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15 days in Argentina

I recently spent 15 days traveling in Argentina with two friends. In 15 days we visited two Countries, four different areas of Argentina and several cities (Buenos Aires, Colonia, Salta, Mendoza, Cafayate, Tupungato, Iguazu Falls). We also spent a night at an Estancia (ranch) tucked away in the Andes. Big thanks to Dana for being our amazing travel planner.

Argentina is a big place. To see everything we wanted to see required taking several flights inside in the Country. This is a high level overview of our stops. We did not get to the Southern half of Argentina, which includes Patagonia and Tierre del Fuego which I consider two excellent reasons to go back someday.

Day 1 Buenos Aires:
Our first day we landed in Buenos Aires at 10AM after a 14 hour flight. We could not check in to our hotel until 2PM so despite the long flight we hit the streets. We were staying in the Retiro barrio of Buenos Aires so we set out to the nearby Recoleta Cemetery for sight seeing. Then we proceeded on an urban hike as we passed the Dr. Seuss looking University Library, had a drink at Dada (very cool place), then walked through the Puerto Madero area. They call Buenos Aires the Paris of South America. The city feels European and the Porteños are very well dressed. Buenos Aires shows strong Italian and Spanish influence.

Day 2 Buenos Aires:
After Day 1’s walking marathon we took a bus tour of the city which introduced us to several new neighborhoods. Locals recommended the “Yellow Bus”. We jumped aboard and jumped off about halfway through the tour to check out the Japanese Gardens (recommended by a friend). Rather than catch the bus again we decided to walk back to the hotel, soaking up the city vibe…and a lot of bus fumes (the traffic and exhaust can be overwhelming at times). That night we ate at a place called Milions that was recommended by a local we talked to at Dada’s the night before. Milions food was good, but it was really about the space. Milions is in a French style house from the early 1900’s with 20 foot ceilings. It was groovy without being hipster.

Day 3 Colonia, Uruguay:
Time to get out of Buenos Aires for a break! We took the ferry across the bay to visit Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Colonia was one of my favorite stops of our entire trip. Founded in 1680 Colonia has worn cobblestone streets and a ton of charm. Colonia is funky, in a old world way. We ate at El Drugstore. The meal was incredible, rivaled only by the meals at the Estancia El Puesto on day 8. If you go to Buenos Aires, spend the money to ferry over to Colonia. Ferry tickets are not cheap, but you get an extra Country stamp in your passport!

Day 4 Salta:
Goodbye Buenos Aires, Hello Salta! We expected Salta to be like Colonia, but we were wrong. Salta is much busier. Although the streets in Salta are always teeming with traffic and pedestrians, Salta retained it’s own charm. Our cab driver assured us that Salta had everything you could want except the Ocean. We arrive and head out to the main square. I visited the Momias de Llullaillaco, which are three Incan children that were sacrificed 500 years ago high up in the Andes Mountains. Due to cold and lack of bacteria they are almost perfectly preserved. I couldn’t take pictures and only spent 15 minutes looking at the display, but it’s a fascinating story and I wish I had more time there. After some food at the city’s central square we headed off to the cable cars to take us a nearby mountain overlooking Salta. That evening we ate a traditional Argentinian rabbit stew recipe used by Gauchos when out on the plains.

 

Day 5 Cafayate:
Road trip! We headed out from Salta to Cafayate. It’s a scenic drive which I will leave to the pictures to describe. That evening we hit the nightlife in Salta. There was a surprisingly active nightclub scene for a city the size of Salta. Dozens of restaurants and clubs in a three block radius, unfortunately I took one picture then my camera battery died. It was cool, trust me. =) When we left after 2AM, places were just starting to fill up. Argentinians start late with dinner at Midnight, hit the clubs about 2AM and finish partying at 6AM. Whenever we ate dinner before 1030PM we were usually the only people in the restaurant.

Day 6 Mendoza:
Day 6 was the redheaded stepchild of our trip. We were out late the night before, had to catch a plane the next morning and the hotel room we had in Mendoza was not great (we were switched out the next day to a very nice room in the same hotel). We did some walking sight seeing but this day was very low key.

Day 7 Portrerillos:
Road trip! Jumped in a rental car and drove from Mendoza to Portrerillos, a small community by the Andes and a large lake. We had a fantastic meal at a roadside cafe. The blackened bread bowl had meat and stew inside. Their version of pizza was a thin crust with thick layer of cheese. Everything was cooked in outdoor stone ovens. This was one of my favorite meals of the entire trip. That night we strolled around Mendoza and took more pictures…of food!

Day 8 Estancia El Puesto:
Ah, the Estancia. This was special. We drove to Tupungato, a small remote town outside of Mendoza and then kept driving another 15 minutes. We were picked up by Danielle in a Toyota 4×4 for the last 30 minute drive over rough terrain to the Estancia El Puesto, nestled in a valley at the base of the Andes. Danielle is the Italian son-in-law of Raul, who owns the Estancia (and ~60,000 surrounding acres). Danielle, Raul and Manuel spent the evening with us, telling jokes, stories, teaching us a magic trick and sharing traditional Argentinian Tea made from the Yerba root called Mate. Even though there was a bit of language barrier, it was a great time and they were perfect hosts. The food and the company was outstanding. After a fantastic lunch we took the horses out for an hour ride to a nearby goat farm. Having not been on a horse for 30 years the first 10 minutes when we went straight up a narrow and steep trail was quite nerve racking, but overall horseback riding in the Andes was definitely a highlight of the trip. (The Estancia was powered by two solar panels hooked up to a car battery. It was remote to say the least, yet the twentysomething ranch hand Paolo who lives there full time was still seen texting his friends on his mobile phone.)

Day 9 Mendoza:
Heading back to Mendoza from the Estancia we stopped over at Salentein Winery. This is a 10 year old Dutch owned winery. Argentina is quickly becoming a global supplier of wines, competing with Napa and France. The facilities were amazing. As part of the tour we were shown a brief film which had the basic message of “God wants you to drink wine.” Clever marketing in a mostly Catholic Country. That afternoon and evening we spent in Chacras de Coria, a pleasant suburb of Mendoza.

Day 10 Iguazu Falls:
Due to a mid day flight and travel fatigue this day consisted of us catching up on some sleep and hitting the town late night for a meal and entertaining people watching. Not many opportunities for pictures.

Day 11 Iguazu Falls:
The reason you come to Iguazu is to see the waterfalls, and to take pictures of the waterfalls. We did both, especially the picture taking part, as evidenced below. We also met a few other travelers. Three separate girls, two Brits and an American, who were traveling solo through South America. They shared part of their day with us and were very entertaining.

Day 12 Iguazu Falls:
Having seen the Falls we headed out for a urban hike of Iguazu Falls, stopping at a point on the river where we are standing in Argentina but can see Brazil and Paraguay. That afternoon we met up with some guides for hiking, rapelling and ziplining through the Rain Forest. That evening we found the nightclub district and adopted a stray dog (one of many) for a few hours.

Day 13 Buenos Aires:
Back to Buenos Aires for our last couple of days in Argentina. This time we stayed in the Palermo district, specifically Palermo Villejo. Palermo is a large and very diverse section of Buenos Aires. Less busy than Retiro or Recoleta, Palermo quickly became my favorite Buenos Aires neighborhood. We stumbled upon an open market and enjoyed a pleasant meal in a central square with fantastic people watching. That night we found an Indian restaurant and ate our meal sitting on the floor.

Day 14 Buenos Aires:
If you are in Buenos Aires on a Sunday you are almost required to visit San Telmo for their farmer’s market. Unfortunately, after having great luck our entire trip we finally experienced our first rainy day. We made our way through the streets and had a great time, but knew that the crowd was light and many stands were empty due to weather. Still, San Telmo was worth effort and taking the Subway was definitely a new experience in personal space (very crowded but almost free at 25 cents US).

Day 15 Buenos Aires:
Our last day of vacation! Luckily our flight is not till 9PM so we made plans for a bicycle tour. Meeting in the Federal District we jump on the train and ride to Tigre with our bikes. We tour San Isidro and Tigre, stopping for a meal then head back to Buenos Aires. It was a long trip, but as always it seemed to end too soon. Argentina was a blast, I would definitely go back.

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