As little as five years ago, I thought of South America as a far away land of dramatic landscapes – the Andes, salt flats, Machu Picchu, and llamas. It seemed so far away, and about as likely for me to visit as the moon.
So this year when I headed off on my first Trafalgar tour, Impressions of South America, I had some huge expectations. The trip exceeded every single one of them.
My tour operated in the reverse of the usual direction, so my adventure started on a chilly evening in Buenos Aires where we were greeted at the airport by our tour director Rodrigo and our local guide in Buenos Aires Maria Julia. I spent the drive from the airport with my face glued to the window, trying to see what this new continent looks like. Once we reached the city centre, I could start to make out the Parisian style architecture and it’s wide boulevards.
Our first morning began with a city tour where visited the Casa Rosada made famous around the world by Evita, as well as her final resting place at Ricoleta cemetery. A favourite of the group was the colourful La Boca district where we had a chance to wander the streets, browse the shops, enjoy the cafés and relaxed atmosphere. The afternoon was free to sightsee, shop, and enjoy a drink overlooking the river. Our luxurious hotel, the Intercontinental Buenos Aires was centrally located which made it easy to explore the city on foot. That evening we enjoyed dinner and an Argentine Tango performance.
On day 3 we boarded the coach ready for one of the experiences I was most looking forward to, travelling about an hour out of the city to a Gaucho ranch. On arrival at the ranch we were greeted by the gauchos with drinks and empanadas (pastries filled with meat, and the South American “go-to” snack. Hungry? Have an empanada!). We spent the day exploring the ranch, taking carriage rides, horse riding, and feasting on a BBQ lunch. I don’t think any of us have ever eaten so much beef in our lives! There was plenty more shopping to be done at the ranch too, with local crafts, leather goods, and ponchos so we could really look the part!
Back in Buenos Aires, our Be My Guest experience that evening was in soho Palermo where a local family welcomed us into their home and gave us a home cooked meal. Seeing how the locals live isn’t something I would usually have associated with coach touring, but we experienced life in Buenos Aires and even got to meet the family’s Golden Retriever! Our hosts have been welcoming Trafalgar guests for several years, and paid for the university education of their now adult children by hosting travelers like us, so it was really great to know that our visit benefited them as much as it did us.
I would love to have spent more time exploring Buenos Aires, especially Palermo and La Boca, but a very early wake up call and a flight to Iguazu Falls beckoned!
On arrival at Iguazu airport we were met by our local guide Nuxa, who took us straight to the Argentine side of Iguazu National Park. Making our way to the Devil’s Throat which is the largest of the 450 waterfalls at Iguazu, the massive plume of spray from the falls came in to view. The Argentine side of the falls has a walkway that takes you out over the top of the falls which span around 2.7 kms, providing the most incredible views. That afternoon we crossed the border into Brazil, and checked in to the beautiful Wish Resort. The resort had a very laid back atmosphere, a huge pool area, spas dotted amongst the villas, and really made it feel like a holiday.
The next day we visited the Brazilian side of the falls, where we had the chance to see them from a lower vantage point, on walkways that take you right out into the middle of it – raincoats are definitely required! This was followed by lunch at a restaurant perched out over the water at the top of the falls, and to the excitement of the group, a real life wild toucan sighting! That afternoon I chose to take up the optional excursion of a jetboat ride up the river, which took us through rapids and under the falls! A raincoat won’t help you here, just bring a towel and change of clothes! At the end of the day the group all met up for a drink at the resort’s poolside bar to excitedly recount a day most of us will remember as one of the best of our lives.
The beauty, the magnitude and the feeling of being in the middle of one of the 7 wonders of the natural world is indescribable. Words don’t do it justice, photos don’t do it justice, you really have to experience it for yourself.
The next day we flew to the home town of our fabulous tour director, Rio de Janiero! Our hotel in Rio was the Hilton Copacabana, situated right on Copacabana beach – what a location! I couldn’t resist souvenir-ing a “Hilton Copacabana” pen from the hotel room. Living on the Sunshine Coast, I have pretty high standards when it comes to beaches, and Rio didn’t disappoint, with beaches to rival the best in Australia… even my local one. That evening we took the cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset views over Rio, and a welcome reception with canapes and Caipirinhas (the iconic Brazilian cocktail and my new favourite). We carried the party on that night at one of the beach bars just outside our hotel – dancing on the sand at Copacabana was another pinch me moment!
During our stay in Rio, we took the cogwheel train up Corcovado Mountain to Christ the Redeemer for views over the city, explored downtown, shopped at the beachfront markets, enjoyed cocktails on the beach and at the rooftop pool, bought our body weight in Havaianas, and dined at a Churrascaria traditional Brazilian BBQ. A number of us also took a guided tour to some of the city’s favelas which demonstrated the contrast in wealth and poverty living side by side in Rio. Of course it’s always important to careful and aware of your surroundings as a tourist in a large city like Rio, but safety has improved since the 2016 Olympics and I felt quite safe around the cities and beaches. A couple of the other passengers on tour had visited Rio previously, and were nervous about going back, but commented on how much safer and cleaner the city is now.
After our last breakfast overlooking Copacabana beach and the Atlantic Ocean, it was time to leave for our flight home. On the way to the airport we visited a Samba school where we saw floats and costumes used for Carnivale, and had fun learning a little bit of Samba… Brazilians seem to be born with rhythm, Australians less so, but we gave it a shot!
Trafalgar uses 5 star hotels throughout South America, and I have nothing but praise for the accommodation, experiences and service. Rodrigo, our tour director was incredible, nothing was too much for him. He was up with the early risers to go out walking, and out until all hours of the morning recommending bars for the party animals. He lived up to Trafalgar’s tagline – simply the best.
South America blew me away, it’s really a destination you have to see for yourself. Trafalgar made it easy, safe and unforgettable.