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Trip Report 9 Weeks in South America

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My wife and I are 40 are something Aussies who decided to have a trip of a lifetime in South America. We flew into Buenos Aires in early October 2010 from Perth, Australia. Wow what a long flight that was. Everything I had learnt and planned from my trip had been undertaken via the internet, using this Fodors site and TravelBlog.org. What did we do before the intenet??

We stayed initially 3 nights in San Telmo at the Hotel Babel. Great Hotel and the staff were so helpful, which seemed to be a common theme throughout our travels. Most of our 3 days we spent exploring SanTelmo, and we loved it, the architecture, the cobble stoned streets, the history, the flea markets and not to mention the wonderful food.....yes Parilla's were soooo good. I have never ever seen steak so thick and tasty and the BBQ ribs so plentiful. Siga La Vaca is a Parilla in Puerto Madero that was recommended to us by a Columbian we met on our flight over, and I have no hesitations in recommending it to others. We had lunch there and were still full by the time dinner time came about.

We also managed to visit La Boca, thankfully we had a very nice Taxi driver who warned us of the risks involved in visiting certain parts of La Boca. He even rescued us from potential muggers outside the La Boca stadium as we stopped to pose for photos. La Boca had a fantastic atmosphere, very touristy, but it was a wonderful experience all the same.

Next stop was Lima for a further 3 nights ( Don't panic AVRooster we return to your lovely country later on in the trip). We flew via LAN which was far more up market than the Aerolineas Argentinas flight we took from Australia (Im not complaining though as it was a cheap special). I think Lima gets a bad rap, So many people on the forums and travel blogs say it is boring and lifeless, yet we found it really enjoyable. Sure we stayed in a hostel in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima that is more upmarket and caters for the tourist. But we also travelled into downtown Lima and had a fantastic experience visiting all the sights including the 'must see' statue with a Llama on its head. We spent our entire time just wandering around on foot, people watching and exploring the city and never once did we feel threatened or in any danger, in fact it was like that for pretty much our whole trip. We fell in love with the tradional drink, Pisco Sour, though neither of us quite gathered up the courage to try the speciality meal of Guinea Pig. My wife tried the Cerviche and loved that too, so much so that she bought a book on Peruvian Cuisine to try the assorted recipes on our return to Australia.

A few things we noticed, Miraflores has so many Casinos, yet there didn't seem to be many people visiting them. And secondly I couldn't believe the amount of armed security guards, outside every bank and major store, with an assortment of firepower, it is something we are not used to seeing back home in Australia. Lastly, the weather, every photo I had previously seen of Lima on travel blogs etc, it was cloudy and overcast, we were very fortunate and every day had bright sun, so much so that we got a bit sunburnt.

We caught our flight from Lima to Quito. Initially I was a bit unsure whether to go, as it was only a few weeks after the attempted coup and the city was placed under martial law. But what the hell, we had purchased our flight tickets and accomodation months in advance, plus we had travel insurance, we decided to roll the dice. We spoilt ourselves and stayed at Cafe Cultura, and that paid off immediately. On our very first day we met the manager who invited us out with him that evening to the opening of a new restuarant that was owned by friends of his. How could we refuse?? We along with 3 others, went along and it turned out to be a five star place, where we tried the most amazing and exotic foods and tasting platters,all washed down with Argentian Malbec wine and we didn't have to pay a cent. He then suggested we attend the opening of a friends nightclub, again, how could we refuse. We went and met with Quito's Arts crowd, including Ecuador's most famous movie director who ALMOST made a move with Harrison Ford. We made it back to the hotel safely and woke up the next morning with a headache. It didn't take long to work out that altitude and alcohol don't mix well.

We both enjoyed our 3 nights in Quito, can you sense a theme here??, however, overall it was probably the city in South America that failed to impress me the most. Sure it has a long interesting history, some wonderful churches, the best shoe shiners in South America, Cafe Cultura and again, food to die for, but there was something about this place that didn't quite do it for us. However, our next stop was Banos and that more than made up for Quito and put Ecuador back on the 'must visit again' list.

To be continued.

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    Part 2.

    We arrived in Banos by bus, we were assured it would be directo, though this wasn't srictly the case. Lucky for us they had entertainment in the form of a John Claude Van Damne movie, badly dubbed in Spanish, which was repeated over and over. Happy days!!!.

    Banos was such a contrast to Quito, so lush, green and tropical, surrounded by mountains, rivers and waterfalls. It was so serene. Whilst there we did treks, horse riding, swam each day in the thermal pool and even went on a volcanic explosion tour, though the closest we got to seeing the actual volcano explode was sitting around a camp fire, however, it still made for a good evening out.

    We stayed at a hostel named the Chiminea and for $14.00 had a private room and bathroom. Great value and location. We also found a really good restuarant tucked away on a back street named Mariane Cafe. There, we had the best, freshest tasting maracuja (passionfruit juice) ever and the food was also top notch and extremely cheap. It is run by a french guy named Michel....so if ever you go to Banos look it up, you won't regret it.

    After a 4 days relaxing in Banos we went to Otavalo to sample the markets. What an experience, it is I think, the biggest indigenous market in South America ( please correct me if Im wrong)there were market stalls as far as the eye could see, selling all sorts of goods. We couldn't believe the size of some of the fresh produce, the cabbages for example were like soccer balls on steroids, they were huge. We also found time the following day to visit the Mitadad Del Mundo and did all the usual touristy things there.

    Next stop back to Lima for a couple more days before flying to Cusco. I don't know who it was that recommended sitting on the left side of the plane for the trip, but it was great advice. The views of the snowcapped Andes were amazing, then as the plane approached Cusco, it rose up over a mountain and roared down the other side before twisting and turning and landing safely on the run way. It made for a great flight.

    We immediately left Cusco to acclimatise in the Sacred Valley. We had already booked accomodation at the Apu Lodge in Ollantaytambo. We realy liked Apu Lodge, Louise and the staff couldn't do enough to help and the accomodation itself was perfect. To top it off, located approx 500m above us on a cliff face were Incan ruins for us to explore.

    Ollantaytambo is a very pretty town, and again there is lots to see and do. Being surrounded by mountains and Incan ruins made it a very special place. In fact the whole of the Sacred Valley is very impressive and if ever we get the opportunity to return we would spend more time exploring it in greater detail.

    After a few days acclimatising we returned to Cusco and spent a couple of days checking out the sights before tackling the trek to Machu Pichu. We booked with Llama Path and I can't recommend them enough. There were brilliant. I suppose it certainly helps when we were fortunate enough to be the only two persons attempting the trek with Llama Path on the day of our departure. We were treated liked Kings, well I was at least, and my wife was treated like a Queen. We both have so much admiration for the porters, it is unbelievable how they managed to travel so quickly up steep slopes with a so much weight on their backs (on average it was 30kg). They are worth every cent they are tipped. We on the other hand, just with our day packs, were regularly overtaken by old women herding donkeys, which was very deflating. The views more than made up for losing to the old women as we raced up the Gringo killer inclines. The photos we took were very good but still don't do the beauty of the area the justice it deserves.

    We managed to survive the hike and made it safely to Machu Pichu. It was just as I had imagined it, shrouded with mist early in the morning, which slowly disappeared revealing the ancient city. We spent the whole day exploring, it is such an amazing place, and one I will be forever grateful I was able to visit, albeit with really sore calf muscles after the climb.

    We spent a few more days relaxing in Cusco which included being present for Halloween. That was a different experience, the parents dressed their children beautifully in assorted outfits, though the outfits didn't really seem to have much to do with Halloween itself, such as Minnie Mouse, Spiderman, Ben 10, kids dressed as Flowers, Princesses and Buzz Lightyear, though Im sure the parents who dressed their child as Michael Jackson were on the right track!! We bought 3 huges bags of candy and handed them out to so many children who had gathered with their parents in the main plaza. The following day we caught a bus to Puno. On the way to Puno we passed through a town named Juileta which looked more like downtown Beirut. Im a so glad we didn't have to stop there.

    We spent a couple of nights in Puno, which fortunately co-incided with their birthday celebrations, therefore there was a big carnival from about 5.00pm until 1.00am with marching bands,the locals dressed in bright coloured outfits abd lots of ating and drinking.

    We visited Lake Titcaca and the Uros Islands, which was a wonderful experience, before having a home stay on Amantani Island. It certainly demonstrated how materialistic we are in the western world compared to the locals who appear so happy with what they have in life. We slept on a straw bed and had soup for lunch, breakfast and dinner but we didn't mind. The Lake itself was the most brilliant blue I have ever seen and we were lucly that it was so still and flat for when we crossed both there and back. We also visited Tacquile Island and had lunch at a restaurant with million dollar views yet we payed only a few dollars for lunch. We made it safely back to Puno, but had concerns about our boat, I think if the weather was rougher, it may not have made it.

    Next stop La Paz.

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    Thank you for a great trip report, Gary062!

    About your: "Don't panic AVRooster we return to your lovely country later on in the trip", I don´t panic easily, but I certainly look forward "somewhat" anxiously (LOL!) to your further comments about my country!

    I'll bet you had a great time in my country. When should we expect you and your wife back here?

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    Great report Gary good info keep it coming.

    Quito tends to grow on you over time

    www.nuhousehotels.com was great when I stayed there

    the vibrant center of the city in the Mariscal Sucre.

    Vibrant gateway to the most eco-dense country in SA for me.

    Volcano jungle cloud forest within 2 hours away amazing.

    like www.huaorani.com

    Perhaps you will return and get to experience more

    without the civil unrest next time...

    Happy Travels thanks great report...

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    We arrived in La Paz via bus and immediately were blown away with what a huge bustling metropolis it really is. People, cars, bikes and houses were spread out as far as the eye could see. We have never been to a city sprawled out over such a large area. It looked so much more impressive from the main lookout where you could really appreciate the size of El Alto.

    We thought that after being in Cusco, Ollantaytambo and doing the M.P. trek, the altitude wouldn't pose us any problems. Wrong. Whilst we didn't get sick, we just couldn't acclimatise. Each day we would attempt to walk up the stairs of our hotel to the 5th floor and despite being in La Paz for 7 days and walking everywhere, each day was the same, we were breathless by the time we reached the 3rd floor, no matter how many times we attempted it per day.

    It didn't stop us having a great time. La Paz was great for shopping, the variety of goods for sale, not necessarily in shops, but in the daily market stalls was huge and at good prices too. So much so that my wife had to buy another suitcase. If only Australian border patrol weren't that strict I would have managed to attempt get a few Llama foetuses from the Witches Market through Customs and Im sure Xmas time would have been so much more fun!!

    The people were super friendly to the extent that one day we were shopping at a market stall and the owner of the stall passed us a note in Spanish advising us that would be thieves were watching us. When we finished our purchase we went to turn left and the stall holder told us to turn right as the thieves had moved and were waiting for us around a corner. That sort of helpfulness remains long in the memory.

    Food was very nice, we ended up spending a lot of time in a restaurant called Luna, where I had some of the best Spaghetti Bolgnese I have ever tasted. Whilst in La Paz we managed to catch a Cholita wrestling show, which was nearly as good as the WWE. We couldn't believe it when we were handed a cup of popcorn each and encouraged to throw it at the wrestlers......though they didn't suggest the same for our complimentary drink in case it was returned in kind.

    I did the Death Road which was such an amazing experience, especially starting up so high where it was so cold and then riding downhill into almost jungle like terrain where the temperature suddenly rose substantially. The scenery was magnificent, though I didn't want to dwell on it too long, as it such was a long drop over the edge. I went with Luna ( Yes the same company as the restuarant)I paid a bit more, but the equipment provided was top notch as was the service. Not only that but I heard some horror stories about some of the other companies.

    We caught a flight to Asunsion Paraguay and on our arrival found that our bags had been tampered with whilst en route. Fortunately nothing was taken, either they were searching for money in the wrong place or they didn't like the gifts we had purchased!!

    Asuncion was the first city we had been to that had Australian like temperatures, it was hot and humid and we finally managed to ditch our jeans and put on shorts. We even got an opportunity to have a swim in our hotel pool. The hotel was called the Gran Amelie, a 4 star hotel, with large comfy 70 's decorated rooms, but for around $75 per night with a fantastic buffet breakfast and brilliant views of the city from the dining area, it couldn't be faulted.

    Asuncion whilst not having a lot to do, kept us occupied for the 3 days we were there. We couldn't believe Paraguay had its own navy ( yes we saw the naval ship on the river and even took a photo to prove it) which isn't bad considering it is a landlocked country. We got our first sights of the locals using mate, which is just as big in Asuncion as it is, as we later found out, in Uruguay. The shopping wasn't as good and many souvenir stores could take merchandising lessons from their Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Argentinan counterparts. The city itself had so many beautiful buildings, but at the same time it had so many beautiful buildings that were neglected and so run down. If only they took the time to fix them up Asuncion would truly be a beautiful city.

    We also got to see a soccer match involving two of Paragauys top teams. I wanted to sample some of the famous South American passion and fervour at a match, but should have heeded the warning signs when we passed a family park that had a herd of cows grazing in it. When we got to the match we could literally count all the spectators, nearly a third of them were emergency services workers, including 11 fully kitted out riot police. Unfortunately for me there was none of the fireworks that I expected though I couldn't help but enjoy the spectacle all the same.

    We flew to Cuidad Del Este, but didn't stay. We caught a taxi through the city, across the border into Brazil and finally into Argentina to Puerto Iguazu. The taxi ride was an adventure in itself speeding along the roads and at one stage a motorcyclist smashed into the side of our vehicle at such a speed I thought he killed himself, especially as he wasn't wearing a helmet. Fortunately for him, he only disclocated his kneecap.

    We stayed at Los Troncos in Puerto Iguasu. Two words for anyone thinking about staying there.... do it. It was quite possibly the best accomodation we had for our entire trip.
    The price was just right, the staff couldn't do enough to help you, the food was brilliant, they made the best Capirinha drinks and the chalets could not be faulted.

    The whole reason for going there was for Iguassu Falls and they didn't let us down. The Falls were everything we expected and more. The Devils Throat part of the falls was jaw dropping in size, sound and beauty as we walked out above it. We also approached it from below in a high speed boat and got soaked in the process, it really was an exhilerating experience. In fact the whole park was so good we did it for two days in a row. We loved the weather too, more of the Aussie weather, and an opportunity to keep the shorts on and work on the tan.

    Next stop Rio.

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    Gary062,
    If your bags appeared to be 'tampered with' enroute, but nothing was taken, then it was probably just a security inspection at the airport. This happens frequently, in the USA the TSA usually leaves a note in the bag, but that is probably not uniformly done in other countries. If the intent was theft, I'm sure they'd have found SOMETHING worth taking.

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    We arrived in Rio 16 hours later than expected, I wish I could blame TAM, but unfortunately it was my stupid mistake. I thought we were departing Iguasu from the Argentine Airport.....wrong. Worse still I believed we had ample time to make it across the border to the Brazilian side and make it to the airport with minutes to spare. Wrong again. I didn't even contemplate the 1 hour time difference between the 2 countries. TAM were very good to us and arranged a flight to Rio very early the next morning, so we spent our first evening in Brazil in a cheap motel by the airport. Not what we quite anticipated, but I can't blame anyone but myself.

    Rio was great, sure we were only there for 6 nights and did all the touristy things, but we had a fantastic time regardless. We loved the Christ the re-deemer statue, Sugarloaf mountain, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, the hippie markets, and watching a real South American football match. The real highlight was the Favela tour. The Rocinha favela had houses piled on top of one another and this was expected, as was the knowledge that it was controlled by a drug dealer, the sense of commumnity, vibrant people and lack of poverty was not. Neither were the gun toting youths with AK 47-s. It was all very surreal, but was one of the best days we spent in Rio.

    Actually the people in Rio were the happiest that we encountered in the entire trip. Everyone seemed so laid back, carefree, and so very helpful, maybe it was due to the wonderful climate and the plentiful helpings of food and drink. We also noticed a lack of people begging. Not that it bothered us at other locations within S.A, it is just we didn't see it at all during our time in Rio.

    We flew from Rio to Montevideo and immediately were so happy to be back in cattle country. Whilst we enjoyed our food in every country we visited, we sorely missed the calibre of steaks provided by Argentina. Uruguay did not disappoint.

    We stayed at the Plaza Fuerte and were really impressed with its 1930 art deco style, the high quality service, the big rooms, big breakfasts and most importantly the affordable price. Look it up on the web if you are considering visiting Montevideo, it is a location certainly worth staying at.

    The Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) was amazing and as soon as we entered it we began salivating. Basically it was an old market that had numerous restaurants located inside, each cooking assorted meats on open fires. The smells and sights were such that it attracted us like moths to a flame. We sat down and ate so much, the steak and BBQ ribs were the same quality as their Argentinian neighbours. Tip - if you are visiting sit at the counter of any restuarant there as opposed to being seated at a table inside and you pay much less.

    Montevideo reminded me a lot of Asuncion, in that if they locals invested some time and money into fixing up some of the run down buildings, of which there are plenty and many are very beautiful even in a run down state, it would make it a far more attractive city than what it really is. Also the locals don't seem too concerned regarding rubbish, it is discarded everywhere. It was probably the most untidy capital city we visited. But would I visit there again? Absolutely!! The positives far outweighed the negatives.

    We caught the Burquebus across the river from Montevideo to B.A for the last leg of our journey. This time we stayed at the Pangea Hostel in Monserrat. Again, we can't speak highly enough of the staff (especially Mara and Diego) and the service provided, we would certainly stay there again. We spent 4 days exploring the city as we only really checked out San Telmo and La Boca earlier when we first commenced our trip.

    B.A was simply brilliant. Again, granted, we were just tourists, but we loved every aspect of this city. It is such a diverse city, but the fantastic people and architecture were a constant in such diversity.

    We found a great Parilla on Entre Rios in Monserrat, I think it was called the New Castle or it's Spanish equivalent. We made it our second home as the food was just to our liking and cheap too. One of the waiters named Fabian always managed to entertain us despite the obvious language barriers.
    I must admit I found pretty much everything in B.A affordable and far cheaper than many other tourists seem to make out.....yes, even the shops on Florida Ave were ok and we are far from being considered affluent.

    I went and watched some real Argentinian football. I am now officially supporting River Plate. What a stadium and atmosphere, and being part of it was one of my personal hi lights. Im not so sure about my wife being so impressed though,but at least she managed to capture a goal by River Plate on our bloggie, so well done to her :-)

    After 4 days in B.A it was a coin toss between Bariloche and Salta as our next destination. After much discussion with the Pangea staff and being aware of the numerous postings by Angie (Flintstones) on this forum, Salta via Cordoba won out.

    What a wise choice. Thanks Angie for opening my eyes to the beauty of the north. We got a semi cama bus to Salta via Cordoba, spending a day there before heading to Salta. We immediately fell in love with the people, the city and the temperature.

    As we had only 4 days there( which is no where near enough, but by this stage we were running out of time) we did as much exploring as possible.

    We did a day trip at the Sayta Estancia, riding with the real Guachos. www.sayta.com.ar. And after our 3 hour ride we relaxed on the Estancia where I had possibly the best steak I have ever tasted, washed down by home made wine, all prepared for us by our wonderful host Enrique. What a character, he was funny, charming, and a wealth of information. Whilst he didn't ride with us he kept us entertained throughout the lunch and late into the afternoon. We were both really sorry when the day finally ended and we had to return to Salta.

    We did a day trip which took us past the most amazing scenery and eventually led us to the Salinas Grandes and finally Purmamarca. I could not believe how the scenery seemed to change every kilometre or so, the mountain ranges changed formation and colour so often, it was truly breathtaking. To sum it up in a paragraph or two doesn't really do it sufficient justice.

    We took so many photos and tried to absord as much information as much as we possibly could. Without a doubt it was the most beautiful scenery we encountered on the entire trip, which isn't bad considering it was up against the greenery and waterfalls of Banos and Iguasu, the jaw dropping beauty of Machu Pichu and the mountains on the Death Road, Bolivia.

    We left Salta, this time in a cama suite bus and slept so well. What a great way to travel and so cheap too.

    We stayed a further night in B.A before returning to Australia 2 weeks before Christmas. This time the flight took 19 hours, damn headwinds, but it was a small price to pay for such a fantastic trip.

    I want to thank everyone we met in South America for making it such a trip of a lifetime, and also some of the posters on this site who provided invaluable advice. Neither of us can wait to save up again so that we can return.

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