Just returned from a 17 day trip to Arg. and Chile with my wife and daughter. It was my ninth trip to BA but first for them. I had pretty much mapped out the Arg. portion in advance but we sort of winged it once we left for Chile. This probably was a mistake as I would have liked to experience more of Chile, but next time I'll be ready.
Our trip started in BA after flying Lan from Miami. I much preferred Lan over AA and Delta. Better service and the seats seemed roomier and much newer. I purchased a multi destination ticket on Lan at the time of booking and this does save some money. Our ticket was Miami to BA to Iguazu to BA to Bariloche with a return home from Santiago. Just a little over $1300 per person.
Before I forget, I have always dreaded the return from Ezeiza as you bounce from line to line and a lack of decent seating and food options. Santiago airport was far superior and we breezed thru customs and security to the waiting area in minutes where there was a good selection of food and shopping.
Arriving in BA I had an apartment already arranged with ApartmentsBA for 4 days near the intersection of Uriburu y Arenales. I picked that location because of the great massage place around the corner, Yin Yang Pi and proximity to Santa Fe and Recoleta. 70 pesos for an excellant 1 hr. massage at YYP. This trip however we didn't partake, but the price was still the same.
This was my 3rd rental from AptsBA and they were efficient again. Pablo was waiting for us at the apt. and checked us in rapidly. I did try to save a bit of money on this rental since it was a long trip and that was a mistake. I know the agency labeling their apartments as Luxury and Ultra luxury is a bit of an overstatement, but my other 2 rentals have been fine. This apt. however was one I couldn't wait to leave. I am not one to complain and since it was short term we only reported the flaws to the guy who checked us out. The apt. had some gnatty type flies but the main problem was the bathroom. Every night it smelled like sewage was backing up the pipes. We couldn't tell what was causing the problem but it reeked. It rained our first 2 days and I don't know if that contributed to a building wide problem or what. Also, if you could get hot water it was for about 5 minutes, which for 3 people doesn't cut it. I am not knocking the agency as Saint does run an efficient business and does have some real nice properties. This however is not one of them. Calling this Luxury is a real stretch.
Since it was my families first visit we did some touristy things including 2 tango shows and Evitas grave. Our first night we ate at El Trapiche in Palermo where I have eaten several times before. Good local parilla. The food was good but the portions seemed quite a bit smaller than only 2 months earlier. This seemed to be the case in most restaurants. Portions are still good size but they seem to be shrinking.
This may anger a few here, but I was quite disappointed with the BA dining experiences on this trip. I have always raved about BA dining and service, but not on this trip. The food was not bad, just not anything to write home about. Service was also very disinterested with a couple of exceptions.
On our 2nd night we attended La Ventana tango show after dinner at Don Corleones. I read about Don Corleones on Guialeo where it got high marks. It is located at Brazil 43 which is a pretty dimly lit neighborhood, sort of where San Telmo starts to become La Boca, I think. This place is not fancy at all and with the exception of a large group of local working men at one table, we were the only other diners on a friday night from 8-10pm. The owner who says he is Don Corleone and his wife were great hosts and we pretty much turned the menu over to them to decide and surprise. The food was good and it was a lot of fun with our warm hosts. Cheap as well, with prices well below Recoleta and Palermo standards, which have risen considerably over the past couple of years. After dinner they called us a cab to take us to the La Ventana Tango show in nearby San Telmo on Balcarce.
La Ventana was a great show. I had previously seen Rojo Tango at the Faena, which I liked, but this was so much more fun. This show does mix in some other elements which can be considered touristy but they worked well. The dancing was good and the Andes band and Gaucho bolo ball flinger and drummer were excellant. The " Don't Cry for me Arg." number was touristy but well done, and some older Arg. did have tears rolling down their cheeks. The building is great, service friendly and while we did not eat, the food looked good. The entire crowd really seemed to have a great time. I asked for champagne and was given a whole bottle which was included in the price. My wife and daughter just drank sodas. We were the last to arrive, only minutes before the show began but we were seated right up in front.
One highlight, about halfway thru, the orchestra was expanded including 4 new bandaleon players led by a true old maestro. All four, but especially the master and his star pupil on his right were really fired up. They were awesome and far exceeded any others I have ever seen.
On Sunday we did the San Telmo market which was good. Had lunch at Amici Mei in ST which was also good. Service was attentive even though they were full. Prices in BA have risen. IMO it is rapidly moving away from being a cheap destination. It is still less than the US, and far less than Europe, but not by much. I would like to hear others observations that have travelled there multiple times, but I felt quality and service is really slipping. I was very disappointed in this aspect.
After 4 days of BA we took a Monday morning LAN flight to Iguazu for 2 days. We all loved Iguazu and I was very impressed with the layout of the National Park. The falls are truly spectacular and a real natural wonder. We only saw them from the Arg. side but I can't imagine they would be any better from Brazil. The town was small and nice. Taxis are posting 60 pesos from airport to town which is about 20-25 minutes away. We stayed at a small place called La Sorgente which was very nice. The rooms are just basic but clean, however the grounds are well maintained and pretty. It was about 85us for a triple which included a decent continental breakfast with good fruit salad. I was eager for some good fruit after BA and the tropical surrounds of Iguazu offers up some good variety. The hotel was about a 5 minute walk uphill to the bus staion where you could catch a bus to the park for 8p RT. The falls are about 20 minutes from town and taxis were asking 50p. All the hotels that advertise they are halfway between the falls and town are really much closer to town. The Sheraton is right in the park and looked nice. I wanted to stay in town to sample the local flavors. We did have a decent meal and listened to a local trio sing.
One tip while going to Iguazu is don't rely on ATMs or Cajeros there. There are not many in town and none would work with any of my cards. I had some dollars returned from my apt. deposit and was able to cash them in town. Also at the National Park they don't accept credit cards at the entrance and only pesos. Admission is 40p per person but if you get your tickets stamped before exiting, the second day is 20p. IMO take 2 days for the Arg. side alone. There is a train that takes you to 2 different embarking points and enough to do for 2 days. The boatride for 60p is great as they really get you up close and personal. You will get soaked so you might want to do it last if it is a cool day, or better yet, just bring a dry set of clothes. Skip the truck ride for the extra 60p and stick with the boat. There also is a boat that will take you calmly over to the island in the middle with more observation points and trails. I wish I probably spent another day in Iguazu but 2 days will get you down most of the trails on the Arg, side. We loved the falls and I can't recommend it enough. The Devils Throat was spectacular.
One other tip, if your eating or holding a bag, watch out when the Coatamundis come around. Sort of the Latin American version of a pointy nosed racoon. They are cute but have lost their fear and will steal your tray or bag right of the table. The bigger they are, you can safely guarantee it is for a reason, they aren't scared. I saw one girl have her whole meal ripped off the table after ordering. They aren't everywhere but they are pretty abundant. While on animals there are also numerous rodents, I wasn't quite sure if they were nutria or small capybaras. They are shy and usually just nibbling in the grass. Lots of beautiful birds as well.
LAN did rearrange my flight from Iguazu thru BA to Bariloche and I had to spend an extra night in BA. We stayed at the Marriott which was good except for the restaurant. Once again our waiter was missing in action after serving our food. Food was way overpriced and not good. I should have known better but we were tired. Right nearby is a good spanish restaurant Tancat where we had lunch a few days earlier. On Paraguay just off of Florida ave. Big mistake eating in the hotel. We did see another tango show that evening, La Piazzola Tango. The dancing was good and the theater nice, but this show really lacked in connecting with the audience. Maybe we were just tired but it was a bit boring. Again we didn't eat but the other diners didn't seem too impressed with their meals. This show is all tango dancing. The attitude was vastly different than at La Ventana where we were met with smiles and flowing champagne. Here they were actually a bit surly and made sure you knew that your fee only included one drink and water. Also no photograhy was allowed. Again, our day of travels may have influenced our perceptions but we weren't disappointed when the show ended. I don't think we were alone in our assesment as the rest of the crowd didn't seem too jazzed up either.
Early flight the next morning to Bariloche where I had reserved Casita llao llao and rented a car. The casita owner was very helpful with reserving the car for me. One warning, the cars do look a lot bigger in the pictures than in real life. Many of the models we don't see here in the US. I bypassed the 2 and 3 door economy listed cars and opted for the 4 door Chevy Corsa. I should have gone higher as this car was not comfortable for me at 6'3". We got 250km a day which are easily used up. Casita llao llao was nice and had a great view. It is real close to the famous hotel and very near to the start of the circuito chico. There was snow in the upper elevations but Catedral was lacking in cover. We did drive up to Villa La Angostura which is nice. We had 3 days in Bariloche which was about 2 days too many. The road from town to Llao Llao is not in great shape and a bit nervewracking when getting reaquainted with a stickshift. Even when I got the hang and was actually exceeding the posted speed limits, there was ALWAYS some local driving right on my bumper. On the other hand the road to VLA was very nicely paved and fairly devoid of traffic this time of year. Nothing noteworthy about the food we had in Bariloche. While the views are nice I didn't think they were any better than the views from VLA. We did start down the 7 lakes road toward San Martin but didn't get very far as we had to return to our cabin. Llao Llao is a nice area but not much was happening this time of year, Bariloche I would bypass completely if doing it all again.
From Bariloche we had no other plans other than our return flight from Santiago about 8 days later. We went down to the bus station and bought 3 tickets to Puerto Varas, Chile. I wanted to do the Lakes crossing but it was closed as of last week. Some problem on the Arg. side according to the folks in Chile. The agent for Andina del Sur or Sud said they expected it to be running again by July 15th but who knows. Went to the bus station and booked on Andesmar. 70p to Puerto Varas. Left the next day at 8 or 9 which is still dark. Although booked on Andesmar it was Tas Choapa bus which arrived. It was decent and the seats recline very far. This may have been a problem for me with long legs but with only 11 people on board we had plenty of room.
The bus left on time and only stopped at VLA before turning towards the Cardenal Samore pass and Chile. You notice a difference very soon after turning west as there is much more fern like flora between the trees. There was snow up on the pass but the roads are good and kept clear. The bus driver was also very cautious and very safe. The border crossing requires getting off the bus twice. The Arg. exit only required you to go inside and get stamped. About 30km later at the Chilean border you also had to remove your bags and get them scanned. They seemed quite a bit more serious at the Chilean side. After crossing into Chile, the landscape was very lush and green. I wish I could have gotten off and spent a day or 2 at Puyehue Termas and Hotel, as it looked very nice. Mostly all farmland from Puyehue on.
The only Chilean stop before PV was Osorno for 5 minutes. Not a very nice looking town at all. It was raining and that could have contributed to my impression, but I don't think so.
Travelled down the highway to PV which surprising to me was located right off the highway. It was about 3pm at arrival and raining pretty hard. I was wondering what I had gotten us into as it didn't look very nice at all. There were no volcanoes or mountains to be seen.No cabs were waiting at the small bus station but soon a couple drove by and we got in. By the looks of the town in the rain I just asked the driver to take us to the best hotel. Our hosts at Casita Llao Llao had recommended a new hotel but we had forgotten the paper upon which I wrote the name. The driver took us to Cabanas del Lago first and then to the Melia Patagonia.
The Melia was very nice and luxurious. It has so many seating areas and a really beautiful bar with an always burning circular fireplace. I asked to see the rooms and was impressed. After our previous quarters all the ladies asked was that I make sure the bathroom was nice. It was so, we stayed. At check in the clerk upgraded us to a master suite which was great with lots of room and a great big bathroom with plenty of hot water.
We arrived at the Melia just in time to catch the end of Sunday brunch. I'll say this now, I wasn't expecting much of Chilean Cuisine. I have been to many Central and South American countries and I guess I just thought it would be the usual carne y papas fritas. I hoped for some good seafood but I wasn't sure what I would get. I came away very impressed by Chilean cuisine. In fact, it more than made up for my previously expressed disappointment with the Arg. restaurants on this trip. Great preparation and variety. The seafood was incredible, the salmon enormous and great. King crab, locos or abalone, razor clams etc... We did not have a bad meal in Chile and some were truly delicious.
After brunch I walked alone down the dreary raining streets to see what PV was about. With the rain and mist you couldn't see very far out into the lake. I stopped by the casino to get out of the rain. Actually it was pretty nice Casino. I played some blackjack and lost a few bucks. The tables had 1000cp minimums which is about 2 dollars. Although my spanish was somewhat lacking, everyone appeared very nice. After an hour I figured I better get back to the hotel before the family wondered where I was. Another wet dreary walk back. That evening or early morning I awoke and looked out and saw stars shining brightly and hoped it meant some good weather. I knew at this time of year you could potentially get socked in with rainy weather that would not let up for days.
Puerto Varas in sunlight was another story. Soon after sun up the nearby Chalbuco volcano became visible and soon thereafter Osorno Volcano came into view. As the sun rose this town looked better and better. A huge beautiful LLanquihue ( Yankee way ) lake and beautiful mountains filled the view. I'll try to post some photos soon. What a difference a day and a little clear weather makes.
After a nice continental breakfast I asked the front desk to call a tour company from one of the brochures in the lobby. I spoke with Chile Best Tours and I asked about crossing Lago Todos los Santos which is the Chilean side of the Lakes crossing. That crossing left at 8:15 am and I thought better of rushing the girls out the door. Instead we opted for a short PV tour, Petrohue Falls, Laguna Verde, a ride to Lago TLS and then to Osorno volcano. What a fantastic day. The scenery gets incredibly beautiful as you leave PV. PV did not appear very touristy this time of year but in the summer they say about 4,000 a day come to enjoy the lake. People are up early in Chile heading to work. On the drive out of PV towards Ensenada the views just got better and better and the Volcano loomed larger and larger.
We were the only people at Petrohue Falls. While not the scale of Iguazu it had immense beauty in it's on right. The water was so blue and crystal clear and with the Volcano background it was gorgeous.
Lago Todos los Santos was also beautiful and made me wish I had been able to lake cross from Bariloche. At the lake we did get our own 30 minute cruise for about 4 dollars each. I would think that you probably could get someone local to do your own Lakes crossing if you had some backpacking inclinations should securing transport between Puella and Puerto Blest prove difficult. I would love to try, just not with the wife and daughter in tow to worry about.
We had lunch at a new restaurant in Ensenada called Don Salmon. One of the owners wife is the chef. She is Brasilian and a great cook. I had the Lamb which was great. And the fresh variety of vegetables was awesome. Salmon pate and toasts served complimentary was great. My wife had the Salmon and was served two huge thick excellant filets. The portion of salmon was enormous, only to be topped the next night in town at rest. Las Buenas Brasas. Huge. At Don Salmon my daughter loved the lomo. I wanted to try Conger eel but they didn't have any so that would wait until the next night at Las Buenas Brasas. Dessert was also delicious. No more Dukce de leche but rather crepes with homemade ice cream and flambed fruits, Awesome, and the view of lake and volcano matched the food.
After lunch it was getting late and we continued on to Laguna Verde or the green lagoon. The sun had dipped a bit low to get the full effect but it was nice nonetheless. Then on to Osorno Volcano which had been gradually increasing in size throughout the day, the closer we got. Beautiful. You can drive about halfway up and then you can take the chairlift. There was snow and it was cold. At the top of the chairlift you have incredible views in all directions. Sun was setting and we headed back to the hotel after a great day.
Actually I think I can't type any more today. Next day was Chiloe Island, conger eel and then Santiago. More great food but I will have to sign off for now. Ciao.