A brief summary of the day to day activities undertaken on our recent escorted tour of Argentina & Patagonia. This trip had been in the planning stages for a number of years, and combined the natural wonders of Iguazu Falls, and Southern Patagonia with the best golf in Argentina, and all manner of Argentinina experiences from viewing and learning the tango, sampling the local food and wine and seeing the sights..
We flew from Melbourne to Sydney, and then to Santiago without any hiccups- Donna had once again chosen us a couple of seats on our own up the back end of the plane, and we were pretty comfortable.
We were welcomed by warm weather in Chile (Chilly?), and caught up with Doc and Eileen who were on the same flight. We were all staying at the same hotel- Castillo Rojo- a lovely well located hotel with real character.
Just the type of hotel we like!
We spent the afternoon wandering around the CBD visiting museums and getting the lay of the land. Unfortunately a recent grand prix in the city centre meant that many streets were fenced off- making our explorations just a little more difficult…
Valparaiso & Vino del Mar
We hired a driver for the day and headed out of Santiago toward Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.
Our first stop was a top end organic winery where we sampled the wares, befriended the llamas, and relaxed in the gardens for a much needed break.
We then drove to the oceanside metropolis of Vina del Mar where we a delightful lunch that was very Chilean…
We took some time to take in the spectacular coastline, and then headed to Valparaiso itself.
Valparaiso has a large commercial port, and is a big bustling city. Our tour took us to some amazing areas where housing density could not go much higher- with extremely hilly terrain and every square inch built on, the city has real character. There is colour everywhere- from bougainvillea to painted walls and graffiti and murals. And traffic everywhere!
Moving Day- Santiago-Buenos Aires- Iguazu Falls
Some days on the road are more difficult than others, and today was one of those days. We rose at 4am after a relatively sleepless night and caught a shuttle at 4.40am to the airport for a 7.25am international flight to Iguazu Falls via Buenos Aires. We arrived at the airport before 7, but took well over an hour to get checked in, and in the end had to scramble to get a bite of brekkie before boarding.
We had a two hour layover in Buenos Aires, but the combination of airport construction, slow customs and slow baggage retrieval and recheck in (we were already ticketed) meant that we were initially told our on flight was closed. But after a quick and stressful discussion we were allowed to board.
It was all worthwhile however because by early afternoon we arrived at our lovely hotel (Loi Suites) at Iguazu where we greeted our fellow travellers, settled in for a swim, drinks, etc.
I opted for a nap, and I must say it was a good decision.
The hotel is set deep in the jungle near the river, and is a classy establishment with a bit of local character. I liked the ‘swing bridges’ between room blocks.
Dinner was excellent.
We were all excited about the next few days exploring Iguazu from both sides!
Iguazu Falls- Brazilian side
What a brilliant day!
We all had a lazy morning around the resort as we waited for Barb & Geoff to join us. Sleep ins were popular, as was reading by the pool and some walking around the resort.
In our own time most of us discovered the funicular down to the river.
This particular funicular was almost perpendicular!
And just when Helen & Terri were half way down it ceased to work leaving them stranded for some time…
After lunch we boarded the bus and crossed the border into Brazil to explore the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls. We started with a helicopter trip over the falls, and it was awesome…
The weather was hot but kind and the river was perfect- giving us ideal viewing conditions. With around 250 different falls, this has to be THE most spectacular falls site in the world!
Step aside Niagara & Victoria Falls- Iguazu is ultra impressive..
The cameras were working overtime…
As evening came in we dropped in to Landmark- where the 3 countries all meet- (Paraquay, Brazil & Argentina), and took a pic.
Then we finished the day in top form dining at Aqua in Iguazu.
Iguazu Falls- Argentinian side
Oh, what a day!
We rose early, did brekkie & checkout & were on the bus at 7.40am.
Today we explored the Argentinian side of Iguazu, and after the brilliance of the Brazilian side our expectations were muted.
These concerns were immediately put to bed as we walked the boardwalks right into and along the falls.
We encountered monkeys, vultures, rocky racoon lookalikes, and the most magnificent waterfall experience one could imagine.
Next up we took the grand adventure- a 4 wheel drive though the jungle, followed by the most outrageous jet boat ride up to the base of the falls and then into them. We all got completely drenched. The group could not stop laughing.
In the afternoon we covered another boardwalk- all agreeing that the Iguazu experience over the 2 days was one of THE great life experiences.
At 5.25pm we were on the plane to Buenos Aires for the next stage of our trip
Buenos Aires is known as the ‘Paris of the south’, and the group was impressed with it’s size and grandeur. Although only 3 million people reside in the inner city, a further 20 million live in the suburbs. Everything is big- the city is sited on the shore of the river Plate ( Rio de la Plata ) which is the world’s widest river reaching 220 miles wide at one point!
And the city’s tree lined Avenues have over 10 lanes of traffic!
To start with we embarked on a 4 hour guided tour of the city, the highlights being the amazing cemetery containing thousands of elaborate mausoleums- a virtual city for the dead. And I love the way the city embraces it’s heroes- Eva Peron, Maradonna & of course the tango…
Sadly Helen had left us overnight to fly home to be with her ailing mum.Helen was a driving force in getting this trip away, so it was disappointing very everyone to see her go so soon..
Buenos Aires GC
After an early pick up, we teed off today at the prestigious Buenos Aires Golf Club, regarded as the no 2 course in Argentina. With blue skies and 32 degrees it was a perfect day for golf on a very nice course.
Buenos Aires GC is known for it’s many lakes and bunkers and is beautifully maintained.
The club has hosted many championships including The Argentinian Open and The World Cup, and of course they can now add that they have hosted a The Travelling Golfer tour…
Geoff, David & Peter won the comp of the day with Geoff posting 37 pts despite losing 4 balls!
Dinner was at Fervor where parrilla is the specialty Argentinian grill
The Jockey Club
No one begrudged the early pick up today as it was hot on the course and we were walking. Our host course was the famous Jockey Club designed by the doyen of golf course architects Dr Alister McKenzie ( Augusta, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne).
The Jockey Club is one of THE great clubs in the world with a horse racing track akin to the biggest in the USA, plus polo, swimming, a dining club in the city- oh, and 36 holes of golf designed by Dr McKenzie.
It’s pretty exclusive, with a who’s who of memberships- and difficult to gain access for a game- so our group was blessed to walk the fairways today.
The clubhouse is amazing, and the course is a giant jigsaw puzzle waiting for the golfer to put their strategy together. It is a flat treed piece of land, and pretty enough- but the dead flat terrain gave the designer nothing at all to work with. All the way around I felt I was battling the good doctor himself working out how to get the angles right. Miss in the wrong spot and par was only a forlorn hope...
The course played firm and thus short, but the the angles of the greens, and fairway bunkering challenged all from scoring like they felt they should!
Jacqui, Dave & Terri won the chocolates, Terri nearest the pin, and Geoff the best individual..
Dinner was the best steak in Buenos Aires- yum!
Another early start
Another hot sunny day
Another wonderful private golf course….
Olivos GC- is a private club with 27 holes of world class parkland golf. The course has hosted many championships, and is regarded as the best course in Argentina.
We felt privileged to walk the fairways- it is hard to gain access…
There were no carts at Olivos, but each of us had a caddy carrying our bag and giving directions.
The course is beautifully groomed and doglegs it’s way through a giant botanical garden. The standout hole is the short par 5 15th hole with a dogleg and then a pond in front of the green. 'Louie the fly' made an appearance and we took some nice footage of this, the most famous hole at the club.
The par 3’s are consistently strong, and with so many holes framed by mature trees driving straight was a priority…
At a leisurely lunch afterward the general consensus amongst the group was that Olivos was indeed the best course in Buenos Aires, but it was a close call as each course had it’s own character and merits. Personally I preferred Buenos Aires GC by a narrow margin.
Dinner and the tango closed our time in Buenos Aires with a bang!
San Martin de los Andes
Days 10 & 11
After the heatwave conditions in Buenos Aires the last few days, it was a relief to wake to pouring rain. It didn’t worry us at all- we flew out mid morning to Northern Patagonia where the top temperature for the day was mid teens. It was a bit of a shock to the system!
By mid afternoon we had checked into our accommodation for the next few nights- the Rio Hermoso lodge- a lovely rustic lodge with all mod cons, and beautifully located in the Patagonian wilderness.
We all tramped along the walks around the lodge which followed a rocky creek- all with a magnificent mountain backdrop. Dinner was pretty good too, so we were all happy campers.
Sometimes on these trips we have to make decisions on the run to change the itinerary for one reason or another, and in this case when we realised that a relatively small distance to travel was going to take longer than expected we decided to combine the golf from days 11 & 12 into 27 holes on day 11.
Our first stop was a 9.30am tee time at the Nicklaus designed Chapelco GC, a delightful resort style course routed through forests, pampas grass, and lakes. Due to a corporate day the course was busy and our rounds were very slow- but everyone loved the course. With undulating terrain, and great variety of holes Chapelco is a class act, and generally regarded by the group as the best course we played in Argentina.
At 3.45 we had travelled the 10 minutes from Chapelco to El Desafio GC, a 2015 Greg Norman creation built high on a mountainside. Only 9 holes have been constructed, and there is no clubhouse, made roads etc- but the 9 holes are very dramatic with significant elevation changes, wide fairways, and dominant sand belt type bunkering. We were all very impressed.
Let’s hope the back nine is added sometime soon- it will become a notable course.
So after a big day, we enjoyed winding down in the comfort of Rio Hermoso lodge and enjoyed another lovely meal in good company
Llao Llao Resort
Days 12 & 13
As golf at El Desafio had been moved forward a day we now had all day to travel through the famous 7 Lakes to Bariloche.
We all enjoyed a slow start to the day and didn’t depart until nearly 10.30.
We made a number of stops as we progressed past the lakes, all taking pictures of each other with the beautiful backgrounds.
Lunch at Villa Angostura was a nice break from the driving.
Our destination for a 2 night stay was the legendary Llao Lloa Hotel ( pronounced Zhow Zhow ). The hotel and it’s setting are stunning, surrounded by lakes, mountains & a golf course. We got very, very comfortable..
The next day our tee time at Llao Llao Golf Club was for 9am. It was our last game of golf for the tour, and we had a seeded draw knowing that someone was going to win the Prestigious Pullis McNutley trophy that day.
I had no great expectations of the course, but was very pleasantly surprised. It’s a simple course and quite short and tight. But there are some stunning holes- 10 & 18 are world class. The group all enjoyed their day, and thought the course was great fun.
David ‘Ace’ Burns won the big event with another solid 35 points and was a most deserved winner, although TTG virgin Geoff Howlett came awfully close..
That afternoon some of us endured massages and then challenged ourselves with an hour long Tango Lesson.
It was another wonderful day in paradise…
We didn’t want to leave, but it was to time to say goodbye to Llao Llao after a stay that was way too short. Most of the group boarded a plane to El Califate, but Barb and Geoff started the long trip home. We were all sorry to see them go- we had all got on so well.
In El Calafate we checked in to our hotel and checked out the town for some retail therapy, and then learned a little about the National Parks we were about to explore. Late in the day Doc & H (with moi as caddy) crossed the street to play El Pinar GC- a par 3 course on perhaps 7 acres- with 18 holes using only 5 greens, 18 different tees, and a lot of imagination. Most holes were routed over mature trees or around them. It was the most bizarre golf course I have seen, but we had great fun anyway..
Although Doc lost his pitching wedge, then his 9 iron, and then found hsi 9 iron in his bag!
Dinner was the best Argentinian lamb restaurant in town (la Tablita) with a nice local Malbec to boot….
Perito Moreno Glacier
We woke to blue skies, and remarkably little wind and were all bright eyed and bushy tailed for the 8am pick up. Our destination for the day was Perito Moreno Glacier, one of 300 glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park- the largest national park in Argentina.
Perito Moreno is one of only two glaciers in the park which hold their size each year, and at the moment every couple of years it advances across the lake blocking the water flow. Because the water cannot get away the lake rises until the pressure on the glacier forces worm holes through, and within 24 hours that entire section of the glacier over the lake calves and then disintegrates…
We had a wonderful day viewing both sides of the glacier- first by launch on the lake, and then via the extensive boardwalks. Our timing was such that the spectacular glacier break up was becoming likely in the weeks ahead, and more and more chunks of ice are calving off. It is addictive waiting for the next piece to fall- the crack of ice, and the boom as it hits the water, and then the spray and ensuing waves.
Jacqui was the star of the day managing to capture a calving event on video perfectly.
With rain forecast we boarded the bus for our longest day of the tour so far. The 7.15am start was deemed a little early for most, but gave us a few minutes leeway for our next connection- the cruise out to on the Argentina Lake to our destination- Estancia Cristina. With the wind whipping off the lake and light rain falling we stayed inside for much of the 3 hour trip to the Estancia- however we never got serious rain, and had periods where we could escape out on to the deck to view the most amazing blue icebergs we were travelling through…
On landing at the ranch, we boarded large 4 wheel drive vehicles and bounced and bumped our way up a rudimentary track to a fantastic viewing point for the famous Upsala Glacier- all in all a 3 hour round trip.
The trip down the mountain was equally dramatic with one vehicle unable to negotiate a muddy hill, and last seen heading off through the edge of the lake…
After a 3 course meal we undertook the guided historical tour of Estancia Cristina before heading back to our hotel at El Calafate by cruise & bus. We were all tired little vegemites when we got back after 8pm..
The Singular Hotel
It was goodbye to El Calafate and Argentina as we boarded the little bus and started out for our next destination at Puerto Natale.
Although it was only 250kms it took 6 1/2 hours. The asphalt road from El Calafate to the border was riddled with large potholes, but as we neared the border it became a very rudimentary gravel roadddddd….
When we started designing this trip years ago we soon found out that flying from an Argentinian airport to a Chilean airport was not an option. You have to fly hours back to Buenos Aires and then catch an international flight- so we opted to drive across the border and then catch a direct flight. The customs departing Argentina took only a few minutes, but 5 minutes down the road the Chilean arrival took over an hour and was an absolute shambles!
It was interesting to see that the roads on the Chilean side were in very good shape, the Argentinian roads not so much...
The upside of the day was booking in to the magnificent and quite unique ‘Singular Hotel’
The rooms were wonderful, the meals sublime, and most thought it the most unique and possibly best hotel that they had ever come across…
Torres del Paine National Park
Melbourne is known to have four seasons in one day, but here in southern Patagonia they talk about having four seasons in one hour!
So we were all prepared for the 8am pickup and dressed in layers for our big day in Torres del Paine National Park.
Our first stop was at Milodon Cave, a vast cavern formed as the glaciers receded and lakes eroded the softer rocks. Many fossils are still being found in the floor of the cave, and many fossils are coming to view them!
Our next stop was Grey Lake, where our proposed walk was replaced with coffees and hot chocolates in the Grey Lake hotel due to persistent rain. We got to see the lake vistas, and had a welcome refreshment.
Thereafter we headed deep into the National Park, stopping periodically for photo stops.
We dodged the rain exceptionally well, and took pics of the peaks, glaciers, lakes and waterfalls.
Lunch was a 3 course meal with local wine from a restaurant in the park. After more photo stops to view condors, and guanacos ( related to the Llama) we arrived back at The Singular Hotel for a very special dinner..
Serrano & Balmaceda Glaciers
Our last day on tour, and the good news was that we had managed to push back the pick up time by 15 minutes allowing a little more sleep time. The bad news was that we rose at 5.45am and had brekkie and were picked up at 6.35am. By 7am our cruise was headed off to explore. It was over 10 hours out on the cruiser, but for me the walk to see the Serrano Glacier made it all worth while. It was only an hour or so of our day but it was memorable.
And we got some great pics!
Back on the cruiser we stopped to take pics of the Balmaceda Glacier, and a nearby waterfall, and then headed to Estancia Puerto Consuelo for a 2 hour lunch with local lamb and wine. Everyone was asleep as we arrived back in Puerto Natales.
Our closing dinner in the super Singular hotel was a joy- the 7 remaining travelling golfers sat around a round table, and reminisced on what had been a momentous trip.
Most agreed that the Iguaza experience was the star of the show, but the local food and wine, seeing and learning the tango, playing the best golf courses, experiencing the lakes, mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, and of course the Singular hotel all contributed to a remarkable trip.