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Goodbye 2013: Our year of travel in pictures

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I remember leaving for the airport in London like it was yesterday. Dani kept looking at me with my big, funny backpack, and I at hers (and the extra bag she had filled with magazines she just had to finish before we left the U.S.) as we walked to catch the bus to the airport. We were filled with exhilaration that we were actually free – like high school seniors on the last day of school.

2010 brought us from Europe, through the US and Mexico to Central America, it was an unforgettable 2011 through Central America, Europe, Canada, the US and then Thailand. In 2012 we spent time in South East Asia, India and finally to South America.

Now here we are, this is the FOURTH time that we’re looking back at our year of travel. 2013 was as much a year of city-hopping as it was spent in some of the least populated areas of natural beauty on Earth. Our travel style was mostly on four wheels overland and technically slow, visiting only seven countries, but we covered a huge portion of this planet this year across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Bolivia and Peru.

Follow along as we look back at what we are still able pack in, nearly four years after setting off on this nomadic adventure. Click through on the dozens of links to read in more detail about each of these stops along the way.

The year began in Santiago, where we housesat for two months. We still think often about our two adorable Scottie dogs there.

1 january santiago de chileWe were practically becoming locals, so we had to rip ourselves away at the start of February to start our travels through Chile. We began in Valparaiso, and fell in love with this colorful city on the Pacific.

colorful houses in valparaisoFrom there we headed to the Lake District and the island of Chiloe, before returning to the Argentine side of the Andes to explore Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous black glacier. Then it was time to hit Patagonia.

2 bariloche cathedralAfter that infamously long 27 hour bus ride, we landed in El Chalten, where Dani set off on some solo hikes, and continued to El Calafate, where we visited the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier.

2 argentina perito moreno glacierThen it was back over the border to Chile to see Torres Del Paine. We opted for a full day tour of the National Park, and it became one of our favorite places in all of Patagonia.

3 chile torres del paineAfter a few days in Puerto Natales, the base town for Torres del Paine, we continued our journey south and traveled to Tierra Del Fuego via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas before finally reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, after hitchhiking from Chile back into Argentina.

UshuaiaOur next stop was Uruguay, a quick flight from Ushuaia, where we visited Montevideo (and almost got robbed!) and the dreamy colonial town Colonia del Sacramento.

3 uruguay colonia del sacramentoOf course we couldn’t leave without visiting some of Uruguay’s famous beaches!

3 march uruguay punta del este3 uruguay beach dayAt the end of March, we went from Uruguay to the north of Argentina and spent a lovely week in Rosario, before we made a 48-hour bus detour to the Iguazu Falls – a detour that was well worth it!

4 argentina dani and jess iguazu fallsWe continued our journey through Northern Argentina to Salta, a city we didn’t love as much as we thought we would, but we fell for the small wine town of Cafayate four hours south of there.

4 cafayate streetThe road took us back north through Salta to Jujuy, where we rented a car to road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca for two days.

4 purmamarca street and seven color hillHere we also stopped at the first of three sets of salt flats we’d see this year. 4 argentina salinas grandes salt flats salt rainAfter returning the car, we took a bus to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

4 san pedro de atacama streetIt turns out that we seriously love this town and the surrounding scenery on this first of two visits to San Pedro in 2013, and were actually excited to know we’d be making our way back up here again later in the year to continue our travels to Bolivia from here.

4 april northern chile atacama desertDuring this first visit, we took a tour that showed us some of the breathtaking landscapes around San Pedro…

4 april chile atacama desert… including salt flats #2.

4 salt flats chile atacama desertBut instead of heading north to Bolivia from here, we broke our South America journey to fly to New York City for a two-month housesitting gig that made our dream of living in New York come true (at least temporarily!). We landed in New York just in time for our third anniversary as nomads and loved ‘our’ two cats and ‘our’ apartment, just a five-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

6 brooklyn bridge new yorkIn June, we flew straight to Germany to test out five weeks living in Berlin, which is now one of our favorite cities in the world.

7 alexanderplatz at nightWe couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer in Germany, where we were featured in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of the national newspapers and interviewed by a major radio station about our housesitting book before flying back to the US in August.

sueddeutscheIt felt great to jet set in the summer as we flew from Berlin to New York to spend the weekend. We were mainly on a quest to find the best pizza in NYC, but also had time to revisit some of our favorite places off the beaten path and cycle through Manhattan on the Citibikes.

8 best pizza in williamsburg brooklyn new york city white pizza5 dani roosevelt islandOur next stop was Tucson, to a housesit we’ve done three times now for homeowners and a dog, Miss Millie, who we just love! We enjoyed some quality time by the pool and the desertscape that we love so much.

8 Jess and Millie in TucsonIn September, we took off on one of the best adventures of this year: a road trip through New Mexico, which would finally bring us all the way back to Chicago via Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

We started at the amazing yet little-visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, followed by the otherworldly White Sands…

9 white sands jess & daniThen we spent Jess’ birthday at Carlsbad Caverns before moving on to the aliens of Roswell, Las Vegas (the small New Mexican town) and Albuquerque…

9 carlsbad cavernsThen we hit Santa Fe, explored Georgia O’Keeffe country, the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings, various Pueblos and then finally spent time in magical little Taos, our last stop in New Mexico. Here we got to trek down into the Rio Grande gorge with llamas and our wonderful guide Stuart of Wild Earth Llama Trekking.

9 bandelier monument new mexicoAfter 19 incredible days on the road, we reached Chicago, where we visited friends and family, hit plenty of our favorite sightseeing spots and ate our way across the city.

10 bean reflections at night chicagoChicago is where Dani got to experience her first ‘real’ Halloween in the U.S.! Look at what we did to her face! 🙂

10 globetrottergirls halloweenIn what now, looking back, seems like our year of New York City, we spent another long weekend in Manhattan before hopping onto the return leg of our flight back down to Santiago, Chile – but not without eating more pizza, spending time in Williamsburg, meeting up with quite a few good friends and watching the New York Marathon.

11 New York sunsetFinally we flew down to enjoy all the things we love about Santiago – and just in time for the perfect spring weather (and escaping the freezing cold New York weather that hit the day after we left!)

11 santiago lastarria churchInstead of pushing through on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro De Atacama, we visited three new places on the way: La Serena, a quiet though sizable colonial town with a wide beach seven hours from Santiago by bus. This is the jumping-off point for the beautiful Elqui Valley, which became one of our five favorite places in all of Chile.

11 la serena street with churchThen we traveled 19 hours through the narrow piece of land between the Andes and the Pacific to Iquique, a beach city in the north of Chile. The town grew on us slowly, and we ended up enjoying our fourth visit to the Pacific in 2013. This was our last beach visit of the year, too.

11 sea lions in iquiqueThen we went on to San Pedro and made sure to visit the Tatio geyser fields – an incredible piece of desert nearly 5,000m high where geysers explode, gurgle and spurt. It was well worth the 4am wake-up call to see the geyser field at sunrise.

11 geyser de tatio chileAfter a few days of an obsessive amount of research on good tour companies, we finally jumped on our three day off-roading tour through Bolivia’s South West, otherwise known as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. Our first ever border crossing in a jeep, on a tour and in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was so much more than the salt flats. We saw more otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, flamingos, lagoons and rock formations of just about every shape and color imaginable.

11 Bolivia laguna verde11 laguna hedionda flamingos bolivia11 arbol de piedra and mountain boliviaOn the last day of the tour we spent sunrise out on our third set of salt flats for the year, which also just so happen to be the largest salt flats in the world, the Salar De Uyuni.

11 Bolivia salt flatsThen we started our travels through Bolivia, with our first stop in the 4000m-high colonial town of Potosi. For those of you who think in feet, this is 13,500 ft high, or almost three ‘mile-high’ Denver cities stacked on top of one another. This is officially the highest city in the world, and we enjoyed the beautifully maintained historic town center which was a great introduction to the country – although just walking its hilly streets was a massive challenge at that altitude.

12 potosi viewsNext were three weeks in both of Bolivia’s capitals: first in Sucre, the official capital (and a city we spent two weeks battling a massive stomach bug that practically laid us flat for half the time)…

12 sucre street bolivia…and then La Paz, the de facto seat of the government. It was from here that we signed up (read: Dani signed US up!) for the mountain bike trip down the world’s most dangerous road – and survived (barely 🙂 ).

12 death road boliviaOur final stop in 2014 was Lake Titicaca, first on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent Christmas, then followed by a couple of days on the Isla del Sol and then crossing the border into our first stop in Peru – Puno – where we are celebrating New Year’s Eve.

lake titicaca with boats copacabana bolivia

This was a big year for us as The GlobetrotterGirls as well!

We released a second and much, much sexier version of our book, The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting – check that out here if you want to start housesitting in 2014.

We started the Break Free podcast, where I interview globetrotting women who have created the incredible life balance of running successful businesses while traveling the world. You can listen on the website or subscribe in iTunes.

Then there was the launch of our Escape Route travel planning and consulting service. We seriously love helping people make the most of the travels, and we’ve loved being able to help readers and clients plan their perfectly customized holidays.

Perhaps most exciting for us is the launch of our GlobetrotterGirls Getaways – starting with our seriously epic overland trip from San Francisco to Seattle in May 2014. If you’re interested in joining us on a seriously unique trip (in a custom-converted American school bus!) read more about the Getaways here. Early-Bird pricing ends today, December 31st, so if you’re interested, save $150 and put down your deposit today!

Dani and Jess in Argentina

Thanks so much for following along on our journey in 2013. Stick with us in 2014 for even more epic adventures through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, Europe and who knows where we’ll end 2014!!

Happy New Year!

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From Pucon to Ushuaia: Our route through Patagonia

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South America is massive and we get a lot of practical travel questions about our trip across the continent. Patagonia is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in all of South America, but the huge distances, high prices and endless options make it hard to plan a trip. Dani put together our entire route from Chile’s Lake District down through Patagonia to Tierra Del Fuego, including buses, hotels, sightseeing options and destination options from each of our stops.  We took public buses all along, except for the (unexpected!) hitchhiking adventure on Tierra Del Fuego.

You can find links to all the in-depth posts we wrote about each place and other relevant information below each place.

Let’s start with a map of our route:

Pucón

Our first stop in the Lake District was Pucón, a popular resort town at the foot of the Villarica volcano, the main attraction in the area. There are plenty of things to do for active travelers here, from kayaking to volcano climbing and trekking. If you are not into any of these, we’d recommend heading straight to Puerto Varas instead.

Where we stayed: We stayed at One Way Hostel (which was very basic – there are better options in Pucón) and paid CLP17,000 for a private room with shared bathroom.

How we got to Pucón: We went with Turbus from Valparaiso.

We actually found Turbus the best bus company in Chile. Book tickets in advance for cheaper tickets than on travel day. 

Recommended number of days: 2 to 3 days. Most people come here to climb Villarica volcano, but we would suggest at least another day for some rafting, kayaking or a visit to Huerquehe National Park. Also, if your heart is set on the volcano hike, plan in a extra days in case of bad weather. It rained here the entire three days of our visit and we couldn’t have climbed it unless we stayed at least another two, when the weather was supposedly going to clear up.

Read more: Thank Goodness for Silver Linings…Rained Out in Pucón, Chile
rain clouds pucon

Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas is a small town on the shores of Lake Llanquihue and still heavily influenced by the German settlers who developed the area in the late 19th century. From here you can take a day trip to Frutillar, an even more German village (think wooden houses and lots of cake), or hike in the National Park with beautiful views of Volcano Osorno. You can take a bus to Bariloche (in the Argentine Lake District) straight from here. While we weren’t particularly lucky with the weather during our time in the Lake District, it still made it into our Top Five Places To Visit In Chile and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Patagonia! Since it is relatively close to Bariloche, it is easy to incorporate it into your itinerary.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Margouya 2 in Puerto Varas, Chile which we really liked! It was CLP20,000 for a double room with shared bathroom. Breakfast was included. 

How we got to Puerto Varas: We took a JAC bus from Pucón to Puerto Montt (five hours, CLP10,000) and changed into a mini-bus to Puerto Varas there (they leave at the same terminal, are CLP800 and it takes about 20 minutes).

Puerto Varas ChileNote: If you are planning to head straight down to Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine), you have to take a bus from Puerto Montt (15 min from Puerto Varas) all the way south to Punta Arenas first (35 hours) and then back up three hours to Puerto Natales. Check out timetables at Cruz Del Sur (CLP42,000). If you plan to skip Argentina (see below) then a flight would seriously cut down your travel time from Puerto Varas/Montt to Torres del Paine. Both Sky Airline and LAN offer flights on this route and have good prices if you book in advance.

Recommended number of days: 2 to 3. You can trek to Osorno volcano, go on a rafting or kayaking trip, or go on a 1-day cycle trip along the lake to the quaint town of Frutillar (60km round-trip). You can also take a day trip to Chiloe from here, if you rent a car (see below).

Read more: Home sweet home in southern Chile: Following the trail of German immigrants

Chiloe (detour)

We took a detour to the island of Chiloe, located about two hours southwest of Puerto Varas. In hindsight, we should have rented a car in Puerto Varas to be more flexible on the island and returned it to Puerto Varas to take a bus to Bariloche (Argentina) from here. The detour was well worth it though and we discovered some of the most scenic regions of Chile.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Hotel Ancud Petit (we shared a quadruple room at CLP10,000 per person) and used Ancud as our base for exploring Chiloe.

How we got to Chiloe: We took a Cruz del Sur bus from Puerto Montt to Ancud (CLP6,300), which loads onto a ferry for the last 30 minutes you can get out and walk around. A car rental would have allowed us to see much more of the island, and we’d recommend a two-day rental.

Recommended number of days: You can see a lot of Chiloe in a day trip from Puerto Varas if you rent a car, but we’d recommend allowing at least two full days, so that you are able to see the main towns on the island, visit Chiloe National Park and maybe take a tour to a penguin colony.

Read more: A blind date with Chile’s romantic Chiloé island
Chiloe Chile

Bariloche

Bariloche is an easy 6-8 hour bus ride over the Andes – depending how long the border crossing takes. It is possible to take buses from Puerto Varas, Puerto Montt and Osorno.  Bariloche is set in a stunning location on lake Nahuel Huapi and should definitely not be missed. There are plenty of hikes around the area, the nearby Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous Black Glacier, and activities like kayaking on the lake or hiking up to the viewpoints around town. It reminded us very much of Colorado, in the US.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Kospi Boutique Guesthouse (ARS410 for a double room incl. breakfast)

How we got to Bariloche: We took a bus (Tas Choapa) from Puerto Montt to Bariloche (6 hours) and paid CLP14,000 per person.

Recommended number of days: We’d suggest at least 2 full days (3 would be even better) in Bariloche to explore the town, head out to the Circuito Chico (a 60km cycle route) or hike up to the viewpoints (Cerro Otto or Campanario), take a boat ride out onto the lake to the islands or visit Nahuel Huapi National Park.

Read more: Mighty Mount Tronador and the Black Glacier | Bariloche, Argentina

Tip: Make sure to exchange Chilean pesos for US Dollars before heading to Argentina. The Blue Dollar exchange rate that you get when changing US Dollars in cash for Argentine Pesos is almost twice as good as the official rate. We wrote about the Blue Dollar and travel costs in Argentina here.

Bariloche Argentina

El Chalten

Getting to El Chalten from Bariloche proved more difficult than expected. Luckily there is one bus operator, Taqsa, that offers the 27-hour ride straight down along mostly gravel road to El Chalten a few times a week during the summer months (December to April). Taking the bus was much cheaper than taking a plane (via Buenos Aires), and El Chalten was absolutely worth it. You can easily spend a week here hiking some of the numerous treks in the National Park or going ice trekking on Glacier Viedma.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Lo De Trevi Hostel, which we didn’t like at all and wouldn’t recommend. Rooms were overpriced, and there were no lockers in the dorms, which isn’t great in a place where people are out hiking all day (and the hostel was unlocked and unmanned at times). There are better hostels in El Chalten on Booking.com. For such a small town, this is a major stop for hikers from around the world as well as Argentine backpackers, so make sure to book early, since hostels fill up quickly in the high season (December – March).

chalten mountain peaksHow we got to El Chalten: We took the Taqsa Bus from Bariloche to El Chalten (27 hours, around ARS900 per person). Check their website for departure dates and times, since they don’t go seven days a week. There is one other company, ChaltenTravel, that offers the ride, too, including the first night in El Chalten for free. However, we heard that the accommodation they provide is subpar and their micro-buses are not very comfortable for such a long ride.

Recommended number of days: There are so many hiking trails around El Chalten, you can easily spend 5 days hiking several trails. We spent only two full days here which was far from enough. Four – five days would be ideal if you are into hiking at all.

Read more: The day I became a solo hiker in Patagonia

Polaroid of the week: The imposing Fitz Roy mountain in Patagonia, Argentina
el chalten dani

El Calafate

It was easy to get from El Chalten to El Calafate, 220 km south of El Chalten, which was a scenic 3-hour bus ride on newly paved roads. We came solely to see Perito Moreno Glacier, which turned out to be one of our South America highlights.

Where we stayed: We stayed at Del Glaciar Libertador Hostel & Suites, which was good. (ARS310 per double room, including breakfast).

How we got to El Calafate: We took a bus from El Chalten (3 hours, ARS150 per person) – there are several buses per day.

Recommended number of days: We spent two nights in El Calafate, and had half a day to explore town and book our tour to Perito Moreno Glacier, and spent the next day at the glacier. If you only want to visit the glacier from here, 2 nights are enough. You could, however, spend another day here exploring the Laguna Nimez wetlands sanctuary or the Glaciarium (a high-tech glacier museum 6km out of town).

Read more: Ice, Ice Baby: The amazing Perito Moreno Glacier | Patagonia, Argentina

El Calafate Perito Moreno Glacier

Puerto Natales

From El Calafate, we took a bus (Cootra) back across the Andes and the border to Puerto Natales in Chile to visit Torres Del Paine. The bus ride took around six hours, including the easy border crossing (don’t have any fresh fruit or vegetables with you on the bus, or declare it immediately if you do – Chile is very strict about this to the tune of $250 dollar fines for an apple).

Had we known how far out of town the bus station in Puerto Natales would be, we probably would have booked a hostel in advance instead of ‘shopping around’ for a nice place to stay when we got there. Puerto Natales turned out to be a pleasant little town with some fabulous restaurants, and we are glad that we went, even though we didn’t hike the W Trek.

Torres Del Paine ChileWhere we stayed: We stayed at Hospedaje Mwono, a simple hostel that we found walking around town looking at several options. We paid CLP15,000 for a double room with shared bathroom (the cheapest option we found in Puerto Natales).

How we got to Puerto Natales: We took a bus from El Calafate with Cootra from El Calafate for ARS150 per person (five hours).

Get to Ushuaia from Puerto Natales: If you don’t want to visit Punta Arenas or Chilean Tierra del Fuego afterward,  you can go straight to Rio Gallegos from Puerto Natales (4.5 hours) and catch a bus from here to Ushuaia (another 12 hours). If you’re planning to do this trip in one go, it’s going to be a very long day. See direct connections from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia below.

Recommended number of days: This depends on if you’re planning to hike the W-Trek. If so, you’ll need 4 nights in Torres Del Paine National Park, and we would recommend a night before (to prepare for your trek and make final arrangements) and a night after the trek (to wash your clothes, take a hot shower, enjoy some good food) in Puerto Natales. Keep in mind that the weather in Torres Del Paine is extremely unpredictable – it can rain for days here and you might end up canceling your W-Trek and opt for one or two day trips into the park instead.

Tip: Our fellow blogger Arienwen wrote a great guide to the W-Trek, including a detailed break-down of each day,costs for food and accommodation along the way, equipment you need, and more!

If you are not doing the W trek, you can spend a couple of days relaxing in Puerto Natales – there is surprisingly good food catering to an international crowd and the waterfront is a nice way to watch the sunset at least once.

Read more: Torres del Paine: Patagonia’s essence in a day

Polaroid of the week: An homage to the wind in Puerto Natales, Chile
puerto natales lake

Punta Arenas

Our next stop was Punta Arenas, the southernmost city on mainland Chile. The city is well connected via bus and there are two bus companies that run several times a day from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and the other way around. Punta Arenas also turned out to be a great little city and we enjoyed our time there. The feeling of how far south you have made it really hits home in this chilly, clean antarctic city. Accommodation was more expensive than expected in the hospedajes around town. The cheapest double room we could find was US$40, and it was not nice.

Once you land here, it is essential to plan your further travels from here in advance since buses to Ushuaia only run on certain days. The ferry to Porvenir only leaves once a day, and sometimes it leaves in the morning others in the afternoon.

Our main reason to spend a few days here was the Magellan Penguin colony, but if you plan to visit them, you also need to plan your visit properly, as the tours out there only leave on some days of the week (at least during low season), and we missed the one day when they went while we were in town.

Penguins in ChiloeThe travel agency that offers tours to the penguins sits on the south east corner of the main square, or you can visit Hospedaje Magallanes which runs the Aeonikenk travel agency that offers several different day trips from Punta Arenas. Visiting the King Penguin colony in Tierra Del Fuego is about CLP55,000 per person, visiting the penguin colony at Seno Otway is CLP10,000 per person. Pali Aike (Navarro 1125) was another travel agency we found that offers trips to the penguins. They offer private tours for CLP39,000 per couple (not including CLP7,500 National Park entrance fee).

Where we stayed: We didn’t find anything online that sounded great, so we just showed up and looked for a place when we arrived. Most B&Bs and guest houses started at CLP25,000 for a double room. We stayed Hostal Art Nouveau (CLP35,000 for an ensuite double room incl. breakfast).

How we got to Punta Arenas: We took Buses Fernandez, for CLP5,000 per person. They have five or six buses daily from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas.

How to get from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: Bus-Sur (CLP35,000) Taqsa and Tecni-Austral both have several buses a week (not daily though, so check their schedules) that go directly from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and vice versa.Punta Arenas ChileRecommended number of days: If you are planning to see the penguin colonies, plan at least two nights here. We didn’t book our penguin tour right on the first day and lost out on it because there weren’t any other tours while we were in town and we weren’t able to extend our stay.

Porvenir

We went to Porvenir to experience some of Chile’s part of Tierra Del Fuego, and because we thought we could hop on a more direct bus to Ushuaia from here. It was only when we arrived in Porvenir that we found out that there were no buses at all across Tierra del Fuego. Oops. Encouraged by our friendly hostel owner Vicente, we decided to hitchhike from Porvenir which luckily worked out. If you are not into bird watching (the main draw for people to visit Tierra Del Fuego), you can easily skip Porvenir and head straight to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas (see above).

Where we stayed: We stayed at Hosteria Yendegaia | Porvenir, Chile

How we got to Porvenir: We took the ferry from Punta Arenas for CLP5,500 per person. Check the ferry timetable beforehand though – we were told that our ferry would leave at 9am, but when we got to the ferry terminal it turned out the ferry left 4pm on Thursdays.

ferry timetable punta arenas to porvenirRecommended number of days: Depends on what you are planning to do while you are here. We found two nights (1 full day) to be enough, but we didn’t go on any bird watching trips / hikes.

Read more: The day we hitchhiked to the end of the worldporvenir houses

Ushuaia

Ushuaia, officially the southernmost city of the world and the southernmost tip of South America, was our final stop. We made it here after hitchhiking from Porvenir to Rio Gallegos, where we caught a bus to Ushuaia.

Where we stayed: We stayed at the El Refugio Mochilero Backpackers, which was not our first choice (we found it way overpriced for what you get). Double rooms are ARS300. We wanted to stay at Antarctica Hostel which looked great but was fully booked for the next two weeks.

How we got to Ushuaia: We hitchhiked from Porvenir to Rio Grande and took a bus from there. The bus from Rio Grande was ARS140 and took two hours.

How to get from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia: Bus-Sur (CLP35,000) Taqsa and Tecni-Austral both have several buses a week (not daily though, so check their schedules) that go directly from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and vice versa.

How to get out of Ushuaia: The best way to get back north is actually by plane – we found that plane tickets to Buenos Aires didn’t cost us much more as a 3-day bus ride would have cost us.

Recommended number of days: Depends on what you are planning to do in Ushuaia. If you’d like to head out on tour of the Beagle Channel, visit Tierra Del Fuego National Park, see a couple of the museums in town, and see the Martial Glacier, you can easily fill four days in Ushuaia.

Read more: Arriving to the end of the world | Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia Argentina

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Salta, Argentina has all the makings of a charming city – so what was missing?

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Our trip to Salta was a case of inflated expectations. Most people we had met raved about Salta and for a long time we even considered finding an apartment and really soaking up the city for a month. We needed the rest. So much non-stop long-distance travel had been wearing us out and even though we loved Buenos Aires (population 3 million) and Rosario (population 1 million), we had built Salta up to be our ultimate relief and recovery.

Laid-back, colonial, small – the description made it sound like just the kind of city we love in Latin America. When we arrived after a 20-hour overnight bus from Puerto Iguazu, we had high expectations about this northern city.

salta iron signSalta ArgentinaOur posada (guesthouse), Casa de Borgoña, was only a few blocks from Salta’s central plaza, Plaza 9 de Julio. We put our bags down and headed straight there for a cup of coffee and some people watching.

salta alfajoresMany memories of Salta, in fact, involve spending time whiling away in cafes, working on our laptops and enjoying the sugary, delicious sweets served alongside our cafe con leche.

salta colonialAfter we caffeinated our way out of our foggy haze, we toured the streets of Salta, taking in the colonial architecture and its colorful neo-classical churches. But neither of us clicked with the city. We liked it enough, but there was no excitement for it the way we had unexpectedly fallen for  Rosario a couple weeks earlier.

salta streetSalta san francisco iglesiaAlthough half the size of Rosario and a fraction of Buenos Aires, somehow Salta felt really congested and overpopulated in parts of town. Especially during rush hour, cars stop and go at snail’s pace and pedestrians are forced to choke down fumes between sidestepping hordes of people in no hurry along the sidewalks. And yet, somehow, at other times of day, the city feels downright sleepy.

salta colonial architecturevintage car saltaIn our experience, you can easily pick up the vibe of a city by its street art and in Salta, even though we spent hours padding the pavement far and wide, we just didn’t come across much that had much of an edge to it at all.

salta street artSalta street art argentina

Salta Highlight 

We decided to take the 1,000 step challenge, and hiked up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo. This is one of the peaks surrounding the city and offers magnificent views out over town. Most tourists opt to take the cable car ride up the mountain, but we wanted to sweat out the challenge.

salta view and cable carAnd we weren’t the only ones! Salteños of all ages use the 1,000 steps as a workout track. Some people sprinted up, down and passed us again in the relatively quick time it took us to ascend to the top of the peak. Once at the top, there is space to continue your workout – like these spinning bikes used for a class right after we arrived. We opted to head back down on foot instead.

salta workout machinessalta viewSalta was the first place we noticed coca leaves becoming more present, and it only becomes legal in this province. It increases in popularity the further north in the Andes regions of South America you go. Any further south, and it’s frowned upon and technically illegal. Shops all around town sell coca leaves and tea, and people chew it everywhere. When we first got off the bus, we noticed the big piles of chewed up green leaves all down the taxi queue, as the drivers chew it up and spit it out between passengers. Coca leaves help reduce high altitude sickness, but is popular for its effects of enhanced energy and reduced hunger – to a far lesser degree than its white powdery cousin.

salta coca storeWe passed this street vendor every day who sells coca along with popular fruits like chimoya, peaches and papaya.  You might see Viagra on his sign as well, though he doesn’t not have any to sell you – Viagra no, Mani (peanuts) si.

salta fruit vendorThe reason for the colonial style of the city is that Salta was founded by Spanish conquerers in the 16th century. It was an important supply station for the Spanish silver mines in Bolivia, just a few hundred kilometers north of Salta. The vibe of the city, today, however, is a balance between Spanish colonial and the indigenous spirit of the Andes, visible in beautifully carved wooden doors, llama wool on sale in the markets and the abundance of native Andean foods like quinoa – which we ate in everything from Empanadas to salads and pasta.

salta monasterySalta ArgentinaAs in any colonial city, the Plaza de 9 Julio is anchored by a stunning cathedral on the north side, and lined by restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating to take in the grandeur of Salta’s most attractive square.

Salta plaza 9 de juliosalta cathedralA few times we snacked at restaurants on the plaza to take it all in, but we also made sure to explore far outside of the tourist center as well to get a true overall feeling of the city.

Overall, it was….fine. On paper, we should have loved everything about it according to our travel style and tastes. But restaurants here do not impress, especially for vegetarians, museums didn’t feel spectacular, and much of the charm we might have felt was numbed by the congestion and busy streets. We didn’t dislike it, but we weren’t impressed either. Was this a case of our expectations being too high?Salta ArgentinaBut we definitely recommend you visit the city – if only as a starting point to escape two different areas we fell over heels in love with: the charming village of Cafayate in the stunning wine country two hours south of Salta and the villages along the Quebrada de Humahuaca a few hours to the north.

Argentina Quebrada de las conchas

Travel Notes on Salta:

The cable car up to Cerro Bernardo runs every day from 10am to 7pm and takes 8 minutes. It is AR$25 each way, or 45AR$ return trip. The 1,000 steps take about 45 minutes and are free.

Our favorite spots included Cafe Balcarce (Balcarce 1) and Cafe Teuco (corner of 20 De Febrero and Santiago Del Estero) for good coffee, alfajores and wi-fi and El Patio de Empanadas (corner of San Martin and Las Malvinas) and El Buen Gusto Empanadas (O’Higgins 575) for empanadas.

We stayed at Casa de Borgoña on España 916, which we recommend. Read our full Salta hotel review here.

Have you been to Salta? What were your impressions? Share in the comments below.

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Casa de Borgoña | Where to stay in Salta, Argentina

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When I look back on the days we spent at Casa De Borgoña, what I remember most was the constant feeling of relief – relief at how friendly the staff was, relief that after a 20 hour bus ride from Iguazu Falls, they checked us in early and didn’t even bat an eyelash about it or let us store our bags until late the night we checked out. I felt relief at the beautiful colonial style spaces where we could work and relax and relief that even though our room was right off the lobby, noise was never an issue.

salta posada casa borgonaBy the time we reached Salta, we had traveled from Buenos Aires down to Patagonia by way of Chile, through Uruguay and all the way up to the border of Brazil to the Falls. The two of us were so road weary and exhausted that this Salta hotel had to work out – we had no energy or resources in us to search for another.
salta posada casa borgona living roomLuckily for us, Casa de Borgoña is just our kind of hotel, a colonial house with a soothing garden just off a spacious living room decorated with antique furniture that still manages to be comfortable and usable. Guests here can relax, eat, unwind, watch television. We felt at home enough here to spend a day entirely in bed recovering from our crazy travel schedule, had breakfast, ordered extra coffees, and were the guests that seemed to never leave the first couple days of our stay. And still we were greeted with smiles, friendly conversation and great food and sightseeing recommendations.

salta posada casa borgona tvEach morning, a typical Argentine breakfast of bread, jam, butter and coffee was served either in the bustling front cafe (open until 3pm daily) or out in the peaceful garden, which is what we most often opted for, surrounded by plants, fruit trees and wooden benches.

salta posada casa borgona hammock and gardenOur booking was last minute, into the least expensive room, which was two twin beds and a shared bathroom. Again we were relieved upon discovering just how clean and spacious the room was, plus we loved the furniture and decor, high ceiling and overall character. Most importantly of all, the wi-fi actually worked well throughout our five night stay. No glitches, no down time and strong enough bandwidth to catch up on Skype calls.

salta posada casa borgona bedThe cleaning crew was constantly at work, the bathrooms and shower room were completely spotless as were the other bedrooms lining the hallway to the back of the house. These rooms are more private, some have private baths as well, and we would have upgraded in a heartbeat if one was available, as the two we peeked into were oozing with the kind of colonial charm we had so desperately missed so far in South America.

salta posada casa borgona receptionThe posada is located a few blocks from the central plaza and within walking distance of all the museums, cathedrals and pedestrian walking streets that make Salta such a fun city to visit. Although the city is much larger than we originally expected – over 1 million people live in this sprawling city – we were able to walk to the central market, the cinema and up to the top of the Bernardo hill, all right from our posada.

salta posada casa borgona paintingCasa de Borgoña is not a luxury Bed and Breakfast and there is nothing opulent or ostentatious about this posada. On paper, it is just a fine hotel for those on a modest budget. But after traveling the country almost in its entirety, what we appreciated most was that everything was done just right, with the right balance of value for money, simplicity and comfort.

salta posada casa borgona breakfastIf you find yourself in Salta, Argentina and need a place to stay, Casa de Borgoña made us feel right at home and brought us back to life! Make sure to check the most current TripAdvisor and Booking.com reviews for any changes and book early enough to get one of the beautiful double rooms in the back.

salta posada casa borgona flowers

Details

Website: PosadaCasaDeBorgona.com.ar
Location: España 916, 4400 Salta, Argentina
Price: Double rooms start at US$40, single room US$30, twin rooms with shared bathroom start at US$35, triple rooms start at US$55.
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Good wi-fi and spacious living room to work in. Additional tables in the backyard patio.
Amenities: Breakfast included in room rates, free wi-fi, garden with hammocks

 We booked this hotel through booking
salta posada casa borgona lounge

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Through the glass: Scenes from the road in Argentina

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If you love to travel – which seems obvious if you have found your way here – you have heard the old saying: Travel is about the journey, not the destination. That might really hit home with you or just seem like something you read everywhere but this was never more true for us than the roughly three months we spent driving up, down and all around Argentina. We have written extensively about all our favorite destinations – like Buenos AiresIguazu Falls and Rosario, but in Argentina, travel is truly all about the journey. We spent countless days and nights on buses traversing this country from top to bottom, but most certainly not in that order. 28 quebrada de las conchas road argentinaIn fact, we crossed the Andes four times, criss-crossing back and forth from Chile, watched green meadows turn to tropical climates with palm trees lining the roads near the Brazilian border, drove through the dust and salt near the border with Bolivia and froze in the permanent winter climates on Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of the Americas. Each ride was an adventure in itself, and almost always with awe-inspiring views. Scroll down for our scenes from the roads through Argentina.

Bus Travel in Argentina

First things first: buses in Argentina usually look like this:

1 bus argentinaFor our very first ride, which was 24 hours from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile, we splurged on first class seats which turned out to be big, comfy leather seats with our own TV screen and meals that included free wine.
2 argentina bus3 argentina bus tv

Eating on the road in Argentina

The food was surprisingly good, with a vegetarian option available when booking the tickets and we were relieved. 24 hours is an eternity on a bus with very few stops. Unfortunately, we would never have that kind of food quality again – and not all buses offer any vegetarian options at all. These little perks also seem to have nothing to do with the price of the ticket – which can vary but is always fairly high.

4 Argentina bus foodBreakfast on buses usually consisted of crackers, a couple of different kinds of cookies, dulce de leche and jam (pictured on the upper left side of the above photo).

6 argentina bus breakfast dulce de lecheOn our bus ride to Salta we collected three sets of sandwiches each, all of them were white bread, ham and cheese.  The stray dogs of Salta were thankful for them, though.

5 argentina bus breakfastOn shorter rides we were usually just given cookies and a cup of instant coffee, always styrofoam. On the overnight buses, coffee was pre-made in a big container, which they loaded with sugar, as per the Argentine palate. Yuck! All long-distance buses have attendants who serve meals and drinks an collect the trash. This is all included in the ticket price.

6 bus snackWhen we didn’t have first-class seats, we shared TVs with the whole bus and enjoyed Lady Gaga and other pop videos together. Well, sometimes we enjoyed them, other times we wished we had opted for noise-cancelling headphones to block some of it out.

7 argentina bus with tvs

From Buenos Aires West To The Andes

From Buenos Aires to Santiago, the entire first day heading west consisted of pretty unexciting views – until the Andes Mountains could be seen on the horizon. We passed the vineyards around Mendoza and finally drove straight into the mountains, following the winding mountain road until we hit the border to Chile at the Los Libertadores mountain pass.

7 argentina mendoza and andes8 andes mountains9 andes mountains argentina

The Road Through The Lake District 

After two months in Chile working our way south, we re-entered Argentina about 1000 kilometers further south via San Martin de los Andes, driving back east straight into the beautiful Lake District around Bariloche.

11 andes mountains argentina19 andes mountain drive11 jess argentina border10 andes mountains towards chile2Our highlight here was visiting Nahuel Huapi National Park and the Black Glacier before we headed further south towards El Chalten on what was the longest and most grueling of all our bus rides.

13 argentina lake district13 nahuel huapi national park5At 27 hours, this ride was intense and bumpy, too. It started off with a gorgeous drive further into the Lake District and with the Andes mountains painted red by the setting sun. But then…

12 argentina lake district with andes15 argentina andes sunset…the road became gravel for hours and hours. And hours. We would see the same exact view out the window, unchanged, from the start to finish of a movie or hour-long TV show. Mountains, rocks, and the most barren landscape we had ever seen. Even in its most boring spots, it was still awe-inspiring how incredibly big Argentina is and how intense it is to drive straight down through the center of it.

15 driving through argentina16 argentina pampa520 argentina pampa3

The Road Through Patagonia

When we finally reached El Chalten it was so gorgeous and so worth it. We really enjoyed the incredible vistas of Mount Fitz Roy.

16 el chalten river and mountains3We followed the paved road alongside the Andes down to our next stop: El Calafate. This three hour ride felt like a snap of the fingers after all those long rides before. El Calafate was our base to explore Perito Moreno Glacier.

17 argentina with andesThe drive to the glacier was one of the most scenic in Patagonia, passing mountain lakes and leading straight into the Los Glaciares National Park, surrounded by the Andes.

18 patagonia panorama19 road through patagoniaFrom this point, now fairly far south, we crossed back into Chile to visit Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Punta Arenas, where we took the ferry to Porvenir and set foot on Tierra Del Fuego for the first time.

14 argentina river3This is where things got a bit complicated and we were forced to hitchhike back across the border  into Argentina in order to reach the End Of The World, also known as the southernmost city in the world or Ushuaia.

21 Ushuaia mountains

The Road To Iguazu Falls 

At that point, the only way to go was back up north – or down to Antarctica, but that is an adventure for another time. After freezing on our way down through Patagonia, we couldn’t wait to get to Montevideo, Uruguay, and since a three hour flight is the same price as the 50+ hours it would have taken by bus, we decided to give our knees a rest and flew up to Montevideo. After a couple of weeks in Uruguay, we headed west again back into Argentina, to explore the northern part of the country.

21 argentina cows3During our time there, heavy rains had flooded big parts of the country, and some fields were still covered in water when we went up to Iguazu.

21 argentina road iguazu1All of a sudden, we found ourselves in tropical climates with jungles and palm trees surrounding us. Those 24 hours on that bus brought us to an entirely different part of Argentina.

22 argentina sunset from the busUp here near the Brazilian border, it was hard to believe this was the same country that was home to Buenos Aires, or the Lake District, or Rosario…scenes would have felt at home in Nicaragua than the booming cities or tranquil tourist enclaves further south.

23 argentina bus station

The Road Through Northwest Argentina

And then, just like that, the 20 hour ride to Salta brought us out of the tropics, through countless quiet villages and into a sophisticated Spanish colonial city.

24 argentina north east argentinaFrom Salta, we headed to El Cafayate, and even though this was only a four-hour drive, it was easily one of the most spectacular in all of Argentina.

25 quebrada de las conchas argentina road26 quebrada de las conchas red cliffsWe passed through the red rock formations of the Quebrada De Las Conchas on a long, winding mountain road to Cafayate, a dusty winery town surrounded by vineyards and mountains.

27 argentina quebrada de las conchas1428 argentina quebrada de las conchas1329 argentina quebrada da cafayate vinyardOur next stop was equally as stunning: A trip along the Quebrada De Humahuaca, a road which leads from Salta to the Bolivian border. We stopped in Jujuy, just two hours from Salta.

29 quebrada de humahuacaHere we rented a car to do this Quebrada de Humahuaca road trip at our own pace.

31 argentina andes mountain roadThis freedom and flexibility allowed us to take a detour through the Cuesta De Lipan, or Lipan Rise, at an altitude of 4,170 meters / 13,700 feet above sea level, on our way to the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s salt flats.

30 llamas on the road34 quebrada de humahuaca andes mountain roadIn this mountain range we saw more guanaco families hanging out than anywhere else in Argentina!

36 quebrada de humahuaca andes guanacos35 quebrada de humahuaca andes mountain road2The salt flats in Argentina are much smaller than the famous Salar De Uyuni in neighboring Bolivia, but they were still an incredible sight to drive through.32 argentina road to salinas grandes salt flats33 argentina road through salinas grandes salt flatssalt flats argentina dani & jess with carThe next day we continued on toward the indigenous town of Humahuaca, passing more guanacos and alpacas, plus some of the most colorful mountains we have ever seen. Here we could feel how close we were to Bolivia – the people, the air, the traditional clothes and tourist trinkets for sale in the markets.

37 argentina quebrada de humahuaca14A few days later, it was time for our fourth and final Andes crossing. From Jujuy we caught a bus that would take us west through an incredible no man’s land, a vast expanse of sometimes mountainous and other times flat land. As far as the eye could see, the road stretch out ahead on what felt like an entirely different planet for hundreds of miles at a time. This final leg through Argentina would take us into Chile to the Atacama desert, almost 4000km north of our last crossing point in Patagonia.38 argentina quebrada de humahuaca roadTo find out how much all that cost us, read our post on The Blue Dollar and the real cost of traveling in Argentina.

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Inflation and the Blue Dollar: How much does it really cost to travel in Argentina?

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We often say, half-jokingly, “We make mistakes so you don’t have to.” This is a story about a major travel mistake we made that, had we been better prepared, we could have saved thousands of dollars.

To be fair, we did research, but because we were going to spend the firest six weeks in Buenos Aires, there were some things we left for after our arrival. We read fellow travel blogs about trips taken in 2010 and 2011, and relied on an older version of the Lonely Planet. The latest version of Lonely Planet South America on a shoestring has only just been published after over three years. So much has changed in that time.

Prices seemed low, more comparable to Central America than Europe or the United States. Accommodation seemed to fit in the range of US$30 a night for a private room, overnight buses around US$70 and meals at restaurants around US$5 – $7.

Our first mistake was thinking that currency exchange information from 2010 or 2011 would be correct in 2013. With inflation currently running at 25 per cent, prices aren’t even the same month to month, let alone from last year.

The second lesson we learned was that the official US Dollar – Argentine Peso rate that you get withdrawing cash at ATMs and banks is worth half the Blue Dollar rate, a parallel currency exchange that is unofficial and technically illegal.

Blue Dollar rate vs. official Dollar rate

The biggest travel mistake we have ever made was not bringing cash in US dollars. At the time, we had been housesitting in Costa Rica and then flew to Buenos Aires via Mexico, and if we had just gotten some US Dollars before traveling to Argentina, we could have saved an incredible percentage of our overall spending.

Blue Dollar ArgentinaATMs in Argentina limit withdrawals to 1000 pesos, which at the official exchange rate of (around) 5 pesos to the US$1, was US$200. Due to the high prices, we had to withdraw very often, and pay the US$4 ATM fee on top every time. (Had we opened a Charles Schwab account before our time in Argentina, we would have had all those $4 reimbursed at the end of every month. Yet another lesson learned.)

Note: Citibank allows up to ARS3000 pesos, three times the usual ARS1000 peso limit. However, even though Jess has a Citibank account, we could never withdraw from these banks despite several attempts.

The peso, and the entire Argentine economy, is extremely unstable. Argentina has a history of financial crashes and when the last crash happened in 2002, US Dollars kept in bank accounts were simply converted into Pesos (at much lower value). In 2011 the government of Argentina made it impossible to buy US Dollars at all in an attempt to keep their own currency afloat. But this doesn’t stop the flow of US Dollars, it just relegated dollars to an unofficial black market, or parallel economy, which is referred to as the Blue Dollar Rate.

Here’s where we could have saved loads of cash

At this point it should go without saying that Argentines don’t trust their own currency. They are willing to buy dollars at a weaker rate just to have them and most people stuff them in suitcases or boxes under the bed. This is better for them than having pesos even though they lose a big chunk buying dollars on the black market. For foreigners traveling with dollars to Argentina, however, this is a great advantage and a way to cut costs in half.

While we were in the country in late 2012 / early 2013, the official rate was 5 pesos to $1 and the Blue Dollar Rate was 7-8 pesos per $1. With inflation running at 25 percent, the current Blue Dollar rate is now up to 10 Pesos per $1. This frustrating number (for Argentines looking to secure their net worth in dollars) is now even referred to as the Dollar Messi, after Argentina’s current top soccer player Lionel Messi, who wears the number 10 jersey.

What does this difference look like in actual numbers?

Argentine PesosThis is where things get really painful for us to look back on. We did not start taking advantage of the Blue Dollar rate at all until the third time we entered the country.

The total amount we spent in Argentina comes up to 44,018 Argentine Pesos. In US Dollars, that is $8,910 (at the official exchange rate of around 5.0 we got during our stay). This is roughly $3,000 per month for the two of us, the same amount we would spend traveling through the US or Western Europe.

Had we gotten the Blue Dollar rate, we would have spent roughly US$6,290 at 7 Pesos or even US$5,500 at a rate of 8 Pesos to the Dollar. We essentially donated over $2,600+ to the government of Argentina.

If you are traveling to Argentina today, you can cut your expenses almost in half by exchanging your money at the Blue Dollar rate of 9-10 pesos per $1 instead of 5 pesos per $1 at the bank, plus you’ll save on all those ATM fees.

How to get the Blue dollar rate

Normally, we would never, ever recommend this, but… you could bring a giant stack of US Dollars, in cash, to Argentina. If you have this cash, what to do with it?

In Buenos Aires, you’ll have to find an ‘arbolito’, or little tree. These are the men with ‘green leaves’ or dollar bills, most of whom stand on Calle Florida and will take you to a ‘cueva’ (cave) to exchange your money. Sound shady? It is. These are illegal places, often looking like completely legit stores, in nearby shopping arcades.

A local Argentine friend told us to stay away from them since they often give the wrong change or even fake bills, but BA expats seem to use them. You’ll recognize them easily since they are yelling out “cambio, cambio” (exchange, exchange) constantly, especially when foreigners walk by. You can read more about the arbolitos and the underground dollar market in this Business Insider article.

Arbolito Alternative: Xoom

If you don’t want to travel with handfuls of cash and exchange them in caves with little trees or aren’t able to stock up on US dollars at your previous destination, there is another way to get Argentine Pesos at the Blue Dollar rate: Xoom, a digital money wiring service. xoom argentinaWe did not do this but we know many foreigners based in Argentina who use it. You sign up for Xoom online and wire money into the account from any bank account or even just a debit card and then pick it up in cash at one of their affiliated offices (in Buenos Aires, the most convenient located office is More Money at Libertad 1057). The only requirement for opening a Xoom account: you need a U.S address. A similar service for UK citizens is Azimo, and Exchange4Free offers a similar service for almost any nation in the world.

In order to pick up your Xoom cash, you need to show documents that prove you are the same person who wired the money. In other words, this isn’t a service for US residents (or people using a US address) to wire money to Argentine residents. This is a way to wire yourself cash. The small transaction fee Xoom charges is minimal and the service will end up saving you bundles of cash in the long run.

You can see their fees and exchange rate here. Apparently it takes only 30 minutes to wire the money, but in reality you should allow 24 hours for the transaction. If you are using Xoom in other places in Argentina, make sure these towns have a place where you can pick up the cash – not all cities have a Xoom affiliate.

Is the Blue Dollar rate legal?

With Blue Dollar caves and companies like Xoom, how illegal is this all, really? Even though the rate is technically illegal, it is official enough to be printed in Argentina’s major newspapers and websites. Some shops and restaurants put signs with the blue dollar rate they trade for on their door and windows. The Blue Dollar rate even has a Facebook Page with 20,000 likes and tweets the updated rate daily!

dolar blue twitterHowever, you can look up trustworthy exchange offices on websites like the Buenos Aires expat forum or ask the receptionist at your hotel, your taxi driver at the airport or the guy at the newsstand – they’ll most likely know where you can get the Blue Dollar rate or refer you to someone who knows someone.

Our daily budget: Official Dollar vs Blue Dollar 

Let’s talk numbers now. As I mentioned already above, we spent ARS 44,018 between the two of us, or US$8,910 at the official rate. We spent 80 days in Argentina, so our daily expenses were $111.40 together, or $55.70 per person.

Now, let’s say you exchange your money at the Blue Dollar rate (at 9 Pesos per Dollar). You can travel Argentina right now, spending the exact same amount of pesos as we did, for $30.57 per person per day, or $61.14 per couple. During the six months we spent in and out of Argentina (we traveled Chile and Uruguay in between), inflation was tangible – you could actually see it happening. We watched restaurants change their prices within a few months and prices of products in the supermarket had risen by a few pesos or more after our two months in Chile.

Our actual travel expenses

There are quite big differences in prices depending on where in Argentina you’re traveling. We found the northwestern part of the country (around Salta) to be considerably cheaper than Buenos Aires, Iguazu, Patagonia or the Lake District (around Bariloche).

Here is what we spent on average for transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment. The prices will be in pesos, because as you have seen the dollar rate is completely relative.andesmar bus argentinaTransportation

We flew only once in Argentina despite the great distances we covered. That is because flights were double or more the cost of overnight buses. The most expensive bus we took was the overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile at ARS820 ($170 roughly) per person for a First Class seat. All other overnight buses were around ARS600 for Second Class. Expect to pay around ARS100 more for a 1st class seat.

Buses within Buenos Aires were ARS4. A taxi from the airport was ARS200, a direct shuttle bus to the city center was ARS85.

Accommodation

On average, we spent around ARS250 (officially, that would be US$50) for a double room in a hostel. In some places, we paid much less (ARS180 in Tilcara, northern Argentina), in popular places like Patagonia and Ushuaia we paid up to ARS325 for fairly basic accommodation.

Food

The most we spent for dinner at a restaurant was ARS240 for the two of us, and we often paid around ARS200 in BA. We usually tried to stay under ARS150 for both of us, and in cheaper places we were able to eat out for around ARS60 per person.

Set lunches and lunch buffets were much cheaper, with lunches (including a starter and a drink) for ARS45-60 and the vegetarian takeaway buffet lunches we went to in Buenos Aires frequently were usually around ARS50 for the two of us.

When we cooked for ourselves, we never spent more than ARS100 in the supermarket for fresh groceries and wine, but we usually managed to buy some veggies for a soup or pasta for under ARS50.

When picking up pastries at the bakery, our bill ranged from ARS6 for a couple of medialunas to $30 for several sweets for the two of us.

Coffee was usually around ARS15, or ARS25 for a café con leche with three medialunas (coffee with milk & three Argentine pastries) in Buenos Aires.

cafe con leche y medialunasWine was available for ARS15 (the cheapest bottles), and good wine was around ARS40.

A large bottle of beer in a restaurant (usually Quilmes, the national brand) was between ARS30-40 in Buenos Aires, and around ARS15 in the supermarket.

Entertainment / Activities

We visited national parks, took some tours and a cooking class, visited several museums and went on some major hikes during our travels through Argentina, and prices varied greatly. The most expensive thing we did was visiting Iguazu Falls (which was well worth it) and the cheapest activity were the museums in Buenos Aires which were usually around ARS15.

Touring the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia was ARS300 per person, visiting Perito Moreno Glacier was ARS310 per person (transportation, boat ride and National Park entrance fee), Nahuel Huapi National Park was ARS50 and our guided tour of the Quebrada De Las Conchas was ARS100 per person. We splurged on an empanada cooking class in Buenos Aires (US$55) and went on a graffiti tour there ($25), but most of the things you shouldn’t miss in Buenos Aires are actually free.

Conclusion

Our time in Argentina cost us more than we had expected, but it can be done on the cheap once again. Use Xoom, or if you choose to, visit the ‘arbolitos’. See if you can exchange directly with your hostel/hotel or with local friends who will likely give you the blue dollar rate. And if you do use an ATM, make sure to have an account that reimburses all international ATM fees.

dani and jess at the border

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Life and death on a road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca

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Light snoring buzzed out from the backseat. Hernan, the hitchhiker we picked up earlier, had been nodding off and on for the last twenty minutes, but Dani and I were still wide awake, our eyes fixated on the landscape twisting and turning before us through the windshield of our little white rental car. Little did we know that one of the main characters in our road trip would die…

argentina salt flats dani & jess with carBut I’m getting ahead of myself – that didn’t happen until Day 2. We played like children together on the first day of the trip, which is why Hernan was passed out in back.

argentina salinas grandes salt flats jess & hernan & daniRoad-tripping through northern Argentina’s Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow 155km-long valley, is by far the best way to experience this technicolor mountainous landscape. A major part of the Camino Inca, or famous Inca Trail, the Quebrada was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural and historical role in this area, but it would be just as easy to believe the designation could come from an effort to preserve its improbable forms and colors that inspire a feeling of magic and infinite possibility. This was one of the first areas of Argentina explored by the Spanish on their way from the Altiplano to the warmer climates of Salta, Cordoba and on to Buenos Aires.

quebrada de humahuacaNormally we would never pick up a hitchhiker, but fate stepped in to force us to meet this particular Argentine, who was on his first day of an infinite journey in the opposite direction. He had just flown up from Buenos Aires to Salta that morning and our paths crossed at the highway turn off to our first stop, the village of Pumamarca. After suddenly being thrust into a day of hitchhiking ourselves in Patagonia (read about how we hitchhiked to the end of the world) just the month before, we felt we had to re-pay our debt, and Hernan’s big smile made us pull over that day.

Pumarmarca ArgentinaIn the car, he shared his story and his goal of making it overland from Argentina to Mexico that year by busking with his guitar, and his eyes lit up when we shared our story of traveling for three years straight – confirmation that his own dream to live freely wasn’t so crazy after all.

Pumamarca Quebrada De HumahuacaWe separated for a bit once we arrived in Purmamarca; Hernan checked into his hostel and we wandered around the center, bargaining for a few little textiles in the market before meeting back up to hike around the Sierra de Siete Colores, or seven-colored hill. If, as a kid, you ever colored sand with chalk and then filled it in, layer by layer, into a glass jar, you’ll have a good idea of what this hike looked like.

quebrada de humahuaca seven color hillquebrada de humahuaca seven color hill dani & jessquebrada de humahuaca seven color hill hikeTogether we ate empanadas at a wooden table in a dark, dusty restaurant and drove up over the mountains out to the salt flats. It may have seemed like a favor to pick him up, but we put Hernan to work. He became our own personal photographer as we jumped and karate-chopped through the air, hopped inside our hats and played around with the amazing visual possibilities out on these massive expanses of bright white salt as far as the eye can see.

Salt Flats ArgentinaThese salt flats are actually minuscule compared to Bolivia’s famous Salar de Uyuni just 150km over the border. However, it was also so beautiful that we didn’t mind driving right through it all again just two days later on the road that leads to the highest desert in the world and our next stop: Chile’s Atacama Desert.

salt flats salinas grandes argentinaAs the slanted sun shot diagonal rays across the afternoon sky, we made our way back over the mountains, woke up our new friend, dropped him back at his hostel and headed on to spend the night in nearby town of Tilcara.

quebrada de humahuaca road to the salt flatsquebrada de humahuaca andes mountain roadJust 85km from Jujuy, Tilcara is a compact grid of colonial style buildings, cobblestone streets and a dusty indigenous feel. Time in Tilcara was short since we headed off first thing the next morning to continue the trip, but we managed to have a deliciously typical dinner of quinoa and empanadas and feed two stray dogs a meal of street food as we took a chilly evening stroll around the town that sits 2,500m above sea level.

argentina quebrada de humahuacaNear Tilcara is the Purcara de Tilcara, partially reconstructed pre-Inca ruins, but we opted to stop instead the next morning in Uquaia, a roadside village famous for its 17th century church – for a very interesting reason. The paintings lining the walls inside feature several saints, each wielding rather large weapons. When we first arrived, a tour bus engine was loudly idling but within minutes the entire busload of Argentine seniors shuffled out into the makeshift market area in front and we had the church to ourselves to ponder this oddity before leaving for Humahuaca.

uquia churchOn the road to Humahuaca, we must have stopped 50 times for photos, most often when guanacos (cousins to llamas and alpacas) gracefully galloped across the highway, winking their way up into the Andes foothills on the other side. In the flatter valley areas, the earth is a coppery orange-red, dotted with every imaginable shade of green. The mountains that jut up out of them are every color imaginable, forming almost a rainbow of reds, yellows, even blues and deep purples. Around each turn comes a new design as if painted by an abstract landscape artist.

quebrada de humahuaca andes guanacosargentina quebrada de humahuacallamas on the roadargentina andes mountain roadHumahuaca is much more like Bolivia than Buenos Aires – from the indigenous residents to the piles of bright textiles for sale up and down the streets. Humahuaca feels like Bolivia today or Santa Fe, New Mexico two hundred years ago, but it most certainly feels unlike anywhere else in Argentina. Because we only half a day here, we shopped up and down the streets, climbed up the Monumento de la Independencia and had piles of vegetarian empanadas. We made sure to walk the length of the local market as well before heading back to the car.

Humahuaca wine and empanadas

And then, it happened. Our little white rental was dead.

We turned the key over and over, pumped the brakes, but it sat, motionless, a hunk of metal on a side street just off the market street. One of us (who has chosen not to be named and blamed) may have left the lights on, which drained the battery.

Without wanting to draw unwanted attention to being two gringas in need, I casually asked a couple of taxi drivers nearby if they could give us a jump. They laughed. ‘No one will help you here. Not for free. We are poor here, this is not Buenos Aires.’ They shrugged and went back to their conversation, not even allowing me to elaborate, bargain or enlist their help. I got the feeling that it had nothing to do with the money. They just couldn’t have cared less.

Humahuaca Quebrada de HumahuacaEventually I got it out of one taxista that a garage was right up the street, but it was closed. Until when, I asked, to which I received an apathetic shoulder shrug for a reply.

After just a few attempts of flagging down someone to help us push the car up the road to the mechanic, an SUV with two older couples stopped, the husbands got out and helped us push the car to the garage. 30 minutes and 30 pesos ($6) later, what had seemed like a major emergency was quickly solved and we were back on the road for our three-hour drive back to Jujuy.

Humahuaca Argentina Quebrada de HumahuacaOn the way back it was just the two of us, no new friends, no hitchhikers. The scenery seemed entirely different. The sun was setting; golden light hit the back of the mountains with views, colors and shadows entirely different to our morning drives in the opposite direction. Back in Jujuy, the thumping beats of the city’s congested streets snapped us out of our dream state, but much of the magic of those two days has stuck with us ever since.

argentina andes mountain roadquebrada de humahuaca rio grande

Travel tips for a Quebrada de Humahuaca road trip

  • Rent a car in Jujuy or Salta. We rented from Hertz for 717 pesos / US $140 for two days.
  • Plan in at least 2-3 nights and stay in Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca in order to give you more time to soak up the scenery.

Quebrada de Humahuaca

  • If you don’t want to rent a car, you can take a bus to Purmamarca or Humahuaca and base yourself there. There are tours you can book to visit the sites – photo stops and spontaneity are reduced, however.
  • The quality of the roads is good, and easy to drive. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, signage is easy to follow to Humahuaca.
  • Main sights are the Sierra de Siete Colores, the ancient Pucara fortress near Tilcara, Uquia and Yavi churches, the Purmamarca market, Iruya village and Humahuaca.

More photos of our road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”globetrottergirls” id=”72157636567783384″]

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Is Cafayate the most underrated town in Argentina?

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When I think of our time in Cafayate, I’ll always remember the shine of the afternoon sun bouncing off her smooth black hair as we sped down the perfectly paved path. She thundered along, right in between our two bicycles, as though in a race for a first place finish. I have never seen a dog so happy…

The three of us were a united front, speeding through the vineyards, no traffic and only a few local pedestrians on the path that runs several kilometers along several vineyards just outside of town.  Cafayate with Scruffy

Despite being one of the most gorgeous destinations in all of Argentina, we spent all afternoon riding, running and touring through rows and rows of plump grapes with almost no other tourists in sight. Very few had even mentioned Cafayate on our tour through the country but everyone told us about the more famous Mendoza wine country – and maybe it’s better that way!El Cafayate ArgentinaAs usual, we had collected the stray after she attached herself to Dani in town the day before. Her giant smile, a big limp and obvious hip issues endeared her to us right away, and when she snuck in the restaurant to sit under our table and didn’t beg for food at all, we became immediate friends, no strings attached.

Scruffy and us in CafayateThat next morning we shared our breakfast of coffee and medialunas with her on the town square and then rented bikes from a nearby hostel. Based on that terrible limp, we just assumed she wouldn’t be able to keep up and tried to make clear she should stay behind and let us tour the vineyards without her.

Not without our stray

That morning, over and over we repeated that we would see her later, wondering if we really would. And away we pedaled…

We cycled through the dusty town of Cafayate, a romantic town with picturesque colonial buildings centered around one main plaza. It feels exactly how I would imagine a sleepy old Spanish colony to look. Throughout our stay, we spent part of each day writing and eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and ice cream right on or around this central park all four days we were in town. Up here in the northern part of Argentina, you feel the difference, and the distance, to Buenos Aires.

cafayate streetMen stuff inconveniently large wads of coca leaves in their cheeks, so much so that I thought our bus driver had a deformity in his cheek until I saw the piles of leaves chewed up and spit out at the bus station. Dani and I powered through piles quinoa empanadas, much more common in northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru than the blue cheese empanadas in the country’s practically European capital.

Here, roads are wide, life moves slow, people wave and say hello.El Cafayate Argentina

We definitely had locals staring at us as our black stray began to follow us down the road, her distinct limp disappearing as she galloped and then sprinted in between the bikes. Ten minutes later we were outside of the town limits, and she stayed with us the whole day. We spent the day together visiting various vineyards, parking our rental bikes out front, sneaking our stray dog in and sampling various red and white Argentine wines.

Cafayate vineyard la bandaCafayate is wine country but in a much more laid back way than Napa Valley, California or even its fellow Argentine brother, Mendoza – the largest wine producing area in Latin America.

cafayate vineyardEventually we headed back in the late afternoon where Dani stopped in at the Heladeria Miranda to try the famous Malbec wine ice cream (definitely only hype – it did not taste good). A much tastier stop was at the alfajores shop on Avenide Guelmes (just a few steps from the south side of the main square) for some freshly baked alfajores instead.

cafayate alfajoresThe next morning, we booked two spots on the afternoon tour of the Quebrada de las Conchas, the red dirt and layered mountain landscape that is similar to the Grand Canyon or Sedona in the southwestern U.S., which we had already driven through on our way in from Salta. We worried how our stray would react to us getting on a bus without her, but she seemed to understand the deal, and laid in the shade by the door of the restaurant where we first met.
quebrada de cafayateThe day was spent climbing into and around rock formations and gorges created by wind and the Rio de las Conchas river for the next four hours, taking short hikes to some spectacular configurations and patterns.

Quebrada de las conchas in ArgentinaThe best time to see the gorge is in the burning glow right before sunset, so we would recommend doing an afternoon tour. First you visit Los Castillos, which is a massive wall perfectly whittled down into three majestic castles and a giant monolith called El Obelisco.
Argentina Quebrada de las conchasYou’ll see a boulder on the side of the road called El Sapo, the toad, and we stopped at a roadside art stand, only to find the llamas and their matted dreadlocks the most interesting part.

Argentina Quebrada de CafayateThe highlight of this day tour from town is the all-natural rock amphitheater with incredible acoustics that even puts Red Rocks, Colorado to shame. A young guy on our tour brought his guitar specifically to play here, but instead he and the rest of us stopped in our tracks, mesmerized, when a man started singing a desperately beautiful love song. The sounds gently swirled around the inside of the natural amphitheater.

quebrada de cafayate argentinaAs for Cafayate itself, there is a sense that this is a showcase city. Hotels, restaurants and enotecas take up real estate along the tree-lined streets, with locals living in run-down homes on the outskirts of town that few people ever visit.

bodega la banda cafayateOne of the days, Dani went to buy bus tickets and I ran errands in preparation for our bus trip back through Salta and up further north just shy of the Bolivian border. The largest pharmacy in town was jammed with locals, more than we had seen anywhere but the central square for the Saturday morning market. It made me wonder where they all live; their dusty, worn clothes and scraped shoes indicated perhaps that they lived further out of town in some of the villages just beyond the green valley oasis toward the foothills of the incredibly dry mountains surrounding Cafayate, perhaps.

cafayate dirt roadsLeaving Cafayte, it was hard not to see how the scenery looks almost like Napa Valley dropped into the floor Grand Canyon. Deep reds and bright greens fill the valley in such a unique way, it would be a shame to miss this on a trip to the north west of Argentina. Just two hours from Salta – the biggest city in northwestern Argentina – Cafayate can be included in a week-long tour of the region along with Salta and  a road trip north through the Quebrada de Humuhuaca, the salt flats and the indigenous town of Humahuaca.

Argentina El Cafayate

We can’t promise you’ll make a furry friend while in town, but if you see our lovely on your visit, please take her with you on a trip through the vineyards – she seemed to have the time of her life!

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Why Porteños escape to Rosario, Argentina (and why you should, too!)

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With Buenos Aires, Patagonia and all that wine country, we understand that Rosario can be easily overlooked on a trip to Argentina. That’s why all the Porteños (locals in Buenos Aires) escape here during major holidays.

To them, Rosario is a ‘quaint’ city of just over 1 million inhabitants. Here they can shop in stores that aren’t crowded, sip coffee in quiet cafes and stroll for miles and miles along the Paraná river in peace.

Rosario ArgentinaRosario is the kind of city we absolutely love. It’s not a showcase city like Buenos Aires or the seat of government. But as the birthplace of the national flag and Che Guevara, Rosario sure ain’t quaint, either.

Unlike his image plastered across T-shirts and magnets throughout the rest of the world, we couldn’t believe how absent Che Guevara’s image is in Argentina. Even here in his birthplace, we only happened to stumble across the apartment where he was born, on the street Entre Rios 480, which is still a private residence marked only by sign out front. (The Guevara family home in Cordoba where they moved shortly after his birth is now a museum.)

Snooping around a bit, we did find a large mural of him in a nearby plaza and local friends showed us a statue made of melted keys much further outside the city center.

Che Guevara in Rosario ArgentinaPride in the national flag? Now that’s another story. The massive, 78m high monolithic monument to the flag, aptly called the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera, is just off the waterfront and practically impossible to miss. An eternal flame burns in the center, and Manuel Belgrano, designer of the Argentine flag, rests in a crypt below.

Bandana Monument Rosario ArgentinaAnd LGBT pride is front and center here, too, we discovered, when we spotted a monument to sexual freedom one day while walking the river promenade. The first country in South America to legalize same sex marriage, Argentina is at the forefront of human rights as it relates to the LGBT community. Much of that progress came as a result of former Rosario congresswoman Silvia Augsburger, who has led the charge not only for marriage equality and women’s rights, but also wrote the transgender rights bill in 2007 that was finally passed in 2011, which covers gender reassignment surgery under national insurance.

rosario sexual freedom monumentDespite its openness, Rosario isn’t a particularly ‘alternative’ city. In fact, there are still meat and potatoes experiences to be had – literally. We spent Friday evening at a barbecue down at the Paraná River, where for a few pesos, locals can set up and grill their steaks and sausages late into the night all along the water. However, Rosario can definitely feel young, with loads of bars and restaurants along Avenue Pellegrini, plus student bars and lots of street art throughout town.

Rosario ArgentinaStreet art in Rosario ArgentinaWe did find plenty of vegetarian options in town. Along the long pedestrian shopping street, Corrientes, we ate twice at Verde Que Te Quiero Verde – a long name essentially professing a love of greens. El Real on Calle Tucuman also had great veggie options and an affordable lunch menu, and we loved spending the mornings working at the traditional Argentina Victoria Bar and Café (on the corner of Roca and San Lorenzo) with its sprawling wooden bar and beautiful courtyard. In true Argentine style, once they have served you a ridiculously strong coffee, they will promptly ignore you until you flag them down, so you can plug in and just work for hours. Not only was the city filled with delicious food options, but you would also get them at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Buenos Aires for them!

Rosario foodDown in the Del Abasto neighborhood, we visited the Bellas Artes museum, which is an easy half an hour visit unless you are very into history, but stop there on your way to the Parque de la Independencia, a busy, fun park with families eating ice cream, friends out on paddle boats, popcorn and those typical Latino clown comedy acts.
rosario parque de la independenciaFrom there, we walked down Boulevard Oroño, a grand, tree-lined boulevard with a tiled middle strip with benches and plenty of space for people to cycle, rollerblade and walk down to the riverfront. A good half hour walk, it brings you right to the MACRO Contemporary Art Museum, instantly recognizable by the brightly painted grain silos right on the Paraná waterfront. MACRO houses work by young local artists in small galleries spread over eight floors, plus there is a good view of the river islands from the mirador (viewpoint) at the top.

rosario contemporary art museumrosario macroWe didn’t make it out to the islands, but Isla Invernada Boats stop at several river beaches, called balnearios, leaving from the western shore of Invernada island. They are your typical summery islands, with ice-cream stands, music, boats, and beaches with umbrellas.

But if you’re really looking for beach, hit the Costanera Norte, the north coast, five km north of downtown. This stretch, along with the islands, are the best places to swim, and have sandy beaches, cafes, bars and volleyball nets.

rosario river at nightThe wide tree-lined avenues, busy downtown bars and restaurants, gorgeous ornate architecture and beaches along the river give Rosario a sense of grandeur very reminiscent of Buenos Aires, with a sense of peace and quiet absent in the capital.

rosario river promenade stairsrosario fruit store

Rosario Travel Information:

  • Rosario is located about 185 miles (299km) north east of Buenos Aires. Buses run several times a day from Buenos Aires, Salta, Cordoba and all other major cities to Rosario – it takes about 4 hours to get here from the capital.
  • There are plenty of hostels in town, but we’d advice to book well in advance, especially during Argentine holidays when the Porteños flock here.
  • Three days are enough to get a good feel for the city and to see the main sights, but you can easily spend a week here, eating your way around town, chilling along the river promenade and on the beaches, explore the nightlife and the islands along the river.

rosario stone lion

rosario angels

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Six things nobody tells you about Iguazu Falls

iguazu falls brazil

Yesterday, we shared our experience visiting Iguazu Falls, one of South America’s natural highlights.

We covered the experience of the visit to the Falls, like most travel publications tend to do. After all, that’s why we all go up to this corner of the jungle.

But no one talks about what the actual trip there is like. So today we are talking about the things that nobody tells you about your trip to Iguazu Falls:iguazu falls dani with falls

It is not cheap or easy to visit Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls are located on the border between Brazil and Argentina, out of the way of any other destination in either country.  The only way the falls can be on the way anywhere is if you happen to be traveling overland through Paraguay (which most people aren’t). So likely you’re detouring to make a special trip here.

In total, we spent $1,000 for a four-day trip, traveling by buses and staying in the cheapest hostel we could find available. Here’s how:

Getting there is expensive. Buses are your cheapest option. On the Brazil side, Sao Paulo and Florianopolis, the closest biggest cities, are both just under 16 hours away by bus. From Buenos Aires it is a full 24-hour bus ride, and our trip from Rosario was 20 hours and cost ARS480, or $95 US dollars per ticket and our onward journey Puerto Iguazu to Salta was another ARS590, or $115 per person.

iguazu falls garganta del diablo close-upThis is one of the world’s major natural wonders, so there is obviously an airport. Buenos Aires is a two-hour flight, but flights are normally around $350 one way.

Hotels and hostels have inflated rates, and even places with mediocre reviews are overpriced and quickly booked. We paid ARS245 / $48, for a double room in giant, mediocre hostel with carpet that may have not been vacuumed in years. Unless you are on a shoestring budget, we would recommend to choose a place with better reviews, but that will bump you up to more per night.

Iguazu Falls admission rates are another extra cost on top. Per person we paid ARS60 / $12 for the bus to the Falls and back, plus ARS170 / $34 entrance and another ARS150 / US$30 for the boat ride – which we really recommend doing, too. So that is $76 total per person, plus Dani paid BRZ41.66 / $21 admission to visit the Brazilian side of the Falls, plus ARS8 / $1.60 for the bus to the border and ARS12 / US$2.40 (each way) from the border to the Falls.

iguazu falls waterfalls viewing platformIn total, the actual visit to the Falls cost us $181, and would have cost $210 had Jess come to the Brazilian side (plus an extra $140 for a 90-day visa that U.S. citizens must pay).

Our tip: Don’t leave planning to the last minute. Booked in advance, a return flight from Buenos Aires could have cost under $400 – twice the price of a bus ticket, but saving you two entire days of your life on a not very comfortable bus. Another great option to save money is booking in advance a complete tour package with a local travel agency from Argentina.

Consider a visit to the nearby historic Jesuit Missions in Paraguay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, while you are in the area. It’s just a two hour trip from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

iguazu falls waterfalls

Puerto Iguazu is a dump

Considering that Puerto Iguazu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Argentina, the town leaves much to be desired.

Other popular tourist towns in Argentina – Bariloche, Cafayate, El Calafate, Ushuaia, are solid cities. They have great infrastructure for tourism and in general felt on par with similar places in Europe or the U.S. Puerto Iguazu feels much more like a developing country, only restaurants and souvenir shops line the streets, most hotels are in urgent need of renovation, and there were many child beggars walking barefoot from table to table all day throughout town.iguazu hostelsOur tip: Try to find a good deal for a nicer hotel on Booking.com or a hostel with excellent ratings on Hostelbookers, and book well in advance. Splurge at some of the nicer restaurants – we loved La Rueda, an upscale restaurant on Avenida Córdoba 28.

puerto iguazu pasta at la rueda

The real stars of Iguazu are not the Falls!

coati warning signSure, the Falls are why we are all here and are by the far the most stunning aspect of your trip to the park. But you rarely hear about the coatis (a raccoon-like animal) that feel like the true main attraction. From the minute you pass through the gates, you’ll be met by dozens of coatis roaming freely.

 

Tourists are constantly snapping pictures of them, possibly more than of the Falls. They kneel down and get so close to them – but don’t be fooled. These buggers BITE. They steal food, rummage through bags and depending on how many there are – they can get rather aggressive. There are very large, very graphic warning signs showing what a coati bite looks like, but in true tourist mode, people from around the world still get frightening close to them, feed them or even pet them!

Our tip: Don’t feed the coatis and keep a safe distance if you don’t want to pay for a rabies shot. If they smell food, they are likely to bite you.

Coatis Iguazu Falls

The nature around the Falls is spectacular.

Staring at the Falls for hours, getting lost in imagining all that water rushing by your eyes every second – that’s the core reason you visit Iguazu Falls. But the wildlife here is amazing, and more than almost anything else, we’ll remember the butterflies, hundreds of them, fluttering around us as we wandered along the trails and through the gorgeous jungle here. There are colorful birds, huge catfish in the river, crocodiles, those pesky coatis and monkey and jaguars, (albeit the last two we didn’t personally see).

Our tip: Take some time for a picnic – bring your own food, as the food in the park is overpriced and lackluster – and really take in the jungle scenery as well, not only the Falls.

Iguazu Falls Wildlife

The National Park is huge!

While the Brazilian side is pretty manageable with only one walkway (1.2 km long / 0.75 miles), the maze of walkways on the Argentine side is much bigger than we expected. While you can see Niagara Falls easily in a couple of hours, you can wander the walkways at Iguazu Falls for hours and hours. The upper trail, the lower trail, the trail on St Martin’s Island, the trail to the Devil’s Throat. If you’re also planning to take a boat ride, you can easily spend six hours in the park, especially as the little train ride from the entrance to the first set of trails takes a while, as does the train ride to the Devil’s Throat (Garganta Del Diablo).

Our tip: Plan at least half a day for your visit to make sure you have enough time to walk all the trails, and have time to take in the falls from all the viewing platforms. We wouldn’t advise to attempt seeing the Brazilian side and the Argentine side in one day.

Iguazu Falls with jungle

The weather is iffy.

Iguazu Falls are in a tropical region and it rains. A lot. Being in the densely humid jungle, it can rain hard for a few hours or a whole day. We saw plenty of package tourists trucking it out to the Falls the first two days we were in town because they had their one day and it was time to move on.

Our tip: Err on the side of unpredictable tropical weather and give yourself a couple of days’ leeway so you can opt to go on the sunniest day possible. Trust us, the sun sparkling off the water, countless rainbows and all those butterflies make waiting a day or two totally worth it.

iguazu falls rainbow

Still looking for a place to stay in Puerto Iguazu?

iguazu hotels

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