Tierra del Fuego – Argentina
Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia - Argentina

Tierra del Fuego – Argentina

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The end of the world

Reaching our last and farthest point in the trip, Tierra del Fuego; we land in Ushuaia; the southernmost city in the world. It is also to date, the second farthest point ever considering London as the departure point. On first place at merely 300 kilometres more, is Easter Island. On second place is Ushuaia at 13380 km, and on third place that would be Bali in Indonesia, some 12500 km away. And continuing with the stunning beauty of the nature and landscapes we had while in El Calafate with Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten and Torres del Paine; here is to enjoy another glorious national park, mountains, a glacier right at the backdrop of the city, the Beagle Channel with stunning islands between Argentina and Chile and as something more unique, the Magellanic penguins that here thrive between December and March, notably in Isla Martillo, what is called the “pinguinera”, home to thousands of families.

A great description for this place comes from the Spanish: “Fin del mundo, principio de todo”, that translates “the end of the world, the beginning of everything”. No doubt that’s a great motto, and a true reality. But no one can argue about the beautiness of this place, even the prime location of its international airport. Landing and taking of from here is commonly referred as one of the most scenic. Watch out when landing you are at the same height of the surrounding mountains just meters away from your window. And if you manage to sit at the right hand side of the place when taking off, it’s matter of few minutes in the air that you will get the views over the Cape Horn islands. So near you, the very end of the continent and so the nearest point to Antarctica.

The longer road network in the world does end here, inside the Tierra del Fuego National Park, the southernmost terminus of the Panamericana Highway merely 2 kilometres from the border with Chile, where farther beyond would be the gigantic Alberto de Agostini National Park with its innumerable glaciers most of which inaccessible. The city of Ushuaia however was built on a flat valley along the shoreline of the Beagle Channel. All of this natural features create this unique place, richly beautiful in landscapes although not the city as such in terms of sights, which is nothing special bearing few historical wooden houses. The rest is quite plain and new. (more…)

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El Calafate – Argentina
El Calafate - Argentina

El Calafate – Argentina

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Patagonia, land of glaciers and mountains

Leaving behind the civilization and big cities such as Buenos Aires and Cordoba for something of spectacular nature in this world: glaciers, mountains and landscapes of surreal pristine beauty. El Calafate itself being the major gateway into the countless natural parks, some of which in Chile’s soil yet accessible from Argentina’s side. Although not a city, but a small town, it contains all the facilities to handle the ever growing number of tourists seeking another of the fascinating sides Argentina has to offer.

Be prepared to not only enjoy the natural landscape, but also the flora and fauna which is beautiful. From the Patagonian desert of infinite emptiness, only interrupted by serpentine rivers, to the Magellanic subpolar forests. easy to spot are guanacos (similar to a llama), cougars (puma concolor) which is the second heaviest cat after the jaguar in the Americas; grey foxes, rheas (similar to an ostrich, also known as ñandúes), condors or eagles to name a few. You could simply spend weeks in the area, and every day visiting a different place, but distance of course, are large, and time spend travelling around dramatically increased because there are no motorways nor dual carriage roads. In some place and for many kilometres, the path is unpaved, not the best when in rainy or snowy conditions.

A trip to Argentina in my own opinion, is not complete unless you plan well your route to include this place. While there is something I would not recommend at all, coming here overland and spend unnecessary very long time, even days on a bus with actually not much to see out there from the window other than the emptiness; I would for sure not hesitate in taking a flight. The good news is that from most of the main cities in the country you can fly here directly, and at great fares! Would you even consider 40 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires to take an example, against 3 by plane? (more…)

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Cordoba – Argentina
Cordoba - Argentina

Cordoba – Argentina

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Cordoba de la Nueva Andalucia

Re-entering Argentina to continue the tour in Argentina after a couple of days visiting Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, it is now time for one of the most visited places in the country, the beautiful Cordoba. Argentina’s second largest city, named after Cordoba in Spain was founded in 1573 by Conquistador Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, who claimed most of the northwest of current Argentina. Soon after, the original urban plan for the city was created: the traditional colonial orthogonal grid of streets, 70 blocks in total in a 10 by 7 with an epicentral square, the heart of the religion and politics where the City Hall and Cathedral were built.

It was not much later, in 1616 when the Jesuit Block started to take shape in its construction, becoming the first university in Argentina, and the 4th oldest in South America. Several other complexes ere built by the Jesuits in the province, receiving the name of Estancia Jesuistica, each had its own church and buildings around which, a town grew. Nowadays, these are one of the major tourist draws, and preserved for posterity by their inclusion in the UNESCO’s list as World Heritage Site.

Churches, basilicas, monasteries and palaces for wealthy merchants soon filled all available plots, rivalling in greatness with Buenos Aires to the point of been considered as the capital of the country before any other city. Its population kept growing, expanding beyond its original limits to create new districts around the old town; tending of new avenues and streets, infrastructure and another great boost to its economy after the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Italy and Spain at the end of the 19th century. The taste for the architecture change for a French, Italianate and Spanish colonial, same as it happened in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century, and although beautiful, it meant the destruction of most of the original colonial fabric to make way for the bigger and greater.

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Salta – Argentina
Salta - Argentina

Salta – Argentina

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The most Spanish city in Argentina

The second part of this trip through Argentina and Uruguay was in fact just a day trip, colonial Salta. Similar to the ones we’re used to do anywhere across Europe, but in this occasion it was planned well after the original flights and route was booked. It was then that we checked and found out that many days for visiting the capital city Buenos Aires was going to be too much. Not only we were there upon arrival, but also before the departure at the end of the trip. With Montevideo the next in line already booked the following days, it was right to select one of the oldest and best preserved colonial cities in the country. Unfortunately on this occasion one of my all time dreams could not be done due to the lack of time of course, taking the Train to the Clouds through the Andes. That’s good enough to stay there for another time, including Atacama at the other side already in Chile’s soil.

Located at the northwest, equidistant to both Chile and Bolivia’s border, sits at the foothills of the Andes on what was the southernmost region of the Inca Empire, hence some discoveries such as the frozen Llullaillaco Children, the best preserved mummies in the planet which you can visit at the MAAM Museum in downtown Salta. While the city and everything east of the Andes are green valleys, forests, rivers, lush vegetation; all that goes to the west, merely few minutes’ drive from downtown turns desert, the mighty Atacama Desert.

Due to its well preserved architecture covering all eras from its colonial origins after its foundation in 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, to the fine 18th, 19th and 20th century buildings in baroque, neoclassical, modernist, eclectic and art-deco style; it has gained the title for being the”most Spanish” city in Argentina, more in detail, very closely to an Andalusian town. As for the urbanism this is another perfect example of the traditional Spanish orthogonal grid of streets and avenues with a series of squares and gardens, and as usual, the heart of the colony would be the main square where to find the City Hall and Cathedral. Here in Salta this is the Plaza 9 de Julio.

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Buenos Aires – Argentina
Buenos Aires - Argentina

Buenos Aires – Argentina

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Paris of South America

Argentina, for a very long time a dream waiting to become true, but the wait was well worth it. Marking precisely the country number 100 that I’ve visited so far; just being a bit slightly overdue from the goal I set myself of having reach 100 countries by the age of 35 but not to worry too much, it’s merely few months that I turned 36. The most important to me has never changed: if I travel, I like to visit the most and enjoy to the maximum. I hate to say how much I disagree with the people who rush their trips so they can say they have been to the most places. Their travel experiences described into a checklist! I prefer to take the time and explore the countries.

Starting with Buenos Aires, the stunning capital, and terminating at the southernmost point in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, I can easily confirm how huge the country is. 3690 kilometres long no less, and 1400 at its wider point; crossing through different climate regions from subtropical at the north to subantarctic at the far. Hot to cold, wet to dry; forests to deserts, mountains to sea. Nature, wildlife, richness of resources, history, art… Simply too much for such a short time. You would need months here and perhaps that might not be enough.

Nailing down this guide into the main subject, the capital city. Thanks to its climate, the position right at the mouth of the world’s widest river, the Rio de la Plata and continuous development since its foundation in 1536, it has grown to become one of the largest and most populated across the Americas, being one of the oldest and most complete in architecture preserving heritage from the colonial times to the modern period, with an unique European flair. It’s the second most visited in the entire Latin America only after Mexico DF. As a tourist, these are all good news of course, a place with so much to see and do that time will actually be your major limitation. (more…)

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Los Andes and Portillo – Chile
Los Andes and Portillo - Chile

Los Andes and Portillo – Chile

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Where Chile and Argentina meet

Our next experience while in Chile brought us to visit the Andes, and this time, not from the distance but from the top in the middle of them! The highest point we went was at 3820 meters, right at the place where you can be at both Chile and Argentina soils; and what a better place to mark this than the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. Specifically built to commemorate the 1904 peace resolution between the border dispute of both countries.

This is also the only direct road route between both countries across the Andes from Santiago in Chile towards the Mendoza region in Argentina. The first small city you will pass by is Los Andes. Nothing special about it, but it’s here from where the road split on direction towards Portillo. In this section you will start to get great views of the mountains and nature, following the parallel route of the now disused railway line that once connected Santiago and Mendoza.

Right before you reach Portillo comes the famous 32 curves ascending road. Quite a sight on its own, but slowly, you will be climbing up and up in two sets. Once you are after the last curve, you are already in Portillo where the main sky resorts are located. By the time of the year we travelled here (April) these were still closed, but was for matter of few more days until the first snow would come. I would refrain by all means from doing this route during winter time. First of all because how dangerous the road can be, and second, because there will be almost no visibility, and this place is really to be seen  as clear as possible in order to admire the incredible beauty and grandness. We’ve been very lucky to have such a sunny and clear day. (more…)

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