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Trip Report Buenos Aires, Colonia, Mendoza, Valparaiso, Santiago

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We went to SA for almost a month, leaving Dec 26. We started our trip in Buenos Aires, where we had friends. We rented an apartment at Sinclair and Cerviño in Palermo online through ByT Argentina Travel & Housing. The apartment and ByT Argentina were both great. We left a laptop cord behind and Ana, their customer service rep, was most helpful in getting it returned. The apartment was exactly as portrayed in the ad.

Dec 29 - we went on a great "barefoot tour" with Gaston. He is a 29 year old Argentinean who does free tours of BA, you just tip what you want at the end. We met at the Plaza del Congreso, in front of the government buildings and did a several hour long, easy walking tour of the downtown area. He was really personable and informative, talking about the government, political situation, history, buildings and life in Argentina. We ended up at the Obelisk, in the center of Av 9 de Julio, a 16 lane street in the middle of BA. I highly recommend going on one or both of his tours, it was a great way to get an introduction to the city. Wear sensible shoes in BA as the sidewalks are in poor repair & watch out for dog poop, it is everywhere.

Dec 30 - we took 2 subways & a train to get to Tigre in the Delta area, north of BA. We had lunch along the river, strolled through Tigre, then got tickets on a "lancha colectiva" - a public water bus that serves the Delta area. It was a fun, cheap way to spend an hour boating through the river system. I was surprised at the number of large homes along the river, apparently they are get aways for the wealthy who live in BA. The craft fair in Tigre was disappointing.

January 2 - we went to the Sunday San Telmo marke by subway, which is convenient, easy to use and cheap (1,1 pesos, about 26 cents per trip, including transfers). It is also often crowded and hot, avoid busy times and watch out for pickpockets! The market was huge, I have no idea how many streets were full of vendors and people. Tango dancers were in the center area as the streets were closed to vehicles. Unfortunately, like street markets the world over, a lot of the stuff was expensive, useless, over-priced and/or tacky. Rising to the occasion, I managed to bargain for a few choice items to bring home! My favourite was a water colour from a street painter that will always remind me of Argentina. The Quilmes beer sign is in the picture, so of course we had to go for a Quilmes beer to celebrate the purchase. We stopped for lunch early (12:30) so we got a table as locals don't come until about 2 pm. La Poesia is a fantastic little cafe that opened in 1915, and judging from the photos it hasn't changed much in the last 100 years! The food was great as was our server, she was lots of fun and spoke English. Nothing happens fast here, you sit down, eventually order (after some discussion about the menu), then drinks come, maybe more drinks, then your meal arrives, then maybe some more drinks (it is a hot country you have to stay hydrated) then you ask for the bill, finally that comes and you leave 2 or more hours after you arrived. What's the rush. It takes locals at least 30 minutes to drink a little bitty espresso coffee! Then back out for more shopping and sightseeing, we put in a full 8 hour day from leaving to home!

January 3 - we went on another barefoot tour with Gaston. This time it was Retiro and Recoleta, the ritzy end of town. We started at Plaza San Martin and ended up in the Plaza Alvear. We walked for over 2 hours and saw statues, parks, monuments (including the Obelisk again), fountains, embassies (including the Vatican's), a view of the docks, a gigantic rubber tree and the Recolta cemetery (outside only).

January 4 - we toured the Recoleta Cemetery - it was weird and amazing. Lots of statues, monuments, plaques, wrought iron gates and marble, you have to see it to believe it. Many are broken down and abandoned, sort of sad. A few have been declared National Monuments. Then we walked over to La Biela, a restaurant with a large patio for a late lunch. We sat by the park, near the gigantic rubber tree.

January 5 - we went to Caminito in the barrio of La Boca. It is the tourist area with the brightly painted houses that is shown on all BA stuff, including their stamps. It is only a few streets long and wide. Tourists are strongly rec'd to NOT venture past these streets, even during the day. Our "barefoot tour" guide Gaston said "Go at 11 and get out before 3." Pretty clear instructions, which we followed. We took the subway into downtown and hired a cab to take us to La Boca. He drove us by the Boca Jr soccer stadium which is a huge deal here. They are really proud of that team. Caminito is the old dock warehouse district. Italians who emigrated to BA worked the docks and settled into the area. They were very poor and painted the houses with left over paint from the boats.It is also the home of the Tango. Lots of souvenir stuff available here.
We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant where we managed to get a front row table. They had performances by 2 sets of tango dancers and a gaucho demonstrating the bolos. The tango dancers were beautiful, very fluid and smooth.

January 6 - we got up really early (before 6 am) and took the subway to Daserna Norde to catch the ferry to Colonia. Not a lot of people on the street or in the subway at that hour. We bought the tickets online from ferrylineas.com.ar. They were a lot cheaper than Buquebus and the site was much more user friendly. Customs was interesting. On both sides of the river the Argentinean and Uruguayan immigration officers sit in the same booth. The first one takes your passport and ticket, checks & stamps it, then passes it over to the person beside him. They do the same thing and you are done, pretty efficient. We arrived at the ferry terminal in Colonia, Uruguay and walked into town. It is a very pretty 18th century Spanish outpost on the Plato River. Lots of big stone walls, lighthouses and cobblestone streets. It is cooler than BA as the walkways are wide and it is very breezy being on the river. The shopping was disappointing, mostly just tourist stuff. We had lunch in an outdoor restaurant in the main plaza, then just strolled around the town.
We returned to Buenos Aires in the early evening and walked a short distance to Puerto Madero. It is a former dock area that was only used for about 15 years as it was too shallow. The area has been revitalized, lots of parks, apartments, restaurants and clubs have been built. It is really pretty and very cool due to the breeze from the river. Hard to believe that it is just a few blocks from the center of BA. We had dinner there.

January 7 - we walked into Palmero Viejo and Palmero Soho. There are a few good street markets there with local artisans. Also lots of restaurants and clubs.
We went for dinner to La Caberara, make reservations! It is one of the most famous parilla (barbeque/grill) restaurants in BA. The meal portions are huge. It maybe the only place in BA where people come on time as they serve Champagne to patrons in the waiting area.
January 8 - went to Centro for lunch at Cafe Tortoni, a famous landmark and tourist destination. The cafe with a tango studio upstairs has been in business for 130 years! That evening we took an Andesmar Cama Suite bus (fully reclining seats, dinner, wine, champagne, breakfast) from Buenos Aires to Mendoza for a cost of just over $100 each (12 hour overnight trip). As we were travelling at a busy time of year, we wanted to reserve our seats. I did it online with Rubén from sales@omnilineas.com. They charged a 12% service fee which was worth it for the service and advice that we received.

January 9 - Mendoza is a pretty city and we stayed in the historic downtown area at the Aconcagua Hotel. The location was great, the breakfast buffet and pool are nice, the rooms are OK and the staff was fantastic (some spoke English). They let us check in really early, at 9:30 am. Mendoza is very pedestrian friendly with wide sidewalks. The downtown is just 8 square blocks. There are lots of parks, a large central plaza and 4 smaller ones. The central plaza has a huge fountain in the center and is full of people every evening including people selling handicrafts, artists, musicians, cotton candy sellers. The weather was perfect, around 80 all the time, with a little breeze in the afternoon.
January 10 - We went on a wine tour to the Maipu area about 30-40 minutes drive from Mendoza. We also toured an olive oil producer. It was a nice way to see some of the countryside.

There is a money shortage in Argentina. It was a problem in BA but was really an issue in Mendoza with people lining up around the block to get cash. Even the ATM's run out, so make sure you get enough cash, best early in the day and early in the week. There is also a shortage of coins. We went into the casino and asked them to exchange some US$ for pesos. They were happy to do it and gave a good rate with no ATM fees or line-ups!
January 12 - We left Mendoza in the morning and took an Andesmar Cama Ejecutivo bus (reclining seats) from Mendoza to Valparaiso. The eight hour trip cost $35 each, booked online, in advance, with omnilineas. Had a great time drinking matte yerbe tea with some local travellers. The trip through the Andes was spectacular. The mountains were shades of yellow, green and red, with some purple areas. We went through Aconcagua park, it is apparently the highest mountain outside of the Himalayans.

We arrived in Valparaiso at 5 pm and took a taxi to the Hotel Brighton, our B&B. It was great, with an amazing view of the ocean. We had dinner on their restaurant patio, try their pisco sour! Their resident (feral) cats were really friendly and did not have fleas. The rooms are small but charming. There is also a common sitting room. Bands play in the evening, but we weren't bothered by the noise and our room was the balcony one right above the restaurant & patio. In fact we liked hearing them and usually went outside to listen. Valparaiso is a little cooler than BA and the air is much cleaner with an ocean breeze.

January 13 - We decided to take a local bus to Vina del Mar. The driver forgot about us and we weren't paying enough attention, so we landed up on a much longer trip than planned. For about $1 we had a great trip thoroug the hilly suburbs of Vina del Mar.
We walked the ocean prominade of Vina del Mar, had lunch and checked out the nice beaches.

January 14 - We walked all over Valparaiso. It is very hilly, with a view on every street. The transit system is fantastic. There are lots of buses, collectivos (taxis that take a specific route with 3-4 passengers who wait at stops and hop in, really a shared cab ride), taxis, subway and ascensors (elevators that take you up the hills instead of taking lots & lots of stairs). It is cheap, efficient and well used.
We had dinner at Cinzano's, a really old restaurant (1896) that is a local classic. Apparently most of the waiters have been working there almost since the place opened. We tried the “house specialty” a regional dish called Chorillana. It was a huge plate of French fires covered in a mixture of grilled onions, scrambled eggs and marinated steak. It tasted a lot better than it sounds!

January 17 - We took a Tur bus for the 90 minute trip into Santiago. There is a layer of smog which partially obscures the Andes Mountains, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. There are lots of parks and green spaces along the canal that runs through the center of downtown. It was built in 1891 to control the floods from the Rio Mapocho. The parks were created about 10 years later and are beautifully kept, with lovely plants, fountains and art work. Not only were there lots of city workers maintaining them, people actually cleaned up after their dogs. The sidewalks are in good repair and dog poop free!!!
We booked with the Hotel Orly, in Providencia, but actually stayed across the street in a one bedroom apartment with a kitchen, dining area and living room. It is part of the hotel, so we went there for the breakfast buffett. The transportation system is terrific here as well. There is a constant row of articulated buses, as well as a very well used and efficient subway system. Also the cars and buses run much cleaner than in Argentina, no big plumes of diesel fumes as they go by. Hopefully that will help alleviate the smog problem.

January 18 - We walked to the Bellavista area, a trendy/artsy section, then to Parque Metropolitano, a huge park on the Cerro San Cristobal. We took a funicular 485 m to the top to check out the city view and the huge statue of the Virgin de la Immaculada Comcepcion (Madonna) that can be easily seen from downtown. Then we decided to walk down the hill as the cable carwas out of service.

January 19 - We walked into downtown Santiago and saw the Palacio de la Moneda, the center of the Chilean government. Only a few years ago this was strictly off limits to visitors! Also went to the Plaza de la Constitucion. We were surprised that our favourite citiy was Santiago, so we ended on a high note! Off to the airport in the evening, one last pisco sour, then home.

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