3 May 2016 by Rachel Mostyn
Wexas Travel South America specialist Rachel Mostyn discovers the delights of Buenos Aires, drives through the spectacular mountains of Salta and the Northwest, and gets an old-fashioned soaking at Iguazu Falls.
We arrived in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires and immediately set out on a half-day tour of the city. This took in the Plaza de Mayo, the main square with the cathedral and the Casa Rosada bordering it; the downtown area which was more business-like but does include the pedestrian Flamingo shopping street; the lovely La Boca area which is very colourful with brightly painted houses and wall sculptures; and finally La Recoleta Cemetery, a fascinating place with it's narrow lanes lined with impressive mausoleums, including that of Argentine first lady Eva Peron, also known as Evita, a staunch supporter of women's rights who went on to lead Argentina's first large-scale female political party. All these areas were great to visit, and really gave me a taste for this remarkable city. The tour was only three hours long, but was definitely worth it as it gave a good overview and orientation of some of the more popular areas, so you could go back to explore them further and in more detail later. During our stay in the Buenos Aires we also visited a fantastic tango show, which included a full program of tango, singing, and other forms of Latin dance and was a real highlight of the trip.
The next day we visited Tigre, located just to the north of Buenos Aires. Here you can board a motorboat to explore the Parana River Delta, andthat's exactly what I did, taking in the lovely riverside homes on a relaxing tour that took around and hour and a half. If you've got a bit of time in Buenos Aires, or your visiting the city for the second time, this is a great excursion and the chance to see a region that is in many ways a complete contrast to the bustle of the city centre. Tigre can be reached by car or boat from Buenos Aires, although during the winter months this could be affected by fog, as it was for us!
From Buenos Aires we flew north to Iguazu Falls, transferring over the border to the Brazilian side for our two-night stay. The falls are simply amazing and as we were there during winter, the volume of water was huge, especially with the amount of rain that had been falling over the past few weeks, making the spectacle even more impressive. From our hotel, the wonderful Belmond das Cataratas, you could easily walk to the falls along a series of paths, which lead you ever closer to the river until you're right above the falls themselves. There are further walkways on the Brazilian side that takes you over the river to the centre of the falls, from where you get a incredible view of the most powerful section of the falls, known as the Devil's Throat.
Sadly, the walkways on the Argentine side, which take you to the very edge of the Devil's Throat had been washed away due to recent flooding and are now in the process of being rebuilt. We did cross over to the Argentine side however, and enjoyed a strolling along the walkways that run along the edge of the river, above several smaller falls and the jungle-covered San Martin Island. We also took a fantastic boat ride that takes you very close to the falls, getting you completely drenched in the process, which was great fun! Both sides of the falls are amazing in their own ways and you definitely need to see both sides when visiting to get a full perspective of this amazing place.
Salta and the Northwest
Heading back into Argentina, we flew from Iguazu to Salta for the next part of our journey. On arrival we drove straight out to the town of Cafayate. The drive is beautiful, travelling through the Quebrada de las Conchas (Gorge of the sea-shells). It's a stunning, red, arid landscape and there are several places to stop and enjoy the views as you wind through the gorge, including the magnificent Devil's Throat Amphitheatre, which was about as far removed from the Devil's Throat in Iguazu as could be imagined. It takes about three and a half hours to drive to Cafayate, but the scenery makes it well worth the effort. The town itself is small, with a church, a handful of bars and some shops located along the city's main square.
The next day we continued up into the mountains to the towns of Molenos and Cochi. The drive is equally beautiful, with the colours changing from deep reds to cooler greys. As we continued higher to the Los Cardones National Park, which has a huge number of cacti, we really began to notice the altitude climbing and the change in temperature, it was starting to get cold! Once we reached the highest pass of the day we were over 3,800 metres above sea level. Here the ground was covered in snow and the clouds were far below, nestled like cotton wool in the surrounding mountain valleys. The views here are fantastic, as is the long, winding drive through the mountains, although if you choose to drive yourself, make sure you're confident behind the wheel, as there are several large drops on some parts of the road!
The next day we headed north from Salta for a long, full day driving. Scenically, it wasn't quite as spectacular as the previous day, so this region would be best to visit first. Still, it was very interesting, beautiful and well worth a visit. First we visited the town of Purmamarca, known for its backdrop of multi-coloured mountains and local markets selling a seemingly endless array of handicrafts. This region is close to the Bolivian and Chilean borders, and the indigenous people here are descendants of the Incas. We also visited the town of Humahuaca, which has a charming main square and several pretty churches. This area is popular with Argentine tourists and can get very busy at the weekend, so, if you can, head here during the week when there won't be nearly as many people around.