Buenos Aires, Argentina

We flew from El Calafate to Buenos Aires’ domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbury. We stayed in an apartment in the Palermo Hollywood district (remise/taxi from the airport was $ARS160 and took about 15 minutes) which is filled with cafés and boutique stores. I’m glad we chose Palermo as there was plenty to do in our own neighbourhood and the subway brought us to the centre of town in no time. As Buenos Aires is so big I’m going to divide this post into more manageable bites, which I hope make more sense.

Microcentro

The centre or microcentro of BA has a few sights but we didn’t find there was too much to hold our interest for more than a few hours. The most suitable subte/metro stop from our apartment was Catedral just off the lovely Plaza de Mayo, which is overlooked by the equally lovely Casa Rosada or office of the president. We wandered around here a few times and the plaza is quite a nice spot to people watch. It’s an easy walk from here to the San Telmo area but I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Probably the most famous tourist street in the city is Calle Florida, which I think they should rename Calle Cambio as touts shout Cambio! Cambio! at you here from every direction (we actually did change $USD with Lumax Cambio, just to the left of the El Ateneo Bookshop on Calle Florida. Don’t worry, they’ll approach you). There’s a beautiful shopping centre (Can I describe a shopping centre as beautiful? Yes!) here called Galerías Pacifico which has the prettiest vaulted, frescoed ceiling – well worth admiring. There’s a pretty good selection of stores here too! On an awfully sad note we found a very lonely looking Harrods store around here – open it up again BA! A bookshop with a difference, El Ateneo Gran Splendid (Address: Avenida Santa 1860) is housed in an old theatre. There’s a lovely vibe in here, a bit of art dotted around, a café to chill out in and a whole load of tourists snapping shots. Don’t miss it though. It’s worth walking to see the Obelisco in Plaza de la Republica, a 67.5m tall concrete and white stone obelisk built back in 1936 in just 31 days! It stands at the cross-section of Avenida Corrientes and Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world. Cool! We wandered from here to the Retiro neighbourhood to check out Plaza San Martín, a lovely green space (which used to be a bullring) to chill out with the locals…and Sheraton guests.

Welcome to Buenos Aires!

Welcome to Buenos Aires!

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

Plaza de Mayo with the Cathedral in the background

Plaza de Mayo with the Cathedral in the background (yep, the one that looks like the Stock Exchange)

Pretty door/building on Calle Florida

Pretty door/building on Calle Florida

Some of BA's architecture

Some of BA’s architecture

Galerías Pacifico

Galerías Pacifico

El Ateneo Gran Splendid

El Ateneo Gran Splendid

Harrods Buenos Aires

Harrods

So sad!

So sad 😢

Plaza San Martín

Plaza San Martín

Pimped up BA bus

Pimped up BA bus

Obelisco

Obelisco

San Telmo

Walking down Calle Defensa from Plaza de Mayo brings you to the antique store laden neighbourhood of San Telmo. Be sure to stop to have your photo taken with the beloved Argentinian comic book character, Mafalda (at the corner of Defensa and Chile streets). There are a few buildings which have been converted to little markets selling old records, crockery, glassware, posters and the like around here – you just have to look in every door! The San Telmo Mercado is worth exploring; here you can find antiques, art, fruit and veg and have your dinner in a café or an espresso in Coffee Town. Continuing down Defensa you’ll find leafy Plaza Dorrego, apparently awash with an awesome antiques market every Sunday but we unfortunately missed this. We visited on a Saturday and there were quite a few stalls around though.

The neighbourhood of Montserrat is just next to San Telmo (technically the Casa Rosada is in Montserrat) and it’s well worth ambling through its cobblestoned streets. Buenos Aires’ oldest café, Café Tortoni (Address: Avenida de Mayo 825) is here and still has tango shows every night (you have to book in advance but I believe you can do it on the day in the café).

Approaching San Telmo

Approaching San Telmo

Relaxing with Mafalda

Relaxing with Mafalda

Awesome

Awesome

Beautiful colours en route to San Telmo market

Beautiful colours en route to San Telmo market

In an antiques market

In an antiques market

San Telmo market

San Telmo market

Antiques store in the market

Antiques store in the market

Cool fruit boxes in the market

Cool fruit boxes in the market

Plaza Dorrego on a Saturday

Plaza Dorrego on a Saturday

Old school store on Plaza Dorrego

Old school store on Plaza Dorrego

Palermo

We spent the majority of our time in BA around the Palermo area which is roughly broken down into numerous smaller  areas but we spent most of our time in Palermo Viejo or Old Palermo and Palermo Nuevo. Palermo Viejo is further divided into Palermo Hollywood and Palermo SoHo. Palermo Hollywood (where our AirBnB apartment was located) is called so because lots of TV and radio producers set up shop here back in the 1990s. Palermo Hollywood’s leafy lined  streets are brimming with cafés, bars and restaurants. Our favourite coffee spot here was LAB Tostadores de Café on Humboldt street and the best brunch award would have to go to the very pretty Oui Oui. There’s a brand new outlet shopping centre on Avenida Juan B. Justo (very close to the Palermo subte stop) called Distrito Arcos. It doesn’t have lots of very well known brands but Lacoste, Adidas and Levi’s are here and Vitamina (Olivia Palermo models for them) seems to be opening soon. You could easily spend a couple hours pottering about the stores here. The famous Argentinian ice-cream brand, Freddos is here, along with a pretty cool looking modular shaped building housing a Starbucks; Le Pain Quotidien makes an appearance too for foodies. Palermo SoHo’s epicentre is Plaza Serrano, most exciting at weekends when there’s an arts and crafts market but honestly I thought it was more of a blink and you’ll miss it spot! There are cafés, restaurants and boutiques around a playground with a few benches; it probably doesn’t deserve the plaza title but it’s a nice spot for a meander . The coffee spot you’ll need to look out for here is LATTEnTE (Address: Thames 1891). Palermo Neuvo holds the triangular shaped Carlos Thays Botanic Garden (Plaza Italia subte stop), just next to the zoo, is a lovely spot to wander around and take a break from the city heat. Although not the most peaceful spot in the world, there are lovely fountains, statues and a stunning greenhouse to potter around. Thays’ mansion still stands in the grounds and there’s some artwork and mini models to check out in here. It’s free to enter the gardens.

We really enjoyed the Jardín Japonés or Japanese Gardens (Scalabrini Ortiz subte but a good walk from here), built within the expansive Parque Tres de Febrero (entrance is $ARS50). It was built in 1967 so has had plenty of time to mature into the beauty that it is today. There’s a huge lake in the middle of the garden filled with gigantic carp and criss-crossed by a number of bridges. There’s obviously also plenty of Japanese greenery and some bonsai trees to admire. So cute! The Rosedal or Rose Garden is also situated in the Parque Tres de Febrero and is absolutely gorgeous (free entry). It has been around over 100 years and is kept perfectly. There’s a lake here you can rent pedal boats too.

Checking out the streets of Palermo Hollywood

Checking out the streets of Palermo Hollywood

Café in Palermo

Café in Palermo

Free gigs!

Free gigs!

Plaza Serrano

Plaza Serrano

Now there's a mosaic!

Now there’s a mosaic!

Can't pass up a Ché shot

Can’t pass up a Ché shot

Cute street in Palermo SoHo

Cute street in Palermo SoHo

Plaza Serrano's weekend market

Plaza Serrano’s weekend market

A sign in action

A sign in action

Feeling all Alice in Wonderland

Feeling all Alice in Wonderland

Madison Avenue!

Madison Avenue!

So cute

So cute

Bit different

Bit different…

Oh so pretty!

Oh so pretty!

So cool

So cool

In Plaza Italia

Here’s looking at you kid

Entrance to the Botanic Garden

Entrance to the Botanic Garden

In the Botanic Garden

In the Botanic Garden

Just relaxing

Just relaxing

One beautiful greenhouse

One beautiful greenhouse

Just catching a breeze

Just catching a breeze

Great chill out space

Great chill out space

Rosedal Garden

Rosedal Garden

European!!

European!!

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Lovely setting

Lovely setting

Japanese wishing tree

Japanese wishing tree

Couldn't resist another

Couldn’t resist another

La Boca

We took a taxi to La Boca from outside the San Telmo mercado ($ARS40, ten minutes) as we’d heard that La Boca was quite dodgy. La Boca’s most famous street is called the Caminito, a street lined with colourful tin ramshackle houses – it’s basically a tourist trap but I’m glad we went to check it out. There’s a lot of stalls lining the streets and quite a few souvenir shops and restaurants too. We went to the Havanna café (they’re EVERYWHERE in Argentina) for a submarino – the tastiest hot chocolate where you get hot milk and a bar of chocolate so you can make it to your liking – delicious (I’m thinking lately I should just have had a photo blog on hot chocolate drinking sessions…) we caught the bus back to Palermo from here for just $ARS5.

Havanna (chocolate store) on the Caminito

Havanna (chocolate store) on the Caminito

Yep, that's the Pope

Yep, that’s the Pope

Just get a submarino!

Just get a submarino!

Caminito

Caminito

Excellent

Excellent

There's tango everywhere here

There’s tango everywhere here

Caminito Street

Caminito Street

So blue 😊

So blue 😊

Forever captured!

Forever captured!

So pretty

So pretty

Practice your tango skills

Practice your tango skills

Having a right old natter

Having a right old natter

Get your souvenirs here!

Get your souvenirs here!

Well it wouldn't be La Boca without this...

Well it wouldn’t be La Boca without this…

Recoleta

We actually ended up in Recoleta twice during our stay in BA. On our first visit we checked out one of Buenos Aires’ most famous attractions; it’s odd to say attraction as it’s Recoleta Cemetery but there you go! Recoleta is quite a well to do neighbourhood and they haven’t shied away from spending money in this labyrinth of a cemetery. Honestly though there’s a definite beauty to this place, it’s full of  impeccably (for the most part) kept stone and marble tombs, some the size of a Manhattan studio! Evita is buried here (just follow the crowds of people. She’s in a tomb under her maiden name, Duarte), along with quite a few presidents and other notable Argentinian residents. It’s an eerie but fascinating place, well worth a visit. Just next door is the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a lovely white church with an ornate gold main alter and beautiful tiles along the floors and up the walls. You can visit a museum within the church too ($ARS15). I wouldn’t miss this church if you’re just next door in the cemetery. On the weekends there’s an arts and crafts market with over 100 stalls on Plaza Francia, just outside the church. It’s worth a walk around if you’re looking for souvenirs. Just bear in mind that BA is not an early city – some people only set up about 2pm! There’s a much talked about store/centre here too called Buenos Aires Design which is pretty much a group of furniture stores. Maybe it’s loved by many but I honestly thought it was a bit of a hyped up IKEA. We checked out the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes just around the corner from here (free entry) one afternoon. It was a quick visit to be honest, but they have a nice collection of art (including Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Rodin) and a nice museum shop. Just next to the museum is the Plaza Naciones Unidas which is host to the Floris Genérica, a huge flower sculpture which is supposed to open and close with the sun although it’s currently undergoing some repairs.

What's on in Recoleta?

What’s on in Recoleta?

Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar

City of Tombs

City of Tombs

A very pretty tomb

A very pretty tomb

Rows and rows

Rows and rows

Some pretty old graves here too

Some pretty old graves here too

Yep, very, very old

Yep, very, very old

Ornate to say the least

Ornate to say the least

There's Evita

There’s Evita

Tango on everything at Recoleta market

Tango on everything at Recoleta market

Recoleta's a very pretty neighbourhood

Recoleta’s a very pretty neighbourhood

Awesome street sign

Awesome street sign

The prettiest of pinks

The prettiest of pinks

Floris Genérica

Floris Genérica

Getting to Uruguay: We organised our ferry crossing to Colonia in Uruguay with Colonia Express in the microcentro (Address: Avenida Córdoba 753). They were the cheapest provider (by far). Seacat Colonia are just across the road from here but they won’t let foreigners pay with Argentinian Pesos. Thank but no thanks 😊.

Next stop: Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Uruguay

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El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

We travelled with Turismo Zaahj from Puerto Natales to El Calafate in Argentina ($15,000CP). An hour in to the journey we stopped to get our exit stamps from Chile – this took exactly 8 minutes for everybody in the bus – yay!! Ten minutes later we arrived at Argentinian border control and all the bus was stamped in to the country in about 10 minutes and there were no bag checks. Best border crossing EVER.

El Calafate

We stayed in Las Cabañitas in a two story little cabana on our first night in El Calafate – it was adorable and had the most beautiful lavender bushes outside. Now I say two story but you could only fit the bed in upstairs, and even that was a tight squeeze – cozy I would say! We stayed at Hostería Austral on our second visit, nice but no kitchen facilities and the owners were quite greedy – turning radiators half on, telling people there was nowhere to exchange US dollars except with them and then offering a terrible rate, and also telling customers the cost of a trip to the airport is $ARS250 when it’s $ARS200. Little things I know but definitely enough to put me off recommending them.

El Calafate is a very pretty town, lavender bushes abound, cafés are filled with freshly wowed hikers and glacier-goers and souvenir shops are overstocked with local berry liquors, jams and chocolates. There’s really no comparison between here and El Chaltén.

We stopped in a few times at Borges y Alvarez, a bar with a library feel which overlooks the main street, Los Libertadores. They have very tasty hot chocolates here along with rustic style potatoes which are delicious (they’re not mentioned on the menu so you have to ask). Abuela Goye’s chocolate shop is just up around the corner from here and is worth a stop off; randomly we picked up Wally’s Patagonia Tea from here – so many flavours! There’s a café chain called Don Luis here (we saw at least four), not amazing but the have ok sandwiches and bakery goodies to take away. The best craft/souvenir store we found was Arte Indio; it honestly has some of the best, albeit pricey, souvenir shopping I’ve seen in a while. There’s a park within the town called Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares which is worth a visit; there’s not much there but it’s worth a quick visit – there’s a few statues of Darwin and a map of the National Park (which hosts the Perito Moreno Glacier).

El Calafate isn’t the easiest place to get the blue dollar rate. The only option we found was Cambio Casimira Bigurá (current exchange rate is $ARS11.50 for $1 USD). Here you don’t have to purchase anything to get the blue dollar rate, everywhere else you can pay in US dollars or Euro but you won’t get as good a rate (others were offering $ARS11 for $1 USD).

We flew from El Calafate to Buenos Aires and paid $ARS200 for a remise/taxi which we pre-organised at one of the many stands around the town.

El Calafate!

El Calafate!

Cute accommodation on our first visit

Cute accommodation on our first visit

So far from everywhere we know!

So far from everywhere!

Cute little shopping area

Cute little shopping area

Old school store sign

Old school store sign

So lovely!

So lovely!

Park within the town on El Calafate's history

Park within the town on El Calafate’s history

Learning every day!

Learning every day!

Darwin and a Macaroni Penguin

Darwin and a Macaroni Penguin

The Big Ice – Perito Moreno Glacier 

We booked an ice trek called ‘The Big Ice’ with Hielo & Aventura for a day walking along the Perito Moreno Glacier – a glacier that’s neither advancing nor retreating at the moment. The whole glacier is 250km² and is Patagonia’s most famous (and beautiful) glacier. FYI Upsala is the largest glacier in the area – at 60km long. Unbelievable!

We set out at 7am and travelled to the Perito Moreno Glacier lookout point, about an hour and a half away from El Calafate. We had an hour to look around here, there are a lot of steps so you’ll warm up in no time! Back on the bus and five minutes later we were at the ferry stop for the 15 minute crossing to the forest next to the glacier. Here we met our ice trek guides, Lewis and Emmanuel. We had to walk for about 45 minutes along the forest floor before arriving at the base of the glacier. Here we put on our crampons and headed on to the ice for 3 hours. I was expecting it to be quite jagged and that we’d have to climb a lot but it was more like little hills with lots of crevices. There were plenty of crystal clear pools of water for us to fill up our water bottles – the water is just beautiful. Lewis and Emmanuel trekked before us, clearing a safe path and chatting away. We stopped to have our packed lunch before turning around and trying to find the same path back. The day absolutely flew and it was so much fun! On the return journey we sampled some wild calafate berries in the forest, quite like a blueberry except a little more bitter. We were picked up by the ferry and they gave everybody some Famous Grouse whiskey (or Farmhouse Goose as John told me he got!!) with glacial ice, along with a little keepsake – a ‘Big Ice’ key ring and mini Calafate berry liquor. Nice touch!

We're here!

We’re here! Just look at that baby in the background!

Right you are then!

Right you are then!

That's quite a glacier

That’s quite a glacier

It's gigantic

It’s gigantic

Gigantic I tell you!

Gigantic I tell you!

Up close

Up close

A change in weather after the ferry crossing to the forest

A change in weather after the ferry crossing to the forest

Crampons!

Crampons!

Ok, I didn't have to do any hard work

Ok, I didn’t have to do any hard work

They totally match my hiking boots!

They totally match my hiking boots!

And we're off!

And we’re off!

The water is perfect

The water is perfect

Little bit of climbing

Little bit of climbing

Just chilling❄️

Just chilling❄️

Ice-picking challenge...save the tourists

Ice-picking challenge…save the tourists

There's a substantial drop down there!

There’s a substantial drop down there!

Told ya!

Told ya!

Paying his way...

Paying his way…

Aw

Aw

Here's what the surface of a glacier looks like

Here’s what the surface of a glacier looks like

A little more

A little more

John enjoying his Famous Grouse with some glacial ice

John enjoying his Famous Grouse with some glacial ice

Next stop: Buenos Aires baby!!

El Chaltén, Argentina

🍀🍀🍀

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

🍀🍀🍀

Although we travelled to El Calafate prior to El Chaltén we returned to El Calafate so I’ll tell you about El Chaltén first!

We travelled with CalTur for the 3 hour journey from El Calafate to El Chaltén ($550ARS return to El Calafate). The bus stops about 2 minutes from town in the Park Ranger Office so you can listen to a quick safety briefing (in Spanish and English). We stayed at Condor de Los Andes for 2 nights ($ARS230 per person per night) – in a dorm room for just the second time in our whole trip. The first night was fine; we met a lovely couple from Buenos Aires but the second night we had 2 Brazilian guys and one of them must be the snoring champion of the world. Such fun! Also there was an absolute scramble from the bus station to look for accommodation so I’d definitely advise booking here before just showing up.

Anyway, as our time was short in El Chaltén we decided on a day hike from the town up to a viewpoint at Laguna Torre to see a glacier. We did the 9km (each way) trek in about 6 hours. It’s quite hilly here and there even though they say it’s relatively flat so just be prepared for that. There are a few viewpoints or miradors on the journey with views of Cerro Torre and the valleys around El Chaltén before you reach the base of Laguna Torre with the glacier reaching right to the mouth of the lake. It’s pretty beautiful and if the weather had been kind to us then we would have had stunning views of Mount Fitzroy in the background. We walked along the ridge high above the lake to a mirador called Mellinsk (about half an hour to the top from the lake) to get a view up along the glacier; it’s definitely worth the extra half an hour climbing as you get much better views of the glacier than just down by the lake.

El Chaltén is the tiniest of towns – if you’re not in to hiking then there really wouldn’t be much to do. There are quite a few restaurants, most of which don’t open until 7pm, and La Cerveceria, an expensive see joint where you get popcorn along with your drinks. Wifi was terrible in El Chaltén, although we had some spotty reception in a nice little café, Lo de Haydee, which also had very tasty apple crumble.

That’s kind of all there is to say…I probably wouldn’t be in a rush back.

El Chaltén 'town'

El Chaltén ‘town’

Probably the tiniest church on the planet

Probably the tiniest church on the planet

Local shop

Local shop

Freakiest sky ever

Freakiest sky ever

John starting the trek

John starting the trek

Rainbow greeting

Rainbow greeting

Hahaha!!

Hahaha!!

A well trodden path for sure

A well trodden path for sure

Pretty close to another glacier

Pretty close to another glacier

Getting a little further up

Getting a little further up

To see this!

To see this!

Nice spot to relax

Nice spot to relax

The weather turned beautiful on the way back

The weather turned beautiful on the way back

Next stop: El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier

Bariloche, Argentina

We caught an 8.45pm bus from Mendoza with Andesmar for ARS$1150 for the 18 hour (yes, 18 hours on a bus) journey to Bariloche or to use its proper name, San Carlos de Bariloche – the gateway to Patagonia. Although the bus journey was long it was probably one of the better ones we’ve had in South America – the night was started with a bingo session, dinner which was served with red wine and movies in English. Not too shabby! So you know how Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco? There’s no way he ever visited Bariloche in February! I immediately had to purchase a woolly hat! We were there in the highest of the high season so the place was jam-packed with tourists. The surrounding countryside is beautiful; plenty of lakes and mountains. It’s actually a skiing area in July and August and I think it would be a perfect winter escape. We got the 5 minute bus into the town for ARS$12 per person (you have to get a ticket at the Transporte Las Grutas counter inside the station. Taxis are ARS$65 in to town). You can store your luggage at the bus station between 7am and 11pm for between ARS$15 and ARS$25 depending on how long you leave it there.

We snugged up at Perikos (ARS$540) for 2 nights but actually camped at Camping Petunia (ARS$200) for a night between Perikos stays so we could ‘practice’ camping for our ‘real’ outdoorsy experience further down in Patagonia. My lovely brother said of this that its about time we started doing some ‘proper’ travelling to which John agreed that it’s going to be great to get out of our comfort zone. I definitely don’t think that staying in hostels even borders on my notion of a comfort zone in the first place!! Men.

Bariloche’s central area is called its Civic Centre; pretty much a green area surrounded by wooden chalet style buildings with a spectacular lake and mountain vista. There are a few people toting St. Bernard’s around hoping for an excuse to charge you for a photo…oh but they’re so cute!! (the puppies that is). As you walk up through the town from here you pass myriad chocolate shops, Abuela Goye, Mamuschka, Del Turista, Chocolates Torres and Chocolates Rapa Nui to name but a few. We had some hot chocolates and petit fours at Mamushkas which were ok (good lemon pie), I thought the chocolate,  atmosphere and staff were far nicer in Abuela Goyes. There are plentiful outdoor stores too so if you forgot anything you could definitely purchase here (adventure gear and the like seems to cost a lot more in Argentina than in Chile). Further down by the water lies a skating rink (in summer?!) and the Cathedral. The Cathedral was really lovely on the inside, although there’s a little work going on at the moment.

Stunning views en-route to Bariloche

Stunning views en-route to Bariloche

I like to see reminders of where I am 😊

I like to see reminders of where I am 😊

Around the Civic Centre

Around the Civic Centre

Ah, isn't he lovely

Ah, isn’t he lovely

There are no words!

There are no words!

Bariloche's Cathedral

Bariloche’s Cathedral

and there's Mary

and there’s Mary

Fine summer evening in Bariloche 💨

Fine summer evening in Bariloche 💨

I think this was the only graffiti I saw in the whole place!

I think this was the only graffiti I saw in the whole place!

Adorable or what?

Adorable or what?

Warm up time - lemon pie, pecan pie, cheesecake and apple crumble in Mamuschka

Warm up time – lemon pie, pecan pie, cheesecake and apple crumble in Mamuschka

Mamuschka's enticing window

Mamuschka’s enticing window

Jam selection at Del Turista

Jam selection at Del Turista

Chocolate selection at Del Turista

Chocolate selection at Del Turista

After a night in Perikos in central Bariloche we moved out to Camping Petunia to get some nature in. We took a 10km walk to ensure we’d get some sleep and ended up by a beautiful lake and obviously we needed sustenance so stopped at a roadside Abuela Goyes for hot chocolate and espresso for himself. The bus situation around Bariloche isn’t really geared up too well for tourists. You need to purchase a ARS$30 card and then add credit to it. We didn’t bother with the card and instead just asked the bus driver if we could pay by cash, to which they’d obviously say no, but there’s always a local willing to take your cash and scan their card for you. We knew we were only going to be taking 2 bus journeys so it would have been pointless buying the card. We really could have spent a lot more time in Bariloche (and it would be the perfect place to have a car) but alas we need to keep moving!

The view just below the campsite

The view just below the campsite

The cutest shop

The cutest shop

Yum yum yum yum yum!

Yum yum yum yum yum!

So peaceful

So peaceful

Next stop: Puerto Montt and Chiloé Island, Chile

Maipú Wine Region, Argentina

We made the mistake of getting the wrong bus and getting off at the main plaza, Plaza 12 de Febrero, in Maipú proper – that’s 4.5km from all the bike rental places. Fun! What we should have done was hopped on any of the following buses from the centre of Mendoza – 171, 172 or 173 (on the corner of Catamarca and Rioja streets). You need to purchase a RedBus card from a kiosco or little shop which you then top up. The journey to Maipú takes about 30 minutes and costs ARS$4.50 (plus the ARS$15 cost of the card).

image

They really like doing this in South America

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Maipú’s Main Plaza

Once we finally arrived to Urquiza street in Maipú we located some bicycle rental shops. We eventually went with Maipú Bikes (just off the roundabout) as they offered the most professional service by far; i.e.tyres that weren’t bald and bikes with actual brakes. Luxury you know. We paid ARS$70 per person, Mr. Hugo’s wanted ARS$80 and they were quite rude, Orange Bikes across the road had a lovely owner but the bikes didn’t look too safe to us. The worst company was definitely Coco Bikes down the road from Mr. Hugos – they had the most unsafe looking bikes you can imagine. We met some people that went with Bikes and Wines and they weren’t too happy. You just have to shop around!

Nice welcome!

Nice welcome!

Maipú isn’t the most traditional wine region you can imagine, sure there are grapes but the wineries are located just off a very busy, dusty road that’s constantly buzzing with trucks and motorbikes. Definitely not a countryside retreat. I’m not really sure why it’s sold as such an amazing thing to do; it has nothing on Australia’s Hunter Valley in New South Wales or Margaret River in Western Australia. We had a nice enough few hours cycling around the place though. It’s what you make of it yourself I suppose. We started off at Bodega Domiciano. There’s an electric gate and staff who don’t much like opening it but once you’re in the staff are lovely. We actually decided against the wine tasting here (would have cost ARS$60) per person as we just weren’t feeling it so moved on to check out Entre Olivos which I had read good things about but was a little house with a room containing 2 tables with half filled shot glasses containing olive oil and some other tapenades (they wanted ARS$30 but wouldn’t include a tour). It honestly looked terrible so we backed off from there too. A little perplexed and dissapointed by the lack of awesomeness we’d expected, we decided to move on to the Museo del Vino (free entry) and finally which was so awesome we stayed for the entire afternoon! They make Rutini, San Felipe and Trumpeter and we tried the ARS$90 (per person) tasting and received 3 glasses each, all Trumpeter, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec (Mendoza’s claim to fame) and Merlot…all of which went down very well indeed! You can walk around the museum area (room) for as long as you wish and nobody will bother you. We only had time to bring the bikes back and hop on a bus back to Mendoza after our ‘cultural’museum trip. Honestly, I think a wine-induced-haze is the only reason people enjoy Maipú so much.

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Parking up at Bodega Domiciano

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This will be wine soon!

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Riding along in my non-automobile

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Arriving at Museo del Vino – these hold 218 hectolitres – that’s about 130,800 glasses!!

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The Museo del Vino

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That’s one old till

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

Such a cool spot

Such a cool spot

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I want them al

Up close

Up close

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Just imagine the stories…

Tasting Room! Just look at the size of those barrels

Tasting Room! Just look at the size of those barrels

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This is how it started…

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Beautiful setting

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Let it grow, let it grow

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Everywhere!

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Up close 🙂

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They’re even at the side of the dusty road

 Next stop: Santiago, Chile (from Mendoza)

Mendoza, Argentina

The journey from Córdoba to Mendoza took us 10.5 hours with El Rapido (by booking at the bus station in Córdoba we got a promo fare of 428 ARS). You can easily walk from Mendoza’s bus station into the main plaza, Plaza Independencia (about 12 minutes). Plaza Independencia is really beautiful and always filled with the sound of the relaxing waterfall and the smell of popcorn and candy floss. There are four plazas about a block away from each corner of Plaza Independencia – all worth a visit. Plaza España was my absolute favourite – it features the prettiest blue tiles. 

We found it exceptionally difficult to find accommodation in Mendoza. Definitely a spot I would recommend booking before arriving, especially at the weekend. It’s really hot there too so trudging around with all your luggage isn’t fun! We eventually found Life House Hostel (380 ARS) and camped out here for a couple of nights. They have a pool but I honestly think it’s where herpes originated. They do give you about 40 medialunas for breakfast though so I guess that’s a perk! After a few days we decided that we needed our own space and a bit of a treat so we booked in to the Park Hyatt for 2 nights before continuing our trip to Santiago in Chile. Yay, a bath!!

We wandered out to Parque General San Martín one afternoon. The walk takes about half an hour from Plaza Independencia and first impressions with magnificent gates imported from Scotland are pretty grand. I liked the park but John wasn’t at all impressed – it’s definitely no Central Park or Phoenix Park but it’s got a pretty Rose Garden. On the walk back to town we stopped off for a delicious ice-cream at Famiglia Perin (Address: Sarmiento 799). Well worth a stop – their sundaes looked amazing! Since we’re on the subject of food, Bianco y Nero Café, on the main tree-lined thoroughfare from Plaza Independencia, is a lovely spot to try some fresh orange juice, tasty medialunas or amazing cakes and ice-cream. Mendoza also has a pretty good Carrefour supermarket on Suipacha 556.

We took a day trip to the Maipú wine region just outside the city but I’ll pop that in another post.

Exchanging USD at the Blue Dollar Rate in Mendoza

If you need to change US dollars on the blue market then you need to go to Mendoza’s main shopping district, specifically the cross streets of Avenida San Martin and J. Garibaldi. You’ll be approached here anyway or you’ll hear people shouting ‘dolares’. They’ll definitely move on the first number they give you but it’s always a good idea to check out that days actual blue dollar exchange rate at: www.dolarblue.mobi. The guys on the street work with a number of ‘shops’ within a little shopping mall; I say ‘shops’ as they bring you to gold exchange stores which are really currency exchange houses.

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Relaxing in Plaza Independencia

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A snapshot of Plaza Independencia

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Yay! Candy Floss!

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History Lesson in Plaza España

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Such beautiful tiles

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The effort that went into this plaza…

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Just making an important call 🙂

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Immersed in Street Life

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Street Art

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Aw look, there’s a J and C ❤️

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They take their grapes seriously here

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Local Life

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Mercado Central

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I don’t know what this is called but it’s oh so pretty I just had to share

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Colourful Dwelling

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Grand Entrance Gates to Parque General San Martín

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Parque General San Martín

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Taking Cover

Next stop: Maipú Wine Region and then across to Santiago, Chile

Córdoba, Argentina

We took a night bus from Salta to Córdoba at 7pm (839 ARS), arrived about 7am the following morning and took the 20 minute or so stroll to the city’s main plaza, Plaza San Martin. As we knew it was way too early to hostel-hop we grabbed breakfast in a local café, Sorocabana, which overlooks the plaza. Breakfast in Argentina consists of a coffee or orange juice and 2 medialunas, which are basically small, sweet croissants. Also, they’re awesome. We ended up staying at Mate! Hostel ($320 ARS) for 2 nights which was only ok but we couldn’t find anything else. The staff were lovely though so that really makes all the difference.

Our favourite visit in Córdoba was to the Museo Superior de Belles Art Palacio Ferreyra (15,000 ARS) which houses fine art in an absolutely stunning building built in 1914. There’s an area just up the road from here near Parque Sarmiento (huge green spaces) where local parents bring their kids to slide down serious inclines on cardboard boxes. John nearly took a kid out of it and all his Dad could do was laugh. This was definitely more of an evening spot – most places close for siestas in the middle of the day in Argentina which is a bit annoying as you pretty much have no options but to go and have a snooze or find wifi.

Mercado Norte (Address: Corner of Rivadavia & Oncativo) was just around the corner from our accommodation. Here you can pick up fresh meat for dinner, grab an empanada or pizza or sit down at a bar and have a drink and do some people-watching (best pastime ever. If I could put that on my CV as a hobby I would).

We came across Peniel Bookshop and Café (Address: Obispo Salguero 167) which is a pretty new Spanish bookshop and café with lovely, chatty staff. God I LOVE the people in Argentina. They’re all so friendly and willing to help with anything. I think they’d actually shell out a kidney if you needed one! The fresh orange juice here is unexplainably delicious.

Belgrano Street in the Güemes neighbourhood (only about a 15 minute still from the main plaza) is full of eclectic antique stores and quirky little restaurants – it’s a bit like Sydney’s Newtown. We went to Venezia here for a much needed milkshake – a proper milkshake too – not just shaken milk.

Córdoba's Bus Station

Córdoba’s Bus Station

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Leafy Plaza San Martin

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Córdoba’s Cathedral

The Cathedral's Dome

The Cathedral’s Dome

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Pretty flower stall

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Enjoying my French palace…actually the Museo Superior de Belles Art Palacio Ferreyra

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Loving the staircase

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Some of a current exhibition

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Some amount of work went into this

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Evening lights at the museum

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Having a drink at Clarke’s Irish Bar

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Iglesia de Los Capuchinos

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John visiting Iglesia de Los Capuchinos

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The most awesome spot for sliding!

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Cute church in near the old railway station

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Part of the Manzana Jesuítica

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Spire by the Centro Cultural Córdoba in Parque Sarmiento

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Look! Paddy’s here!

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Pikachu!

Next stop: Mendoza

Salta, Argentina

We arrived in Salta after a quick 2 hour bus journey from Jujuy with Flecha Bus ($85 ARS). We walked from the bus station to the centre of town which took about 20 minutes. The bus station is very well set up and you can store luggage here for between $5 and $36 ARS for 12 hours depending on the size of your bag (opening hours for this are from 7am – 11pm). We haven’t been booking accommodation anywhere on our travels but this was definitely a mistake for Salta, especially since we arrived on a Sunday. It took aaaages to find somewhere but eventually we found Hostal Andaluz for $250 ARS a night. It was full of Argentinian backpackers who honestly did nothing but sit in the hostel all day singing songs. Random.

Salta’s main plaza, Plaza 9 de Julio is very pretty and is overlooked by an equally lovely pink cathedral. You can exchange US dollars at the blue dollar rate on the left hand side of the cathedral here, at the crossroads of streets España and B. Mitre. The rate we got here was 13.30 ARS here for 1 USD. Most of our time in Salta was spent meandering around leafy squares and checking out churches. It’s a lovely place to spend some time. The Argentinians are absolutely fabulous too – some of the nicest people we’ve met in South America. We ate in Van Gogh restaurant one afternoon (on the plaza, right hand side of the cathedral) and we had our first glass of Argentinian wine – oh my God they can fill a glass!! No Sydney-sized 4mm glasses for $20 here. We stayed in Salta for 3 days and as we had quite a bit of rain we spent a number of hours utilising the wifi services at Aniceto Coffee Bar and Grill. They have lovely Submarinos here; basically a hot chocolate but they give you warmed milk and a bar of chocolate so you have to so a little work. We had amazing ice-cream at Fili too, an old school ice-cream store (Address: 299 Sarmiento). We tried out dulce de leche flavour, the locals’ favourite. Delicious.

We took a night bus with La Veloz del Norte at 7.15pm on our last evening in Salta for the 12 hour journey to Córdoba.

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The Cathedral in all its glory

Pretty signage near Plaza 9 de Julio

Pretty signage near Plaza 9 de Julio

Cabildo

Cabildo

I'm enjoying a nice tile lately :-)

I’m enjoying a nice tile lately 😊

Pretty Pharmacy

Pretty Pharmacy

Loving this door

Loving this door

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Chilling at the day job

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Loving the colour

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More lovely tiles

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Fili’s

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Plenty of flavour options

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Simple and elegant

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Plaza Manuel Belgrano

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Taking a break

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Convento San Bernardo

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Iglesia San Francisco

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Street Art

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Isn’t Salta lovely?

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The Cathedral’s Dome

Protests in Salta after Alberto Nisman's death

Protests in Salta after Alberto Nisman’s death

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Inside the Cathedral

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So nice

Next stop: Córdoba

Tupiza, Bolivia and the Bolivia/Argentina Border Crossing at Villazon/La Quiaca

We just stayed in Tupiza for one night to break up the trip to Salta in Argentina. The trip from Uyuni to Tupiza began at 6am (we went with a company called 11 de Julio and we had to change a few hours in to another company, 12 de Octubre. Both buses were terrible and there’s no toilet stop or toilet on the bus. Fun!) We stayed at La Torres Hotel in Tupiza which was lovely (120 BOB).

Border crossing from Villazón, Bolivia to La Quiaca, Argentina

Collectivo’s leave from the back of Tupiza’s bus terminal from 5am every morning. So we were actually told that it would take hours to get through this border but a sleep in until 6am was required! We hopped in a collectivo at 6.40am and only had to wait 10 minutes for it to fill up. At 8.10am we pulled into Villazón (our driver was certifiable mind). From here you need to walk down to the border crossing although there are no signs so you basically just need to follow everyone else. There are plenty of currency exchange offices on the Bolivian side of the border. We were told that Bolivianos get a good rate against the Argentinian Peso; we got 1.91 for the Bolivianos we had left and 13.5 Argentinian Pesos (ARS) for each USD we had acquired (January 2015). As the Argentinian economy isn’t doing too wonderfully at the moment there’s a ‘blue dollar’ market – the actual rate should be about 8 ARS for every USD. Result! We’ve been told to try not to take any money out of banks in Argentina as the charges and rates are astronomical.

After changing our money (and asking directions from 3 different people) we found the bridge or border crossing to take take us from Bolivia to Argentina. You’ll see a sign with the numbers 1-4 in front of you. Firstly, you have to queue at number 4 (Migracion). This queue (down an uncovered bridge – sunburn central) took 2 hours. There was one person working to stamp us out of Bolivia. Next, you go to queue number 3 where you eventually get stamped in to Argentina (you’ll need the forms that are being handed out. The person handing them out told us we didn’t need them and then we had to fill them out at the control point). There were 2 people working on the Argentinian side of the border so it was only another half and hour of a queue here. You then have to queue up at queue number 1 and put your bags through an x-ray machine…which is in a van. Then you’re done! We wandered straight down the road to the town of La Quica (about a 10 minute walk) and found the bus station (3 blocks uphill from the main pedestrian street). We hopped straight on a Panamericano bus to Jujuy (115 ARS, ended up taking 7 hours) for a connection to Salta (We ended up staying in Jujuy for the night and caught a bus the following morning at 11am with Flecha Bus for the 2 hour journey to Salta). You have to  pay to store your bags underneath the bus in Argentina. Anyway, 2 hours into the journey from La Quiaca we were stopped by police officers and everyone had to bring their luggage into a room (women queue with women and vice versa) and show our passports. Some people had their bags searched and 2 people were detained. This added nearly another hour to the journey. I wouldn’t recommend Panamericano to be honest – we must have stopped 30 times on that trip.

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Changing our money in Bolivia

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Leaving Bolivia; Entering Argentina

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Only a few in front of us 🙂

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How far?!

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Welcome to Argentina! So pretty.

Next stop: Salta!