Contiki‘s South American Adventure is the perfect introduction to Argentina and Brazil.
It’s been almost two years since my Mexican Adventure. Needless to say I’m getting seriously itchy feet. Where next? It just has to be Argentina and Brazil. I’ve dreamed of going to Brazil for years, and heard that Argentina (in particular Buenos Aires) is an amazing place. This time I booked with Contiki who specialise in tours for 18-35s.
Here’s what happened…
Before travelling I read about Taxi Ezeiza – a safe taxi service you can book in advance. As it was a long flight, it was reassuring to arrive at the kiosk and find my name written on a board. I paid in advance and followed the driver to the car. Well, I assumed he was the driver… but no, it became apparent when we reached the taxi, the driver was waiting there and this was a porter scouting for money. He approached the wrong person – as I had just landed I didn’t have a peso of change! I felt awful!! He shouted something in spanish and we went our separate ways.
I checked into the Icaro Suites in the centre of the city. This was the starting hotel for our tour. This hotel is well located in the centre of the city, just a few blocks from the bustling Avenida Corrientes. My standard room was enormous – a suite with a kitchenette, huge bathroom, an uber king size bed and a lovely sun-catching balcony. It was pristine and felt incredibly luxurious for under £40 a night. It also had a gym and sauna. Breakfast was a standard buffet with fruit, yoghurt, toast, pastries and some cooked items.
|My room at Icaro Suites|
|Steak dinner at La Estancia|
|Tango dancers in San Telmo Market|
|Stalls in San Telmo Market|
That evening we went to Complejo Tango for a tango lesson. A lot of us were nervous before the lesson, and I think it helped we had a few glasses of wine before! It was actually an excellent class – teachers were amazing and made it a fun way to learn. We swapped partners and picked up all the steps we needed for a basic tango, and took away a certificate! After the lesson we tucked into dinner while watching the pros in action in a tango show. The show was very impressive and the food, although basic, still had good flavour. A real selling point for this trip was the unlimited wine which we took full advantage of!
|Complejo Tango lesson|
During the other days in Buenos Aires we checked out the famous neighbourhood of La Boca with its postcard-pretty coloured houses. We also visited Café Tortoni, cited as one of the ten most beautiful cafes in the world.
There are plenty of shopping streets in the centre of Buenos Aires including some large department stores. I really enjoyed wandering the streets, and then stumbling across a pretty plaza. In particular, Plaza de Mayo where La Casa Rosada (The Pink House) is situated. This is the main office for the Argentine President. We also paid a visit to La Recoleta Cemetery – the famous cemetery which contains the graves of notable people including Eva Peron. It is a surprisingly beautiful place, easy to get lost in. We took a guided tour, and the guide had so many interesting and witty stories.
|Eva Peron’s grave in La Recoleta|
Buenos Aires is known for having a buzzing nightlife and one evening we headed to Club One, one of the city’s biggest nightclubs. It often plays host to the biggest name DJs. It was a truly hedonistic night, and the club was big enough to rival any I’ve been to in Ibiza. We danced until dawn and sipped on champagne and vodka.
|Bomba De Tiempo|
A highlight of my time in Buenos Aires was a trip to Bomba De Tiempo – an outdoor drum show at Ciudad Cultural Konex. It was around £3.50 to get in and was heaving with locals. In general it was a young crowd and felt like across between a theatre show and a rave! Drinks were cheap and the atmosphere was electric. You can catch the show on Mondays from 7pm.
On our final evening in Buenos Aires we went to The Argentine Experience in Palermo Hollywood. It bills itself as ‘An experience that aims to give you an introduction to the best of Argentine cuisine and culture’. I had assumed it would just be about cooking but we came out really enriched and full of information about the culture and history… as well as a few empanadas heavier! We were taught all about the cuts of meat , and the 24 hour preparation method they use for their steaks. We created our own empanadas crammed full of luxurious ingredients (meats/cheese/vegetables). We also indulged in a few different Malbec wines, and enjoyed making our own alfajores for dessert. These are an Argentine delicacy – a biscuity, caramelly, chocolatey concoction – to die for! I would thoroughly recommend this experience if you get the chance.
|Empanada I made at The Argentine Experience|
We spent one day on the Argentine side and one day on the Brazillian side. Two days is enough to see and do everything there and I can safely say, it’s one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. Find out more about visiting Iguazu Falls.
|Speedboat Tour of Iguazu Falls
I decided to do the Great Adventure Safari and Boat Trip – a speedboat tour of the falls combined with a safari tour through the jungle to reach the boat. It was an exhilarating trip. I remember leaning to my friend and saying ‘I thought we were supposed to get wet…’ Famous last words. A few seconds later we went right into the ‘Devils Throat’ and got completely drenched. You can get an idea of what it’s like here. Suggestion – take a change of clothes (I found out the hard way!)
While visiting Iguazu we stayed at Hotel Del Rey, a reasonable hotel (£30 approx) on the Brazillian side in Foz do Iguaçu. It’s only 30 minutes away from the falls and features a gorgeous rooftop pool and cocktail bar. One evening we enjoyed a delicious BBQ on the rooftop. Breakfast was a large buffet, and highlights included the pancakes, pastries and pão de queijo (cheese bread puffs). Rooms were fairly basic and not very luxurious. There was a slight smell of damp although the area was fairly humid. If you’re staying in the area, it’s unlikely you’ll spend much time at the hotel anyway, so it didn’t really bother me.
|Rainbows over Iguazu Falls|
|Wildlife in Iguazu|
Buzios is just under 3 hours by car from Rio De Janeiro. It became famous in the 60s after Brigitte Bardot visited the sleepy fisherman’s town, and described it as ‘paradise’. It grew in popularity, and today has numerous hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. However, it has retained a charm unlike many other seaside towns.
We checked into the Hotel Rio Buzios Beach – a very nice hotel which looked like a series of villas built into the side of the cliff. It had a large pool with lots of loungers and spectacular views of João Fernandes Beach. My room had two double beds and was very spacious with a large balcony with a table and chairs. The buffet breakfast was excellent – particularly the fresh exotic fruits.
|João Fernandes Beach, Buzios|
The area was perfect for relaxation. There were’t many families at the hotel (mainly couples) and the beach wasn’t too busy. Along the beach were cafes and restaurants serving exotic seafood, BBQ’ed meats and cocktails. We sat under giant umbrellas at A Pomba where I ordered a small grilled chicken dish… and was shocked when this enormous platter arrived! A beer cost around R$8 (£2) and cocktails around R$18 (£4.80).
|Lunch on João Fernandes Beach|
One afternoon we set sail on a private boat cruise around the bay. We had music, a top deck to clamber up to for amazing views, unlimited cocktails and beer. We watched the sunset and spent a few hours swimming and diving off the boat.
Some of the group booked in for a surfing lesson in Buzios which they said was great… meanwhile the rest of us lazed by the pool, finally enjoying a real break after so much travelling. I really enjoyed exploring the main town of Buzios which was around a 15 minute walk along the coast. The shops, restaurants and bars were on the classy/upmarket side. I enjoyed looking around the pretty boutiques and jewellery shops and picked up a few gifts, before reading the menus at the expensive sea-view restaurants!
|Sunset from the boat in Buzios|
There is quite a contrast between the classy shops and boutiques and the hedonistic clubbing in the area. Buzios has a branch of Ibiza super club Pacha, plus Privilege, Zapata, Anexo Bar and Möor to name a few. We had one late night clubbing in Buzios which was great fun, although not as busy as it wasn’t peak season.
RIO DE JANEIRO
|Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro|
We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro, A.K.A ‘The Beehive’. It’s an unusual design but breathtaking when you go inside. It was built in a modern style in the 1960s and can fit 20,000 people. The amazing stained glass windows soar from the ground to the ceiling (over 60m high).
|Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro|
We also visited the Lapa Steps or Escadaria Selaron, which were designed by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. He lived nearby and built them as his “tribute to the Brazilian people”. They are made up of thousands of tiles pieced together. Make sure you go if you get the chance. It was easy to get lost looking at each individual tile – most of which were designed/found by Selarón, but some of which were donated by visitors from all over the world. On the tiles were flags, maps, pictures of Princess Diana, animals, jazz musicians, christmas trees, Bob Marley and even a tile of The Simpsons. It really was incredible, and an enormous amount of work. Sadly, Selarón was found dead on the steps just months before my visit – a real tragedy.
|Me with my hang gliding instructor Ronnie|
|Hang Gliding over Rio|
|Dinner at Carretao Classic Grill|
|View of the Rocinha Favela|
|Rocinha Favela Art Gallery|
Something that was prevalent in the favela was the bold graffiti stamps of various gangs. There were two that dominated this favela, one was called A.D.O and you could see the initials scrawled on walls all over the favela.
|Inside the Favela Party|
|View of Rio from Sugar Loaf Mountain|
|Statue of Christ The Redeemer|
|Copacobana’s famous pavements|
|Garota De Ipanema|
On my final evening with the tour in Rio we hopped on board one of Rio’s legendary boat parties! We sailed around Guanabara Bay, sipping on cocktails and enjoying the gorgeous view of Rio by night. They offered free drinks to girls for an hour on the top deck – probably a recipe for disaster, but we took full advantage. We partied on board until around 4am – and went back to the hotel exhausted!
|Rooftop pool at Royal Tulip|
|Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon|