Vamos Argentina!

ARGENTINA (BUENOS AIRES, USHUAIA)

  • When: 17 December – 23 December 2022
  • Where (accommodations): Buenos Aires: Home Hotel; Ushuaia: Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa
  • Transportation: Delta airlines (booked through Aerolineas Argentinas) Boston to Buenos Aires (layover in Atlanta). Aerolineas Argentinas Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (round trip flight)
  • Sights/attractions: Buenos Aires: La Boca neighborhood (El Caminito), Plaza Dorrego, Patio Ezeiza, Mercado de San Telmo, Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Metropolitan Cathedral, Obelisco de Buenos Aires, Tango Show (El Querandi), Teatro Colón, El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Recoleta Cemetery, Floralis Generica, Women’s Bridge (Puerto Madero neighborhood); Ushuaia: Tierra del Fuego National Park, Martillo island (walk with the penguins) (Piratour), Heli Ushuaia (helicopter ride)
  • Food/drinks: Buenos Aires: Cachafaz Caminito, Tigre Morado, El Querandi, Lo de Jesus, Club de la Milanesa, Freddo (ice cream), Scrocchiarella, La Parolaccia Madero, Bigotes de Azucar, Trade Skybar; Ushuaia: La Cravia, La Cantina Fueguina De Freddy, Kaupe restaurant

OVERVIEW

The first thought that comes to mind when thinking about Argentina is not even the penguins. Or the helicopter ride over the beautiful Patagonia. It’s the World Cup! I’ve never been a big sports fan and the game between France and Argentina was probably the first soccer game that I watched from start to finish. But we just happened to be in Buenos Aires when Argentina won (after 36 years!) the World Cup, and we got to witness history. Not only did we watch the game with the locals, we also got to walk/sing/chant/celebrate together in a crowd of a million people that went into the streets of Buenos Aires as soon as Messi was awarded the trophy.

It was absolutely incredible to see such joy, tears of happiness, pure elation in everyone’s faces- from small children in the parents arms, to the old abuelas waving the flags in their balconies. It completely changed our Buenos Aires sightseeing plans, but we still got to see and do everything we wanted to just in a lot faster, more compressed time, and different order than expected.

We also got to catch up and spend some quality time with our friend Jaime, who lives in Buenos Aires. We first met Jaime in Brazil, when we were all on a bus that broke down. Together with another couple we shared a crowded, long, but super fun cab ride, so that we all could make a boat to Ilha Grande. Jaime saw my post on Facebook that we are landing in Argentina and messaged me to meet up. We were SO glad he did! It’s been 7 years since we first saw each other, yet it felt like no time has passed. Lots of laughs, good food, great conversations- we miss him already and really hope we’ll see each other again wherever that might be in the world.

Argentina is a huge country. For our first visit we decided to explore the capital Buenos Aires (three nights), then fly to End of the World- Ushuaia (also 3 nights). To go to our next destination we had to return to Buenos Aires for an overnight and then continued to Santiago, Chile. We ended our trip in Galapagos and Guayaquil (Ecuador).

A lot of moving parts, 11 flights total, but it all worked out. This post will be only about Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, so let’s go Argentina!

BUENOS AIRES

Over 15 million people live in the capital of Argentina, so this is a very big, widespread city. As in every large population there are some areas that are better not to be entered as a tourist, so we did a bit of research on where to stay when deciding on the hotel. We chose Home Hotel in the Palermo district, which was extremely safe, quiet and we felt right at home. To get around we used Uber/taxi or walked (especially when the crowds made it impossible to get a ride) and never felt unsafe in the three days in Buenos Aires.

Home Hotel staff was friendly, breakfast was excellent and the jacuzzi in the room was a nice plus after long days exploring the city.

The pool was not heated, so Sean did not swim, but I still enjoyed it, we do come from Boston after all 🙂 !

Initially we planned to spread our sightseeing between the three days in Buenos Aires. However, as it was clear that the final game for the World Cup would be on Sunday (our second day there), we had to move all our plans to Saturday and Monday.

We landed on Saturday at 9am after an overnight flight, had breakfast at the hotel and hit the ground running. First we took an Uber to La Boca neighborhood and explored Caminito– colorful houses, cobble stone streets, super cute area (though our Uber driver repeatedly told us to stick to one side- nearby there is a very dangerous burrow).

Brush up on your Spanish by the way. Or have an App/Google translate. We found that a lot of people did not speak English in Argentina. Especially Uber/taxi drivers, not so much the hotels.

While in La Boca we of course had to get the popular Argentinian cookie- Alfajore. I hope you like dulce de leche, because that (and the crema) is used very widely in Argentinian desserts. To a point where Oreo ice cream had dulce de leche in it 🙂 . These cookies are sold everywhere, but we went right into the Cachafaz caffe- at the heart of Caminito.

We bought Messi jerseys in preparation for the big game (half of the people were already walking around wearing them) and walked by the CABJ– professional football team sports club, which is in La Boca district.

At this point, the whole city was gearing up for the upcoming match.

Enjoying the warm sun we walked over towards the market – Mercado de San Telmo, which is more popular on Sundays, but was still busy Saturday afternoon. Right before we stopped at Plaza Dorrego and Patio Ezeiza. Both had local vendors selling handmade jewelry and souvenirs, so we did some shopping knowing that tomorrow we won’t have the chance to do so.

We really liked San Telmo market, just wished we had more time there- lots of restaurants, shops, well organized – it’s definitely a place to visit while in Buenos Aires.

Next on our whirlwind through the city- Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Luckily they are all close to each other, so it was easy to check them off the list.

We loved the architecture here- it reminded me of Europe so much! The streets, the churches- was hard to believe we are in South America.

FYI for the ladies- do not wear heels here. Argentinians dress pretty casually in general, but the streets are especially non-heels friendly. Lots of uneven sidewalks, cobble stone streets- comfortable sandals or even sneakers are the best choice if you are walking from place to place.

Last on our list before going back to the hotel and meet up with Jaime was a stop by the Obelisco de Buenos Aires and the huge BA letters in the middle of the major street. You have to cross half the Avenida 9 de Julio (just about 6 lanes of it) to reach the sign and there you will find a line of tourists waiting to get the same photo 🙂 .

From here we jumped in an Uber and took a nap on the way to the hotel- we’ve been going non stop and have not even taken a shower yet since we left Boston!

Quick refresh and we are ready for a pre- dinner snack with our friend, who took us to a PERUVIAN restaurant- Tigre Morado. To Jaime’s defense for not bringing us to Argentinian option, it was an excellent place and very close to our hotel. Most importantly it was SO nice to catch up!

Where did the 7 years go?! Time really flies by…

Lastly on a full day agenda- dinner and a tango show at El Querandi. We had it booked for Sunday evening, but rescheduled due to the World Cup and I am glad we did. No tango would’ve been seen the following day. The tickets included pick up from the hotel, dinner and the show. Tango is such an integral part of Argentinian culture that while in Buenos Aires seeing the show is a must. Dinner took a long time and to be completely honest was not anything magical. We had way better food elsewhere. If there is an option to see only the show, I would do that and have dinner before at another restaurant. Tango show on the other hand was great. There was live singing, dancing, history of tango- definitely something to see at least once.

And that is day one of this trip! Very tiring, but adrenaline and excitement got us through. On Sunday we slept in, since we knew there is no point of going anywhere. We watched the game with the restaurant staff and then walked the streets in the giant celebration. It was definitely a day to remember.

In the evening Jaime and his partner managed to get reservations at Lo de Jesus– Argentinian restaurant. We insisted that we need to try the famous Argentinian steak, so we got our wish. Great dinner, dessert (flan with dulce de leche con crema of course 🙂 ) and the best company.

Monday life in Buenos Aires sort of went back to normal- everyone was still happy (and a lot of them tired and hungover:)), but despite it being declared a holiday a lot of places were still open. This was our last day to see any other spots that we couldn’t visit, so we started with the main opera house- Teatro Colón. We did not have any tickets, but were able to get them right at the counter (there is no other way to see it, you have to go on a guided tour). Tour was about 50 minutes long and it was very interesting and informative. They have English and Spanish, so no worries about the language barrier.

Very grand, really impressive. I definitely recommend doing the tour of this theater.

Our next stop was one of my favorites- El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Opened as a theater, eventually converted to a cinema and now a gorgeous book store- in 2019, it was named the “world’s most beautiful bookstore” by the National Geographic. I love books and bookstores, so this was definitely a place I wanted to visit.

I had a hard time finding Spanish books in Boston bookstores, so I bought four mystery novels here. It might take a while to finish them, but I now have something to practice my Spanish at last.

Jaime had more time today to hangout with us, so we met up here and went to have lunch together. Another traditional Argentinian dish- Milanesa at Club de la Milanesa.

Meat, cheese and more meat. This vacation is starting to really impact our waistlines : ) . But that’s not all- we managed to get Freddo ice cream AND churros at Bigotes de Azucar. All in the same afternoon. Ice cream really was incredible and this is a chain, we saw the same store all across Buenos Aires.

We wanted to see Recoleta Cemetery, so Jaime walked with us and showed us the graves of the famous people resting there.

It was not crowded when we went, it reminded me of a cemetery in New Orleans. Big tombs, elaborate statues.

Last point of interest this afternoon- a giant flower sculpture – Floralis Generica. Made out of steel and aluminum, this flower opens in the morning and closes in the evening. Initially we thought it’s solar powered, but it’s in fact electrical system that opens and closes the flower depending on the time of the day.

The sculpture is quite massive when you stand next to it. Surrounded by water is definitely and impressive work of art.

We covered a lot of neighborhoods in a short amount of time. One that was left that we wanted to visit was Puerto Madero. Modern, beautiful skyline of skyscrapers and the Women’s Bridge– we walked around after dinner at the Italian restaurant La Parolaccia Madero. The restaurant was nice, but the food was not the best. Super creamy, it was probably the least favorite meal in this city.

We really liked this area, though I made a mistake wearing heels to dinner, so the walk on the cobble stones was not the most gracious one 🙂 .

There are many rooftops in Buenos Aires (yet so little time), but while Trade Skybar was open and it was in the same area, we checked it out. Nice view, atmosphere and the drink!

Three days in Buenos Aires flew by. Our flight was scheduled at 15.40 on Tuesday, but Messi and the soccer team returned to Argentina early that night (government announced Tuesday a holiday as well!) and parade route happened to be scheduled near our hotel. Everyone, including Jaime told us to go to the airport as early as possible, before the streets get flooded with people. Normally we’d go 1.5 hrs or so before the domestic flight, this time we went 4.5 hours prior!

We watched on the airport TV the madness that the parade was- 4 million people in the streets, shut down highways- for sure we would not have made it to the airport if we waited much longer. We also lucked out that our flight to Ushuaia was changed from the international EZE airport to the domestic AEP (closer to the hotel). EZE got shut down completely and flights were rerouted. Our flight ended up being delayed almost four hours because the crew was not able to get to the airport on time. It was pretty chaotic, but we still got on our flight and did not miss a scheduled tour the next day. That was actually the only delay during the entire trip, which is pretty impressive given the amount of flights we had to take. Time to explore The End of the World- USHUAIA!

USHUAIA

Nicknamed “End of the World”, located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago this southernmost town on the tip of South America is a gateway to Antarctica and often is only used for that- a short stop before jumping on a cruise. We came here to explore Patagonia and walk with the penguins. Both goals (and more) were achieved!

Even though our flight from Buenos Aires was delayed, we still landed at dusk- sunsets in Ushuaia in December are VERY late – around 11pm it was still pretty light. It reminded me of summer in Lithuania. On our second day in Ushuaia it was summer solstice- their longest day of the year- making the day 17 hours long!

We stayed at Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa– about 30 minutes drive from the airport, but with a gorgeous view of the mountains and the Beagle Channel. The pools and jacuzzis (both inside and outside), excellent restaurant and bar- it really is a 5 star resort.

Between all of the excursions we thoroughly enjoyed these facilities.

On our last day we got massages, but in all fairness, we both thought they were quite bad. That was the only complaint about this resort. Luckily they were not expensive, but that was probably one of the weakest deep tissue massages I’ve ever gotten (and weirdly mostly concentrated around the calves). I guess after all the walking my legs needed extra love 🙂 .

We obviously did not fly to “The End of the World” only to soak in a hot tub. We had two full days here (plus the last spa/relaxation day), so we made sure to get into nature.

For our first full day in Ushuaia we booked Tierra del Fuego National Park all day excursion. We did it via email through Piratour, though the company that did the actual tour was called Antartur Adventure. There are a lot of tour companies near the port of Ushuaia, so I am sure even if we didn’t book it in advance, we probably would’ve found something similar. Since we only had two days for excursions I did not want to take my chances, so we booked it in advance.

We got picked up at 7.30 in the morning and collected the rest of the small group along the way. We had two guides, both spoke English and throughout the day provided information about the plants, trees, lakes etc. Once we entered Tierra del Fuego National Park we all had to leave the bus and go to the small building to pay the entrance fee. The card machine did not work, so bring cash just in case. Overall we found that in Argentina a lot of places preferred cash and it was cheaper than using the card.

Beautiful day in Patagonia started off a bit cloudy, but eventually the sun came out and we dropped the jackets. It was unusually warm according to the guides- mid day reached around 60F (16C).

Our first activity was ‘canoeing’- more like a raft. We split in two groups, our boat at six plus the guide, the other one was four and the guide. It was a pretty easy paddling, though in some spots when going around the bend, or against the current, the guide would urge us all to put some effort into it. I think the best one was Charlie- our 11 yr old companion who was traveling through Argentina with her mom. We spent about two hours enjoying the lakes, got a little workout and did not even get wet. We changed into the rubber boots that the guide provided before getting in a boat, it was definitely useful, especially stepping in some mud.

After the arm workout we got to exercise the legs. About an hour hike was also easy, that we did in the regular sneakers, though some people had full on hiking boots.

While one of the guides walked with us, the other one prepared lunch. It was some sort of delicious stew and wine for those that wanted some (of course, yes please, Argentinian wine is top notch).

This day was all about nature and we were extremely lucky with this summer weather – could not ask for anything more.

Last stop before drop offs at the hotels was the “Post office at the End of the World”. It was closed when we arrived, but the guide told us that it’s not unusual. The guy works whatever hours he feels like- maybe from 10am until 4, but probably lunch at noon…The same person also claims to be the owner or the ruler of the near by island :). Too bad we did not get to meet him, he seems to be a real legend around Ushuaia town.

It was a fun all day excursion and since the daylight is so long in December we felt like we still have so much more time after being dropped off at 6pm. We enjoyed the hotel pools and made dinner reservations at the restaurant on premises- La Cravia. It is rated as one of the best in town and we enjoyed our meals. My salmon dish was exceptional.

One of the reasons why we decided to have dinner here instead of going back in town was that we had a very early morning the next day. We’ll be walking with penguins! I think this was what I was looking forward to the most on this trip. It was worth waking up before 6am for this memorable experience.

Only one company- Piratour has rights to do the tours on this small island, though other companies might have the rights to sell the tour based on the advertisements we saw in town. We booked it through our hotel in advance, but the meeting point was Piratour office near the port in downtown Ushuaia. We were initially told that there are no spaces available for the two days that we are there, but after some time got the confirmation that someone canceled and we were confirmed for the hour long walk with the penguins. Only 20 people are allowed at the time, so that the penguin colony is not stressed out and the whole group needs to stay closely together while on Martillo Island (Isla Martillo).

It was a bus of 40 or so people and after over an hour drive we reached Estancia Harberton and the group was split into two. 20 people went to the boat to go see the penguins, while the second half spent the time at the Maritime museum. It was actually very interesting and informative. Local volunteer working there gave us a tour, explained about all of the animal bones that were collected on the ocean shores. Then she took us to the shack where they clean the bones and get the flesh off- the smell was not pleasant to say the least.

An hour went by quick and then it was our turn to see the penguins. There were SO MANY of them! The guide was strict about everyone keeping the distance of 2 meters (unless the penguin was walking by), clearly explained to watch out for the nests, told us about the species etc.

We got to see Gentoo, Magellanic and one King penguin. Basically my trip was complete 🙂 .

After taking hundreds of photos we got back on a boat (it’s only 15 min boat ride) and went to cafe nearby where the whole group got served breakfast. We were definitely starving by then, we had no breakfast leaving hotel so early.

This tour was not that long- we were back in downtown Ushuaia in the afternoon, so decided to walk around and have lunch here instead of taking a taxi to the hotel (there are no Ubers in Ushuaia, but taxis here are good, not trying to rip you off like in Buenos Aires).

We heard that king crab (centolla) is something we must try while here, so ordered just that at La Cantina Fueguina De Freddy. It was pricey, but tasted good and was very filling.

After lunch we had Freddo ice cream of course and then decided on one more activity. It was not planned whatsoever, but while walking around town we saw helicopters go by and I suggested we take one. Weather was perfect, the following day was very windy (as we were leaving), so the conditions were more than ideal. There is only one company- HeliUshuaia and they had availability at 5pm with a pick up from downtown- we were sold. Well, we paid a premium price for about 30 minutes flight, but how often do you go to the End of the World 🙂 ?

It was only two of us and one more passenger plus the pilot. I got to sit up front which I loved (despite it being only a little scary at times 🙂 ). It came with a landing on top of one of the mountains and a glass of champagne. Money well spent!

Most importantly, we went over and around the glacier lake- Laguna Esmeralda. I really wanted to see it, but we did not have any time left to do the hike, so this was a perfect opportunity. At the end we both agreed that the flight was expensive (370USD per person), but very exiting.

After another soak in the hot tubs we booked our last dinner in town, at a very well rated restaurant Kaupe. Pretty small and cozy this place served amazing food. And as we were eating the rain started- it held off both days so that we could have our outdoor excursions!

Our very last day before the evening flight back to Buenos Aires we relaxed at the pools, got those weak massages I mentioned earlier, ate VERY good food at the hotel bar (exceptional lamb empanadas) and overall just enjoyed the view from Arakur Resort.

Outside was very windy, so we were glad we got so lucky with the weather on the previous two days. I don’t think you need a week in Ushuaia (unless you take longer hikes/drives), but I would definitely not skip it, nature here is truly magical.

CONCLUSION

What a week in Argentina! So many pleasant surprises, unexpected events, more happy memories with Jaime. Another country that we both agreed we’d like to return to. People were nice, food was amazing, the nature is spectacular and there is still so much more to see. But this trip is not even half way over, time to celebrate Christmas in Santiago, Chile.

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