Argentina

A cheap(er) way to get to Argentine Patagonia

When we first looked at bus tickets to get from Cordoba, Argentina down to far southern Patagonia, my eyeballs almost popped out of their sockets. Roundtrip it would be, for two people, about $1000. We did not have that much money to spend on solely buses. So we began asking around, and discovered that (currently) buses in Chile are like half the price. Flights are also cheaper (though still more expensive than buses).

A few people on tripadvisor recommended I take Argentine buses or Argentine flights, but frankly I’m glad I ignored the advice. The Chilean buses really were less expensive, and it gave us opportunity to see Chilean Patagonia, which is filled with the Andes and all the beautiful views that come with it. So, without further ado, here is the path we took to get from northern Argentina down to El Calafate, Argentina and Puerto Natales, Chile. All prices are one-way for two people, which is about the same as round-trip for one person I assume.

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This is Jordan’s phone data for the routes taken from Cordoba, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile.

Mendoza to Santiago: roughly 8 and a half hours (including border crossing of 2 hours) and $92 USD, or 800 Argentine pesos  on semicama seats, total (for two people)

Santiago to Puerto Montt: about 12 hours and $90 USD (56,000 Chilean pesos), overnight on a cama seat for two people

Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas: about 30 hours (including border crossings of about 1 1/2 hours apiece) and $146 USD (90,000 Chilean pesos) for two people

Punta Arenas does not have buses that go to El Calafate or El Chalten. To visit Argentinian Patagonia you must leave from Puerto Natales. However, to get to Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego) you leave from Punta Arenas. Four or five bus companies leave Punta Arenas in the morning (8 am to 9 am, depending on the company–Bus Pacheclo runs the most frequently throughout the week) and arrive 12 hours later. A roundtrip runs around 50.000 per person.

Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales: Roughly three hours long, but a pretty easy trip. 6.000 each way per person, or $20 USD roundtrip for one person

Punta Arenas return to Puerto Montt: about 30-32 hours (depending on stops and customs) and $130 USD (80,000 Chilean pesos) for two people

Puerto Montt return to Santiago: roughly 10 hours and $52 USD (34.000 pesos) for two people.

Total spent on buses: $530, from beginning in Mendoza, Argentina and ending (after Patagonia) in Santiago, Chile.

We made this trip in the beginning of March 2015, the tail-end of high season, so the prices of buses may vary at different times of the year.

We chose not to fly because buying tickets last minute seemed expensive. It’s difficult to buy in advance if you’re not already in Chile, do the credit card laws. However, we did run into plenty of people that bused into Chile from Argentina (because as of 2015, if you arrive in Chile by bus you don’t have to pay a reciprocity fee) and found a cheap flight of around $180 USD from Punta Arenas to Santiago. This was bought a month or two in advance and probably was about $50 USD more than the buses. As you may have noticed, the trip back up is cheaper than the way down. I’m not sure if it was the time of the month I bought tickets or if the trip north is always less expensive than the trip down south. If you want to split the difference on cost and time, perhaps consider flying down to Patagonia and talking the bus back up.

In this post I discuss the best ways to prepare for these long, 30-hour buses.

Good luck planning!

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How to survive a 30 hour bus trip in South America

Step 1: Sit as close as you can to the driver and just cry. He will either empathize for you and drive faster to make you feel better, or get annoyed and drive faster just to end the trip sooner.

No, not really. Though the thought did cross my mind.

While this post has been crafted with the journeys to/from Patagonia in mind, I’m sure most of the tips will apply to any long bus trip. We traveled a total of 30 and 1/2 hours from Puerto Montt down to Punta Arenas. This included two border crossings, passing through the Andes mountains, crisscrossing the southern part of the continent, and traveling through several Argentine departments. In all honesty, it was brutal. So was the return trip (Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt), though because there were fewer passengers and no children, the trip went easier through the night. In case you are researching to plan a trip of your own down to Patagonia and the sheer length of the trip makes you feel faint, I have included beautiful photos we took along the trip to give you strength of heart.

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In another post I write about the costs and financials of getting to Patagonia cheaply. This post is for the practicalities of the journey. Here are a few things we learned and a few items we consider indispensable for surviving a trip of this magnitude.

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View from bus driving through Puyehue  National Park in Chile.

What to Expect

On trips this long, buses normally provide “servicio,” which are sorta like the drinks and meals economy flights provide. Not really good food, but something that will tide you over. On our trip down to Patagonia the bus stopped twice–once for dinner, once for lunch the next day–at small restaurants that were somewhat overpriced. But when you finally get a chance to eat real food after snacks during hours and hours of the ride, overpriced really doesn’t seem that bad. These stops always took around 30 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how many passengers were waiting on a meal.

Usually buses have TV screens and will play movies during the trip. Depending on if children are on board, the rating and type of movie can vary. On our way down there were around six or seven children, and most movies were G or PG. On our way back up, there were no children and they played a very heavy R movie. Jordan brought his iPad, power brick, and earbuds to watch the movies he wanted. On the trip down he watched a total of six movies. On the way back up he watched a couple of TV shows with me and around four movies.

The eight hours nearest Puerto Montt are by far the most interesting, because it crosses several national parks and the Andes. After that, Patagonia begins and things get pretty flat and yellow. If you can, try to get a bus trip that spends the time through the Andes during the day. It also makes the customs stops more pleasant (imagine doing that at 3 am).

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What to Bring

  • Water
  • Any toiletries you can’t go without for 30 hours (Such as eye drops, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.)
  • Toilet paper (I have yet to be on a bus where the existence of toilet paper can be counted upon)
  • Food of your own* (Although they do serve breakfast and lunch of a sort, you will want more to munch on in between meals.)
    • We brought: cookies and crackers, orange juice, granola bars, hot soup, tea and sugar, Coke, chips, nuts, dried fruit
    • We packed this in tupperware, thermos, and brought spoons and a cup
  • Pillow, blanket, or jacket of your own, especially if you tend to chill easily
  • Cash to purchase meals at restaurants or snacks at customs kiosks
  • Eye mask, ear plugs, etc., for anyone who is a light sleeper. And everyone will be a light sleeper in a semicama seat packed in a bus with 30 other people
  • Tylenol PM or Nyquil to help you sleep
  • Camera, especially if you will be crossing the Andes or some other picturesque scenery
    • Polarizer for your camera lens to cut down on reflections in the windows
  • Entertainment of some kind (Jordan and I brought an ipod, kindle, ipad with movies between us and that helped a lot)

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A peninsula in Lago Nahuel Haupi, just north of San Carlos Bariloche.

*Be careful about where you store it. Sometimes custom workers don’t like food being taken in and out of the country. We left Jordan’s peanuts inside my pillowcase on the bus when we put our hand luggage through the scanner machine.

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If you’ve been on a long bus ride, what do you recommend?

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All the blues in the world

Perito Moreno is by far the chief attraction in Argentine Patagonia, rivaled only by Mt. Fitzroy on the other end of the same national park. It is also every shade between white and blue.

The drive to get there, including the tour itself, was grueling. There is no other word for it, besides perhaps arduous. However, the Perito Moreno glacier is more than worth what we went through to get there.

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We booked a tour through our hostel in Puerto Natales, Chile that lasted a total of 16 hours. Half of that was driving to and from Los Glaciares National Park just outside of El Calafate, Argentina. Two hours of it was border crossings. The remainder was seeing the glacier, which is about a forty minute drive inside the national park.

El Chalten, another town on the northen edge of the national park, boasts some of the best hiking and trekking places in the world. Mt. Fitzroy calls to climbers as well. We ran out of time and won’t make it up there, but we did get to the glacier and El Calafate! While El Chalten is free to hike and camp and frolic among the pampas, getting to the glacier costs 215 Argentine pesos per person. We paid it, then drove the forty minutes to the sight.

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There are a series of boardwalks and viewing platforms down a hillside with a great view of this massive glacier. At the top of the hill is a cafeteria and parking lot for cars and tour buses. The glacier rests on an arm of Lago Argentino and is 250 kilometers squared. Between the sky and the mountains, the lake and the glacier, we saw almost every hue of blue imaginable. And those spires and spikes of ice go on for miles. The glacier averages 240 feet tall.

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We could hear parts of the ice breaking apart inside the glacier, and every once and a while we saw pieces fall into the water to join the icebergs. The weather was nice, thankfully, and the views were incredible. Jordan took an hour long boat trip to get closer to the glacier and got some good photos. It was kind of expensive, around 200 pesos, so I stayed behind and enjoyed a cup of tea from the cafeteria.

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All in all, it was a very long day and we didn’t get back to our hostel in Chile until after 10 pm. But wow, the blues of that glacier and the sky were worth it.

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Crossing the Andes: Mendoza to Santiago

Because we were told that buses are cheaper in Chile than Argentina, we decided to head south through Chile. Our first step was to get out of Argentina, which we did via Mendoza. The bus tickets, one-way, cost 400 Argentine pesos apiece, or 45 USD. I thought that was fairly expensive. Other blogs or reviews online had said they got tickets for about 28 USD apiece, one-way. I don’t know if mine were more expensive because it was Saturday morning or summer. Either way, we still had to pay it.

The bus trip from Mendoza to Santiago is advertised as around 6 hours long, which is true, I suppose, when you don’t account for the border crossing. Many bus companies offer this trip, but we purchased through AndesMar. While you can travel overnight, we chose to go during the day, and I’m glad we did.

Upon presenting our ticket and get on the bus, we were giving two forms for migration, which we filled out on our own in the bus. Once the journey began, we were given hot tea and a biscuit, which was nice. This was the first time we had been given anything on our bus trips.

I think the best views were on the left side of the bus, headed East, but the views on the right (where we sat) weren’t shabby either! We took photos throughout the journey.

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The bus trip was fine and most uneventful. They did play two movies. After about three and a half hours of slowly travelling uphill, we reached the border crossing into Chile. Multiple buses had arrived before us, so we had to wait around and hour and a half in the bus.

Finally, when it was our turn, all passengers got off the bus. We brought all or IDs and migration papers, along with wallets and purses. Our luggage could stay on the bus for now. Our on-board luggage included some food that we brought to snack on.

Inside the terminal are several windows. We formed a long line, beginning with window 1. This was where we left Argentina, and showed the border worker our passport and one of our forms. When everything was stamped, we slid down the line to window 2, which entered Chile. They approved our paperwork, and we went back to the bus. There were free bathrooms and food stalls at the crossing that some people used. Below is Jordan waiting at the crossing.

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Once everyone was back in the bus, it pulled into the terminal and we all got off again, this time with our on-board luggage. We entered the customs room and stood in three lines, waiting for the customs workers to collect the last of our paperwork. Once they had a pile of our migration information, they began running all the luggage through a conveyor belt and machine. The bus drivers and customs workers pushed all of the luggage under the bus in the luggage compartment through, and if there was a problem (like bringing in food or something), one of the patrollers would pull it aside and ask the owner of the bag to come forward while they searched.

After all under-the-bus luggage was put back on the bus, we had to put our hand baggage through. It was fairly simple and went a lot faster than the other luggage. Once our bags were deemed fit to enter the country, we picked it back up and got back on the bus.

This time we left the crossing for real. All in all the whole process took about two and a half hours. Almost immediately after leaving border control we had to work our way down the mountain through around 27 or 28 switchbacks. Our bus driver was anxious to get going, so he was passing semis and tractor trailers on the curvy road, which made most people on the bus nervous. Still, we made it down all in one piece, and it was smooth sailing to Santiago.

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Upon reaching Santiago we immediately began looking for buses to get us south, to Puerto Montt, the Chilean gateway into Patagonia and the last good land mass before islands and fjords begin.

Our Mendoza-Santiago trip was overall great, even though the border crossing wasn’t as organized or quick as we had hoped. Still, it was safe and probably a good way to begin border crossing, because we will have to do it several more time before we leave Patagonia and Chile for good.

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Mendoza: Gateway to the Andes and Vendimia 2015

 

 

We left Cordoba to arrive in Mendoza, heart of wine country in South America. I’m told it looks similar to Napa Valley in California.

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This is a view of the town from Cerro de la Gloria.

If you like wine, Mendoza is the place to be, especially during Vendimia, which marks the beginning of their grape harvest. We were able to enjoy a few events while in the city, such as watching a few local celebrities smash grapes and listen to some good, local music.

We don’t drink much, but we did enjoy the city. It’s very pretty and has lots of large, older trees. Besides the monument atop Cerro de la Gloria, there’s San Martin Park, Museo de San Martin, and lots of outdoors activities, such as rafting and camping. The weather wasn’t that great for anything outdoors, and we wanted to save as much money as possible for Patagonia, so we toured the city mostly on foot.

We stayed in town with a great couple we met through Couchsurfing, and we also met up with another Couchsurfing host who showed us around the city. It was great Spanish practice, and it was very nice to have a local’s perspective on the city.

At the far edge of Parque de San Martin is Cerro de la Gloria, so named for the monument at the top. In the words of our hosts, San Martin is like the George Washington of Argentina and Chile. He was also governor of Mendoza before their revolution (from around 1814 to 1816). The climb is not too bad. I did it in sandals and it took around 15 to 20 minutes with a few pauses. There is a road to the top, but it is usually used by taxis and tour buses. The monument to San Martin crossing the Andes with a small army (Chile into Argentina to fight the Spanish) is memorialized here.

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Victory breaks the chains of colonialization as San Martin and his army ride forth. All around the monument are scenes from the revolution, from priests blessing the army to noble women giving away their jewels to fund the war.

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Above, San Martin, and below is me and our local friend/guide!

We also visited the museum of San Martin, which is primarily for locals and cost 15 pesos apiece (about $1.50 USD). Most artifacts were furniture or clothing from the San Martin household or old military uniforms. All signs were in Spanish, and there was no guide pamphlet or piece of information to guide it. I was able to translate a few of the placards and more-or-less understand what I was looking at, but not all the time.

Every city in Argentina has a plaza or street named after Jose de San Martin, and because he was from Mendoza, the city is full of statues and reminders of him. He was born to Spanish parents in Argentina around 1777/8 and as a child moved back to Spain with his family. As a young man he fought for Spanish campaigns in Africa and later fought against Napolean’s armies. He abruptly resigned from the Spanish military around 1812 and moved back to Argentina, though there is no definite reason why. San Martin was a criollo, a person of obvious Spanish heritage that was born in the Americas. It was the second highest class in the caste system of the time. The only people “above” him were peninsulares, or Spaniards (born in Spain) that now permanently lived in the Americas.

Because if his military history and high social status, he had great influence in Argentina and almost immediately joined the group of revolutionists in Buenos Aires. He became allies with other famous generals, such as Belgrano and Alvear. San Martin had a grand plan to train an army in Chile, then move it up into Peru (thereby missing the worst of the Andes), and was granted governorship of Cuyo (the Mendoza region) to make that happen. He drafted men and worked closely with military leaders in Chile, who became Chile’s founding fathers after this war to rid the southern half of South America of the Spanish occupation.

When it was time, in 1816, San Martin (along with Chilean leader Bernardo O’Higgins) lead over 5,000 men across the Andes. While this had been done before, it had never been accomplished with so many fighting men nor the need to be ready for combat immediately afterward (imagine getting over altitude sickness while fighting a battle!). By the end of the crossing, over half of the horses and mules had died, and it had taken roughly a month.

After taking back Chile, San Martin went on to Peru to ready the Navy. Throughout the rest of the wars, he saw his family very little. He had only one child, called Merceditas, that Argentinos identify strongly with. As the daughter of their founding father, and as someone who knew him very little except through letters, it is easy for Argentina to draw comparisons.

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After the war, San Martin left Argentina and lived the rest of his life in France. He didn’t want to take part in the political factions or the civil wars that took place after independence from Spain, although he did keep in touch with old friends. His family remained in France, and after he died his remains were taken to Buenos Aires. It’s sort of a sad ending, but I suppose great leaders that get swept up in the chaos and bloodshed of revolutions do tend to want a quiet, peaceful life away from everything they fought for.

We spent about three days in Mendoza and felt like we saw everything we wanted to (or at least, that we could because of the weather–it rained quite a bit).

 

Other things to do in Mendoza are:

  • tour olive groves
  • vineyard tours and wine tasting
  • climbing Aconcagua (a couple hours away from the city)
  • Casa de San Martin (a small museum in the city)
  • resting or jogging through Parque de San Martin
  • Mendoza’s zoo, located next to Cerro de la Gloria

There may be more things, but this is what jumped out at us while there.

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Leaving Cordoba

At 6:30 in the morning we awoke, packed, and left Cordoba, our home of one month.

It sounds like it was simple, but really it wasn’t.

See, it started raining at about 3 am. And didn’t stop. The lightening and thunder were so loud it woke both of us up and we couldn’t sleep. I laid in bed and prayed, “Oh please make the rain stop!”

By the time our alarm went off, the rain wasn’t too bad, but the drainage problem was!

Jordan tried to make breakfast, but half the hostel was without power. I hope they got that fixed easily. So we checked out and found big garbaged bags to cover our suitcases (Jordan was really smart with that one!). When we opened the door, we saw a river rushing down the street, mostly over the curbs, and onto the sidewalk.

I thought briefly of calling a taxi, but we were running out of time and now is not the time to chicken out from just a little water, right? Thankfully we had (FINALLY) purchased an umbrella yesterday, so I held my pillow and the umbrella, and Jordan ran in the rain.

The first block wasn’t so bad, though I could tell parts of my shoes were wet. Then we had to cross the street. Jordan eyed the river carefully, but I was worried about missing our bus (leaving at 7:15), so I charged on ahead, trying to jump over the deepest part of the current. Yeah, that didn’t work. I landed splat in the middle and soaked both my feet up to my knees. The water came just two or three inches below my knees. It was cold and hard and I yelped and considered going back, but because I am a warrior I charged on.

Jordan walked down the street a little until he found a more shallow area and crossed easily. Ugh.

But in our second street-crossing we had nowhere to go, so we slogged through because dangit, I would not miss that bus, and I am not afraid of dirty rainwater. Seriously, it almost came up to my knees again. I had visions of never being dry again. Imagine large, loud crashes of thunder and lightening during these discussion of trying to ford at a more shallow place or crossing what looked like the Mississippi right there. Then we came to our last major crossing (so we thought) and watched one woman walk past with an umbrella. I swear, the water came past her knees.

“If she’s doing it, I can do it,” I told Jordan. He was holding my rolling suitcase above his head, raised like some standard in battle.

“Maybe if we went uphill and around this building here, we can miss the water,” he suggested, blinking rapidly to keep the water from his eyes.

I shook my head, glancing down to see a soaked pillow in my arms. “If we go uphill we will hit a fence and not be able to enter the bus terminal. And we’re soaked already, so we should just cross here.”

Because Jordan listens to me at the worst times, for some reason, we crossed. It was so cold. And so wet. We weren’t even trying to stay dry anymore, there was nothing left to save. So we forged ahead, consoled only by the knowledge that some of clothes in our suitcases surely couldn’t be wet. We crossed one last river and arrived in the bus station parking lot. I charged onward, eager to get inside, and Jordan fiddled with my suitcases and then followed.

The bus was, of course, 15 minutes late. And we had to stand there, in wet tennis shoes and socks. Ugh, that’s fun. The bus was wet, too. The floor was wet (and I soaked my purse by setting it down because of course I would) and we draped my pillowcase, our shoes, our soaks, and other water-logged items across empty seats. The bus was far too wet and humid itself for anything to actually dry in the 11 hour bus trip, but we valiantly tried.

Arriving in Mendoza, where it was drizzling (can’t we ever get rid of the rain? Or are we just unlucky harbingers of floods now?), we then had the problem of no internet or cell service while trying to find out host.

But it eventually worked and we found a taxi to their home and we’re all okay now. We’re mostly dry now and happy to be one step closer to the Andes mountains. I think I either stepped in semi-raw sewage or the entrails of a cat, because my shoes stink to high heaven. We are now doing a slow battle against my shoes. But I think Jordan’s winning, so even in that we will prevail.

But after that adventure I don’t really feel like more rain. Call me a wimp, but I think I’ve had enough for this month. 🙂

To end on a happy note, here was our last excursion from Cordoba, to Alta Gracia:

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Me and Che at his childhood home (because Che is a really, really, really big deal here in Argentina, as opposed to the rest of Latin America where’s he’s just a sorta big deal).

And the creek running through town.

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Argentina travel tips

1. Bring lots of US dollars (or euros or pounds). While the exchange rate right now is around 8.5 pesos for 1 USD or 10 for 1 euro or 12 for 1 British pound, you can get almost double that on the “blue market.” Near large markets or busy intersections you will find men yelling “Cambio cambio cambio!” Exchange with them, but make sure you’re receiving real pesos. You can buy markers to check.

2. Expect things to be a little more expensive than review online. We were shocked at bus prices. And other American/European travellers were surprised with costs of things as well (food, thankfully, is still fairly cheap). It’s inflation, and it’s hurting Argentinos as well as travellers. Prices keep going up, but wages do not.

3. Northwest Argentina (near Bolivia) is the cheapest part of the country. The far south is the most expensive, because it is so remote and the only reason people travel there is for tourism. Plan your budget accordingly.

4. According to others, Iguazu Falls is worth seeing, but the town and hostels surrounding it are not nice places to spend time.

5. Expect border crossings with Chile to take easily 2-3 hours.

6. Drink mate (pronounced maw-tay). It’s the easiest/best way to make friends with the Argentinians. It’s a social drink–no one drinks it by itself. Mate is a type of hot tea, highly caffeinated, usually in a small wooden cup with metal straw. It tends to be pretty bitter, but some people sweeten it with sugar or honey. Everyone takes a cup, then fills it with hot water and passes it to the next person. Everyone drinks it down here.

7. While this can be applied to almost all Latin American countries, expect things to be more “tranquilo.” This means the bus will arrive when it arrives. It means don’t worry about the future. It means we will figure everything out later. It means a high compliment about a person or place. It means everything is really chill and laid back. It means most anything is cool and everyone is open to almost anything. It’s a great attitude most of the time.

8. Many hostels work with volunteers to keep costs down. While we always try to have something set up before we arrive in a new city, the more free-spirited backpackers show up and search for a couple of days. They usually land something.

9. Camping is pretty popular here (and usually free!). In fact, ecotourism is the main draw to Argentina. Camping, hiking, trekking, paragliding, skydiving, ziplining, swimming, and anything to do with the outdoors is available. So if you like the culture of large cities (imagine historical Europe), you might want to stick with Buenos Aires.

10. Tourism in Argentina is more geared toward backpackers, because around 70% of tourists in 2013 were backpackers. If you’re not interested in strapping a backpack and staying in dormitories, there are still plenty of higher-budget options.

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La Falda, or A series of blunders

I’m not sure if this many unfortunate things happen to people and they just don’t let on, or if I’m unlucky.

Regardless, we had a stretch of several days off and decided to go camping again. I think this shows that I can be very stubborn about money. I dislike camping, yet it was my idea to do it two nights in a row (with poor sleeping bags). Because we will likely travel through Mendoza later, and the Train to the Clouds is currently closed (December 2014 to at least March 2015), our best and cheapest option was to go into more pueblas in the sierras.

La Falda, about two hours from Cordoba by bus, is in the Punilla valley and draws many tourists, though I’m not quite sure why. One of its greatest attractions is the former Eden Hotel, where Albert Einstein stayed once. Other sights include the Seven Cascades, El Silencio (a 17th century castle), Tatu Carreta (a drive-through zoo thing) and many hiking trails in the mountains surrounding the town. It has one camping ground, Club de Lago, that is about four and a half kilometers from town.

Because of the Cosquin rock festival, it took us four hours to reach La Falda. Traffic was backed up for many kilometers through all the rural highways. It also didn’t help that our bus driver decided to take an hour-long smoke break right when it was time to get on the road. Still, we weren’t beholden to a specific schedule, so I just read a book and Jordan watched a movie on the bus.

To get to Club de Lago you must purchase a bus ticket (from the company Lumasa) for 4.50 persos. During high season (December through March) entrance to the campsite is 88 pesos a person, which Jordan and I thought was exorbitantly expensive. It costs us 20 USD just to pitch our tent and use their bathrooms (sans toilet paper). But it was still cheaper than hotels in town, and Jordan hadn’t been lugging the tent around for no reason. Still, if you have an adjustable budget, we don’t recommend camping there.

We thought, despite it being a “tourist trap,” that food was decently priced in town, in supermercados and restaurantes alike. We split a pizza and a coke, which is normal fare for us when we need something cheap and quick.

Because I was in an uncommonly wise frame of mind, I encouraged Jordan to put up the rain cover over our one-and-a-half-man tent. I had brought two blankets along with my pillow and the sleeping bag. So, there we spent our Valentine’s day, camping beside a lake. Our conversation for the night went something like this:

“I hate camping,” I would say, trying to make something comfortable to sit or lie on.

“You’ve told me,” Jordan would remark, cheerily pulling out his wires and iPad and power brick.

“But this is Valentine’s Day,” I would remind. “And it’s your Valentine’s. And we’re camping. And it was my idea.”

“You should’ve thought about how I don’t know the language, the options, or what you want for a romantic evening before you whisked us off to Argentina through the month of February.”

“I don’t care if it’s my turn to do Valentine’s next year–because of this, you have it in 2016.”

He just laughed.

We woke up at 3 in the morning to heavy thunder and lightening. Because of the (barely functional) rain cover, we were able to go back to sleep. Or, in my case, becoming intimately familiar with the gravel and stick lying below my sleeping bag and tent.

By 9 in the morning, Jordan poked his head out and saw the lake rising. He convinced me to begin rolling up the sleeping bags.

By 9:30, we could feel water streaming down the hill just under the tarp.

“Stick to routine?” Jordan asked me.

“How I hate that we have this down to a routine,” I lamented. “Have I told you that I hate camping?”

At this point Jordan just ignored my complaints because, although he knew they were sincerely meant, it would not impede me from pulling my own weight and getting things done.

“The lake,” he reminded me, so I slipped my shoes on and bolted from the tent. He sat still inside, handed our 20-pound backpack to me, then our 15-pound daypack (it had water and fruit in it), then my pillow. I raced up the hill and only almost fell twice, and found shelter near the overhang from the showers. I waited while Jordan stayed in the rain, taking down the tent.

We lost each other, and he had to track me down in the rain, because of course we did, and finally we stumbled, half-soaked, into a dry, indoor recreational building. Everyone else was already there, playing cards, eating crackers, and children running wild.

The one bright spot of this ill-fated adventure was Augusto and Elien, a couple around our age that had camped two spots down from us. They had originally planned to camp for a week, but explained that it was supposed to rain for eight days straight now (funny how the weather predictions didn’t tell anyone that until it started happening). They invited us to sit with them, share mate with them (a favorite drink of Argentina) and didn’t laugh as I stumbled through Spanish to communicate with them.

After an hour the rain had picked up, and we knew it was raining in La Cumbre, the other town we meant to spend a day in. Returning to Cordoba early (again) was our cheapest and driest option. At this point, I also learned the Spanish word for wet. The lake had also risen and covered our campsite and many others’ as well.

A worker at the little convenience store said a bus would be there are 11:30 or 11:45. So we walked out, no trees or anything to shelter us, and tried to drape the tent’s rain cover over us while we waited for the bus. By 11:45 it was not still there. So we waited a little longer, now completely soaked. A few cars passed by, mostly people escaping the deluge at the camping grounds.

“If it isn’t here by 12:30, I’m going back inside. This is how people die in novels,” Jordan informed me.

For the next ten minutes I alternated between complaining about rain, camping, and the outdoors in general, and regaling him with scenes from Sense and Sensibility when Marianne walks through the rain and discovers that almost dying for love is not nearly as romantic as it sounds. Pneumonia rarely is, I suspect.

By then we were utterly soaked and Jordan just wadded the rain cover up and we walked back toward shelter. He used the restroom and I went back to the convenience store.

“Oh, in five minutes! There will be a bus at 12:45,” I was assured.

“Okay, okay!” I said, certain that I could withstand five more minutes. I prayed my pillow wouldn’t be smote with incurable mildew. So we trudged back out and covered ourselves in the rain cover once again. It didn’t block the wind, but it did help with the rain. A car passed us and people laughed inside. Jordan was convinced they were saying, “Look at those gringos! They’ll be here for hours!” Jordan didn’t think it was amusing, either.

“It’s 12:47,” Jordan told me.

“Buses are always late here. We can’t wonder until it’s 10 minutes late,” I whispered through chattering teeth.

Well, 1 pm rolled around and by then we were convinced no buses were coming from the rain.

We reentered the resting area, embarrassed, and took a few more rounds of mate from our friends. They laughed and clucked their tongues and told us how wet we were.

An hour later, once we knew we wouldn’t expire from hypothermia, I ran back through the rain to the administration’s office. One of the owners took pity on me and explained that the buses don’t run in the rain.

“But, but, we waited for an hour and a half out there,” I said, wringing water from my hair.

“No, no, not during rain,” she said.

“How do I call a taxi?” I inquired, so utterly miserable at this point that I was considering walking the two miles back to town. I was already soaked, and we had nowhere to spend the night.

She called a taxi for us, and an hour later we were at the bus station in La Falda. Buses were delayed because of the rain, but eventually we made it back to Cordoba (the buses also drove slower because of the rain). We saw very little of La Falda and none of La Cumbre. This morning I woke up with a cold. I suppose that beats Marianne’s pneumonia (if not in a dramatic storytelling sense, at least in constitution).

So, for those that read this whole long post to see what there is to do in La Cumbre, here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • Lots of paragliding and skydiving
  • Trekking and hiking
  • Swimming in the river
  • Admiring the architecture (reminiscent to English country cottages)
  • Golfing
  • Speaking English (because original settlers came from England)

We are not attempting camping again, any time soon. We are not going into the sierras without checking weather repeatedly. We are saving our money and not choosing expensive resting places. And today I haven’t left my bed, except for hot chicken soup and tea. It’s the small things in life.

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

La Cumbrecita

Interested in a hikers’ dream and beautiful scenery? La Cumbrecita has everything an ecotourist would want.

I’m what one would call “indoorsy,” so hiking, camping, trekking aren’t usually my thing. But Jordan enjoys all those things a lot, so we borrowed two sleeping bags, a tent, and went to the small, pedestrian village high in the sierras.

To get to La Cumbrecita, you must first go to Villa Belgrano (that German village I already wrote about), then get another bus from there. If I had known all of this, we would’ve saved money and done both villages in one fell swoop. A ticket roundtrip to Villa Belgrano is 135 pesos, and roundtrip to La Cumbrecita (from Belgrano) is 110 pesos. The bus ride from Belgrano to La Cumbrecita takes around 45 minutes.

Everything is picturesque, from the Bavarian architecture to the sierras around us. We camped at Sol y Luna, the only camping site in town, which was about a mile and a half from the center of town. It was near a horse pasture, so we listened to pigeons, horses, and dogs around us. It was very calming, but then it rained.

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Restaurants in La Cumbrecita typically open for lunch around 12 pm and close again by 3 pm. Most reopen for dinner at 8 pm. German food and Argentinian food is available. We had black forest cake for desert!

There are multiple companies that sell horseback riding tours, trekking tours, or skydiving. Nearby is a nature reserve that you can explore also. We ended up not doing much of those, because it rained most of the day, but we did hike across the mountain our campsite was on.

We ended up cutting our time there short, because it was only going to continue to rain. That is the one drawback to a pedestrian village with only ecotourism to offer–when it rains, there is little to do. The campsite, Sol y Luna, is free and offers a great view of the village. But it is not the most comfortable of places to stay.

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In the end, La Cumbrecita is also worth visiting, if just for the views, but make sure you check the weather before you go. A rainy day makes things very difficult.

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

German village of Argentina

In the 1930s a few stray German farmers ended up in the Sierras around Cordoba, Argentina. It’s a beautiful place, and up in the mountains it doesn’t get too hot, so they decided to stay. After a shipwreck in 1939, a few German sailors decided to stay too. WWII saw a massive increase in immigration, and now Villa General Belgrano is the quaint German town in the mountains that tourists know and love.

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This is a view out the bus window on our way there, hence the faded color and smudge. Rest assured the sight in person is jaw-dropping.

While German is slowly dying out, there are newspapers printed in German there, rather than Spanish, and as we walked through the streets I could have easily believed we were in Bavaria, Germany, not South America.

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The main attraction to Villa Belgrano (for us at least) was the food. Jordan had a bratwurst and we finished the afternoon with hot chocolate and apple strudels. Because it poured cats and dogs while we were there, we couldn’t do much. However, I believe camping, hiking, swimming in the river, horseback riding, and paragliding are available. Many of these things are available in most of the mountain towns. Crafting and boutique shopping are also fun along the main street of town. A bus ticket roundtrip costs roughly 135 pesos. The ride there took two hours (through gorgeous scenery of lakes and sierras) and the return took two and a half hours, probably due to rain.

The town has a small museum, a tourist center with an observation platform. The best times of year to go are during their Oktoberfest (in October, obviously) and their Alpine Chocolate festival (July). If you like beer, this is a must-see.

Because of the rain, we weren’t able to hike or swim, but we did enjoy the food and architecture there. If you get the chance, visiting Villa Belgrano is worth it!20150202_162234

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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