Argentinawithfriendstravel’s Weblog

December 21, 2010

Argentina Travel Guide JESS Kalinowsky Friends Travel LLP

Argentina Travel Guide

A pony\'s reflection in the water in Argentina 

A pony’s reflection in the water in Argentina © fainmen

Argentina is a country of immense beauty and proportions. Its geographic diversity spans the most breathtaking terrain from Antarctica, through the wild, glacier-filled mountains of Patagonia and massive open plains of La Pampas to the deserts and tropical jungles in the north.

The country can be enjoyed for its natural wonders alone, but no visit here could be called complete without stepping into its soul, its capital city. The elegant Buenos Aires is home to 40 percent of the population, and is a buzzing metropolis with a rich, passionate and tortured history that is integral to its character. It is Europe and South America contained in one geographical location, with elements of the unknown around each corner. It is familiar and strange at the same time, but at its very core, wonderfully welcoming.

Along the elegant avenues of the fashionable districts, sophisticated diners observe passers-by while they sip strong coffee or enjoy smooth cervezas. There is a constant smell of meat grilling from every corner and sidewalk that reveals the Argentine passion for ‘asado’. Neither glamour nor passion is in short supply in this cosmopolitan hub where Porteños are equally versed in football, politics and fashion.

There are disparities between the rich and poor, with many people living in near slum conditions in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Since 1992 the economy has teetered near collapse due to corruption and government mismanagement, prompting regular and sometimes violent demonstrations. However it is business-as-usual as far as tourism is concerned; in fact, the resultant devaluation of the peso has made the country much more affordable for travellers.

Argentina Travel Guide JESS Kalinowsky Friends Travel LLP
JESS@FriendsTravel.com
ARGENTINA@FriendsTravel.com
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December 18, 2010

Penguins, Dolphins, and Welsh History in Patagonia, Argentina

One of the most fascinating and enjoyable day trips from Puerto Madryn, Argentina is the journey south to visit the penguin reserve at Punta Tombo. With stops along the way for Dolphin watching and a traditional Welsh Tea in the historic town of Gaiman this is a full day of unequaled activities. The Flamenco Tour agency offers this day trip starting at about 9AM in the morning and returning to Puerto Madryn by about 6PM. With bilingual tour guides who are knowledgeable on the region and comfortable vehicles, this day trip is a must for those who enjoy nature and unique experiences.

The small peninsula of Punta Tombo is on the Argentinian Patagonian coastline. Thousands of tourists gather here to be amazed, entertained, and educated by one of the most fascinating shows performed by nature at the Magellan penguin colony. Approximately half a million penguins come every year in order to breed. The first of them arrive in September and stay until about mid-March, but the best time to observe them is after November, once the babies are born. One of the greatest features of this Nature Reservation is the fact that you can actually walk among the penguins, follow them and learn their habits, see how they feed their babies, the rites of pairing, the fights for the defense of their territories, how they build their nests, and the unending walks they take to and from the ocean. This is a truly singular experience with wonderful photo opportunities. Penguins and their individual style of waddling and behavioral patterns are always entertaining.

Punta Tombo is also a paradise for other sea birds that have chosen this site to nest. Kelp gulls and dolphin gulls, skuas, two species of cormorants—the king cormorant and the rock shag—steamerducks, snowy sheathbills, and several species of terns and giant petrels all make their nests in this region. Be sure to bring your binoculars to enjoy the bird watching.

At Puerto Rawson the boat tours head out to sea where the dolphin sightings are a major attraction.

Usually the Commerson’s dolphins—called Toninas locally—and also known as bottlenose dolphins, can be observed year-round. This is one of the few places in the world where these dolphins may be watched in their natural environment. Semi-rigid boats leave from Rawson’s harbor in the afternoon because in the mornings the dolphins remain feeding in the ocean depths. Theses dolphins are not at all shy and love to dart back and forth in front of the boats’ bows and leap into the air performing a great show for the passengers on board. On one boat trip it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to observe numerous of these fascinating sea creatures having fun in their natural environment.

For a change of pace the next stop is a visit to the town of Gaiman where the first settlers arrived in 1865 by boat from Wales. These immigrants were escaping from the English domination of their homeland as well as from the attempt of the latter to impose their culture upon them. They were looking for a virgin territory to be able to establish the “New Wales” where they could follow their own rules and customs without being attacked. Patagonia offered this safe haven. Today much of the Welsh culture is still apparent in the historic buildings, architectural style, and street names. Even the Welsh language is still spoken and taught in the schools, and real Welsh Tea Houses are open for all to enjoy a traditional Welsh Afternoon Tea. The Welsh village essence and small farms retain the charm and character created by these original settlers even in today’s modern society. This is a bona fide step back in time with historical overtones for an incomparable Patagonia experience.

From wildlife to local history this day trip from Puerto Madryn is a fascinating education of the local culture and yore. The gay and gay-friendly staff at Flamenco Tour agency will be happy to arrange this journey for your enjoyment and will also ensure that you learn from your time spent with nature and yesteryear.

Reservations: ARGENTINA@FriendsTravel.com

JESS Kalinowsky Professional Travel Consultant

Friends Travel LLP

December 14, 2010

Buenos Aires, Argentina JESS Kalinowsky Friends Travel LLP

“I flew to Buenos Aires for a cruise around legendary Cape Horn to Santiago, Chile. My schedule was to fly from the United States late one evening, arrive in Buenos Aires the next morning, do a quick city tour on the way to the ship, board and sail away. What a pity. I would breeze through one of the world’s greatest cities and see almost nothing.

But that was not the way my experience in Buenos Aires turned out. I changed my flight to arrive in the Argentine capital two days before the cruise, and I’m glad I did. I found Buenos Aires easy to get around, inexpensive and offering lots to see. Whether you tack on a couple of extra days before or after your cruise, you won’t regret making time to see one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

Two Nights/Three Days
Though Buenos Aires is a large city, you can take in the major attractions in two nights/three days. Be sure to check your ship’s schedule, as some overnight in Buenos Aires, so that you’ll require only one night in a hotel.

During my short stay, I dined extravagantly on world-renowned Argentine beef, took in a tango show, hopped on a city tour and walked the city streets. If you have more time, you can also get out to an estancia (ranch), but if you decide to spend all of your time in the city, you will likely have opportunities to visit estancias on shore excursions during your cruise.

The first day you’ll spend a good portion of the morning getting through passport control and customs — and checked in to your hotel. If you’re fortunate enough to get a good night’s sleep on the flight to Buenos Aires, you’ll arrive rested enough to begin sightseeing right away.

Getting From The Airport To Your Hotel
If your travel agent has not made transfer arrangements from the airport to the city center for you, head for the taxi dispatch stand inside the terminal, where you’ll pay around 53 pesos (about $18 — U.S. dollars are accepted) for the 22-mile trip to the city. There’s also a shuttle that will transfer you for about $9 as well as busses that run on the half hour. Argentina’s official tourism department operates kiosks at the airport, so ask for help — and a city map. ATM machines for changing money also are inside the airport terminal.

Where To Stay
Buenos Aires has more than 450 hotels, including big chains such as Four Seasons, Intercontinental, Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Marriott and more. On the recommendation of someone familiar with the city, I stayed at a local chain, the American Buenos Aires Park Hotel at 699 Reconquista for about $90 a night, including breakfast and the 21 obligatory percent room tax. The hotel was conveniently located, cool and clean.

As I walked through the city, I stopped in at hotels priced as low as $40 per night and as high as several hundred per night. The city’s most expensive hotel is the Alvear Palace Hotel, priced from $550 per night to $4,500 per night, and these rates do not include the room tax, but if you’re due for a splurge, this is the hotel for you.

I also peeked in at the Etoile Hotel, priced at $118 per night (breakfast and tax included) and located in the charming quarter known as La Recoleta, a neighborhood reminiscent of Paris with lively outdoor cafes, neoclassical mansions and world-class shopping.

Only a few steps away from the Etoile Hotel is the Recoleta Church and Cemetery, where Buenos Aires’ most illustrious departed lay at rest in ornate mausoleums. Among the most visited is the tomb of Evita Perón, much loved by Argentines for championing the causes of the working class.

Puerto Madero

I never spent more than 9 pesos (about $3) to get anywhere in the city. I rode in a taxi for 20 minutes and spent only 9 pesos getting from my hotel near the trendy Puerto Madero docks (where reclaimed and restored warehouses feature some of the city’s finest restaurants and shops) to colorful La Boca. One porteño — as the 3 million residents of this port city on the Rio de la Plata are known — told me he sold his car when he moved to Buenos Aires, because taxis were so inexpensive.

While I used taxis plenty, I also walked. I made strides along six blocks from my hotel to Plaza de Mayo, a square dominated by the Casa Rosada (Pink House) presidential palace. Nearby, I stepped into the cathedral where San Martín’s repatriated remains lie (Martín helped liberate Argentina from Spanish rule in 1812) and strolled down the grand Avenida de Mayo, opened in 1894 and designed after the avenues of Paris.

La Boca

I hopped a taxi to the neighborhood of San Telmo, where I sipped coffee at Plaza Dorrego Bar while watching young people hanging out and old men play dominoes on the small square. Sundays, the square becomes an outdoor antiques fair.

From La Boca, I took a taxi through the slums along the waterfront, past trendy Puerto Madero, along Avenida del Libertador and the Malvinas War Memorial (a symbol of Argentina’s claim to the Falkland islands and its loss of the islands to Britain during a 10-week war in 1982), which was tauntingly constructed opposite the Tower of the English. The tower offers a free elevator to the top for panoramic city views.

Delicioso Dining
I was told not to leave Argentina without trying carne asadas (grilled meats) at a local parrilla (steakhouse) and enjoying the sweets known as alfajores. I decided to eat my way through the city by sampling both.

Plaza Dorrego

Plaza Dorrego

For carne asadas, I stepped into Las Nazarenas, directly across from the Sheraton at 1132 Reconquista.

I started with grilled Chorizo sausage, followed by grilled provolone cheese topped with oregano and olive oil drizzled over. For my entree, I ordered Bife de Lomo, a small filet mignon and a glass of Malbec (the famed Argentine wine) to wash it down.

The next afternoon while walking through the city, I stopped at Havanna for an alfajor, the popular Argentine sweet. I’ve heard alfajores described as a Moon Pie with dulce de leche (caramel) instead of marshmallow. That’s a good description, although alfajores are typically smaller in circumference and thicker.

Two To Tango
That night I headed back to La Boca. My driver dropped me at La Bombonera, the stadium of one of the world’s toughest soccer clubs: Boca Juniors. I wasn’t here to catch a game, however. My destination was next door: La Boca Tango. Open for only six months when I arrived, the new complex features three venues that you move through during the evening.

First, there is an exhibit that presents what La Boca looked like during the early 1900s when Italian immigrants poured in to the city. I walked through recreated rooms where multiple families shared living quarters and one bathroom. Next, we sat down for dinner, similar to the one I had Las Nazarenas, then followed that by returning to the exhibits, where actors portrayed what life was like for the immigrants. The show was lively and illuminating.

Afterward, we went inside a belle époque replica of a Parisian theater for a 60-minute tango performance that was mesmerizing. Though it appeared a difficult dance, I talked to travelers who took tango lessons while in Buenos Aires.

Setting Sail
Fortunately, the cruise terminal is near the city center and most cruises depart late in the evening, so you needn’t be in a rush to depart Buenos Aires. You may want to return to the market at San Telmo if your cruise is departing on a Sunday. Otherwise, just enjoy your time in the city. You’ll have plenty of time on the ship during your cruise.

If your cruise ends in Buenos Aires your flight will likely depart for the United States late at night, giving you time to extract the final hours from a city that continues to surprise and delight all who make time for her. — Ralph Grizzle

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JESS Kalinowsky Professional Travel Consultant

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