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Trip Report Three Weeks in Argentina

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I find these forums so helpful and the people who write on them very helpful. I always come on this forum when planning my trips! To show my gratitude and help others, I've decided to post a trip report. This report is late (!) and I didn't make notes of my trip. However, I have a pretty good memory and lots of pics to remind me when my memory does get fuzzy so I will do my best. Unfortunately, the trip report will come in instalments as my posts are long and wordy (sorry!). However, I'm committed to having it done within the next couple of weeks.

Here are the basics:

WHEN:

We spent three weeks in Argentina - arriving on Dec 27 and departing on January 15.

ABOUT US

This was our honeymoon. While it was our honeymoon, we are not the type to want to sit in secluded restaurants and sit down simply watching the sunset (not that there's anything wrong with that!). We love to travel but we like to do it in a relaxed way. We don't feel the need to play "the amazing race" and see all the sites in a short period of time. We much prefer to spend more time in a place then less time and spend that extra time simply "living" in the city. If we don't get to see the entire country, we have a wonderful excuse to go back :-)

I booked all the flights/accommodations myself with the exception of one flight which was booked by a travel agent in BA.

WHERE

We spent three weeks in Argentina. Our time was divided up as follows:
Buenos Aires - 7 nights
Salta - 2 nights
Cafayate - 2 nights
Salta - 1 night
Iguazu - 2 nights
Mendoza - 4 nights
Buenos Aires - 1 nights

GETTING THERE

We took an American Airlines flight to Miami and a LAN flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The American Airlines flight was fine except we had the misfortune of flying the same day as the "underwear bomber" incident took place. That meant we had to check all of our luggage, have a full pat down search on boarding, we could not get up during the last hour of the flight (including to go to the washroom) and we could not have anything on our laps during the flight. I understand and appreciate that it was all done for security - it just made for a not so pleasant flight. It would have also been nice to know about this when we were boarding the plane. We were advised at the airport by AA staff that they were on high security but the news hadn't actually broke about the "underwear bomber". I was furiously sending texts to friends and family trying to figure out if there was some news story that would have prompted this. I heard nothing. I then asked the AA staff if the same policies applies to all flights that day. It made me feel better (because I was starting to worry that they knew something about our flight!). There was a one hour delay on the flight because of the manual search of each passenger. Luckily, we did not miss our connecting flight.

We then took a LAN flight to Argentina. We had no issues. It was a pleasant flight. Staff were pleasant. Food was decent (as compared to other airlines). Left exactly on time. I tried to get a bump up to first class by playing the honeymoon card but it didn’t work (the flight was not close to full and so they couldn't justify the bump up).

GETTING AROUND

Flight travel is not cheap in Argentina, but the country is so vast that it's really the most efficient way to travel, unless you want to spend 20 hours on a bus (which we didn't want to do). For that reason, we didn't take buses (with the exception of Salta-Cafayate which is, if I recall correctly, about a 3.5 hour bus ride)

(a) Air Travel

We took LAN from BA to Salta; Iguazu to Mendoza; and Mendoza to BA. We spent more to travel with LAN ($100 in total per person - that's for all flights - not each). However, after reading bad reviews of Aerolines Argentina, I decided it was money well spent as I didn't want to spend hours at an airport because of delayed flights, missing connections or having a flight cancelled. The flights were great. I never had any issues. Every single one of our flights left on time. The staff were pleasant. I note that every time we got to the airport and looked on the departure screen, a good portion of the Aerolineas Argentina flights were delayed and some were cancelled. The extra $100 per person was money well spent :-)

We took Andes Air from Salta to Iguazu. The one annoying thing about air travel is that most flights between cities in Argentina (other than BA), all connect in BA. I didn't want to spend 8 hours flying from Salta to Iguazu and I discovered this flight which was direct and is fabulous. It flies only twice a week - Tuesdays and Fridays - so it requires some coordination. It's a beautiful little secret (I booked it through a travel agent in BA and she didn't even know about it!). The flight was fine. It was on time. No complaints about the flight. My only issue is that booking online in English is next to impossible. You can chose the "English" option on the website but when it comes time to booking, the website is in Spanish. I was able to surmise some of what was on the website but I didn't understand all of it. I tried calling to book a flight on a number of occasions, left a couple of messages and didn't hear from anyone. I then emailed them - nothing. I gave up trying to do it myself. So when we arrived in BA we went to a travel agent on the 2nd or 3rd day and booked it through them. We paid a bit of a premium but not much. Again, I paid it happily to avoid the long connecting flight.

(b) Bus Travel

We took a bus from Salta to Cafayate. We took the El Indio bus from Salta to Cafayate. We bought our tickets a day in advance of the trip so we secured great seats - we sat in the front of the bus that had windows from top to bottom. The bus itself was not fantastic - some of the windows were cracked and there was no AC. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the bus ride and the majestic views that it offered. We planned to take the same bus back. However, that proved to be an ABSOLUTE DISASTER. We got just outside of Cafayate when the bus was stopped by officials. There was a hold up of about 20-30 mins and then someone came on to explain what was going on. I had no idea what was going on because it was all in Spanish (but I did, later, find someone on the bus who spoke some English and was able to describe what happened). Anyway, the bus got turned back. The reason: it's permit had expired the day before and it had not renewed it!!!!! They told us that we could take the seats on the next bus. I note that the earlier bus was completely sold out and so was the next one. That would mean two bus loads of people would be on one bus with no air condition. And that would mean that I'd lose four hours of my time when I was ready to move on. There was another bus company (that looked a lot nicer than El Indio) but it was leaving at about the same time. I went back to our hotel and asked the owner if she could arrange a taxi. She noted that it would be very expensive. It cost us 300 Argentinian Pesos (the equivalent of $80 CDN). I was happy to pay it to leave right away and have a seat. I was NOT happy with El Indio and wouldn't recommend that bus company. Extremely unreliable (having permits is such a basic thing).

(c) Taxis

Taxis: We never rented a car in any of the cities/towns that we were in. I never felt like I got ripped off (we got to know the routes and standard fares pretty well). While we took radio taxis most of the time, we hailed all of them (except for the ones in Iguazu) off the street. This means that there was no record kept of who picked us up! Did it matter? No. Honestly, the drivers we had were incredibly honest. On new years day, we also jumped into a non-radio taxi and the guy was just fine. Taxis are cheap basically everywhere other than Iguazu (in Iguazu, everything seems to be a $25 Cdn taxi ride v. BA where we'd pay $6 CAD for a taxi from one side of the city to the other! We had one bad ride in the northwest that would be considered an ‘adventure’ of sorts – but I’ll get into that later.

BANK MACHINES/ATM CARDS

So, I was a bit freaked out going there because I heard that there was a 300 Pesos limit (and the total service charge would be around $7 dollars with each withdrawal). I used my card at a number of machines and found a bank which offered me $1000 Pesos. Here’s where my memory gets a bit fuzzy – I believe that it was the Balneco machines that I was using to withdrawal 1000 Pesos. Note, that I’m on the ‘Plus’ System. My husband, whose bank card is with the “Cirrus” system could only withdrawal 300 Pesos, regardless of the bank. So, we stuck to using my card so as to not incur ridiculous service charges.

OUR ACCOMMODATIONS

(a) Buenos Aires - Apartment

We decided to stay in an apartment in Recoletta for the first week. We booked in through Buenos Aires Habitat. When I initially tried to book the room, they were slow in responding to me. However, after I followed up and found someone to help me, they were very responsive, professional and easy to deal with. I cannot complain about the company. Regarding the accommodations, I found them to be quite nice. We rented a one bedroom apartment in a very nice building with 24 hour security and a roof top swimming pool. The apartment had it's own laundry facilities and was clean. The location was absolutely fabulous. We paid around 625 US for the week which is far cheaper than the hotels we were finding in the area.

(b) Salta – Hotel Le Candela

I booked this place based on the wonderful reviews it had received on trip advisor. It met all my expectations. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the centre of Salta (and the walk to/from is easy and safe). The staff there are wonderful SO incredibly friendly – they always willing to help and always making sure that our stay was great. The hotel is very clean. It has a small swimming pool which we never used (just because we were always around the hotel). The breakfast was a continental style breakfast (it was fine). The breakfast area was nice. We left our luggage there while we went to Cafayate for two days – they took no issue with that. When we returned, our bags were in our room waiting for us!

(c) Cafayate – Killa Hotel

I again booked this place based on the wonderful reviews it had received on trip advisor. It was a good hotel but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Hotel Le Candela for reasons I will get into later. It was a short walk from the centre of Cafayate. The rooms were cute. The breakfasts were, again, continental style (it was fine). The breakfast area was nice. It also has a small swimming pool with a nice courtyard which we sat on and enjoyed some wine. On the downside, our room smelled a bit musty; we were able to figure out why – on one of the nights that we were there, there was a heavy rainstorm and water was coming into the room (not tons of it, but enough). Our supply of bath towels had also not been replenished on the second night. They took our old bath-towels but hadn’t given us new ones. That wasn’t fun  We asked for new bath towels and we didn’t get them. On check out, there was no one there, so we left a key with the note. We then saw the owner, Martha, told her we were checking out and explained our issue with the towels. She was very apologetic about it all (and was quite sincere). We then left, had our fiasco with the bus (as noted above). We went back to the hotel to see if Martha could recommend something. She was so helpful in looking up the other bus company and seeing what our options were. She ultimately arranged for us to get a taxi from Cafayate to Salta. Despite the issues that I faced, I’d still recommend this place (Martha really redeemed herself!).

(d) Iguazu – Iguazu Grand Hotel

We don’t usually splurge on hotels but this was really good value for a 5* hotel. The hotel was beautiful! The staff were very helpful (including with making our daily arrangements for transportation). We ate at the hotels restaurant both nights – our meals were great. The pools and courtyard were great and well maintained. It was a real treat to come back and rest at the hotel after a day in the scorching heat. We had mentioned our honeymoon as we were checking in and when we got to the room, we had a nice bottle of champagne waiting for us in our room. Slippers were provided. It was a real 5* experience. Breakfast was included and was really nice. Lots of options. The dining area was also quite nice. The hotel grounds were quite beautiful.

(e) Mendoza – Villagio hotel

We had a nice stay at the Villagio. The location was great. The hotel and rooms were clean. The breakfast was nice. The staff were friendly and were helpful. Overall, good value for the money.

(f) Buenos Aires – Urban Suites Recolleta

We stayed in this hotel for the last night. The location was great, right across the street from the cemetery in Recoletta. The breakfast was nice. The staff were friendly. The rooms and hotel were clean. My only issue is that it’s right next to a bar that they were doing construction on (when we were there). I could hear the noise when I was there. When the construction wasn’t going on, the bar was and one could hear the music (a little bit). We didn’t spend a lot of time at the hotel, so it didn’t really bother me.

The fun details to follow soon. Stay tuned

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