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The Most Unforgettable Travel Experiences in Argentina and Chile
Learning to Dance Tango in Buenos Aires: Salones de baile, as tango salons are called, blanket the city; the most famous are in San Telmo. In these salons you can watch traditional Argentine tango danced by all generations, and most offer lessons before the floor opens up to dancers. You won't find many novices on the dance floor after midnight, however. See chapter 3.
Visiting the Recoleta Cemetery: The beautiful cemetery in Buenos Aires houses expensive mausoleums competing for grandeur-a place where people can remain rich, even after death. Among the only non-aristocrats buried here is Eva Perón, or "Evita." Some of Argentina's upper class still believe she has no right to be here. See chapter 3.
Wandering Caminito Street in La Boca: Capture the flavor of early Buenos Aires on this short historic street, which is also considered an outdoor museum. The Caminito is famous for the brightly colored sheet-metal houses that border it and for the sculptures, paintings, and wall murals you'll find along the street. Performers and dancers are here every day. See chapter 3.
Visiting Iguazú Falls: One of the world's most spectacular sights, Iguazú boasts over 275 waterfalls fed by the Iguazú River, which can (and should) be visited from both the Argentine and Brazilian sides. In addition to the falls, Iguazú encompasses a marvelous subtropical jungle with extensive flora and fauna. See chapter 4.
Sailing Through the Andes Between Chile & Argentina: Why fly or drive when you can sail through the Andes? Two companies work together to provide boat journeys from near Ensenada, Chile, to Bariloche, Argentina, or vice versa. It's a dazzling cruise-but worth the journey only on a clear day. Leaving from Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park in Chile, the cruise takes you across the emerald waters of Lago Todos los Santos, through rugged peaks and rainforest, and eventually to Puerto Blest in Argentina for a sail across Lake Nahuel Huapi and past gorgeous alpine scenery and the Llao Llao Peninsula. The trip can be done in 1 or in 2 days with an overnight at the Hotel Peulla. If Argentina (or Chile) isn't on your itinerary, each company offers a round-trip day ride. See chapter 6 and 12.
Visiting Punta del Este in Summer: As Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) will tell you, anyone who's anyone from Buenos Aires heads to Punta del Este for summer vacation. The glitzy Atlantic coast resort in Uruguay is packed with South America's jet set from December through February and offers inviting beaches and outstanding nightlife. See chapter 7.
Waking Up in Santiago After a Rainstorm: Santiago is a magnificent city, but it's usually hidden under a blanket of smog so filthy it would make even Paris look like Detroit. If you're lucky enough to catch Santiago after a rainstorm has cleared the skies, try to make it to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal for a breath-taking view of the city spread below the towering, snowcapped Andes. Few cityscapes in the world compare. See chapter 9.
Watching the World Go by in the Plaza de Armas, Santiago: Enjoy Santiago society the way they used to: on a park bench in the grand Plaza de Armas. Like a magnet, this square attracts all shapes and sizes of Chileans, and a half hour on a bench offers ample opportunity to study them all: businessmen racing to and fro, young couples at a more leisurely stride, shoeshiners, photographers, religious fanatics, painters, poets, chess players, and, of course, other tourists like yourself. The best time is during the lunch hour from 1 to 3pm, when the pace picks up. See chapter 9.
Exploring the Madcap Streets of Valparaíso: The ramshackle, colorful, and sinuous streets of Valparaíso offer a walking tour unlike any other. Apart from the picturesque, Victorian mansions and tin houses that seem cut into every shape possible, terraced walkways wind around the various hills that shoot up from downtown, and there are plenty of antique funiculars to lift you to the top. Great restaurants and cafes can be found at every turn to rest aching feet. Valparaíso is like a diamond in the rough, and part of the fascination is touring the faded remains of this once-thriving port town. See chapter 10.
Catching a Full Moon in the Valle de la Luna: Nothing could be more appropriate, or dreamier, than an evening under the glow of a full moon in the Valley of the Moon. This region of the Atacama Desert was named for its otherworldly land formations and salt-encrusted canyons that supposedly resemble the surface of the moon, a comparison that is hard to dispute, especially when these formations are cast under an eerie, nighttime glow. The full moon "experience" is popular enough that nearly all tour companies in San Pedro plan excursions. See chapter 11.
Sailing the Fjords of Southern Chile: Quietly sailing through the lush beauty of Chile's southern fjords is an experience that all can afford. There are two breath-taking trajectories: a 3-day ride between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt, and a 1- to 6-day ride to the spectacular Laguna San Rafael Glacier. Backpackers on a shoestring as well as those who need spiffier accommodations all have options. These pristine, remote fjords are often said to be more dramatic than those in Norway, but the scenery isn't the only pleasure here-often the camaraderie that grows between passengers is what in the end makes for such a fulfilling trip. See chapter 12.
Soaking in Hot Springs: The volatile Andes not only builds volcanoes; it also produces steaming mineralized water that is used to fill hot springs complexes from the desert north to the Aisén region. Chileans often take to these waters to relieve arthritis and rheumatism problems, but most take a soothing soak to relax. Virtually every region near the Andes mentioned in this book has either a rustic hole in the ground or a full-scale, luxury resort with a complete spa. Notably, these hot springs seem to have been magically paired by nature with outdoor adventure spots, making for a thankful way to end a day of activity. The Lake District is a noted "hot spot," especially around Pucón. See chapter 12.
Driving the Carretera Austral: It's a tough, crunchy drive along 620 miles (1,000km) of gravel road, but that is precisely why Chile's "Southern Highway" has kept the crowds at bay. This natural wonderland, saturated in green and hemmed in by jagged, snowcapped peaks, offers a journey for those seeking to travel through some of Chile's most remote and stunning territory. It can be done in a variety of directions and segments, but you'll need a rental car. There are plenty of great stops along the way, including rainforest walks, the idyllic mountain valley of Futaleufú, the wet primeval forest of Parque Quelat, Puyuhuapi and its luxury thermal spas, and the city of Coyhaique. See chapter 14.