Trip report: Dec 21-Jan 6 in BA and Patagonia - Argentina

2017-02-01 16:04:29 by T4N
The Fosters Travel 

We had a fabulous trip over the Christmas-New Year period to Buenos Aires and Patagonia , and wanted to "give back" to the many who provided helpful advice. Save your pennies and go! Here are some thoughts about our trip: TRAVEL AGENT We used Isabel of Buenos Aires Tours [email address is: contact AT buenosaires-tours.com.ar] for our 2008 trip to Salta, Buenos Aires, Esteros de Ibera and again for our December 2016/January 2017 trip to Patagonia. Since it had been several years, we also reached out to maybe 30 travel agents for our Patagonia trip--both in country and out of country--that have been recommended on this forum and in guidebooks or travel magazines. Of the many travel agents that we contacted for our trip to Patagonia, Isabel was the most responsive to what we wanted to do and budget (many charge unbelievable amounts--like $10,000 or more for our 2 week trip). She is willing to work within your budget (which many would not), and combine different kinds of accommodations and transportation options. On our last trip, she met us at the bus station in Buenos Aires to make sure that we got the correct bus to Esteros de Ibera since it was a night bus and busy bus station. In planning this trip, we have used a combination of phone calls, and email to set things up. She met us at our hotel in Buenos Aires at the beginning of our trip to answer any questions we had about the itinerary. OUR ITINEARY It took a lot of planning to narrow down what we would do on this trip. Ushuaia , Torres del Paine in Chile , Carretera Austral, etc. will have to wait for another trip. Torres del Paine is definitely more expensive than El Chalten. We talked to one 4-member family that was Quote: d $7000 PER NIGHT for Torres del Paine accommodations—the more affordable places are evidently outside the park and/or booked early. • Dec 21 – United Airlines from Dulles to Sao Paolo, Brazil – 10:05 pm-10:40 am • Dec 22 – Shower and relax in business lounge in Sao Paolo, then Turkish Airlines from Sao Paolo to Buenos Aires – 8:20 pm-10:25 pm, Palacio Duahu-Park Hyatt (Hyatt points) • Dec 23 – Jewish 5 hour tour with Rabbi Ernesto Yattah ($200 pp), visited gluten free bakery (Gout Gluten Free) and ate lunch at their café, visited leather shop (Bettina Rizzi: http://www.bettinarizzi.com/ ) to order leather jackets, Palacio Duahu-Park Hyatt • Dec 24 – Aerolineas Argentinas to Trelew, drove to Punto Tombo to see penguins and lunch, drove to Puerto Piramides, Hidden House B&B (AirBnB: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/7461449 ) • Dec 25 – Drove around Peninsula Valdez, lunch at Faro Punta Delgada, Hidden House B&B • Dec 26 – Lunch in Puerto Madryn, visited Palentology museum in Trelew, Casa de Paula • Dec 27 – Aerolineas Argentinas from Trelew-Buenos Aires, bus from EZE to BUE, lunch at BUE airport, then Aerolineas Argentinas from BUE to Bariloche, La Constancia (AirBnB: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2450256 ) • Dec 28 – private 3 hour horseback ride with Ariane Helleman in am, lunch and drove short circuit in pm, had drink at Hotel Llao Llao, La Constancia (AirBnB) • Dec 29 – drove to Villa Angostura for lunch and shopping for boots and belts, La Constancia (AirBnB) • Dec 30 – Aerolineas Argentinas to El Calafate , lunch in El Calafate, made reservations for the boat to see the glacier, drove to Estancia Nibepo Aike, 1 hour horseback ride in late afternoon, parillada, Estancia Nibepo Aike (http://www.nibepoaike.com.ar/ ) • Dec 31 – packed lunch and drove to see the glacier Perito Moreno by boat and from the walkway, returned in time for 2 hour horseback ride, special dinner for New Year’s, Estancia Nibepo Aike • Jan 1 – 3 hour horseback ride, Estancia Nibepo Aike • Jan 2 – packed lunch and drove to El Chalten, dinner at the hotel, Hosteria El Pilar (http://www.hosteriaelpilar.com.ar/ ) • Jan 3 – hiked more than half of Laguna de los Tres (cold and hailing!), returned by 4 pm for nap, dinner at the hotel, Hosteria El Pilar • Jan 4 – gorgeous day, drove back into town, dropped off laundry at lavanderia, hiked two shorter hikes by the ranger station (Condores & Aguilas) with snacks, lunch, Hosteria El Pilar • Jan 5 – drove back to El Calafate, lunch, birding around Laguna Nimez Reserve, Posada Karut Josh: http://posadakarutjosh.com.ar/ingles/ • Jan 6 – Lan Airlines from El Calafate to FTE in am, picked up leather jackets, lunch, repacked, bought alfajores to bring home, dinner at I Latina, Palacio Duhau - Park Hyatt • Jan 7 – American Airlines home (EZE- Miami – DCA) COST FOR OUR TRIP In order to buy trip insurance, I added up an estimate of the costs for our trip in advance and it came out to only $4500 for airfare, accommodations, most breakfasts, some lunches and dinners for BOTH of us for 18 nights. We didn’t have to pay for the reciprocity fee (Yea!) since that got rolled back earlier in the year. We used American Airlines and United Airlines frequent flier miles for one-way awards in business class (retired hubbie now refuses to travel long distances now in economy), Delta airlines and Chase Ultimate Rewards for some of our within Argentina flights, Hyatt points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 3 nights in Buenos Aires. We had to purchase some miles to have enough for the rewards but hubbie thinks it was still worth it to get the business class seats. We spent $882 per person purchasing miles and on the taxes for the international flights, so less than half of what we would have spent in economy ($1099 per person for cheapest flights with more stops for the same dates). We also mixed splurges (3 nights at an estancia outside of El Calafate, 3 nights at Palacio in Buenos Aires) with much less expensive places to stay. For instance, through AirBnB we booked 3 nights at a bed and breakfast outside of Bariloche for $192 total (private horseback riding for 3 hours was additional $60). 2 nights on Peninsula Valdes at a bed and breakfast for $152. Delta miles are notoriously hard to cash in for any award, so I used mine up getting Aerolineas Argentinas economy awards. Domestic flights are a chunk so you can really save $ by getting an Aerolineas Argentinas airpass, but, you need to be doing at least 3 domestic flights to purchase them--20/20 hindsight do the cost comparison first before cashing in miles for this portion since the airpass really is a great bargain. Just two one-way domestic flights for the both of us cost $791.60. We had saved for 2 years to get enough points for this trip. If you want to try to offset your costs with points etc.--then read pointsguy.com, always pay your miles/points earning credit card religiously the end of each month, put everything on your credit card, etc. Chase Ultimate Rewards is a good card to start with. When booking frequent flier seats, aim to book about 330 days in advance if possible (check to see when the airline starts selling seats for the dates that you want). I did spend every penny of our US customs allotment ($800 per person) on tailor made leather jackets for me and our daughter, 2 pairs of leather boots, 1 pair of shoes, sheepskin slippers, 4 belts for my husband and son in law, 1 gaucho knife for our son in law, a dinosaur coloring book for our grandsons, and of course alfajores for myself (gluten free) and to share with others. Prices for many things are comparable to being in the US. For instance, our fancy hotel in Buenos Aires charged: A gluten free Club sandwich with tuna, tomatoes, lettuce and eggs - AR$260 Fresh fruit (apple, banana and peach) - AR$210 Our splurge meal was I Latina which has gone up in price—now 1400 pesos per person, the most we have EVER spent on a meal. Good fun, but, more importantly great way to end our fabulous trip. Not only did they accommodate our dietary restrictions, but, we had a very fun conversation with the folks next to us from NYC . AEROLINEAS ARGENTINAS All 3 of our in country flights were on time. Eze to trelew, trelew to eze, AEP to bariloche. I called their Miami office well before our flights to reserve seats and request gluten free option. All 3 flights had my gluten free snack box. For 2 of the 3 flights we got the seats we reserved. I got the dreaded middle seat for the last flight but was OK. MAPS I purchased the Patagonia Infomap which is laminated and waterproof to help plan our trip, and use during our trip: https:/…987146813X Per suggestion on this board, we downloaded the app Maps.me and then downloaded the relevant maps. This was very helpful when driving around Trelew/Punto Tombo/Puerto Piramides, Bariloche/Villa Angostura, and El Calafate/El Chalten areas. TRAVEL INSURANCE We did not have to use it, but, bought CSA Travel Protection Custom Luxe from Insuremytrip.com Would you suggest that you buy it as soon as you make your first payment (even frequent flier mile tickets) so that you have the greatest choice of plans and have coverage for pre-existing conditions. We saw two accidents occur on our trip, one very bad. One woman fell off her horse at Estancia Nibepo Aike after the teenager in front of her dropped his jacket and spooked her horse. The other was very serious—one lady who they thought was in her 50s tripped within 5 minutes of her hike in El Chalten and broke her arm/shoulder. She was in tremendous pain and after being checked out at the local clinic in El Chalten, was going to be moved to El Calafate. Considering the bumpy road, would not want to be her. RENTAL CAR We rented cars online with Avis in Trelew (3253 pesos), Bariloche (3744 pesos), and El Calafate (5675 pesos). We were told by Isabel that we would be able to get cheaper prices by booking it directly ourselves. There are many discount codes available online that you can try, and we did get American Airlines miles for our rentals. I booked the cheapest cars available with stick shift since my husband has a stick shift at home. Each of the rentals only included 200 km per day, but, the extra cost for mileage varied by location. Bariloche was the most expensive at 2.25 pesos per kilometer. The worst car by far was in El Calafate. This seems to be a common issue in El Calafate. When we went with the Avis representative to pick up the car at the El Calafate airport, we were shocked to see that the back right tire was completely bald—even a non-car person (me) could tell there was NO tread left on that tire. After a call to the office manager said that it would be over a week to get a new tire, we checked the truck for a spare tire, saw that it was almost new, and insisted that he replace our tire. We ended up not having problems with any of the cars—but it was worrisome. Three gentleman picking up a car right next to us from a different company (Dubronik) had to get a jumpstart to get their rental car going. It is absolutely true that gasoline runs out in El Chalten and El Calafate. Fill up when you see a gas station even if it it just to top off your tank. Our taxi driver going back to the airport in El Calafate (we had to turn the car in the night before our flight) said he had to wait SIX hours to fill up his tank earlier in the week. FRUIT This is one of the unexpected pleasures of traveling during Argentina’s summer—the fruit! We enjoyed peaches, nectarines, watermelon, cherries, etc. in season. Even in El Chalten, a young family travel almost 800 kilometers to sell cherries to visitors and locals—about $2.50 per pound so not bad. Be aware, though, that several of the domestic airports want you to pitch any fruit that you bring in from other parts of Argentina—weird. For instance, in Bariloche airport, there was a long line to Xray our carryon luggage after stepping off the plane from Buenos Aires. Another screener at El Calafate airport. They even have dogs sniffing the luggage. GLUTEN-FREE I am gluten-intolerant and have been off gluten for years. Argentina passed a national law a few years back that mandates food labeling—so was easier to explain than many places we have traveled to. Besides getting advice in advance of our trip from others who have to stay away from gluten on this forum and elsewhere, we asked the tourist information sites in the towns we visited, and some were very helpful. For instance in Villa Angostura, then gave me a list of restaurants and marked which ones had gluten free options (Cerveceria Epulafquen, Chop Chop, Viejos Tiempos, Al Alba, ay ay ay Maria, Cerveceria los lagos, Cucu Schulz, La Luna Encantada, Rustica, Ruta 40, Deck 56, La Tasca)—be aware that some may be confused with vegetarian and gluten free. So, do doublecheck. During our trip, I tried 2 gluten-free bakeries, and 4 different kinds of gluten free alfajores and the best by far was Gout Gluten Free in Buenos Aires ( http://www.goutglutenfree.com.ar/ ) If you are gluten free or have a loved one who is—definitely visit. They now have a café so you can get a full meal there. El Bar in El Calafate was also a place we revisited. Mamuska is the only chocolate place in Bariloche/Villa Angostura that could find that is gluten free. Prana Bar Natural in El Chalten and Kau Kaleshen in El Calafate were also places we enjoyed our meals. But, the meals at our accommodations were also good. Besides protein bars, I also packed tuna in foil packets and dried soup that was gluten free, but, never had to use them. I DID use the gluten free bread that brought down from the US—gave it to the chef at the Estancia so that they could prepare sandwiches for our packed lunches. The deli style bread by Schar comes in a plastic container that keeps it from getting smashed in your carryon: https:/…deli-style-bread We watched Anthony Bourdain’s special on Argentina before our trip and have to say—he had it all wrong. Every single parrillada that we went to ALWAYS offered salad. It may not be with green lettuce. But, definitely a vegetable. If you have dietary restrictions, do speak up when making your reservations. Take emergency rations just in case. And, plan your meals in advance so you know which places are more accommodating. LAUNDRY Traveling for more than 2 weeks means that we really wanted to do laundry. The hotel in Buenos Aires was super expensive. We could have bought underwear for the price they charge. Our AirBnB in Bariloche only charged us 50 pesos for a load of laundry which was a bargain. The estancia said that their regular laundry person was out sick. So, we ended up dropping off clothes at a lavanderia in El Chalten. Went for lunch and hike and picked it up afterwards. So, do ask around for what is possible. WATER We used bottled water for drinking and for brushing our teeth everywhere EXCEPT in El Chalten. There we used water from the tap since it comes from the glaciers. We never got sick on our trip (unusual for Latin America). INTERNET Outside of Buenos Aires, we found internet access to be slow or nonexistent. We decided we would try to improve our access by purchasing a portable mifi in advance of our trip. It didn’t work in El Chalten but really helped us in Puerto Piramides and El Calafate since the internet in our accommodations was not working, too slow, or the signal too low. It links to the nearest cell phone tower. You can buy the gadget and then pay for 24 hour periods. Or, rent it by the day. Since it works in over 140 countries, we decided to buy it so have it for future travel. Here is a link to more information: https://www.skyroam.com/ This is what we bought: • 1x Skyroam Pre-Paid Card: 5 Global WiFi Daypasses - 5 Daypasses Card (WiFi Package) for $32.00 each • 1x Skyroam Hotspot Travel Case - Travel Case (WiFi Package) for $11.99 each • 1x Skyroam Hotspot - Skyroam Hotspot (WiFi Package) for $79.99 each Subtotal : $123.98 USD Shipping : $19.99 USD Total : $143.97 USD More to come... 7 destinations mentioned in this post 1 Buenos Aires Capital Federal District, Argentina 2 Patagonia Argentina 3 Ushuaia Province of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina 4 Chile 5 Brazil 6 El Calafate Province of Santa Cruz, Patagonia, Argentina 7 New York City New York, United States See all 7

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