Top 5 Buenos Aires Steakhouses

When planning a trip to Buenos Aires and creating one’s “must-do” list, trying the mythical Argentine beef is a high desire for most travelers. But where do you go to taste true, authentic to-die-for beef cuts in BA? Fear not. We have done our homework and here is a top-five list of the must-have parilla experiences in the “Paris of the South”.

Gran Parilla de la Plata

Gran Parilla del Plata

1) Gran Parilla del Plata: This turn-of-the-century, butcher shop converted restaurant is my ultimate favorite in the city. Nestled in the bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, the divine aromas that start wafting out of their kitchens in the evenings engulf the weary traveler and locals alike with a warmth and comfort that only one’s grandmother’s cooking might rival. Try the ojo de bife or matambre cuts and pop the cork on a ripe Malbec- enjoy!

don-julio

Parilla Don Julio

2) Parrilla Don Julio: Located in Palermo Soho, this heavenly restaurant boasts an epic wine list and pieces of meat so tender you would swear that the chef himself had struck a deal with the devil to produce such perfection. Other specialties of the house include grilled provoleta cheese along with dense and aromatic mushrooms. This place is not to be missed.

La Brigada

La Brigada

3) La Brigada: Another classic San Telmo Restaurant, this place feels like a home/family gathering. Often times seated two inches from your neighbor, make new friends and start comparing dishes as the servers whisk by you with plate after plate of tantalizing asado. The steaks here are straightforward and absolutely delicious!

La Cabrera

La Cabrera

4) La Cabrera: For good reason, this is one of the most famous parillas in the city. Centrally located in Palermo, La Cabrera has made an international name for itself over the years. That said, it is often filled with tourists but don’t let that keep you away. The provoleta and Lomo marinada de verduras are bliss on a plate.

Le Grill

Le Grill

5) Le Grill: Want to elevate your parilla experience? Head over to Puerto Madero for a chic dining experience at Le Grill. Complete with an excellent wine list, enjoy the views of this upscale, port neighborhood and dig in!

Want to plan your next adventure to Buenos Aires? Want us to help you with reservations? Contact me!

Your friendly Argentina expert,
Gretchen

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Trip Report: Galapagos Islands Cruise: September 2016

Staff Member: Susie Youn
Travel Dates: September 25-October 2, 2016
Destinations Visited: Ecuador: Quito and Galapagos Islands

Day 1 / September 25: Arrival in Quito, Ecuador

I landed at the Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport shortly before midnight.  At that time of night, I found it easy to catch a cab to my hotel.  The ride was a great reintroduction to the way people drive in South America.  My cab driver used all four of the winding mountainous highway lanes (all heading in the same direction) on the drive to my hotel in the Mariscal district in the middle of Quito.  But I arrived in record time, which was great after the long day of travel from the United States.

Day 2 / September 26: Sightseeing in Quito

We had a private tour with an English-speaking driver for my one full day of sightseeing in Quito and the equator.  We went first to the TelefériQo, a sky tram that took us up Volcán Pichincha, for a marvelous view of Quito below.  What a beautiful way to get my bearings in Quito as we could see all of Quito below us from north to south.

View of Quito from

View of Quito from the Teleférico

  • Travel details:  The TelefériQo ride takes about 10 minutes to travel the 2.5 km from the base to the top (13,451 feet/4,100 meters).  The cost for an adult is $8.50.  Optional activities: hiking to the summit of Rucu Pichincha (15,413 feet/4,698 meters) (roughly 3 hours for very fit walkers as you are at altitude), horseback riding ($10 per hour).  If you have small children, there’s an amusement park, VulQano Park, a short walk below the TelefériQo base.

After getting the grand overview of Quito, I needed to visit the equator, of course, which runs through Ecuador (hence, the name).  To do that, I went to the Museo Inti Nan In Situ, where a friendly guide took our group of four on a tour of Ecuadorean animals and culture, and of course, some education about the equator.  The most interesting part of the tour was the fun demonstrations, including balancing an egg on a head of a nail.

  • Travel details:  The Museo Inti Nan In Situ costs $4 per person.  I also tipped the guide $1.  Don’t forget your passport as your guide will stamp it, showing you visited the equator.

Being in Ecuador and among so many volcanoes, we next stopped for a quick look of the volcanic caldera in the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve and the only caldera where the inhabitants cultivate the land.  The Reserve has a row of native Ecuadorean handicraft shops, where we caught our first glimpse of the fine handmade clothing made from alpaca hair.

Basilica del Voto

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Then, for the highlight of the day for me, we visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic cathedral in the Americas.  The Basilica was just as beautiful as any I have visited in Europe.  The distinguishing feature of the Basilica is, instead of gargoyles, the roof of the Basilica is decorated with fantastical statues of native Ecuadorean animals, like iguanas and land tortoises.

  • Travel details:  Entry into the Basilica costs $2. Entry to the upper floors also costs $2.  I recommend you climb the interior spiral stone staircases for the view.  For those who love heights, you can cross over the main transept of the Basilica and then climb fire escape ladders for an amazing view of Quito below.

Our last sightseeing stop was El Panecillo, a hill to the south of Old Town Quito.  On the top of the hill was La Virgen de Quito, perhaps the only Madonna in the world this large with wings.  We finished off our whirlwind tour of Quito by having sushi at the number one rated TripAdvisor restaurant in Quito, Shibumi Sushi Bar.

Day 3 / September 27: Quito and Start of Galapagos Islands Cruise – San Cristobal Island (Kicker Rock)

Natural ParadiseToday, we started our 8-Day Galapagos cruise!  We took a mid-morning flight from Quito to San Cristobal Island.  The flight takes about 3.5 hours, with a short stop in Guayaquil. We arrived on San Cristobal Island about 12:30 pm local time, as the Galapagos Islands are a time zone behind Quito.  After collecting our bags, we were met by the boat representative right outside the airport building.  Then, our group was transported by private van, a short 10-15 minute drive, to the dock, where we took a panga (dingy) ride to our magnificent luxury cruise ship, the Natural Paradise, which was to be our home for the next five days.

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock

After lunch, we visited Kicker Rock, a stunning rock formation located off the western shore of San Cristobal Island. There, we jumped into the water for the first of many snorkeling excursions.  The water felt great after all the traveling to get to the Galapagos Islands!

After dinner, where we got to know our cruise mates, we got a briefing from James, our Galapagos National Park guide.  Then, we turned in early, rocked to sleep by the waves gently lapping against the sides of the Natural Paradise.

Day 4 / September 28: North Seymour Island and Santa Fe Island

Blue-Footed Booby Mating Dance

Blue-Footed Booby Mating Dance

This morning, after breakfast, we got our first look at island life when we visited North Seymour Island.  James gave us the first of his informative lectures on Galapagos animals as we saw frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and land iguanas.  The boobies put on a show for us, lifting their feet in a mating dance, that we, of course, all had to imitate. James explained the connection between frigate birds and boobies, where the frigate birds rely on the boobies for food.

We went on two snorkel adventures today.  We saw tons of colorful marine reef fish, as well as turtles peacefully gliding through the water.

Sea Lions on the Beach

Sea Lions on the Beach

After lunch, we took a walk on Santa Fe Island.  We landed on a beach littered with sea lions.  They lay there calmly in the afternoon sun as we walked among them, but we always kept a safe distance between us and the sea lions to protect the animals.   Then we walked to a tall Opuntia prickly pear cactus forest, where we saw land iguanas.  Our guide explained that the male land iguanas protect their territory, which may encompass several prickly pear cacti, which provide food and water for the iguanas.

Day 5 / September 29: Santa Cruz Island (El Chato Ranch, Charles Darwin Research Center, and Puerto Ayora)

Giant Land Tortoise Stretching Its Two Foot Long Neck

Giant Land Tortoise Stretching Its Two Foot Long Neck

In the morning, we took a panga ride to the Puerto Ayora pier, where we got in a private van, to drive up to the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island.  Our destination was the El Chato Ranch, which serves as a refuge for giant land tortoises. During our stroll on the property, we saw about a hundred of these individuals.  They move faster than I thought!   On our way back to the van, we walked through some large lava tunnels, which had lights and handrails to make our descent into the depths easier.

Our van deposited us at the entrance of the Charles Darwin Research Center, which was in the middle of remodeling.  Much scientific research occurs here, but alas, out of sight of visitors’ eyes.  We watched an interesting video highlighting research conducted at the Center, however, and saw two different kinds of land tortoises in exhibit pens.

We had the rest of the day at our leisure.  Some of the group decided to have lunch in Puerto Ayora, while some of us went back to the Natural Paradise for more of the delicious food on board.  Most of us spent the afternoon exploring Puerto Ayora and catching up on the outside world as almost all of the bars and restaurants in Puerto Ayora have WiFi connections.

Day 6 / September 30: Santiago Island (Sullivan Bay) and Bartholomew Island

Our Guide Explaining the Geography and Geology of the Galapagos Islands

Our Guide Explaining the Geography and Geology of the Galapagos Islands

This morning, we went for a truly otherworldly hike on Santiago Island. We took a panga ride to the edge of an immense black lava field at Sullivan Bay.  When we landed on the island, we had to avoid an alpha fur seal lion, who was on the pier, calling to his pups to come in the water to play.  Our hike completely absorbed us.  The photographers among us had a field day taking pictures of the lava.  I liked seeing pictures in the lava; it was like seeing pictures in the clouds, except beneath my feet!

After visiting the lava field, we took another hike at Puerto Egas, which was chock full of wildlife.  We saw fur seal lions lying in and beneath the brush, land iguanas eating the cacti fruit, a couple of short-eared brown owls, and many, many birds.

After the hike, we went snorkeling for about an hour.  During this time, we saw an abundance of marine life – fur seal lions frolicking in the water, turtles, rays, and a couple of white-tip reef sharks.

After lunch, we took a panga ride to a soft sand beach.  Here, we went on a snorkel excursion, drifting with the current around Pinnacle Rock.  We saw lots of marine wildlife, including penguins on the rocky shore.  One lucky person in our group had a curious penguin tap his face mask.

In the mid-afternoon, we went for a hike on Bartholomew Island.  We climbed 375 stairs up to the summit of an extinct volcano.  The views of Pinnacle Rock, with the setting sun casting the most perfect light on everyone, made this the perfect picture stop.

View of Bartholomew Island

View of Pinnacle Rock at Sunset

Day 7 / October 1: South Plaza Island, End of Galapagos Islands Cruise, and Gordon Rocks Dive

We woke up early this morning to go on our last hike of the cruise on South Plaza Island.  Among other sights, we got our last glimpse of the intriguing land iguanas guarding their Opuntia cacti.

After breakfast, we transferred off the Natural Paradise at the north end of Santa Cruz Island.  We were sad to leave the Natural Paradise, as the Natural Paradise offers 10 additional days of visits to the other Galapagos islands, but we had more of Ecuador to see! Some of us went to the Baltra airport, but four of us decided to continue on to our next adventure — scuba diving in the Galapagos at Gordon Rocks!  Our Natural Paradise guide, who was also a dive master and scuba diving guide, arranged for a dive boat to meet us at the ferry port and we were whisked off to Gordon Rocks, which is located to the east of Santa Cruz Island.  Gordon Rocks is a premier dive site to see hammerhead sharks.  But it’s not for novices, due to the strong currents in the area.  That being said, the dive was definitely worth the time and effort!

Diving at Gordon Rocks - Turtle Swimming

A Turtle Sighting While Diving at Gordon Rocks

Our dive day consisted of three dives: a check dive and two dives at Gordon Rocks.  Due to the current (and my excitement), I had some issues with maintaining my buoyancy. Our group also had a couple of stops where we had to kick hard to stay in place so the group could stay together, but thankfully, we did not encounter the dangerous down currents we had been warned about.  We did see some marvelous marine life, including a sunfish (mola mola), turtles, eagle rays, a Moray eel, and hammerhead sharks!  We also had the best safety stop I have ever experienced.  A curious sea lion wanted to see what all the humans were doing hanging out at 15 feet below the surface so it kept diving and swimming around us.  I have never been so entertained during any 15-minute safety stop.

Upon returning to the ferry pier, the dive shop took us back to Puerto Ayora.  After our early exhausting day, we explored Puerto Ayora a little bit.  One of our cruise mates recommended we check out the outdoor seafood restaurants located on Charles Binford Avenue for dinner.  These restaurants all seemed to have similar offerings and showcased spiny lobster, so we chose one almost at random, sat down and toasted the end of our day with a caipirinha and spiny lobster.

Day 8 / October 2: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

After all of the activities of the last week, we took it easy and relaxed in the small port town of Puerto Ayora.  We relaxed, caught up with the outside world by using the Internet available in all of the restaurants in town, and stretched our land legs by wandering the streets of Puerto Ayora.

Day 9 / October 3: Return to Mainland Ecuador

At 7 am, we took a taxi to the ferry pier at the north end of Santa Cruz Island.  There we took the ferry ($1) across and the free airport bus to Baltra Airport.  We had an extra hour to kill as our hotel recommended we leave for the airport three hours before our 10 am flight, but better safe than sorry.  Our flight back to the mainland was uneventful.  Which, when you’re traveling, is sometimes the best outcome.

I thoroughly enjoyed my once-in-a-lifetime Galapagos Islands cruise on the Natural Paradise.  If you are interested in more information about the Natural Paradise and any of its 5, 8, 11, 12 or 15-day itineraries or the Galapagos Islands and/or Ecuador, please contact us.

All photographs by Darrell Ansted. Please give credit if using any of the photographs contained in this AWR blog posting.

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Costa Rica National Parks with Beaches: Cahuita or Manuel Antonio?

Cahuita and Manuel Antonio are amazing for accessible wildlife!

Costa Rica richly deserves its name “Rich Coast” since it’s bounded on two sides by broad expanses of water: on the western side, the Pacific Ocean, and on the eastern side, the Caribbean Sea.  Travelers to Costa Rica will discover loads of beach destinations, but two of our favorites include more than simply fine sand, they offer the nature enthusiast fantastic opportunities for breath-taking wildlife encounters and nature photography.  These two areas are

  • Cahuita National Park, on the eastern Caribbean coast
  • Manuel Antonio National Park, on the western Pacific coast

While they are both equally excellent parks worth visiting, your needs or preferences may point to one or the other as being better for you on your next trip to Costa Rica.

The Parks – An Overview

Both national parks share striking similarities in many respects.  Both are small nature reserves, approximately 2,000 acres in size.  Both feature beautiful beaches fringed by lush, humid tropical rainforest.  Wildlife is abundant and approachable in both parks, and similar in terms of diversity and species, with one difference being Manuel Antonio’s fun resident troops of squirrel monkeys and occasional flocks of noisy scarlet macaws streaming through the canopy.  Both parks are easy to enter and navigate on your own, but we like to book a guided tour on the first morning in the area to help our travelers identify the wildlife and get a lay of the park for future visits.

Cahuita National Park

Sloth in Cahuita

Sloth in Cahuita

Situated about 4 hours east of San Jose, this park is easily accessible from the seaside town of Puerto Viejo.  Here the cultural vibe is distinctly Caribbean, making a unique departure from the more typical Costa Rican culture you’ll find everywhere else.  Snorkeling and diving – since Cahuita is on the Caribbean side – can be outstanding.   The park has a number of easy nature trails for wildlife viewing, where one can see monkeys, sloths, squirrels, white-nosed coati, plus phenomenal birds and insects, and a dizzying array of plant life.

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Cahuita

Long beaches, like the black sand Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo, are found here in the Puerto Viejo–Cahuita–Manzanilo area.  There are bright sand beaches too, like Playa Blanca, which is inside Cahuita National Park and reaches almost two miles in length.  While the beach is scenic, not all of it is recommended for swimming – for the best swimming, head toward the center of the Suarez River estuary.  Near the river mouth, there is a huge lagoon, and at the tip, the sand is fine, water is clear during much of the year, and the coral reef is very close, making it good for snorkeling or diving.  From here, there are beach strolling options all the way to nearby Puerto Vargas.  Beaches at Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles (where surfing can be popular, and lifeguards are on staff) and Manzanillo are worth checking out.  Just a little further down the road from Manzanillo (itself, about 8 miles from Puerto Viejo) is Gandoca, a park that offers seasonal opportunities for observing sea turtle nesting.  In town, check out the wonderful Jaguar Rescue Center.  Regular bus services and affordable taxis connect travelers and locals throughout the area.

Best times to go to Cahuita

Calm seas in Cahuita can deliver great snorkeling

Calm seas in Cahuita can deliver great snorkeling

Overall, climatically, the best times are February through May, and again August through October. June, July, November, and December are arguably months to avoid due to rains plus November and December can see seasonal closures of some businesses.  The best time of year for snorkeling in Cahuita (clearest water, calmest seas) is September and October, while May can be good for swimming.  The best time for sea turtles (a night-time tour) in nearby Gandoca is between April and August.

How to visit Puerto Viejo and Cahuita

We arrange comfortable van transfers from San Jose and other points in Costa Rica to Puerto Viejo.  As for hotels, we particularly like the more modest 3-star and intimate boutique hotels, though we’re always happy to match a traveler’s preferred style of travel. Also nearby are two other highly interesting places to visit – Tortuguero and Selva Bananito Lodge – if you have more time available (like an extra 2 or 3 nights) for the region.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio vista

Manuel Antonio vista

Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s premier tourist hot spots so it contrasts with the less-developed atmosphere in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita.  The park is located south of San Jose, about a three-hour drive, on Costa Rica’s western Pacific coast.  However, especially for travelers looking for just a taste of the beach or who are short on time (for example, travelers with just 2 nights to spare for the coast), then this area in particular sparkles as a fantastic option.

The Park

Squirrel monkey - Manuel Antonio

Squirrel monkey – Manuel Antonio

Home to what National Geographic once labeled as a top 20 beach in the world, the more alluring draw is probably the wildlife viewing.  Here animals are habituated to people so the animals are often unafraid and approachable.  Travelers can see white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, iguanas and many bird species, as well as the Costa Rican squirrel monkey, which is endemic to Manuel Antonio and very hard to find anywhere else.

Manuel Antonio beach

Manuel Antonio beach

Several stunning beaches are found in the park (primarily Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, and Puerto Escondido), plus a small lagoon and a mangrove forest.  Connecting Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur beaches, Punta Catedral offers an attractive ocean vista and is a nice side-hike off the main trail.

Special notes – The park is closed on Mondays. Most hotels are situated on a scenic ridge overlooking the ocean and not on the beach – this is to promote beach conservation in the area.

What to do in Manuel Antonio

Villa Vanilla - near Manuel Antonio

Villa Vanilla – near Manuel Antonio

There are loads of excellent activities in the area, ranging from strolling the long public beach outside the park to horse riding on the beach to surfing to nature walks.  We outlined a number of our favorites in a previous post, the Top 8 Things to do in Manuel Antonio.  If you have specific interests, please let us know and we can advise options.

When to visit Manuel Antonio

The best time to go is December through April, though rainy season months like May often see afternoon or evening showers, meaning mornings are often clear.  The worst rain is usually in September or October.

How to Visit

AWR Clients Riding Horses at Manual Antonio

AWR Clients Riding Horses at Manuel Antonio

The drive between Manuel Antonio and San Jose International Airport is only about 3 hours now that the new highway is in place.  We organize private van transfers in such a way that if your departure flight on your final day is at 1:30pm or later, we can get you to the airport in time for your departure.  Getting to Manuel Antonio is just as easy and travelers have the choice of departing from your present location (like Arenal Volcano or the Monteverde Cloud Forest) to Manuel Antonio either in the morning – allowing for a free afternoon on the beach – or in the afternoon, allowing a free morning wherever you are before visiting Manuel Antonio.

Summary

In a perfect world, you’d visit both parks (and both coasts, by extension) on an 11-13 day grand “Coast to Coast” custom adventure.  But most of our travelers only have between 7-9 days, and in that case, it’s better to pick one coast and save the other for next time.  If you’ve never been to Costa Rica before, then you’ll probably want to include Arenal Volcano in your itinerary and Manuel Antonio makes a convenient second or third destination (for example, after a stop in Monteverde).

If you prefer getting a little more off-the-beaten-path, then head to rustic and wooly Puerto Viejo and Cahuita.  From here, it’s easy to get away from the crowds on one of the area’s many beaches and the area as a whole is far less visited than Manuel Antonio.  Seasonally, the area offers some of the best snorkeling in the country too.  Tortuguero, with its “Amazon-in-miniature” feel, is close by, so an 8-day trip combining the Caribbean coast’s Tortuguero and Cahuita would be fabulous for easy-going nature lovers looking for wildlife and beach.

Contact us and we’ll help design the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary for you based on your needs, interests, and budget.  We hope you’re able to experience why Costa Rica lives up to its Rich Coast name!

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Gastronomic Experiences in South America: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! On this day of gastronomic brilliance, I wanted to take the time to highlight some of our best foodie experiences in South America. Come travel with us to Santiago, Cusco and Buenos Aires as we explore vibrant markets, visit historic kitchens, try our hand at cultural dishes all while under the guidance of local, passionate chefs!

El Mercado Central, Santiago

El Mercado Central, Santiago

SANTIAGO, CHILE

We head first to Santiago! The adventure starts driving downtown to La Vega, a renowned market famous with locals who crowd the stalls from dawn until early afternoon each day. After exploring the market maze and admiring the variety of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, spices and meats, we start buying ingredients for the menu to be prepared later with our chef-guide. Our menu will consist of an olive oil tasting (Chile is world renowned for its olive oils) and a dish such as ceviche to start with, followed by our choice of main course to be enjoyed with wine and a typical Chilean dessert with coffee.

We cross over the bridge to the other side of the Mapocho river and head to nearby Mercado Central, a fresh fish market with wonderful architecture, popular with locals and tourists alike. Here we really get a flavor of local life and see where the city center dwellers come to purchase their fish to make dishes such as machas a la parmesana (razor clams with parmesan) or Reineta a la manteca (Buttered pomfret). We select the final ingredients for our tasty Chilean meal before driving uptown to the chef’s house.

When we arrive we start to prepare our chosen meal in the chef’s specially-designed kitchen. While ingredients are simmering away we enjoy a tasty Chilean cocktail and talk with the chef about the ingredients, their provenance and their relationship to Chilean culture. We enjoy some delicious appetizers with our aperitif and then sit down to the main meal to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

Satisfied from our downtown exploration, the home-cooked food and good Chilean wine, we are driven back to our hotel to rest.

Cooking Nuevo Andino, Peruvian cuisine in Cusco

Cooking Nuevo Andino, Peruvian cuisine in Cusco

CUSCO, PERU

We continue heading north, to the Andean highlands and land in Cusco. Early in the morning, we depart from our Hotel to Cusco’s bustling San Pedro Market, where we receive a briefing from our Chef about local ingredients, and also have the opportunity to buy them, interacting with local producers and suppliers. Continue on to the Sacred Valley, to Pio Vazquez’s restaurant Huacatay, located in the town of Urubamba. Huacatay restaurant is a new Andean style kitchen where every dish is not only an experience for the senses, but also a refuge where aesthetics and atmosphere are part of the charm. Here, we learn in a dynamic and interactive way about the local gastronomy as well as cooking techniques and about organic products of the area. We will prepare an appetizer, main dish, and a dessert, all inspired by traditional Peruvian dishes, accompanied by a Pisco cocktail. In the evening, we return to Cusco.

The Argentine Experience, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Argentine Experience, Buenos Aires, Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Finally, we end back in the “Paris of the South”, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires, in recent years, has made a splash in the gastronomic world of closed door supper clubs. Tonight, we head off for the ultimate dinner! Received with a wine based cocktail and a Patagonian trout tartar, we learn how to create empanadas using the traditional “repulgue” technique and fill them with a choice of gourmet fillings. Then, we enjoy a typical argentine picada with grilled provoleta cheese, sliced chorizo sausage, and the always-amazing mollejas. Be ready to be blown away with a 250g tender loin that has been dried cured for 24hs. We learn the best parts of Argentine culture including our chef’s favorite local hand gestures. As a pre-dessert, be prepared to try queso y dulce. For dessert, we try our hand at crafting our own alfajores, Argentina’s national sweet, where cookies, dulce de leche, melted chocolate fondue and coconut shavings combine to delight the senses. Finally, we learn about the history and etiquette of mate, Argentina’s national pastime, and prepare it from scratch. Throughout dinner, we enjoy a wine pairing of three wines specially chosen by Zuccardi Winery, including a Torrontes from Salta, and a Blend and Malbec from Valle de Uco, Mendoza.

Want to enjoy the gastronomic delights of South America? Feel free to contact me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and we look forward to hosting you on your next adventure!

Your Friendly South America Expert,

Gretchen

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Argentina’s Best Kept Secret: The Northwest

Seven Colored Hills in Humahuaca, Jujuy

Seven Colored Hills in Humahuaca, Jujuy

Northwest Argentina is beckoning! Come hike through the multicolored hills and crimson canyons of Jujuy. Follow llamas across epic salt flats where all perception is lost and land and sky seamlessly mingle. Trek among some of the most ancient Cacti on the South American continent in Los Cardones National Park. Excite the senses in daily markets and taste provincial cheeses and jams at local estancias of Tucuman. Finally, pay a visit to the one-of-a-kind James Turrell Light Museum and soak up the sun while sampling the best whites and reds in the heart of Salta’s high altitude vineyards!

Salinas Grandes, Jujuy

Salinas Grandes, Jujuy

Northwest Argentina has something for everyone. With its unique history and vibrant culture, we are excited to introduce it as a new destination for our guests. Raft, horseback ride, bike and hike through jungle, high desert, massive salt flats, lush rolling hills, or between picturesque vineyards. The region is easily added on as an extension to any trip in Argentina, Chile or  (direct flights from Buenos Aires, Iguazu, Mendoza, and Lima to Salta, the heart of this region).

Salta Church, Salta

Salta Church, Salta

On our Northwest Argentina: Culture, Food and Mountains Tour, start in the province of Jujuy near Humahuaca. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, the seven-colored hills in Humahuaca Canyon are home to 10,000 years of human traditions, music, art and religious beliefs that still thrive today throughout the region’s villages. Stay at the base of these rainbow hills and explore the nearby salt flats and llama breeding grounds. Not yet overwhelmed by tourists, this area is majestic and humbling. Continue on to the city of Salta, capitol to the state with the same name. Let the flavorful juices dribble down your chin, as you devour the famous salteña empanadas stuffed with beef and spices and explore the striking red-and-gold baroque San Francisco Church, built in 1625. Meander over to the central Plaza 9 de Julio, lined with cafes, colonial architecture and dominated by the pale pink Salta Cathedral (beautifully lit in the evenings) and the MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana de Salta); order a café con leche while observing the unique pace of life in this rustic yet urban center.

Los Cardones National Park, Salta

Los Cardones National Park, Salta

On our Northwest Argentina: Wine and Canyons tour, continue south of Salta and drive through Los Cardones National Park filled with ancient cacti and scenic vistas, visit the quaint town of Cachi, and end in Molinos-the gateway to the Hess’ Colome Vineyard and Estate. Smell the peppered, desert air as you sit in the shade of the ancient pepper tree that accents the main patio of Hacienda de Molinos. Taste the dark sapphire-colored wine produced in the world’s highest vineyards and listen to the wind as it combs through the Andes from the neighboring Atacama Desert. See how tradition, art and elegance collide in this remote haven. Finally, feel yourself brush off initial uncertainty of the mysterious and harsh terrain and succumb to tranquility while settling in among the exquisite vineyards of Cafayate.

Colome Vineyard, Salta

Colome Vineyard, Salta

Want to start planning your next adventure to Northwest Argentina? Contact me!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

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Further Afield in Chile: Exploring the Wonders of Atacama Explora

Arriving in the Atacama Desert, I was speechless as the plane began to descend into Calama, the region’s capitol. The austere and Martian desert stretched out in every direction and was accented with epic snow-capped volcanoes in shades of fiery orange and rusty red; the salt flats beckoned to the east while smaller, salt mountains signaled the mouth of the Moon Valley to the south.

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Atacama, Chile

Met at the airport by my Explora Atacama hosts, I was given my introduction to this remote region of Chile, “The first European explorers to reach what is now known as the Atacama Desert were drawn by tales of a land rich in gold located somewhere south of the Inca Empire. It was due to this quest that the Spanish conquistador, Diego de Almagro, after a perilous journey across the Andes Mountains, became the first European adventurer to arrive in Chile and set foot in Atacama’s arid expanse. To this day, Atacama continues to offer a singular experience – a stunning encounter with mesmerizing traditions, forms and colors in a remote corner of the planet.”

After almost two hours of skirting the magnificent and impressive geological formations found in the Moon Valley, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama- our base camp for a full range of adventurous activities over the coming week.

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Cycling in Atacama

During my stay at Explora Atacama I was consistently surrounded by absolutely phenomenal guides who were remarkably passionate and knowledgeable about their surroundings. Any questions regarding history, flora, fauna, geology, astronomy, local food and culture and more were thoughtfully and thoroughly answered with energetic responses. Our guides, Luis and Oscar, in particular were some of the most professional and talented guides I have ever had. They consistently went out of their way to make our experience the best possible.

Just a few of my favorite adventure excursions while at Explora Atacama were

  • Volcano Climbing Cerro Toco (18,386 ft) and Lascar Volcano (18,346)
  • Bicycling through the Garganta del Diablo Canyon (Devils throat Canyon)
  • Hiking in the Moon Valley and along Rio Blanco to the geysers
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Licancabur Volcano

Volcano Climbing, Cerro Toco (18,386 ft): Departure from Explora by van. Begin the ascent at an old sulfur plant and ACT (Atacama Cosmology Telescope) at 5,300 m (17,380 ft). Climb along a steep, but well-marked path for 1 to 2 hours. Toco is an ideal introduction to high mountain climbing and offers panoramic views of Chile, Bolivia, and the surrounding volcanoes.

Volcano Climbing, Lascar Volcano (18,346 ft): Departure from Explora by van to Laguna Lejia and begin to climb (start at 5000 meters). Ascend between 2.5 and 4 hours across rock and volcanic ash. Arrival at the crater allows for total appreciation of the morning’s hard work. It is possible to continue up to the summit (another 40 min) climbing down is by rope howling for 1.5 hours. Enjoy a picnic lunch back at the van at the end of descent.

Cycling, Garganta del Diablo: Depart from the lodge, crossing the Catarpe valley towards the Garganta del Diablo. From here, wind your way through epic walls of gypsum and crystallized salt. During this bike ride, experience some of the local culture and visit the San Isidro chapel.

Hiking, Moon Valley: Departure from Explora by van towards the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Here, appreciate the variations of sunlight and the spectacular landscapes of the Cordillera de la Sal while hiking through ancient dunes and bizarre rock formations. Return to the lodge by van.

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Valle de la Luna

Finally, one of the most amazing features at Explora Atacama is their onsite observatory. The Atacama Desert is used by NASA as one of the primary global locations for celestial observation given its clear skies and lack of light pollution. The observatory at Explora allows guests to have the chance to take a star gazing hobby to the next level. While I was at Explora I had the mind-boggling chance to see Saturn and its rings as well as get an absolutely magnificent view of the craters on the moon!

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Observatory at Explora Atacama

Visiting Atacama, is a riveting way to begin an adventurous trip to Chile and acts as an amazing counterpoint to the wintry Patagonian steppe and granite mountains of Torres del Paine.

For those, wishing to continue in Explora fashion and hoping to continue onto Patagonia, Explora has another lodge in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park (check out my blog on Explora Patagonia here!). Guests traveling with Adventures Within Reach and staying at two Explora Lodges receive 10% off of their trip.

Views from Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Views from Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Another way to continue your journey from the Explora Atacama Lodge, consider joining one of Explora’s Travesías onto Bolivia or Argentina. Explora Travesías are journeys in which guests travel privately between countries, staying along the way in special Explora camps and finishing or starting in one of the Explora lodges. The drive allows guests to access hiking routes along the way in some of the world’s most isolated landscapes.

Salta, Argentina

Salta, Argentina

During these Travesías travelers will experience the sublime silence and multi-colored valleys of the majestic Andes: the natural border between Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Depending on guests’ desired travel routes, these Travesías can be taken either from Argentina or Chile or, Bolivia or Chile, following the same itinerary.

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Vicuna in the Bolivian altiplano

Vicuna in the Bolivian altiplano

Want to start planning your own trip to Atacama? Contact me!

Your Friendly Chile Expert,

Gretchen

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NEW TRIP — 5 Day Myanmar: Ngapali Beach Extension

5 Day Myanmar: Ngapali Beach Extension

Avoid crowds and enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation after your AWR Myanmar tour with an extension to Ngapali Beach on Myanmar’s unspoiled coast. Ngapali is easily one of Asia’s best beach areas during the right season, yet lightly visited. With azure clean seas, alluring beaches and traditional fishing villages dotting the coast, the area is simply beautiful. Hotels begin to open in October of every year and stay open through the winter. You would probably not want to visit after March or April since heat and monsoons begin to take effect.

Price: $1195/person

ITINERARY

DAY 1: Travel Yangon – Thandwe – Ngapali Beach
DAY 2: Free day on the beach
DAY 3: Secluded fishing village and snorkeling tour
DAY 4: Free day on the beach
DAY 5: Transfer and depart

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Myanmar’s best beach area, one of SE Asia’s best, without the crowds!
  • Culture, comfort and beach – a great place to unwind and relax
  • Great way to finish a Myanmar vacation in style

5 Day Myanmar: Ngapali Beach Extension >>

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Galapagos Islands – Odyssey Yacht Renovation Update

Galapagos Odyssey

We are pleased to announce that one of our favorite Galapagos cruise ships, the Odyssey, has recently undergone extensive renovations.  These improvements include:

  • Redesigned interior social areas and cabins
  • New furniture and amenities to enhance comfort and privacy
  • Two new spacious upper deck suites, which are convertible to triple cabins
  • Noise-reducing generators

In addition, the Odyssey now has a cruise director, who will provide personalized service to our clients.

Dining Area

Dining Area

odyssey-lounge

Lounge

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Outside Dining Area

Lounge Chairs on the Sundeck

Lounge Chairs on the Sundeck

Sundeck with Hot Tub and Lounge Beds

Sundeck with Hot Tub and Lounge Beds

Outside Terrace on the Upper Deck

Outside Terrace on the Upper Deck

Upper Deck Twin Suite

Upper Deck Twin Suite

Main Deck Twin Cabin

Main Deck Twin Cabin

Bathroom

Bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden Gems of Patagonia: Chile’s Top Three Parks for Trekking Lovers

Venturing south of Santiago, into the heart of Chilean Patagonia, one encounters the most impressively rich interweaving of epic national parks brimming with wildlife, biologically abundant nature reserves, jagged and glaciated peaks contrasted against wild and isolated steppe. The best way to take in these spectacular environments is by exploring the best of Chile’s parks on their vast network of hiking trails and retreating to local cozy mountains lodges in the evenings.

Chile’s Top Three Parks for Trekking Lovers

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile


1) Torres del Paine National Park

Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978, Torres del Paine National Park is internationally recognized as one of the most impressive, gorgeous and uncontaminated places on the planet. This unparalleled treasure is a haven of turquoise and electric blue lakes, rivers and waterfalls, mighty glaciers, ancient forests and incredible wildlife, all of which contribute to making it the number one destination for wildlife observers and adventure sportsmen alike.

Parque Patagonia (Patagonia Park)

Parque Patagonia (Patagonia Park)


2) Parque Patagonia (Patagonia Park)

Known as the “Yellowstone of Chile”, Patagonia Park is located in the Aysen Region and is comprised of the Jeinimeni Reserve, Tamango Reserve and Estancia Valle Chacabuco. In 2004, Conservacion Patagonica purchased the 170,500-acre Estancia Valle Chacabuco, which, until then, had been in an extremely critical state. The three collective parcels, along with other, smaller properties now create the massive 640,000-acre Patagonia National Park. This virgin area, takes 8 hours to drive to from Coyhaique and rewards those who make the journey with endless trails, a gorgeous lodge and the delight of being amidst the purest and wildest expanses of Patagonia.

Cochamo Valley

Cochamo Valley

3) Cochamo

Located in the Chilean Lakes District of northern Patagonia and commonly referred as the “Chilean Yosemite”, Cochamo is a hiker and rock climber’s paradise. Surrounded by lush forests and towering granite peaks, stay in rustic mountain and river lodges while completing day hikes to longer, multi-day treks.

Want to plan your next trip to one of Chile’s top parks? Check out our Lake’s District and Southern Patagonia Itineraries or feel free to contact me!

Your friendly Chile expert,

Gretchen

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NEW TRIP – Buenos Aires Foodie Odyssey

Buenos Aires, the capitol of Argentina, is known as “The Paris of the South” for its gorgeous tree-lined boulevards, picturesque French-style architecture, and art and cafe culture. The tempo of the city is very Spanish, with its inhabitants often observing their version of siesta (taking very long lunches during the day) and eating dinner late and staying out even later. The vast majority of immigrants were Italian and this heritage shines through the special Argentine dialect of Spanish (with its very Italian-esque intonation), gesticulation (Argentines love speaking with their hands), and, finally, through food.

On our newest Argentina Buenos Aires Foodie Odyssey itinerary, dive into the world of seductive, ruby Malbecs, sizzling, tantalizing beef cuts, fresh, home-made, pastas, rustic, warm breads and light, decadent pastries on our unique tour of Argentina’s capitol! Explore the flavors of local markets, cook with native chefs and visit the cornerstone cafes, restaurants and bakeries along with the more modern closed-door supper clubs and hidden bars of Buenos Aires.  Sample gastronomic delights as you become better acquainted with the city’s history and neighborhoods!

theargentineexperience

Fresh flavors at The Argentine Experience

Buenos Aires, in recent years, has made a splash in the gastronomic world of closed door supper clubs. In our newest Buenos Aires Foodie Odyssey itinerary, get a taste of this secret and fun scene and ready yourself for the ultimate kick-off dinner! Received with a wine based cocktail and a Patagonian trout tartar, learn how to create empanadas using the traditional “repulgue” technique and fill it with a choice of gourmet fillings. Then, enjoy a typical argentine picada with grilled provoleta cheese, sliced chorizo sausage, and the always-amazing mollejas. Be ready to be blown away with a 250g tenderloin that has been dried cured for 24 hours. Let the guides teach you the best parts of Argentine culture including their favorite hand gestures. As a pre-dessert, be prepared to try local queso y dulce. For dessert, try your hand at crafting your own alfajores, Argentina’s national sweet, where cookies, dulce de leche, melted chocolate fondue and coconut shavings combine to delight the senses. Finally, learn about the history and etiquette of mate, Argentina’s national pastime, and prepare it from scratch. The experience includes a wine pairing of three wines specially chosen by Zuccardi Winery. It includes a Torrontes from Salta, a Blend and Malbec from Valle de Uco, Mendoza.

A gaucho shows his traditional decorative belt at Los Mataderos market

A gaucho shows his traditional decorative belt at Los Mataderos Market.

Sundays in Buenos Aires are market day. Follow your nose to some of the best local food carts at Los Mataderos market where gauchos preform traditional horse maneuvers and sell their wares. Then, mingle with local artists and sip the most perfectly balanced espresso in the famous bohemian neighborhood market of San Telmo.

Whether its smoky meat, country style cheeses, rich coffee, delicate pastries or robust and aromatic wines you seek, we’ve got you covered!

Want to learn more about our Buenos Aires Foodie Odyssey? Or another Argentina trip? Feel free to contact me!

Your Argentina expert,

Gretchen

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