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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Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento - Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay

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Best preserved colonial city in Uruguay

One of the highlights of coming to Uruguay is taking the chance for visiting the oldest and best preserved colonial city in the country, the small Colonia del Sacramento right along the Rio de la Plata estuary and directly opposite Buenos Aires. You can see one each other from the shore. But before continuing, let me define a bit more what best preserved and oldest city means here: basically, do not expect a wonderful city like the ones you can see all over Central America, notorious example of glorious Antigua in Guatemala. Colonia is very small and lacks that opulence and flair. Take a remote, small and possibly unknown village in Spain or Portugal, and you have what you are about to visit here. Yes, it is a nice place, with a charm, but little more than that. In the other hand, expect lots of tourists from all over the world, it is the most visited place in the country.

Colonia was founded and developed by the Portuguese who had several posts along the Rio de la Plata, coexisting with the Spanish where several times conflicts and wars changed the hands to the Spanish and back to the Portuguese. Destruction and reconstruction until the early 18th century when after the Treaty of Utrecht it was handed back to Portugal who transformed it into the most wealthy and best defended city in the Rio de la Plata region. Fallen in the hands of Spain on several more occasion through the century, it can be said that it was never part of the Spanish Empire for longer than 20 years. Uruguay became an independent nation in 1828.

Considering as an average tourist you can fully explore in one day Montevideo, the country’s capital, then why not enjoy a day out here! Easy to come, bearing it’s 3 hours away by bus or car from Montevideo, or merely hour and a half from Buenos Aires by high speed boat and easy cross-country border formalities. What’s best, no need to scramble your head thinking what to do, what to see and how to plan a best route. Everything, everywhere is walking distance next to each other, plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

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Montevideo – Uruguay
Montevideo - Uruguay

Montevideo – Uruguay

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The Very Loyal and Reconquering City of San Felipe y Santiago

Country 101 in the list so far, Uruguay. Although not for a wider tour, but merely sticking to its capital city, Montevideo. After all, this was not just only temptation for being that near Buenos Aires, it was as long overdue as visiting Argentine. It was always meant to be this way whenever coming to this part of the world: visit the two countries. Both capitals do complement each other and share a lot in common. One can easily take a speedboat at one or the other and reach the opposite counterpart in 2 hours, or get on a short flight across the Rio de la Plata. We opted for the second option, and while we departed Argentina the following day after a trip to Salta, we would return in 2 days to continue the tour with Cordoba next in line.

Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in South America. Founded in 1724 by the Spanish soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, its boundaries remained mostly intact until the late 19th century when the fort at the eastern edge of the old town was dismantled and built in place the Independence Square; the heart of the city ever since, dividing Ciudad Vieja (the old town) at the west with the Centro district at the east. Both areas are the main tourist spots, easy to navigate with such a great urban plan of perfect avenues and streets in an orthogonal grid where distances are not too large between sights.

As an important tip, this is not the kind of city you come if you are having great expectations in enjoying some colonial flair and old architecture. For that you head elsewhere, noteworthy the former Portuguese post of Colonia del Sacramento west of the capital and literally right across the river opposite Buenos Aires. Still, there are lots to enjoy in Montevideo to keep you busy an entire day, adding longer should you want to enjoy some of the fine beaches along the southeast coast, even the short ride to the “Saint-Tropez of South America”, the upscale Punta del Este, farther to the east. On the bright side, Uruguay ranks number one of the safest countries in South America. Don’t judge some districts or streets as dangerous places; just because they are in a state of disrepair does not mean they are unsafe. (more…)

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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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Ingapirca – Ecuador
Ingapirca - Ecuador

Ingapirca – Ecuador

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The largest Inca ruins in Ecuador

Moving onto our last place we visited in our tour in Ecuador as a day trip from our base in Cuenca; Ingapirca. The largest and best preserved archaeological remains of a city from the Inca civilization in Ecuador. This is for us the very first time experiencing a good example of the Inca civilization. Not the fascinating sites across Peru but good to have an idea on what we should expect hopefully in the future when we visit Peru and its amazing sites. As for Maya civilization we are really experienced since we’ve been north to south across the former empire in some of the best known cities and former capitals. Now it’s the time to step in another chapter of the history of pre-Columbian America.

The city, once known as Hatun Cañar by the Cañari indigenous people who inhabited it for over 1000 years before the Incas came from the south, was one of the largest, most developed and powerful. With the Inca invasion, their tendency was not conquering and taking over a civilization to suppress it, but instead to keep it parallel and live together peacefully. Sharing the knowledge, achievements and architecture between both. They did only change the name for Ingapirca, as we know it today.

Don’t expect however, to find a so complete nor large ruins. Only a few constructions raise some centimeters above ground, with the Temple of the Sun being the masterpiece standing at the higher part in the city having survived in great shape. This is the most famous construction in the site, built in the Inca way without mortar, as most of the structures in the complex. The stones were carefully chiselled and places to fit together perfectly without even a millimeter separation in between. This is one of their greatest architectural achievements. To compare against, pay attention at the Cañari constructions, where bigger stones were put together with mortar. (more…)

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