Our Anniversary Trip to Patagonia


Nov ’09. Albion River Inn, Mendocino, California.

Bride-bouquet-BW-5466Five years ago, Kristina and I got married at the Albion River Inn on the beautiful coast of Mendocino in Northern California. It was a very spontaneous wedding at a hotel booked five days in advance following a short notice given to a few friends. Obviously most of them couldn’t make it. It was Thanksgiving weekend, after all, what I was thinking? So there were only eight of us, the family members and a couple of friends.

This was an epic day of my life with tons of memories to cherish for years.

One regret is that Kristina’s mom and dad were far away. This is where I could have planned better. There are plenty of ways to get married. Run to Las Vegas, organize a Hawaiian getaway for a hundred guests two years in advance, pretend you’re Lord of the Ring in the Redwood forest, or buy/re-sell a $20M all-inclusive package.

None of these fits my style or financial standing. On that windy day in November 2009, my good friend Mateo, who is a pilot, rented a four-seater plane for us. We flew over the Californian coastline for an hour through the turbulent air, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge, hidden lakes and rivers, a hillside Buddhist temple in a massive forest, and the waves of the Pacific rolling over dramatic coastline.

That was an experience on its own, an unforgettable one.

Nov ’14. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Five years fast forward. We are enjoying our new life in Buenos Aires with our eleven-month-old Eva. She just started running around like she’s trying to make up for every minute spent in a stroller. We still hadn’t had a chance to visit Patagonia on the Argentinean side.

On this Thanksgiving afternoon, which marked our fifth anniversary, I said, why not go to Patagonia tomorrow? Next thing you know, we got our plane tickets, just minutes before Aerolineas Argentina’s office closed. I hadn’t bought paper airline tickets at an agency for well over a decade. However, a 40% discount on cash exchanged at the dolar blue rate would make a hefty difference one can’t ignore. South-America-Lago-ArgentinoOur flight was leaving from Buenos Aires for El Calafate at six o’clock the following morning.

Dressed for summer in Buenos Aires, with a backpack full of winter clothes, a suitcase full of Eva’s toys in one hand and Eva’s BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light in the other, and a pile of Argentine pesos in a pocket, we skip it through the priority line at the Aeroparque.

That was the most efficient check-in in my travel career. No more than 10-15 minutes from check-in counter to gate. Argentines love kids—so all doors are open in front of you, the traveler with a little baby in your arms.

Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino at estancia cristina Our three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate was eventless. As soon as we stepped down onto the ground, one thing became absolutely clear: This is a very different world from what we are used to. With less than three habitants per square mile living in the Santa Cruz province, the second biggest province of Argentina, it feels muy tranquilo! The vast abundant land, crowned by the snowy mountain peaks on the horizon, left me speechless for a few minutes. Argentino Lake in Patagonia

Another thing that will steal your attention is Lago Argentino, the biggest lake in the country. In particular, its glacier-infused water. No photo can do justice to how beautiful the color of the water is. Lago Argentino color The water color in Lago Argentino is related to the glacier flow. The lake receives most of the ice from the glacier and thus absorbs most of the “rock flour”—rocks ground to white powder by the ice scraping against the rock floor of the valley. Depending on the concentration, glacial flour turns the lake waters a gray-green hue, or milky turquoise. Absolutely amazing! Then you will notice a tip of an iceberg stuck somewhere on the opposite shore.

El Calafate

El Calafate is a small Patagonian town. Nothing is remarkable about its architectural heritage, but if you have a lake view from your room it makes a ton of difference. We ended up staying in La Cantera boutique hotel. Although we hoped for the last-minute deal, our discount actually came from paying cash in pesos. A room with a lake view, top-notch service, and the convenience of a ten-minute walk to city center made it the best deal in town.

Many hotels are located very far from the center, so you need a cab to get around. La Cantera runs a shuttle service from 8pm till midnight to pick up its guests from the bars and restaurants. Nice!

Know Your Accommodation Options

We didn’t choose the easy way to come to La Cantera. We first went to Koi Aiken hotel which is quite far (non-walkable) from the center.

The first room we were given didn’t have hot water at all, nada! The receptionist looked at Eva, then at the dry faucet, and made a remark: That’s the problem!

The second room we were moved to had broken window frames. Let me tell you, the Patagonian wind is not a joke. With overnight temperatures dropping nearly to the freezing point, you don’t want to be stuffing your blanket into these holes in the frame. The receptionist suggested we keep the curtain closed, so the wind wouldn’t blow Eva out of her crib. Another suggestion was to turn the radiator up all the way. We panicked imagining Eva accidentally touching this scalding hot piece of metal. The hotel keeper exclaimed again, That’s the problem!

We decided to give another room a try. All we needed was hot water and no wind howling over our bed. The third room had water running from the faucet but it wouldn’t get warm enough. The hotelier promised again and again: It will get hot, just let it run. No luck! After five or seven minutes we lost hope and she admitted again, That’s the problem!

We called a cab to get away. On the way back in town I was thinking whether or not the tripadvisor rank of 55 out of 77 in El Calafate was fair for that hotel.

So check your accommodation options carefully!


Estancia Cristina on Lago Argentino Estancia is a word for many refuges built over time by Patagonian pioneers. They came down here from different parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century and gave this land a breath of new life.

Nowadays the Estancias are protected identities of the Patagonian landscape, and are still around, serving different functions. We were planning to visit two estancias.

Estancia Nibepe Aike

Estancia Nibepe Aike Patagonia Estancia Nibepo Aike is named after its Croatian founder’s three daughters—Nini, Bebe, Porota—and the Tehuelche word Aike meaning “place.” Estancia Nibepo Aike presents visitors and guests with imposing view of Lago Argentino combined with the activities of an active sheep- and cattle-breeding establishment.

Estancia Cristina

At Estancia Cristina Estancia Cristina was founded in 1914 by an English couple, Mr and Mrs Masters. They lived in tents pitched by the lake during their first year. Their new home was named in honor of their little daughter Cristina, who didn’t survive pneumonia.

The Estancia stretches over 22 hectares of land surrounded by glaciers, snow peaks, and lakes of great natural beauty. Even up to today, there is no viable way to get to Estancia Cristina besides sailing on a boat to the most northern point of the Lago Argentino. Mr Masters had to buy and rebuild a steamboat to bring all his family and his cattle to this remote location. At some point the herd grew to also include 27,000 sheep, 30 cows and some 50 horses.

Due to our limited time in Patagonia, we decided to stay at Estancia Cristina only.

Random Recommendation from the Past

Almost a year ago, I randomly met a couple from New York wandering around Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires. They had just got back from Patagonia. We started talking about traveling Argentina and Alexander, the guy, mentioned that they had the best time at Estancia Cristina. I took a note of his recommendation and had it in mind to experience it for ourselves.

It’s totally worth talking with strangers. I get solid proof of this now and then. You never know how it will shape your future life.

Getting to Estancia Cristina

Boat to Estancia Cristina

It takes a few hours to get from El Calafate to Estancia Cristina. Forty minutes on the Estancia’s shuttle to Puerto Bandera, then a couple of hours on a boat. Once arrived, we were astounded by its incredible beauty. There are many things to explore around the Estancia. Plenty of lakes, waterfalls, the lake shore—there is no shortage of things to do here. Estancia Cristina We spent two incredible days at Estancia Cristina exploring its natural beauty and eating well. Their regional cuisine, featuring slowly roasted Patagonian lamb and other local produce, is to die for.  The staff was also incredibly friendly and attentive. The place itself, despite strong winds howling non-stop, is so peaceful and relaxing.

It inspired me to put a 24-hour moratorium on checking my emails.

We also saw some horses running around. They seemed to be wild. My understanding is that they belong to the Estancia and are used for horseback riding excursions. We tried to sign up for one of these tours but with eleven-month-old Eva that wasn’t a good idea 🙂

Discovery Tour to Upsala Glacier

Upsala-Glacier-Pano-1016 Estancia Cristina also offers a Discovery adventure to Upsala glacier, and trekking activities. We signed up for the Discovery tour. You ride on a 4×4 truck up the mountain road through the rocks and ancient forest. The truck ride is a very exciting part of the tour. You will see many lakes, meadows and spectacular mountain peaks.

After a while, the road ends, and you walk a little further to the vista point. The view of the glacier, the channel, the colors of the rainbow above it and snow peaks are splendid.

From the top, Upsala Glacier looks amazingly peaceful. Be prepared to be blown off the cliff if you don’t pay good attention to the wind gusts.

Upsala Glacier by Boat

Upsala Glacier is one of the biggest glaciers of the Patagonian Icefield. It recedes very quickly though. Ten kilometers (six miles) of its body length have been lost in the last twenty years.

All orphan icebergs floating in Lago Argentino were once a part of Upsala Glacier before chipping off and running away from home. Estancia Cristina offers a chance to see the icebergs from a boat. On a clear day the colors will amaze you!

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito-Moreno-Glacier-Pano-1396 Perito Moreno Glacier is what most of the people come for in El Calafate. The glacier is unique because it is one of the three glaciers in Patagonian Icefield that is stable. This means that over time it doesn’t reduce in size. However, the ice is being pushed out from the glacier and collapses in a spectacular way.

The glacier can be observed from many platforms or from the boat. It’s one of the most amazing natural wonders I’ve ever seen. The light reflecting in massive chunks of ice, sticking up to 200 feet above the surface, is something that will stick in my memory for a long time. The glowing blue color of the ice is mesmerizing.

This is the most popular attraction in El Calafate area, a.k.a. a tourist trap. Being on a boat with a couple hundred people who ran simultaneously from one side to another while taking selfies was not necessarily the experience we were looking for. If I had to choose the same tour again I would totally skip the boat part. Or perhaps select a smaller boat tour.

We found it’s much more interesting to gaze at the glacier from land. There are several balconies that allow you to observe the entire glacier from different angles and elevations. The most exciting part was seeing small ice ruptures, when a chunk of glacier chips off the wall and collapses, with cheerful excitement from the crowd.

Here are ten interesting facts about Perito Moreno Glacier.

1. Perito Moreno Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz province of Argentina. The province is part of the Argentine Patagonia.

2. The glacier is an ice formation that measures 250square kilometers (97 square miles). The Glacier is 30 kilometer (19 Miles) long.

3. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the 48 glaciers in Patagonian Ice Field. It is an extension of the Andean Ice that is shared with Chile. The Glacier is the third largest reserve of Fresh water in the world.

4. The Los Glaciares National Park, of which Perito Moreno Glacier is part of, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981 by UNESCO

5. Due to its accessibility and beauty, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the biggest tourist magnets to the Patagonia region. The glacier is barely two hours away from El Calafate by bus.

6. The Glacier is surrounded by scenic ice-capped mountains and forests such as lengas and ñires.

7. Rapture – Pressures from the weight of the ice slowly pushes the glacier over the southern tip of Lake Argentina damming the section and separating it from the rest of the lake. With no outlet, the water-level on the dammed side of the lake can rise by as much as 30 meters above the level of the main body of Lake Argentina. This eventually causes rapture and the huge block of ice tumbles down on the lake. It is one of the most beautiful sights to see.

8. The glacier extends to the Chilean fjords and in the east to the Argentine lakes.

9. There are two types of trekking available to tourists on the glacier. The first one is the mini-trekking option that takes about an hour and a half and the other is the big ice option that takes about 5 hours. It is up to you to choose how long you want to remain outdoors on ice.

10. The raptures on the Lake Argentina come in 4-5 years intervals. The last to occur happened on March 2, 2012.

We didn’t have much more time left to explore other areas of Lago Argentino.

Is there anything else equally exciting that we should see on our next visit?

Please share in the comments section.

Iguazu Falls: Absolutely Must See Once in Your Life


 The Power and the Beauty of Iguazu Falls

Devil Throat of Iguazu Falls from Argentinean sideIn our digital age we’re surrounded by opinions, in list form, of the 10 or 100 or 1000 things to see before you die. I think life expectancy must be on the rise the way people keep adding stuff to their To Do lists. It’s always too soon to die, the list is always growing. But it is also very subjective. A wonder for you could be a “whatever” for others.

Iguazu Falls, though, on the border of Brazil and Argentina, are among the rare natural wonders that inevitably make it onto the top of everyone’s list. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984 started to draw more attention to its beauty, as well as to its ongoing preservation struggle.

I’d heard about this place many times, but didn’t realize how magnificent it actually is.

Iguazu Falls on Brazilian side

Visiting it, at last, happened to be one of the most humbling and exciting experiences of my life. The falls are 1.7 miles long, divided into many different waterfalls by tiny islands and islets dotting the Iguazu River at the edge of the plunge. These falls range from 197 to 269 feet high.

Lush green islands in Iguazu Falls

The Falls’ maximum recorded flow is 45,700 cubic meters per second. To put things in perspective, 45,700 cubic meters is about how much water would be used if every single household in the state of Texas flushed their toilets at the very same moment. That’s how much water was going over the falls every second. That’s a lot of water if you ask me!

To sense how powerful it is, one needs to get very close to the Devil’s Throat, the most dramatic semi-circular water drop at Iguazu Falls.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady, once visited Iguazu Falls. When she first laid eyes on the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!”

Poor Niagara indeed!

Where Iguazu Falls Are Located

Iguazu Falls the Triple Frontier region

Near the Falls there are three major cities, in three different countries separated by the Iguazu River. They form a triangle known as the Triple Frontier:

  • Puerto Iguazu, a frontier city in the province of Misiones, Argentina
  • Foz do Iguaçu, a city in Paraná, Brazil, that is three times bigger than its Argentinean neighbor
  • Ciudad del Este, the second largest city in Paraguay

Two of these countries can claim part of the waterfall as their own: Brazil and Argentina.

Keep in mind that 80% of all the waterfalls are on the Argentinean side, while 20% are in Brazil. Each perspective is unique, but you definitely have more options approaching your target from Argentina. When visiting, ideally plan on spending one day exploring the Argentinean side and keep a few hours reserved for Brazil on the following day.

As we prepared for our trip, we read a number of online comments about armies of mosquitoes and bugs attacking visitors on the Brazilian side, so we decided to skip it completely. Dengue fever is a real thing in this part of the world, so we were little uneasy about it.

You can also take a boat tour of the Falls from either side, if you feel like you didn’t get wet enough exploring on your own.

Furthermore, you can actually book a place on an exciting helicopter ride, in order to view the Falls from on high. The chopper departs from the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu.

If you want to see the entire Iguazu Falls, both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side, you’ll enjoy your experience much more if you set aside at least two days to soak in all the beauty, and to enjoy all that Iguazu Falls has to offer you as a tourist, guest, or visitor to the area.

Getting to Iguazu Falls

While a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls may take up to 20 hours, travel by air is quite easy. A flight from Rio De Janeiro or Buenos Aires will get you to Iguazu Falls in less than two hours. The airport on the Argentinean side (IGR) is just 6 miles (10 km) away from the waterfalls, and 13 miles (20 km) from the city of Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. A cab ride will cost you a bit more than in Buenos Aires. For a ride from the airport to Iguazu National Park, we paid 220 Argentine pesos, approximately $20 USD at the dollar blue exchange rate—what you might call the “peer-to-peer” rate 😉

Because we were traveling with a five-month-old baby, we decided to stay at Sheraton Iguazu Hotel, right there in the National Park in front of the waterfalls. Eva seemed to love the rain forest and the sound of waterfalls.

Standing at Sheraton hotel Iguazu in front of the falls

More economical accomodations are available in the city, but these entail a 20-30 minute ride to the Iguazu National Park, where the waterfalls are located. Entry to the Iguazu National park will cost foreign citizens 215 Argentine pesos per person, so a bit less than $20 USD at the “dollar blue” exchange rate as of time of writing. So budget this in, as there is no way around this expense if you want to see the waterfalls.

What to See at Iguazu Falls

Excitement on the train riding to the Devil's Throat at Iguazu Falls

Once you are in the National Park, you can take a free open-air train to Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). Keep your hands and feet clear from the coatis. These guys feel home at any train station, and may leave you with a nasty bite:

After a seven-minute train ride, you disembark at the top side of the river and have to walk for 1100 meters (0.7 miles) towards the vista point. It’s a nice twelve-or-fifteen-minute walk over ramps erected above Iguazu river.

Ramps at Iguazu Falls


At the end of the walk, you will see something absolutely amazing: The Devil’s Throat. It’s hard to capture the power of this place, one needs to experience it.

Just watch the 30-second video below (make sure your speakers are turned down).  This is what I call a dramatic drop:

Besides the Devil’s Throat platform, there are a couple of trails leading to the other parts of Iguazu Falls. You may take the Upper Trail to see waterfalls from the above. Eva was happily asleep when we discovered the Adam and Eva waterfalls. We learned that the white noise of the waterfalls works very, very well at putting Eva to sleep.


The Lower Trail will get you as close as possible to the waterfalls from below. Although most people call the spray emanating from the Falls a “mist,” prepare yourself for shower-quality refreshment. It’s so close, you’ll get wet before you snap your first photo:

Did I mention that the rain forest around looks like a film set for Indiana Jones? Oh yeah, because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was shot there…

You will also see all kind of species, from toucans to eagles and beyond. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Harpy Eagle at Iguazu Falls


Whatever you end up doing at Iguazu Falls, it is a very exciting and refreshing experience!

Can you recommend any sights comparable to Iguazu Falls (besides Victoria Falls obviously)?

A Dozen Of Reasons Why You Never Want to Visit Buenos Aires or Never Leave It Again


Buenos Aires is one of those cities I could never visit, let alone stay in for months, until I figured out how to deal with all the stress it causes me!

Port Of Entry Buenos Aires


Many people say Buenos Aires is a great place to visit, but let me explain why you shouldn’t believe me. If you absolutely insist upon going to Buenos Aires, at least read this post so you’ll know what to expect.

Here are a few reasons that should stop you from going to Buenos Aires. Dare to prove me wrong.

1. Open-Hearted People Who Make You Feel at Home

Let’s face it, even the customs officer in Argentina will welcome you with a big smile. Then he will laugh with you when you show horns behind your wife’s head while he struggles to take a photo of her. Would you trust a customs officer that laughs with you?

Taking a photo at the customs

So here comes Argentina…

Whether it’s because of their screwed up political/economical situation or because of some historical reason, Argentines are very welcoming and caring towards other human beings. It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

In the culture I grew up in, people were hammered with all sorts of problems. One social disaster after another, bullshit propaganda, corrupt police, political instability, hyperinflation, food coupons that give you the right to buy milk in a supermarket, I’ve seen it all.  Needless to say, in such a toxic environment, at some point even vodka stops improving social interactions and overall positivity.

In this sense, I don’t get Argentina. People here are open-minded, good-hearted and genuinely nice.

Kristina came pregnant to Argentina. Her appearance, at a supermarket, or on public transportation, or just on the street, stalled all other activities in their tracks. Everyone would give her the right of way and a first-class treatment. People would literally grab her hand at the end of a line in supermarket and walk her towards the cashier, cutting everybody off. She didn’t have any issues during her pregnancy and none of this extra attention was strictly necessary. Still in all, she was happy to get that much help from complete strangers.

San Martin Park Mendoza, argentina


When Eva was born, the neighbors in our building brought a bunch of gifts for her. We even didn’t know these people. Our landlady keeps bringing gifts for Eva: blankets, clothes, and most recently this white sweater which she knitted. She said it was getting cold and Eva needed some warm clothes:

Knitted sweater for our daughter


One might think: ok, Argentines just like pregnant women and kids. That’s right, they do, but it’s not only that.

We celebrated the arrival of 2014 in a quite unusual way.

The first reason for this is that Eva had been born just a week before.

Secondly, we had no electricity for 36 hours over the holiday. Our neighbor, who we didn’t know at the time, knocked on our door and offered to store all of our perishable food in his fridge. For whatever reason, he still had electricity. (Another reason to stay away from Argentina is because of its inequality:))

We had bought a bunch of organic products that morning, just before the outage, so the neighbor’s offer was accepted with a big smile.

New Year 2014 with candles and no power


After our candle-lit New Year’s celebration, another neighbor approached us, saying, “Hey, I bought this extra-long power cord. The next time electricity cuts off, you can use my fridge too.” We were happy to take him up on his offer the next time our power went down, a week later.

I could continue forever with stories like this.

There’s the cab driver who gave us his cell number and invited us to his country house for an authentic argentine asado (an Argentine-style BBQ) with his family. He only knew us because we happened to be in his car on the way to the airport!

Or, the time the Immigration Office required us to submit a letter in Spanish. It would have taken us hours to write something up and we were short on time. We asked a clerk at the counter for help and she spent fifteen minutes of her life writing it up for us.

Why would you ever want to visit a place where people treat you like you’re at home? It could get ridiculous, so that you’d never want to leave, right? It could be a life-wrecking experience, don’t ever do this.

2. Steaks that Will Ruin Your Palate Forever

Dear vegans, vegetarians and raw food lovers. I am sorry to have to bring this up, but there’s something nasty that needs to be said.  One simply can’t ignore how harmfully tasty Argentinean meat is. I might consider starting a vegetarian diet if I had to eat meat anywhere else in the world again.

Argentine have a love affair with their meat. It seems as if they eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Though they’re among the cheapest options on the average menu in Buenos Aires, the steaks here are the best in the world. A dinner for two will cost you anywhere between $15 and $40, tips included.

Steak at La Cabrera restaurant in Palermo Soho

La Cabrera restaurant runs a 40% off happy hour special on weekdays from 7pm to 8pm sharp. A small or medium portion of steak will keep you running till the next evening! The service is exceptional, courtesy of old-school waiters who know tons about the business.

After Argentinean steaks, your favorite steakhouse back home will look like an enormous rip-off! Now you see why it’s a good idea to eat locally instead of flying across the world for Argentinean steak.


3. So Business-Unfriendly!

Buenos Aires is very business-unfriendly. That is, it’s new business-unfriendly. Meaning, I don’t know how one would go about opening a shop next to ten other established shops of the highest quality, and trying to win their business.  It’s so much easier to enjoy establishments already built by others, than to work your butt off building something on your own.

Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires reminds me of the West Village of Manhattan or Williamsburg, Brooklyn—on steroids. Every other door here is a business. Cafes, restos, design and furniture shops, hardware stores, kids’ stores, barbershops, pharmacies, convenience stores (kioskos), and more. This barrio (that is, neighborhood) has it all. We really don’t need to walk more than three to five blocks to run any errand.

Back in 2010, during the big recession, I got pretty sad watching how small shops in the West Village shut down and were replaced by chains. Despite all their economic difficulties, though, business owners in Buenos Aires keep their spirits up and welcome you with a smile, day in and day out. Oh, and they give you discounts for paying in cash, and punish you with higher prices for paying with a credit card. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, but one that Visa, MC and AMEX won’t like.

Here’s a few neighborhood finds that will keep you distracted from all the work you need to get done:

On Saturdays, you may run into a Cannoli De Palermo pastry bike, parked on the sidewalk of Thames at Nicaragua Street. Here you can buy the most delicious cannoli and cream puffs, for less than a dollar.

Cannoli de Palermo bike full of pastries


The barista at LATTEnTE cafe, in front of the Cannoli bike, makes the best coffee in Argentina. This is where I typically start my morning and check my emails.

On that same corner, you’ll find a unique place, a mix of bookstore, cafe, photo gallery and concert venue. DAIN Usina Cultural is proof that art can attract good business and business can attract great art.

La Dupla at Usina Cultural


Victoria Brown coffee & bar is a great spot with awesome interior design.

Mirror on the wall at Victoria Brown coffee shop


Street fairs and produce markets are very common here. People just hit the street to sell what they’ve made with their hands (all Argentines are potential Etsy clients), or grown in their gardens. This builds a great sense of community and has the potential to become a great tourist attraction as well, like the San Telmo street fair.


On the other hand, why would you buy anything that is not USDA approved or Monsanto recommended? People are safer in a sterile environment of packaged goods, and the bread chews better with yoga mat resin in it. Why start looking for a change?

4. All These Rounded Corners!

All of the world’s celebrated cities have some personality quirks that differentiate them from the rest. I will remember Buenos Aires for its rounded street corners, which provide more space for pedestrians. I haven’t seen such a consistent trend anywhere else in the world.

Here’s how it looks from above, with green lines indicating building footprints:

Street map Gurruchaga and Honduras in Buenos Aires


Here are some examples of how this looks at street level:



Until I came to Buenos Aires, I didn’t realize that I was afraid of 90-degree corners. I am. I usually walk very fast, so every time I turn the corner, it’s a challenge not to run into someone coming the opposite direction. This fear was sitting so deep inside me. Buenos Aires fixed it for good.

Putting in rounded street corners is the most people-friendly thing Argentines have ever done.

First, you can see around the corner better. Your chances of accidentally hitting someone drop to zero.

Second, this type of street plan makes every intersection into a miniature plaza, with extra space for people to enjoy the neighborhood: to stop, look around, have a cup of coffee or watch street performers.



One funny thing is how some newer buildings still follow this tradition by rounding only the ground floor, with the corner forming a sharp right angle starting on the second floor and continuing upwards.


5. Handcrafts and Street Art

If graffiti makes you angry, Buenos Aires is a perfect place to feed your rage.

Tags on the walls of Palermo Soho

Most of the time, though, calling it graffiti would be too ambitious. Ugly tags are all over buildings in this city. It’s sad. Some very nice buildings have been literally trashed by these notorious artists. It’s an epidemic here.

However, some of the graffiti and street murals are quite impressive. Small businesses often invite artists to paint awesome murals onto their walls. Kudos to these guys!

6. Cab Drivers

Cabbies in Buenos Aires are their own separate topic, but deserve mention here nevertheless. Nowhere else in the world will a cab driver give you the whole history of every neighborhood you drive through, complete with textbook facts and juicy gossip. A typical cabbie will have the best advice about free cultural events in town, show off his incredible knowledge of architecture and art, and then tell you about his experiences living in Italy, Germany and Spain.

Isn’t it quite intimidating to admit that a cab driver possesses so much knowledge that it’s hard to keep up? Why would you put yourself in such a position?

Cab crossing Thames street in Palermo Soho


Plus, they are very nice, and don’t mumble on the phone with their imaginative friends all the time. At the end of a ride, you may receive a book in Spanish as a gift. Every time you take a cab in Buenos Aires, be sure you’re ready for some exciting experience.

Are you sure you want that?

7. Football Hooligans


A football game in La Boca barrio


It’s unnecessary to remind anyone that Argentines are crazy about their national sport. It’s called football. Yes, the same word spoken everywhere in the world. In Argentina whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s not appropriate to say you don’t like football. The thing is, you do like football, you just may not know it yet. And anyway, the people have their passion and it’s best not to incite their wrath.

Sometimes this passion escalates into nasty fights between hooligans of the biggest rival clubs in Argentine football, Boca Juniors and River Plate. You definitely don’t want to get involved in that.

On the other hand, the experience of attending a football match is one of a kind. Fans never stop chanting, dancing, throwing confetti and cheering their team. It’s such a cataclysm of energy that River Plate and Boca Junior fans are no longer allowed in each other’s stadium. The arena turns into a battlefield.

The image below could be easily tagged as a drone view of the battle of Waterloo. You got the point!

River plate stadium on fire


8-12. Tango, Parties, Culture, Being Green and Beautiful

There are plenty of other -1’s that make Buenos Aires such an unattractive place to visit.

You want to learn tango in three days, say, but you don’t want to dance it till 8am. But you will, if you start at midnight. Buenos Aires will make you do things you’ve done when you were 18.

Performer's booth in San Telmo


You won’t be able to sleep on Saturday night, as everyone is up till the following morning, even kids.

Back home we always hear about making cities green, but there is always a but. The lack of public funds makes everything so difficult. While corruption in Argentina isn’t necessarily under control, the city of Buenos Aires doesn’t seem to have any problems with the upkeep of its parks, zoo or botanical gardens. The garbage men come a couple of times each night.

Walking around I can’t get rid of the feeling that Buenos Aires is the city made by people for its people.

Tree lined street at the heart of Palermo Soho


I’ve seen some of the world’s best art installations and theater performances here in Buenos Aires. Listings for dozens of the first-class cultural events are published by the city in Agenda Cultural de Buenos Aires. 90% of them are free for public!

You will be torn apart trying to decide where to go and what to see first.

Liliana Porter installation in La MALBA

Liliana Porter installation in MALBA museum


Then you realize that you need to care your camera anywhere you go in Buenos Aires. With all its authentic colors and signs of its age the city is remarkably photogenic (Paris, be jealous!).


P.S. Now It’s for Real!

Are you still interested in visiting Buenos Aires? Here’s my last attempt to discourage you. Dog poop is everywhere here. You will most definitely step in it, especially if you get new shoes.

Parisians , no more complains from you, ok?




To sum things up, the best way to visit Buenos Aires is to be prepared to not want to leave. You just might end up like this, hiding from the rest of the world in a century-old apartment in the heart of the one of the most beautiful city exists today. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.


Palermo Soho apartment building



Would you still come to Buenos Aires?

An epic day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay


Restaurant at the plaza Colonia Del Sacramento Uruguay Whether you come for a day, a week, a month, or a year, there are always plenty of things to do in Buenos Aires. Always.

With its museums, theaters, operas, parks, festivals, street performers dancing the tango, wildly diverse architecture, cafés serving amazing postres (desserts) and restos serving world-class steaks, Buenos Aires will fill in your calendar 100%. Still, there are reasons you might desire a complete change of scenery.

In fact, there are at least two major reasons, each with the same simple solution. Just hop on a ferry for the one-hour ride across Río De La Plata, to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.

Ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Colonia Del Sacramento across Rio De La Plata


The first reason to visit Colonia is that you have a desire to escape the big city.

The second reason to visit Colonia is that you’ve been following the dollar blue saga and need to fulfill your urge for financial stability.

These reasons are not mutually exclusive. Either way, you’ll end up here:

El Torreon tower restaurant in Colonia Uruguay

Feel free to jump right into the section that best applies to your situation.

Reason #1: Buenos Aires we love you but it’s time to get away to a medieval town

After the adrenalin rush of crazy cab rides and the noisy excitement of Palermo Soho’s dining scene, you might require a day or two of complete relaxation. Colonia del Sacramento, on the Uruguayan side of Río de la Plata, is the perfect place to catch your breath. You won’t regret it!

Boats at the dock in Colonia del Sacramento harbor

Getting to Colonia del Sacramento

First things firsts: you will need to buy tickets—preferably in advance, to avoid surprises later.

There are two types of boats making the crossing. The express (rapido) makes the journey from Buenos Aires to Colonia in approximately one hour, while the slow boat takes three hours.

Most people seem to mention the Buquebus ferry service first, but it’s also the most expensive option. There are two more companies operating on the same route:

For reasons unknown to me, Buquebus charges $140 USD for a round-trip ticket, while Seacat and Colonia Express offer the same for $90 USD. Strange, huh?

[UPDATE Oct 09, 2014:

Over time I travelled with all three operators. Here’s the scoop. Seacat was acquired by Buquebus but still operates under the same name. I think it’s the best deal, because they have the same big powerful boat but charge less for tickets. Colonia Express is the cheapest way to travel. Of course there are a couple of drawbacks associated with that:

  • Colonia Express terminal is located a bit farther and hard to get to without a cab;
  • Because Colonia Express’ boats are smaller people prompt to motion sickness might be more sensitive to the water conditions]

If you purchase your tickets at the Buquebus terminal, there are a few steps to follow:

  1. Reserve your seats at the Ticket Sale stand. Your passport is required.
  2. Pay the cashier (caja). To my absolute astonishment, I learned that a non-resident does not have the option of paying in cash with Argentinean pesos. I had to pay in US dollars using my credit card, while the bill of sale had the total amount written in pesos. I wouldn’t complain as much if the (official) credit card exchange rate was the same as the dollar blue rate for pesos (see the section for Reason #2 for more on exchange rates).
  3. The rep recommends you show up about 45 minutes prior to arrival for check-in. Don’t forget your passport and reciprocity fee receipt, as the customs officer will request them when it’s time to come back to Argentina.

Buquebus terminal layout: Registration, Payment, Check-in

Do I need Uruguayan pesos?

Many businesses in Colonia accept multiple currencies for cash purchases. Credit cards are widely accepted as well. Unless you plan on purchasing something valuable, such as a gift, you may not need to change your money for Uruguayan pesos. During my visit, restaurants and cafés were accepting US dollars at an exchange rate of $U22 to $1 USD, while the official exchange rate was $U22.90 to the dollar. Not too bad, especially considering that I spent only what I needed, without the hassle of estimating the right amount of currency to exchange.

Many places accept credit cards too. It was funny to see a blunt VISA advertisement pinned to many doorways around town:

Visa es #1 del mundo

If you decide to get withdraw Uruguayan pesos from an ATM, or caja de cambio, check the Reason #2 section. All the banks are on the town’s main street. When you arrive in Colonia, take Rivera Street from the ferry terminal and turn left onto Avenida Gral Flores (it’s a three-block walk). Banks in Colonia charge $6 USD per withdrawal and have a $300 limit—all except one. (To learn which one, read Reason #2.)

The old town of Colonia

River front in the old town of Colonia

Colonia del Sacramento’s Barrio Histórico (historic quarter) is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Founded in 1680 by Portugal as Colónia do Sacramento, the colony switched hands repeatedly over the next century and a half, between the Spanish—who settled on the opposite bank of the river at Buenos Aires—and later the Brazilians, until Colonia finally became a part of the independent Oriental Republic of Uruguay in 1828.

Once you arrive in Colonia and step out from the ferry terminal, take a sharp left onto the street that runs along the river bank. Well, it’s hard to call it a river, exactly, because the Río de la Plata estuary is so large, you can’t even see Buenos Aires on the opposite side. There are also a bunch of islands nearby, as if scattered in open sea.

Continue towards the lighthouse. In three to five minutes you will reach the Colonia’s old town, and see what all the hype is all about.

Colonia Lighthouse and the ancient wall


Stroll through the small, cobbled streets. It’s magnificent.

You will stumble upon small hidden plazas, little parks, churches, cute restaurants and historic houses. Take your time exploring this beautiful little neighborhood.

Cobble stone street and artist's studio


Where to eat

Restaurants can be found on every corner here. Some of them have a dray parked outside…

Outdoor restaurant sitting with a dray in Colonia

… and some park a shiny retro limo, to boost their sales and give a competitive advantage. Once, in a marketing class, I heard that red and orange are the best converting colors for a Call to Action button:

Shinning retro car by the restaurant in Colonia

Some restaurants are pretty formal, with fine decor in the best traditions of the early 20th century…

Inside restaurant formal decor Colonia

… while some boast truly authentic local influences and honors from TripAdvisor’s Best of [this corner of the world] awards:

Authentic Uruguayan restaurant  in the Old Town of Colonia Del Sacramento

Along with Uruguayan pesos, some of those restaurants accept Argentine pesos (yes, that’s right!) as well as US dollars. You may want to ask a waiter what their exchange rate is before placing your order.

The old town is very tiny, so it won’t take a long time to decide you’ve seen it all. Still, it’s an adventure. As I was walking around, I found a cultural center, where a group of kids were playing music on flutes. The doors were open, so I ventured in.

There was art installed in the backyard:

Art installation in the cultural center of Colonia Del Sacramento


The art was sharing the lawn with ruins, presumably from the Portuguese. The cultural center’s backyard was a perfect little spot for locals and tourists alike to relax, have a sandwich, and enjoy the late afternoon sun:

Ruins of the old wall Colonia del Sacramento

 What’s up with these retro cars?

The locals at Colonia seem to be obsessed with retro cars. You can see them everywhere. Whether it’s rusting on a side of the street, serving as a giant plant pot, or inviting customers into a restaurant, every car has its purpose.

Retro cars lined up by the restaurants at Colonia Uruguay


Here’s another one, with plants shooting through the roof:

Retro car with plant pots  on the street of Colonia

Many of them still seem ready to drive off at any moment:

Red retro car on streets of Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay


As the sun goes down, take a walk by the river and enjoy the beautiful late-afternoon light falling on the town:

Cobblestone street in Colonia just before the sunset


Reason #2: The ATMs spit out US Dollars here!

[Update: On December 16, 2015 newly elected president Mauricio Macri announced that he would lift el cepo (the currency control policy) immediately. It ended the ridiculous policy prohibiting free foreign exchange within the country. As a result most of the information below became irrelevant. ATMs now dispose cash at the exchange rate that is very close to the market (dolar blue) rate. No need to travel to Uruguay to get $USD cash]

Despite all cultural reasons to visit Colonia del Sacramento, many folks on the ferryhave a very pragmatic goal in mind. The land on this side of the River Plate seems to be greener!

The greener side of the river plate


The Argentinean government regulates the amount of US dollars available for withdrawal in Argentina. The circulation of US dollars is suppressed and basically is prohibited.  Without having a specific need for foreign currency, such as an upcoming trip abroad, locals can’t buy US dollars at all. This is a “preventative” measure of the struggling government, designed to keep inflation under control (or below the threshold for hyperinflation). Despite these measures, private-sector economists evaluate Argentina’s inflation in 2013 at around 28%. Investing all available pesos into more stable currency seems to be the only way for Argentines to protect their savings.

Many Argentines rely on a supply of US dollars from neighbor countries, such as Chile or Uruguay. These bills are then exchanged on the black market at a “dollar blue” rate, which is significantly higher than the one set by the Central Bank.

To wit, as of right of now the “dollar blue” rate is 10.75 Argentine pesos to one US dollar, while the official bank rate is 8 pesos to the dollar. The situation was much more intense during the summer, when the “dollar blue” rate soared to 13 and the official rate was still bouncing under 7.

Check the historical chart of the dollar blue rate vs official bank rate for the last 3 years. It’s pretty self-explanatory how disillusioned the  government is with its attempts to keep Argentines away from the foreign currency.

Dollar blue rate vs official rate for Argentine Peso 2011 -2013

I tried browsing some expat forums about topics related to the US dollar exchange in neighboring countries. No one seems to understand or be willing to share very much about getting dollars in Uruguay.  So here’s the scoop.

Three blocks away from the ferry terminal in Colonia, turn left onto the main street, Avenida Gral Flores. As you turn left onto it and start walking towards the waterfront, you will find four or five different banks from which you can withdraw US dollars in cash.

Although it’s possible to withdraw $300 USD at a time, plus a $6 USD fee, these banks are not the ideal. I discovered that Chase actually deducts an additional $5 USD on top of the fee collected by the Uruguayan bank. No matter how much you love banks, an $11 USD fee on a $300 USD withdrawal sounds a bit excessive.

There is a better banking choice in Colonia del Sacramento, though. Keep walking towards the waterfront. Two blocks away from the river, on the right side of the street, you will see the door of the Banca Ejecutiva Inversiones. Behind this door and upstairs, there is an ATM that disposes large amounts of dollars, and charges a fee of $5 USD per transaction.

[UPDATE Oct 09, 2014:

The first time I tried using this ATM I was able to withdraw more than a thousand USD in one transaction. It was in the middle of the week. Then a week later I tried to withdraw the same amount over the weekend and they wouldn’t dispose more than $300 USD at a time. I suspect there is a limitation  on a single transaction set by bank Banca Ejecutiva Inversiones during weekends when crowds come to empty out cash reserves.]

Banca Ejecutiva in Colonia del Sacramento

This door makes Colonia del Sacramento a very green city….

TRee lined street of Colonia

Whatever brought you to Colonia del Sacramento, just don’t forget to take some sunset photos—and don’t miss your boat back home.

People are shooting sunset photos at Colonia del Sacramento


Safe travels and enjoy!

P.S. Can you tell us about any other reasons to visit Colonia el Sacramento? If so, comment below.