Notes from a Nomad

Remarkable People, Memorable Events and Fascinating Destinations from Around the World.

22 – Argentina – the country that has it all – Feb 2 2014

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It seems to me that most Taxi drivers fall into one of four categories.

They can be great sources of information and wisdom, potential scam artists, wannabee Formula 1 Drivers or silent even morose types.

The driver who recently whisked me from Buenos Aires’ Ezeizia Airport to my downtown hotel clearly believed he was the reincarnation of the Argentinian Formula One World Champion Juan Fangio as he raced to overtake two cars and sqeeze through a narrowing gap in one manoeuvre as three lanes were reduced to two. He did his best to keep me entertained by giving me a crash course in Argentinian economics as he drove but once he got downtown thought nothing of cramming on the brakes and swerving across two lanes of traffic so he could get a close up view of an attractive girl on the sidewalk.

Eva Peron still overlooks Buenos Aires

Eva Peron still overlooks Buenos Aires

But interspersed in all this entertainment he got one thing right when within this non stop one way dialogue on economics, women and football he commented – ‘Argentina is not such a good place to work with inflation and a currency in freefall but it is a great country to live in and visit’

I could not agree more because Argentina is surely one of those few countries that has it all – in spades.

South America is the continent I know the least and I have only visited it on four occasions but I have managed to come to Argentina three times. The first occasion was nine years ago on an unsuccessful attempt to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside the Himalaya and the second was two years ago when we spent a couple of weeks before and after a trip to Antarctica in Buenos Aires, Patagonia and  Iguarzu. And this time we spent five days in Buenos Aires before another visit to Antarctica – this time in conjunction with visits to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

And each time I have been to Argentina I have been so impressed –the people are friendly and cultured, Buenos Aires combines some magnificent period architecture with  elegant café options, and outside of Buenos Aires you can explore some magnificent scenic attractions that rank amongst the world’s finest although granted you have to travel some hefty distances to get to it all!

And the country has beaches for relaxation, a musical tradition of the highest standard having given the Tango to the rest of the world, attractive women every which way one looks and plays rugby and football to the highest standards.

The Recoleta Cemetery has streets of ornate tombs but the crowd puller is the grave of Eva Peron

The Recoleta Cemetery has streets of ornate tombs but the crowd puller is the grave of Eva Peron

As I relayed above my first visit to Argentina was in 2005 when I joined a small group hoping to climb Aconcagua and to this day I am not sure if I left the group to return to the UK to organise the departure of our CEO at a time when morale was dangerously low amongst some of our key staff or whether I used that as an excuse to leave a group where I did not know any of the other participants. Clearly I am more comfortable organising groups rather than being a group member but our company did thrive after the I implemented the necessary changes.

But I digress.

Like most Britons my first introduction to Argentina was that memorable Saturday in July 1966 when England played Argentina in a quarter final of the 1966 World Cup and the Argentinian Centre Half and Captain Antonio Rattin was dismissed but refused to leave the field.

Eva Peron addressed the Argentinian people from one of the Balconies of the Casa Rosada – the Presidential Palace

Eva Peron addressed the Argentinian people from one of the Balconies of the Casa Rosada – the Presidential Palace

Argentina has a reputation for producing skilful players but who can also be niggling, petulant and with a propensity for cheating, an impression reinforced by a possibly contrived  result en route to winning the 1978 World Cup and memorably demonstrated by Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ where he secured a decisive advantage for Argentina in the crucial 1986 World Cup Quarter Final against England in Mexico by diverting the goal into the net with his hand rather than his head. And then there were the Falklands (or Malvinas) over which our countries had gone to war in 1982.

In Argentina’s case the way they play football does not reflect their personalities and the overwhelming impression of my first visit to Argentina was the friendliness of the people. People would ask me if I needed assistance when I was looking at a map or guidebook on a street corner, they would ask if they could practice their English with me and memorably on not one but two occasions I found myself on a plane seated next to an attractive woman who instigated ca friendly conversation with me.

Normally in politically conscious Europe or North America I would not think of trying to start up a conversation in case the woman thought I would be ‘hitting’ on her or invading her privacy but in Argentina the women started chatting to me in a spirit of friendship with no agenda. And I quickly understood why so many North American single men make Argentina one of their preferred destinations!

The Colon Theatre is one of the world’s great Opera Houses and possesses outstanding acoustics

The Colon Theatre is one of the world’s great Opera Houses and possesses outstanding acoustics

And not once in that or any subsequent visit has a single Argentinian ever mentioned the Argentinian claims over the Falklands which are not without some validity even if possession (and the wishes of the inhabitants) is nine tenths of the law. It does appear that when Argentinian leaders are facing problems at home as General Galtieri did in the early 80s and Christina Kirchner is today the question of the Sovereignty of the Malvinas has a higher profile. Am I being cynical to wonder if this is intentional to distract Argentinians from problems at home? And of course potential oil revenues would be a great boost to the ailing Argentinian economy.

I have found that most Argentinians I have met are informed and articulate individuals although it often appears to me that there is a national inferiority complex or guilty conscience about the state of the Argentinian economy where once the Peso had parity with the dollar, in 2005 there were 3 pesos to the dollar and now it is eight! My taxi driver made it quite clear he would welcome payment in dollars and many apartments in Buenos Aires were advertised for sale in dollars and not pesos. I have been told how 100 years ago the Argentinian economy was bigger than the USAs and one of the 10 biggest economies in the world and it seems the Argentinian Financial crisis of 2002 (when the Peso  that had enjoyed parity with the US Dollar was left to float and effectively devalued to a rate of 4 pesos to the dollar!) has left a deep scar on the country’s collective personality.

There are many architectural delights and fine buildings in Buenos Aires.

There are many architectural delights and fine buildings in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires has to be one of the world’s great cities and probably the only one with a 17 lane boulevard (I know – I counted them!) running through the very heart of the city as does the Avenue 9 de Julio. I have yet to cross all 17 lanes on foot without hitting at least two red lights! There may not be a ‘standout’ attraction like The Eiffel Tower, Coliseum, Tower of London or Empire State Building but there is plenty to see and do.

Perhaps the most well known attraction is the tomb of Eva Peron in Recoleta Cemetery. Cemeteries are always a great place to wander and this is one of the best with ‘streets’ full of impressive statutory and ornate crypts.

In the centre of Buenos Aires is the Pink façade of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) that is perhaps the best known building to visitors as it is from the balconies here at the Pink House where Eva Person addressed the Argentinian masses. Whenever I am near the Case Rosada I cannot help but remembering the visit to the UK of my friend Jon Fischer from New York in 1978. I played him my tape of the new musical Evita – yet to make its stage debut and I will always remember him saying ‘I cannot see that taking off in the States – who is going to be interested in the story of a South American Dictator’s wife’! How wrong could one be?

The Galleries Pacifico Mall is housed in a splendidly restored building dating from 1899

The Galleries Pacifico Mall is housed in a splendidly
restored building dating from 1899

And now Argentina has another female President and again following the tradition of Eva Peron, whose silhouette high on the side of a building on Avenue 9 de Julio still dominates the city and like Eva Peron Christine Kirchner is both a strong personality and the wife of a popular President. However Christina  Kirchner was elected to power several years before her husband died.

The nearby Cathedral is worth a visit but the most impressive building in Buenos Aires is undoubtedly the newly restored Teatro Colon, one of the world’s great and most ornate Opera Houses which possesses unrivalled acoustics. There are tours in English every hour and the magnificent and ornate interior is well worth a visit.

The restored former waterfront area of Puerto Madero is close to the centre and offers a range of eating opportunities and the former harbour area is now dominated by brightly decorated giant  cranes.

The Palacio del Congresso is at the opposite end of Avenue Mayo to Casa Rosada but will be familiar to Americans as it was based on the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and there are other fine public buildings in the centre of Buenos Aires around the Plaza de Mayo and to the rear of the Colon Theatre.

There are also impressive period apartment buildings throughout the city although some of the residential apartment buildings reflect a former period of grandeur and posterity rather than current affluence as they are now looking a little tired. Many are built in the modernist or Art Nouveau style that was popular at the end of the 19th century and my eyes were forever being drawn upwards to look at the stunning architectural detail and perhaps none more than the Palacio Barolo on Avenue Mayo. The building offers spectacular views over the city from the viewing deck of this historic building and the interior is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy !

The Sunday Market at San Telmo in Buenos Aires is popular with tourists and locals alike but beware pickpockets!

The Sunday Market at San Telmo in Buenos Aires is popular with tourists and locals alike but beware pickpockets!

And there can be fewer more attractive shopping malls in the world today that the beautiful Art Nouveau Gallerias Pacifico which dates from 1889 and whose exterior makes a pleasant change from the modern Malls so beloved by Americans and Asians in particular.

Buenos Aires boasts two historic areas which appear on most visitors’ checklists – San Telmo and the Boca.

San Telmo is renowned for its narrow cobbled streets and historic buildings and its famous Sunday market full of handicrafts, antiques, bric a brac and can be approached by a pleasant walk along Avenue Defensa with its many antique shops and Galleries from the Plaza de Mayo. Sadly San Telmo and its market centred on Plaza Dorrego is also renowned for its pickpockets as my wife discovered to her cost in 2012 – the only time she has been pick pocketed in 45 years of travelling!

The working class Bario of the Boca is known to football supporters the world over because it gives its name to one of Buenos Aires top two teams – Boca Juniors. If you can get tickets for a derby match between Boca Juniors and River Plate you will be privileged to watch an authentic slice of Argentinian life, culture and passion condensed into 90 minutes as well as watching one of football’s definitive rivalries. But any game at La Bombonera Stadium will give you an insight of the importance of football to the national psyche!

The working class inner city barrio of Boca is popular with tourists keen to see the brightly painted buildings

The working class inner city barrio of Boca is popular with tourists keen to see the brightly painted buildings

The riverside area of the Boca is famed for its unique and brightly coloured houses with the corrugated metal sides of the houses often bearing a multitude of colours. Very much on the mass market tour itinerary and replete with souvenir shops the Boca is still worth a visit and a pleasant riverside promenade will lead you back past ancient metal bridges, used and unused, towards the city centre for those who prefer to walk rather than take an inexpensive taxi.

According to the guide books Buenos Aires is packed with museums in every area and the National Museum of Decorative Arts always seems to attract positive reviews but the only museum I have visited is MALBA – the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America in Buenos Aires. I have found Museums of Modern Art to be ‘iffy’ (Tate Modern London) ‘interesting in parts’ (Museum of Modern Art New York) and ‘too big’ (Pompidou Centre Paris) but MALBA was excellent. It contained a varied range of high quality exhibits and works that were creative and stimulating without being so pretentious that they could neither be understood or appreciated, for me the main criticism in most Modern and Contemporary Art Museums.

The Museum of Modern Art of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires (MALBA) contains many innovative works

The Museum of Modern Art of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires (MALBA) contains many innovative works

My wife Sharron is not a great fan of Museums in general nor of much Modern Art in particular but like me she really enjoyed our two hour visit to MALBA this year and then by way of a contrast we went to the nearby City Zoo which was really excellent for a city centre Zoo. There was a wide range of animals who appeared to have plenty of space to roam and wander and the quirky turn of the century animal houses almost justified a visit on their own.

Palermo is a suburb of Parks, Museums, Shopping and restaurants popular with both locals and visitors and mention of restaurants brings me neatly to another of the distinctive features and attractions of Buenos Aires – its restaurants and café culture.

Buenos Aires is full of Cafes and Restaurants that stay open very late and all with smartly dressed waiters and sporting a neat apron. And despite the plethora or waiters and waitresses in most restaurants service is often slow a la France as dining is clearly considered to be an important and leisurely pursuit. The most famous of Argentina’s many café restaurants, many of which are over 100 years old is undoubtedly the magnificent wood panelled Café Tortoni on Avenue de Maya with its walls covered with pictures, display cabinets and sculpture.

The historic Cafe Tortoni is the most famous of Buenos Aires’ many Cafes

The historic Cafe Tortoni is the most famous of Buenos Aires’ many Cafes

Apron clad waiters and Art Nouveau architecture combine to remind me of cities like Vienna and Budapest at the end of the 19th century but of course the single feature that distinguishes Buenos Aires from all other cities is a dance and its associated music – the Tango.

You can do a lot worse than to buy a handful of Tango CDs in Buenos Aires both historic (Carlos Gardel etc) and modern but it is a ‘must do’ to experience some tango dancing whilst you are in Buenos Aires and you have three choices.

One can often see free tango performances on the street by dancers looking for donations and in particular on  a daily basis outside Galerias Pacificos, at weekends in the Boca area and on Sundays in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. At the other end of the scale are the large tango shows aimed at the tourist market usually costing in excess of $100 and including meals but it is often possible to buy a ‘show only’ tickets  and I can recommend the Tango Porteno almost next door to the Teatro Colon and if you buy your ticket in advance and arrive 30 -40 minutes before the show you should get a good table with an unobstructed view.

The design for the Palacio del Congresso in Buenos Aires was based on the Capitol Building in Washington DC

The design for the Palacio del Congresso in Buenos Aires was based on the Capitol Building in Washington DC

However perhaps the best option for getting a feel for the Tango culture, is to visit one of the smaller Tango Bars or restaurants. I enjoyed a few hours at the Bar Sur in San Telmo which has non stop entertainment through the evening with a band, male and female vocalists and three Tango couples who all alternate performing in a very intimate atmosphere with only about 15 tables for the audience to drink, snack or eat. Los 36 Billares is centrally located on Avenue de Maya and is a restaurant with tango shows that are aimed at the local market every evening and the Café Tortoni is a third option for seeing a smaller show, although mainly aimed at visitors.

There are a host of options in Buenos Aires but these are three that I have all enjoyed during my three visits. And if you already have some proficiency in the Tango try a Milonga which is a social Tango Dance event and if you don’t have any experience why not try enrolling at a Tango School for lessons!

Buenos Aires is a fairly easy city to get around and taxis are plentiful and inexpensive by European or North American standards. I am a big fan of the city  with its bustling and colourful restaurants and trees everywhere adorning the Avenues but the challenges facing the Argentinian economy are clear to all  – I am a great fan of taking the state of repairs of sidewalks as a petty accurate indicator of a country’s economic health and in this regard Argentina and Buenos Aires is at times found wanting!

If you want a break from the city and/or want to get a taste of Argentina beyond Buenos Aires I recommend a visit to the Delta area which could not be more of a contrast to bustling Buenos Aires. For 6 pesos (less than a dollar!) you can get a return ticket on the suburban train to Tigre 20 miles away but as the trains are invariably crowded you may not get a seat. And as the train is slow, stopping at least at a dozen stations en route I recommend a taxi if you can afford it – 200 pesos and much quicker but you may have to get a train back to Buenos Aires as we did not see a single taxi at Tigre when we wanted to return!

Everyone wants to sing like Carlos Gardel – ‘El increible Gardelito’!

Everyone wants to sing like Carlos Gardel – ‘El increible Gardelito’!

Once at Tigre you can take a local boat or two to explore the Delta area – a maze of rivers with a variety of craft making their way along the main arteries. You will see hotels, restaurants and thousands of holiday homes from the basic to the opulent as the area is clearly a popular weekend and holiday retreat for those citizens of Buenos Aires who can afford a second home. Any guide book and the tourist office by the boat jetties at Tigre can give you advice on where to go – we took a boat to the Gato Blanco riverside restaurant where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and watched life go by on the river and then returned to Tigre to take another boat to Tres Bocas Island only to discover it was less than a kilometre from Gato Blanco so we experienced the same (interesting) stretch of the river four times! At Tres Bocas we still had time to walk around part of the island away from the main river and witnessed a very relaxing way of life along the small tributary with occasional bridges across the streams and people using small canoes to get around and for pleasure.

We also spent a day at nearby San Isidro and it is possible to make day excursions into nearby Uruguay so for sure there is plenty to keep a visitor occupied for at least a week in Buenos Aires but for me the big attraction of Argentina is that it offers so much scenic grandeur as well as a magnificent city.

Dancing in the street Argentinian style is inevitably the beloved Tango

Dancing in the street Argentinian style is inevitably the beloved Tango

As I spent over 30 years of my working life as a Tour Operator and have always travelled extensively people often ask me which is my favourite country and I usually answer that my favourite country is Switzerland, the most magnificent scenery is in Antarctica (I used to say the Nepalese Himalaya and Swiss Alps but Antarctica is something else) but if I had to stay in one country for 50 weeks of each year it would be…………………….France which is perhaps bizarre as our family has homes in five countries but not ib France!

I say this because France has one of the great cities of the world and certainly my favourite in Europe. It has good food, a plethora of beautiful old cities and if it does not have the best beaches in Europe then the beaches on the Mediterranean coast are a close second. Although my own favourite mountains are the Swiss Alps no one can deny that the French Alps around Chamonix and Mont Blanc contain some magnificent mountain scenery.

And for me Argentina is the France of South America.

The nearby Delta area is an estuary of peace, tranquillity and holiday homes for the residents of Buenos Aires

The nearby Delta area is an estuary of peace, tranquillity and holiday homes for the residents of Buenos Aires

It has a great city and as it contains the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya quite obviously there is pretty impressive mountain scenery and trekking options both in the Andes and in Patagonia. And if you do not go to Mendoza for the mountains as I did you may be attracted by a visit to the many wineries in the area! I have yet to visit the resort town of  Mar del Plata or indeed any of the Argentinian beaches nor Bariloche and the scenic Lake District but my visits to Patagonia and Iguarzu confirmed that Argentina contains scenic attractions that are comparable with anything you will see – anywhere!

It was unfortunate that my only visit to Patagonia followed on directly from 9 days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula in magnificent weather because Antarctica is unlike anywhere else on the planet with magnificent Alpine mountain scenery brought down to sea level where it is interspersed with icebergs and teeming wildlife. It is a heady concoction and anything else is bound to suffer in comparison but two years ago we flew to El Calafate in Patagonia from the world’s southernmost town Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego.

Patagonia conjures up some instant images – vast distances, windswept vistas, magnificent wild mountain scenery and all are valid and the tourist hubs of El Calafate and El Chalten are convenient bases for anyone wishing to explore some of the more accessible and scenically attractive parts of Argentinian Patagonia.

Trekkers and Climbers approaching Aconcagua – the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya

Trekkers and Climbers approaching Aconcagua – the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya

As well as plenty of good restaurants, bars, outdoor gear shops, travel companies , boutiques and souvenir shops El Calafate still has the feel of a frontier town albeit one populated by many young Argentinians who have come to Patagonia either temporarily or permanently to escape the big city and to live and work in a wilder more remote area. Whilst the city centre is cosmopolitan and with a good range of services the rest of the town is characterised by unmade roads and ad hoc development.

For someone who is not a ‘twitcher’ (Bird spotter) I found the lakeside Laguna Nimez Sanctuary to be full of an interesting variety of birdlife including flamingos but the big attraction from El Calafate is a to visit to the nearby (30 miles/50 kilometers) Perito Moreno Glacier.

I have hiked extensively in most of the mountain ranges of the world, have made multi day hikes along glaciers and have visited some of the most spectacular Glacial viewpoints in the world including the Khumbu descending from Everest at Kalar Patar, the Ngozumpa from Gokyo Ri in the Himalaya and the Grosser Aletschgletscher from the Eggishorn and Marjelsee in the Alps. I have also rafted past huge glaciers in the Yukon and Antarctica and I am only recounting these experiences to stress I have seen thousands of glaciers so am not easily impressed but without a doubt the most impressive glacial viewpoint I have ever visited is at the Peninsula de Magallanes at the end of the road into the Parque Nacional Los Glaciers South.

Lago Argentino offers stunning scenery is more than equal to the Swiss and Italian Lakes

Lago Argentino offers stunning scenery is more than equal to the Swiss and Italian Lakes

A series of paths, catwalks and viewpoints yield a fantastic panorama over the huge Perito Moreno glacier and overlook its huge snout which has damned the Canal de Tempanos which links The Brazo Rico Lake arm with the main Lago Argentino. From time to time the canal has eroded a path through the snout of the glacier creating a natural ice bridge which periodically collapses and meanwhile the towering ice cliffs which mark the end of the glacier are calving all the time with small and large chunks of ice collapsing into the Canal and floating away as ice bergs.

If I had not just returned from Antarctica and was suffering from ‘spectacular ice landscapes overload syndrome’ I would have been even more impressed because without a shadow of doubt this is one of the world’s great natural viewpoints – and as we will see Argentina has not one but two of the most spectacular natural attractions.

We also took one of the many excursions available  across Lago Argentino to the Brazo Norte (North Arm) and onto the Uppsala and Spegazzini glaciers and with the snow clad Andes as a backcloth and with the huge glaciers disgorging icebergs into the Lake the scenery rivals if not surpasses anything you will see in the Swiss and Italian Lakes.

From El Calafate we drove north to El Chalten following the iconic route 40 for part of the way. Route 40 parallels the Andes and extends from the north of Argentina to the south and has an almost mythical status like Route 66 in the USA. The drive took longer than anticipated but only because I stopped to take so many pictures of the dry arid grassland landscape (reminiscent of the south western USA) which was continuously with us but always with snow capped Andes in the background. And once the surreal jagged peaks of Cerro Torres and Cerro Fitzro appeared they drew  us on to El Chalten.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most spectacular and scenic glaciers in the world

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most spectacular and scenic glaciers in the world

El Chalten has even more of a frontier town ‘feel’ than El Calafate with no atm and mainly unsealed roads. El Chalten is the hiking and mountaineering centre of Argentina like Chamonix is to the French Alps and there are a host of trails for spectacular hiking. As we had a (rare?) blue sky day we decided to head Laguna Torre about three hours each way and only a modest height net gain but a lot of ups and downs en route! As my wife had hardly hiked for ten years I am not sure she has forgiven me yet (this was two years ago!) but the views were worth it because Patagonia is famed for its dramatic spire like peaks, not dissimilar to the Italian Dolomites. En route to the Lake there is a rare viewpoint that yields spectacular views of both Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy.

Whilst in El Calafate (it may have the feel of a wild west town but it had some excellent restaurants) we also drove to Lago del Desierto and planned another hike towards Cerro Fitzroy from the El Pilar Hosteleria which is a great out of town hiking base but not cheap. However we had to curtail our hike due to inclement weather and substitute a snack at El Pilar much to Sharron’s disappointment (Not!)

However the biggest challenge of our visit to El Chalten was getting back to El Calafate as fuel supplies are notoriously unreliable and sure enough the Gas station at EL Chalten was out of fuel. A quick reference to internet regarding the fuel capacity of our rental car and an estimation of the fuel used to date encouraged me to believe we should (just!) make the 120 miles back to El Calafate but also regret making separate visits to El Pilar and Lago del Desierto which were on the same road

‘Are you sure we have enough petrol Michael to go to El Pilar Michael?

‘No problem – the Service station will be open tomorrow’

Route 40 extends the length of Argentina

Route 40 extends the length of Argentina

(I was right of course – but it was out of fuel!)

We then really tempted fate by deviating 4 miles off the road back to El Califate to take another Boat trip – this time on Lake Viedma to see the Viedma Glacier close!

We then drove back to El Calafate with our eyes glued to the fuel gauge!

For the first time in my life I drove 100 miles at a steady 50mph to conserve the gas and when there was a mile of more downhill switched off the ignition and coasted downhill in neutral! The fuel warning light came on with 40 miles to go (’No problem – there is always two gallons in reserve and we are not at the bottom of empty yet!’) but we hit the bottom of empty with 15 miles to go and finally made it into El Calafate only to see a petrol tanker at the fuel station on the main street. We quickly joined the line up before driving to our hotel!

Patagonia is a land of vast spaces, grand vistas and dramatic scenery and well worth visiting despite the vagaries of the weather which can be inclement in the summer with wind and rain and inhospitable in winter but for sure I hope to return.

Cerro Torre is one of the most spectacular mountains in South America

Cerro Torre is one of the most spectacular mountains in South America

However it is the Iguarzu Falls that are the most famous natural attraction in Argentina and we flew to Puerto Iguarzu from Buenos Aires and spent two and a half days at the Falls.

We paid top dollar to stay at the ridiculously overpriced Sheraton Hotel for one reason only………location, location, and location as it is the only hotel in the Park. It is not essential as there is a regular shuttle to the Falls from the town but if you can afford the $400 a night it is a convenient and pleasant extravagance.

And as for the Falls………………I have been to Everest five times and Antarctica twice. We have a home high in the Swiss Alps but I have not seen anything as spectacular as the Iguarzu Falls. It makes Niagara Falls look like a trickle! If our American cousins have devalued the term ’awesome’ by applying it to all and sundry let me describe Iguarzu as truly astounding and surely one of the most spectacular sights on the planet. Anyone reading these words who has been to Igaurzu will understand.

A rare view of both Cerro Fitzroy (Right) and Cerro Torre (Left) on the hike to Lago Torre

A rare view of both Cerro Fitzroy (Right) and
Cerro Torre (Left) on the hike to Lago Torre

There are Falls every which way you look so understanding the Geography of the terrain is not easy but the Falls are really impressive and an excellent series of paths (The Paseo Superior, Upper path, and Paseo Inferior, Lower path) takes you along catwalks and over bridges to viewing areas to and past a bewildering number of Falls close up from above, the side and below.

And everywhere you look there are more and more waterfalls because the Rio Iguarcu splits into many channels, each producing separate waterfalls over an almost two mile arc, before plunging almost 80 metres and often with subsidiary waterfalls forming half way down!

The Falls are shared with Brazil and it is really worth visiting the Falls from both sides if your passport permits. Some nationalities including  Americans and Canadians require a Brazilian visa that can normally be readily obtained the same day in Puerto Iguarzu ………unless it is a holiday in Brazil or the Brazilian Immigration Computer is down so my Canadian wife Sharron was restricted to the Argentinian side!

The Viedma Glacier in Patagonia is one of many spectacular glaciers that can be viewed close up

The Viedma Glacier in Patagonia is one of many spectacular glaciers that can be viewed close up

You get better vistas and panoramas from the Brazilian side (although the views are still very spectacular on the Argentinian side) including one walkway that manages to be beneath one waterfall, above a second and looks out at many more but one can get closer to some falls on the Argentinian side.
On the Argentinian side there is a train that will take you the 600 metres to where the paths start if you do not want to walk and there are boat trips (below the Falls!) and it is also possible to visit San Martin Island surrounded by cascading falls although access was closed when we were there because of high water levels.

You can also take the train – or walk, to the famous Garganta del Diablo (the Devils throat) where you are perched above a whirlpool of water, noise and spray as it makes its furious drop pretty much beneath your feet and with a panorama of waterfalls stretching in front of you!

Argentina also offers full moon walks every month complete with dinner which we did and the Brazilian side offers helicopter rides over the Falls which I enjoyed so there is plenty to see and do and once you have explored the paths and views it is easily tempting to do it all over again.

Without a shadow of doubt Iguarzu is worth at least two full days.

The Iguarzu Falls is one of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet

The Iguarzu Falls is one of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet

In Buenos Aires this year we met a recently retired (the day we met them!)  Canadian diplomat and his wife to whom we are introduced by Sharron’s cousin and they had lived and worked at a variety of postings around the world over the last 30 years but it is in Buenos Aires where they have purchased an apartment and plan to spend half of each year during their retirement.

That does not surprise me – as Argentina is a country that can offers something for everyone and Buenos Aires a city that offers a lot to the discerning traveller. I do not drink alcohol or eat meat so I have not mentioned two attractions that rank high on most visitors’ lists – good quality inexpensive wine and the best steaks in the world.

Other than the fact I have zero talent for learning languages and have the unenviable record of having failed every single language exam I sat in my academic career (all twelve of them) I have often thought Buenos Aires would be a fabulous city to live in, go to a language school to try and learn some Spanish and even take Tango lessons.

But putting such dreams to one side Argentina is a destination that I would unreservedly recommend anyone to visit.

The country offers spectacular scenery including mountains, glaciers and waterfalls that rank with the world’s finest. There are beaches for relaxation, cultured inhabitants, original music, friendly and attractive women, sporting excellence and great food– what more does one want from a destination?

© Michael Bromfield 2014

4 thoughts on “22 – Argentina – the country that has it all – Feb 2 2014

  1. Beutiful reportage and photos! You must visit our South Tirol .The Dolomits are not less amazing as Cerro Torre

    • Marina. I agree. I love the Dolomites and the mountains are so spectacular. It is like nowhere else. I hiked all around the Tre Cima del Lavaredo 5 or 6 years ago and my friend Ampai refers to them as the Family Mountains as she can never remember Three Sisters! I hope to visit TakeCareKids again in February Michael

  2. Great article. I love Argentina too. You must go to Bariloche, which has some spectacular lake and mountain scenery. I also liked Salta in the north where the surrounding scenery is rugged red rocks.

    • Thanks Judy – An Argentinian zoologist who accompanied us to Antarctic liked it as well so I guess I got some parts right. I will have to add Bariloche and Salta to the list for my next visit. Michael

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