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Rough itinerary blocking - Argentina and Brazil - comments appreciated

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We have 9 weeks (+/-) in Argentina and Brazil early next year (Jan 15 to Mar 21). I'm blocking out our itinerary and would appreciate comments/suggestions on the following - I'm having to do this quite quickly without my usual research as we had to book our flights on points this week. So this is a very early itinerary, before my usual research.

Arrive BA January 15 - we have 3 weeks to tour around Argentina before our apartment rental in BA. Current thoughts are to fly onwards to Bariloche and pick up a rental car there and drive back to BA heading north to Mendoza and Salta and then into BA. Haven't researched that route - perhaps it's crazy....but it looks good. Also we would be dropping off the car as a one way rental - issues?

We have been to Ushuaia and other points south on another trip so are looking to stay further north as indicated above.

4 weeks in BA - day/overnight trips to Montevideo/other beach towns.

Leave BA early March - thinking we would fly to Iguazu then onwards to Rio (for 3 days or so) and then onwards for an Amazon Cruise (4 nights?) then back to Sao Paulo for our return to Toronto. This portion could be 16 days (or more if necessary)

We will keep our plans loose in the hopes of picking up a last minute deal to Antarctica - I've been tracking cruise pricing for the last few years and hope we can pick up a good deal while we're in South America.

Realize my question is a bit vague but would appreciate comments on the overall blocking of time - we have some flexibility on the BA apartment rental timing.

Thanks!

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    If you are set on going to the Amazon it will be marginally cheaper flying from SP, most flight from Rio route through SP anyway. Bear in mind that even flying to Manaus and back will kill the better part fo two days, it's a five hour flight.

    Unless you have driven in Brazil and speak Portuguese I'd think twice about driving if I were you. At any rate rental cars and fuel are very expensive and returning a car in another city attracts a large additional fee.

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    We did something similar in 2008 although we used buses for inter region travel and rented cars to tour specific regions like Salta etc. Being Canadians you are aware of the distances involve but have you considered the state of the road network? Something like 70% of Argentine roads are unpave and can be pretty rough in places. That said, the trip from Bariloche to Medoza/Salta follows the famous Ruta 40 and would be an amazing trip. We did parts of it and met people who were doing it by bicycly and motorbike (something I would dearly love to do in the next few years!).

    The route from Salta to iguazu (and probably from Salta/mendoza) to BA seemed to me to be incredibly boring (unless you are into Pampas).

    We found the bus system to be incredibly efficient, cheap and extremely comfortable (think 1st or business Class air travel). Many of our longer trips were scheduled overnight thus saving both time and accomodation costs.
    Rental charges seemed on the high side, particularly one way drop offs but fuel was inexpensive (that said, I am from the Uk so fuel every where is cheap by comparison!). We used Hertz mostly.

    I do feel that you are spending a disproportionate amount of your time in BA and personally would probably lose a week or two there. Montivideo and Colonia make great side trips from BA (there is also a very upmarket beach resort that may be worth a visit.

    You could consider going from Salta to Iguazu and down to BA to avoid backtracking.

    Finally, a link to our blog with some additional info on these palces and some photos of our time there;

    http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/candcthai/1/tpod.html

    Entries 70 onwards cover Argentina

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    Holy drop off fees Batman.

    Just doing random searches - 19 day Hertz rental with a Bariloche pick up and BsAs drop off attracts a $700 drop off fee; Bariloche to Salta even more at $1,000+. Unfortunately no matter how comfortable the bus is my husband's dodgy back is too unpredictable for overnight bus trips. So perhaps we're into a combination of rental cars in specific destinations and flying between them (although that will also add up).

    I'm also concerned about the weather in January - originally this portion of the trip was to be the first 2 weeks of March but flight availability caused me to flip the Argentina/Brazil portion. Might have to reconsider the itinerary architecture

    Crellston - your blog is fantastic - I had read it when you first posted it but now it's so relevant to our planning! The salt plains look not to be missed.

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    I've just changed our itinerary - I didn't like the flights from the outset but booked quickly due to imminent Aeroplan changes - was able to change them today plus get Biz class which is even better. So now we start in Brazil (Rio/Amazon/other) then go to BsAs for February and then have 3 weeks in Argentina .... much better weather wise I think. Will start a new thread with questions when I have done more research - thanks to all for comments here.

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    If I were you, I would spend more than three days in Rio de Janeiro. There is a lot to see and do besides going to the beaches of the various barrios (neighborhoods). Consult some very good guide books: Time Out Rio, Moon guides, DK Eyewitness Travel:Brazil, possibly Fodors and Lonely Planet.

    There's Paraty (weekend),Petropolis (a day trip) and much to do in Rio which would take more than two days. Visit the Lapa community on a Friday eve with a native, Santa Teresa for half a day, etc., etc., etc.

    I've been to Rio on six occasions during the 2000s and plan to return for 10+ days this coming October. While there we'll do a few things that we've done in the past, but since my amigo has not been to various areas and venues in this city, I shall introduce them to him, i.e. botanical gardens, the forest, a favela tour through Marcelo Armstrong the originator of such, Santa Teresa, Lapa with a carioca, and a few other places.

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    I like Santa Teresa a lot, but it's not ideally located for public transport, however there is the bonde (tram) to the centre of Rio and taxis are very reasonably priced.

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    Hi Elizabeth_S

    Last year you were very helpful in planning our trip across the Caprivi Strip so I hope to be able to return the
    favor with Brazil and Argentina.

    We are in Brazil now for 7 weeks, and spent 6 weeks in Argentina and Chile the year before that. And we did three weeks devoted to the Amazon river, river towns, Manaus and locations further north.

    First, let me say that we seem to like to travel the same way. When planning our Brazil trip, I received nothing but negative responses to my intention to rent a car to tour Brazil. These responses were all on "the other board" by a specific person who was rabid in her fear mongering, so much so that I almost changed my plans to come to Brazil. Many others chimed in with the "take a bus" mantra. Then, I thought about it and figured there was no way the conditions here in Brazil were as bad as those we encountered in some of the African countries we drove through so here we are.

    We spent five days in Rio which we loved. We stayed at the Sofitel Copacabana which is in a great location close to Ipanema, which frankly we liked better. Hotel rooms for the nicer hotels are on the high side, but we were able to get a special from Brazilnuts 4 x 3 for an ocean view room for around $315 per night, taxes included. We checked out the hotels in Ipanema and Leblon and we thought the Sofitel offered the best bang for the buck. Breakfast is included; not the internet which is a fixed price. We rented a car and had no troubles though the favelas pose an interesting challenge. Be sure to bring your own maps as the rental cars do not provide them here.

    We then flew TAM to the NE of Brazil. The seating is horrible. We bought an extra seat since the flight was 3 hours and we were still crammed in. Zero leg room. Since then I've chatted with folks who say GOL is worse. Mid flight we got up and moved to the exit row which was empty for some reason. We rented a car from AVIS in Natal. What a production! There were two y

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    to continue .... my computer has a mind of its own and filed the previous report before I was done.

    There were two young men at the Avis booth, neither of whom spoke English. Nor did they read English so the reservation form you arrive with are tossed aside and they hand write the contract which you can't read because it is in Portuguese. In practical terms this meant that the entire rental process took 1 hour and 30 minutes from start to finish. Since we couldn't read the contract or question the agent, we opted to take full insurance coverage which added BR$13 per day to cover third party damage and windscreen breakage. Suggest you factor these things into your budget and planning. We ended up taking the extra insurance because we found that in Brazil we were scammed at least once a day. The corruption has filtered to the very core. The scams went from the minor to the very annoying -- everything from having meal checks be presented with prices that were not reflected on the menu (but were, of course, higher) to taxi drivers changing the tariff rate from 1 (day time) to 2 (nighttime with 17% premium) in the middle of the day while enroute. It is imperative that you bring an English to Portuguese dictionary so you have a shot at not being a victim. I bought a nice pocket sized one from Amazon for less than $10US.

    Roads are okay. Mind you, not as good as the roads in South Africa or even the road on the Caprivi strip. The highway is not a true highway like the wonderful roads in Croatia. (I remember that you were going there). They are adequate two lane highways BUT with speed bumps when you least expect them and tons of potholes. Also the BR101 up here is full of trucks supplying the cities. But don't be dissuaded by the nay sayers who think it is not safe to drive in Brazil. That is ridiculous. One caveat, however, is that you do not want to be driving around Rio and take a wrong turn into a favela.

    We are now in Praia Pipa, a cute rustic town on the beach 80km south of Natal which seems very popular with both Brazilians and Europeans. Total travel time was an hour and a half. Once off the highway, it took a half hour on this road to do 20km. Tomorrow we are heading to Joao Pessoa, then on to Recife and Porto de Galinhas and south so I'll have more information later.

    In Manaus, we also rented a car. However, we found we needed to take a taxi to the airport to get the car. Now Manaus was interesting because there are random police blockades on the road to Venezuela. All of a sudden there would be a stop with maybe 10 armed police officers stopping all cars. We would look at them and they would look at us and off we would go. Very few English speakers. We also rented a car in Santarem which was very interesting because there were only local companies and no English speakers. We made our way to Alto do Chao which was gorgeous, one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil.

    The Amazon river cruises are great and there are some wonderful spectacles/adventures. Be on the lookout for the pink river dolphins who frequently trail the boats. Manaus is a gritty river city but the activities around the main river port are quite interesting. I particularly liked the clever way they kept their beer cold.

    I am not a big fan of Buenos Aires. People say that it is the Paris of South America. Parisians would be offended. I thought is was absurd. It is nothing like Paris. BA is a huge, very dirty city. We found it more productive to have a car in BA as well since the distances between neighborhoods are so vast. While in BA, we witnessed many spontaneous protests spring up out of no where. Walking along, all of a sudden there was some protest or another with disgruntled people lumbering by with loudspeakers, fireworks, etc. Met many people, particularly those who were in town at the beginning or end of a cruise, who had their passports stolen and were despondent because it was such a hassle and expense to solve the problem. We did dine at some fine restaurants and had some nice experiences but the overall experience was just so so. Mendoza and North were entirely different as well as southern Patagonia which is vast. By the way, we were in BA in November and it was HOT!

    Much nicer to us was Uruguay. What a gorgeous country. We took the ferry from BA to Montevideo and rented a car and spent two marvelous weeks driving up the coast all the way to Punta del Diablo. What a wonderful country.

    More later...

    boudecca

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    One other thing re: Santa Theresa. While we were in town, armed gunmen entered the posh Hotel Santa Teresa and held up I think it was fourteen guests at gunpoint. This area is quite near a favela and I have read many reports of crime in the last six months while planning this trip. I would be very careful wandering around here. In fact, we opted out and will give it a try when we return to Rio in September. While planning our trip I kept up with local goings on by reading riotimesonline.com

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    Jesus Christ, you must be fun to travel with. Nobody spoke English? Que surpresa! And you don't speak Portuguese? Now whose problem is that? I read the comments on Thorntree and most of the problems you reported, language difficulties, expense, heavy vehicle traffic and the danger of getting lost were all pointed out to you. You make your bed and....

    Enjoy finding a park In Salvador btw oh and don't get lost heading out via Sete Portas lest you end up somewhere 'interesting' or indeed exciting. ;-)

    You have been scammed every day? Really? That either suggests incredible ill luck, considerable naivete or perhaps problems communicating. Perhaps all three. Maybe the obverse is true. perhaps I'm exceptionally lucky because I could probably count the number of times a taxi driver has tried to rip me off on one hand. Perhaps it's because I speak the language. then again I know very few people who make such claims so perhaps it is just you after all.

    Events like the robbery at the hotel in santa Teresa are rare. That said this sort of thing has happened in Zona Sul as well. It's like most freak events, largely unavoidable and purely a matter of luck. The proximity of a favela has nothing to do with it. There are favelas next to Ipanema and Copacabana.

    Hopefully your trip will improve. Good luck.

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    To Carlos69

    I'm missing the point of your unnecessarily aggressive post. I am reporting exactly what happened to us. Our experiences do not make us lucky or unlucky, naive or without communication skills. These are facts whether you like the way they reflect upon Brazil or not. Low level corruption in the cities appears to be part of life in Brazil and I think it is sad because the Brazilians are lovely. We have spoken to many locals in our few weeks here and none of them are surprised by our experiences.

    We have traveled to over 84 countries. We know how to travel and what to expect. And we know the difference between right and wrong. So what if our Portuguese is not perfect and if we stumble on the correct word. You imply that makes it okay to rip us off. Well, I don't think it's okay to rip anyone off for any reason whether one speaks Portuguese or not.

    Regarding the armed robbery at Hotel Santa Teresa, all fine and well for you to say it is rare. The fact that it happened at all is disturbing. I doubt any of the guests staying at that very expensive hotel had ever been robbed at gunpoint before. Who has? And why should they have had to endure an armed robbery at all! I challenge you to find a newspaper article in any other country where an armed robbery of a well known hotel is reported. The danger of Santa Teresa is well documented throughout the boards. You know that!

    The tone of your post is insulting and does not further the discussion or aid fellow travelers in any way. There is very little written on Brazil on this board and my intent is to be as helpful as possible. What is your point?

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    boudecca--
    It really appears that what the “specific person who was rabid in her fear mongering” advised you of is exactly what you are reporting your experience was, so were you given rabid fear-mongering or sound, factual advice?

    Not every traveller would find all the perils, frustrations and inconveniences you have confronted (and the dangers you may have faced unknowingly) to be the way they might want to spend a relaxing vacation. And especially on a much shorter one, those travellers would not be missing much by not driving and instead joining the Brazilians in taking the extremely comfortable buses, or often even more cheaply, flying.

    I think you do a major disservice to most travellers to Brazil to suggest that (self)driving through Brazil is a reasonable choice for any but the most intrepid.

    ------------
    Specifically...
    You were advised by that person that she did “not recommend driving in Brazil to anyone new to Brazil who does not speak the language well, and is not familiar with road conditions and driving habits…..

    Also, not to drive in Brazil in order:
    To “AVOID roads with a little asphalt holding together the potholes.”
    To “AVOID getting lost in an unsafe area (such as a favela), esp. getting in and out of cities.”

    So you reported:
    “The highway is not a true highway …….. They are adequate two lane highways BUT with speed bumps when you least expect them and tons of potholes. Also the BR101 (my note: this is the main interstate highway) up here is full of trucks supplying the cities.”
    “…..you do not want to be driving around Rio and take a wrong turn into a favela….We spent five days in Rio which we loved. …….. We rented a car …. though the favelas pose an interesting challenge. Be sure to bring your own maps as the rental cars do not provide them here.”

    And
    “it took a half hour on this road to do 20km.”

    You were advised:
    “It takes more than "a little bit of Portuguese" to even understand the rental contract you're signing and the potential costs you may be agreeing to in case of accident, let alone to get the car fixed while on the road, or talk to police at one of the common blitz actions.”

    You reported your own experience:
    “We rented a car from AVIS in Natal. What a production! There were two young men at the Avis booth, neither of whom spoke English. Nor did they read English so the reservation form you arrive with are tossed aside and they hand write the contract which you can't read because it is in Portuguese. In practical terms this meant that the entire rental process took 1 hour and 30 minutes from start to finish. Since we couldn't read the contract or question the agent, we opted to take full insurance coverage which added BR$13 per day to cover third party damage and windscreen breakage. (Suggest you factor these things into your budget and planning. ….We ended up taking the extra insurance because we found that in Brazil we were scammed at least once a day.”
    (My note: the “full” insurance coverage still doesn’t cover damage other than proven third party damage, for example vandalism or anything you yourself might be responsible for, and you will be home by the time they are charging your credit card any price they choose for repair.)

    And
    “Manaus was interesting because there are random police blockades on the road to Venezuela. All of a sudden there would be a stop with maybe 10 armed police officers stopping all cars. ……. Very few English speakers.”

    You were initially informed about accidents and carjackings. You did indeed more recently report seeing a bad accident, luckily not involving you, in just the short few weeks you have been travelling. Further luck (only) may have prevented you from becoming a victim of crime too.

    And
    You stated initially that “there was no way the conditions here in Brazil were as bad as those we encountered in some of the African countries we drove through..” but yet after doing some driving, say “Roads are okay. Mind you, not as good as the roads in South Africa or even the road on the Caprivi strip.” (my note: in Namibia)
    ---
    Also, you were told about the frequency of carjackings in certain areas of the country. Luckily, up until this point in your trip, it seems you haven’t encountered this problem, and some who do not know the areas well where this occurs may say it is rare. However, as you yourself say “Regarding the armed robbery at Hotel Santa Teresa, all fine and well for you to say it is rare. The fact that it happens at all is disturbing. I doubt any of the guests staying at that very expensive hotel (my note: or anyone renting a car for a peaceful drive around the country) had ever been robbed at gunpoint before. Who has? And why should they have had to endure an armed robbery at all.” Continued good luck to you on your drive, as you enter the areas where carjacking is more frequently reported.
    --------
    If you claim that “Low level corruption in the cities appears to be part of life in Brazil and I think it is sad because the Brazilians are lovely.” then who is it that is corrupt, if not those very “lovely” Brazilians by whom “we were scammed at least once a day, with “having meal checks be presented with prices that were not reflected on the menu (but were, of course, higher) to taxi drivers changing the tariff rate from 1 (day time) to 2 (nighttime with 17% premium) in the middle of the day while enroute”?
    You said “ It is imperative that you bring an English to Portuguese dictionary so you have a shot at not being a victim”, but a few hastily looked-up words are scant proof against the plethora of instances where you didn’t even perceive that you were being charged a hefty ‘gringo tax’ while the “lovely Brazilians” smiled to your face.
    ---
    The famous Brazilian composer Tom Jobim once said that “Brazil is not for beginners”, and your comments illustrate that this is especially true for those “cabecudos” who think they have it all figured out before they spend much time on the ground. You initially said on the other forum that “We know how to travel and what to expect.” but your post here (and others there) seem to be one long litany of complaints about conditions outlined in advance advice that proved accurate, from those with lots of experience in Brazil, about conditions that you negated previous to travelling.
    As mentioned above, not all are as intrepid as you, and not all would want to pass a vacation fraught with so many problems and complications simply in order to get to a few places that might not be reachable by other transportation.

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    To Equestrian

    Sorry I was so slow on the uptake. You're the person who gives so much bad advice on driving in Brazil on "the other board". Try as you will, you just can't hide your writing style and the "I know better than you do" attitude that pervades all your comments wherever you write.

    For the record, we are still in Brazil and our trip could not have been better. We have had a fabulous time driving in Brazil. To date, we have logged over 3000 km. Of course, we have had the occasional problem and some of your comments were correct but nothing that happened to us could quell the enjoyment of our trip one tiny iota. Real travelers adjust to glitches and the unusual by devising work arounds on the fly. And we get where we want to go with no fuss.

    My reports are not for you who prefers the bus, but for others who have a keen sense of adventure and a free spirit. Brazil is a great country best enjoyed by driving through it. That is my experience and my firm belief. We have met many other fellow travelers these last five weeks who join us in this opinion. My reports are the facts of our specific trip without any judgments. If you interpret this as confirmation of your "advice", that's your opinion. Not mine.

    And, what makes you think your opinion is better than mine? You travel by bus. I travel by car. I wouldn't think of giving advice to anyone about bus travel. Why do you think it's okay to give advice about driving when your entire Brazilian travel experience is by bus?

    You should get yourself off that bus and try experiencing Brazil through the eyes of a real traveler. Or don't you drive? But at the very least you should stop scaring people about the horrors of driving in Brazil. Your point of view does not work for everyone. And you are just downright wrong about many things.

    To my fellow travelers who want to travel through Brazil by car, my advice to you is to go ahead and try it. Pick one area where the driving is easy (maybe pick up a car at the Florianopolis airport or even the Salvador airport and head north to Praia do Forte). If you find you really do not like driving, then you can always change your mode of transportation for future legs of your trip. But if you find that you really like the freedom of driving, a car can open up a whole new Brazil to you. Don't let the negativity of a handful of specific individuals limit your experiences. Talk to people who are kindred spirits and make up your own minds.

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    My advice for newbies to Brazil to stick to the efficient and comfortable bus and sirline systems actually stems from the number of years (almost 2 decades) I have travelled and lived in Brazil -- and the number of problems I have either encountered or observed while driving with Brazilian friends and relatives over most areas of the country, coastal and inland, rural and urban, during that time period.

    Note that the those advising first timers against driving (on the other forum) are Brazilians, who know their roads, and what can befall the unwary on them, well.

    Your "good" advice above includes encouraging newbies to drive from Salvador to Praia do Forte, a stretch of road so prone to carjackings that even the buses go in a caravan with armed cars alongside. Cars coming from the sirport are known (by locals) to be particularly targeted. This has included a foreign family with a small child who were left stranded by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere up there, when their car was stolen. I personally know more than one person who has gone through a harrowing experience on that stretch of road. For example, one foreign woman resident was driving her car home along that stretch when she was suddenly forced off the road by two vehicles filled with armed men. She narrowly escaped being killed when one gunman, who was the one designated to drive her car away, couldn't figure out how to drive an automatic (very rare to find a non-stick shift in Brazil), turned his gun on her.

    If someone has spent enough time in Brazil to come to know the road conditions and the drivers, and speaks enough Portuguese to get help if lost or in trouble, to know exactly what the rental contract says, and to get informed by locals as to trouble spots, then they may be informed enough to undertake a road trip safely, and to balance the substantial risks with whatever rewards are to be found by stopping at those rare places a bus does not.

    Anyone reading this, or the thread(s)on the other forum, is clearly free to decide to take the advice of someone who spent 5 weeks in Brazil, reported many incidents that not every traveller would want to encounter on a vacation, and had some very good luck to avoid others (whether he knows Brazil well enough to understand this or not).

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