Category Archives: TRAVELLER'S EYE VIEW

ARGENTINA: GLACIERS & FALLS, A Travel Diary by Subhash Motwani, Argentina Specialist

Argentina is truly an enormous country with great diversity and stunning landscapes. Being the 8th largest country in the world, it was not surprising to note that it takes 6 hours by flight to reach from Buenos Aires to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia – which is the capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. Those who plan to take the Antarctica cruise can do so from Ushuaia- a hub for Antarctic cruises.

BEYOND BUENOS AIRES

Our next destination after visiting the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere and the capital of Argentina was the city of El Calafate which is half way to Ushuaia. It takes 3 hours by flight to reach El Calafate – the city better known for its spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier, an icefield which was created millions of years ago by a gap formed in the Andes Mountains.

Whilst flying within Argentina it is essential to note that one has to keep sufficient time between connecting flights as the domestic flights tend to get delayed and a 3-hour flight can at times take 3 hours and 30 minutes. Flights within Argentina can be quite expensive and at times if you are lucky you can get some good deals as well. A return flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate can cost you around USD 600 and there are several airlines which fly within Argentina such as Sol, TAM, Aerolineas Argentinas, Andes and LAN to name a few. So a specialist on the destination can definitely help you in getting the best deals provided you plan your trip well in advance.

LEGENDS OF PATAGONIA

The region of Patagonia is truly a delight for the adventure seeker and Cerro Castor which is 26 kilometres from Ushuaia is one of the most exclusive ski resorts in Argentina. It is located on the same latitude in the Southern Hemisphere as Moscow is in the Northern Hemisphere. This region receives the longest snow season in Latin America and one of the reasons being that the southern slopes do not receive direct sunlight. As a result skiing in Cerro Castor is a delight as it enjoys the best snow quality that you will find anywhere in the world.  Areas such as Cerro Chapelco, Bayo, Catedral, Las Leñas, Penitentes, Caviahue and La Hoya are regions where you can enjoy skiing across the region of Patagonia as well as other snow activities such as snowboarding, snow tubing, husky sledge rides and even golf as well.  From the green field and the fertile Rio Negro valley to the Andes Mountain range and the arid Patagonia plateau, the last home of the dinosaurs, to foots of hills and volcanoes, sport fishing and stays in estancias or large cattle ranches, one can spend days experiencing different activities in Patagonia and the 3 major cities worth visiting here are Bariloche, El Calafate and Ushuaia amongst others. The region is home to 13 glaciers including Uppsala – the largest of glacier in Los Glaciares National Park which derives its name from the Uppsala University which sponsored the first glaciological study in the region. Another glacier worth visiting is Spegazzini – one of the highest glaciers reaching a height of 135 metres.  The Patagonian region comprises of 17000 square kilometres of which 2000 square kilometers are in Argentina and the rest belong to Chile.

What we were to witness is the Perito Moreno glacier during our short stay in El Calafate. The Perito Moreno Glacier is located 80 kilometres from El Calafate and is the only glacier which can be viewed from a balcony stretching almost 4 kilometres.  As our flight approached El Calafate we noticed the turquoise colour of Lago Argentino – the biggest freshwater lake of Argentina in the Santa Cruz province of Patagonia. It is from this lake that the Argentinian flag derives it colour. The lake has a surface area of 1600 sq kilometres with a depth of 120 metres.



THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE

Our hotel Los Sauces which incidentally belongs to the President of Argentina was located 20 kilometres from the airport in one of the most picturesque locations. In fact the entire drive was a perfect post card picture experience. Puerto Natales which is the Chilean border is 300 kilometres away and can be covered in a driving distance of 3.5 to 4 hours. So if you don’t have a Chilean visa but still want to get close to Chile, a day trip from El Calafate is a possibility.

The capital of Santa Cruz province is Rio Gallegos, located 300 kilometres from El Calafate. The town of El Calafate, known as the national capital of the glaciers has over 7000 inhabitants and is on the southern end of Lago Argentino (Lake Argentina) and a minimum 3 days stay is recommended to explore the region.

During our short stay we were highly pampered and taken care by the exceptional staff at Los Sauces – a world class luxury property with exquisite cuisine and suite style accommodation. Each room is tastefully decorated and the rooms are pretty spacious with wide windows and views of Mount Calafate or Lake Argentina. I was in one of the rooms which was roughly 40 square metres and the entire property is located in a traditional ranch estate in an area comprising of 4 acres of immaculate landscape giving you the feel of a country style accommodation. On a cool wintry day you can spend a couple of hours in front of the log fire and soak in some authentic local character with fine furnishings comprising of some striking Argentine paintings and sculptures.

La Comarca restaurant serves some fine gourmet cuisine with the suckling Patagonian lamb being an absolute specialty. The Southern Hake (fish) is another specialty. And after a full day of adventure – be it visiting the Glacier or going on horseback, you can relax in the octagonal designed spa known as Las Piedras which is fully equipped with a state of the art gym, Jacuzzi, sauna and spa.

FOOTHILLS OF THE ANDES

After a sumptuous lunch, we left for an exciting 4×4 adventure to Huyliche, a working ranch which raises cattle and criollo horses and is barely 3 kilometres from El Calafate. We could hear the sound of the wind blowing and it was the end of winter with a temperature around 5˚ C. This was probably the highlight of our entire trip to get some stunning views as we moved up the foothills of the Andean mountains on our 4×4 overlooking valleys, creeks, rivers and as we moved higher in altitude we could see some snow across the horizon.

Not only did we get the opportunity to drive on the snow but also experienced a gentle snowstorm.The amazing landscapes and spectacular views made this experience much beyond the exceptional. The region of El Calafate is known for its tourism and meat produce and is one of the few places to experience some unique Farm Tours, sheep shearing, visits to the Eola and Cristina farms which are highly recommended for the discerning travelers. Whether it is horse riding, trekking or even visiting the 3 major glaciers of the region – Upsala, Spegazzini and Perito Moreno, the Santa Cruz province of Patagonia and the city of El Calafate should be right on top of your must visit excursions when you visit the South American Continent.

The following day we had one of the best and most efficient guides in Patagonia – Paula. Paula Podromos incidentally runs a vegetarian restaurant in Patagonia and given her knowledge and expertise, I do recommend the Indian vegetarian guests to visit Veggies Patagonicos. Incidentally Paula did tell us that Sri Sri Ravishankar is likely to visit Argentina this December and there are satsangs every Friday in El Calafate – surely an Indian connection out there to Argentina.

THE GROWING GLACIER

In winter, the sun rises around 0930 hours and we left for the Perito Moreno Glacier at the break of dawn (around 0900 hours) to see both ends of the Glacier which is located 80 kilometres or a 90-minute drive from El Calafate.  El Calafate is 400 kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean and most of the drive is alongside Lago Argentino. Our guide Paula shared some interesting facts en route such as the temperature of the water is an average of 3°C all year around.  The Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the southern Patagonian Icefield camp and the average temperature in summer is between 16°C and 18°C. No doubt the period between September and April is the peak tourist season out here. It is remarkable to note that inspite of such high temperatures in summer, the glacier remains intact all year round.

There is just one hotel in Los Glaciares National Park and you need big pockets to spend a night at Los Notros which overlooks the Glacier. The Glacier can be viewed by boat from the southern side and from the balconies in the northern side. To enter the National Park, an entrance fee of 80 ARS (Argentine Pesos) – approx INR 1000 has to be paid by international visitors. This 250-square kilometre ice formation stretches 30 kilometres in length and is shared with Chile and is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the three Patagonian glaciers which is growing and scientists have to still figure out the mystery behind this.

LUNCH ON ICE

After a boat ride, we had lunch at the restaurant located at the north side of the Glacier. The restaurant known as “Nativos de Patagonia” serves a meal comprising of a starter, a main course and a dessert for 90 Pesos (approx Rs 1080) and for vegetarians there are options like the Cremosa Sopa de Calabaza or the pumpkin soup with red onions and chorizo, Ensalada Tibla de Vegales or warm salads and to finish a meal a chocolate y dulce de leche is the recommended choice and would cost you 18 Pesos.

After a good meal, we descended to go to the balcony comprising of 2000 steps and is 4 kilometres long. If you are lucky, you could see large chunks of ice rupture in front of your eyes, although the ruptures are not as frequent and at times it takes place once every 4 years. The rupture of the natural dam formed over the L-shaped Lago Argentino is a rare phenomena as the water level rises upto 30 metres and the enormous pressure produced by the height breaks the ice barrier creating this unique rupture cycle. These spectacular towering chunks of eroding ice is something you must surely look out for.

GLACIER WALKS


Patagonia comprises of 5 provinces and 70% of the landscape is Patagonian steppes and receives 200 mm of rainfall every year. Incidentally the Chilean border from the Glacier is merely 20 kilometres away but you need to drive almost 400 kilometres from here to go to Chile. Another way to view the Glacier is to undertake a Glacier Walk comprising of 8 hours out of which 90 minutes is walk on the actual glacier. The boat trip is definitely a good option for the less adventurous and is an interesting 60 minutes ride and takes you very close to the glacier. The North side of the Glacier is 2.5 kilometres long, 60 metres high and 180 metres in water. The glacier stretches 30 kilometres into Chile. It was incredible to note that the total ice between Argentina and Chile comprises of 13000 sq.kilometres which is of the size of Belgium of which 80% is in Chile and 20% is in Argentina. The ice was supposedly formed 40 million years ago and is 2000 metres above sea level. There are as many as 200 glaciers in the area and the major part of the Chilean side of the ice formation is in the sea whereas the Argentine side is in fresh water and the Perito Moreno glacier moves 1.50 metres every day and is in balance and this is indeed an incredible phenomenon. The Perito Moreno glacier was named after the explorer scientist Francisco Moreno who incidentally did not see the glacier himself. For the adventure seekers, they can do a glacier walk not only at Perito Moreno but also at El Chalten which belongs to the Fitzroy Mountains and is the trekking capital of Argentina and at an altitude of 3400 metres above sea level.

WILDLIFE SPOTTING


As we head back Paula, our guide told us how El Calafate derived its name. It is from the Calafate plant which is grown on the Patagonian steppes. The Los Glaciares National Park is also home to several birds and quite often you spot the Condor – the biggest bird in South America – 3 metres long, 1 metre high and only eats carcasses of animals. We were lucky to spot a few Condors as we were traversing the balconies on the northern side of the glaciers. Besides Condors, one could also see the Caracara birds and Eagles and as one goes deeper into the National Park, one may be able to spot the Geoffrey’s Cat, South Andean Deer which is nearing extinction and the Mara-Hare or the Patagonian Hare which also is found only in Patagonia and nearing extinction as well. This sub-Antarctic forest is also home to lesser Rhea which looks like an Ostrich, the Guanacos from the Llama family though smaller in size than the Llama. The wool of Guanaco is supposedly the best wool available although quite often you find shops in El Calafate selling you wool of Merino Sheep which incidentally comes from Australia and New Zealand and not from Patagonia.

During our short stay in Patagonia, we got a glimpse of El Calafate, the capital of the Santa Cruz province, although Patagonia has lots to offer – from Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego province to San Martin los Andes in Neuquen, to Puerto Madryn which is well known for penguins, whales and seals in the Chubut province to Bariloche in Rio Negro.

HEADING NORTH


Our flight left at 1918 hours and with a stop at Bariloche, we reached Buenos Aires nearing midnight.  Our next stop was in the Litoral region and the province of Misiones to see the spectacular Iguazú Falls – the widest falls in the world bordering Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. After spending an overnight at Buenos Aires, we flew on LAN the following morning for a 90-minute flight to Iguazú Falls.

At Iguazú we were staying at one of the boutique properties – Loi Suites which is in a beautiful location in the middle of the jungle. The most striking part of the diversity of Argentina is that as we headed up north more towards a sub-tropical climate, the temperature in winter changed dramatically from 5°C in El Calafate to about 10°C in Buenos Aires and eventually to 28°C in Iguazú Falls. The falls are 22 kilometres from the city centre and is in the direction of Paraguay and Brazil. Iguazú receives 2300 mm rainfall per year and incidentally the minimum rainfall is in August. Between December and February it rains 1 hour every day. Iguazú Falls is barely 6 kilometres or an hour’s drive to Brazil. After arrival in Iguazú and checking into our hotel, we left to head to the Iguazú Forest and we were warmly received by Vin Diesel lookalike Jose who ensured that we could get the best of Iguazú during our short stay in this very interesting region offering a combination of rivers and forest. The plains and forests are surrounded by heavy flow rivers of which the Parana and Iguazú river are of great significance as they play an important part in the formation of the magnanimous Iguazú Falls. The Parana river divides Argentina and Paraguay.

ACTION BEFORE THE FALLS

En route to the forest we stopped on the way to see the Guarani Tribe – Guaranis are a group of culturally indigenous people of South America and they speak the Guarani language. They are spread across 4 countries- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia of which over 1000 Guaranis are in Argentina. It took us 40 minutes from our hotel to reach the Iguazú Forest where we did a 4 hour excursion comprising of 3 adventure activities – Canopy, Rappelling and Hiking. We were asked to get into a heavy duty truck and our first halt was in the Forest where we would rappel down a descent of rocks of 15 metres tied to a harness and the experience was indeed very invigorating after which we hiked across the narrow paths within the forest and arrived at a waterfall. The last of the activities was the most exhilarating – the Canopy.  After climbing a treetop through a stairway, we slided from one tree to another fastened by a harness which was attached to a steel cable enjoying the views of the forest from a height and zipped passed a distance of over a kilometer in no time.

We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and if one has more time in hand, one could easily add an ATV ride experience to the four hour excursion comprising of 3 adventure activities. Later in the evening we visited Aqva – a restaurant which specializes in sea food and when in Iguazú it is recommended to try the Suruvy fish which is a local river fish. The restaurant itself is one of the best restaurants in the region and I would highly recommend a meal for anyone who plans visiting the Argentina side of the Iguazú falls.

THE ROAR OF IGUAZÚ


Next morning we were accompanied by our guide Miriam who quite resembled the President of Argentina and she took us to the Iguazú National Park where we spent the entire day to see what is undoubtedly the most spectacular falls in the world which borders 3 countries. Known as the Aguas Gerantes or Big Water by the Guaranis, the Iguazú Falls has over 275 falls and the border between Argentina and Brazil is marked by the most spectacular of them all – the Garganta del Diablo or the Devil’s Throat. The water from the falls plunges to 70 metres in the abyss below and the park besides the falls is also home to over 2000 species of plants and 400 species of birds as well. Iguazú Falls, which is one of the natural wonders of the world, has 2100 metres of the falls on the Argentina side and 600 metres on the Brazilian side. The Brazilian side is known as Foz de Iguazú and has a population of 350000 whereas the Argentina side known as the Puerto Iguazú has a population comprising of 50000 people. Paraguay, the Ciudad de l’Este which is located on the other side of the Parana River  from Argentina has 200000 inhabitants, a majority of them from the Guarani Tribe.

NAVIGATING THE DEVIL’S THROAT

The amazing part of the falls is that it changes every day as the rainfall in the area determines the falls. It was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca from Spain who discovered the falls for the first time in 1542 and initially called it Santa Maria. Later in 1934, it was named the Iguazú National Park – one of the 32 National Parks in Argentina.  Today Iguazú receives almost 3000 to 4000 visitors a day and over a million tourists every year. To reach the falls one has to take a train which leaves every 30 minutes and takes you to the Devil’s Throat. Thereafter you have to walk over 1.3 kilometres on a walking trail known as the cat walk. En route, one can see lot of birds like we spotted the plush crested jay birds at various points along the way. Almost 80% of the falls are on the Argentine side and comprises of 3 horseshoe shaped valleys. It is a good idea to take Mate – the local drink made of herbs – along with you and the herbs, which act as anti-oxidants and has vitamin C, is a good thirst quencher especially as you are in sub-tropical climate and the average temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius with a very high humidity. It takes easily a couple of hours to see the 270 odd cataracts from various panoramic views and you have to spend almost the entire day to see the falls.  En route we also saw coaties which are type of raccoons and seem to be pretty friendly animals though it is best advised not to get very close to them.

Another activity which is worth doing is a boat trip on the gentle Iguazú river where you can view the falls and go in close proximity with the risk of getting fully drenched inspite of having a raincoat on. The boat trip in a large rubber-raft is worth it provided you carry a change of clothes or else you will come out soaking wet at the end of the trip. If you do have a Brazilian visa you can view the falls from the Brazilian side or else you can explore other exciting cities of Argentina.

SAY NAMASTE TO ARGENTINA

Argentina is truly a country of six continents and in my short trip of 7 days I got a glimpse of three unique experiences from the glaciers to the vibrant capital city and eventually the most majestic falls – truly the eight wonder of the world. I carried back pleasant memories of the land of Tango, Football, Wine, Adventure, Glaciers, Falls and much more.  From the Andes Mountains and Cuyo in the north to Patagonia in the south, Argentina truly attracts the discerning traveller. So pack your bags and get ready to say Namaste Argentina and explore a land full of varied experiences in one unique destination.

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How To Explore Places Like Never Before: Buenos Aires

My first major exposure to Argentina was when the President of Argentina, H.E. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner,  lead a high level delegation to India in October last year. I was assigned to do a special feature on Argentina to coincide with the State-visit of the President. It was at this time I discovered that Argentina, the eighth largest nation in the world, has lots to offer in terms of tourism opportunities.

This August I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of this wonderful country and truly Argentina has all that it takes to get a complete holiday experience in one destination.

South African Airways – a member of Star Alliance – offers the shortest connection to Argentina via Johannesburg and I had the opportunity to experience the exceptional service in Business Class with their award-winning lie flat bed and excellent hospitality. We were well taken care of by Molefi Molefe, a Steward who ensured that we were well looked after on this Airbus 340-200 series flight.

On my arrival, I had to change the dollars into Argentine Pesos and the best place to do that is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina at the airport.  It took us one hour to reach the Panamericano Hotel from the airport which is located on Avenue 9 de Julio and has the famous Obelisk which dominates the avenue.

The Obelisk, which is 67 metres high, divides the Corrientes Avenue and is surrounded by a small green park – Plaza de la Republica which represents the progressive spirit of the people of Argentina.  The Plaza is a vast square and dissects the three arterial roads – Ninth of July Avenue, Corrientes Avenue and Diagonal Avenue and is located in the San Nicolas quarter.

It is a rare sight to see a 12-lane street in the middle of the city centre, six lanes each for either direction of vehicular traffic. The Plaza was inaugurated in 1937 and is also known as the most important porteño or meeting point when the country celebrates major sporting triumphs. The Plaza which was originally a circular esplanade was enlarged to its current dimensions in 1962 and the Corrientes Avenue was rerouted through the plaza later in 1971. It is around the Obelisk that you will find the vehicular traffic heading into the city’s financial district.

Buenos Aires, along with its suburbs known as Greater Buenos Aires, makes up almost a third of the total population of Argentina which stands at around 39 million. Buenos Aires is truly a year round destination and one can easily spend days exploring this city which is also South America’s second largest city only after Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Located on the western shore of Rio de la Plata estuary, Buenos Aires is considered as an Alpha World city and the people are referred to as porteños or people of the port.  During the great immigration wave in 1880s, people of Italian, Spanish and French descent migrated to Buenos Aires and therefore the city has a great European influence and is indeed one of the most beautiful metropolises of the Southern Hemisphere.

On our arrival, I had the opportunity to stroll along Lavalle Street which was adjoining my hotel. This shopping street leads into the Florida Street near San Martin Square where you will find a wide variety of shopping – from leather goods to jewellery, books and souvenirs as well as some fine boutique shops.

The San Martin Square which is walking distance from San Telmo, one of the oldest districts of Buenos Aires and which is a must-visit for its cafes, tango parlours and antique shops in the cobblestone streets which offers unique entertainment with artists and dance performances. If you are in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you must visit the San Telmo market known for its bohemian charms.  This quaint and funky neighbourhood comes to life every Sunday with its Antique Fair in Plaza Dorrego stretching down the cobblestone Calle Defensa or Defense Street.  From musicians to artists, from full-scale Tango orchestras to solitary singers, San Telmo is the place to spend your Sunday in Buenos Aires and be entertained – be it by human statues painted in gold or a frozen man and woman caught in a storm with blowing jacket or inverted umbrella which makes it a thoroughly entertaining experience.

Here are 10 other must-do activities for visitors in Buenos  Aires:

1.  Visit Plaza de Mayo:

Plaza de Mayo

The main square in downtown Buenos Aires, a focal point of political life of Buenos  Aires and Argentina. On one side you will find the  public administration office from early 20th Century. The Casa Rosado located on the eastern side of the square is the Presidential Office of Colonial Times. Go back in time and visualize President Peron saluting the people from the balcony of Casa Rosada. Close to Casa Rosado is the monument of Manuel Belgrano on horseback. Manuel Belgrano took part in the Argentine Wars of Independence and also created the Flag of Argentina and is regarded as one of the Liberatodores  or Principal Leader of the Latin American War of Independence from Spain.

Casa Rosada

On the northern side of the square is the Metropolitan Cathedral, to the west is the Cabildo – an imperial colonial building and a town hall of earlier times. Nearby is one of the oldest subways of South America –Peru which still has the original look which dates back  to the beginning of the 20th Century with wooden  wagons. A ride from Peru station is an experience. This subway  was inaugurated in 1913 as the first in Latin America.

Metropolitan Cathedral

2.            Visit Recoleta –

also known as “little France” or la Pequeña Francia. This traditional upscale district combines Parisian architecture with trendy high rise elegant buildings and a variety of cultural venues. Visit the Loisuites hotel and you get a bird’s-eye-view of the Recoleta Cemetery from the higher floors of this wonderful boutique property.

Recoleta Cemetery

A visit to the Recoleta    Cemetery is definitely recommended as it is the most    relevant historical and artistic monument in the country and was created in 1822. It contains the graves of some of the important Argentineans including Eva Peron and some of the past Presidents of Argentina. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums    decorated with statues and various architectural styles.  A walk around Recoleta will take you to some fine cafés and restaurants and maybe on a cold day you could even sip a Mate – a drink prepared from dried    leaves of yerba mate along with hot water which can be      sipped with a bombilla or a metal straw from a shared    hollow calabash gourd which is similar to a bowl  made of dried pumpkin. You can pick up a calabash gourd with a bombilla as an important Argentine souvenir.

Grave of Eva Peron

3.            Living la vida Boca –


Spend an afternoon at the Boca district and visit the most important football stadium in     Buenos Aires – La Bombonera, the home of the Boca Juniors including the famous iconic Diego Maradona. The   old port district of Boca still retains its 19th Century ambience and a strong European flavour thanks to the early Italian settlers from the city of Genoa. Colourful houses, pedestrian streets – especially the Caminito where tango artists perform on the streets – is an excellent outing to also pick up a few tango-related memorabilia.

4.            Sip a coffee and try Alfajores or Dulce de Leche at the Havanna –


Havanna is to Argentineans what Starbucks is to the U.S.  Your trip to Buenos Aires is incomplete without visiting Havanna especially in the district of Puerto Madero – the old port now converted into a famous restaurant district and somewhat reminiscent of Hamburg.  This 1880 era dockland is now converted as the newest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Havanna, besides serving some fine coffee is one of the most popular alfajor vendors in Argentina. Alfajores are light, round cookies filled with dulce de leche – milk caramel in Spanish and the traditional local sweet made of thick jam and caramel candy. Indulge in dulce de leche without worrying about the calories along with a cappuccino con dulce de leche and a few alfajores to go. There are over 50 Havanna stores and cafés across the city and you have no reason not to spend a couple of hours for a coffee, a light meal or over indulgence of fine tempting desserts.

5.            Tango and Theatre –


The Teatro Colón or Colombus   Theatre located close to the Obelisk is amongst the top  5 opera houses in the world and a must-visit attraction.  The theatre which opened in 1908 was closed for refurbishment from October 2006 to May 2010 and is    recently reopened and should be on your agenda whilst visiting Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is the birth place of Tango and Piazzolla is one of the fine places in the Guemes Gallery where  you can experience the vibrancy of soulful music combined with modern tango and feel the spirit of the city created by the famous Astor Piazzolla. A dinner followed by an exhilarating 90-minute Tango song and dance presentation is a wonderful way to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. Other options would be to visit one of the Parrillas or charcoal grill places to try out a barbecue. La Estancia Del Gaucho on Lavalle street or Las Cabritas at Soldado de la Independencia     is a good place to order a Parillada or Asado, grilled meats or grilled beef which can be shared by two or more along with a glass of Trapiche – one of Argentine’s fine Malbec wines with produce from Altamira, Uco Valley, the premium area where Malbec is grown in Argentina.

6.            Shop at Avenida Santa Fe or the Galerías Pacífico –

Avenida Santa Fe

Avenida Santa Fe is indeed one of the well known places for shopping in Buenos Aires and stretches from Plaza San Martin to Belgrano offering a corridor of hustle, bustle and retail therapy with well known  boutique brands in one of the most important shopping districts of the city.

Galerias Pacifico

There is also Galerias Pacifico or the Pacific Gallery located at the intersection of Florida Street and Cordoba Avenue. This is one of the most elegant shopping malls with concreted domes, renovated in 1990, and houses with a shopping mall, the Jorge Luis  Borges Cultural Centre and Julia Boca Dance school. The dome is decorated with murals by famous Argentine painters and the large central cupola was   constructed and decorated with 12 frescos by artists including Manuel Colmeiro, Antonio Berni , Demetrio Urruchúa and others. These frescos are some of the most important in Buenos Aires.

7.            Flowering Art –


Floralis Genérica is a unique sculpture    made of metal and is the gift to the city by the architect Eduardo Catalano. The Arte en Flor or Flowering Art is located in the centre of a park surrounded by wooden boundaries and represents a large flower with an aluminum skeleton of reinforced concrete and is supposedly 20 metres high. The flower which opens to the sky has six petals and is located at the United Nations Plaza and weighs 18 tons.

8.            Night out in Palermo or a visit to the Cathedral of Polo –


Palermo is a trendy neighborhood filled with restaurants, shops and clubs called boliches. Located in the northeast part of the city, Palermo borders other important districts such as Belgrano, Recoleta, Rio del Plata river and is the largest neighbourhood in Buenos    Aires. It is further subdivided into Alto Palermo – the  main shopping area and transport hub around Santa Fe Avenue, Villa Freud – a residential area, Palermo Viejo or old Palermo which reflects an old Spanish style architecture and where well known figures such as   Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara once lived.

Bars around Plaza Serrano

Then there is the Palermo Soho area or Plaza Serrano  which is a chic fashion district with plenty of bars and street culture and has a bohemian feel to the region. Palermo Hollywood as well has a high concentration of restaurants, clubs, cafes and active night life and finally Palermo Chico which is an up-market area and houses the National Museum of Decorative Arts. The Barrio Parque area in Palermo is home to the rich and famous    and MALBA – the Museum of Latin America Art is located in the vicinity. Las Cañitas is an up-market area too and is located next to Campo Argentino de Polo – the Cathedral of Polo, a multi-purpose stadium used for polo, field hockey and has also hosted the World Hockey Cup in 1978. The stadium which holds 30000 spectators is also home to the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo – the most important polo event in the world, a venue for the 1950 Olympic Games and at      times is also used for concerts performed by Shakira, Carlos Santana and for public events too.

The Cathedral of Polo

National Museum of Decorative Arts

9.            Browse through at El Ateneo Grand Splendid –

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

This amazing building on Santa Fe Avenue was designed by well known architects Peró and Torres and originally opened as a theatre during the 20th Century  with a seating capacity for over a 1000 spectators. This theatre was later converted into a cinema and the first sound films were presented in Argentina here in 1929. Subsequently in the 21st Century, this iconic building was converted into a 2000-square metre book and music shop and over 700000 books were sold in 2007. The cinema seating was replaced by massive book  shelves and over a million people walk through this amazing book store every year. An English newspaper,  the Guardian, placed El Ateneo as number two in the list of world’s top ten best bookshops and is a must-visit attraction for reading enthusiasts.

10.          Take an open bus or underground walking tour to explore more –

Open Air Bus

For those who are short on time, you can take an open bus tour covering the highlights of the city of Buenos Aires in less than 3 hours. A 2-day pass can take you through the major districts which can be further explored on foot. From La Manzana de las Luces you can walk through tunnels which were built in the 17th and 18th Centuries and formed a network linking churches and public buildings. This historic block is surrounded by Bolivar Street, Moreno, Avenida Julia de Roca and the subway of Peru from where you could take these walking tours which take you through the Cabildo, the Cathedral with the Church of San Ignacio, Santo Domingo, San Juan, old Irish convents and neighbouring buildings.

You need more than one visit to experience the various dimensions of Buenos Aires – be it culture, art, tango, football, night life, shopping, notable streets, neighbourhoods, parks or landmarks.  It was impossible for me to cover most of these experiences during my 2-day stay in Buenos Aires. However, those   who plan to visit the country of glaciers, deserts, waterfalls and more will need little encouragement to take a short stop in Buenos Aires – truly a city with varied and diverse experiences.

Interested in planning a holiday to Argentina?

Email a Destination Expert at info@opportunitiestoday.co.in and read about what more Argentina has to offer in a forthcoming issue.

Australia Famil, by Yazneen Rana

When people ask me about my job and are told that I am in the Tourism Industry, their first remark is usually, “So you must travel a lot!”  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  But we do get some rare opportunities for visiting far off lands with Incentive groups or on Familiarization trips.

I completed the Aussie Specialist programme in February 2008 which qualified me as an Australia tourism specialist and also gave me a chance to be eligible for a Familiarization tour to Australia. Twenty eligible agents including myself were chosen by Tourism Australia to participate in this tour.  These Famils, as they are called, are organized each year by the Australian Tourism Board and Aussie Specialist agents are selected to visit the country.  This includes a lot of touring and site inspections.  We are also introduced to new tourism products which they wish to promote.

Our 10-day adventure included Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland and Sydney in New South Wales.

Queensland is known as the Sunshine State – “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next.”  We arrived at the Brisbane Airport where we were met by our lively, mischievous and lovable Tourism Queensland Representative – Ms. Anne Miller. I have never met a lady like her who makes you feel so comfortable and at home right from the first meeting. She was with us throughout the tours of Brisbane and Gold Coast.  She also went out of her way to arrange some site inspections and touring that we wished to do but was not mentioned in our schedule.

Our first city was Brisbane.  Young and vibrant, Brisbane lies at the heart of one of the most diverse and popular holiday regions in Australia and enjoys an enviable climate of warm, bright summers and clear, mild winters – making Brisbane an ideal place to visit all year round.

The city lies on the banks of the serpentine Brisbane River, a colourful waterway for high-speed ferries, paddle-wheelers and pleasure boats. Just over the bridge from the Central Business District, the South Bank area has all the fun, festivity, art and culture on the south bank of the Brisbane River.  There you will find the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, State Library, Queensland Art Gallery and Museum. Not to miss out is the Brisbane Eye, which is 61 metres tall and gives you a great view of the city as it moves. The entry charge is around AUD 15 for a ride. South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River is home to restaurants, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a real sandy beach and lagoon – all with a city backdrop.

Certain Must Do’s in Brisbane are taking a quick trip on the City Cat cruise, visiting the Botanical Gardens in front of the Parliament building, shopping for souvenirs at Queen Street Mall which has a variety of small restaurants, pubs, grub corners, coffee shops, a movie theatre and a cell phone store. Brisbane has a number of bridges with the most popular being Kangaroo Bridge and Story Bridge. A popular recreational activity is the Story Bridge Adventure Climb.  For shoppers with a budget, Brunswick Street is amazing with a China Town and Flea Market open on Saturdays and Sundays.

The first night we stayed at the Sofitel Brisbane – located in the City Centre and linked directly to the train station.  Our first day started with a short city tour of Brisbane and then we headed to the Holt Street Warf to take a 1 hour and 15 minutes ferry ride to reach Tangalooma.  Chad Croft from Tangalooma was there to receive us and update us about his property, the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. It is on Moreton Island and surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and untouched national parks. With over 75 tours and activities on offer, the resort is a perfect destination for guests seeking an action packed, educational, nature based or relaxing experience. In fact it is the only resort where all guests get the opportunity to feed the wild Bottlenose Dolphins. This activity takes place each day in the evening.

After an amazing Indian meal, we headed to enjoy our Quad Bike ride from the beach up to the top of Moreton Island – a sand island – and coming down another way. It costs approximately AUD 40 but is definitely a must do here. Later in the evening we walked towards the well lit Jetty to participate in the dolphin-feeding activity where these wild dolphins come really close to the shore, giving the visitors a chance to feed them.  From Tangalooma, we continued our travels to reach Gold Coast.

Gold Coast is a fantastic place not just for those who want to relax and wander around but also for those who wish to have an action packed holiday full of fun activities. With miles of surf beach, lush green rainforest, world-class golfing greens, world-famous theme parks and with every kind of accommodation from exclusive 5-star hotels to sunny beachside apartments – that’s the Gold Coast. The most iconic building there is the Q1 which is the tallest residential tower in the world and ideally located right on Surfers Paradise.  It is 322.5 metres high with 80 levels. Inspirational, breathtaking and stunning, it offers luxury one, two and three bedroom apartment accommodation with unique glass balconies. The Q Deck, which is the observatory, is on level 77 from where one gets a panoramic view of Gold Coast. Level 78 features the Skylight Room, which available for unique functions and events. Some of the important areas in Gold Coast are the Broadbeach area and Surfers Paradise. Broadbeach is more relaxed, with the famous casino-hotel Conrad Jupiters. Surfers Paradise, on the other hand, is very lively with many shops, a wide range of accommodation, a beach which is great for surfing and countless entertainment options such as a Reverse Bungee Arena, a -50 Bar and Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant.

We spent our night at Palazzo Versace – the first Versace hotel in Australia designed by Donatella Versace.  This is a fantastic 5-star luxury hotel including its own artificial beach besides the other trademark 5-star facilities. The next morning we headed to Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides including the brand new Mick Doohan Motocoaster. We enjoyed ourselves at the Nickelodeon Central, Wiggles World, Tiger Island, the Australian Wildlife Experience (where you can get yourself picture with a koala bear) and Australia’s first and only stationary wave, FlowRider.

After lunch at Dreamworld, it was time for some shopping at the Harbour Town, located just 15 kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. Harbour Town is an award winning shopping destination with more than 95 brand-direct outlet stores selling over 300 brands of the world’s top name fashions and home wares direct to shoppers with savings of up to 60 percent below normal retail prices, every day.  This is a great shopping place which I will definitely recommend all my clients.

Tonight we were at Sofitel Gold Coast on Broadbeach with all our rooms having a fantastic view of the beach. Like the Sofitel Brisbane this hotel too had a direct exit to the Monorail station which connects it directly to the Conrad Jupiters hotel.

Our Indian travel agent group was quite enthusiastic and wished to discover the place more that what was shown to us. So each night after dinner we would all go out for a long stroll to discover more of the city.

On the third day, we were supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for which we were ready before dawn, but due to the unsupportive climate our tour got cancelled instead of which we visited the Q1 on Surfers along with a visit to the Qdeck.  A beautiful and an unforgettable experience.

Another activity that we took the same day was the visit to Mt. Tamborine. It is a flora and fauna sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. Situated only 40 minutes from the coast and at an elevation of 550 meters the mountain is renowned for perfect climate, spectacular views, lush farmland, subtropical rainforest and country hospitality. Set amidst this natural beauty are wineries, country arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops, galleries tearooms and nurseries. Our tour included a visit to the Tambourine Mountain Distillery which is owned by Michael and Alla Ward. This Distillery uses a traditional copper pot still to distil a variety of locally grown fruit and this fruit is used in a variety of handmade liqueurs.  It is Australia’s smallest operating Pot Still Distillery, but of world renown, including in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and Asia and has won many awards to its credit. We continued to visit the Witches Chase Cheese Factory to see artisan style cheese and gourmet ice cream in the making. We tried a variety of award winning local cheese including Tamembert and Witches Blue Vein – one of only two Queensland-made blue cheeses. This was followed by a visit to the fudge shop where there were over 40 different kinds of fudge. After a late lunch we head back to the hotel for some rest before we left for Site inspection of Conrad Jupiters followed by Dinner hosted by the Gold Coast Tourism. This was the last night in Queensland before leaving for the very popular city of Sydney.

Next morning we reached Sydney after a 1 hour and 30 minutes flight. We were received at the airport by Nadine Wilson from Tourism New South Whales. She was our cute and patient host throughout our stay in Sydney. Though Canberra is the capital of Australia, it is Sydney that has all the glitz and glamour and quite often is also mistaken to be the capital city. Endowed with a sparkling harbour, dazzling beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate, its setting alone has guaranteed Sydney a place among the glamorous cities on the planet. The entire layout of the city shows that it has been crafted for Tourists. On arrival we were taken to an Italian restaurant called Casa Di Nico on the Kings Steet Warf. The restaurant captures your heart not just with its outstanding food, wine and passion for Italy but also with the spectacular views of the waterfront.

After lunch we continued to the Sydney Aquarium which is next to the restaurant – a must do in Sydney. It has a large collection of over 11,500 aquatic life, the largest Great Barrier Reef Display in the world and an extensive collection of huge sharks and rays. We dropped our luggage at Metro Hotel, a decent 3* accommodation on Pitt Street close to the majors attractions like the Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Warf, Star City Casino, Sydney entertainment Centre and the Paddy’s markets. We took an evening harbour cruise with captain Cook cruises which takes you through all the best known landmarks. A great cruise to opt for to orient oneself with the city attractions and their locations. In the evening we took a short 10 minute walk to the Sydney tower for a fantastic dinner at the revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. A great option for Honeymoons who can dine along with getting 3600 views of Sydney.

The next day we were ready by 7.30 am to reach Jetty no. 06 at the Circular Quay to board a 12 Minute cruise to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “Water View” and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo’s location on the north bank of Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. There we were met by Arabella Hammond who along with her experienced volunteers took us though the Zoo. It houses a variety of animals and is a real treat to the nature lovers. The attraction I loved the most was the Energy Australia Seal show, a 30 – 45 minute spectacular presentation by the housed seals and their trainers. We had our lunch at the Taronga Food Market. We boarded our ferry by 1pm to take on the Sydney Opera House Guided Tour. A great tour for those into Art and Music. Besides the tours concert shows too can be booked here on prior notice. The Sydney Opera has a Historic tale behind its making. The irony is that the Dannish architect, Jorg Utzon who started building this fabulous structure left it half way and left for home and has not returned since then to see the iconic structure of Sydney in its complete form. The Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest Performing Arts Centre in the world. Working with a new enriching, interactive audio-visual component, where images are projected onto the fabric of the building – the guides take you on an emotional journey, You will visit one of the major venues where live performances are held each day.  After an enthralling experience at the opera we moved on for something more adventurous. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a multi award winning tourist attraction, taking the climbers to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during a 3.5 hour adventure. It was totally a different experience reaching the summit of the bridge and looking on to the City from there. After our 3 hour adventure we rushed to the King Street Warf so as not to miss out on the Sydney Showboat Dinner Cruise departing at 7.30pm. A perfect evening cruise with delicious fusion of style and taste from Sydney’s finest seafood to modern international cuisine. Guests are also treated to an extravagant show featuring gorgeous Australian showgirls who have danced their way from the Moulin Rouge to the Showboat.

Our next day was more relaxed with a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. It is a 2 and a half hour drive from Sydney and a must include tour in any itinerary. It is a captivating world of National parks, Spectacular scenery, awe-inspiring vistas and the grandeur of ancient mountains that have remained unchanged from the Jurassic era. The Blue Mountains derive its name from the fact that the gum trees release oil into the air, which reacts with the sunlight to produce a blue haze. On arrival we experienced the screening of the edge movie which told us one of the greatest stories of humankind – the story of discovery and coming to terms with the ancient, complex world we live in. Later we were met by our Blue Mountain Tourism Representative for a briefing of the days activities and we were divided into four groups for “The Blue Mountain Challenge“. We were given over 50 questions about the places and shops we visit and were to answer it section by section. It was a unique way they used to familiarize us with the place. We started from Leura a beautiful village with lots of Gourmet Shops and bakeries and a Local Clock Tower. A great place to stroll around and browse fashion boutiques, galleries, bookstores and Bric–a–Brac stores. It also has lovely parks and gardens to enjoy. From there we moved on to Echo Point – It is from where one gets a panoramic views of the Southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra – Boyd Wilderness and the Three Sisters rock formation. In the area there are many lookouts and walks including a path to the Three Sisters walk and the Giant Stairway.  We were told that at night the entire place lights up and I could very well imagine ho beautiful it would look. As our challenge continued we had to make way to the Scenic World. The Scenic World includes a Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Skyway and Scenic Walkway. The Scenic Railway is the Steepest incline passenger railway in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Cableway glides smoothly between scenic Scenic World and the forest floor 545 Metres below. Once on the valley floor we strolled though the wilderness of longest elevated timber boardwalk. The Skyway cable car took us on a 720 Metre journey above the ancient ravines and dazzling waterfalls. The end of the day also brought us to the end of our challenge. One of the four teams with the maximum correct answers was to be announced as the winner of the challenge. Our team stood fourth but the experience we gathered was something to remember. We were back in Sydney by 5.30 and the balance of the day was for us to explore and enjoy on our own. We were out of Menzies, our centrally located 4-star hotel very close to the Darling harbour and the Sydney Sky tower in 20 mins. We took a stroll on George Street, very popular street for shopping as it has many shops with great discounts. Christmas preparations had already started and the streets and the malls were beautifully lit up and decorated with Christmas decorations.

The next day we took a full day trip to Hunter Valley where we were escorted by Neil Gordon from APT coaches who gave us ideas on itinerary planning for Hunter valley and Port Stephans region. Just 4 hours away from Sydney and with more than 120 wineries, Hunter valley produces some terrific wines, including the Hunter Semillon and Hunter Shiraz. On the way to Hunter Valley we stopped at the Wollombi Village which had a Tavern and a Museum. This stop is included because as a rule all the tourist vehicles need to have a stop after every 2 hours run. After the short break we headed to Hunter Valley and our first stop was at the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate where we were taken for some wine tasting. From there we went for site inspection of Grand Mercure hunter Valley gardens Hotel. A 4.5-star boutique property surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. It has apartment style rooms ideally located in Pokolbin close to most of the places to visit in Hunter Valley. After our lunch was hosted in the restaurant called The Steakhouse we explored the 12 Themed garden at the Hunter Valley Garden of which my favorite was the Storybook garden featuring timeless nursery rhyme characters. The Storybook Garden is a delight for all ages taking the visitor along on a journey through childhood dreams, memories and fantasies.

A number of weddings and conferences are held in Hunter valley and we had the good fortune of seeing some locals in their traditional garments going to the wineries to attend a Marriage in a Horse carriage. We then went to the Hunter resort for our orientation on Wines, how they are made, the different variety of wines and the art of wine blending and how they are finally bottled. Of course wine tasting followed thereafter!!

We did not have an overnight stay in the Hunter Valley as we were short on time and also had to visit Port Stephens which is a hour and a half away from Hunter valley. Port Stephens is known as the “Dolphin Capital of Australia”. Its bay is home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins that you get to see all year round. A quite, friendly place and a must include all the tours for water and nature lovers. It is amazing to know how such a small place has so many activity options available for tourism. It’s a unique place which offers you beach and cruise activities and at the same time you can even go on a sand dune safari and enjoy sandboarding. We reached our hotel Salamander Shores for dinner after which we enjoyed in the little pub of the hotel. It is situated on the waters at Soldiers point and each room has a perfect view of the sea in the front. Every morning at 8 they have a bird feeding session where Lorikeets come to feed on the bread crumbs we offer them. Today we met up with Tars Bylhouwer from Port Stephens Tourism. Since the weather was not with us and some activities had to be cut down he arranged some alternate indoor activity for us which was much appreciated by all of us. We had some site inspections for the day at the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort and the Sahara Trails Horse Riding and farmstay after which we head for the Shark and Ray feeding centre with the admission fee of around A$ 25. It was a huge pond with friendly Sharks and Sting who love to be fed by the visitors while they cruise around your feet. We proceeded towards Nelson bay where we had to embark on our Moonshadow Dolphin Cruise. A comfortable 2 hour 15 minute cruise with our captain guiding us to view the dolphins as they sped by.  The unique feature of this cruise was that after some time they released a net in the chilling waters called the Boom net and the passengers could have a dip and if they are lucky some dolphin may even be swimming along with them.  After this unique cruise experience we went for the most diverse activity which was a 4×4 sand dune safari. It was a confused landscape feature with sand dunes that ended into a sea. The Stockton Bight Sand Dunes need to be seen to be believed – covering an area of 2,500 hectares along the 32 km long Stockton beach. The dunes climb up to 30 metres with slopes up to 600 ideal for sandboarding. We did a few rounds of sandboarding but the ease with which we came down the slope it was with equal difficulty that we climbed up again. This was the final activity of our hectic yet memorable tour which was so accurately planned for us agents.

Australia has opened itself to a lot of tourism which reflected in the entire setup of the cities. It looked as if the cities aimed at increasing the desire of the tourists to visit Australia.  Tourism Australia along with the support from the tourism board of each state organized this famil to equip us with enhanced knowledge to sell these destinations to our travelers and I am sure that with this detailed product knowledge Australia will be more effectively sold by us.