Argentina / Uruguay
- BuqueBus – The easiest and fastest – if perhaps the priciest – route to Uruguay. The website is only in Spanish or Portuguese and the timetable can be tricky to understand sometimes but a local hotel will be able to book on your behalf (Terminal Fluvial en Puerto Madero, Avenue Antartida Argentina 821 / t: +54 11 4316 6500 / www.buquebus.com).
- Omnilineas – This local travel agency based in central Buenos Aires was a lucky find and can sort you out with bus tickets around the country using all the main operators, as well as helping to work out difficult routes and confusing timetables. The only bus route from Ushuaia to El Calafate, which passes through Chile and Rio Gallegos, means combining two bus companies, Marga and Coopertiva Sportman and changing buses once. An overnight Cata Internactional bus worked well from BA to Mendoza.
- Esplendor Hotel – Part of the Buenos Aires based chain, this is the one of the few boutique hotels in El Calafate. Set High on the hill overlooking the town, the views out towards Laguna Nimez and across Patagonia are stunning. The decor is designer rustique – contemporary colours, wood, leather, dark slate and sheepskin with big open fires. The lobby is huge with Apple Macs available for guests to use and the bar is comfy. Breakfast is an extensive buffet and given the cost and the effort it must take to bring in food, the restaurant food was good. That said, stay away from the pizza; it was the worst I’ve ever had. There’s a small spa which offers massages which is a lovely way to end the day after a trek on Perito Moreno (Juan domingo Peron 1143, El Calafate, Santa Cruz / t: +54 2902 492 454 & +54 11 5217 5799 / www.esplendorelcalafate.com).
- Other Hotels to look out for include: Los Nostros; Kau Yatun; Estansia Helsingford; Imago.
- Hielo & Aventura – Well established and perhaps one of the best tour operators in El Calafate offering a wide range of day trips and tours such as visits to Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine National Park, horseback riding to Punta Soberana, sheep shearing and Lago Argentino. A full-day excusion by bus to Perito Moreno including a trek on the glacier, boat trip viewing and a Glenfiddich whiskey costs around £75 pp (Avenida Libertador 935 / t: +54 2902 492 205 / www.hieloyaventura.com / email@example.com).
- Sheraton Iguazu Resort– Although an architectural concrete monstrosity from the outside and box-like inside, nothing prepares you for the extraordinary view of the falls steaming and thundering a few hundred metres away as you enter the reception to check-in. There are only two hotels located within the National Park – the Sheraton on the Argentine side and the beautiful colonial Hotel das Cataratas (not to be confused with similarly named Hotel Cataratas) on the Brazillian. While the latter is pretty and sympathetically designed, it is the Sheraton which steals the prize for being better located for a number of reasons, not least because the falls sit literally at the bottom of the hotel’s garden, rather than across a tourist-heavy tarmac road.
- Rooms are standard business-hotel style, with a choice of falls or jungle view, and all have a large balcony.
- The hotel’s only restaurant serves standard fare – good steaks, salads and risotto.
- Large business centre with several pcs and a spa.
- Relaxing on the terrace, in the garden or by the pool as parrots and toucans fly by, combined with the sound of the falls as it thunders in the background, is etheral. As the only hotel situated within the Argentine side of the park, the trails are open to Sheraton guests from early morning until the end of the day. (Sheraton Iguazu Resort & Spa, Parque Nacional Iguazu, S/N Puerto Iguazu, Misiones, CP3370, Argentina / t: +54 37 5749 1808 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1152)
- Argentine Side– Without doubt the best side to stay on, and any extra cost associated with being based within the National Park is worth it. This side feels much more natural and genuine – the wooden paths meander peacefully through the rainforest and there are fewer people.
- The main circuits are all easy walks along wooden walkways through dense vegetation and clouds of pretty butterflies.
- The speed boat rides and rainforest land excursions are not a necessity – the falls are breathtaking from whichever viewing platform you’re on and there’s not a chance of seeing any interesting fauna along the well trodden path the land tour takes. Whatever you do, do not miss the train ride (last departure 4pm with the station an easy stroll through the Sheraton’s grounds) and walk across the river to see the magnificent Garganta del Diablo at Puerto Canoas, best seen in the afternoon.
- Brazilian Side– Compared to the Argentine side, this feels more like Disneyland with the enormous gift and ticket shops, turnstiles, helicopter rides and organized yellow buses taking throngs of tourists along the tarmac road to the first stop just opposite the Hotel das Cataratas. It’s true that the biggest falls and overall experience is better on the Argentine side, nevertheless, it would be a pity to miss out on perhaps the finest panoramic views from Brazil.
- The Sheraton can arrange a driver to take you over the border in the morning when the light is best. Take passports and enough Brazilian cash to cover the National Park entrance fee. On the return, stop off in Puerto Iguazu to visit the Marca de las Tres Frontieres for a fantastic view across the Iguazu River where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil converge.
- Ecologia Tours – With a desk inside the Sheraton Hotel, this tour and transportation outfit can arrange airport pick-ups and any number of trips (Mr Antonio Escobar / email@example.com).
- Top Tips – Stay at least two days and two nights to really take advantage of all the various trails, tours and to see both sides of the falls.
- Ampora Wine Tours – Excellent wine tour operator located behind the Park Hyatt Hotel specialising in daily tours, private winery visits, barrel tastings and boutique wineries in the Maipu, Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo regions. (Sarmiento 647 / t: +54 261 429 2931 / www.mendozawinetours.com / firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Anna Bistro – Gorgeous French-influenced bistro restaurant is a little gem and has a fantastic garden (Avenue Juan B. Justo 161 / t: +54 261 425 1818 / www.annabistro.com).
- Hotels recommended to me outside of Mendoza:
- Cavas Wine Club – A luxury wine lodge situated around 15-mins from the airport (Costaflores s/n, Alto Agrelo M 5507 / t : +54 261 410 6927 / www.cavaswinelodge.com).
- Catena Zapata – One of the best wineries has rooms (J Cobos s/n, Agrelo, Lujan de Cuyo / t: +54 261 490 0214).
- Club Tapiz – Nice looking hôtel-cum-winery in the Maipu wine région outside Mendoza (Pedro Molina s/n, Ruta 60km 2.5, Russell, Maipu, Mendoza / t: +54 261 496 3433 / www.club-tapiz.com.ar).
- Finca Adalgisa Hotel – A small boutiquey hôtel set in a beautiful finca around 15 miles outside Mendoza (t: +54 261 496 0713 / www.fincaadalgisa.com.ar).
- Flora – Very cute restaurant serving Argentinian and European fusion cuisine. Incredible value (Belgrano 1069 / t: +54 261 420 4322).
- Francesco – Lovely Italian restaurant with a pretty garden (Chile 1268 / t: +54 261 425 3912 / www.francescoristorante.com.ar).
- Trout & Wine Tours – Small but knowledgeable English-owned tour operator in the centre of Mendoza, just one-minute from the Plaza Independencia. NB: Last minute tours are possible at both Trout and Wine and Ampora but best to book at least two days in advance (Espejo 266 / t: +54 261 425 5613 / www.troutandwine.com / email@example.com).
- Best Barrel Tastings – Carmelo Patti.
- Best Modern – O’Fournier; Salentein.
- Best Lunch Dining – Andeluna; Bistro La Tupina at Altus; Familia Zuccardi; La Bourgogne at Vistalba; Melipal; O’Fournier; Ruca Malen.
- Best Highly Rated Wines – Achaval-Ferrer; Bressia; Catena Zapata.
- Best Historical – Benegas Lynch; Hacianda del Plata.
- Best Circuit in a Day – Achaval-Ferrer; Carmelo Patti; Pulenta Estate; Vistalba.
- Winery – Cool specialist wine shop chain (Chile 898 / t: +54 261 420 2840 / www.winery.com.ar).
PUNTA DEL ESTE:
- Hotel Serena – Recently renovated, this is a great option if you don’t want to be in the middle of Punta. The communal areas are all black and white with billowing white drapes surrounding cabanas around the black-tiled swimming pool. The main restaurant is great and the Asian one is slightly more expensive but serves excellent Asian-fusion dishes. The Sommelier speaks English and is very knowledgable (Rambla Williman Parada 24, Punta del Este / t: +598 4223 3441 / www.serenahoteles.com).
- Other hotels to look out for include: Posada del Faro; Club Hotel Casapueblo; Four Seasons in Carmelo.
- Gustino – Nice wine bar and restaurant in town (Maipu Y Lassere / t: +54 2901 430 003 / réservas@gustino.com.ar).
- Hosteria Bella Vista – Very cute & homely little hôtel with amazing views of the bay and one of the cheapest in Ushuaia @ around £50 per night in high season. Clean, with good breakfasts and a friendly hostess. While it’s only a short walk to the Glaciar Martial, it is a bit of trek into the town centre and walking does mean dealing with stray dogs, however taxis are cheap and easy to book (Cabo de Homos 4018 / t: +54 2901 445 976 / firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Navegacion por el Canal Beagle – Amid all the tour operators along the sea front, a couple stand out and this is one of them. Beagle Channel ours take place all day long but one of the nicest is the evening tour which gives you the chance to see Bahia Ushuaia all lit up and twinkling. The guides are very helpful and friendly too (t: +54 2901 517 967 / email@example.com).
- Pira Tour – Does what it says on the tin: a day-trip to Haberton and then onto Isla Martillo by boat to see the penguins. ‘Trekking’ is a bit of an exagération but it’s definitely key to bring warm and waterproof clothing, even in the hight of summer (Muello Turistico / t: +54 2901 424 834 / firstname.lastname@example.org).