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Argentina

Salta & Quebrada de Humahuaca

Cacti and colorful mountains in Argentina’s Northwest


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From Asunción in Paraguay, we took our longest bus trip yet. It took us a full 24 hours to reach Salta in Argentina’s Northwest, including a change in Resistencia. It was not as bad as it sounds though. There are very high-quality buses in South America and it usually pays off to go with the more expensive companies. Our overnight bus to Salta had almost fully reclining seats and lots of leg space.

We spent the Easter weekend in Salta, which has a lot of nice colonial era architecture and some of the most beautiful churches we have seen on this trip. On Easter morning we went to Salta’s cathedral for the mass. The cathedral is especially stunning inside with columns of pink marble and decorated with plenty of gold. We also visited Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña to see the mummies of children sacrificed by Incas in their festive rituals at the peak of Volcán Llullaillaco (6739m).

Plaza 9 de Julio in Salta

Plaza 9 de Julio in Salta

Inside of Catedral Basílica de Salta

Inside of Catedral Basílica de Salta

Iglesia San Francisco

Iglesia San Francisco

View over Salta from Cerro San Bernardo

View over Salta from Cerro San Bernardo

We did not really come back to Argentina for Salta, but for the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This spectacular canyon starts North of Salta and continues all the way up to the highlands at the Bolivian border. We rented a car in Salta to explore this region and drove up to Tilcara, where we stayed for two nights. The weather in Salta was very cloudy, but Tilcara was already above those clouds at an altitude of almost 2500 meters. For the first time in Argentina, a majority of people in the village were indigenous.

Colorful mountain in the Quebrada de Humahuaca

Colorful mountain in the Quebrada de Humahuaca

On our first day in the Quebrada, we tortured our rental car by driving a rough gravel road over a 4000 meter pass to the remote village Iruya. This town is surrounded by steep canyon walls in all directions, which makes it quite an impressive sight. It is questionable though weather it was worth the four-hour roundtrip. However, we had a delicious local meal of mote with goat cheese.

Iruya

Iruya

View over Iruya

View over Iruya

The landscape in the Quebrada is filled with colorful mountains and cacti. One of the most spectacular sights is the Serranía del Hornocal, a jagged mountain landscape consisting of many colorful layers. A good gravel road brought us to a lookout at 4300 meters altitude. On our last day in the Quebrada, we hiked around the Cerro de los Siete Colores, right next to the village Purmamarca.

Serranía del Hornocal

Serranía del Hornocal

Lonely cactus in the Quebrada de Humahuaca

Lonely cactus in the Quebrada de Humahuaca

Cerro de los Siete Colores near Purmamarca

Cerro de los Siete Colores near Purmamarca

Colorful mountains near Purmamarca

Colorful mountains near Purmamarca

Marta hiking near Purmamarca

Marta hiking near Purmamarca

After returning the car in Salta, we stayed for one more night before taking an early bus to Chile. The bus route was incredibly scenic. We passed large salt flats, flamingo-filled lagoons and snow-capped volcanoes above 6000 meters in height. We also saw vicuñas and lamas along the road. At the 4300 meters high Paso de Jama, we left the Argentine territory for the 6th and last time on this trip. In total, we spent 48 days in this beautiful and diverse country and have travelled to every corner, from Ushuaia to Puerto Iguazú.

Salinas Grandes

Salinas Grandes

Laguna Quisquiro after the Chilean border

Laguna Quisquiro after the Chilean border

Posted by samandmarta 19:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Iguazú Falls & Esteros del Iberá

Amazing nature and wildlife in Argentina’s Northeast


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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)

Buenos Aires

Two weeks of tango dancing in the Argentine capital


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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


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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)

Northbound on Ruta Nacional 40

2100 kilometers on Argentina’s iconic highway


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We had a lot of distance to cover from Argentina’s Southern Patagonia back to Santiago in Chile. On Argentina’s side of the Andes, Ruta Nacional 40 runs almost the entire length of the country along the continent’s rocky spine. There is however, much less to see on this side of the mountain range, which is why we drove a lot and stopped mostly to sleep on our way North. The first night after Cuevas de los Manos, we stopped at another estancia in the sleepy town of Río Mayo. We came across a small town about every 200 kilometers, so it is very important to remember to fill up gas at every opportunity. It is hard for us to imagine what life in these remote villages might be like.

Ruta Nacional 40

Ruta Nacional 40

Armadillo trying to hide from Sam’s camera

Armadillo trying to hide from Sam’s camera

For the next night we drove to Parque Nacional Los Alerces, near the town of Esquel. There, we found a beautiful campground at Lago Futalaufquen which was almost empty. Luckily, as we drove North, it also started getting warmer and camping got more enjoyable.

Road between Esquel and Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Road between Esquel and Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Sam drinking a Patagonia Amber Lager at Lago Futalaufquen in Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Sam drinking a Patagonia Amber Lager at Lago Futalaufquen in Parque Nacional Los Alerces

The most beautiful area along the road was around the town of Bariloche, where we stopped for two nights. Bariloche was founded by Swiss immigrants and it is easy to see what drew them to this place. The town is surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. The Swiss brought with them the craft of chocolate making and Bariloche is now known in Argentina as the place where the best chocolate comes from. We also found the best ice cream since we left Switzerland here.

Chocolate shop in Bariloche

Chocolate shop in Bariloche

Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche

Juicy steak

Juicy steak

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

The 180 kilometer section of Ruta Nacional 40 between Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes is known as Ruta de los Siete Lagos, because it passes seven different lakes. With a few short side trips, we managed to bring the lake count up to eleven. Since there are very few villages in this area, the lakes are all superbly clear. We spent the next night in San Martín de los Andes, which is like a smaller and more charming version of Bariloche. We enjoyed this small town a lot and could have easily spent a couple more days there.

Lago Espejo Chico

Lago Espejo Chico

Lago Traful and Villa Traful

Lago Traful and Villa Traful

Boats at Lago Traful

Boats at Lago Traful

Waterfall along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

Waterfall along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

The landscape went back to flat and boring after San Martín de los Andes and we drove a lot the next three days. We camped for two nights on the way North. First in Chos Malal, a town we will remember only because it happens to be the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40 and because of the confusing amount of police. We have never seen a higher police presence anywhere in Argentina than in Chos Malal and we have no idea why. The second night we camped in Malargüe next to a trout farm out of town. For dinner, the owner caught and grilled two fresh fish for us.

Sam in Chos Malal with the sign marking the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40

Sam in Chos Malal with the sign marking the midpoint of Ruta Nacional 40

Our car on an unpaved segment of Ruta Nacional 40 between Chos Malal and Malargüe

Our car on an unpaved segment of Ruta Nacional 40 between Chos Malal and Malargüe

Ruta Nacional 40 shortly before Malargüe

Ruta Nacional 40 shortly before Malargüe

Posted by samandmarta 22:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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