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Trip Report A fabulous trip! Argentina and Uruguay 20 days: Nov-Dec 2011

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Trip report:
20 days, Nov 17- Dec 6, 2011
Buenos Aires - Mendoza- Salta - Cafayate - Cachi - Purmamarca - Iguazu Falls - La Barra/Punta del Este, Uruguay - Montevideo - Colonia - Buenos Aires

I had so much good advice from Trip Advisor, Fodor's, and FlyerTalk (Argentina) that I am posting this on all 3 forums.

A little background on us:
Married over 30 years, been traveling together all those years, mid-50's.
I was a travel agent for over 20 years
Husband is a Spanish translator.

Less than 2 months prior to our departure we decided to take this long dreamed of trip to Argentina. As much as we wanted to include the southern part of the country, we accepted the reality that we only had time to focus on the northern part of this huge and varied country. As I started to get into the nitty gritty planning including domestic air flights and schedules it quickly became overwhelming and frustrating, even for me, who has had years of experience planning trips.

And then we made the best decision of the whole trip! We contacted
ISABEL at BUENOS AIRES TOURS!!!
contact@buenosaires-tours.com.ar
www.buenosaires-tours.com.ar

We really could go on for pages raving about Isabel. We have never seen anyone work so hard! She is caring, diligent, detail-oriented and has a great sense of humor! She speaks and writes perfect English. She responded to emails so quickly - at all hours of night and day! She reconfirmed flights, made dinner reservations, watched and kept fingers crossed so that we would not have any problems - it truly felt like we had a guardian angel on this trip!

To think we had 20 days of flights, hotels, tours, car rentals, Buquebus - AND absolutely everything Isabel booked was PERFECT!!!!!
Believe me, this is a major accomplishment in Argentina! We know there were many things out of Isabel's control (AR flights for one thing) but we got extremely lucky this trip, and Isabel was a big part of that!

The day of our arrival in Buenos Aires, Isabel came to our hotel at 6pm to present us with our travel vouchers and an amazing one page calendar with our whole itinerary. I loved this! I have never had anything like this before and it was so handy to keep in my purse at all times. It was at this time we paid Isabel in USD cash the booking fee for her services. We felt it was very fair and reasonable for the many many hours she spent booking our trip and then all of the time she spent caring about us while we were traveling.

We were extremely happy with all of the hotels Isabel booked for us. She is very conscious of cost, location, and helpfulness of staff at the hotels. The majority of hotels were way beyond our expectations. There were several times when we arrived at a hotel and learned from the front desk that Isabel had called to make sure we had arrived!

If you contact Isabel for your Argentina trip please be nice to her!
She works so hard and gets too little sleep and is truly a gem!
We feel she has become our friend and we already are dreaming of returning to Argentina (for the south) next year and can't wait to be in touch with Isabel again!

One more recommendation- about using a phone in Argentina.
I had an old Blackkberry that Verizon unlocked for me.
Before we left, I found a suggestion on Trip Advisor about getting an Argentinian sim card before departure so that I could give my phone number to family in case of emergency. Also, because I had heard so many horror stories about flight delays and cancellations I thought it might be wise to have a phone to call Isabel if we needed help.
I purchased an Argentina sim card through "Ferncollector" on eBay.
Yes, you can also buy a sim card when you arrive in Buenos Aires but I did not want to waste our time dealing with that and I wanted the phone number ahead of time. "Ferncollector" lives in Buenos Aires and was absolutely fantastic. He was so helpful and was more than happy to help with any questions we might have about travel in general. In addition to Isabel, we felt we had another "friend" in Argentina. (as it turns out - we barely needed the phone because we had no problems! - lucky us).

INTERNATIONAL AIR: United/Continental : SFO/IAH/BUE
this worked out to be a very convenient connection.

Day 1: ARRIVAL BUENOS AIRES
Payed $140 per person reciprocity fee by credit card
Outside baggage claim went to Bank ATM and got AR$1000 pesos
Used Taxiezieza from inside EZE, great driver, 180 pesos to Recoleta hotel
HOTEL: Ayres Recoleta Plaza, room #703, great room overlooking Recoleta cemetery and there is a market right across the street.
(We have already decided when we return to BA, we will stay here again)
LUNCH: delicious empanadas at El Sanjuanino
DINNER: Walked to Rodi Bar Restaurant for a great, reasonably priced dinner.
Afterwards to Buller Pub to sit outside and enjoy a beer.

Day 2: BUENOS AIRES
Husband went for a great run along Liberatador with many parks, blooming jacarandas, and luxury apartments.
We walked from Recoleta to San Telmo, via Nueve de Julio, San Martin Plaza, Calle Florida, Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Calle Defensa.
LUNCH: Desnivel in San Telmo
Took colectivo (city bus) part way back for $AR1.20 pp
Once back to Recoleta went to lively outdoor cafe Biela for beers.
DINNER: outside at El Club de la Milanesa on Las Heras very close to our hotel - great waiter and good food.

Day 3: FLY AEP-MENDOZA
taxi Recoleta to AEP: $AR35
Our AR flight was only 40 minutes delayed so we were happy!
Surprised at how nice the AEP airport is.
Taxi to Executive Hotel - $AR40
HOTEL: Checked in at the Executive and was advised we had been moved to their sister hotel, Diplomatic Hotel, room #1105 with beautiful view of the mountains. Very nice hotel.
DINNER: outside at La Florencia on Sarmiento Street just around the corner from our hotel.

Day 4: MENDOZA: AMPORA WINE TOUR
Uco Valley with guide Rosario - excellent
Visited Andeluna, Salentein, and 5 course lunch at O'Fournier
DINNER: Azafran

Day 5: MENDOZA: AMPORA WINE TOUR
Lujan de Cuyo with guide Jose, excellent
Visited Alta Vista, Kaiken, Caelum, and 5 course lunch at Ruca Malen-- tasted 21 wines!!!!
DINNER: walked along the lively Colon street to the very end to
El Patio Parrilla de Jesus Maria

Day 6: FLY MENDOZA-SALTA
AR flight delayed 4-1/2 hours due to volcano ash in BUE - we were just so happy the flight was not cancelled. Austal plane was very nice with 2-2 seating.
Taxi airport to hotel $AR36
HOTEL: Ayres de Salta, room #410, excellent location, helpful staff, very comfortable rooms, great towels, underground parking garage.
DINNER: Dona Salta - great dinner! Delicious locro and huaschalocro and very reasonably priced.

Day 7 - DRIVE SALTA TO CAFAYATE
Picked up Avis car at their downtown location right near Iglesia de San Francisco. Very convenient. Walked there from our hotel, Ayres de Salta, picked up car, and then back to hotel to check out and collect luggage.
This is our first driving experience in Argentina. A little crazy getting out of Salta. Many intersections do not have traffic lights so you just push your way through. It was supposed to be straight shot out of town and on to Route 68 but there was an important directional sign that was missing and we could not get on the right road. Ended up, lost, back in Salta and had to ask directions. Thank god husband speaks excellent Spanish or we may never have left Salta. This delayed us about 45 minutes.
Drive took about 3-1/2 hours through Quebrada de las Conchas. Saw burros, goats, chickens, cactus, red clay, amazing mountains. Mostly road was nicely paved and then suddenly a detour and turn to gravel.
HOTEL: Hotel Killa, room #12, named "Torrentes" (our new favorite wine!)
Fabulous hotel! This is what we were hoping for in Argentina! Very spacious and immaculate, decorated with local art, gorgeous landscaping including many potted cacti. Beautiful pool area. Just a couple blocks from lively main square.
LUNCH: on the square at La Estancia -food not so great but fun sitting out there.
DINNER: outside at El Rancho. Good food and reasonably priced.

Day 8 - DRIVE CAFAYATE TO CACHI
5 hours on Ruta 40 - unpaved rocky road averaging about 25 miles per hour, praying car would not break down. A bit stressful! Saw very few other cars or people. Scenery is beautiful through tiny villages with beautiful churches, spectacular rock formations, vineyards, fields of cacti.
Cachi is a tiny and sleep village!
HOTEL: ACA Hosteria, room #10, nothing fancy but very clean and comfortable. We enjoyed sitting out in their courtyard near our room.
DINNER: Ashpamanta - found name on Trip Advisor. Would have never found this tiny place with 4 tables. Food was quite good.

Day 9 - DRIVE CACHI TO SALTA
Had 1/2 tank of gas so refueled in Cachi.
Left 9:30am for 3-1/2 hr drive on Rt 33, including Parque National Los Cardones. Some parts unpaved but not nearly as bad as Rt 40 (Cafayate-Cachi). Spectacular scenery.
HOTEL: Ayres de Salta for 2nd of 3 nights - it felt like we were going home! So nice to know how to find the hotel and what to expect.
DINNER: La Monumental (pizzeria and parrilla) - maybe the best dinner so far. Outstanding steak( la churrasco de filet), sides, very reasonable. It was not until we left that we discovered the sister restaurant across the street. Will probably go there for our last night.

Day 10 - DRIVE SALTA TO PURMAMARCA
About 3 hour drive on the "slow" Rt 9 - it is paved but very narrow - barely enough room for two cars to pass each other plus encountered lots of cows, horses, dogs in the road.
Purmamarca is unbelievably beautiful and much more "tourist friendly" than Cachi.
HOTEL: Marques de Tojo - gorgeous!
LUNCH: Pedro Pan, a little 3 table place in town: - pizza and pasta were delicious and very freshly made.
Walked the trail on the "Cerros de los siete colores"
Took about 20 min. drive up to Tilcara - interesting town but glad we are staying in Purmamarca
DINNER: Tierras de Colores - with pena group called "Wayra" - good music, food not so good
Later, El Heribierto for some more music

Day 11 - DRIVE PURMAMARCA TO SALTA
We took the "freeway" back to Salta and it still took 3 hours.
Fortunately it was a Sunday so very few cars on the street in Salta made it easy to get back to Ayres de Salta.
DINNER: La Monumental (sister restaurant across the street from the pizzeria where we ate before). Basically same menu plus more items. Seems fancier and has outdoor seating which is very popular. Lots of families. Ordered the exact same dinner we had at the other restaurant. Very good.

Day 12 - FLY SALTA TO IGUAZU
Fortunately today is a holiday of some sort (everyone we ask is not clear as to what holiday it is) so 9am drive to airport to drop Avis car was very easy as streets of Salta deserted.
With a huge sigh of relief we returned the car, in good shape! Over 5 days we drove 555 miles! We got gas two times when
at half tank, once in Cachi for $AR150 and in Salta near airport for $AR200
Avis was excellent to deal with and we found their downtown Salta location very convenient.
We had booked and prepaid through Isabel at Buenos Aires Tours-about $US80 per day including insurance and taxes, expensive but glad we did it.
We enjoyed returning to Salta and Ayres de Salta the 3 different nights during our "circuit."

Our Iguazu experience could not have been more perfect
beginning with an almost exactly on time and very nice Austral flight.
HOTEL: Sheraton Iguazu. Yes, the moment you enter the hotel and see the falls in the background, you feel the high room price is worth it! Our "falls view" room #242 was very nice and it truly was incredible to wake up to that view!
We arrived at the hotel in time to have the park to ourselves from 5p-6p and walked the "inferior" (lower) trail.
Absolutely amazing experience and so nice to have it practically all to ourselves at that hour - again, it makes it worth paying the high price of the hotel.
After dinner in the Sheraton dining room we went to their outdoor terrace to listen to the falls
and look at the stars. Our bar waiter gave us the most helpful information for touring the next day
which we followed (see below).

Day 13 - IGUAZU: ARGENTINA AND BRAZIL
The included breakfast buffet was the best of our trip.
Because we were Sheraton guests, we had the park to ourselves from 8am-9am and we walked
the "superior" (upper) trail. Then we caught the train (about 15 min ride) out to the La Garganta del Diablo.
This was the first place we encountered lots of crowds and it is very hot as the trails are not shaded.
Came back and bought tickets AR$125pp for the zodiac into the falls!
You have to go back down the inferior trail route and then hike down to the boat. It is a 20 minute speed boat right into the falls and we got soaking wet!
Even though we had already checked out, the Sheraton was very nice to let us use their spa bathroom to change into dry clothes.
At 2pm our prearranged Sol Iguazu tour showed up to take us to the Brazilian side of the falls.
We had gone through the hassle and expense to get the Brazilian visa and we were not disappointed.
They were definitely spectacular in their own way!
We probably paid way too much by booking this ahead of time and could have just booked a remise to take us over to the Brazil side. But no regrets, it was an incredible day.
HOTEL: El Jardin de Iguazu. The staff, pool area, location are wonderful. Our room #110 was the smallest of the trip but fine for one night.
DINNER: El Quincho del Tio Querido - very fun and busy restaurant with music.

Day 14 - FLY IGUAZU TO MONTEVIDEO - DRIVE TO LA BARRA,PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY
8:20am pickup from hotel. Flight was one hour late to AEP but that's okay we and the luggage arrived about 1pm.
Recollected and rechecked bags to MVD. Flight left one hour late at 5:40pm. One hour time change so arrived at 7:15pm. Very modern and easy airport. Got Uruguayan pesos at ATM and shuttle to Thrifty car rental. Very helpful staff and quite reasonable car rate (compared to Salta). It was close to 9pm before we hit the road. Very windy, rainy, dark - but thank goodness good road - in fact, so good, it is a TOLL road, 50pesos each toll. Finally reached
HOTEL:Kryon Posada de Mar in La Barra (beyond Punta del Este) after 10pm. Said quick "hellos" and ran out to "Rex" for our first chivito. Very long travel day but we made it!!!

Day 15 - EXPLORING THE NORTHERN COAST OF URUGUAY
Jose Ignacio, Garzon (Francis Mallmann restaurant), Rocha, La Paloma, and lunch in La Pedrera.
HOTEL:Kryon Posada de Mar in La Barra
DINNER: walked into La Barra for dinner at Baby Gouda

Day 16 - EXPLORING PUNTA DEL ESTE AND PUNTA BALLENA
Including the Casapueblo hotel and Carlos Paez Vilaro museum.
Lunch at outdoor cafe overlooking ocean
HOTEL:Kryon Posada de Mar in La Barra
DINNER: was a problem - we walked to Manatiales (about 20 min) - first to Cactus y Pescados - no one there at 8:30p and prices extremely expensive. Walked across the street to Talabrasa - again we were the only ones there but prices a bit more reasonable and the waiter was very nice.

Day 17 - DRIVE LA BARRA TO MONTEVIDEO
Left at 10:15am and arrived at
HOTEL: Tryp Montevideo Hotel in Punta Carretas at 12:45pm. Easy to find and they have underground parking garage.
Liked the hotel and found it to be very comfortable and reasonably priced.
LUNCH: Mercado del Puerto in the Ciudad Vieja. Very fun! A must! We walked there from our hotel. It was a long walk! Walked partway on the Rambla and then turned off when we saw the beautiful Palacio Salvo and walked to Plaza Independencia. Taxied back to hotel.
DINNER: easy walk to La Perdiz for maybe one of our most fun dinners of the trip!

Day 18 - DRIVE MONTEVIDEO TO COLONIA / BUQUEBUS COLONIA TO BUENOS AIRES
Left Tryp Hotel at 10:09am, arrived Colonia at 12:30pm
Thrifty car rental was ideal. They have two locations in Colonia, one of them right in the ferry terminal.
We were able to park the car at the terminal (in the Thrifty area), leave our luggage in the car,
walk to old town, have lunch, and return to the car for our luggage and then turn keys in.
Note: gas is very expensive in Uruguay: 1/4 tank was US$30
We drove 492 miles in Uruguay.
We enjoyed Colonia.
Took 5:30pm Buquebus to BA - very smooth.
HOTEL:Hotel Synergie, Palermo, room #302, $200 per night
excellent location right near busy Honduras street, spacious, clean room, very friendly staff.
DINNER: Don Julio - busy, fun place - they give you champagne while you wait for table and have you sign your bottle of wine at the end and they put it up on the wall.

Day 19 - BUENOS AIRES
Spent a leisurely day wandering around Palermo
DINNER: La Cabrera!
We have had so many great dinners but this may be the best steak of the trip!
If we had known ahead of time about the incredible side dishes we would not
have ordered salad and fries. We could not finish everything - at least we did
share just one steak. Those side dishes are SO GOOD!!!
Very reasonably priced for the quality and quantity.
Weeks ago Isabel had made 8:30pm reservations for us.
We got there about 8:15pm and the place was buzzing outside with people checking
in for their reservations. It was great to be in the first seating.

Day 20: FLY BUENOS AIRES TO HOME :(
Synergie kept our luggage as flight departure scheduled for 10:45pm.
We took the yellow "Buenos Aires" hop on hop off bus, 70 pesos pp.
Traffic was pretty bad so our bus was about 20 minutes late showing up.
Took the whole circuit and did not get off, took about 3-1/2 hours.
7pm - one hour taxi to EZE, 210 pesos

Two side notes:
1) Uruguay: we enjoyed traveling to Uruguay. It was interesting to see Punta del Este and we were only able to afford to go there because it was early December and the high season craziness had not hit yet. Still, we found it to be very expensive and many restaurants had not opened yet for "the season."
The Kryon in La Barra was very nice and we loved the owners but instead of 3 nights there it might have been better to spend one night In Punta del Este to have access to more restaurants and maybe even spend one night in Colonia. Dinner was a problem all 3 nights that we stayed at the Kryon in La Barra.
2) Recoleta vs Palermo - we purposely wanted to experience both areas. In the end, we vote for Recoleta and when we return to Buenos Aires we will look forward to staying at the Ayres Recoleta Plaza again!

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