A Travellerspoint blog

April 2019

Iguazú Falls & Esteros del Iberá

Amazing nature and wildlife in Argentina’s Northeast


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

From Rio de Janeiro we took a flight to Foz do Iguaçu, located on the Brazilian side of the Tri-border area shared with Paraguay and Argentina. More importantly, it is the closest town to the Brazilian side of the mighty Iguazú Falls. We arrived in the evening and spent a night in town before taking the bus out to the falls. The national park on the Brazilian side features one boardwalk that takes one to two hours to explore. We were very impressed with the first panoramic views of the falls and it only got better as we walked farther. As we figured out, those first views were from the lower, less impressive part of the falls. The boardwalk culminated in a path out over the river and very close to the loudest and most spectacular part of Iguazú Falls, the Devil’s Throat. We had to wear our rain jackets for this part since it got pretty wet in there. The Iguazú Falls consist of around 300 individual waterfalls, with the largest ones being 82 meters tall. On an average day, 1.75 million liters of water drop down there every second, about half of which runs through the Devil’s Throat.

Our first view of Iguazú Falls from the Brazilian side

Our first view of Iguazú Falls from the Brazilian side

Marta in front of the Devil’s Throat

Marta in front of the Devil’s Throat

Iguazú Falls with boardwalk visible on the right

Iguazú Falls with boardwalk visible on the right

Coati climbing on a tree near Iguazú Falls

Coati climbing on a tree near Iguazú Falls

Since it did not take us very long to see the falls, we decided to visit Parque das Aves afterwards. This zoo specializing in tropical birds was located right next to the entrance of the national park. We are not big fans of zoos, but this was a different experience. The bird cages were huge and we could walk inside of the cages. That way we could get really close to the birds and there was no barrier between us and them. Our favorites were the toucans with their huge bright beaks and the macaws, which came in many different colors.

Toucan at Parque das Aves

Toucan at Parque das Aves

Blue macaw at Parque das Aves

Blue macaw at Parque das Aves

Scarlet macaw at Parque das Aves

Scarlet macaw at Parque das Aves

Blue-and-yellow macaw at Parque das Aves

Blue-and-yellow macaw at Parque das Aves

Flamingos at Parque das Aves

Flamingos at Parque das Aves

From Foz do Iguaçu, we took a bus over the border to Puerto Iguazú in Argentina. This was a bit of a painful experience, because unlike Brazilians and Argentinians we had to get off the bus on the Brazilian side of the border for the exit stamp. Despite the fact that it only took a minute to get our passports stamped, the bus left and we had to wait an hour for the next one.

The national park on the Argentinian side of Iguazú Falls was much bigger. Three long boardwalks let us explore different parts of the falls. We woke up very early to be among the first people to enter the park and it was totally worth it. We saw few other people in our first three hours at the falls, so we had all the time and space that we needed to enjoy the views and take photos, something that was not always easy on the Brazilian side. The most amazing view was the one from atop the Devil’s Throat. A boardwalk led one kilometer out over Río Iguazú, right to the edge of where the masses of water thunder down into a cloud of mist.

Iguazú Falls from the Argentinian side

Iguazú Falls from the Argentinian side

Sam close to a waterfall of the Iguazú Falls

Sam close to a waterfall of the Iguazú Falls

Sam and Marta in Parque Nacional Iguazú

Sam and Marta in Parque Nacional Iguazú

View downriver from atop the Devil’s Throat

View downriver from atop the Devil’s Throat

Top of the Devil’s Throat

Top of the Devil’s Throat

After walking all day in Parque Nacional Iguazú, the next day involved very little walking. We travelled all day to a little village called Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. First, we took a 5½ hour bus to Posadas and from there, we had a private 4x4 taxi for the 4 hour ride over dirt roads to our accommodation. Why did we go through all that trouble? Colonia Carlos Pellegrini is located at the edge of Esteros del Iberá, the second largest wetland in the world after Pantanal in Brazil. Unlike Iguazú Falls, this is a rarely visited part of Argentina, certainly in parts because it is so hard to get to. We stayed in a nice lodge there for three nights and it was great to fall asleep to the sounds of birds instead of cars.

Our lodge included four guided wildlife watching trips. On the first morning we did a guided walk at the edges of the lagoon and in the afternoon, we did a boat tour on the lagoon. The most common animal we saw was the capybara. It is the world’s largest rodent and looks like a supersized guinea pig. We loved watching the capybaras, but sadly we could not take one home with us. They weight around 50 kilograms, which makes them too heavy for our check-in luggage.

Wet capybara

Wet capybara

Marta next to a capybara

Marta next to a capybara

Swimming capybara

Swimming capybara

On the second day we kayaked on the lagoon, which was another fantastic experience. Besides the capybaras, we also saw a lots of caimans, which are related to crocodiles and alligators. The largest ones we saw were around two meters long. We sometimes got within a hand’s reach of the caimans, but we were smart enough not to try and pet them.

Caiman at the edge of the water

Caiman at the edge of the water

Close-up of a caiman

Close-up of a caiman

Marta in the kayak with a caiman in front of her

Marta in the kayak with a caiman in front of her

Kayaks on the lagoon

Kayaks on the lagoon

We also saw marsh deer, howler monkeys (officially the worlds loudest land animal, though they were quiet in our presence), armadillos and lots of birds. On the last evening we did a guided night walk, but we were not very lucky and only saw more capybaras and one armadillo that night. Overall, Esteros del Iberá was an outstanding experience for us. We loved the quiet atmosphere of the place and it was fascinating to get so close to so many animals in their natural habitat.

Marsh deer

Marsh deer

Large bird flying away

Large bird flying away

Sunset over the lagoon

Sunset over the lagoon

Posted by samandmarta 13:04 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro

Beach days in South America’s most spectacular city


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

Brazil is by far the largest country in South America, but we chose not to spend a lot of time there on our journey through the continent. One reason is that the country is a high-risk region for many mosquito-born diseases and we try to avoid those areas. Another reason is that we already made an effort to learn Spanish, which is of little help in Brazil where Portuguese is the official language. Lastly, we feel there is enough to see and do on the rest of the continent to utilize our six months here. With that being said, we could not leave South America without visiting its most famous city, Rio de Janeiro.

We arrived to Rio by plane from Montevideo, with a stopover in Porto Alegre. For five nights, we stayed at a nice hotel directly at the Copacabana. There were fantastic views of this iconic beach from the rooftop pool of our hotel. During our time in Rio, we focused more on relaxing at the beach or swimming in the sea than on sightseeing. The Copacabana was right on our doorstep, so we spent most of our time there. It is a fantastic beach, long and wide with fine white sand.

Copacabana, seen from the rooftop of our hotel

Copacabana, seen from the rooftop of our hotel

Copacabana beach

Copacabana beach

Lots of sales people walk up and down the beach, but we found them to be much less annoying than what we know from popular beaches in Southern Europe. They walk around announcing their product, but generally leave you alone unless you signal interest. You can buy useful things like Caipirinhas, beer, hats, bikinis or massages. One inventive guy even walked around with a miniature grill, offering to make a barbecue for you. Some sell crazy things like the two guys who walked around with a giant hammock and a bunch of heavy carpets. Who buys a hammock at the beach? There are no trees, so where would you attach it? So many questions!

The water was a pleasant 25 °C, but unfortunately there was quite some trash swimming in the water in some parts of the beach. One day, we went to explore nearby Ipanema beach and found this one to be much cleaner. Therefore, if we will ever come back to Rio, we would stay in Ipanema instead.

On our second evening in the city, we went to the famous Sugarloaf mountain. Two cable cars brought us to the top of the 392 meter high peak. There were too many clouds in the West to have a beautiful sunset, but the views were nevertheless amazing while we watched the lights go on in Rio.

The cable car to Sugarloaf mountain

The cable car to Sugarloaf mountain

Christ the Redeemer standing over Rio at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Christ the Redeemer standing over Rio at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro at dusk with cable car in the foreground, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro at dusk with cable car in the foreground, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Copacabana at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Copacabana at dusk, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro by night, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

Rio de Janeiro by night, seen from Sugarloaf mountain

The second attraction we visited in Rio de Janeiro was the Christ the Redeemer statue. Probably Rio’s most recognizable landmark, it stands atop the 710 meter high mountain Corcovado. The platform at the top was very crowded, but that is no wonder given the views to be enjoyed from there.

View over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado (shared with lots of other people)

View over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado (shared with lots of other people)

Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado

Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

Cloudy view over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado

Cloudy view over Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado

Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from Corcovado

Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from Corcovado

We had a great time in Rio de Janeiro and definitely did not regret the detour. It was not always easy to navigate with Spanish and English though. When people spoke Portuguese to us, we understood absolutely nothing. This language sounds completely different from Spanish.

We had good weather for the first four days in Rio, but the evening before our departure it started to rain so heavily that we did not leave the hotel for the rest of our stay. It poured down constantly until we departed for the airport. Only later did we learn that in this 24 hours, it had rained three times more than it usually does in the entire month of April. In poorer parts of the city, there had been floods and landslides. Luckily, we had no problems getting to the airport and departed without delays.

Posted by samandmarta 16:58 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

On the first of April, we left Buenos Aires by boat towards Uruguay. The one-hour trip over the muddy waters of the Río de la Plata brought us to the small town of Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia is the oldest town of Uruguay and is known for its beautiful colonial architecture and cobbled streets. On weekends, it’s a popular getaway for people from Buenos Aires, but as we arrived on a Monday, the old town was very quiet. We just stayed for one night and there would be no reason to stay longer. It only takes two hours to walk through the old town and there is not much else to do. But after the busy Buenos Aires, this relaxed town was a great place to slow down. The old-timers spread throughout the old town center, that have been repurposed as flower pots, were especially picturesque.

Cobbled street in Colonia del Sacramento

Cobbled street in Colonia del Sacramento

Old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Tree growing out of an old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Tree growing out of an old car in Colonia del Sacramento

Uruguay is one of South Americas smallest countries, but for European standards it is still big (somewhere between Greece and the UK). Politically, the country is unusually stable and progressive for this continent. They have legalized same-sex marriage, abortion and the recreational use of marihuana. Maybe that is why the Uruguayans seem more relaxed than their Argentinian neighbors.

Sign for cannabis shop in Montevideo

Sign for cannabis shop in Montevideo

We took our first inter-city bus in South America from Colonia to Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital, where we spent two nights. Our hotel was located near Plaza Independencia, at the border between the new and the old town. At this plaza, there is the most famous building of Montevideo, Palacio Salvo, which was once the tallest building of South America. Under the plaza are the remains of the Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas, though the true hero of the Uruguayans is Alcides Ghiggia who scored the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final against host country Brazil.

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo with Palacio Salvo on the left

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo with Palacio Salvo on the left

Sunset behind the old town of Montevideo

Sunset behind the old town of Montevideo

Ashes of Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas under the Plaza Independencia

Ashes of Uruguayan independence hero José Artigas under the Plaza Independencia

Street signs with ads, a smart way to raise public money

Street signs with ads, a smart way to raise public money

We left Uruguay after only three nights. We liked our time there, but we also feel that there is not much in this country that you could not see anywhere else. The Atlantic coast is supposed to have many excellent beaches and we first planned to spend a couple of days there. However, when we saw that the prices for flights to Rio de Janeiro, our next destination, doubled for the weekend, we decided to skip the beaches of Uruguay.

Posted by samandmarta 11:30 Archived in Uruguay Comments (1)

Buenos Aires

Two weeks of tango dancing in the Argentine capital


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

After more than two months of intensive travelling in Chile and Argentina, we felt like we needed a bit of a break before continuing to other South American countries. Therefore, we spent a full two weeks in Buenos Aires. For once, we did not go sightseeing every day, but spent most days much more relaxed.

The only thing we tried to do every day is learning to dance tango. We had the ambition of learning this beautiful dance while we were in the city where it was created. The first difficulty already came in finding suitable classes. We would have liked to join some intensive group class that offers continuous progress, but this does not seem to exist. Instead, we went to different beginners classes all over the town. Every teacher would focus on some other aspect of the dance and for the first week, we felt like we made progress every day. But then we hit some sort of ceiling. The beginners classes did not teach us anything new, as they had always lots of first time dancers. More intermediate classes, however, were often not so open to new faces, especially to tourist faces. More than once, the teacher has politely told us, that we are not good enough for his class, despite the fact we have inquired previously whether the level will be adequate for us. Learning tango can be frustrating at times. You are supposed to lead with very subtle movements of your body and by changing the center of your weight. It can take years to do this well and for the follower to pick up these movements. So maybe our plan was a bit too ambitious, but we did learn the basics and we managed to dance at a few milongas (tango dance events). Our favourite place to dance was an outdoor rotunda called La Glorieta, which reminded us of the dancing at our wedding.

From time to time, we also did some sightseeing in Buenos Aires. We were most impressed with the Recoleta cemetery, where Argentina’s rich and famous are buried. The decadence of this place is astonishing. Instead of simple graves, the people there have built opulent mausoleums for themselves and their family. The grave of Evita Perón, wife of former president Juan Perón, is the most famous one in the cemetery. The story of what happened to her body after her premature death is absolutely unbelievable, much like the crazy history of Argentina itself. We will not repeat it here, but we encourage you to read about it online.

Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Statue on top of a mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery

Statue on top of a mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Recoleta cemetery

Plaque for Evita Perón on her family’s mausoleum

Plaque for Evita Perón on her family’s mausoleum

Another interesting visit was the one to the colorful neighborhood of La Boca. This is where tango was created by the poorest of immigrants in the early 20th century. Nowadays, the colorful street El Caminito gets crowded with tourists every day.

Start of El Caminito in La Boca

Start of El Caminito in La Boca

Colorful lanterns in La Boca

Colorful lanterns in La Boca

Mural in La Boca

Mural in La Boca

Murals in La Boca

Murals in La Boca

What is interesting about Buenos Aires overall, is that the neighborhoods in the city feel and look remarkably different. With every trip, we could experience a new side of the city. There are classical European buildings in Recoleta, high-rises in Puerto Madero and lively streets filled with bars and restaurants in Palermo, where we had our apartment.

Skyscrapers of Puerto Madero

Skyscrapers of Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero seen from Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur

Puerto Madero seen from Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur

Bird in the Japanese Garden

Bird in the Japanese Garden

Parque 3 de Febrero

Parque 3 de Febrero

Statue of former president Juan Perón

Statue of former president Juan Perón

Around the Plaza de Mayo in front of the president’s palace (Casa Rosada), there were some demonstrations happening on most days. Every Thursday, for example, a group of grandmothers called the Madres de Plaza de Mayo demonstrate for a thorough investigation into the disappearance of their children during the last dictatorship. They do this since 41 years and sadly, there are not many left to demonstrate these days.

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

Demonstration of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration near Plaza de Mayo

Demonstration near Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires also has a great food scene and we ate very well in our two weeks there. We had to adjust our daily schedule a bit though, since the Argentinians are very much a late-night society. Most restaurants open for dinner only at 8pm and most locals don’t show up before 10pm. Accordingly, the milongas usually start around midnight. On our last weekend, we were invited for an asado by a couple that we met while wine tasting in Mendoza. Asados in Argentina are similar to a barbecue, but they last longer and you are usually served several rounds of different cuts of beef.

Posted by samandmarta 19:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Argentinian Wine

Sipping Malbec in the shadow of the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

Opposite from Santiago on the Argentinian side lies the city of Mendoza and just like in Chile, at this latitude is the main wine producing region of the country. Where they grow Carménère West of the Andes, they grow world-renowned Malbec East of it. We already tried lots of Malbec on our journey through Argentina. We found it to be consistently great and with its deep and intense flavor, a perfect companion to a good steak at a parrilla (steakhouse). Unlike in Europe, where Malbec is often marketed as a premium wine with a premium price, it is extremely cheap in Argentina. A good bottle at a restaurant usually costs around 8$ and a glass costs 2$. When ordering a glass of wine, you can expect it to be filled to the top, usually it is listed as 185ml.

There are many different valleys around Mendoza where Malbec is grown. For our first night in this region, we stayed at a winery in Tupungato in the Valle de Uco. After two nights in the tent it was great to stay at a nice hotel, swim in the pool and watch the sun set over the surrounding vineyard and the Andean peaks in the West.

Vineyard around our accommodation in Tupungato

Vineyard around our accommodation in Tupungato

Malbec grapes almost ready for harvest

Malbec grapes almost ready for harvest

Vineyard with Andean peaks in the background

Vineyard with Andean peaks in the background

For the next two nights we stayed in Mendoza itself. The city has some amazing restaurants and we spoiled ourselves with some fantastic gourmet meals (with wine of course). We also visited the Basílica de San Francisco, Mendoza’s main church. There is a large statue of Polish Pope John Paul II and a chair where he sat on his visit to the city in 1987. On the other hand, no sign of Argentinian Pope Francis can be found. We got the impression that the Argentinians don’t actually like their Pope so much. For some, he is way too liberal and progressive. But more importantly, he has not yet visited his home country as the Pope, despite visiting Latin America four times.

Chair where the Polish Pope John Paul II sat, on display in the Basílica de San Francisco in Mendoza

Chair where the Polish Pope John Paul II sat, on display in the Basílica de San Francisco in Mendoza

We also wanted to visit some vineyards from Mendoza, but due to the difficulty of navigating the bus system, we only managed to visit one. Sadly, this vineyard also had one of the least tasty Malbec we have tried. More successful was our wine tasting in the city, where we discovered another grape from this region which is not quite as famous. Torrontés is a white wine grape that we liked very much. The wines from this grape are smooth, aromatic and very refreshing on a hot Mendoza day.

Barrels of Malbec

Barrels of Malbec

To return our rental car, we had to cross back to Chile. The easiest connection between Mendoza and Santiago is over the 3200 meter high Paso Los Libertadores. Along this beautiful mountain road there is a lot to see, but the most important sight is Cerro Aconcagua (6962m), the highest peak of the Americas. A short hike from the road brought us to a great viewpoint for this mountain. Somehow, however, the high Andean peaks in this area did not seem quite as imposing as what we saw in the Himalayas.

Puente del Inca

Puente del Inca

Marta in front of Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Marta in front of Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Cerro Aconcagua (6962m)

Mountain of the Andes near the border crossing Paso Los Libertadores

Mountain of the Andes near the border crossing Paso Los Libertadores

After driving down from the pass, we spent one night in the town Los Andes. It was a big effort to repack all we had lying around in the car for the flight the next morning. We returned our car at the airport in Santiago after 59 days and 11’600 kilometers of driving. We are very happy that we did not have any of the common problems along the way. We did not puncture any tire on the gravel roads, nor did our windshield crack due to a stone from a passing car. Most importantly, we did not hit any wildlife along the way. From the airport, we flew to Buenos Aires for a small break from travelling.

Posted by samandmarta 16:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 7) Page [1] 2 » Next