and once again we were all ushered off this bus and on to yet another new one! Thankfully this turned out to be the final bus change, and even better the bus was MUCH nicer and the seats fully reclined, meaning we both (even Lisa!!) managed to get a few hours sleep.
Other than a family of 4 kids using the toilet (which unfortunately was right in front of our seats) every 5 minutes between them, the journey on this last bus was pretty comfortable. And we got to make the most of our new blanket which was surprisingly very warm.
We arrived in Mendoza around 4.30pm on the 23rd, 25 and a half hours after we left Tilcara. Feeling rather shattered we headed straight for our hostel. We were both overly excited that afternoon when we found a huge supermarket (most are much smaller corner shop type) and bought ourselves loads of salad, veg and fruit for dinner for the next few nights. After all the snacks on the bus our bodies needed it!
MENDOZA CITY TOUR
Mendoza was a much bigger city than either of us had expected it to be, but at the same time nothing like any of the other places we'd visited so far, and not what you'd call a normal city. To get to know the place a little better we took a 'free' walking tour of the new town. Although not a particularly scenic city, the tour was very interesting talking us through little things that you'd never otherwise know. For example, Mendoza has an earthquake nearly every day! In fact there had been one the morning before the tour, when we'd been fast asleep, and even one during the tour, which no one felt either! They only usually measure 2.something in magnitude. Due to this tendency for earthquakes, the cities buildings rarely, or at least until recent years, measure higher than 2 stories. The tour we were doing was called the new town, due to a large earthquake in 1861 destroying most of the old towns buildings and devastatingly killing over a third of the towns residents.
Other interesting facts we learnt, was that due to Mendoza's position south of the Andes mountains, they only get around 25 days of rain a year. Their main source of water depends on how much snow there is in the mountains in the winter, therefore it's not uncommon for the town to suffer droughts (which is surprising given the amount of water fountains we walked past!). Rather contradictorily, the main energy source for the town is hydroelectricity.
The main hero of the Argentinian independence was San Martin, who was the mayor of Mendoza and rallied an army to head over the Andes to Chile and Peru to fight off the Spanish. Due to this a lot of the town is based around his name. The main square has a huge statue of him pointing towards Santiago.
Interesting little fact about statues of war heroes on horses... the amount of legs the horse has on the ground, usually depicts how the rider died. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the rider died of natural causes or unrelated to battle. If the horse has one leg raised, the rider was injured in battle and later died as a result of the injuries. If the horse has two legs raised, the rider died in battle. As interesting as this is, it does not apply to the above statue of San Martin who died an old man extradited in France.
One other highlight of the tour was we had a stray dog join the group for half of it, wondering the city with us!
That afternoon we headed over to Parque San Martin, which is a park that is nearly as big as the city, that has a view of the Andes in the distance. We sat and had a picnic before having a walk around a lake and enjoying the sunshine! There was alot of artwork and statues around the park, not all explained, but Dan found interesting.
We finished off with a walk around an island that was situated in the middle of the lake. We sat on a bench at the end watching turtles and massive koi carp swimming by.
MENDOZA WINE TASTING
We had been told that the best way of experiencing the vineyards was to rent a bike from a company in the Mapui region (where the vineyards are - 30 mins outside the city) and use this to get around from vineyard to vineyard. The company give you a map, which you can plan your day from, listing the different winery's, with their tours and tasting costs.
We decided to head for the vineyard furthest away to begin with (6Km away), so we could make our way back throughout the day - thought this may be safer given drinking and cycling. To be honest we felt the whole concept is a disaster waiting to happen, as you cycle on main roads not always with cycle lanes, but screw it, we had fun!
We arrived at the first vineyard called Mevi around 11am (perfect wine drinking time!). This vineyard didn't offer a tour, so it was straight in with the tasting. You got to chose between 5 different wines using your place mat that gave you an explanation of each. The location was beautiful, overlooking the vineyards and the snowy Andes mountains in the distance.
After the tasting we explored a bit of the vineyard area, but sadly no grapes to see at this one, as the harvest normally takes place beginning of March!
We set off, after paying less than £2 each(!), to the next vineyard that was just down the road. This vineyard was called Tempus Alba and was an old Italian family run winery. Argentina had a lot of Italian immigrants, as we learnt on the walking tour. This vineyard again offered tasting, a self guided tour around the grounds as well as an incredible terrace view again. Luckily this time there was grapes to be seen!
We settled our bill (again around £2.50 each!) and got on our bikes to head onto the next place. We thought we would break the day up a bit (and give ourselves a quick break from the wine) by heading to a olive oil manufacturer called Entre Olivos next. Here they offered tastings of different oils, spreads and liquors that you tried with bread, for around £2 each.
We first tried the oils, which was selection of olive oils, garlic infused oil, chimichurri and three different olives spreads. Our favourite was the garlic infused oil!
Next up was the spreads, with the selection being Dulce De Leche (found everywhere in Argentina, a soft caramel like spread), Chardonnay syrup and Cherry liquor syrup. Each were equally nice. Dan loves Dulce De Leche (obviously) and was wanting to buy a jar from here but sadly we couldn't find a jar small enough to carry with us.
Lastly the five tasters were Mulled Wine, Coffee, Dulce De Leche, Chocolate and Irish Cream flavour liquors. Each one was pretty strong, around 40%, but all tasted very nice. Lisa however wasn't too keen on the coffee flavour. The spreads and oils had helped sober us up a little, however the liquors got us right back to where we were! We got back on the bikes to rush over to a tour that was starting in less than 15 minutes 3km away!
We managed to make it dead on time, only to be told once going to pay for our tickets that the tour was only in Spanish! However the receptionist was very nice about it, allowed us to walk around the museum ourselves and said that in lieu of the tour we could get an extra tasting for the cost of our ticket (as we needed more wine by this point!).
The museum was really interesting, showing all the tools used throughout the ages for wine-making in the area. However the best part about this vineyard was the tasting area, that was a room full of gigantic barrels that used to be used to store the wine.
After having our tasters as well as our extra glass, we were feeling more than ready for the end of the tour. So we cycled back to return our bikes. The bike rental company offer a happy hour at the end of the day in the bar next door, where they gave out free empanadas and you guessed it, more wine! So it would have been rude not to stay for one more glass!
We both felt like we came out of the day with a new liking for red wine and will surely be asking for a glass of Malbec somewhere else along the trip! Don't worry though, beer will never be replaced as our number one, so your Fosters are still in danger Dave!
FLIGHT TO BUENOS AIRES
The flight to Buenos Aires was very straight forward and the first one that has run on time so far - even managing to get in early! We had a very early wake up call to get to the airport, so we arrived at Buenos Aires pretty shattered already. We couldn’t check into the hostel until 2pm, so we left our bags there and went to find somewhere for some lunch. We had been recommended to go to Plaza Dorrego. It was a cute square with lots of cafes surrounding it, if you didn’t know where you were you would swear you were in Paris! To top it off they had musicians and tango dancers performing for tips, so we managed to kill a few hours here.
The rest of the afternoon was left to recover from the early start back at the hostel!
WALKING TOUR OF RECOLETA
As Buenos Aires is such a big city, it offers different walking tours for different areas. We started with the Recoleta area tour, which started at the Teatro - the Opera House. This is famed for having one of the best acoustic designs in the world.
Buenos Aires didn’t have a traditional start of a Spanish colonial city, and when they first occupied there was nothing there to keep them (they had heard rumours of rivers of silver, but never found them) so the City was left alone for many years. Eventually due to Portugal gaining colonies in the south Atlantic coast, the Spanish started to build up Buenos Aires as a port and a place to thwart the Portuguese being able to get any further down the coast. It became an area where immigrants could come and get rich quickly, as they introduced their own tax on contraband. The upper class very much wanted to be seen equivalent to European culture and therefore many of the buildings replicated the style of 18th century Parisian palaces.
The tour was a walk around Recoleta, the area in which the upper classes settled and built their very grand houses - some of them are literally palaces. This area was chosen to get away from the original center of Buenos Aires due to an outbreak of yellow fever there, which killed over 25% of the population. Families used to compete with each other to have the grandest houses and have the most land. Like a lot of history, a lot of money was given to the Catholic Church from families trying to buy nobility. Two women’s competition for this was so fierce, they donated so much money to the Vatican they ended up getting very grand titles (which meant very little).
The highlight of the tour was going to the Recoleta cemetery. When the rich families die, they are still trying to outdo each other even in death, by having the most elaborate crypts. The whole cemetery is completely mind blowing to walk around, as you can see from some of the photos below. The crypts really are all a work of art, with some even having stain glass windows inside them like a mini church!
The cemetery is also famous for being the final resting place of Eva Peron, although it took many years for her body to be buried here. The story is mental, and the below was all written on a bus completely from memory, so you’ll have to forgive some inevitable mistakes or lack of timings etc, but you’ll get the gist!
When she first died the country went into national mourning - at least the working and poorer classes did, the higher classes celebrated as she represented political movement they did not agree with. Her body was embalmed and then cemented from the inside (against her wishes of cremation) so she could be displayed in a glass coffin as a everlasting symbol of Peronism. When Juan Peron was overthrown, her body was taken away by the new office as they didn’t want this symbol for the people. Due to being full of cement, they couldn’t destroy the body, and they didn’t want to bury her as if the location was discovered it would act as a shrine to Peronism. To hide the body they stored it in a van which they drove around each day so no one actually knew where she was. However there was a leak of information and flowers started turning up wherever the van was parked. So they then tried to hide her body in a prop box in a theatre, again being discovered and flowers appearing. As the whereabouts of her body kept being leaked, they decided to charge the task of hiding it to a high ranking army general, who’s title was something to do with top secrecy. He wasn’t altogether right in the head, and after storing her for a time in his own house, he started to develop a relationship with the body, even sleeping with it in his own bed (and worse). This was only discovered a year or two later when he lost it even further and started taking the body to work with him, and in meetings! Unsurprisingly the task of hiding the body got given to another general, who stored the body in his basement. He became so paranoid that it would be discovered by Peronist supporters that the body was in his house, one night he heard a disturbance and shot out, killing his pregnant wife. Upon realization of this, he also shot himself. With the protection of the body under officers clearly not working, the government made a deal with the Vatican for it to be buried in an unmarked grave, under a false name in Milan. Her body lay here for many years, until some members of the left wing Peronism decided they wanted the body back. They kidnapped the guy who had overthrown Juan Peron many years earlier, and tortured him for information on where her body was. He never gave in and ultimately they killed him. Therefore they decided to kidnap his buried body, and used this as a trade deal with the government to finally get Eva Peron’s body back 19/20 years later. She was buried in her brothers family Crypt in Recoleta cemetery. Interestingly everyone goes to take pictures of the Crypt, however she was actually buried in the walkway in front of it, so you’re basically standing on top of her when looking at it! The crypt is hidden within the cemetery with only a small mention of her name due to how controversial Peronism is in Argentina still!
There was a walking tour purely on the cemetery and the stories behind some of the crypts but we didn’t really have time so enjoyed wandering around to our own devices.
In the evening, our hostel was offering tango lessons for the bargain price of only £3 each. Lisa thought it would be a laugh, and it took quite a bit of persuading to get Dan to agree. Eventually we decided to go for it, only to be the only two people there! We’d just been asked to walk around the room how we’d imagine a tango to be walked, when we were saved by one other couple turning up, the guy looking even more reluctant than Dan! The girl however had some dance experience so we just copied her when we did eventually have to ‘walk’. The lesson was more just on basic steps and movement of tango. We both actually really enjoyed it and had a laugh, even if most of the time we were laughing at how truly terrible we both are!
STEAK AT DON JULIO'S
Today was dedicated to trying to get a table at Don Julio, a Parilla (steakhouse), which came highly recommended in every guidebook and blog we'd read. We weren’t able to book a table, and had been told the queues to get in can be up to one and a half hours long. They do however give you free champagne and empanadas whilst you wait. With this being our main activity for the day we decided to go for it and wait however long it took, how painful can it be sipping Champagne in the sun anyway!?
Before heading here though we had some time to kill, and needed to work up an appetite so explored the area of Palermo. We jumped on the subway, and straight out of the stop there was a little eco-park to explore. It looked like much of the Park was being done up, but they had a few animals who took refuge in the very green space in the city. One of the animals we have NO idea what they were, so if anyone does from the picture below let us know (it looked like a cross between a bunny/hare and a kangaroo)!?
From there we took a walk to an area on the map which looked like there was lots of other parks. However after wandering around for a while we didn’t really find anything that seemed worthwhile exploring.
So back to the main event of the day. We headed to Don Julio, and popped our names on the list. It was only going to be a 40 minute wait so we accepted our Champagne and empanadas and perched on a windowsill goggling at everyone else’s steaks.
Obviously when restaurants are so raved about you get some scathing reviews too, so we went just expecting a lovely steak in a traditional setting. It was bloody fantastic! Everything from the food (every mouthful had us being those cringey people who make noises of joy), to the service and setting was one of the best we’d both had. We both went for rump steak (having read this was the owners recommendation) and tested our new found enjoyment of Malbec with a bottle.
Only thing we messed up on was not realising how big the sides would be so we’d each ordered our own and couldn’t get through them! We couldn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day.
ECO RESERVE, HISTORICAL WALKING TOUR
& TANGO SHOW
The walking tour didn’t start until 3pm so we thought we’d spend the morning walking over to the Ecological Reserve. A huge area of the eastern part of the City right near the coast, dedicated to providing an ecological space for nature. There were hundreds of species of animals, but sadly we didn’t see many on our 6km walk of the area. Dan did find an Argentine black-and-white Tegus (the largest lizard in Argentina - yes we had to Google what it was!) which walked out near us whilst we’d stopped to get some shade. The whole reserve sits with the backdrop of the business district, which gave a nice contrast and made the area seem even more surreal to be so huge within such a huge city.
The walking tour started at the Congress building. The tour was meant to be two and a half hours long, however our guide who was huge on history and architecture, stretched it out to 3 and a half hours long! Whilst incredibly interesting, it’s really hard to talk about facts, as many related to certain buildings and architectural styles etc. And all the facts were just so incredibly long. One fact we can give however, is Buenos Aires buildings aren’t restricted to a certain style of architecture by law, so you could walk down a street and see every style possible!
We learnt a lot more about the history of how Buenos Aires came to be the city it is today. As well as a very long 20 minute summary of the Perons and Peronism! Again way to long for us to try and explain here. It finished at the pink house (presidents palace). As mentioned the tour guide overran by an hour, so we actually had to run away right at the end to make sure we didn’t miss our evening plans!
Every guide book is a bit cynical on tango shows being a tourist trap, however we both wanted to go and see a show, we are after all in the birthplace of Tango. The show we booked included a 3 course meal for £34 each, including transport and unlimited drinks, we didn’t think this was too bad at all!
The show itself was incredible. There was a quartet band, as well as two singers. The show took you through the history and progression of tango, showing you the different styles throughout the years. The dancing was so quick (put our lesson to shame!) and made even more impressive that it was done on a very small stage space. Both our favourite dance was performed by two men together, who were so quick it was as if their limbs were blurring in front of your eyes. The pictures below aren’t great as we only had phones, and tried to concentrate more on watching than taking pictures.
LA BOCA & MORE STEAK
La Boca is a neighbourhood in the south of the City, and one of the orignal settlements of the Buenos Aires. As we mentioned previously, there was an outbreak of Yellow Fever here, where the rich moved out to the North, now Recoleta, and the new immigrants coming over settled here. Typically lots of people would share one house with each family having a room. New houses were built out of scraps of timber and corrugated metal, which the immigrants could get their hands on from the shipyards. It’s always been a poorer area, even now with the two of biggest slums of Buenos Aires being either side. It’s a very safe (and tourist heavy) area in the day, but our tour guide said after 6pm even the police avoid the area and all restaurants and shops shut.
La Boca, is the birthplace of Tango. Due to most immigrants being unable to converse, speaking different languages, they would sit in the streets playing music together, mixing their styles. There was only one woman to every nine men emigrating to the area, therefore many women would become prostitutes. Tango in part, developed in the queues to the brothels, where men would try to trip each other over with leg flicks, now famous in tango, to get in front of each other in the queue.
La Boca is also now famous for the incredible colours. Quinquela Martín was an artist who came back to the area after being successful in Europe and used his own money to buy areas of the town and do them up, painting them in bright colours. He also built a school, theatre & hospital which provided free vaccines for the young. One of the streets he’d bought was El Caminito, and he had it written that only local artists could sell their work in the market on the street, and all products had to be hand made! Therefore the market is well worth exploring. We even treated ourselves and bought a painting off a lovely old woman that she’d painted herself of the area.
The tour took us around some of the main areas and street art of La Boca. Including a huge mural dedicated to the grandmothers of the disappeared (as mentioned in our Mendoza tour if you need a refresher).
It ended at Boca Juniors football stadium, where from the sounds of it the crowds can get incredibly rowdy. There is a 19 year waiting list to become a member, and you can only get tickets if you’re a member! Away fans aren’t allowed in the stadium, and the home fans will save their urine in bottles from the match and throw it at the players if they’re not satisfied with the game or the result!
For our final night in Buenos Aires, we’d booked a table at another recommended Parilla (steakhouse), this one supposedly more traditional, and popular with locals. Gran Parilla del Plata, whilst still lovely, was never going to live up to Don Julio for us. We both went for the tenderloin, which was a whopping 15.9oz each, but learnt our lesson with just the one side. It was a lovely meal to finish our time in Buenos Aires.
SAN TELMO MARKET & A 20HR BUS TO BARILOCHE
With our bus not until 3pm, we spent the late morning/ early afternoon exploring the San Telmo market which only takes place on Sundays. The market is huge, with stalls lining either side of a seemingly unending road. Again it was nice to see most of the stalls were hand crafted items. Lisa, unable to cope anymore with bare fingers, treated herself to a couple of rings to add to her collection!
The bus station in Buenos Aires is HUGE, with over 60 platforms, and our platform number didn't get announced until less than 10 minutes before the bus, so we were a little stressed about making it the platform in time! All went fine though and we were soon on our way. We'd treated ourselves to an executive class bus, and it was lovely with huge seats, and they provided warm blankets and cushions for the journey. They even did table service for some very basic food, and importantly cups of tea! Only downside was the seats didn't lay back quite as flat as the last bus we'd got, so it was a little harder to get to sleep.
20HR BUS CONTINUED...
& EXPLORING BARILOCHE TOWN
The morning spent on the bus was very scenic driving past turquoise green rivers and mountains, and we arrived into Bariloche just after midday. We dropped our bags at the hostel and headed into the town to explore. San Carlos de Bariloche, or most commonly referred to as just Bariloche, is in the North of Patagonia, located within the Nahuel Huapi National Park.
The town is a popular ski resort in the winter and it looks it! All the buildings have an alpine feel, in part due to the fact that many German immigrants settled in the area in the 1840’s, and even up to 1895 the majority of settlers here were German, Austrian, Slovenian or Italian. The town garnered international press in the late 1990s for being a haven for escaped Nazi war criminals and there are even rumours that Hitler escaped and lived out his days here!
With that small blemish of history aside though, the town is very pretty and with its Alpine roots, is now famous for Chocolate, and has loads of Chocolatiers!
We saved our exploration of the chocolate shops for another day (we were so tired from the bus we would have ended up blowing the budget on comfort chocolate)! Instead we took a wander to the shore of the Nahuel Huapi Lake, which is huge with a surface area of 204sq miles. The lake has its own Nessie - Nahuelito - and the reports of sightings started even before Nessie herself.
After a little wander we headed back to our hostel to ogle at the incredible view over the lake from the warm!
Circuito Chico is a 65km circuit from the town of Bariloche around part of the Nahuel Huapi Lake shore, looping around the smaller Lake Moreno. Along the route are lots of incredible viewpoints over the lakes, as well as little treks up some of the mountains in the area. Most people complete this circuit in a car, however lacking one of these, we decided instead to get a bus to the beginning scenic section of the route, and walk (at least some of it)!
The main part of the circuit which we really wanted to do was Cerro Lloa Lloa, the highest point along the circuit. It was around an hours walk to reach the top, with lots of spectacular viewpoints along the route. The view was breathtaking - and also very windy!
After a little snack at the top, we were joined by a Chimango Caracara. He landed very close to where we were sat and even kept edging closer to us! We managed to get some amazing pictures of it, until it started squawking at us, and terrified we were about to be attacked we quickly retreated!
We continued on our walk to reach the beach of Villa Tacul, and after admiring the view we continued back to the main road.
At this point we had the choice to carry on the circuit, or head back to our start point where the bus was. Very aware that there was a brewery if we continued for another 8km of the circuit, this was all the convincing we needed to carry on. The rest of the walk was all on the road, very hilly, but passed lots more incredible scenic spots to stop for a picture.
2hrs later, and in desperate need of a beer, we reached the Patagonia Cerveceria.
The terrace must have one of the best views in the world, looking out over the lakes and mountains. Pair this with craft beers you can see why this is such a popular spot. After our 10 mile walk, we felt like we deserved a pint or two, and treated ourselves to a little dinner here too.
ROAD OF THE SEVEN LAKES
A day or two before we’d met a lovely French girl in the hostel named Cassandre. She’d mentioned wanting to hire a car to explore the road of the seven lakes, a 180km stretch of road which, as you may have guessed, passes seven lakes. Well actually it passes more like 12 lakes but some of them just a little off the official road! We all decided to split the cost and hire the car together, with Cassandre driving there (it’s the right side of the road for her after all) and Dan driving back as she had a bus to catch from the end point so wouldn’t be coming back with us.
After finally getting the car (it was a very long queue), we set off at around 10am. The first stretch of the journey was spent purely getting around Lake Nahuel Huapi, around 82km, to our first stop off at a little town called Villa La Angostura. Another little Alpine town, we found a small chocolate shop and got a few to enjoy for the journey!
We hopped back in the car and would pull over anytime we saw a viewpoint or lake. The weather was very varied throughout the day going from pure sun, grey, rain and just the craziest wind at points.
We found a nice beach to stop off at for lunch, luckily in the sun. The lake before this one we’d literally been blown off our feet by how windy it was!
We decided as we had the time to explore the lakes down the dirt tracks too, and good job as Lake Hermoso was one of our favourites of the day.
The final stop was in the town of San Martin, again, an alpine style town actually pretty similar to Bariloche, just maybe less of a view. We found a little cafe on the lake front to have a hot chocolate and an alfajore (traditional Argentinian cake with Dulce de Leche) with Cassandre.
It was going to be a 3 hour drive back for us, so we didn’t stick around too long as we could see the rain coming in over the lake. It absolutely pissed it down the entire way back. Which was such a shame as on the way we’d seen a few viewpoints we’d have loved to stop off at, but the view was now shrouded in fog and rain. We made it back to Bariloche safely in the end though!
CHOCOLATE SHOPS & CAMPANARIO CHAIR LIFT
We spent the morning exploring the many chocolate shops of Bariloche and enjoying the free samples. So pretty much Dans favourite morning. It’s so hard to choose which shop to buy from, but out of laziness we just settled on the last shop we visited.
We then hopped on the bus again to go and see the view from Cerra Campanario. They have a ski style chair lift to take you to the top, and there are 360’ views awaiting you up there. Also crazy wind, which made it freezing cold, so we didn’t stay up too long!
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view from the hostel whilst updating the blog.
28 HOUR BUS TO EL CHALTEN
This morning was our first major cock up of the trip. Our bus ticket just said ‘Bariloche’ as the boarding point, and rather than inspecting further we assumed this meant the bus terminal. So we woke up at 5.50am in plenty of time, and hopped in a taxi to the bus terminal. On arrival, Lisa had another look at the original booking email to check what kind of bus we’d be getting, and suddenly saw that it mentions you get the bus from the town centre. Shit. But where in the town centre? After some frantic searching online to no avail, Dan eventually through google translate managed to get someone from one of the other bus companies to get an address for us. Luckily we’d arrived and realised in plenty of time, so we hopped back in a taxi and got dropped off on the side of a road, just around the corner from our hostel! We were just about to panic again that we’re the only two people stood on the side of a random road and maybe this wasn’t the stop, when, hoorah, like a shining light, our bus arrived!! And in fact it was only the two of us and one other girl on it! Just after 7.30am we were off, still in disbelief we’d made the bus at all! We left Bariloche behind just as the sun was coming up.
The journey was broken up with a 12hr bus to Los Antigos, then changing buses here, for a further 11hr bus to El Chalten. The first bus was actually quite pleasant, it was just a basic bus and not the fancy big chairs we’d got ourselves accustomed to. But the driver and conducter were friendly and we got food and little snacks when we’d stop off every few hours for the loo and a stretch of legs. They even stopped off at a nice viewpoint for sunset.
Again the bus change went smoothly, a few more people joined this bus, but it was still empty enough for us to spread out on two chairs each. We settled down for the night and attempted, to less success than when we have the big reclining chairs, to sleep.
28 HOUR BUS TO EL CHALTEN CONTINUED... & LOS CONDORES TREK
It wasn’t the best nights sleep either of us had ever had, and we definitely woke up aching. The wind had been insane and you could feel it dragging the bus and a couple of times in the night you really felt like you had to grip the seat.
We were supposed to arrive into El Chalten at 6.30am, but we woke up properly around 8am, and still we seemed no where near to anything. The conductor said something about El Chalten but we couldn’t understand. The main thing we got the gist of, was something had gone wrong overnight and we were now on a different road, further down south than we were supposed to be, so heading back up North on what was now the correct road. We assumed that due to the winds, weather & road conditions of the original route, they had to divert overnight, which added a nice 5 hours onto our journey time! Finally around midday we were greeted into El Chalten with a spectacular view.
We had around an hour to kill before we could check in properly, and as we hadn’t eaten a proper meal since before the bus, we decided to have lunch at the hostel restaurant. In retrospect a mistake, but at the time we happily ate, checked in, then got ready to go on a walk to Los Condores to make the most of the day.
There are so many incredible walks all around El Chalten. We were planning to do the main hike, a 10hr round trek to the Fitz Roy mountain for the next day, so we started out with a nice easy one just an hour out of town up to a view point. The walk was also a great place for spotting condors, as the name of it may suggest, which were soaring above us throughout. The viewpoint delivered though and Dan even got time to capture a short time lapse whilst we were up there.
We headed back for an early night, and to finally stretch out flat on a bed. Sadly, our lunchtime meal came back to haunt Dan, and he spent the whole night sick with food poisoning! To make it worse we were in a shared bathroom so he kept having to dash down the hall to be sick, whilst Lisa looked pretty odd hovering outside the men’s toilets!
SICK DAY &
SHORT WALK TO CHORRILLO DEL SALTO
So we weren’t quite able to do the hike today as hoped, and poor Dan spent the day in bed still feeling awful. Whilst Dan wanted a little nap around midday, Lisa went on another of the short treks to Chorrillo del Salto, a small waterfall around an hour North of the town.
It was another sunny day, and there were again some gorgeous views along the route. The waterfall was very peaceful, and after enjoying a quick lunch here, Lisa headed back to look after the poorly patient!
SNOW DAY IN EL CHALTEN
Dan was feeling slightly better today, but we woke up to heavy snow falling outside! Sadly it wasn’t to stay and quickly turned into rain, turning the roads to sludge. We’d managed to make it outside briefly and had planned a little walk around the town to help Dan recuperate, but the sludge made it impossible to walk around without slipping every few steps. So another lazy day spent in the hostel, but we got through almost a season of Suits and it probably helped Dan fully recover!
WALK TO FITZ ROY
With Dan now regaining health and our bus not till 6pm, we wanted to try and do as much of the walk we had originally planned before Dan got ill.
The main walk is roughly 10km to the base of Fitz Roy, with a view point of Fitz Roy mountain after 4km, which also loops back on a separate path. Because of time constraints we knew we wouldn’t be able to do the whole walk, which is estimated to be 9 hours, and with Dan having not eaten properly in 2 days it wasn’t worth risking it! So we decided to aim for the view point at 4km in, so at least we could do part of the trek.
The hike started ascending straight away, so tested Dans regained strength from the start. The route took you over views showing where Lisa had trekked the other day, seeing the whole valley from above.
We got to the view point in decent time, even with the thick snow on some of the path, which had mostly turned to slush. Someone had even built a little snowman at the first viewpoint, which seemed to be getting just as much attention than the mountain! The viewpoint was stunning...
From this point we carried on a little further due to making good time, finding some other viewpoints which were far less crowded. The path circled around to a lake, which was so still it created a mirror effect with the mountains.
We started our decent back down to the hostel, with condors flying overhead every so often! We made it back to the hostel by mid afternoon, with plenty of time to spare before our bus. We chilled in the hostel until it was time to leave, getting the bus (with no issues this time) and heading towards El Calafate, our last Argentinian stop, which was a 3 hour drive. We were treated again by a stunning sunset over El Chalten to wave us goodbye.
EL CALAFATE & RESERVOIR LAGUNA NIMEZ
After a lovely breakfast of freshly made pancakes at our hostel, we set off to explore the town. The whole town is much bigger than El Chalten, but still tiny in terms of a town, and the centre is made up of one street, totally geared towards tourism. Every other shop is a gift shop or a excursion agency. The main, and probably only, big attraction is Perito Moreno Glacier, but we’re heading out on our excursion to it tomorrow, so more on that then.
In the afternoon we headed towards Reservoir Laguna Nimez. This is a protected natural reserve for birds and wildlife. Along with our entrance fee we hired some binoculars to try and spot as many as we could!
It’s an easy walk along sand or boardwalk taking you through different types of flora, fauna & all around a lagoon. Our best spot of the day was of a Cinereous Harrier , which literally flew straight at us. Whilst Dan was busy admiring it through a lens trying to get a shot, Lisa was panicking as she realised it was flying straight at our heads. It literally swooped up last second, if we’d have raised an arm we would have touched it!
There were also lots of flamingos in the reserve, but sadly part of the boardwalk was flooded over and we couldn’t get too close to them to get any decent pictures.
Overall it was a fun afternoon getting old before our time bird watching!
We even saw a little fox.
This was one of the few hostel we’re staying in which didn’t have a kitchen so we had to head out for some dinner. Tired of a slab of meat and chips which is the usual available, we’d walked past a nice looking sushi bar earlier that day so headed back for dinner. It was so good and so nice to eat something a little different and fresh! Dan even managed to persuade Lisa to let him get ice cream on the way home, despite the 8 degrees temperature outside... so he was obviously feeling better.
PERITO MORENO GLACIER
We had an early pick up from our hostel to get us to our transfer to Perito Moreno Glacier. It took just under a two hour drive all along the shores of Lago Argentina, a huge glacial lake which stretches all the way from El Calafate to the Glacier. It was a beautiful drive with the sun coming up and we even got to stop off to see around 20 birds of prey all sat on a fence where a dead hare was. There were Chimanga Caracaras, Red Crested Chimangas, and biggest of them all, some Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles. Pictures aren’t great as they were just through the bus window but they were incredible to watch so close.
Perito Moreno Glacier is huge, it's 3 miles wide and rises 78 meters above the lake Lago Argentino, with its deepest point approximately 700 meters! The glacier started to form during the last ice age, and is approximately 18,000 years old. We asked about whether it's under threat from global warming but it's actually one of the glaciers which has currently not shown any sign of retreating. This is due to it's positioning with the Patagonian Ice Field (the third largest in the world behind Antarctica and Greenland). Whilst most glaciers in the Alps move around 2-3meters per year, Perito Moreno Glacier moves 2meters per day! This means that you can see lots of ice carvings - huge chunks of ice literally falling off the glacier - the sound it makes is incredible! It sounds like a bomb going off or a building being demolished, even for football sized chunks!
We decided to start off with a boat ride to get up close to the bottom of the glacier, plus the weather was perfect conditions to view it from the boat, The boat takes you out to the South Face of the Glacier. Here we were able to see literally huge chunks, like whole faces, of the glacier fall off and turn into ice burgs in the water. It always happened too quickly and randomly to be able to film anything. The boat crew fished out some of the smaller ice burg chunks in the water for us to see... or take a little nibble of in Lisa's case! It was stunning to see the vivid blue colours so close up. After being unsure whether we were going to do the boat trip, we're so glad we did.
After the boat trip, we headed up to the main boardwalk and viewing platforms. This was 5 different routes, each joining up with each other to make a circuit of higher and lower platforms around the faces of the glacier. It was crazy to be walking through woodland and be looking out over this huge glacier. Again walking around, you could constantly here huge crashes where more ice had carved off, even though many times you couldn't see where from. The circuit was around 4km which included a lot of stairs, but plenty of viewing platforms to catch our breath. So with our picnics in our bags we spent the afternoon walking around and marveling at the sounds!
Just as we were leaving, a condor flew right above us only around 5 meters above. For the first time it made us appreciate just how big these birds are!!
We headed back to El Calafate for our final night in Argentina, in disbelief a whole month here is finished! Patagonian food is mostly famous for it's lamb. They cook the whole lamb open over a fire, so we wanted to make sure we tried this before leaving. We'd passed a nice looking restaurant the day before, with the lamb in the window cooking, so we knew they offered this dish! And of course we couldn't have our final meal in Argentina without a bottle of Malbec.