In our 2nd day in Buenos Aires, I led the gang up to check out Recoleta Cemetery. Afterwards, they continued onwards to the parks of Palermo while I found a cafe and caught up on work. We rendezvous’ed back at the hostel in the late afternoon and began our 30-hour journey to Valparaiso, Chile, located on the other extreme side of the South American continent.
Yes, we literally just crossed an entire continent — east to west, edge to edge, from the Atlantic to the Pacific — in 30 hours.
Here’s what we saw:
The Argentine/Chilean border in the Andes Mountains just got served
Navigating our way around the streets of Valparaiso in the dead of night
We started our journey on the Buenos Aires subway:
Got out at Retiro Train Station:
…And headed over to the Retiro Bus Terminal to catch a 08:30pm overnight CATA International Bus to Mendoza:
On the bus, we kicked back in our Royal First Class Suites…check out these digs (including 180 degree reclining beds, personal TVs, steak for dinner, and decently fast but spotty wifi):
Woke up the next morning in Mendoza with a 09:30am arrival:
Spent about 20 minutes “checking out Mendoza” (as in, walking a circle around the bus terminal looking for a way out of the wide avenues and overpasses surrounding the bus station) before running back and catching a 10:30am Andesmar bus to Santiago:
Passed by the famous vineyards of Mendoza:
But then, about an hour later, we were treated to possibly one of the most beautiful drives in the world: The Andes Mountains. To get to Santiago from Mendoza, you have to drive THROUGH the Andes Mountain ranges, which means you’ll get views such as these for the next 6-7 hours:
We then approached the famous “Hills of 7 Colors”:
My favorite vistas were these canyons:
After about 4 hours of these kind of views, we finally arrived at the northern Argentine/Chilean border. They then made us wait in the bus for about an hour and a half before it would be our turn to cross:
The view behind us
Getting stamped out of Argentina and into Chile
Our luggage handler poses for a portrait
Waiting for them to inspect our luggage at customs
I’ll spare you the boring details (I already went through the same Argentine/Chilean crossing 4 months ago and described the process here. Just make sure you don’t bring any fruits or vegetables or else they’ll confiscate it). So all you need to know is that after about an hour and a half waiting to cross the border, and another hour going through the motions of crossing, we finally were on our way into Chile:
At this point, most of us passed out and woke up about 2 hours later finding ourselves edging our way into Santiago. Because of the insanely long border crossing, our bus arrived about 2.5 hours late at around 7pm instead of the scheduled 4:30pm.
That left us much less time than expected in Santiago, so we booked it to the Transsantiago metro/subway and took it as far north as San Cristobal:
From the Universidad de Santiago stop (where all the major Bus Terminals are, including Alameda and Sur), we got out around 15 minutes later and proceeded north towards San Cristobal…
…and instead going up on San Cristobal for the city views (simply didn’t have enough time before it closed at 8pm), we decided to chill out and explore the famously posh neighborhood of Bellavista:
We also found a sweet outdoor concert to cozy up to:
About 45 minutes later, we took a return subway ride back to Universidad de Santiago to catch a 9:25pm Condor Bus to Valparaiso (the last one):
We arrived into Valparaiso about 2 hours later at 11:30pm, and tried to avoid the aggressive stray dogs outside the bus terminal that were seemingly everywhere:
From the bus station we took 2 cabs for 2000 pesos each (we also crammed 5 of us in a cab for an extra 500 Chilean pesos, which is a little under $1 USD) to a general area where our hostel was:
We then walked up and down the streets of Valparaiso looking for our hostel:
And with a little bit of luck and help from the locals, we found shelter at last:
- At time of posting in Valparaiso, Chile, it was 15 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 17km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
The gang at La Cabrera
Taking a 7pm bus leaving from Puerto Iguazu the night before, we arrived into Buenos Aires at 12:45pm the next day.
Fun fact: at this point I would have arrived into Buenos Aires in all 4 modes of transportation (air, train, ferry, and bus) within a span of 5 months (yes, cool story bro).
It’s good to be back so soon.
While everyone else went exploring on the same itinerary I did 4 months ago, I went to Galerias Pacificas to go shopping for some missing and broken items on the trip: iPhone 5 charger ($75 USD!!!), light waterproof jacket ($110 USD!!!)…even with the peso in freefall, things can get expensive in BA!
After reconvening at the hostel at 5pm, we then headed to La Cabrera in the Palermo Soho neighborhood for the 40% off happy hour (40% off all menu items and wine!) from 6:30-7:45pm. Unfortunately, we missed the happy hour by half an hour so we settled for regular dinner instead, which wasn’t so bad: their malbec house wine goes for $10 USD a bottle, and a ribeye steak for 2 goes for about $30 USD:
Steak in the "mariposa"/"butterfly" cut
Afterwards we headed to a nearby Gelato store on Honduras street for dessert:
We then hung around Palermo Soho for a bit, finding a bar around Plazoleta Julio Cortaza to get to know one another better:
Andy finds a "bar"
Where the real Monday nightlife is in Palermo Soho: Plazoleta Julio Cortaza
Street art in Palermo Soho
We then wrapped up our Monday night with bona-fide Argentine tango at Villa Malcolm (40 pesos per person) at 1am:
- At time of posting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it was 12 °C -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly clear
Every single person and guide book out there tells you that if you’re going to visit Iguazu Falls, you *must* spend one day EACH on either side (Brazil and Argentina). Well, in true Monsoon fashion, we decide to do the impossible and not only do BOTH sides in one day but also cram in room for a side trip to Paraguay before having to catch a 7pm overnight bus to Buenos Aires.
Could we do it? Let me show you our one epic day in a nutshell:
Iguazu Falls and a random American tourist in my way just got served
The 'Supermarket of South America' just got served
Here’s how we did it:
We started off our day early by waking up at 7:30am at our hostel in Fos de Iguacu, Brazil (at Iguassu Guest House). We booked it to the 8:15am Bus #120 from the Fos de Iguacu Bus Terminal to the Iguazu Falls entrance (about a 30min bus ride, costing 2.85 Brazilian Reals):
At 09:00am, the ticket booths opened and after storing our luggage in their left luggage facility and waiting about 10 minutes in line, we paid the 50 Brazilian Reals entrance fee which included a bus ticket straight to the falls:
And with a hop and skip away, we were immediately at the entrance of the falls by 9:40am:
From there you begin a 1km hike. And somewhere along the way a band of opossums attacked Chris and stole his food:
We trudged onwards, undeterred by Chris’ defeat:
You’ll see a catwalk leading directly to the opening of Devil’s Throat. Walk it.
And then you’ll gape at where the river descends into…
Trace your steps back to the beginning of the catwalk and head up into the viewing elevators to your right:
At this point it was about 11:00am.
Returning to the entrance of the Brazilian side of the falls at around 11:30am, we split the group into the daring vs. the not so daring. With the limited amount of time that we had, I figured we could throw sanity out the window and also include a brief visit to neighboring Paraguay…because why not?
So the 4 of us (Natasha, Ben, Karthik, and myself) found a cab driver willing to take us not only to the border but through it and back and then to the Argentina side of the falls for a mere 300 Brazilian reals (split among the 4 of us, it wasn’t a bad deal.
So off we went:
After passing through the Brazilian border with nobody stamping our passports exiting the country (I guess they assumed we’d be coming back anyway?), we began to cross the Friendship Bridge between Brazil and Paraguay at around 12:00pm:
We then approached the Paraguay border:
And then an unbelievable thing happened: our car just literally went through Paraguay passport control without being stopped. That’s right, nobody bothered to check for our visas or passports! We felt like we had just violated international law. But it’s really not our fault if nobody bothered to do their job…
And immediately past passport control is the city of Ciudad del Este itself, famous for its contraband goods from all over the world that would earn it its nickname “The Supermarket of South America.” It was as if we accidentally descended upon an apocalyptic ghost town; literally nobody was around and we were probably the only tourists within at least a 5 mile radius. For once, we felt we were doing something off the beaten path.
Definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
After 30 minutes of exploring, we got back into our taxi at 12:45pm and drove across the Friendship Bridge towards Brazil:
…and then to Argentina’s border at Puerto Iguazu:
The Brazil-Argentina border is a little more professionally run as we were all properly given exit stamps upon leaving Brazil and then entry stamps upon entering Argentina.
After about 20min more of driving, we were at the entrance of the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls by 1:30pm:
Once arriving at the ticket booth to the Falls on the Argentine side, we found out that unlike Brazil, they did not accept credit cards. And the only ATM is inside the park. If you get a kind enough officer — which we did — he will let one person in your group to go inside and retrieve cash if you don’t have enough pesos. At this point it was around 2pm.
Once we paid, we got on the 2:30pm train to the Falls’ “Devil’s Throat”, this time the Argentine version. The train ride might require you get off the train somewhere in the middle and back on another one towards “Devil’s Throat”, but don’t be alarmed if you’re running short on time as the transfer is pretty quick (less than 15-20 minutes):
Take care of your belongings (and sanity) because there’s always a huge crowd heading to this part of the Falls:
At 3:15pm we began a 1km hike down a narrow catwalk, where we eventually came across the Argentine side of Devil’s Throat:
We stayed there taking it all in and left by 4pm. After exiting the park by around 5pm, we booked it to the bus terminal in Puerto Iguazu and arrived there by 5:30pm.
Then, Natasha and I spent the next hour and a half scrambling to find a way to print out our missing pre-paid vouchers that we needed to exchange for actual bus tickets to Buenos Aires. The bus company — Crucero del Norte — steadfastly refused to help us (whether to let us use their internet to access our e-mailed vouchers or to use their printers). And because it was a Sunday, everything — including internet cafes — were closed. We kept being told “go down another 2 blocks” to another closed internet café…and then to another…and then to another.
Luckily, we finally found an open internet café located inside a supermarket on the other side of town. After a bit of another snafu trying to figure out why their printer wasn’t working (it wasn’t turned on), we ran back to the bus terminal to exchange them for tickets.
We managed to get on our 7pm bus just in time.
As they wonder what's taking me and Natasha so long...
And with that, we begin our 18 hour overnight bus ride to Buenos Aires…
- At time of posting in Iguazu Falls, it was 13 °C -
Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
Hard to believe that just last week we were in Antarctica.
As I’m nearing the final moments of a Christmas in Buenos Aires...
…I head to Madrid, Spain at which ironically I had spent my Christmas Day 2 years back:
After a few hours there I then head to Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, at which I had also enjoyed an unforgettable 20 hours 2 years prior:
Then after one day in Dubai hopefully meeting with friends, I’m off to Lahore, Pakistan to continue the second half of my trip.
Anyways, to old memories and new ones! Chalchaliye!
- At time of posting in Madrid / Cuatro Vientos, it was 9 °C -
Humidity: 93% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: broken clouds
I went to Argentina with my sister and our friend Eva in March. This is a list of my favorite experiences.
(and why you should go!)
Its everywhere. Its delicious. Bring your dairy pills because you’ll want globs of it every day.
10. Graffiti/Street art
Especially near La Boca, colorful graffiti covers Buenos Aires. Sometimes its on cars. Sometimes its a giant mural that even incorporates nearby telephone poles.
9. Recoleta Cemetery
Evita was buried here. The avenues of small neat mausoleums is a bit creepy, but the sculptures are great. Cats wander around.
8. Steak. Asado. Meat.
If you’re not eating steak every day, you’re doing something wrong. The food is amazing in Argentina and steak is what they’re best known for- usually cooked more well done that we like, but so good it melts in your mouth. Vegetarians, the empanadas and pizzas are equally awesome.
7. Yerba Mate
This tastes nothing like the Guayaki brand of mate you’ll find in the supermarket. Bitter, dark and drunk through a metal straw in a pile of leaves in a hollowed out melon, its caffeine will keep you up. People often will refill your cup with warm water for free. And its usually shared in a circle.
My sister who has declared herself “not a wine fan” admitted to liking malbec wines. They’re flavorful, not too sweet and dry enough to pair really well with that asado.
5. Perito Moreno Glacier
The perito moreno glacier is incredibly photogenic. Its not the biggest, but it’s one of the most consistent in calving. Stick around for at least two hours to watch the glacier drop building size pieces of ice into the water.
4. The town of El Calafate
There is something really familiar but grand about the landscape around El Calafate. There were hills sort of like Owen’s Valley, plants were sort of like the ones in the Central valley, the sky sort of looked like Colorado’s, but it was somehow perfected. Whether riding bikes along the lake or driving along Rt 15, the open air, rising hills and small ranches around this city felt right.
3. Hiking in El Chalten
Though its billed as the trekking capital of Argentina, you’ll run into a surprisingly few number of people in this sleepy small town. Rent any hiking equipment you need and head out on some of the most beautiful hikes in Patagonia. Get close to Fitz Roy, get a view of the valley floor, and definitely check out Laguna Torre. Not the easiest hikes around (most are about 15-17 miles round trip), but there are nice backpacking options if you want to break it up into several days.
2. I Keu Ken Hostel in El Calafate.
This is the best hostel I have ever stayed at. The staff was friendly, the place was cozy, the people were just the best. Friday night asado dinner had all beer/wine you can drink and all meat you can eat, which resulted in a rousing game of switch hand drinking game with people from around the world.
1. Ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier
When the boat dropped us off next to the Viedma glacier, there were maybe 40 people standing around. Then the guides took the ice trekkers away and then there was just 4 of us. Apparently no one else wanted to try ice climbing! It took a few minutes for us to get the gear and put it all on, but as soon as I took my first steps on the ice and sunk my ice axe into the glacier, I was completely in love. From slushy white snow to hard blue glassy ice, I felt like I was flying as I climbed up these walls. By the end of the day as I came over the edge of my last climb, I couldn’t stop smiling. Our guides handed us some Baileys with glacier ice and we sipped them while watching the shadows grow longer along the crevasses. Then we climbed back over the ice and rock to the boat that would take us back to town. Easily one of the best days of my life.
I arrived on the eve of Christmas in Buenos Aires, welcomed by fireworks among the skyline and along the streets of Montserrat:
I slept in until the next afternoon where Tabitha, also recuperating from the same trip we took to Antarctica a few days earlier, rendezvous with me at my hostel.
We head out in search of food in a city in 100 degree weather, and where nothing is open on Christmas Day:
Empty streets on Christmas Day
And we keep walking with no plan for the next 5 hours:
Outdoor singing in Recoleta
Center for Social Sciences
Monument for the United People
It’s 3 hours before my flight is about to leave and we’re still walking without having eaten all day. It doesn’t matter, because we find ourselves in Palermo Viejo and we’re watching a city begin to unfold slowly with the setting sun:
A puppy jumps all over Tabby
The parrilla (steakhouse) we had been casually looking for, Don Julio, ends up being closed.
But before we’re about to give up and I’m about to catch a cab back to my hostel to pack and then head to the international airport (which is an hour away from the city!), we run into the only Argentine steakhouse that’s open:
We finish our dinner within half an hour, and we book it to my hostel. From there Tabby and I said our goodbyes, I hire a driver, and make nice with him on my impending international flight about to leave in 90 minutes. Like a Christmas miracle, he ends up breaking the speed limit. Driving 140km/hr, he gets to the airport in 20min time when it was supposed to take us an hour.
Feeling good about not having to sprint to catch a flight, I decide to go ahead and exchange my leftover 800 Argentine pesos (approximately $125 USD) into something I can use in Pakistan (i.e. dollars or euros, which I can favorably exchange into rupees later on if necessary).
Then came the bitter aftertaste from a great day in Buenos Aires: The Argentinian government has recently decreed they will no longer buy Argentine pesos back.
In other words, no banks, no exchange houses, and no stores in the airport would exchange my pesos for dollars or euros; it’s the scenario where nobody in the country wants their own currency back because they prefer to stick to holding on a more stable dollar/euro. Therefore you’re left stuck with useless wads of cash once you leave the country!
This is probably worse than what I had experienced when trying to leave Bangladesh because at least in Bangladesh I found a shady airport shopkeeper willing to take my Bengali takas for a somewhat lower rate for US dollars (and good for him he was making a livelihood out of giving hope to stranded travelers!). In this case, NOBODY wanted my Argentinian pesos back; the last market crash in Argentina was so bad that its entire economy (and government!) all trust foreign currency more.
Using the airport’s free wifi, I double-check online and check with my banks back home and it’s entirely a bust; my 800 Argentinian pesos might as well be used as toilet paper because no other bank or country in the world will take them back either. The best I can do is exchange them back home with a friend heading to Argentina, which even then isn’t a sure bet.
Then I ask someone at information what she would do if she were me and she said: “I’d spend it at duty-free.”
Well it is Christmas…
I immediately message my Argentinian friend I had recently got to know back in NYC, Mariela, and like an angel sent from the travel gods she instructs in painstaking detail on exactly what I should buy (she knows her Argentinian duty-free shops well!) to get the most value out of my pesos. Forget the Malboros, Grey Goose, Toblerones, Lindt Chocolates, or Samsonite travel gear…it’s a Christmas miracle in Buenos Aires!
And with that I say goodbye to one half the world, and hello to the other: Goodbye Uruguay, Goodbye Argentina, Goodbye Antarctica, Goodbye Chile, Goodbye South America..it’s been an unforgettable 2 weeks.
See you on the other side of the planet.
- At time of posting in Aeroparque Bs. As. Aerodrome, it was 36 °C -
Humidity: 41% | Wind Speed: 20km/hr | Cloud Cover: few clouds