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Argentina and Patagonia – So much more than you think.

Argentina and Patagonia

What is it that you look for in a holiday? Do you prefer to relax in a spa overlooking beautiful scenery?
Are you an adventurer who loves to explore? Would you rather be encompassed by the sounds, sights, and smells, of a bustling city? Is your idea of heaven sitting in front of a log fire curled up in a warm jumper with a book? Or do you prefer a mix of everything?

I’m here to tell you that if you’re looking to book your next escape and you’re not sure where, then there is one destination for you – Argentina. Earlier this month I had the pleasure to be whisked away by Latin Routes who are South American experts with Argentina being their speciality. There isn’t anything that they don’t know that is worth knowing about when it comes to Argentina and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to get to know it from the ultimate experts for ten nights! The best part was we got to experience ALL of the above, and more.

Our journey began in Buenos Aires, the epicentre of all things Argentina! A direct flight from London will take around 14 hours, however there are plenty of indirect flights from many other international UK airports taking only a few hours more. All flights to anywhere in Argentina go via Buenos Aires so why not spend a few days taking in the rich culture and fantastic food?
Our first night was at the Alvear Icon, a 5* hotel that left me gaping like a goldfish! We arrived in Buenos Aires at 4am and so before we started the days exploring we decided to freshen up from our flight and have a quick cat nap.
The Alvear Icon is in the Puerto Madero district which I would highly recommend for location. It’s right by the old port looking over onto the river separating Argentina from Uruguay, it’s the newest part of the city, and it’s very safe with some great restaurants in the area.
My favourite part of the Alvear Icon has to have been the bathroom in our room. We stayed in a deluxe room and I just couldn’t believe it was the lead in room type! They are very spacious, they each have lovely large doors to enter, making it feel almost like an apartment, they have an entrance hall going into the room itself, and two giant sliding doors entering you into fantastic, marble bathroom. There are two sinks on either side, a beautiful Jacuzzi bath tub right in front, and two side doors leading you into a massive rainfall shower with Hermes toiletries on one side, and the lavatory on the other. I felt like absolute royalty! The hotel also has an alluring spa with Jacuzzis and an indoor swimming pool, a small but well equipped gym and plenty of bars and restaurants serving different cuisines including Kosher.
We saw plenty of different hotels in Buenos Aires. What I loved most was that they all had their own unique flair to them; no two are the same. I saw a great range from 3* to 5* properties so please don’t hesitate to ask for details on any other hotels that I saw!
During our stay in Buenos Aires (two nights, but I would recommend three to spread all the activities out) we took part in several half day city tours. There were several because there is so much to explore! I would definitely recommend a tour because there are so many areas spread across the city with so much history that you wouldn’t possibly be able to explore without dragging a great big encyclopaedia around with you. Our first venture was to La Boca, home to the world famous football club. Besides sports, you will also find a very artistic and colourful side to the area, with many artisans lining the streets and dancers showing off their Tango skills in the area where it all began!
Over this day and the next we moved onto several other areas including Palermo and Recoleta. Palermo is the home of the Evita Museum, Evita being Eva Peron, the first lady of President Peron in the late 40’s and early 50’s and a very controversial yet influential figure in Argentinian history. Recoleta holds the famous cemetery where Evita and other famous and wealthy people were buried, hosting an array of incredible and eccentric mausoleums. It’s an incredibly fascinating place to visit but I definitely wouldn’t go without a tour guide. Our guide for Buenos Aires, Romina, was so knowledgeable about every destination we visited that when she asked if we had any questions we were all rendered silent! Her English was fantastic and she covered every topic so thoroughly and engagingly. Every tour guide we travelled with during our trip are a trusted supplier used by Latin Routes and I was thoroughly impressed with every single one. They’re very well picked!

Our next destination was Bariloche. The best way to describe Bariloche is a beautiful alpine like town surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. It’s also a major skiing destination! Here was my favourite place for relaxing, however it’s also a hiker’s paradise with so many different trails to keep you occupied! Our first night was spent at what is considered one of the best hotels in the whole of Argentina, let alone Patagonia – The Llao Llao (pronounced Jau Jau). While the Llao Llao is quite a bit further away from town it’s an absolute must and probably the most beautiful hotel I have EVER seen. It seems as if the surrounding landscape had been hand sculpted just for the view from the hotel with a perfectly placed mountain right on the edge of a crystal clear lake. All the hotel rooms have a view of this mountain so you never have to worry about facing the wrong side – not that there is a wrong side as from the rear of the hotel you have views of the sprawling landscapes and trees wherever you look. The hotel gives a very ‘woodland lodge’ feel with antlers and huge logs being a centre-piece of the décor, with blankets and warmer colours giving a very homely feel. I couldn’t turn down a baileys (with rather generous portions!) while sitting in one lounge on a comfy deep red leather sofa overlooking the view of the mountains as the sun went down – this hotel is certainly worth every penny. Our bedroom was in the newest wing to the hotel and while it was one of the entry level rooms it didn’t feel like it, again! It has a small entrance room leading into the bedroom with the beds facing floor to ceiling glass doors leading onto a patio with deck chairs. To the right is a door leading into the bathroom which houses a great big Jacuzzi bath tub, a separated door for another large shower, and another separated door for the lavatory. And oh, did I forget to mention? A massive window taking up the entire wall almost with full view of the lake and mountain! I must say, I rather enjoyed my bubble bath overlooking such beautiful views! If you’re looking for some relaxation I don’t think there are many places that could offer a better service.
In Bariloche we took part in several different activities. First we visited an Estancia which is a traditional Spanish ranch. Patagonia is dotted with these and you can stay in many of them. These offer a very different style of staying where there tends to be far less people than a standard hotel, they tend to be more remote, and there are plenty of wild activities you can do such as hiking and horseback riding. It’s a great option to get to know people as well due to the fact that everyone talks together, dines together, and everyone is very friendly! The estancia we visited in Bariloche was very small with some beautiful rooms overlooking yet more lakes and mountains. We rode horses while it was snowing and dined on some excellent food that was all homemade with ingredients grown and caught locally including a beautiful lavender panna cotta with home-grown berries!
Our second activity was to go hiking. The great part about hiking here is there is a level for everyone. We took a particularly flat and leisurely hike which took us about 2-3 hours (with plenty of photo stops), but if you’re into something a bit more challenging there are also plenty of options for you – there are plenty of mountains, after all! During our hike we had lots of lovely surprises. The first was Mate tasting in the woods (pronounced mah-tey). We were taken into a forested area and stumbled upon a lovely lady who had supplied plenty of homemade snacks and Mate for us to try! Mate is a very bitter but tasty form of tea which is traditional to Argentina and is drunk in a very different way to how you and I would enjoy a cuppa. I won’t spoil it for you – you’ll have to go and try for yourselves! After the Mate tasting we then continued our hike and were taken to a beautiful picnic on a small beach by the lake! Here we were offered wine, beer, much appreciated hot tomato soup, and a lovely selection of traditional Argentinian food including what I would compare to wraps and quiches etc. There were seats and pillows and blankets and it was a magical way to break up the trip. During our picnic we were quite shocked to see a man in a suit walk up to us – we thought he was very lost but in actual fact he was there to take us to our third surprise – whiskey tasting! Whiskey is not native to Argentina by any respect but a single malt has recently started being produced here by a company called Madoc. We were very surprised to be handed the sixth bottle ever made of their whiskey for tasting in such a magical setting. After the whiskey we were onto our fourth and final surprise of the day. We were jokingly told that one of our minivan drivers had had an emergency and left and so they had arranged alternative transport. We turned the corner to stand in shock as we saw three beautiful classic cars waiting for us! We definitely turned heads as we arrived back to the hotel in style. These are all things that can be arranged for you! If you’re looking to surprise your other half or a family member with something special then get in touch and we add something a little bit different to your trip that will make everlasting memories!
Our next day in Bariloche took us to Victoria Island which is a large island in the lake that Bariloche borders. The boat journey there took about an hour but food similar to our picnic was provided and we talked and laughed with our guides to pass the time. It was also a beautiful opportunity to take photographs!
While there we took another hike around the island where it’s very quiet and tranquil. The best part about travelling with Latin Routes is that their tour guides know when the larger catamaran will be taking the big tour groups to the island and times around it so you basically have the whole island to yourself! There isn’t much on the island apart from a restaurant but if you’re looking for somewhere to amble about and take in the fresh air it’s a must do stop. Again, our tour guides didn’t fail to keep us entertained by bringing on a magician for our return journey back to Bariloche! While this may not be to everyone’s taste it goes to show how on the ball the tour guides are and how ready they are to make sure everyone has a good time.
Our time in Bariloche ended with a tour around a Patagonian beer factory. Of course, it would be rude to go to visit the factory without having a taste! They have a separate bar, quite similar to a trendy English pub you might find in London. Here we dined on delicious steak and burgers, chatted for hours with the locals, and toasted to another fantastic Argentinian town!
Before I leave Bariloche I must tell you about our second hotel stay. We stayed at the Villa Huinid hotel which was much closer to the town and while not quite as special as the Llao Llao, was clean, friendly, and a perfectly acceptable 4* option that I would recommend to anyone if you’re looking to be closer to all the action.

Our next flight took us even further south to El Calafate, which while a mountainous area, was quite different to the other destinations yet again. The landscape was flatter and drier with the nearest mountains not being quite tall enough to be snow-capped. The area actually reminded me of an old Wild West movie! It’s easy to forget that the most southern of the continents still makes up ‘the Americas’ and so there are more similarities in landscape than you might think! The main difference being that there were snow-capped mountains in the distance and we were incredibly close to Chile, in-fact, during our stay there were parts where we were able to see Chile from where we were standing.
We stayed in only one hotel during our stay in El Calafate, the Posada Los Alamos, which I would absolutely recommend to anyone visiting the area. It’s a beautiful property with very quirky rooms, again with an alpine feel. The hotel is within walking distance of the town centre (about 5 minutes at a standard pace), it’s on a lovely quiet street with very few cars driving down it, and the quality of the hotel amenities is very high. I was definitely impressed and would certainly stay here again should I revisit El Calafate.
El Calafate is probably the least full of tourists out of the three destinations I visited. Two places I would recommend to visit within the town is the Libro bar where you can sit in the sun on the roof top with some empanadas and a drinks, and a lovely shop called Arte Indio. This shop is full of original art from local artisans along with a souvenir shop unlike any other! The souvenirs are very original and the art and other little nick-nacks are exquisite.
Our El Calafate adventure was made by our journey to the Upsala glacier. The one thing to note is that El Calafate is very isolated and the main tourist destinations are quite a trek away from the town – however it is so worth it!
We drove from our hotel to the port of Lake Argentina, the largest lake in the country, before taking a long boat journey over to Estancia Cristina. Estancia Cristina was founded by Joseph Percival Masters, a British man and his wife from Leamington Spa in search of a better life. They worked hard on the land, raising it up to be a formidable property with 12,000 sheep, 30 cows, and 50 horses. It wasn’t until Cristina, their daughter, tragically died of pneumonia at 18 years old that the Estancia was named such. Once Cristina and her parents had passed the Estancia went to their son, Herbert, who had no heirs of his own and after his passing the Estancia was taken over by the National Parks Administration who have worked hard at keeping the Estancia a historic and well visited site. You are able to stay at Estancia Cristina in one of several beautiful lodgings on site. Its remoteness makes it perfect for a few nights stay to immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of Patagonia’s wilderness.
From the Estancia we took a large jeep all the way up the cobbled dirt tracks of the surrounding mountains to the top of the mountains which while bumpy had some fantastic views! After a while we reached an area that could no longer be traversed by car and so we had to walk. It was only a short walk and the guides are more than happy to help anyone who needs a bit of a hand. The fascinating thing about this area is that it is so untouched that scientists are still doing work on the rocks to determine the age, material, and other things about the glaciers that once covered the area. You can see fossils everywhere in the rocks, I almost felt like an explorer, discovering something for the first time!
At the top of a very short climb we reached the view-point, and oh what a view. From the edge of the mountain face we could see the Upsala glacier that stood for miles, past where our eyes could see. In front of the glacier was a large pool of bright blue mineral rich water, so blue it looked as if it had been dyed. Above us two condors flew over the mountains circling their territory, the sky was bright blue, there was a fresh yet comfortable wind, it couldn’t possibly have been more perfect. After marvelling over the glacier for a bit longer and taking more photos we returned back down the rickety road to Estancia Cristina. Here we took off our jumpers and jackets and dined on a fabulous feast of lamb stew followed by a Dulce de Leche flan. After lunch we took off down the hillside to the lake, visited the museum, and returned to the boat to take us back to El Calafate.

At the end of our Argentinian journey we flew back to Buenos Aires and then back home via Madrid. Although it was a long journey home we all slept wonderfully knowing that we had just spent 10 days in the most fantastic way we possibly could doing things we had never dreamed of doing, and knowing we had just seen a fraction of what Argentina, let alone South America, had to offer!
I think that people have a misconception that South America is a back-packers continent and that it’s not suitable for other age demographics. There is also a misconception that Argentina is an unfriendly place, especially towards the British, but I hope that my account has blown those ideas out of the picture as they couldn’t possibly be more wrong!

South America is an incredible place that I personally can’t wait to see more of.

If you have any questions about this itinerary at all, you would like some more information, or you are interested in going yourself then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

 

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