Earlier this year my sister and I attended the Destinations Travel Show at Olympia. London and we were lucky enough to win flights to Argentina! It was through the travel company Veloso and at first we thought we might not be able to use them as we still had to find the money for accommodation and tours etc. However, Veloso put together a great package for us which included 3 nights in Buenos Aires then a trip up to Iguazu Falls for 3 nights and then another 3 nights back in Buenos Aires in a different area. The icing on the cake was that our prize involved Premium Economy Seats on British Airways on the way out and also on the way back on Iberia. I have been to South America before but not to Argentina and we were very excited.
The BA overnight flight was good, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between economy and Premium economy but you do have a little more leg room and space and therefore we managed to sleep better than we normally do on an aeroplane. Veloso had arranged for us to be met and escorted to our hotels at every point and we had a young Argentinian guide, Aldana, who spoke perfect English. Our first hotel, The Cyan Hotel de Las Americas was very central and comfortable if not remarkable. Just a typical small city hotel really. Aldana immediately took us for a little stroll around the area to point out where the supermarket and shops were then we were left to our own devices for the evening. Buenos Aires is much more westernised than I had expected.
We also found it odd that nearly every person in Argentina carries around their own drink flask, cup and metal straw. This is for a brew called MATE which everyone seems to drink but you have to carry your own leaves and a flask of hot water and mix it yourself! They even have special bags that you can buy to carry all this paraphernalia!) Our hotel was situated not far from the largest Avenue in the world. The Avenue 9 de Julio (named after their Independence day) has seven lanes on each side and is flanked on both sides by another two lanes. However, there are green spaces on all the central reservations and the jacaranda trees which line the avenue were in full bloom so it looks absolutely amazing. There are numerous bars and restaurants off this avenue and we often had our evening meal and drinks in one of these. Regarding food in Argentina it seems that meat is the most popular dish and being vegetarians we were worried about what we might find to eat. For some strange reason there is a very strong Italian influence in Argentina and pizza restaurants are on every block! Pasta is hugely popular as well so we certainly didn’t starve whilst we were there!
The next morning Aldana returned with a car and driver and took us on a tour of the city. We saw the Obelisk, the sculpture ‘Floralis Generica’ which is a flower sculpture that opens it’s huge petals at dawn and closes them at dusk. We went to The Recoleta Cemetary which is a huge city of tombs and saw some very elaborate tombs. Eva Peron is buried there but her tomb is very modest. There is a nice church next door, The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pilar. We were driven past the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral and we had some free time in La Boca (a very colourful area where the houses are painted all different colours and Tango dancers pose on the streets.) We passed the new Port area which we thought looked interesting and decided to visit again later in the trip. We went to Revolution Square and wherever we went the purple of the jacaranda trees gave us a stunning backdrop. The people in Buenos Aires are extremely friendly, whenever we went out alone if we stopped to consult a map someone would come up and ask if they could help. We got lost one night and someone immediately came up and told us to head a different way as we were heading to a bad area. Back in the UK one of my friends had warned me about wandering around Buenos Aires alone but we really never felt threatened and nearly everyone we met was over the top friendly and helpful. However there is quite a homeless problem and one day on a tour we saw a whole area of ruined council looking blocks that homeless people had turned into homes. The buildings were literally falling down around them and they had no electricity or running water but you could still see people making their homes there. As I said though, this is not immediately obvious to tourists. During our first three days there we wandered the city finding little treasures like the Libreria el Ateneo which is a book shop in an old theatre. When you enter it still has all the fixtures and fittings of a grand theatre but books are shelved throughout and it is a remarkable place. There are lots of green spaces and there was a park near our hotel where we used to sit in the sun and read for a while at the end of the day. We found a terrace near The Recoleta Cemetary where you can sit at one of the numerous outdoor bars or restaurants and watch the world go by. We also took a day trip to Tigres, a town just north of Buenos Aires. We went by boat and after crossing the Delta we arrived in this gorgeous little town where the houses are right on the waterfront. We sailed along through the canals admiring these lovely houses (which I believe are mainly holiday homes) and then visited a small market before a coach took us back to the City via another small town called San Isidro where they had an impressive cathedral. We spent an evening at the new port area, Puerto Madero where they have a lot of lovely restaurants and bars but this was a little more pricey than the other restaurants we had visited. (Argentina is incredibly cheap when it comes to eating out. We were delighted to find that a bottle of “champagne” often cost less than £5!)
After 3 days in Buenos Aires, Aldana picked us up to take us to the local airport for a flight up to Iguazu. This all went fine except a sudden downpour delayed us a little. On arrival in Iguazu we were met again and taken to our hotel, The Panoramic Grand Hotel. This lovely hotel with a nice swimming pool area has magnificent views. It is on a hill and looks down at 3 different countries Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. If anyone is planning a trip to Argentina I would strongly recommend that you book everything in advance. We had not pre booked any trips to the Falls and ended up having to take taxis each day. Amazingly the hotel did not seem to have much tourist information for us. Whilst there we spent one day at the Argentina side of the Iguazu Falls, one day at the Brazil side and one day just relaxing. The Falls are amazing, the largest waterfall system in the world does not disappoint! The Argentina side involves a little train to take you to the walkways out to the Falls and there are many walking trails along the side of the Falls. It was a bit rainy on the day we went to the Argentina side so we didn’t do too much walking as the trails were running with mud but our first sight of the Falls was amazing! It is impossible to describe the majestic beauty and power of them. The only down side was the million tourists with selfie sticks, which, after two days there I had alternative ideas of where their selfie sticks should be placed!! Nothing can detract from the power of the Falls though. One the Brazil side they are much more organised and there is a wooden walkway right along the side of the Falls. Absolutely stunning! However we were very upset we didn’t get a Brazilian stamp in our passport when we crossed the border into Brazil! In the evenings we walked into the very small town near the hotel and had a very cheap dinner each night (with the even cheaper “champagne”!) and we saw lots of different birds and creatures in that area.
Back in Buenos Aires for our last few days and we were staying in another part of the City now. Our Hotel, Clasico was a very trendy bohemian hotel in the Palermo area. It had weird furnishings and chandeliers everywhere and in the lift, as you rose up, different drawings of famous Argentinian ladies appeared. It was quite quirky and the young staff on reception were extremely helpful and friendly. Palermo is an area that has recently been gentrified and although it looks a little run down it is buzzing during the day and night. During our last few days we booked a day trip to Uruguay (and yes, we got a stamp in our passport there!) We had to catch a ferry (the Burque Bus) and we paid for a “package” ticket which paid for the ferry, a sandwich and drink on board and a tour of the town when we arrived. When we docked in the town of Colonia del Sacremento in Uruguay we were the only people on the tour! A very enthusiastic and verbally diarrhoea inflicted female guide took us (on an enormous coach) for a quick tour of the town. There is not much to see, a ruined bull ring, some nice deserted beaches, some gorgeous holiday homes and then we were dropped in the centre of the town with our own personal electronic guides so that we could walk around the more interesting buildings and learn their history. We had a wander around the light house, the shops and had an ice cream in an artisan area then watched the sun go down in a little restaurant before heading back to the ferry for the crossing back to Argentina. An interesting but very long tiring day and if I was to recommend it I would say stay overnight in Uruguay as we were really tired when we got back. Other than that we walked around Buenos Aires and visited the Eco Parque,(used to be a zoo but is now eco friendly although there are still some animals there) the Japanese Garden (you have to pay extra to get in there) and we did The Buenos Aires Bus tour where you can hop off and hop on wherever you like.
So, in summary, I would highly recommend Buenos Aires and especially a trip to Iguazu Falls. The people are lovely and although Argentina seems very organised it is important to get things booked in advance as there is still that “manana” urgency about making arrangements. There is also the currency issue. We were told to take American dollars and use them but we found a lot of people (taxi drivers, small shops and a lot of restaurants) didn’t want to take them and when they did it seemed like the price suddenly rose dramatically! If I went again I would change all my dollars to pesos and use them, the continual calculation of trying to convert pesos to dollars at varying different rates was time consuming and (we think) costly! There is also the taxi issue. For some reason the taxi’s all seem very seedy and dirty and sometimes taxi drivers would approach us and try to get us to pay them over the top prices for just short distances. We found the best way was for the hotel to call us a taxi or to hail one that looked more professional (ie: with a Radio Taxi sign on the top).
Having had a great time we headed off to get our Iberia flight home only to find that Iberia had only booked us economy class! It was disappointing to find ourselves in a crowded economy section rather than what we had expected and since the return Iberia have still not completely answered us as to why this happened but we had a great time and it is a holiday we will always remember!