Buenos Aires and Beyond

A taste of Europe in the southern hemisphere

By: Jamie Wetherbe

Argentina likes to stay up late. Much like their Spanish ancestors, Argentineans prefer to stay out well after dark for dinner or dancing, and many locals seem to never sleep. Aside from my earlier bedtime, I felt quite at home in Argentina. My visit, tailored by tour operator Brendan Worldwide Vacations, came at what seemed to be an inopportune time. On the tails of President Bush’s trip to a summit near Buenos Aires in November and the protests that accompanied it I thought I might find anti-American sentiment.

While the anti-Bush graffiti was still spray-painted across Buenos Aires, clients can be assured that Argentineans will welcome Americans and their dollars. In fact, several locals said that they have more faith in the U.S. dollar than their own currency. And with a one-to-three exchange rate, the dollar stretches much further fine dining typically costs well under $20 allowing clients a taste of Europe at a bargain.

For this reason and others, Argentina is seeing a boost in tourism. In 2003 Buenos Aires hosted 3 million visitors, a 20 percent increase from the year before, according to reports, and LAN airlines has seen a 19 percent increase in passenger traffic from North America from 2004 to 2005.

When flying into Buenos Aires, as most clients will, travelers can see the city sprawling against part of Argentina’s 1,600 miles of coastline. Buenos Aires sometimes called the Paris of the southern hemisphere measures about 73 square miles, and the metro area houses roughly 17 million people. Clients can spend days exploring the cobblestone streets that mark older parts of the city and add to Buenos Aires’ European flare. Although even the old parts aren’t really all that dated the city’s post-colonial structures were built by architects from across Europe around the 1900s. And while the architecture is classical, the open-minded modern city has attitude. During my visit last month, city officials decided to give sightseers a little something extra by wrapping a famed landmark in a prophylactic. In honor of World AIDS Day the obelisk, which looks similar to the Washington Monument only smaller, wore a giant pink condom, making headlines across the world.

Safe-sex displays aside, Buenos Aires has much to offer your clients who can easily sightsee, shop and eat their way through the city. The city’s biggest hits include the Recoleta Cemetery where rows of marble tombs line a two-square-block spot of land and clients will find Eva Peron’s final resting place. Travelers can then people watch and lunch at La Biela, a nearby indoor/outdoor cafe and bar. A tour of the Teatro Colon opera house offers a behind-the-scenes peak at rehearsals, costume making and wigs worn by performers, and a stop at the Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA) allows clients to see works from the early 20th century to present.

When exploring Buenos Aires, it’s difficult to avoid the temptation of the many shops along the way. The Recoleta area offers upscale shopping it’s known as the Rodeo Drive of Buenos Aires. Many shoppers head downtown near Plaza San Martin to the pedestrian-only street Calle Florida, which offers leather goods, clothing and cafes, along with several jewelry and souvenir shops. For a more colorful, Bohemian atmosphere, clients can shop Caminito, where painters, artists and sculptors sell their works outside everyday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Argentina is also well known for its beef, and one of the top steak restaurants is La Cabana. In fact, the restaurant provides patrons with the life story of their steak pictures included. Since it opened in 1935, La Cabana has hosted politicians and celebrities, including Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Joan Crawford, Walt Disney and others. La Brigada, located in the antique district of San Telmo, also serves fine steak entrees that run about $8.

But clients can’t take a trip to the home of tango without seeing a show. While tango performances are held throughout the city, El Viejo Almacen offers a more intimate theater setting to better see the fancy footwork. Dinner and a show are available nightly and cost about $65 just the two-hour tango show costs $50.

If clients want to try out some of their own moves, after-hours milongas (tango clubs) can be found throughout the city although they can be tricky to locate. On a Thursday night, a popular night for milongas, I twice tried and failed to find an open tango club. The concierge then directed me to another milonga, which turned out to be more of a nightclub. After paying a cover charge, I was greeted at the door by several drag queens which might be an indication why Buenos Aires was recently named one of the most gay-friendly cities by Out Traveler magazine but still there was no tango in sight.

Clients who want to go beyond Buenos Aires can opt for a day excursion to one of the estancias (ranches) to see the gauchos (South America’s cowboys). We took a 45-minute drive northwest to the Santa Susana ranch, where guests can enjoy traditional Argentine barbeque and a music and tango show. Clients can also hop on one of the horses or in a horse-drawn carriage for a ride albeit a very short one. While remaining a working ranch, much of Santa Susana’s income comes from hosting tourists, as many as 500 in a day, which can make for a crowded experience.

If clients choose to venture beyond Buenos Aires, they usually head south for an eco-adventure in Argentina’s Patagonia region or head west and stay city-bound. Our trip was an exception offering both a taste of Patagonia and the wine region but I don’t recommend it. Most flights connect through Buenos Aires, which means clients lose a day traveling.

Backpackers Paradise
Bariloche, part of Patagonia, is typically cold and wet, but pristine. With a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest in the United States, clients must come prepared for rain and should visit during the summer months between December and February. Several shops, restaurants and pubs line the city’s few main streets, but travelers are drawn to the city for the quiet scenery.

When the clouds part, clients can take a cable car or better yet, a chairlift up one of Bariloche’s mountains for a view of the many untouched lakes. Bariloche is more of a backpackers’ and eco-travelers’ paradise full of youth hotels and small lodges. A far cry from the city lights of Buenos Aires, travelers come here to fish, kayak and hike or ski during the winter although the short season and lack of snowfall make it a popular summer destination as well. For upscale travelers, Bariloche is best enjoyed from the vantage point of the Llao Llao Hotel & Resort the area’s only luxury resort, which offers a golf course, spa and gourmet restaurants.

Another popular tourist activity is hopping a boat for an excursion across one of Bariloche’s many lakes. In fact, tourists can travel all the way to Chile by a combination of boat and bus in a day. But be warned, most tourists are unaware that this can take up to 14 hours. Shorter, hour-long boat trips are also available to ferry clients through the lakes. But these boats are far from posh, and some aren’t heated when it’s raining, this can make for a chilling experience. From Bariloche, travelers typically head further south into Patagonia for more eco-adventures, including horseback riding and whitewater rafting.

Wine Country
Unlike Bariloche, travelers come to Mendoza to eat and drink well. The city draws tourists from North America, Australia and Europe who want to tour many regional wineries; in fact, Mendoza’s wineries are making it an up-and-coming destination. Last fall, the city became a member of the great wine capitals of the world putting the city in the same category as California’s Napa Valley. While Mendoza has a way to go before being on par with Napa, wine connoisseurs will appreciate a visit while Mendoza remains under the tourist radar.

Mendoza was first founded in 1561, but 300 years later the city was destroyed by an earthquake. Clients can check out the remains being excavated by local universities along with a 220-acre public park that’s always open for picnickers, bikers, runners and other activities. The newer part of the city near Plaza de la Independencia features a pedestrian-only street full of shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes which stay open late but close for siesta from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The irrigation system which is several hundred years old keeps the city green. But Mendoza is actually set in the desert, making for an excellent wine-growing climate. While the region has been in the wine business for 400 years, it has only been in the past two decades that the country has exported the product. Some 70 percent of Argentina’s wines are made in Mendoza, and grapes grow so easily here, almost all of the region’s wines are organic even if they don’t bear the coveted label.

Since there are not set wine tour routes or packages, it’s best to book clients through a tour operator like Brendan Vacations. Our tour took us to the Familia Zuccardi, a family-owned winery that is one of the largest in the region. After an escorted winery tour, our group enjoyed a tasting and a multiple-course lunch at the on-site gourmet restaurant.

The Road Home
From Mendoza, clients can board a bus for a tour through the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile. While this is a daylong commitment, travelers will pass the highest point in the Southern Hemisphere a mountain peak reaching 21,000 feet and the famed Inca Bridge. The cause behind this naturally formed bridge remains a mystery, but many believe the minerals in the water below were the source. Locals leave items like bottles, shoes and picture frames in the water for several days, which leave them thick with sediment and ready to sell to tourists.

Clearing customs on the road to Chile can take 20 minutes to several hours, but one bonus to the bus is bypassing the departure taxes at the airport in Santiago. The fee fluctuates but can be as much as $100 for those coming and going by plane.

However clients choose to spend their time in Argentina, the country is worth staying up late with.

Where to Stay

Sofitel, Buenos Aires

There’s no shortage of posh hotels in Buenos Aires, and during my trip, I stayed at the 144-room Sofitel Buenos Aires.
The Sofitel, which opened in 2002, features large, art-deco rooms; marble bathrooms with a separate tub and shower; Le Sud, the gourmet Mediterranean restaurant; four banquet rooms; and fitness and business centers. For a fee, guests can log on at the business center or use the wireless Internet in the lobby or nearby Cafe Arroyo.
The hotel sits on Arroyo Street within walking distance of tree-lined shopping areas, the financial district and art museums. Room rates range from $320 for Superior accommodations to $1,800 a night for Sofitel’s Apartment.

Llao Llao Hotel & resort,

For clients seeking luxury in Bariloche, book them at the Llao Llao Hotel & Resort. The hotel, originally built in 1940, is located on a remote hilltop between two lakes, offering guests which have included Bill and Hillary Clinton panoramic views of Patagonia. The hotel boasts 147 double rooms, 11 suites and one cabin and is in the process of adding 42 new rooms by the fall of 2006. Llao Llao also features a spa, 18-hole golf course and restaurants.
Rates range from a mountain room for $200 in the low season to $2,245 for the presidential suite during the high season.

Park Hyatt Mendoza

Mendoza’a only five-star hotel strives to incorporate the local culture into just about everything.
The 186-room Park Hyatt Mendoza’s specialty restaurant, Bistro ‘M,’ offers regional cuisine paired with fine wines made in Mendoza, and a wine training school is in the works. The hotel also hosts one of the largest collections of local art. Other perks include a spa and fitness center, outdoor pool, business center with Internet and several conference rooms. The hotel casino, Regency Casino Mendoza, offers two floors of gaming tables and slot machines and will undergo a $5 million expansion to offer guests more VIP areas.
The Park Hyatt sits across from the Plaza de la Independencia and a pedestrian-only street full of shops and cafes.
Rates range from $215 to $275 a night.

Getting There

LAN Airlines offers 10 weekly flights from LAX in Los Angeles to Buenos Aires with a couple of pit stops along the way. Clients traveling from Los Angeles should be prepared for short stopovers in Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile.

The award-winning LAN, which was named the best airline in South America by the Airports Council International-Latin America and Caribbean, also recently added a nonstop flight from Miami to Buenos Aires as well as flights within Argentina. In addition to Buenos Aires, LAN now services several smaller cities in Argentina, including Bariloche (seasonal), Cordoba, Mendoza, Rosario, Salta (seasonal) and Ushuaia (seasonal).

Agents should note that in November the pilots and mechanics on Argentina’s largest airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, walked off the job at Buenos Aires’ two airports, affecting some 80,000 travelers when 300 international and domestic flights were canceled.

The airline and workers reached an agreement last month, and the workers have agreed not to strike for 90 days.


Getting Around: Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, is best navigated by taxi. And while cabbies are known to take tourists for a ride, so to speak, the fare is usually under $10.

Even if clients are traveling through Mendoza’s wineries, a cab will be a cheaper option.


Argentina Tourism

Brendan Worldwide Vacations

El Viejo Almacen

Familia Zuccardi Winery

La Cabana restaurant

Museum of Latin American Art

Teatro Colon opera house