APRIL 2017 -- OUR SPRING THEIR FALL TRIP -- 12 DAYS
Four friends -- including two anesthesia CRNAs (look that one up) folks. I just sold my 401k/TPA firm. Places stayed - about 4 stars (one Sheraton Hotel) with excellent local flavor. Restaurants - love reds and beef. Being obsessive, I make plane and hotel reservations over 6 months in advance. Tried to determine best time to visit southern South America -- I came up with April. Was looking for fewer tourist, good temperatures and acceptable chance of rain. April is iffy as far as rain is concerned but we were fortunate. 50s at night and close to 80ish during some days/locations. Would classify our arrangements as high moderate or would that be low high. Well, you get the idea. I made all of the hotel reservations originally directly with the hotels. However, I changed several reservations during the months leading up to our departure by watching for price reductions or the lower prices by outside booking organizations. Saved several hundred dollars and had same or upgraded rooms. Locals did not mind speaking English and all were very helpful. Our group included one that was fluent in Spanish and my wife and I speak "some". Thanks Fodor's and TripAdvisor contributors for assistance.
GENERAL NOTES When checking out of your hotel, you may save about 20% by asking for 'exempt tax' rates. Just use your credit card issued outside country. I could get some Chilean Pesos before the trip from the Bank of America. They did not handle Argentinean Pesos. Never used ATM (like we always do when in Europe). Used hotels and private individuals. That is a different story. Nobody got sick. Drank mostly bottled water but not exclusively. Argentina economy is a mess - resulting in reduced tourism. We found food and hotels less expensive than USA and tours more expensive than Europe.
TRAVELING WITH FRIENDS Have never had problems traveling with friends. Everybody seems to get along. We do stress flexibility. FINANCE suggestion -- we used a VISA card to charge all group meals, entrance tickets, etc. We just divided up 50/25/25 upon our return. AND, we have a treasurer. We all gave the treasurer Pesos for cash requirements -- tolls, entrance fees, tours, etc. Worked much better than any other options we have tried. LATE CANCELLATIONS -- have had some infrequent problems with this. No problem for us - the married couple but single person cancellations cause some problems for the single travelers that thought that they were going to split room cost. Don't have a tried and true solution but think, if we do group travel in the future, is once a person commits, they will be responsible for splitting rooms -- come rain or shine. Of course, if we have enough time to find a replacement single traveler -- that eliminates the problem.
AIRLINES Wow! Could write a lengthy article on the problems and challenges we faced. In short, we use AMEX points through Delta wherever possible and fly business class (except local flights). AEROMEXICO RECOMMEND. We departed from Houston and flew E9S to Mexico City. At 11:55pm departed Mexico City ( nice 787) to Santiago. Hoped to use AMEX lounge but was being remodeled so we used Aeromexico. Bags checked through to Santiago but you have to clear customs and immigration in Mexico City and recheck your bags. Had some pre-trip concerns because of mixed reviews of this airline. SKY AIRLINES RECOMMEND. Flew between Santiago and Puerto Montt. Except for small problem using one of my email addresses and we could not determine which fare to select. We selected the next to the cheapest fare and don't know why. Worked well, seat selection went well, check in went well, flight etc. If you make reservations early, they are very reasonably priced. AEROLINEAS NEUTRAL. I don't want to relive all the problems -- all pre trip -- we had with this airline. Government owned and they lose millions of USD each day. We booked through Delta on flights between Bariloche and Iguazu and between Iguazu and Buenos Aires. You don't have many airline options. NOTE they will change times, etc. and not notify you. They will not protect you on replacement reservations AND they will not answer Ext. 2 for changes to existing reservations SO if you get caught like we did -- always call their 800 number and push Ext. 1 for new reservations. Also, if I remember correctly, they were going to charge us each about $160 to take an earlier connection from Buenos Aires to Iguazu -- even through it was their cancellation that caused the problems. We declined. HOWEVER, when we checked in for this flight, we asked if we could take the earlier connection and they said yes and only charged us $40 each. We jumped at that. The flights themselves were all on time or early. Nice flight attendants and clean planes. They wished us happy Easter and passed out chocolate Easter eggs. WHAT CAN YOU DO -- GRIN AND BEAR THEM!
Stayed Castillo Rojo: NEUTRAL RECOMMENDATION. We did not have any problems with hotels except for Castillo Rojo. Paid about $275 USD per night. Had room 5 which I highly recommend -- had small balcony.
CASTILLO ROJO GOOD -- Location was very good. The hotel is exactly as shown on their website. Beautiful, clean and with wonderful character. The employees were very polite and helpful AND spoke excellent English - with one exception when we were checking in.
CASTILLO ROJO BAD -- Upon arriving, my wife and I gave them our AMEX card as did one of our fellow travelers. We were told that the cards were declined 'probably because of a problem with our bank' (??). I have had an AMEX card for over 50 years and while we were in the lobby we called AMEX in the US and they told us that the charge was not declined and in fact they had not received any charge request from Castillo Rojo. Don't know what happened but we have seen a trend in Europe for AMEX to be declined by an establishment because they charge a higher fee - even though the establishment say they accept AMEX.
They were refinishing the floors in the restaurant. They decided to apply finish that night. I slept but the other 3 were greatly bothered by the strong fumes. I would have applied finish the next morning.
We had busy schedules on this the beginning of our South American vacation. They served breakfast outside (was cold) - no problem except they did not set up at 7 (as we were advised) and consisted MOSTLY of bread/pastries and very thin slices of some fruit. We had a guide coming for us at 8.
We called that night about breakfast the next morning and were told that breakfast would be ready at 7 in the morning "as it always is". We were leaving for the airport at 8 and in the morning - again same minimal breakfast AND no coffee. It was 7:30 - and they said only one person knew how to make the coffee and they had not arrived. They have a beautiful 2nd floor lounge -- don't know why management did not serve breakfast there and ask the crew to come early so the guests could have a nice breakfast.
Did: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Used Patagonia SouthernLand Expeditions the first afternoon for city tour. Used them the next day for wine country and Valparaiso tour. They did an outstanding job. Toured Emiliana Vineyards, Veramonte Winery and ate lunch at Casas del Bosque Tanino.
Ate Restaurant Bocanariz: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Close to hotel and VERY good wine, food (ate short ribs and ceviche, etc.) and service. Had 5 wine flights.
Santiago: NEUTRAL. We enjoyed this entry city to our first trip to South America. This is not the most interesting of places but our itinerary "sort of" required this entry city. Loved the wine country and wine country lunch. We were not overwhelmed with Valparaiso. I did enjoyed the street art and took many many photographs.
Stayed Cumbres Puerto Varas: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Wonderful hotel with incredible view. Breakfast vast selections. Enjoyed bar. Paid about $150 USD per night for luxury room. We were in 5th floor corner room and had a balcony. Location perfect.
Did: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Used Andres Oyarzun, owner, Patagonia SouthernLand Expeditions the first afternoon for city and Volcano Osorno tours. Used them the next day for full day hiking and Puerto Montt market tours. I love to take pictures around fish/vegetable markets. See the one in Puerto Montt. Andres did an outstanding job.
Ate Lunch Las Buenas Brasas and Dinner La Marca: BOTH HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Both restaurants are in Puerto Varas. As a side for lunch, I had Papas with Salsa Brava. The best potato dish I have ever had. Buy some Merkel (merquen) and bring back if you like spice in your food. Dinner at La Marca. Our introduction to Chilean beef. Good service and dinner.
Experience With Cruce Andino: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Used to travel - across Andes - from Chile to Argentina. If you are not familiar, go on their website. 12 hours of beauty and experience. Picked us up at our Puerto Varas hotel and dropped us at our Bariloche hotel. About $300 USD each.
Chilean Lake Country Experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Absolutely beautiful part of Patagonia. Good food, nice people, good lodging and outstanding scenery.
Stayed Cacique Inacayal: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Paid about $175 USD/night. Had Grand Comfort room. We were on ground floor which gets mixed reviews. Personally, we favored because could walk out of your room and enjoy beautiful lake view. Very nice people behind desk. They checked in for us with Aerolineas. Nice bar. Nice breakfast. We considered Llao LLao hotel but was out of town and we LOVED the convenience of Cacique Inacayal. "Walkable" to our main restaurant.
Did: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. We did the 4 hour city tour. Included drive around lake and Cerro Companario. Was only about $50 each. This was our favorite area of Patagonia. The chocolate festival was going on in the town -- which has a lot of character by the way. Many Germans have immigrated here and you can tell.
Ate Alto El Fuego: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Such nice people and food. Portions are so large that my wife and I split everything. Therefore, the price was cheap cheap. We were paying about $30 USD for the very good reds. I love different salad dressings. Chile and Argentina use primarily oil and vinegar.
Bariloche Experience: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. So nice. Try to work Bariloche in if you are anywhere near this part of the world.
Stayed Sheraton Iguazu: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Paid about $340 USD/night. The hotel is inside the Iguazu (Parque Nacional Iguazu) park and you must pay, in Argentinean Pesos, an entrance fee in cash. We had a Superior King Balcony with Falls View. I was the only one that did go through the hassle of getting a Brazilian Visa -- don't scream but I never used it. That is another story.
Did: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. We walked and walked the Falls. Long and wonderful. Took couple hundred photographs. We also did the Iguazu Nautical Adventure. This is one of the natural wonders of the world and well worth the effort.
Ate Sheraton Iguazu: We never went into town. Just did not want the hassle or expense. The Sheraton has a beautiful bar and deck overlooking the Falls. We ate - and drank - there each night.
Stayed Hotel Miravida Soho: RECOMMENDED. Not plush like the website but with the character I enjoy in a foreign hotel. Paid $246 for a King Suite. Very reasonable for this hotel and a capital city. We arrived in time for one of their wine tastings. Very nice experience. Try to include if possible. One of our two rooms was unavailable because of a plumbing problem. They booked a hotel around the corner that was not quite up to the MIravida Soho.
Did: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Liz Private Tours. We departed that night after 8 for trip home to Houston so we booked a day long city tour with Liz. She was great. Beautiful van and day. It was the only 'drizzly' day we had but not a problem. She has two college majors - one being history. Enjoyed talking with her about her country's problems as well as her country's amazing history. Beautiful buildings and parks. We did not miss the daily protests. Liz warned us not to use English around the protestors because they think we are the problem.
Ate Don Julio Parrilla: HIGHLY RECOMMENED. An institution and only three blocks from Hotel Miravida Soho. Make reservations. Fun place, good food, good service and finally good wines. Prices were reasonable for what you received. Was a wonderful ending to a great South American trip.
Now to answer the question contained in my heading -- YES, EUROPHILES WILL ENJOY SOUTH AMERICA. They are delightful countries, people, scenery, food, etc. Take a break from Europe and make a trip to South America. This was a survey trip in that we needed to spend more than two nights in most of these cities. I make it a point to stay at least three nights in any city we visit in Europe.
TRY IT -- YOU'LL LIKE IT!
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APRIL 2017 -- OUR SPRING THEIR FALL TRIP -- 12 DAYS