Thought I’d perfect my earlier sketchy posting and add in report of the second half of our two month trip.
Also, we’re back in slushy DC now and I’m no longer clobbering my ipad keyboard, so promise many fewer typos. However, this is embarrassingly long . . . .
Itinerary and lodging:
Buenos Aires (San Telmo (well – the edge – Caseros Street) ) loft 2 weeks
Iguazu – Hotel de la Fonte
Esteros del Ibera wetlands – Ecoposados del Esteros
Cordoba – Azur Real Hotel
Salta – La Candela Hotel
Cachi – Casa de Campo La Paya
Cafayate – Paris, Texas
Tilcara – La Posadita
Buenos Aires – Etoile Hotel
Ushuaia – Mysten Kepen B&B
Punta Arenas – Tragaluz B&B
Puerto Natales – Weskar Lodge
El Calafate – Casa de Grillos
El Chalten – Hotel Lunajuim
Bariloche – Los Juncos
San Martin de los Andes – Casa Eugenia
El Bolson – Buena Vida Social Club
Buenos Aires – Duque Hotel
We flew DC to Miami, Miami to Santiago and Santiago to BA. It was all about taking an international LAN/TAM flight to Argentina in order to be eligible for LAN Argentina pass which then reduced the cost of our domestic flights – which are quite expensive in Arg. Not so easy to arrange, but in the end it all worked well. Arranged the BA apt myself – renting from someone who’d contacted me in a previous year in hopes of doing a houseswap. Used booking.com to make most of other lodging reservations. Used new Tingo.com to reserve two rooms and got “money back.” Tingo watches fluctuating hotel prices and refunds money if your hotel’s price goes down during the time between your reservation and your stay.
BA – we enjoyed our two weeks in a nice enough loft with a big urban roof deck in what we realized was the edge of San Telmo – Caseros Street near Parque Lezama. Our building was on a block of beautiful old buildings – in varying states of repair/restoration. Outside hallways and inside stairway were urban gritty, but our loft was updated, modern, and comfortable: 2 small bedrooms, bath with shower/tub, bidet etc., small kitchen and living/dining combo – and that great rooftop. We had great weather in those two weeks – sunny and in the 80s, even breezy. Caseros was a great street for restaurants, so we ate our way through them. Our fav was Caseros Restaurant, but we also liked Hierbabuena and Club Social – and Parilla 1880 and La Emilia Romagna around the corner. Sadly I lost 3 days of our first week when I came down with a horrible cold/flu like thing. (That’s the single night we ate in – the other we stumbled down the street to La Emilia
For comfort food). Friends came to stay with us the second week in BA and stayed on for Iguazu and Ibera.
Highlights of BA (well besides the restaurants and deck sitting) were tour of Teatro Colon, Recoleta Cemetery,
Bellas Artes, Malba, Puerto Madero schmooze, a walk around the nearby nature reserve, and drinks one night at the apartment of famous BA TA expert MarnieDC and DH. We had our obligatory tango experience at Taconeando, also in San Telmo. We chose it for its online ease of arranging, nearby location, more reasonable price, and more intimate venue. We went only for the show and, while it didn’t knock our socks off, we enjoyed it, particularly the backup musical group. we wished there had been less singing and more dancing, but believe it’s all part of the traditional experience. We were glad not to have paid big bucks. . Among many spontaneous fun experiences we had in BA was our trip with a taxi driver to replace two plates and a wine glass broken when our kitchen window fell open with a bang early one morning! A super nice taxi woman picked us up in La Boca. When I told her the address (a street full of kitchen stores) she was careful to be sure we knew where we were going. Once I told her why we were going there, she insisted on taking us another street over or so where she was sure we’d have a better selection/price. And she waited while we found just what we needed. The best part was when one of the store proprietors complimented me on my “fine Castellano” ha ha ha. But I’m a sucker for a compliment regardless of how cheap.
Iguazu - our Lan flight from BA to Iguazu went off without a hitch. We had arranged with hotel for driver to pick the 4 of us up and take us to Hotel de la Fonte, a few blocks off the main drag in Puerto Iguazu at the end of the town nearest the Tres Fronteras. Husband and I got spacious newish suite over top the dining area. Friends got smaller cabana with a little mosquito filled patio. For this, and a later lunch, we had delicious homemade pizza from the Italian owner/chef Matias. The hotel was a nice little oasis – a small pool, nice grounds, hammocks around, outside patio eating space. Matias’s wife Simona (both Italian), was a delightful and helpful hostess. We had an artful breakfast each day on the patio outside and two delicious dinners there as well. Much better than the rubber mudcat boney river fish we had at a town restaurant on another night. . . Since we were 4, we had the hotel’s driver Julio drive us back and forth to the Falls – at about same cost as bus. He was very enthusiastic and patient with my pathetic Spanish and just lots of fun. We went over to the falls on two days, so really covered the Argentine side well. The weather continued to be perfect. The falls were very busy, but the site is large enough to contain the crowd. We were very impressed with the Argentina National Parks, this one and others. . .. the falls are spectacular. We saw them from all angles and did the boat trip and got wet. Silly fun. Watched the most spectacular bird (obviously common and fairly tame) a plush crested jay - a beautiful black silky jay with bright blue eyebrows. Cool. Didn’t see any toucans though. A few monkeys. Coatis were prowling all over the food court areas – in fact attacked our friend (well really just jumped up on his leg) much to his surprise- causing him to leap from his seat and spill his lunch.
Esteros del Ibera wetlands: as folks who enjoy nature and looking at birds, we were keen to visit these wetlands – also located in northeast Argentina (more or less), but NOT to be considered easily reachable from Iguazu. After checking out bus schedules, road conditions, flight prices etc., we decided to just throw in the towel and hire a driver to take us all the way from Iguazu to Ibera. Projected drive time was about 8 hours but believe we made it in less than that. We were picked up at Hotel de La Fonte at 9 by a driver in a large 4 wheel drive truck. We put the big guy in the front seat and the other 3 of us in the back. A nice enough truck, and a good option later for the 60km of ripio coming up, but not the most comfortable for 8 hours. .. A scenic enough drive – nothing but open space in that last couple hours. . For some reason (desire to speed to our destination) we passed up stopping for lunch, which meant that when we arrived at our lodging Ecoposadas del Esteros in the small “town” of Carlos Pellegrini next to the reserve, we were starved. But alas the plan there was that we would go immediately with a guide on a night walk, returning for dinner about 9pm or so. . . Only later did our friends admit that they had been faint with hunger and heat. But our guide Andrea (a member of the family that runs the lodge) was full of information and things she wanted to show us – and we did see capybaras and owls, among other wildlife. The lodge had cooked up an asado for the guests that eve (a handful of us) and arranged some entertainment – a 3 generation musical group, granddad on the guitar, grandson on the accordion, and mom singing. They were good. The lodge, which is newish, is currently 2 strips of 4 rooms (?) each - both looking out on the wetlands, a dining/kitchen/living area with wraparound porch, a small pool, and a lookout tower and short marsh boardwalk. Like summer camp. We researched several in the area and decided on this one because of its management by local family, good birding guides, and more reasonable price. We were really happy with the choice, Estrella (originally from Buenos Aires) and her husband Jose a local could not have been more welcoming/accommodating, enthusiastic about the area. Their package price includes an activity every day, and they made sure that whatever you chose (birdwatching, boat trips, horsebackriding, culture trip, etc) went smoothly. They either led the activity themselves or arranged it with local vendors. We took two evening boat trips on the reserve’s lagoon (wonderful and saw so much wildlife) and went out birding for a long morning with Jose – who has a great eye. Meals were also included, and though the breakfast was the usual Argentine continental, lunches and dinners were tasty plentiful simple food – some nice soups, salads, vegetables, pastas, etc. Not sure the lodge was ever completely full, but while we were there a very eclectic mix of folks passed through – a few Argentinian couples with and without children and a few international singles. A very special place for nature lovers. Fortunately, after our first blisteringly hot eve, the heat broke and our next 3 nights were delightful – sunny clear even breezy. But then we had to get back to civilization. So again Estrella had arranged a driver for us. This one came with a larger more comfortable truck, though without a tarp to keep the big time dust off our luggage in back. We were bound for the town of Mercedes where we’d take an all night bus back to Buenos Aires. En route we stopped at another property: estancia like property owned by conservationist and former North Face owner Douglas Tompkins. Manager showed us around the beautiful common areas of the lodge and we walked a bit on the grounds. Continued our road trip till we hit a big pot hole in the ripio road and trashed a tire. Fortunately driver managed to change the tire in about 15 minutes and we were back on road and in Mercedes in time to pick up our reserved bus tickets. With an hour and a half or so to spare we decided to scare up some dinner (bus was scheduled to arrive at 10 pm or so). Not much choice in this small town, but we found a decent sit down restaurant that probably opened early for us. Good grub for cheap prices. And a good thing it was that we had that dinner because, for some reason, not a morsel was served on our fancy bus trip. Seemed to have had something to do with the fact that the bus trip had not originated in Mercedes, was never quite sure. .. we stumbled into our seats in pitch dark quiet full bus. After a bit we reclined our full cama seats and settled in for a long night’s sleep. Not. Well not for us anyway. Friends profess to have slept somehow. cama was probably as comfortable as one could be on a moving bus, but it doesn’t work for me. . .. Arrived at retiro bus station in early am next day. Hung out there and had breakfast with friends, then bid them farewell. They went to EZE for flight back to US, and we went to Newbury for flight to Cordoba.
Cordoba - We stayed 3 nights at the Azur Real Boutique Hotel in Cordoba. What a pleasure this hotel was after the overnight bus ride, ripio drive, and “roughing it” in Ibera. It’s all sleek and modern and luxurious. Oddly on second floor over a bank downtown – up a fairly long set of stairs or into a tiny tube like elevator.
Handsome desk clerks spoke fluent English and were charming and helpful. We ate breakfast in a lovely separate breakfast room – fabulous coffee. Nice Spanish conversation here with local couple – also in airport at Newbury while waiting for flight. Did I say Argentinians are warm and lovely people? We spent one day looking around the city – it was hot and dry 97. Wandered around the beautiful plaza and in and out of a few churches and museums. Really enjoyed the large Bellas Artes museo – an old estate. Had a great lunch not far from there at a restaurant called Juan Griego connected to a closed museum. It was attractive, with delicious food and very friendly service. Ate dinner one night at Mercado Central recommended by our hotel. An interesting venue – a huge old converted warehouse(?). Very chic looking renovation, but rather cavernous. Food was OK, service so/so. We were underwhelmed. Second day in Cordoba we decided to do a day trip to Alta Gracia, so just took local bus there (maybe an hour?) from the local bus station. Visited the Che Guevara museo which was great fun (his home as a child) and also a Jesuit estancia there. Alta Gracia, at least near the Che museo, had a bit of decaying/deserted former opulence about it that was interesting. And we had the usual adventure trying to find the museum once we got off the bus – trying to make good on the usual handwaving “por aca” directions from locals we stopped. . . . We took another overnight bus from Cordoba to Salta, this time having a few glasses of wine and dinner – delivered by a very jolly middle aged man who seemed to do just about everything for the bus except drive it. Perhaps even more comfortable on this ride (we figured out how to raise the foot rest so our feet weren’t hanging off the ends of our “beds”, we slept about as well. .. . which was barely at all.
Salta: took a taxi from the bus station to our hotel La Candela, which was to become one of the favorites of our stay – just a really nice relaxing little hotel with super nice staff and lovely back yard and pool – even free garage parking right next door for our soon to be picked up rental car. All told we spent 3 dispersed nights in Salta going north and south from there around Argentina’s beautiful northwest. We really liked Salta, its pleasant plaza, beautiful old buildings and more relaxed vibe. We rented our car from the Hertz office in town, which we found very convenient, and had no problems. We wandered through the plaza and around town, sat in a plaza café and had lunch. Think this is where we walked around looking for a barber shop and where my husband finally got a haircut. . . . Had dinner at a nice parilla around the corner from our hotel. Next day we picked up the car and drove to . . .
Cachi - we spent most of this day on the road, really enjoying the entire drive (did we mention our A+ weather continued?), stopping briefly here and there for a picture or to look at a small village. We drove into Cachi, parked the car, got out and walked around a little – into the church and museum. Took some pictures. Then got back into the car to continue the drive to our lodging for that night Casa de Campo La Paya – allegedly 12 km beyond Cachi. We drove and we drove and we drove. Road turned to ripio. We were in middle of nowhere for sure – surrounded by high mountains. We despaired finding the place . .. but at last we arrived.
What a great surprise. For some reason I hadn’t read much about this b and b when we booked it. What a beautiful place! Like a small old estancia, very tastefully furnished with period pieces, art, and nice porch on the front. Our room was rustic and cozy. Had a bed with a stone platform (first for me), which was nevertheless super comfortable. A huge great bathroom. Nice color tones and art objets. We walked around the grounds (it’s actually a finca with garden, vineyards, chapel, other small buildings and a river nearby). We checked out some birds. And then we ate dinner there – wonderful. A beautifully set table for each group of guests (we were 3 couples that eve). You eat what they make – so no choice – but the food was wonderful and price was quite reasonable. After dinner we 6 chatted for quite a while in the lovely living room. We marveled at the story of our contemporaries who hadn’t had a “home” in 23 years – they’re nomads who travel and housesit for long periods. . . Nice breakfast outside the next am on terrace in back of the house. This was the closest we ever got to having an estancia experience in Argentine, so glad we chose to stay here at least for a night. Next day we got up and drove to . . . .
Cafayate – we realized we were on the traveler circuit when it turned out that both the couples we’d met at Casa Campo were on their way to stay at the little hotel “Paris, Texas” in Cafayate. We enjoyed another scenic drive, taking lots of pictures, and stopping here and there. I seem to have a knack for picking lodging “just outside of town” back a bumpy road. This one was no different. It’s a basic little hotel with a beautiful mountain view from the front. By this time my ace driver husband was a little ragged out and reluctant to drive back to town for dinner. So we opted to join in an impromptu asado the young hotel manager and his helper were cooking up. We whiled away the time waiting for dinner checking internet, talking to other guests, admiring the mountain scene. Dinner was served in stages as cook rose to bbq and then returned with slabs of good meat cooked well, accompanied by crunchy manioc, served in the style you might expect by a couple 20 something single guys. .. . but we four had interesting conversation and were well fed. Slept well, and after the usual Argentine continental breakfast we started out in car again, this time going into Cafayate. Once we really saw the town, we regretted not staying in the town itself and giving it more time. It’s a lovely little town, so we lingered for lunch and people watching. Took some pictures in the plaza. Didn’t do any vineyard tours as we felt we’d been there and done that on other trips. . . drove back to Salta, marveling at the scenery all the way . . . . had a swim at our very favorite little hotel. Skyped with daughter and son in law to check out new grandson born in our absence. Then went to dinner at Café del Tiempo, seeing another side of the town. Several restaurants and clubs in that block, lots going on the later it got, fun place to people watch from outside tables – good food too! Slept like the dead and next day got up and drove north from Salta to . .
Tilcara – took the longest most scenic drive possible from Salta to Tilcara and enjoyed every second of the spectacular colors and mountains. Again stopping here and there for a picture or occasionally a town. We arrived at our lodging for 2 nights – a small hotel with just a few rooms and a small common area called La Posadita. It was, you guessed it, up a (blessedly short) bumpy road on the edge of town. And it had a nice view. It’s a nice basic place good nearby parking, good shower and comfy bed. The least hospitable welcome on our trip. “Name? Passports? Here’s keys, here’s your room.” All without the faintest hint of a smile. Probably a cultural thing, but still . . . . we settled in, checked email, walked around town a little, spent some time talking to one nice store proprietor who chatted us up about the area (good marketing by him of course) so we promised to return next day when we weren’t on our way to dinner. We walked down a few doors to an early open restaurant and had a delicious early dinner of our first locro – local stew. Very hearty and very tasty, hit the spot on a day that was turning GRAY (the first on entire trip) and cool. Next day we moved at a leisurely pace, checking in for our bread and coffee and dry cereal breakfast, and then hiked up to the Pucara ruins. Even though we’d already seen lots of cardones (cacti) on our drive in northwest, we enjoyed walking around the restored ruins and cacti. Nice views from up there on that hill of course. Did a photo exchange with an Argentinian couple at the bridge on the way to the ruins. We took their picture, they took ours. Husband was anxious to chat us up in English, find out where we were from. Walked back out of the ruins area and caught a taxi to go up to Garganta Diablo. The sky looked a little threatening, and the drive up was even more so. I initially wondered what we were thinking trusting our lives to a stranger driving a small taxi on the terrifying drive up there .. . Once we got up there we stayed only briefly to look around at the canyon, as it had gotten very windy and dark – and the path down into the canyon looked challenging and steep. An impressive looking canyon though . . Back down in town I finally made the complete circuit of the vendors on the plaza, finding little of interest and much the same thing displayed by each vendor. Meanwhile husband people watched on a park bench. Later we had a wonderful dinner at El Patio restaurant – a cozy little place in town with really wonderful fresh food, though I’ve completely forgotten what we ate. We were very impressed by the care taken with the food here. Next day we got up earlyish and drove to .
Purmarca – about a half hour back from Tilcara. We heeded the advice of others to get there by 9 and beat the crowds. So glad we did! We headed up the hill to do the Cerro de los siete colores walk. It was a gorgeous clear sunny day with cloudless blue sky above. (so what else is new?) We walked the entire loop walk and saw only a handful of people. Marvelous. Took lots of pictures in the beautiful light. By the time we were back in the center of town it was swarming with other tourists. I did the vendor circuit and bought a small wooden llama as minor trip souvenir. Later went into a nice store on a corner of the plaza – full of beautiful reasonably priced pots – and bought one of those – just so I could carry it around for the next month ha ha. . .. These two purchases, a cigar from the Che museum, and some kid soccer shirts from La Boca, were all that we bought on the trip… Thank god. Purmamarca is a lovely little town and the surrounding mountains are fantastic. Though the center plaza of any town is always the place for commerce and trading, it seemed sad that the beautiful plaza there and in Tilcara as well was full of stacks and stacks of the same artesania “stuff – mostly not selling. . . I’d like to have seen the plazas without all the “stuff”. We had a quick sandwich in a café on the plaza, jumped in the car and drove back to Salta. Decided to take scenic road back again since we’d enjoyed it so, but missed the turn off the main highway. So, looking at the map, and stopping several times to ask for directions (always an adventure) we maneuvered another way back to the old road . . . Stayed a last night in our fav Salta hotel, had a nice dinner – somewhere – I’m sure and crashed. Next day returned our dusty car without incident and flew back to BA.
BA again for an afternoon and one night. Wanted to try another BA nabe this time so tried to get room at Duque Hotel where we’d booked earlier for end of trip. They were full and recommended Magnolia nearby.
Their rates though were considerably higher so got on line and booked Etoile in Recoleta. While lacking in charm, this turned out to be a great place. Paid $90 and were upgraded without asking to their executive suite – ridiculously huge – with two small sitting rooms on either side of the big bedroom area, a large bath, and a small balcony overlooking more hotel rooms. But a few floors up is their newish spa/open air bar and balcony overlooking the cemetery. Spectacular view. Really nice looking indoor/outdoor pool . . no time to try.
Super efficient check in check out articulate desk help – early wake up call and taxi arrived as arranged. Enjoyed ourselves here – seemed like a bargain for this nabe. Thought about changing later Duque reserves, but in end left them in place. Spent our BA afternoon doing a few city errands – e.g. found photo shop to offload some pics from camera cards onto CD. Nice chat with nice proprietor while he worked. That day it was 40 degrees centigrade in BA. We know hot in DC in summer – but 40 C, not sure we’ve seen . . .. or felt.
That’s HOT. Returned to hotel and enjoyed bar/balcony. Then went to Rodi Bar in nabe for dinner. Another good red meat dinner, nice atmosphere. We were early of course and watched as it filled with locals/regulars later on. Slept well before our crack of dawn wake up call and taxi drive to Newbury for our flight to Ushuaia.
Ushuaia - the end of the earth. Roberto, owner of our Mysten Kepen B&B in Ushuaia, picked us at the airport.
In Spanish he gave us some basic info on the town and area as he drove us to the B&B. I begged him to speak slowly, and he gave it his best shot . . . at least for awhile. The B&B is Roberto’s small home with his wife Rosalia and their 3 teenaged children. I never did figure out where exactly in the house they all slept. They’re a super nice and helpful family – and you’ll get to practice your Spanish. Our basic room and bath were comfortable and spotless. The usual Argentine continental breakfast (fresh pastries every am) was served in the common dining area. As often, I’m longing for at least some more flavorable juice – Tang or its equivalent seems to be a favorite of many Argentine b&bs. . . The B&B is located several slightly uphill blocks from the main drag/center of town. Walking back and forth gave us some needed exercise and a nice sense of the town’s more residential like areas. Enjoyed looking at the corrugated metal colorful construction of houses (building materials that are available, easy to ship, and sturdy in wind so they told us). There were some fearsome dogs living next door, but happy to say they didn’t keep us awake at night. Unless I’m forgetting a restaurant I believe we had two pizza and beer meals in the center of town at a place called BarDpizza, which was easy and good. Another night we had a nice dinner at Volver – a cute cozy place with seagoing décor, good food. While we were there some fishermen came delivering several centolla (king crab), which were fun to see. We walked up to the town viewpoint (a boardwalk like set of stairs). We took a half day boat trip on the Beagle Channel, which was wonderful. The weather looked a little cloudy and dubious, but almost as soon as we got out on the smallish tour boat the sky cleared and it was gorgeous – though it clouded over again when we returned! The mountains and water glimmered. We took a brief walk on a nearby island. We had a good guide who provided info on the channel, history, and island vegetation and wildlife. We cruised slowly by another bare island teeming with cormorants and sea lions. On our second day we took a bus to Tierra del Fuego park. Weather was still great, clear blue sunny skies, and nice temp. Stopped by the “end of the world” post office on a dock there, bought one expensive mailing with interesting stamps and sent back to family. Then we did the beautiful coastal walk (sometimes in forest and sometimes along shore – all stunning) for about 3 hours or so. Went to visitors center and looked around. Ate our picnic lunch. Walked on the road quite a long way and caught bus back to town in later afternoon. Next day we took the bus to . . . .
Punta Arenas (Chile). It was a long bus ride (11 hours?), but comfortable enough. I preferred the day rides where you could look out window and see things or read – to lying flat at night and not sleeping. It was all new scenery for us, and the trip was broken up by the border/ferry crossing into Chile, so the time passed easily enough. Even the vast nothingness of the pampas was interesting for us to see! In PA we stayed at the Tragaluz B&B pretty much in the center of town. Another gaily colored corrugated metal residence, this one owned by a Chilean woman and her north american husband. We arrived starving and quickly got a restaurant rec for nearby food. Had a good dinner at Marmita a few blocks away, a very popular place. The following eve we had a better dinner at Okusa in town. A little fancier place, but food and service were still better. Since the sole reason for our stop in Punta Arenas was to see some penguins, we set about doing that on the following day. In the am things looking dicey for boats going out to Magdalena Island, which has a huge colony of penguins. We were also somewhat put off by the idea of taking “the big boat” 2 hours EACH WAY to spend one hour on the island looking at the penguins or taking the possibly bumpy often sickness inducing catamaran 1 hour each way. Dan at our B&B suggested going to Otway Sound via bus as an option, which is what we did. We went with Emily Tours, which turned out to be a nice young husband and wife operation. They picked us up at the B&B and we went via comfortable van 45 min or so to see a significantly smaller penguin colony on the Otway sound. But – hey- how many penguins do you need to see? It was a nice ride out there with a chance to see some other wildlife on the way – rheas, etc. The reserve has boardwalks across the land where the penguins burrow and nest and down to water edge where they fish. Our driver/guides accompanied us on the walk, providing lots of info along the way. They were great with the one child in our little group as well. We had plenty of time to watch the penguins fishing near shore, grooming each other, and coming and going from their nests inland. . tons of fun, tons of pics. We had some laundry done well at the B&B, enjoyed the breakfasts (eggs! Yay!) and conversation with some other guests. The following day we took the bus to . ..
Puerto Natales. A 3 hour bus ride – a walk in the park for us by this time. We went to PN in order to visit Torres del Paine park. When we went looking for lodging IN the park several months in advance we found that the few more reasonably priced lodgings were already booked. (Guess we could have continued to check back to see if anything opened up, but didn’t.) So we opted to stay in PN and rent a car to give ourselves more flexibility for visiting the park. We rented from EMSA in PN – a subsidiary of Avis – and all went smoothly. Though expensive, overall we were glad we did this, since it seemed that public bus or tours provided much more limited time and access to this very large and spectacular park. However, since we visited the park 3 separate days, this made for a lot of driving, my ace husband driver admitted by the end. All beautiful of course, but tiring. In reading about the park you read that the distance from PN to “the park” is anywhere from an hour to 2 hours. It’s a fairly long distance to the park entrance and from there still further into depths of the park. So really, we drove two hours in and two hours out each day! Much on ripio.. . . Day one the only thing we did really was drive ALL OVER THE PARK. It was another gorgeous day and we just wanted to see it all. It’s stunning. On day two we ventured back in and did a little hiking. We did about 3 hours of hiking on a path labeled just Nature Trail or wildlife trail that went from the Sarmiento gate of the park. We had that path totally to ourselves – and at some point probably lost what was supposed to be the path. Nevertheless, it was (of course) another gorgeous clear warm day and we saw many guanacos and condors, and a condor feeding on a dead guanaco, rheas also. We ate a little picnic lunch on some rocks with an outstanding view. The day before we’d eaten sitting in the car staring dead ahead with a fabulous clear view of the torres. . Later the same day we drove over by the Hotel Torres and looked around for trails as we’d read there were a few trailheads near the hotel. We found one and walked it up and above the hotel, great views once again. Driving out of the park we passed a German woman we’d met at our B&B in Punta Arenas earlier. Figured she was walking what would be a long way to next park bus stop. We stopped and picked her and her companion up. Because of bus stop timings they hadn’t actually gotten very far in the park, so husband offered to drive us all back to PN – the long way round the park. So, just that much more time viewing majestic craggy towers and unbelievably turquoise water. Not to mention more guanacos! Our German friend asked to accompany us on our third day and we agreed. So day 3 we 3 drove into the Lake Pehoe area and took the catamaran across the lake to hike a trail toward the Italian Camp near the base of the cuernos and torres. Though we didn’t have enough time to make it all the way to the camp, this was a nice relatively flat hike of several hours round trip – with the usual amazing views. We saw not one, but two of the cutest little pygmy owls sitting out in the open in bare trees on this trail. The catamaran trip across Lake Pehoe was fantastic on the way back – great views of the torres in wonderful late afternoon light. On the boat and at the refuges at either end of the boat line, we got a better sense of how many more serious trekkers were doing the many day “circuit” trek at the towers or the shorter “W” trek. We envied them their even better vantage points for viewing the park’s spectacular sites, but not their limps and blisters . . We liked our lodging in PN – the Weskar Lodge – though as usual it was at the edge of town and up a hill. Enough parking there to accommodate guests with cars. Dining area with windows looking out on the water. Pretty good breakfast buffet. Nice lodgey common room and bar. We WOULD have had a leg up on the road to the park, had the road (passing in front of the lodge) not been under construction. Hotel of course was miffed because the project was supposed to have been completed several months earlier. What this meant was the road was closed to through traffic – and had only one lane open at all times available for those going from center of town out to the few hotels and houses on the edge. This delayed taxis when called and also required driving back to center of town and following a detour around the closed road to connect with road to park. PN is a nice little town we thought – we liked the waterfront area and particularly the sculpture of the two individuals with arms stretched out to the water and mountains. We had a lunch and a dinner (at the bar) at the Baguales brewery, a much healthier lunch at El Living, and a wonderful, if expensive, dinner at Angelicos – where we chatted with the world’s most outgoing waiter (English fluent). Good discussion about the various terms used for relative doneness of meat. . . . a punto? Rosado? Azul? We had been using “a punto” to request medium rare, but his view was that we should be asking for menos que a punto, or perhaps even Rosado – because to him a punto meant “just cooked” not much pink at all. . Nevertheless, in most restaurants we found that requesting a punto pretty much got us what we wanted. We also had two (?) small dinners at our hotel when we were too pooped to go out. Food was OK, but choice was always pretty limited, expensive, and later they tended to run out of things. . .. After our 4 nights in PN we took another bus (about 4 ½ hours) to
El Calafate (back to Argentina) – where we stayed for 3 nights at a small but nice B&B Casa de Grillos. We got a great intro to all the area activity options from owner Alejandro, who used a map to show us everything that was possible and gave helpful time and price options. In the end though we were rather relaxed about our time here. We just went to bus station and picked a company (believe it was R& J or something similar) that was running at bus out to Perito Moreno at a time that was convenient. Alejandro advised us to by tickets the day before since buses often fill up. And our bus was indeed full. The driver gave a little speech in Spanish as we all boarded which I missed most of. Later I realized he had probably explained that the bus would stop first at the boat dock in the park and then go on to the visitor center. As a result we weren’t really prepared for the stop at the boat dock and didn’t have enough info to help us make a decision about taking the boat trip to get closer to the glacier. Many on our bus got off here, the rest of us went on to visitor center. Perhaps it’s even more fabulous to motor up closer to the glacier – or walk on it for that matter – but, we were more than satisfied with the views we got, time available, and price for the visit! Just as at Iguazu we were really impressed by the
Park infrastructure here. The buses pick up and drop off folks at the nice visitor center, where there’s a large food concession, many bathrooms, and gift shop. Outside is an amazing labyrinth of raised iron walkways that make it possible for you to get wonderful views of the glacier from all manner of angles – and get lots of exercise in the bargain. Who knew a big chunk of ice could be so fascinating? We probably covered most of the walkways and spent several hours here, including having a small lunch in the cafeteria before we caught our bus back to town. We were glad to have had several layers of clothing, windbreakers, hats, and gloves! Windy and cold near the glacier – but a pretty clear day for viewing! An amazing sight to us.
We puttered around the town another day and then spent several hours walking around the nature reserve Laguna Nimez, which was virtually next to our B&B (one of the reasons we chose it). Lots of birds – including flamingoes. Had a nice conversation, in English, with the young woman ranger. Later had another nice conversation, in Spanish, with an Argentinian tourist couple. In El Calafate we also got a kick out of passing the controversial President Christina’s house - on the route from our B&B to town center. Of course we couldn’t see it from the street, but enjoyed speculating on whether she was in town, noting the security detail etc. Had a really good dinner at La Posta restaurant in the same general area. . . Then, after our 3 nights in El Calafate we took another 3 hour or so bus to .. .
El Chalten: where we stayed at Hotel Lunajuim for 4 nights. Our wonderful weather continued so we got in 3 nice days of hiking in El Chalten. The great thing about El Chalten, as all have said, is that you don’t need a car, or buses, or tours of any kind to get to good hikes. After doing a little research we decided that the trail to Laguna Capri sounded about our speed – maybe two hours one way and graded as “easy.” The first day we did this hike clouds came and went throughout the day so we never got our perfectly clear view of Mt. Fitzroy. But we enjoyed the hike itself so much that we went right back and did the same one again the next day - and were rewarded with much better weather and clearer views – we also went a little further on the trail. This is just a beautiful trail with lots of variety in the scenery – forest, laguna, open area above spectacular valley. Third day we decided to do the Laguna Torre hike. I was a little apprehensive about this one as it is 11km one way – meaning it would be the longest walk either of us could remember doing. But so glad we did it! The pot of gold at the end is a spectacular glacier lake complete with a few floating icebergs, surrounding moonscape, and the amazing Cerro Torre behind. Lots of interesting forest on the way as well. We really liked El Chalten, not only for the great easily accessed hiking, but also for its great little restaurants and mountaineer town vibe.
The first night we had a pizza at Patagonicus, just a small bar/café with nice casual atmosphere. Second night we fell into La Cerveceria on the main road coming back from our hike “just for a beer”. We were practically alone at 6 or 6:30, but boy did it fill up fast. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we just stayed for dinner, which if I remember correctly was a good salad and delicious locro. Next night we had a wonderful dinner at La Tapera, great cozy little place, very nice and knowledgeable service, great food. Liked it so much we went back the next night too. We were happy with our Lunajuim hotel too, super nice English fluent reception there . . nice “mountain lodge” dining/living common area. We had so enjoyed our southern Patagonia time that I started thinking maybe we shouldn’t have planned to follow it with northern Patagonia, that it would just be dull by comparison --- NOT! We arranged inexpensive shared van transport that picked us up at Lunajuim and took us directly to the El Calafate airport for our flight same day to . ..
Bariloche – where we stayed 2 nights at the lovely Los Juncos on the road to Llao Llao peninsula. Had we done better research about exactly where things were we would have arranged our car rental more conveniently, but oh well. Took a long taxi ride from the Bariloche airport to Los Juncos. Husband kept saying “how far out is this place anyway?” Books do not exaggerate when they say the road is lined with lodging – all the way from center of town to the Llao Llao resort – on both lake and opposite side of road. Los Juncos is an old farm house facing the lake on the opposite side of road. So probably the best lake view can be had from one (?) of the rooms on the second floor in the front. We stayed in one of the rooms below the dining area, fine but only slight lake view. We enjoyed meeting owners Flavia, Virginia, Gabriel, and his son. Gabriel’s a great cook, so we ate dinner at the B&B both nights – chatting with other guests in the lovely cozy dining area. On our single day in the Bariloche area we took the #20 bus (easy and very frequent) that stops in front of Los Juncos down to the Llao Llao resort – more or less - and went looking for a trail through the arranyanes forest. We were somewhat confused about which area was the national park and which the municipal park and exactly where we might find the path. So were many others it turned out. Had a nice long chat with a couple from New Jersey who were on the same hunt. Finally realized we hadn’t gone far enough on the macadam road to get to the trailhead . . .. In any case, it was just another gorgeous day in Argentina. We didn’t see many birds and no wildlife in the forest, but when we reached spots for lake views they were fantastic. Just the usual turquoise water. So a nice walk . flat all the way too. Next am we took the 20 bus into center of town to pick up our rental car (Hertz-all went well). Drove back out to Los Juncos and picked up bags and set out for
San Martin de los Andes – where we stayed 3 nights at Casa Eugenia. We spent quite a lot of the day doing the very scenic Siete Lagos drive between Bariloche and San Martin. It was, of course, another spectacularly clear nice day with cloudless blue sky and sun. The lakes, one after another, were all just gorgeous, mainly pristine.
SMA is a like a little storybook down, neat as a pin and full of zillions of blooming roses in February. Casa Eugenia is a 100 year old house that sits at the end of a street, full of other B&Bs – pretty much cheek by jowl.
Nevertheless the street reminded us of a lovely suburban street more than anything else. The B&B itself is charming – with the prettiest Florida room like breakfast area. Also nice grounds and tiny pool. We ate well at Cerveceria Regional and El Meson. We found mention of a local bird guide in our Frommer’s book so arranged to go out with him from 3 to about 8 the following day. We didn’t see much that we hadn’t seen earlier in our trip and nature was pretty quiet overall – nevertheless we enjoyed the time we spent with him- very knowledgeable, teaches at the local u . . .. does birding trips around the world. His English was great so we had interesting wideranging conversation about Argentina, and he took us to spots in the area we’d never have known or found ourselves. … . On Day 2 we went down to the boat dock (just a few blocks away) and signed on for a shortish boat trip across Lago Lacar over to Playa Quila Quina. The weather, as usual, was great, the water was sparkling turquoise. From Playa Quila Quina there were a number of easy trails that were possible. We did one short nice one on Mapuche property (they charge a few pesos) that led to a lovely waterfall. I finally got good long glimpses and some great pics of my favorite kingfisher bird. Latin America has the giant (ringed) version of the one we have here on east coast (belted). Then we walked back to the boat dock area along the shore. Came upon some several parasurfers and spent quite some time watching them - a great day for them as the wind was brisk. Lots of others folks sunning on the beach, a few in the water . . Sat at the dock café and had a drink. Let the next return boat come and go as we were so enjoying sitting looking out on the beautiful lake and people watching. Think we were starting to realize that trip was coming to a close and we were already feeling nostalgic. (Did I mention the spectacular weather). Finally gave it up and took boat back to town . . . . The next am we reluctantly said goodbye to San Martin de los Andes and began our drive south to El Bolson. Having done the siete lagos route, we decided to go back the 100% paved route 234 /40 to Bariloche. So we set out northeast toward San Junin on the same beautiful road we’d taken a few days earlier with our bird guide, passing the condor cliffs, etc. However, at some point we began to feel we’d done this incorrectly – could we possibly have to go this far north to hook up with the southern road? So we turned around and went several kms back to San Junin, where we were stopped not once but twice for checking by the police at checkpoints. We asked them for directions but they only wanted to assume we wanted the siete lagos route, which we did not. Finally we stopped at a gas station where an attendant and a customer were able to make it clear to me in Spanish that we had been on the right road originally and just how much farther and where we should expect to be able to turn south. So we went all the way back. Fortunately it’s a beautiful drive. Ultimately we drove all the way into Bariloche in order to take a turn we’d noticed that said “El Bolson.” After the initial sign the road wasn’t terribly well marked and we were surprised that after maybe 5 miles the road deteriorated into dust and a fork. Thinking that couldn’t possibly be right we once again retraced our steps and stopped at a small grocery store. Used banos, bought some road food, and I chatted up an employee about the road to El Bolson. She confirmed that we’d been on the right path – that it was a short cut to the highway south, and that if we didn’t want to do the very short piece of ripio we’d need to go back through the center of town to pick up right road. So we went back to the dirt road and indeed after a couple kms and up a hill we were on our highway south to . . . .
El Bolson: This was my birthday and basically the only rainy day we had in two months! The drive was still smooth enough – great road, beautiful scenery. We were driving into town when I realized I’d forgotten to write down the directions to our B&B Buena Vida Social Club – which is, you guessed it, on the edge of town and up a ripio road. . . All I had was a vague address. Stopped at a gas station and tried out my question. Got the usual handwaving por aca instructions. Then I realized the gas station had wi-fi, so fired up the trusty ipad and website map. So up we went on the ripio road then following the B&B signs. We were greeted at the door by owner Horacio chagrined to say that they’d just lost power (a bit of wind). He’d made the requisite calls and was hopeful it would be restored and, by the time he’d shown us our room and around the place, it was. While my driver restored himself by reclining on our new bed, I took a walk round the property. Argentinian Horacio and Californian Kitty live half the year in Berkeley and the other half in El Bolson. Their 5 or 6 room B&B is set on a hill with a big front porch with a great view of distant mountains. They have a house directly behind the B&B. I spent some time walking the dirt road above the property thinking it might make for a good bird walk later in our stay. Horacio recommended a nearby restaurant Pirque? for dinner and made us a reservation (has only 5 or 6 tables). It turned out to be a really nice little spot for a bday dinner. Great valley and mountain view from big windows next to our table. Cozy place, great knowledgeable friendly service, and good food. Day 1 in El Bolson we took it easy, slept latish, lingered talking to guests and owners at breakfast, and then walked down the hill and into town. Had a little something to eat and schmoozed the town. Hunted down small ornithological museum mentioned in tour book. Defunct. Made the circuit of the plaza vendors. Noted that they were setting up for an “international jazz festival” but discovered they wouldn’t be starting until evening. Having exhausted the town, we took taxi back to B&B. Walked the dirt road above the B&B. Lacked the energy to get ourselves up as far as the carved tree forest, which sounded interesting. After longish walk, got in our car and drove back into town. Jazz was in full swing and sounded good, so we sat briefly on the street curb along with many others and listened. Suddenly husband said “wow, look at the moon!” I looked and there rising from behind the tall mountain in very clear skies was a huge full moon. Beautiful. Soon a table opened up at the cerveceria across from the stage so we took it, ordered some so so food and had some wine/beer whilst listening to the music. Seemed a nice peaceful scene, lots of local families and tourists milling around, eating ice cream, enjoying the music. Negotiated dark ripio hill road back to b&b. Day #2 in El Bolson we drove to the nearby Lago Puelo parque. We had considered going further – to Alerces National Park – but without a super early start it seemed like it was going to make an awfully long day trip. Sorry to have missed it. . . but Lago Puelo was great, an easy drive from the B&B. We got a great intro to available activities and walks from the ranger, and then signed on to a rather expensive 2 ½ boat tour. We killed some time walking around the park/lake while waiting for our boat departure. We were a group of about 12 and our driver/guide. He was very enthusiastic. Spoke only Spanish but went out of his way to include the two of us and repeat and slow down his patter for our benefit. He passed around an impressive photo album showing off his fishing prowess and provided lots of stats on this deep glacial lake – which, as always, was stunningly turquoise. Many fish stories were told . . . we docked for a half hour or so on another shore and walked the path to the Argentine/Chilean border where many took pictures. Stopped at several fabulous viewpoints. The weather, of course, was perfect. We returned and ate the sandwiches we’d put together from the usual salami and cheese. (It may be a long time before I have another ham/cheese or salami/cheese sandwich or croissant or empanada) Then we hiked up, up, up - mostly a trail of steps to a mirador for another wonderful view of the lake. Burned up at least half those sandwich calories. . By the time we got back down it was about 6:30. Driving back to the B&B we couldn’t imagine going up the hill and then coming back down again to town for dinner, so we drove straight into town and to the El Bolson cerveceria. Sat outside in the beer garden and had a drink. Contemplated changing venues, but decided to stay. Ate some ho hum food there, had another drink, went home, and crashed. Next day we got up, had a beautiful breakfast (fruit as art), said goodbye to Horacio and Kitty and drove back to Bariloche – a long and winding beautiful drive on great roads with little traffic. Dropped the car at Hertz in town, hailed taxi and went to the airport for our flight to
Buenos Aires – Where we stayed 2 nights this time in Palermo Soho at the Duque Hotel. As we were just down the street from the well-loved Don Julio parilla, we walked down there early in the hopes of scoring a table without a reservation. No problem we just had to sit in the back upstairs - since the entire first floor, balcony, and outside tables were reserved! As luck would have it we rather liked the quiet atmosphere of the back room with its exposed brick walls. We had a great dinner and very attentive professional service. An excellent end to our two month cholesterol binge: a big Tbone, a big ribeye, a huge plate of fabulous French fries, a couple ho hum rucula salads, wine and beer. We waddled back to Duque. Next day we slept latish, lingered over nice breakfast (FRESH fruit, REAL juice, EGGS, great coffee) talking travel to some fellow amurricans from the other Washington. Having checked off most of the must dos of BA earlier on, we just wandered round town on our last day, strolling through the various Palermo parks. Attempted to go to the beautiful rose garden only to find it closed for inscrutable reasons. It was open to the banos but the rest cordoned off with guard. All the roses were in bloom of course. Locals who were also waved away asked if they could blame Christina and threatened to call her. Guard said not Christina but the BA mayor was to blame. Porque? Quien sabe. We strolled up wide boulevards, eventually ending up in Recoleta at Café Biela, where we had 1 beer 1 copa and two dry turkey sandwiches on white bread for $60 US. Such a deal ha ha ha . Oh well, needed to dispose of those pesos . . . taxi back to hotel, where we lazed around, did internet, repacked, paid bill, etc until about 8:30 when that famous BA TA expert MarnieDC and DH arrived to dine with us. Showed them round the very hip little boutique hotel (two computers for guests, nice breakfast room, separate living room with big flat screen TV, small back yard with dip pool and sun chairs, lower level hot tub. Young male desk clerk clad in tango hat .. all very cool .. .we loved the place. Then we four walked 10 blocks or so up to Social Paraiso restaurant where we sat outside and had a wonderful meal and great conversation . . . A very fine end to our two month trip and this excruciatingly long trip report!
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Glover's complete trip report - 2 great months in Argentina
Thought I’d perfect my earlier sketchy posting and add in report of the second half of our two month trip.