Blog Archives: Argentina


Argentina – Nature’s Superstructures

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Viewing platform of Perito Moreno

‘It’s falling’ someone shouted, as I turned to see a sizeable chunk of the front of the glacier breaking and crumbling into the lake below. Quite a sight to watch as huge lumps of ice fell creating large waves across the lake below. Oh to be quicker with one’s camera but I was not disappointed, it was great to have witnessed this, a memory that won’t be forgotten.

A three-hour flight south of Buenos Aires lies the small town of El Calafate. This southerly point, home to around 20,000 people, is the gateway to view unspoilt scenery at its very best. There are few towns in the world further south and upon arrival you feel a rewarding sense of discovery of a landscape far away.

Facts and appreciation of the scale of the area are key to understanding what a unique place you are in. Remarkably for a lake fed by such massive glaciers, Lake Argentina sits at only 187 metres above sea level. On my visit to the most famous of glaciers, Perito Moreno, the answer is offered as to how at this altitude it is  possible for such impressive glaciers to form.  It’s the Andes, plain and simple, the geographical wall that straddles virtually the entire Chilean – Argentine border that are fully responsible. As warm air currents flow east across the pacific, the humidity is dramatically absorbed by the mountain range. Only the coldest air is able to filter across, where it meets the arid Patagonian steppe on the Argentine side, is where snow regularly falls. Over a number of years this snowfall has formed some massive glaciers that totally dominate the landscape.

At over 3 miles in width and boasting heights over 70 metres, as well as an impressive 170 metres below the waterline, the Perito Moreno glacier is really quite a spectacle. With a surface area of 96 square miles it is larger than the city of Buenos Aires and holds the third largest mass of fresh water in the world. Photos cannot do this area and the glaciers justice, in such vast mountainous spaces it is not until you get close that you begin to realise just how impressive they are.

The western base of the glacier is where I equipped myself with crampons ready to walk across a tiny section of this vast glacier. From here it looked like a smooth wall of ice, with the edges meeting the water with a completely vertical face. On top of the glacier you can see jagged peaks and bottomless crevices with an astonishing shade of deep sapphire blue. Walking on the snow the sound of the crampons crunching underfoot was strangely satisfying, whilst the creeks and groans of the slowly advancing glacier were not so. You do have to put your trust in the knowledge of the guides and thickness of the ice. What can only be described as the sound of an army letting off cannons would occasionally echo all around, a stark reminder that this glacier is constantly in motion. As the trek came to an end a well-positioned table, clearly a permanent fixture, came into view towards the edge of the glacier. This incongruous table was where I was rewarded by my guide with whiskey served over chunks of glacial ice thousands of years old. Without a doubt my most memorable place for a whiskey.

As I sailed away from the glacier I looked back and saw people still trekking on the glacier. It was a perfect illustration of the scale of the scenery, so small they looked against the backdrop of one of nature’s superstructures.

Malbec in Mendoza

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Vines, Mendoza

Mendoza is located on the border between Argentina and Chile, at the base of the highest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua at an altitude of 6,962m. The views are stunning; from the lines of grape covered vines, the tall swaying poplar trees there to protect the vines to the stunning back drop of the snow-capped Andes. Where better to visit the wineries, many dating back over a hundred years, to sample many different grape varieties, particularly Malbec.

Fine Dining in Mendoza

The wine is famous in the Mendoza region and particularly the new world grapes from the Uco Valley. You can stay in places like The Vines, where you can visit the winery, which produces over 200 different bottled varieties, and you can eat in one of the finest restaurants; Siete Fuegos, with food inspired by the chef Francia Mallmann. After all the mouth-watering food and wine, stroll the 100 metres to your individual 2 bedroom villa, set amongst the vines and laze in your pool, sipping a glass of Malbec watching the sun dip behind the golden Andes.

Relaxing in Mendoza

Argentina is a huge country and offers many great places to explore and discover, however the beaches are quite desolate and the sea cold. Therefore when travelling throughout Argentina, the region of Mendoza offers the relaxing element at the end of a trip, where rather than sitting on a beach, you can relax in the warm surroundings of a vineyard and indulge in great food and wine.

Mendoza has now really come of age and is now the gastronomic and wine capital and one of the places you must visit in Argentina, along with the capital Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls and Patagonia.

Get in touch to learn more about how we operate in Argentina. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

A Gastronomic Mendoza Holiday

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The Argentinians take their meat seriously; so too their wine. Given that Mendoza is the gastronomic and wine capital of the country, my expectations were high. My Mendoza holiday did not disappoint.

Flying into Mendoza, I was immediately struck by the views – from the lines of grape-covered vines, the tall swaying poplar trees to protect the vines, to the stunning back drop of the snow-capped Andes. Mendoza is located on the border between Argentina and Chile, at the base of the highest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua at an altitude of 6,962m

With over three hundred days of sunshine, it is ideal for visitors – so too the terroir – and wine tourism is on a roll. Mendoza now boasts almost a thousand wineries. The experience is more than just sampling the wines. You can picnic among the vineyards, you can cycle between them or you can even fly over them in a hot air balloon.

There is a wealth of new accommodation from rustic lodges to high concept places like The Vines, one of my favourites. Here I loved the winery, which produces over 200 different bottled varieties, and the  restaurant Siete Fuegos, or ‘seven fires’, with food inspired by the chef Francis Mallmann. The open-flame cooking techniques, inspired by Argentine gauchos, were enthralling and the rustic, fiery flavours of the nine hour slow-grilled rib eye were outstanding.

My last night at The Vines began by the pool, sipping a glass of Malbec watching the sun dip behind the golden Andes. It was a night that got better and better and, uncharacteristically, I did not make it up first thing the next morning to go horse riding in the Andes and watch the sunrise. I am now a devotee to Dionysus and an advocate of Epicurean travel.

Get in touch with us for more information on a holiday to Argentina, call us 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

Steppes Big 5: Estancias in Argentina

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When I think of Argentina it is the Estancias that immediately spring to mind. Before a career in travel, I was lucky enough to work in Argentina as a fly-fishing guide on one of the largest Estancias in South America. It was the size of a small country, like Suriname in fact. 400,000 acres of achingly beautiful country. Every day I was overwhelmed by the extreme beauty of Argentina’s Patagonian landscape. Farming is a way of life, the Gauchos are a unique people, the Criollo horses are thrilling to ride and the fishing is out of this world. Due to the sheer size of Argentina, many Estancias cover tens of thousands of acres of land. They cross continental divides; boast snow-capped mountains and represent quite simply, raw wilderness.

Whatever your interest, an estancia stay is a must on any visit to Argentina. Share a maté with the gauchos, try a traditional asado, ride across open country; round up cattle; fly-fish for the finest brown and rainbow trout, or simply read a book and enjoy the views.

Our experts can talk you through them all, but below, in no particular order, are our Top 5.

1.Estancia Los Potreros

Estancia Los Potreros located in the hills of the Sierra de Cordoba is an upscale authentic Estancia. Covering over 6000 acres, it is a working cattle farm that provides fantastic riding opportunities for novice and experienced riders alike. Their magnificent collection of Criollo horses will take you out on trails, riverside picnics, or a sunset hack after a leisurely lunch back at the Estancia. Polo lessons can also be arranged. If riding is not your thing, don’t be put off. The beautiful gardens and tranquil valleys lend themselves perfectly for self-guided walks and the swimming pool is an inviting location to simply soak up the surroundings.

2. Huechahue

One of our favourites, Estancia Huechahue is located in the picturesque region of San Martin de Los Andes in the foothills of the Andes mountain range. It is an authentic working Estancia, family owned for four generations, offering some of Argentina’s finest riding and fishing. Guests can fully immerse themselves in 15,000 acres of Argentine life. Learn to lasso like a gaucho, observe majestic condors, or go with your guide and fly-fish world-class trout rivers.

3. Estancia El Colibri

Close to Cordoba is Estancia El Colibri. French owned and built in the style of the old twentieth century estancias, El Colibri provides charm combined with 5* European accommodation. Whether you wish to ride, fish, mountain bike or dove shoot, it can all be arranged. El Colibri is great for kids too. Aside from the riding, children can help around the farm fruit picking, milking the cows, shearing the sheep or try some cookery lessons.

4. Nibepo Aike

On the shores of Lago Argentino is a charming family run estancia, near El Calafate, that has been passed down through the generations since the start of the 20th Century. Originally set up as a sheep farm with some bovine breeding, today this 12,000 hectare estate is a working estancia of mostly Hereford cattle. Visitors can choose to participate in rides from one hour to four of varying ability and landscape. Ride to hidden glaciers. Explore the dramatic scenery on foot, or spend the day in the corrals to help with cattle branding and milking and watching the gauchos demonstrate their skills and techniques.

5. Pueme Hue

In the beautiful Lake District of Northern Patagonia is Pueme Hue Estancia. Just 20 minutes from Bariloche in the Nahuel Huapi National Park Pueme Hue offers guests a whole range of resort activities amidst striking scenery. This is a great option for those that want more than just riding. Kayaking, trekking and fly fishing are all available, however due to its location, bird watching, dingy sailing and lake swimming can all be arranged too. The estancia also provides additional activities such as yoga and tai chi.

Begin your Argentinian adventure with us, call us on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more advice.

Space Travel – A Puna Experience

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For western travellers used to concrete and the clutter of consumerism, space is a commodity worth travelling for. The emptiness of a desert or a savannah reawakens a part of the brain that hundreds of years ago looked on such open spaces and thought “what if?”

I am travelling across the puna in North West Argentina in the region of Salta. The skies are big and blue and the horizons untouched by human intervention. The landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen.

Lava cones as black as stout float like mirages on vast oceans of salt; sedimentary ribbons of sandstone and quartz stretch out like giant rashers of bacon across the never ending horizon; sand glistens on top of gigantic stacks of granite like freshly fallen, alpine snow and ebony rocks of basalt sit like giant burnt croutons, dropped onto the puna floor. Pachamama has found her muse in the puna and has gone to work to produce a masterpiece of breath-taking beauty.

I try to convey my sense of wonderment to my guide Fabrizio but become tongue-tied. He laughs and says “You’re not the first to be lost for words and you won’t be the last – just wait until you see the pumice stone fields.” As we approach Campo de Piedra Pomez the vehicle falls silent as if in collective reverence to the sight that greets us. Ivory coloured pumice stones stand like giant pavlovas, whipped into elaborate shapes by the wind and toasted on top by an unrelenting sun. I climb on top of the flattest, highest rock I can see, being careful not to break the honeycomb structure and try to look beyond the heat haze for signs of life. The panorama is as remarkable for what isn’t visible as what is.

It is confounding that such a seemingly malevolent land can provide enough sustenance for living things to survive but underground springs called vegas give life to grasses and other vegetation, which in turn feed the hardy vicunas and guanacos.

 

Bonsai like bushes known locally as tola, bleached virgin white by the sun, provide fuel for the hardy human settlers who choose to make the puna their home. People like Dona Carina, a septuagenarian who lives alone on her simple estancia at Oasis Antofallita, 4200 metres above sea level. Remote takes on a whole new meaning in this part of the world but choosing to make the salt flats of Antofalla and Aricaro her only neighbours is by no means a sign of misanthropy. Far from it – when we turn up unannounced she chats, giggles and holds court gleefully and noticeably flirts with Fabrizzio, our guide. They laugh together without inhibition and with tangible affection he tells me the story of this remarkable woman. How she loves the land of her ancestors and takes strength from the solitude; how her brother built a small house on the oasis, next door to her but she chose not to speak to him; how she is making provision to secure a future for the small holding after her death; and how she has a younger man drop into her help her with the small holding – “he is her helper 360 degrees” he laughs, with a glint in his eye. Dona Carina shakes my hand and wishes me a safe journey. For Fabrizio, she opens her arms and gives him a warm embrace. As we climb out of the oasis in our 4x4s, Dona Carina’s estancia quickly becomes a dot in the distance, swamped by the magnitude of the surrounding terrain.

The landscape is harsh and the environment is hostile. The air is devoid of moisture and thin on oxygen while the dust stings and the wind bites hard. Yet in spite of this, the puna is soul touchingly beautiful and it would take a heart of granite not to feel moved by its simple splendour.

Alternative Safari – Ibera wetlands

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Arriving in a thunderstorm, after my journey on the overnight bus from Salta, “Bienvenidos a Corrientes” (Welcome to Corrientes) was my welcome, for which I replied thank you and thought I do hope this clears soon! We then set off on the four hour journey by 4×4, as the rain cleared and it began to get light, the real gaucho territory of Argentina and some incredible wildlife revealed itself.

Yesterday I rode through the diverse habitat of Ibera. What could be better than riding on a comfortable horse admiring capybara, parrots flying past with twigs to build their nests, Crab-eater Foxes scavenging for food, Chinchilla’s coming out at dusk whilst watching the sunset! You would be forgiven for thinking this sounded like Africa! Well try a safari in Ibera staying at Estancia Rincon del Socorro in Argentina, it makes for a wonderful alternative!

This morning post breakfast and whilst others were sleeping I took a 4 seater plane across to the island of Laguna Parana to visit the second small remote lodge. Accessible by plane from Posadas or Rincon del Socorro or now by boat – just an hour and a half from Corrientes. Upon arrival there was a definate change in climate and was met by a small family of Howler Monkeys and clouds of dragonflies.

I’m now off on a boat trip on the Laguna… watch this space for further blogs. . .