Stu and I are back from our Antarctica adventure and it was an extraordinary trip. We also spent time in Argentina in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia (where we boarded the ship to Antarctica) and the northwest region around Salta, so check out both the Antarctica and South America galleries for all of the photos. Some trip highlights below, full trip notes to follow whenever I have time to finish them. We travelled around Argentina more extensively in 1997, so there are notes and photos from other sections of Buenos Aires and regions of the country from that trip.
Aitcho Island in the South Shetlands, Weddell Sea, Devil Island, Paulet Island, Neko Harbor, Palmer Station, Torgeson Island, Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gerlache Strait
- · Ice, Ice, Baby! Exquisite natural ice sculptures in fanciful shapes and shades of blue that have to be seen to be believed, towering tabular icebergs, pack ice, brash ice, snow-capped mountains, avalanches like massive ice waterfalls
- · Penguins!! Huge colonies of Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins with their adorable fuzzy chicks and some eggs, plus a lone Emperor on an ice floe, and a rare leucistic Chinstrap. It was not quite albino, but instead of being black and white, it was a pale tan and white with only a trace of the distinctive chin marking that gives the Chinstrap its name. One of my favorite sights was scores of penguins porpoising through the water, tobogganing on their stomachs on land and toddling with their flippers outstretched behind them.
- · Whales! Twice we cruised among sizeable pods of Killer Whales with calves, as many as 70, as well as Humpback Whales, one which thrilled us with a spectacular breach.
- · Seals! We saw many soulful-eyed overstuffed Weddell Seals, several sleek Crabeater Seals, who despite their name eat krill and fish but no crabs, and a couple of ferocious Leopard Seals, named for their spotted hides and predatory behavior.
- · Birds! More than you could count – Black-Browed Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Skuas, Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and more.
- · Hiking to the top of a “horn” on Devil Island for the spectacular views
- · Zodiac rides to view penguins and seals on the ice and in the sea and the amazing icebergs
- · Underwater critter shows – divers took videos exposing a thriving ecosystem of mostly invertebrates (urchins, starfish, nudibranches, sea cucumbers, anenomes, worms, etc.) in these frigid waters
- · Palmer Station – Smallest of 3 US research stations in Antarctica. We got to see what krill looks like (shrimp-like crustaceans), the main food source of many animals including whales. Only 12 ships a year are permitted to visit Palmer so it was a special treat.
- · Port Lockroy – former British research station, now an interesting small museum and post office
- · National Geographic Explorer- our ship, hotel and restaurant in Antarctica. Beautifully decorated and maintained. We had large windows for wonderful views and were close to the bow for quick and easy access to the Bridge and outdoor deck for good viewing when wildlife was sighted. Good meals including an espresso bar, well-equipped gym, observation deck, mud room for boarding the zodiacs, handsome lounge and bar. Expensive WiFi.
- · Tango Rojo – electrifying tango show with stunning costumes, staging, dancers, singers and musicians. Pricey but best tango show we’ve ever seen.
- · La Recoleta Cemetery – final resting place of Eva Duarte Peron, aka Evita, and many other dignitaries. Magnificent monuments
- · La Recoleta – Ritzy section of town with stately architecture, fancy hotels and upscale restaurants and shops
- · Teatro Colon – Excellent guided tour of the newly renovated opera house. Opulent Gold Room, Main hall seats 4,000 in 7 rings. Eloquent Carrera marble statue of Venus and Cupid “The Secret”.
- · Metropolitan Cathedral in Plaza Mayor – unusual neoclassical building but sumptuous interior. Best feature was tomb of General San Martin with uniformed guards.
- · Evita Museum - Located in a handsome townhouse, it features photos, mementos, news articles and the elegant clothes she wore, along with information about her many charitable causes and political achievements
- · Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - fine collection of paintings and sculptures ranging from Rembrandt, Rodin and the Impressionists to classic and contemporary Latin American artists
- · Convento Santo Domingo – Belgrano tomb in front of church
- · Convento San Francisco – Elaborate exterior, simple but beautiful interior with painted wooden statues of saints
- · Avenida 9 de Julio- Reputed to be the widest boulevard in the world. Obelisk in Plaza de la Repubblica (1936) to commemorate the city’s founding.
- · Palermo SoHo – cool shops, restaurants, boutique hotels, clubs and cafes
- · El Almacen de los Milagros – excellent, intimate bistro in La Recoleta. We were the only tourists the night we dined there.
- · Alvear Palace Hotel – Top class all the way. Sumptuous rooms. Exceptional concierge service. Outstanding breakfast buffet. Fully equipped gym and marvelous spa. WiFi.
- · La Bourgogne – in the Alvear. World class restaurant. We had a scrumptious tasting menu perfectly paired with wonderful Argentine wines.
- · La Cabana Las Lilas – Puerto Madero. They own a ranch and raise their own grass-fed beef. It was the best steak we’ve had in Argentina – ojo de bife (ribeye) perfectly cooked, not to forget the exceptional wine list. Meal comes with lots of complimentary extras such as an antipasto plate, a cup of gazpacho, different types of bread, and petits fours and help-yourself bottles of limoncello and grappa to end the meal. High priced for B.A. but steak of this quality costs twice as much or more in the U.S. and you don’t get all the extras.
- · Don Julio - We had a quiet lunch at this popular Palermo parilla. Steak was very good, if not exceptional, but the room is cozy with a nice view of the grill and barbecue master.
- · Un’Altra Volta – gelato chain store. Very good.
- · Freddo – another gelato chain, even better than Volta.
- · Tigre Delta Tour – lovely town on the delta but horrible tour.
- · MALBA – modern Latin American art with a painting each by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
- · Tierra del Fuego National Park – Gorgeous landscape with many birds, including Greater Grebes and a family of Upland Geese with downy goslings
- · Catamaran Cruise on Beagle Channel – Spectacular scenery with the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Darwin; Islands teaming with Southern Sea Lions with pups and Rock Cormorants (Blue-eyed Shags).
- · Ushuaia Maritime Museum – Site of an old prison, interesting prison artifacts as well as exhibits on Antarctic exploration, famous ship models, art gallery, diorama of extinct Yamana tribe, old steam locomotive, remains of a wooden whaler boat and more.
- · We’d visited Ushuaia during our tour of Patagonia in 1997 and were dismayed to find that the charming town with the attractive wooden houses accented by colorful lupins that we so fondly remembered had devolved into a tasteless concrete tourist trap.
- · Legado Mitico Hotel – Elegant, luxurious boutique hotel not far from the main square and close to hip Balcarce Street. Rooms named for historical figures and decorated accordingly. We had El Caudillo, dedicated to Salta hero General Guemes, with a lovely balcony overlooking the inner courtyard garden. Excellent breakfast. Hotel is full of well chosen antiques. WiFi.
- · Museum of High Altitude Archaeology – Small, but well annotated museum dedicated to the discovery of 3 perfectly preserved Inca child mummies from 15-16th C. with a stunning collection of artifacts from their graves, including miniature statuettes with silver or gold face masks, elaborate feather headdresses and textile wraps. “The Lightning Girl”, sacrificed around the age of 6, is on display in a glass case.
- · Plaza 9 de Julio (Argentina Independence Day) – Classic main square with Cathedral, Cabildo (old town hall) and other handsome colonial style builidings. Grand statue of General José Antonio Alvarez de Arenales along with smaller statues of ordinary people such as boy picking a splinter from his foot
- · Salta Cathedral – Pink and yellow exterior graced with a double tower in front (bell and clock). Elaborate interior with magnificent gold altar topped with “sun ray” crown.
- · San Francisco Cathedral – 53 meter high belfry, simple interior. Statue of St. Francis in front. Famous bell “Campana de la Patria” is made of metal from the cannons used in the Battle of Salta during the War of Independence.
- · La Tacita – hole-in-the-wall café with terrific empanadas.
- · El Solar del Convento – May be the best steakhouse in the Northwest. Only better was Cabana Las Lilas in B.A. Excellent grilled chicken as well as steak. Good wine selection. Mix of locals and tourists, handsome rooms in old convent. Complimentary glass of sparkling wine to start. Friendly, efficient service.
- · Hotel Kkala – Exceptional boutique hotel on hill with wide-ranging views, beautifully decorated in Andean style with wonderful rooms, lovely pool, excellent breakfast. We had the Nevado suite which featured a large Jacuzzi tub. WiFi. Heaven!
- · Cerro San Bernardo – Cable car or drive to top for panoramic views.
- · General Guemes Monument – Grand monument of El Caudillo on horseback with reliefs of his gaucho warriors on the base
- · San Lorenzo – ritzy suburb of Salta with lovely whitewashed chapel from 1914
- · Balcarce Street - popular for nightlife with cafés, restaurants, nightclubs and shops. On Sunday there is a busy crafts market, some typical tourist junk, but lots of interesting handcrafted goods.
- · Quebrada de las Conchas (Quebrada de Cafayate) National Park – Spectacular gorge created by the Rio de las Conchas. Amazing rock formations, candelaria cactus, Mesquite trees, yellow flowers, Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), Los Colonnados, natural Anfiteatro (Amphitheator) wild Guanaco, parrots nesting on hillside (casa de loros), Tres Cruces,
- · Cafayate town – founded 1840, alt. 5,522 ft., simple town square with plain church, hotels and restaurants. Famous for wineries – highest vineyards on earth.
- · Killa Hotel – Local style with lovely pool and garden, excellent views of mountains and town, near main square. We stayed in Acay (room 16), balcony with beautiful views. Decent breakfast. WiFi.
- · Terrunio (Terroir) – Terrific restaurant on the main square with outdoor and indoor seating. Delicious food, including pumpkin soup, trout, perfectly cooked vegetables, superior wine selection and excellent, warm service.
- · Calchaquitos – Bakery with the best alfajores (similar in size and shape to French macarons but cake-like with filling of dulce de leche) we tried in Argentina. They had over 20 varieties, our favorite was Amor with meringue, dulce de leche, chocolate and nuts.
- · Cabras de Cafayate – goat farm that manufactures goat cheese. Tour of facilities with tasting. Delicious cheese!
- · Pachamama Museum – Showcasing art and artifacts from the region. Beautiful stone buildings and sculptures with good collection of geological and archaeological objects
- · Finca las Nubes – José L. Mounier winery with lovely rose gardens. Tasting of Torrontes, Rosada and Malbec blend.
- · Museo Arqueologico – Extensive but not well annotated private collection of ceramics and other objects from 4th C BC to 17th C
- · Wine Museum- Even if you’ve toured vineyards, this is a worthwhile visit. History of winemaking in the Northwest and illustration of winemaking activity by month, plus poetry about wine, interesting exhibits and an excellent wine and gift shop.
- · Al Dique (Dyke) – Large manmade lake with houseboats, beaches and amusements
- · Tumbaya – small town with pretty square devoted to San Francisco Solano, statue of saint with his violin, yellow adobe church
- · Purmamarca – alt.7,500 ft. Spectacular Hill of 7 Colors behind town. You can pay 2 pesos to climb a hill for fabulous views of the hill and surroundings. Attractive square marred by stands of tourist junk. Pose with baby llamas. Handsome white church with 700 year old Mesquite Tree in yard.
- · El Churqui de Altura – Very good restaurant in Purmamarca named after the ubuiquitous green bushes in the region, with handsome decor, excellent humitas (corn meal with spices stuffed in corn husk) and grilled trout. Good wine selection.
- · La Comarca – Fine hotel with local architecture and décor, located within walking distance of Purmamarca. We had suite 211, a duplex casita with living room and bedroom, balconies with gorgeous views from front and back. Nice pool, poorly equipped workout room. Superior restaurant – lovely room, great food and wine and service. Good but not great breakfast. WiFi.
- · Salinas Grandes – alt. 13,600 ft. Scenic drive to the salt flats (25 km long x 10 wide), encountering small herds of vicunas and lone guanacos. Colorful rock formations and cliffs.
- · Quebrada de Humahuaca – Magnificent gorge carved by Rio Grande and Rio Chica. Multi-arm Cardon Cactus
- · Uquia – Tiny town with incredible white church from 1691 San Francisco de Paula. Elaborate carved wood altarpiece covered with gold. Cusco school portraits of the archangels in Spanish colonial attire. Cactus wood ceilling and confessionals.
- · Humahuaca – Charming town established in 1594 with handsome main square and enormous monument to the Heroes of the War of Independence with statues of the invading Spaniards on the right, Argentines on the left and the Indians in the middle.
- · Noon Blessing of San Francisco Solano – Every day at noon a mechanical statue of the saint comes out of a niche in the town hall building adjacent to the church to bless the crowd of locals and visitors who gather there while Ave Maria is broadcast from the church. Lively folk dances are performed after the blessing in front of the building.
- · Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria - Beautiful white stucco church with 2 towers. Gold covered altar, though more modern that the one at Uquia and fine paintings of the prophets.
- · Tropic of Capricorn – there’s an obelisk marking the Tropic of Capricorn
- · Tilcara – Harmonius town with very good museum displaying archaeological artifacts from the Pucara ruins and other areas of South America, such as the Atacama and Peru.
- · El Antigal – hotel with restaurant. Very good humitas and lomo de llama.
- · Pucara de Tilcara (Fortress) – 1150-500 BC. Ancient fortified town that might have had more than 1500 inhabitants. Modern Pyramid monument at top surrounded by ruins, including stone houses, holy ceremonial area with stone altar, corrals for livestock, grain houses and a well. Botanical garden down hill from the site with many varieties of cactus and trees.
- · Maimara – cemetery on hill with above ground tombs