All posts by Iain

How to travel: Buses in Argentina

Argentina is HUGE! I know this might seem like an obvious statement, if you glance at a map for a moment it’s obviously a big place, but maps just don’t get the point across. Coming from a small island in the North Atlantic, it’s very hard to get my head around the distances involved in travelling Argentina. 18, 24 or 32 hour journeys are a matter of course when traversing the world’s eighth largest country. In the course of a week we’ve gone from deserts, cacti and 30°C heat to snow and -2°C on Antarctica’s doorstep. How you’re going to get around this country is one of the first things travellers are going to think about, hopefully this will help.

Buses / Coaches
Unless you’ve got limited time and lots of money then you’re going to be using buses as your mode of transport. Certainly if you come from Britain this is not a pleasant prospect, my experience of busses in the UK are either “rail replacement” or school trips. If this is your expectation then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.

I felt writing this on a bus would ensure I could write an accurate account of what to expect. I’m currently sitting in what could be best described as a leather armchair, it reclines by 160°. I have my feet on a foot rest and someone has just brought me a glass of wine. This beverage indicates that my evening meal should be here soon, first the cold course then the hot. Sound good?

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Classes
There are multiple classes of coach in Argentina from ordinary single deck with or without air conditioning to full 180° recline, WiFi, steaks and Cognac. Depending on the length of your journey it’s usually better to fork out a bit more cash for comfort, remember this is probably going to be your nights accommodation. I would always suggest that if you plan on sleeping then reserve a “Cama” seat. Usually this is a larger seat with good cushioning for the head and around a 150° recline, you’ll know straight away when you get on the bus as there are only 3 seats to a row instead of 4. In most cases you will get meals and a few drinks included with this seat. If you’re in doubt just ask when you book your ticket, most companies have pictures of their seating options at their offices.

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Semi-Cama are one step down from this. 4 seats to a row, not as spacious and they don’t recline quite enough for a “good” sleep. That isn’t to say that these aren’t comfortable. For journeys during the day or short hops where you’re not trying to catch a nights sleep, they’re absolutely fine and usually a good bit cheaper. You might get offered a biscuit and coffee but not always.

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The top end bus travel seems to be called different things depending on the company, so if you really want it, ask at the desk. Cama-total or Super Cama seating are the 2 that we’ve come across. As Cama-total would suggest the seat converts into a flat “bed”. Champagne and a nightcap is provided for parting with that extra cash. A word of warning for this fully reclined seat though, remember it is still a seat and not a mattress meaning you could wake up more stiff than if you were in Cama seating.

Tickets
Before heading off to buy your tickets, i find its a good idea to have a clue on prices and timings. At some of the bigger bus terminals there will up to 30 companies so it’s better to know which one you’re going to before you get there.

http://www.plataforma10.com/en-US

This website is invaluable for planning your trip around Argentina. Whilst it’s possible to buy tickets direct through their website, we generally just use it as a reference tool. Whilst we’ve found a specific service isn’t always running the prices have been correct on every occasion. Upon deciding which bus you want to catch, you can head straight to the relevant booth at the bus terminal and have a hassle free experience (especially useful if you have limited Spanish).

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Companies

One of the questions i researched a lot was which companies are good to travel with? They’re all fine, sure some are cleaner than others or offer newer coaches, but so far in 2 months in Argentina we haven’t had a single “bad” experience. If you’re really worried just ask other travellers who they used on a specific route. In northern Argentina we used FlechaBus almost exclusively and never had a problem, I wouldn’t say they were the best but there was nothing to complain about. Certain companies specialise in certain routes and generally therefore offer the best service on that route. For trips to Bariloche from BA for example ViaBariloche are meant to offer excellent options.

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Food

As I’ve already mentioned with Cama and above you usually get meals thrown in. If you’re counting on this to be your main form of sustenance on a 24 hour journey you might be disappointed. The food is certainly edible, we haven’t had any problems and its always nice to get a hot meal before you try and sleep. If you’ve got any dietary requirements then the safest option is to bring your own food.

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Safety

We can’t say we’ve had a problem or met anyone who has whilst on the buses. Obviously bus stations are a place to be wary of your bags. If you place bags in the luggage hold then you will generally get a receipt and there’s plenty of space under and above your seat for hand luggage. As the buses are travelling such long distances and everyone is just trying to get some sleep it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.

Toilets

Yes the buses have toilets and they’re generally pretty clean at the start of a journey. (Lauren advises all girls carry toilet paper as after the first hour it’s usually gone!)

Price

Prices are quite expensive for the busses. Don’t expect to travel across the country for £10. Here’s an example of average costs on some of the more popular routes (1st May 14*)

Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu: 850 ARS, 106 USD, 63 GBP

Buenos Aires – Bariloche: 1150 ARS, 144 USD, 85 GBP

Buenos AIres – Rosario: 200 ARS, 25 USD, 15 GBP

Buenos AIres – Mendoza: 650 ARS, 81 USD, 48 GBP

 

*With the current inflation in Argentina I’d expect these prices to be wrong quite fast.

 

Autumn Leaves and Sunny Skies: Trekking in El Chalten

After a few days in El Calafate we decided to go check out the “Trekking Capital of South America” El Chalten, located another 200km north in the Glaciers National Park. The weather outlook, in contrast to the last couple of weeks was predicting 4 days of sun and almost cloudless skies. With this in mind we booked onto an early bus and slept the 3 hours to El Chalten. We both awoke as the bus pulled into the last stretch of road leading into town and we’re glad we did. Situated virtually at the base of the Fitz Roy and Torre mountains, El Chalten must have one of the most breathtaking backdrops on the planet. The early morning clear skies made the last 10 minutes an event in their own right.

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Anyone heading to the “town” of El Chalten should be prepared for a change of pace. Only established in 1985 in order to settle border rights with neighbouring Chile, the central authority seemed to lose interest in development after people started living there. The main 3 streets have tarmac, after that it’s dirt tracks. There are no petrol stations, though the remains of one sit by the entrance to town. There is 1 ATM in town, however the chances of it working are so slim you’d do better playing the lottery. Finally most places only accept cash, so take every peso you plan on spending. The power seems to cut out for a bit every now and then as well.

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This all makes it sound far worse than it actually is. Despite the lack of certain amenities the locals have all of your comforts well in hand (as long as you remembered to bring cash.) The hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars and cafes are of a very good standard and you can easily pick up everything you’ll need for your stay in the area.

Trekking

El Chalten advertises itself as the Argentine capital of trekking and you can immediately see why. As our bus pulled into town we were first dropped off at the information center for what can only be described as orientation, it seems every bus El Chalten bound does this and its well worth it. The whole area, including the town, is in the national park so you get a run down of the rules straight away. After this we got a really useful talk through all the different routes and treks available straight from town. This is what I think makes El Chalten so good, most of the trails start from the town, once you’ve arrived and dropped off your bags you can just get walking.

Due to the amazing weather and the fact it was still before midday, we dropped our bags at the hostel and shot straight out of the door to do the short hike to Laguna Capri. Climbing straight up out of town you quickly gain the 350 meters in a series of steep rises before arriving at the viewpoint above Laguna Capri. A description isn’t necessary, here’s the photo.

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Not bad for a 90 minute hike from your bedroom.

After soaking in the view and eating a relaxing lunch we headed down to the lake to soak in the view from a slightly different angle. It is a really good view!

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Heading back into town was done at a much slower pace allowing us to catch all the local wildlife undisturbed. Condors were soaring past the craggy cliff sides and the woodpeckers seemed completely unperturbed by our passing.

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Our favorite trek in the area was undoubtedly the one to Laguna Torre, which we undertook on Day 2. Rising fairly early to beat the crowds we set off on the 6 hour round trip. The walk was described as having a 250 meter elevation out of town and was flat thereafter. This was a lie as its fairly undulating throughout. Despite this it was a lovely walk through the red and orange of the Patagonian Autumn. We recommend getting up early to do this walk not only so you give yourself enough time to enjoy but also because any mud is frozen making it easier. All the water running in the area is glacial melt water and it is perfectly safe to fill up your bottle at any of the streams you come across, which we did with great delight! Nothing beats fresh water from a stream. As we neared the end of the valley Lauren had to put up with me pointing out the interesting glacial geography, (using the same “interested” voice as when I’m trying to point out the local fauna or gaming). The final bit of the walk is up a short slope and then you get the most amazing view. I think the photo says it all again…

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With Glacier Grande at the end of the valley and Cerro Torre partly obscured by cloud we think this has to be one of the most impressive views we’ve had in South America so far. The constant cracking of the glacier resounding across the lake and the gentler sounds of the icebergs melting and bouncing together were the only ones to be heard.

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What made this all the more interesting was the appearance of a hawk, that had it’s sights set on stealing our sandwiches. It failed to get them but had a good stab at turning Mr.Ducky into a meal!

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Out of our Patagonian exploration we think that El Chalten has been the best place so far, here’s why.

Value for Money

Unlike most other places we’d visited, there’s no park entry fee. Once you’ve caught the bus there, your costs are limited to food and accommodation, which are reasonable enough for Patagonia. Since there are campsites out in the wilds that don’t cost you a penny, if you bring a tent you’re not going to be paying much at all.

Ease of access

With loads of really simple day treks, you can go out see amazing views and be back in time for dinner. This also means that unlike Torres del Paine it doesn’t matter if you get soaking wet in the rain, you can just hang your stuff up to dry at the end of the day. Even if you’re camping you’re never more than 6 hours from town.

Spectacular views

We didn’t get great views in Torres del Paine, but we think even if we had then the ones around El Chalten would give them a run for their money. If you can, we’d say go in autumn, the colour on the trees was amazing!

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So if you’re planning a trip down south, don’t leave this little town off your itinerary.

To W or not to W, That is the Question

The Torres del Paine National Park is a sight to see for any tourist on the southern tip of the South American continent. Photos of this National Park are used with great effect to lure tourists to the wilds of the south. Whilst located in Chile, the geography of the area leaves it isolated from most of Chile except by plane or boat. Puerto Natales, a 2 hour drive from the national park is the only place near enough to stay and whilst pleasant enough, is not a place to make you loiter long. Most tourists will catch busses here from Argentina, either Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego or nearby El Calafate. Because Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine, there are plenty of places to pick up warm clothes or dried food, but not much else to do part from that.

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The great attraction of Torres del Paine, apart from its spectacular scenery is the “W Trek”, a 4 or 5 day hike in a roughly W shape through the park taking in all the best sites it has to offer. Despite the hype this trek is precisely what Lauren and i decided not to do. The W trek appealed to us whilst we sat in the warmth of Buenos Aires reading others blogs about it in the summer months. However as we sat in Ushuaia in the cold on the cusp of winter we had a rethink and thought “Maybe this isn’t the best idea for us”

To W or not to W

Here’s why we didn’t do the W trek

  1. The weather was awful. Torres del Paine has weather that is incredibly unpredictable, the phrase that you’ll hear a lot is “4 seasons in one day”. Looking at the weather forecast the only season we’d be getting was the bad one. Gales, sleet, snow, torrential rain and cloud were our options. The idea of trekking for 4 days in those conditions and potentially not seeing much due to inclement weather wasn’t a good selling point.
  2. It’s actually quite expensive. The W trek wasn’t something we’d planned on doing when we left London but we thought how expensive can it be? Even if you do it on your own without a guide it costs about the same as the Inca Trail. The accommodation options are camping, which would mean hiring gear, or staying at the refugios which are $40-70 each a night. Add food, equipment, park entrance fee and bus to the park, it really does add up.
  3. We just weren’t that fussed. As the trek wasn’t one on our to do list of South America, combined with cost and bad weather, we really didn’t feel motivated to do it, despite other backpackers relentlessly telling us we had too! The weather could have cleared up but we decided we’d rather save the money for something we really wanted to do and see the sights on a day trip instead.
  4. Low season. Despite it being low season many of the refugios were booked up so we couldn’t have our first choices of accommodation, which would mean longer hikes than we hoped for. Also due to the time of year the bus services to the park only ran in the morning. This meant a day hike just to see Los Torres wasn’t an option for us.

Our advice…if you really want to do the W trek then you’re going to have a great time because the backdrop is spectacular even in the driving rain. If the weather is even half decent, or if it’s high season when all the refugios are open/camping would be pleasant option, and you’re up for the challenge then go. However if you don’t fancy the 4 day hike but still want to stretch your legs that’s not a problem.

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Short Treks in Torres del Paine

We found that so much advertising goes into the W trek that it’s hard to work out if you can do shorter trips. You can. During high season a 1 day trek is easily possible to get to Base Torres and see Los Torres (the towers) up close. Another option is to catch the boat across Lago Peheo and hike up Valle del Frances staying at the refugio and heading back to Puerto Natales the next day. You can trek as much or as little of the National Park as you want, just remember to book your refugios (through FantasticoSur) far enough in advance as during the summer they fill up fast.

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Just because we didn’t do the W trek doesn’t mean we didn’t get to go to Torres del Paine. 1 day bus tours can be easily picked up from Puerto Natales and you’ll still get to see some incredible sights. The forecast had said we’d have sun but strong winds for the first 2 hours of our trip, getting worse after that for at least the next week. That was a narrow window for us to try and see some of the views. Leaving at 7:30am we drove the 2 hours to the park, stopping to see large groups of condors on the way.

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Just before you enter the actual park there is a lake and viewpoint that give you amazing views of Los Torres! Unfortunately, as we’ve said the weather was getting worse so we managed to snag this impressive shot of the world famous towers…

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Even with low cloud and a freezing wind the views were really impressive, the huge mountains entwined with glaciers are awe inspiring no matter what the weather. What’s more the glacial blue waters of the lakes more than made up for the lack of blue skies.

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The southern species of Llama the Guanco can be found all over the park, in large herds of individually, and as with all the best animals are very keen to pose in front of the great scenery.

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The last stop of the day was Lago Grey to see the icebergs that had broken off Glacier Grey. Just a quick 20 minute walk in the rain to see these huge chunks of ice as they drifted past.

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Undoubtedly even in bad weather the views in the national park are probably worth a trek, but considering the temperature and rain we were glad we had a warm minibus to get back on after each of our photo stops.

 

A Courgette and a Chandelier – San Telmo Market

Anyone heading to Buenos Aires is probably going to spend some time in San Telmo. Whether you’re coming for the antiques market on a Sunday, or just browsing the shops and cafes it’s a great place to hang out. When you’re there, make sure you don’t miss the permanent covered market in the middle of the Bario. Taking up nearly an entire block, with entrances on 3 streets around Calle Carlos Calvo and Bolivar, this massive market is capable of meeting all your foodie needs.

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Anyone spending time in Argentina will quickly notice that whilst the food is great, delicious and sizeable, you’re fruit and veg intake is falling far short of normal. Forget five a day, you’ll be struggling to get five a week. On top of this, the fruit and veg you’ll manage to scrape up at supermarkets, are overpriced and under-quality. A short holiday won’t be a problem, but anyone spending more than a couple of weeks out here will start to feel the loss. El Mercado de San Telmo to the rescue!

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Obviously this isn’t the only place to buy fruit and veg in the country, but out of everywhere in the previous month it had the freshest produce and the greatest selection (i didn’t even know there were five kinds of courgette). With five or six competing stalls keeping the price down, you can really save some money on some great produce. There wasn’t anything we wanted that we couldn’t get hold of and in most cases in multiple varieties. Whether you’re after cheese, meat, bread, pastries, herbs, grains or spices there’s somewhere to buy it at the market. There’s no need to rush and being a covered market the weather doesn’t matter, and there’s a great place to grab a coffee and an empanada right in the centre. Even if you’re not coming to San Telmo to scratch your vitamin itch, the market is still well worth a visit. Whilst the central area is mostly dominated by food the rest is in keeping with San Telmos staple product, antiques.

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I’m not going to pretend i know anything about antiques and i’m sure theres a good amount of junk/fakes here, but whether you’re looking for a bag of old snooker balls or massive ornate chandeliers the collection is extensive. Handbags, vinyls, old medical equipment or some really scary dolls, we found it very easy to just walk around and look at all the bits we couldn’t buy. That’s the problem with backpacking, if you buy something, something else is getting left behind…

 

Salta Sojourn

Nestled in the north west corner of Argentina, 20 hours from Buenos Aires and closer to the Bolivian border than it’s nearest Argentine city, Salta posses a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. Upon entering the Lerma Valley with its Andean backdrop, Salta looked like a relaxed peaceful city. Famed for its excellently preserved colonial architecture and great wines, we had been looking forward to Salta for quite some time. Upon pulling into the bus station Salta earnt its first kudos as unlike most places the terminal was within walking distance of the center. This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me when you’ve just spent a night on a bus the last thing you want to do is jump straight on another. Upon picking up a local map we got our first encounter of an interesting phenomenon, the map was not orientated towards north. As we’ve been working on the “North Principle” for some years now, and it was only after getting lost 3 times, most likely made worse by the lack of sleep on the overnight bus, that we discovered the “Salta Principle”. Rather than north taking precedence for orientation, the westerly mountains did, so in effect, west became north. In a place where enormous mountains are never, ever out of sight i suppose it makes some sense. It would have been helpful if someone had told us though.

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The center of the city, Plaza 9 de Julio is as impressive as it was made out to be. Flanked by colonial buildings, or tastefully done replacements, it is a wonderful place to sit and wile away the hours. The north side of the square is dominated by Salta Cathedral. Painted pink and white the interior is one of the best we’ve come across in Argentina and pleasantly those praying far exceeded tourists with their cameras. If you’re really after some down time then the plaza is the place to go. At lunch time there’s plenty of inexpensive restaurants to grab a snack and some wine, or in the evening a quiet stroll with an ice cream (and some wine.) Whilst there are many excellent museums in Salta we’d highly recommend El Museo Arqueologia de Alta Montana (archaeological museum) The controversial centerpiece of this museum is the three preserved Inca children found buried at the top of mount Llullaillaco. There’s a good amount of english for those without spanish and subtitles on the videos.

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Salta gets even more enjoyable when you head off the main square; small streets, interesting shops and great restaurants abound. Heading east brings you to the impressive church of St. Francis followed by a monastery, one of the oldest buildings in the city. For a truly relaxing afternoon though we’d fully recommend the cable car. Located next to the bus terminal this 5 minute journey takes you over 200 meters to the top of a hill overlooking the city. From here you get a great view over the city up into the mountains beyond. Take a book, grab an ice cream (maybe some wine) and sit on one of the shaded benches in the quiet gardens. However if you’ve found Salta too relaxing you can run up the hill and then have a crack at the outdoor gym, i can’t say we gave it a go though.

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South America is famed for it coffee and in Salta i had my best of the trip so far. I’d been having some serious problems getting a black coffee as i either got an espresso, double espresso, or a rather small, lukewarm, watery drink. Lauren had experienced similar but hers came in the form of warm milk with a hint of coffee or coffee that had been teased by a cow, a latte seemed impossible to obtain. It wasn’t just my spanish, as i’d had waiters with perfect english still bringing me disappointments. Salta finally changed all of that. A large black coffee, steaming hot, fresh ground beans, i’d finally got that coffee hit i’d been craving for the last month. Never have i been so grateful to find a Mc.Donalds…

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Salta is a wonderful relaxing place to spend a few days, and that’s exactly what we used it for. It is however also an excellent base to head out and explore the rest of the north west or even book onwards trips to Bolivia. There are loads of travel agents to book trips to Cafayate, Puna or Cachi, as well as horse riding, rafting and cycling. If you’re heading to the north west then you’re going to end up in Salta at some point, but don’t just rush on through. A couple of days relaxing in the plaza or walking the streets is a great way to unwind before that next long bus journey.

A Day in Trinidad

We had a lovely day in Trinidad, walking beneath the palm trees, soaking up the sun, no one around to break the idyllic silence. Ok…so we weren’t living it up in the Caribbean, but Paraguay is almost as good, right?

This Trinidad is actually a small village about 30 minutes outside of Encarnacion on the Paraguayan border and we’d decided to take a day trip there to visit the ruined Jesuit capital of La Santisima Trinidad del Parana. At the time we were staying in Posadas, Argentina, a perfectly pleasant little city to rest in for a couple of days on your way to or from the Iguazu Falls. Posadas and Encarnacion face each other across a huge expanse or river spanned at this point by a single bridge. As with all the best border crossings you just have to hop on a bus with “Paraguay” on the front and 30 minutes later you’re deposited in your intended country with those all important stamps in your passport.

Encarnacion, Paraguay’s third largest city, has a very relaxed feel about it. Whilst it didn’t have the same level of refinement as Posadas, it is meant to be another pleasant place to spend a couple of days. Due to a lack of research on our part we weren’t 100% sure on how much our little expedition would cost us, so we got out around £40 of Guarani from the cash point and headed for the bus terminal.

We were kindly pointed to a rickety old bus by a lady selling ice cream and 40 minutes later to a shout of “Ruinas” we found ourselves dumped at the side of a road next to a dirt track. This seemed to fit the descriptions we’d read online and so we headed off. Within 10 minutes we were standing, alone, at the visitor center, tickets in hand, so we headed into the ruins.

IMG_6723 IMG_6296What attracted us most to the ruins of the Jesuit mission was the advice that we’d likely be the only people there and this was indeed the case. Trinidad and the nearby Jesus are some of the least visited UNESCO World Heritage sites there are and in our opinion that makes them all the better. The ruins are pretty extensive and it’s easy to imagine what they would have looked like in all their grandeur. The housing is set around a large square, with stone carvings set above the arches; it must have been impressive in its day. The priests houses were of course even larger and the well preserved floor tiles (different in each house) showed how much effort had gone into the construction of the town.

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The star attraction is the remains of the Iglesia Mayor. This once mighty cathedral is of course now down to a few walls, despite this the stone work is wonderful. The carved sections above the doors and around the altar have survived the elements extremely well and we found ourselves walking around, heads heavenwards, just like you’d be in any intact cathedral, trying to take it all in. A few of hours of walking around in the sun, just us and the ruins was a great day trip and we’d recommend anyone in the area to stop for a tranquil afternoon.

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Getting back to Encarnacion was as easy as we’d hoped, waving our arms at the first bus we saw back on the main road got us to Encarnation and an hour after that we were back in Argentina. A relaxing and cheap day out. Too cheap in fact as we still had about £33 of our Guarani left…

The Iguazu Falls from Argentina and Brazil

The Iguazu falls are on the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, approximately a 24 hour coach ride from Rio de Janeiro, or 18 hours from Buenos Aires. The falls lie in two countries, Brazil and Argentina and both sides can be visited easily from either country. We spent a few nights staying on either side of the border, so here are our thoughts on both.

Foz do Iguacu, Brazil

We arrived in Foz after a 27 hour coach journey from Rio. It was meant to be 24 hours but we seemed to gain 3 hours somewhere!? Foz do Iguacu is a fairly large town and has an airport for those who want to save themselves a day of travel. (A 4 hour plane journey from Rio can be purchased for approximately twice the price of the bus ticket.) The town itself is not spectacular and most of the shops seemed to be closed for our 3 day stay….we’re still not sure why. The highlight was by far a pizza place, recommended in the guidebook, that opened our eyes to pudding pizzas! White or milk chocolate or sugar glazed fruit on a pizza base are surprisingly good. Chocolate pizzas aside, there really is only one thing to do in Foz and that is visit the Iguacu falls (Las Cataratas).

The Brazilian side of the falls are very easy to get to. A local bus takes 30 minutes from town to the visitor center, where you purchase your tickets, and then a shuttle bus within the park drives you the last 10 scenic minutes to the falls themselves. We got off at the start of a small paved trail that leads to the falls and were immediately confronted by our first Coati. Whilst these guys look like a cute racoon there are plenty of signs to remind visitors that they are capable of using their large teeth and claws to steal any morsel of food you may have. A short walk later we were surrounded by them, whilst not aggressive, their long exposure to tourists means that the moment you put your bag down they endeavor to find the biscuits, crisps and sandwiches you’ve brought with you, even if it’s at the bottom of your rucksack.

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The trail winds along the side of the river Iguacu Inferior and the regular view points give increasingly impressive views of the multiple cascades. The majesty of the Iguacu falls is their scale, it isn’t just one waterfall but lots spread out over a huge area.

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On the Brazilian side you can stand at the bottom and get a clear view of the vastness of the river as it tumbles down. At the end of the trail a walkway skims the top of the water and stretches out between a double drop in the falls. On one side you have water crashing from above and on the other it drops away from below, a spectacular sight with the inevitable downside that you get completely soaked.

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A quick walk from here and you’re at the cafe at the top of the falls. With the river gently sweeping past and the distant crashing of the waterfall it’s a lovely way to end your trip to the Brazilian side. That is unless you get stung by a wasp. At least Iain now knows he isn’t allergic!

If you have a spare hour after your visit to the Falls, drop into the Bird Sanctuary near the entrance to the park. Here Iain was pickpocketed by an artful Toucan but it was nevertheless worth a visit.

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Puerto Iguazu, Argnetina

Local buses run from Foz do Iguacu to Puerto Iguazu throughout the day, so it’s very easy to cross the boarder. (Just be sure to jump off at both boarder controls to get your passport stamped!) In fact this journey is so easy some choose to stay on one side and visit the neighbouring side of the falls just for a day trip.

Puerto Iguazu is by contrast described in the guide book as a much smaller town than Foz. However there seemed to be a lot more activity and we found it a perfectly lovely place to hold up for a few days. Touristy but with plenty of restaurants to suit all budgets.

The Argentinian side of the falls is equally easy to get to from the town and numerous buses can be caught from the main bus terminal in the center. After purchasing your tickets from the visitor center, you have the choice of a short walk or train ride to the start of the first two trails. The first two trails wind through the lush vegetation and stop at various vantage points to give you spectacular views of the falls. Once you’ve tired of these, its a further short train ride to the finale – El Garganta Del Diablo, or The Devil’s Throat. The awe inspiring amount of water cascading down is hard to do justice in words. The raised walkway across the river was also an experience to behold. We thoroughly recommend leaving Del Diablo until last, as its truly is a brilliant end to the trip!

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Another highlight for us was the abundance of wildlife on the Argentinian side of the falls. So much so we began to question whether they were animatronics! If it wasn’t Toucans flying over head, or Caimans basking in the sun, it was two Capybaras swimming in the water. See our wildlife photo section for more.

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Our final piece of advice….be sure to visit the Jardin de los Picaflores or Humming Bird Sanctuary in Puerto Iguazu. Not in the guide books this place can be a little tricky to find, as its actually just someones back garden, but is well worth the visit. For about 45 minutes we sat mesmerised by hundreds of hummingbirds swarming around the flowers and feeders, just inches from our eyes.

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Why Do We Travel

Lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. The expectation of going on a big trip, adrenaline, nerves, excitement, tears, it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster, it’s like being 13 again. Then comes the airport. Check in happens hours ahead of when you actually want to be there and then you have to tackle security. This wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it wasn’t for that person in front of you, you know the one I mean. “Have you emptied your pockets Sir?” The following affirmative answer is immediately shown to be an outright lie by that oh so revealing “BLEEP” from the metal detector. Lo and behold the empty pockets in fact contain: keys, phone, wallet and various pieces of change, some of which aren’t even in circulation any more. Finally, after the ignominy of walking around with no shoes for a bit, holding your trousers up with one hand because your belt has somehow become lost inside the scanning machine, you make it through to duty free.

Duty free is where you don’t really want to be. When you’re after some discounted booze it’s great, but when you’re about to head off on a multi-month holiday, a two litre bottle of Vodka isn’t exactly high on your list of priorities. And so you grab an overpriced coffee, a sandwich and go and find some seats. Next, the boarding process…now this is really quite fascinating. We all get to our gate way ahead of schedule and sit there staring as the minutes creep past. When boarding finally opens, everyone leaps to their feet and stands in a queue less than a meter from where they were just sitting. I do this as well, I even fail in stopping myself from doing it. I think that we’re all just eager to get on the plane because that will officially be the start of the holiday. Start of the holiday or not what we’ve actually done is leapt to our feet to board the plane and get started with the worlds most boring game of sardines. Theres only one person having a good time and it’s the guy sitting sloshed in one of the bars completely unaware of the announcements asking him to please board the plane.

For Lauren and I, we had a short flight to Rome followed by a not so short flight to Rio. Every time we long haul I convince myself it would all be so much better if next time we just pay for that extended leg room or maybe even upgrade. It never happens though, we book economy and sit down with our knees jammed into someone elses back. This is the worst bit of travelling. The first couple of hours are fine, movies, free food, free booze and all you have to do is sit there, it’s great. Then you have to try and sleep. I can nod off standing up, Lauren however, isn’t so lucky. Even if you can sleep, you don’t wake up refreshed at the other end with a broad smile shouting “Hello world!” You’ve just slept in your clothes in a cramped, not quite sitting position, knowing that when you get off the plane at your long awaited destination, you’ve got to face a whole new set of challenges.

Everything above is true except the first 10 words: lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. I hate the travelling whilst i’m travelling, but once I reach a destination I suddenly see that 13 hour flight or that 2 day bus as the arc that carried me to paradise and then, I forgive it everything. I think the trouble stems from the fact that you’ve just left somewhere that you’ve come to love. You sit there on transport, usually cheap and dirty, wondering what the next place is going to be like. The bus gets us there and it’s amazing, somehow that bus journey is now “an experience.” Rather than 2 days of spine jarring pot holes and a weird smell coming from under one of the seats, it has become a fond memory. Then again maybe we just do this to ourselves so that we can bring ourselves to get on that next bus and just ramble on.