Argentina Suspends Reciprocity Fee for US Citizens

As of this month, you no longer need to pay $160 to Argentina just to visit if you’re a US Citizen. Previously, you had to pay a reciprocidad in order to get into the country–but no longer! Thanks to President Obama’s recent visit to Argentina, the US-Argentina relationship has thawed–resulting in $160 less for Americans to enjoy some quality asado, tango, y mate.

 

From the State Department Press Release:

Effective 24 March 2016, the Argentine government has suspended the $160 reciprocity fee for U.S. passport holders traveling to Argentina for periods of less than 90 days for tourist or business purposes.

For questions regarding the suspension of the reciprocity fee, please contact the Embassy of Argentina in the United States or Dirección Nacional de Migraciones in Argentina.

http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/embassy-of-argentina-in-united-states-of-america.html

http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/indexP.php

Boutique Hotel Castillo Rojo (Santiago, Chile)

While we were planning our trip to Santiago, we knew we wanted to stay in a hip neighborhood full of trendy restaurants and bars, with an easy walk to all the sites we wanted to see. We quickly settled on the very hip, very nice Bellavista neighborhood.

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As we searched for our hotel, we kept on coming back to a single, striking red building. We ended up staying at this great hotel: Boutique Hotel Castillo Rojo. A gorgeous, bright red mansion built in 1923 and the home to artists and bohemians for decades, it’s now a chic boutique hotel filled with charm. We ended up booking two separate stays there–once at the beginning of our vacation, and once at the end (with our Easter Island trip in the middle). Each time, we were greeted like old friends and given a beautiful, cozy room. We were actually eyeing the bathrooms for ideas for our house back in the States.

They had a cute breakfast area that served a nice breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee each morning. The staff spoke perfect English, and had excellent recommendations for everything to do, see, and eat in the area. We can’t recommend them enough–and have decided that if we make it back to Santiago, this hotel definitely deserves a repeat stay.

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We were located right at the foot of the Cerro San Cristobal (one of the two major hills in the city), and only a short walk from the main parks and some of the museums. We were about a block and a half away from La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes.

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We had a great time exploring the neighborhood’s charming bars and restaurants. Patio Bellavista had a great variety, and we spent some time eating there and enjoying the many open patios.  However, we were glad we ate early, since it fills up considerably later at night. If that’s your goal, then it’s an excellent choice–but crowds packed that tightly make me feel nervous and trapped in.

We particularly enjoyed the drinks we had at Sangucheria Cuidad Vieja, with its impressive bar storage that reminded me of the library ladders in Beauty and the Beast (or, for those of you with a Lafayette College connection, like the library in Kirby Law Library).

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We also had a great dinner at La Boheme, where our server spoke perfect English and had (in a typically bohemian fashion) moved to Santiago on a lark for a boy and stayed after that had fizzled. We loved the pierna de cordero magallanico–a beautifully barbecued leg of lamb. So beautiful, in fact, that the couple in the table across from us stopped their conversation when it came out and had to ask what it was. I kind of wish we had brought our cameras so T and I would have had a picture of that delicious meat.

Overall, we can’t recommend Bellavista and Castillo Rojo enough. w

We’d be remiss, however, if we didn’t note one thing: Don’t use the ATMs in Patio Bellavista. We ended up getting both of our cards stolen, and we’re fairly certain it was from those public ATMs. As always when you travel, don’t try to outsmart yourself, and just use the ATMs inside banks. (Or, if you really can’t, be sure to get a receipt for every transaction–otherwise, you’ll have a really fun time trying to retrace your steps over your entire vacation, like we did in the airport on the way home.)

 

Don’t Use the Blue Dollar

If you’re looking into travelling to Argentina, you’ll probably see something about the Blue Dollar and how helpful it can be to travellers looking to optimize their money.

Well… most of that advice is now bunk. With the end of the Kirchner government and the beginning of the Macri government, currency restrictions on dollars were eliminated. Now, for the first time in over a decade, you can get US dollars from an ATM in Buenos Aires. You can freely trade in US dollars.

What does this mean to tourists? You don’t need to bring a horde of dollars with you to optimize your savings on your trip. More so, if you weren’t already ignoring them, there is no reason on God’s green earth for you to interact with the sketchy guys yelling “Cambio, Cambio” on Florida. You’re fine just getting cash out of a bank’s local ATM. As of right now, ATM transaction fees hover around 85 pesos.

T and I  use both the blue dollar (via an exchange at the local casino) as well as using the traditional ATM. At the casino, we’ve been getting 13 pesos to each $1USD. The current official rate (what you’ll get at that ATM, or if you use your credit card to pay) is 15.70 pesos to $1USD.

Just wanted to post a little PSA for those of you thinking about traveling to Argentina–I noticed a that a lot of the Blue Dollar information hasn’t been updated to reflect current reality under the new administration.

What to Buy in Argentina

If you’re going to Argentina for a week, a month, or several years, you might be wondering what to pick up along the way. We certainly were! Here’s what we’ve come up with as either good deals and/or quintessentially Argentinian items:

Alpargatas

Don’t know what these are? I actually bet you do.  Known in the US as Toms, these canvas slip on shoes with rubber soles are incredibly common footwear in Argentina. You can find them in every store (even the grocery store), and they are significantly cheaper than their $60 per pair US cousins. Stock up on the fun patterns and colors.

alpargatas jastyle

image from jastyle.com

 

Mate Kits

Is there anything more Argentinian than mate? I think not. Take away an Argentinian’s mate cup, and it’s like you took away his left arm. Needless to say, with mate being so ubiquitous, there are thousands of mate designs and materials. Mates can be gourds, wooden, ceramic–the ingenuity given to this simple item boggles the mind. I’ve even seen some extremely high end ones made of sterling silver. Just be careful about bringing yerba mate back to the US–it looks suspiciously like marijuana to US customs. You can buy yerba mate Stateside in more hippie-dippie grocery stores like Whole Foods, and it’s also available on Amazon (as all things are…).  Even if you don’t like the taste of mate, having the actual mate kit is a fun souvenir that really is the most Argentinian thing ever.

image from salmiartesanias.com

image from salmiartesanias.com

Gems and Other Stones

At all of the tourist traps and in all the airport shops, you’ll see all sorts of little statues, beads, and jewelry made of precious stones. Argentina is full of beautiful gems (see: Wanda Mines near Iguazu).  A lot of it can get touristy very quickly–but some of the pieces are beautiful! Generally reasonable prices, particularly outside of the heavily touristy areas.

Wine

Argentina is the land of Malbec. Beautiful, delicious malbec. It’s easy to grab a great bottle of wine at the grocery store for less than $10USD–so save some room in your luggage or home goods shipment for some bottles. Just be ready to pack them up nicely–I like these wine bags.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Leather Goods

From purses to belts to shoes to jackets–leather is king, and it is good quality and cheap. There are some really inventive and high quality leather goods to be found in Argentina. I’ve found it best to not just frequent the stores on Avenida Florida, but instead to branch out to more of the boutique places to find some really good deals on really interesting pieces.  If you’re looking for a good brand name, try Prune. They’re based in almost every city in Argentina, and make very good quality. Also, their stores make you feel incredibly fancy–they’re set up like very high end boutiques in the US, and often their associated speak at least a bit of English to help the confused tourist.

Via ArgentinaIndependent.com

Via ArgentinaIndependent.com

ALL THE MEAT

This one only applies if you’ll be here for a while, but if you’re going full on expat and you have a kitchen, take advantage of the incredibly low meat prices (especially high quality, grass-fed beef). That random braising method you were nervous to try with pricey US meat? Do it here!

Home Accents and Hardware from the 1890s to 1940s

Do you have a home in that age range? Get thee to San Telmo! We found lots of neat hardware (doorknobs, drawer pulls, fixtures) from this time frame–and for reasonably cheap. Those years were Argentina’s hey-day, when the world saw Buenos Aires as one of the richest and most luxurious cities in the world. (Harrod’s even had their ONLY other store in Buenos Aires! It’s now shut down since the 2001 economic crisis, but the building still stands with the original sign on Avenida Florida.) Stock up on some of these awesome little items–not just souvenirs, but really practical as well!

The other item in large supply at San Telmo are the old glass seltzer water bottles. In beautiful green and blue glass, these are virtually never seen in the US–but are incredibly common in flea markets in Argentina! Even today, you can get a seltzer man to come to your house and fill up your bottles. (Apparently this is now a hipster thing in the US. )

Via Gringo in Buenos Aires... otherwise known as one of the best blogs about life in Argentina

Via Gringo in Buenos Aires… otherwise known as one of the best blogs about life in Argentina

I’m sure we’ll think of other good things to pick up in Argentina and I’ll have to do a part two! The country is full of exciting street fairs and flea markets–with lots of inventive craftspeople showing their wares.

The end of summer in Ituzaingo

It’s the end of the summer tourist season here in Ituzaingo. The kids are back in school and the tourists have all gone home. The locals still spend their time on the beach on the weekends–but the town has definitely shifted gears.

I started going to my local spinning class again this week–the gym shuts down entirely for December, January and February since it’s just too darn hot to work out in an un-air conditioned space. Although it feels good to get back to “normal,” it is a bit of a letdown after all of the excitement that tourist season brings.

T got a fancy new camera for Christmas, so we’ve been enjoying walking around town and getting some interesting shots. Here are some from the end of summer here in Ituzaingo.

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Long Time No See!

After a lovely almost three week vacation in the US for our annual home leave, we’re back in Ituzaingo! Apologies for the delay in getting posts back up and running–I’ve been having big issues getting my photos to load on WordPress. I think this was a combination of a really outdated version of Adobe Flash, some really cruddy internet service, and some pretty hi-res photos. Add to that the normal chaos of getting readjusted to work and life in general after a few weeks off–and it’s been pretty busy!

Home leave was wonderful! We saw so many friends and family, and got a lot of stuff done around our US house. We purchased our US house two months before we left for Argentina, so we’ve been busy trying to officially “move in” and make it feel less like a giant storage bin and more like a house! I think we finally succeeded on this trip.

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We got the chance to catch up with a lot of people and do a lot of sightseeing and activities. Through a daily deal, we toured the Manatawny Still Works in Pottsville with my sister. I enjoy a good whiskey, but wasn’t too thrilled with the tastings of the others–a little bit too much like taking shots! They’re a new still, so they’re still working on their first aged whiskey batches, but they had a neat clear whiskey, which we had never encountered before. We had a good time learning about the process of making whiskey and vodka, and the still itself was very cool–especially after having gone to Dogfish Head Brewery as a part of my bachelorette party a few years ago.

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I spent a day wine tasting and visiting Longwood Gardens with my mom and sisters. Despite the insane crowds at Longwood, the Christmas decorations were really pretty! T has never been to Longwood, so now it’s on our list to visit–and definitely to go in the spring, when it’s a little more comfortable to spend hours outside!

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We also hosted our annual Bash with some of our college friends. In all, we had about 20 people over to the house. Pro Tip: Chipotle caters, and they do an awesome job. And it’s not that terribly expensive either!

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We had the rodents for the time that we were home–and it was nice to spend so much time with them. Tesla (the rabbit who was supposed to be in Argentina) got even bigger! We got Mr. Winks, the geriatric guinea pig, a “cuddle cup” for Christmas, and he loves it. He was so happy to sit and watch a marathon of “House Hunters International” with my friend Clara and I–just one of the girls!

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We had a bit of an adventure getting back down here. The day we left (Monday the 12th) called for a nasty mix of freezing rain and snow, so we rented a car to drive ourselves down to BWI. Thankfully, the weather held out and despite the rental Dodge Charger having cruddy breaks, we made it to BWI without incident and on time. The flight to ATL was no issue either and we had a good time chatting with the new Mormon missionaries who were on our plane going down to Argentina. (Seriously, I can’t imagine being 19 years old and being told I was going to spend two years in rural Argentina with limited Spanish language skills and no access to the internet.) We met up with our new colleague from the US, who is joining us on the job for at least the next six months.

When we reached EZE (Buenos Aires’ international airport), things took a turn. Normally, the process is to disembark, go through immigrations and get the passport stamped, then pick up your checked luggage and go through customs. However, since it was slightly raining, EZE called a “delay due to meteorological conditions” and wouldn’t unload any of our checked baggage. We had to wait four hours until we got our bags–with the terminal filling up with irate passengers.  Each time the delay announcement was made over the PA system, the baggage area would erupt in sarcastic clapping and yelling. After hour three, Delta gave us all a little sandwich and a soda–which was great, because in that area of the airport, the only amenities are a duty free shop and a MAC cosmetics store.

We finally grabbed our bags, hustled through the customs line, and grabbed two remises (hired cars, kind of like Uber) to transfer to the domestic airport across town. Normally this transfer is really easy, since we have a lot of time between flights. However–this time we were fairly certain that we would miss our connecting flight if we didn’t hustle! Thank goodness our domestic flight was delayed–we just barely made it onto the plane.  We landed in Posadas, only to find that one of our checked bags hadn’t quite made it onto the flight. We retrieved it two days later, so it wasn’t a huge deal–but it was still one final issue on our way back.

We’re still in a rental car, since apparently the yacare (crocodile) accident nearly totaled our company car. It will probably take another four to six weeks before we see our car again, and it’s estimated that in total repairs will cost $98,000ARG (or about $11,400 USD). Thankfully, that’s all the company’s responsibility.

The town is now completely full of tourists. Whereas four weeks ago we could have essentially parked anywhere–now it’s more difficult to find parking. The clubs and restaurants are hopping, and that annoying circus in the plaza that woke us up with “Gangnam Style” every night at 11:20pm is back. Thankfully, we don’t hear a single bit of it at our house.

Mooch the cat was waiting expectantly for us when we got home–and was begging for dinner the moment we got out of the car. We were glad to see nothing had changed with him.

Our favorite grocery store, TaTa, underwent a MAJOR renovation while we were away–we came back to a store three times its original size! It’s almost like a US supermarket now. It’s just nice to have larger aisles where two carts can pass each other.

Other than that, we’ve been acclimating to the very hot weather (the whole week it should be in the mid to upper 80s) and introducing our new colleague to the town. He’s originally from Puerto Rico, so language is not a problem for him–but there are definitely some idiosyncrasies in Argentinian life that take some getting used to.

 

Foz de Igaucu, Brazil

We knew that a trip to the Falls wasn’t complete until you had seen it from both sides (Argentina AND Brazil).  However, being US citizens, we needed a visa to get into Brazil. Thankfully, Puerto Iguazu in Argentina has a Brazilian consulate that grants quick visas.

Since the process is ever-changing (hello, South American official paperwork) and the information in the internet is slim, here’s our process. Fill out your Brazilian visa form online here, print out the form (and make sure you save a copy of your confirmation number!), and attach your approved passport photo. Remember–no smiling, needs to be a white background, and adhere strictly to the size limits.  The online form is experimenting with uploading some documents, but it’s still in beta stage, and assume you’ll still need to bring your documents and paperwork with you. Also, when they ask for your hotel information in Brazil, we just chose a random hotel. They never checked to see if we actually had a reservation, and I assume most people coming through are day trippers.

If you’re a tourist: bring a copy of your driver’s license (front and back), a copy of your passport (including a copy of the page with your Argentinian entrance stamp), and  a copy of your bank records proving sufficient funds.  Also, we brought along a copy of our birth certificates, a copy of our marriage license, and, of course, our reciprocity fee papers. To be honest, the workers at the consulate just seemed impressed that we had all of our ducks in a row prior to coming in. (Insert some sort of grumbling about “if it was clear online, maybe there wouldn’t be that many problems” here.)

If you’re a temporary resident of Argentina: all of the above, PLUS a copy of your DNI (front and back), a copy of your residencia temporaria legal papers, and we brought along our precarias just to be safe. Also note, Argentine temporary residents–if you have your own car in Argentina, make sure with your car insurance company that it has the optional “MERCOSUR” insurance that allows it into Brazil. That is one thing that the Argentinian aduana was diligent in checking.

You can pay your fee, which is somewhere around the line of $160USD, in either pesos (subject to Brazil’s current feeling on what a peso is worth) or in reais. We paid in pesos and had absolutely no problem. Just be sure to have exact change (or as close as you can be. I think a 5 is okay if you have a bill that’s 32, but they won’t exchange 100 peso notes. If you need it, there’s a Macro bank in the city center of Puerto Iguazu, about four blocks away from the consulate, that has four clean, well-maintained ATMs. As usual in Argentina, stock in said ATMs will probably be lower around the 1st and 15th of every month as people get their government payouts on their EBTs. So plan accordingly.

So, we submitted all of our paperwork, paid all of our money, and left our passports with the nice Brazilians overnight and picked it up the next day.  And, honestly? Although I had heard some stories about how the Brazilian consulate can be a madhouse of backpackers, tourists, and generally Americans behaving badly on a Friday–we were the only ones there besides the consulate employees. It was a pleasant experience, and not much of a hassle.

We have our own car down here in Argentina, and we double checked to make sure it has the optional MERCOSUR insurance upgrade that allows it to drive into any MERCOSUR country without a problem. There are plenty of buses in Puerto Iguazu that go to the falls everyday, and even more travel companies happy to take your money in exchange for a ride and a tour of the Brazilian side.  We easily drove through customs (although we always get funny looks when the customs agent sees “EXTRANJERO” or foreigner printed on our national ID cards) and made it into Brazil.

Here’s where I talk about the seedy portion of all of this. The border between Argentina and Brazil at Iguazu/Iguacu is not terribly well patrolled for bus patrons. We’ve been told several times that it is absolutely easy for people to just ride a bus and go over to the other side without getting a visa, and without legally exiting/entering either Brazil or Argentina.  Because we work down here, and we’d prefer to not have to call our employer for them to bail us out  of the customs pokey, we chose to go the legal route, and thus, I have no comments about the whole “sneaking across the border” part of Iguazu.

In many ways, Foz de Iguacu is like Puerto Iguacu–all about the tourists. Shops and people selling their wares on the side of the road. And as always, poverty–the likes of which probably shocks those from the First World, but is sadly part of our landscape now. However, in many ways, the Brazilian side is radically different. Brazil has a much more open economy than Argentina. As a result, there are many more imported products–the motorcycles are Harleys and Hyabusas as opposed to bicycles that someone attached a lawnmower engine to. There’s Hershey’s chocolate and clothes from China. (In Argentina, one of the more draconian rules is that it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to import clothing for sale. As a result, easily 95% of the clothes are made in Argentina, with the exception of a few giants like Nike, Reebok, and LaCoste.)  Everything just looks a little bit nicer, a little bit more commercial… a little bit more American. Whereas Puerto Iguazu feels exactly like an Argentinian/South American tourist town without any recognizable fast food brands or chains, Foz de Iguacu felt more like South America’s Myrtle Beach… with waterfalls!

This feel extended to the Foz de Iguacu park itself. With a modern parking lot (paved versus Argentina’s dirt), the ability to pay with a credit card (versus Argentina’s cash-only policy), and modern buses taking tourists from the fancy queues and gift shops to the actual falls (versus a train in Argentina… or a hike), it just felt more like an American Six Flags safari than Argentina’s side did. This is both good and bad.  We loved the efficiency of just paying for parking when you bought your ticket, being able to easily use your credit card, clean public bathrooms, and obviously announcements in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. But it definitely felt less like a great South American adventure… and more like any other trip to an American tourist attraction.

However–the falls were beautiful! Whereas the Argentinian side  lets you get up close and personal with the falls, the Brazilian side offers some great panoramic views. A concrete pathway winds along the side of the cliff–be careful, it’s much more crowded on the Brazilian side than we ever encountered in Argentina! But, you get some gorgeous photos of the Falls in their full glory–and they have a great concrete walkway that leads right into the mist of some of the falls–great for photo opportunities!

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We grabbed lots of great photos, and saw even more coati trying to steal food from the tourists, but ultimately didn’t spend as much time on the Brazilian side. There are lots of side adventures run by private companies to partake in–zodiac boats, rock climbing, bike tours, white water rafting, ziplining–but the weather was starting to turn, and we didn’t feel like forking over $80 per person just to do a few little activities, most likely in the rain.  Ultimately, we made the right decision: it was drizzling when we made it back to our car, and full-on pouring buckets of water by the time we made it to the border. We’re planning on coming back to Iguazu again before we leave South America–so we figured leave some of the fun activities for the next time!

We didn’t hang out in the town of Foz de Iguacu much this time–but there are definitely some nice-looking hotels and resorts in the area, if you’re looking to stay on that side. We did briefly try to follow the signs for the tres fronteras marker in Brazil, but ended up in a not-so-nice neighborhood bordering on a favela, or shantytown, and decided to call it quits on that.

If you’re in Iguazu, definitely go to the Brazil side if you have the time and visa! It’s worth it to get the panoramic views and to see just how different two countries can be, just on the other side of the border.

Since November 1st was our *real* anniversary (we got married in a courthouse before we got married in the “white dress and tux” sense), we decided to go to Bocamora in Puerto Iguazu for a celebratory dinner. Situated essentially on a cliff on the costanera, or coastline, it is an incredibly romantic location overlooking the Tres Fronteras area. The menu was diverse, as was the wine list, the service was great, and the view was incomparable. We enjoyed a really nice meal on their back patio and toasted to two years! T got the ojo de bife (a very nice cut of meat), and I got a pork loin, both of which were delicious. We aren’t normally “that couple” who takes pictures of their food, but it looked pretty spectacular, so we couldn’t help ourselves.

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina–Lower Circuit and Boat Ride

After our four hour drive from Ituzaingo to Iguazu, we settled into the Sheraton and decided to tackle a part of the lower trail. However, there was a fine but steady rain throughout the entire hike–so we didn’t get many usable pictures. We decided to try it again on the second day, after the Sendero Macuco Trail.

Argentina’s lower circuit is a nice hike, with well-kept wood-slat walkways and stairs. It offers fantastic opportunities to see the falls up close and personal–and we definitely got up close!

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A lot of people asked us if we had the opportunity to see the Garganta del Diablo–Devil’s Throat. We didn’t–earlier in the year, there was some serious flooding in this area, and it wiped out the entire viewing trail for Garganta del Diablo. We did, however, see some of the wreckage on riverbanks while hiking.

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Also, due to high water levels, we couldn’t go to the island in the middle of the falls–Isla de San Martin. However–I don’t think we missed much! The views were fantastic, and several times we had to just stop and pinch ourselves that they were real.

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One thing that is a “don’t miss” activity on the Argentinian side is the Iguazu Jungle boat ride. You strap into a life jacket, head onto a boat, put all of your belongings in a watertight bag, and then prepare to get wet. After a cruise to both sets of waterfalls for photo purposes, the boat takes you back around and absolutely drenches everyone by essentially parking underneath a waterfall. We’re glad we did this as our last activity on the trail! By the time we got off the boat, my sneakers were filled with water.  Pro Tip: The Sheraton offers a drying only laundry service, and it’s 20% the cost of a normal laundry service. Unfortunately, they don’t do shoes. So bring several pairs if you’re planning on doing the boat ride.

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We also saw some fun animals along the way–lizards, birds, and of course, more coati. The coati aren’t afraid of humans at all, and in some cases will try to steal the food right out of your hand! Don’t try to pet them, though–they are still wild animals, and there are some pretty graphic signs around the park showing what a coati can do to someone’s hand.

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina–Sendero Macuco Trail

We decided to stay on the Argentinian side of the falls at the Sheraton. The advantage to the Sheraton is that it’s the only hotel inside the park, with rooms that overlook the falls (although they’re pretty expensive!). We opted for the less expensive jungle view room, which overlooked the forest. (In reality, it overlooked the driveway and parking structure, with the jungle in the near distance.)  Overall, we highly recommend it–the rooms were all well-appointed, the restaurant was good, the breakfast buffet was the best we’ve had at a Sheraton in this country, and the staff was wonderful. Also, add to that a really great pool area that overlooks the falls. While we were lounging by the pool and enjoying an (expertly made) pina colada, a few cuis, or guinea pigs, were running around!

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On our first full day at the falls, we decided to take the 3.75km long Sendero Macuco Trail all the way down to the Arrechea waterfall. In all the tour guides, it mentioned that this trail had some of the best wildlife watching and hiking–and that you could swim in the waterfall at the end of the trail! Sold.

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We were the first ones on the trail in the morning. It was still cool and quiet, and we were surprised we didn’t see too many animals on the trail–just a few beautifully colored butterflies.  We could hear lots of birds in the trees, but didn’t have much luck spotting them. We did the overlook of the waterfall first.

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Then, we hoofed it down some very steep steps to the waterfall. We kicked off our sneakers and walked into the water. A bit cold at first, but it was totally worth it to be swimming in a pool directly underneath a waterfall! The mist got to be too much to get completely under the waterfall, but we got some great shots.

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On our hike back, we saw lots more animals–and lots more hikers! We encountered a whole troop of howler monkeys in the trees, and spent a good amount of time watching them swing around and find their breakfast. Very cool!

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Our advice for conquering the Sendero Macuco Trail? Start early–it opens at 8:30am, and we were there right on time. Be quiet when you walk–you’ll probably see more animals that way! Bring bug spray–it’s pretty buggy out there, and over the weekend we got our fair share of mosquito bites despite generously applying Off! Also, it wouldn’t hurt to bring a pair of water shoes for the waterfall swimming. We did it barefoot, but some of the rocks were a little sharp, and we definitely would have felt better in some water shoes. While we’re on the subject–bring water!! It’s a long hike, there are a lot of stairs, and it’s HOT. Stay hydrated.

This was definitely one of the best portions of our little vacation–we can say we’ve swam underneath a South American waterfall now!

 

Iguazu Falls, ARG: Guira Oga

T and I spent the weekend celebrating our second (!!) wedding anniversary at Iguazu Falls. I know most reviews tend to focus on the falls at first–but I decided to work in reverse chronological order and get to the falls next.

On our final day in Igauzu, we decided to go to Guira Oga.  Guira Oga is a wildlife refuge right on the outskirts of Puerto Iguazu proper. It’s easy to see the huge sign from the road. It’s 85 pesos to get in, and they only accept cash (efectivo)–something we totally forgot and had to make a quick Macro Bank run into town!

Guira Oga started as a veterinary sanctuary and park for birds, but has since expanded to include all sorts of animals. Although there are apparently guides available in English, there weren’t any there on our Sunday trip, so we took the normal Spanish tour. You can only take the guided tours–there are no self-guided options, mainly for the benefits of the animals. Thankfully, although my technical Spanish is lacking, my “animal” Spanish is pretty good. We took a tractor and wagon ride about 1.5km into the woods (which felt kind of like a jungle hayride) to the first stop, and hiked the rest of it with the group. We had a small group of Argentinians–a family and a couple from Buenos Aires, and then us.

We started our hike with a quick intro into the Guira Oga philosophy. They tend to get a lot of animals from the nearby Igauzu National Park who are injured, as well as a number of animals that were either kept as illegal pets or confiscated at the border as part of the black market animal business. They try to rehabilitate and re-release as many of the animals as possible, and those that would not survive in the wild are used for either educational purposes or are put into a breeding program.

DSC_7317 Since their original focus was the hundreds of bird species native to Misiones province, birds were well-represented at Guira Oga. Lots of beautifully colored parrots and toucans squawked and flew around airy enclosures.

DSC_7323 DSC_7336 DSC_7339 DSC_7347 DSC_7348Also, they had an enclosure full of capuchin monkeys. These are the monkeys in “Night at the Museum,” among other movies. They are native to this area and were absolutely adorable, hamming it up for our cameras.

DSC_7371 DSC_7386 DSC_7390 DSC_7398 DSC_7399Along the trail, much to T’s simultaneous fascination and dismay, there were lots of HUGE spiders. The guide was explaining to us about one species that was as big as a man’s palm that the US Army uses its web to spin textiles from.

DSC_7407We saw lots of coati (similar to raccoons) at Iguazu National Park, and one of the more common animals that Guira Oga treats is the coatis that run out into the road and get hit. This guy was just hanging out and watching us.

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We saw several wild cats at Guira Oga. Since they’re normally so shy in nature, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them in the wild. There was a beautiful leopard, as well as a jagaurundi. The jaguarundi (which I can’t remember ever seeing before!) looks like a house cat on steroids. Low to the ground, gray in color, and not that much larger than a housecat, it ripples with obviously strong muscles.

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After we passed through the nursery area where they were hatching some owlets, we went into the reptile section. There, we saw an armadillo, some turtles, a yacare (crocodile), an iguana, and tortoises.

DSC_7428 DSC_7448 DSC_7451 DSC_7465 DSC_7472Also, Guira Oga had some large birds of prey outside. It’s one thing to see them flying in the sky–and an entirely different thing to realize how absolutely huge their wingspan is when they’re ten feet away!

DSC_7484 DSC_7481After checking out a wild pig and a much larger yacare…

DSC_7489 DSC_7491We saw the sanctuary’s herd of howler monkeys. Able to make a call that can be herd up to 5km away, the males have black fur while the females have brown fur. The guide told us that this group was being kept as pets in Buenos Aires… until the owners realized what a bad situation they had gotten themselves into!

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As usual, one of my favorite animals at the sanctuary was the carpincho, or capybara, as they are more commonly known in the States. Although this poor guy didn’t have a mate, he did have a ducky friend and was happily posing for us. I wish we had gotten a photo of him showing his teeth–they are not to be messed with!

DSC_7550 DSC_7547I highly recommend checking out Guira Oga if you’re in Iguazu Falls. It’s not a long trip–only about two hours from start to finish, but definitely worth your while to see lots of animals up close, and to contribute to a very worthy cause. These pictures don’t even include all of the animals on the tour–we just couldn’t get all the great shots we wanted.