Argentina: Iguazu Falls to Tierra del Fuego
Argentina really does make for massively varied travel destination. The world's 8th largest country has over 1 million square miles of expanse to explore, from the subtropical north to the mountainous and cold southern tip. My travels in began at the Brazil border with the famous Iguazu Falls. You are blown away by this watery wonderland, with the falls being the second largest on the planet by volume. You can easily spend the best part of a day wandering above and below the many cascading ribbons of water. You'll walk your feet off as you wind on through the rainforests but it is so worth it!
This view below is my all time favourite as you get to see for half a mile of falls in one giant arc across to San Martin Island which splits the River Iguazu in two. If you look in the centre you will see a ginormous cube shape rock protruding from the frothing river, which must have just given way from the Parana Plateau and has hung there ever since. The noise at the falls is deafening plus you get to see lizards, snakes and an array of bird life fluttering around the trees. I spent the night at nearby Puerto Iguazu town which is something of a ramshackle place, like some old pioneer town from the wild west, but does the job for visiting this top natural wonder.
I flew 2 hours south to Argentina's capital which is known as 'Paris of the South' with it's boulevards and buildings, not dissimilar to the French capital. The photo below shows the world's widest avenue which runs right through the centre of the city called Avenida 9 de Julio. This road has a total of 18 lanes running up it's one kilometre length. The date honours that of Argentina's independence from Spain back in 1816.
Following being 'wowed' by the massive Avenida 9 de Julio with it's patriotic obelisk monument I walked over to the hub of the city which is Plaza 25 de Mayo. This is the home of the Casa Rosada, which is the Presidential Palace. Even the day I went there, you can see from the flags that it was the scene of protest, on this occasion for the 30,000 or so 'disappeared'. These are people who vanished during the rule of the military junta in charge during the 1970s.
The central balcony of the Casa Rosada was much famed for where Eva Peron made her speeches to the people, as wife of the president Juan Peron, who presided twice from 1945 to 1955, plus 1973 to 74. Eva Peron died from cancer in 1952, aged 33. She was much loved as a defender of the poor, but some said she was just out for personal glory. Her story was made even more famous by the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical 'Evita', which was subsequently made into a film, Evita, featuring Madonna as the lead role. If you make it to Buenos Aires, I'd recommend you sample a bit of the national dance Tango, which is visible on the street in certain districts such as San Telmo and Boca. If you're feeling quite brave, then try to take in a football match with either of the two greatest clubs in the continent, Boca Juniors or River Plate. Better still, watch the two biggest Buenos Aires teams play each other, but be warned, it gets violent between the fans!
A three hour flight took me to the far south, (but not the very south) of Argentina at El Calafate. Many travellers I've met took the bus, but you're talking over 30 hours! The cost of a flight when I was there was incredibly cheap back in 2002, due to a collapse in the Peso, but now the Argentine economy has stabilised, this flight will cost you $150 to 200USD. The climate and terrain in this wondrous land is a world away from the flat lands of the Pampas up north. You are now in the ancient land of Patagonia, the land of which encompasses that of Southern Chile also.
The big draw for tourists to Southern Argentina are the immense mountains and glaciers around El Calafate. One glacier in particular gets all the glory which is the one in the photos, that of Glacier Perito Moreno. This massive glacier is over 19 miles in length and 3 miles wide, and is actually advancing rather than retreating. I definitely recommend you get a boat ride right up to the edge of the glacier, where you can literally feel the chill of the glacier, and if you're really lucky see a huge chunk of ice fall from the terminus into the lake. What makes Moreno Glacier even more famous is that occasionally the glacier dams a narrow neck of the lake (which you see in the photo). It means one part of the lake can fill up higher than the rest, then sometimes, the dam can burst, and cause a spectacular rush of water from one arm of the lake into the other.
A second worthwhile side adventure from the town of El Calafate is if you head north to El Chalten. This wild frontier village on the Chile border, gives you a head on view of the peak called Cerro Fitzroy, which you see in the above photo. There are many low level treks to be enjoyed in this area, but leave mountaineering to the experts, because as you can see from its severe steepness, Cerro Fitzroy is not to be messed with! The peak was named back in the 1870s after the captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy, who chartered masses of coastline around Patagonia. Indeed, the name Patagonia came from a much earlier explorer Magellan, who in the 1520s spotted native American people and called them 'Patagons'.
Following several chilly but rewarding days in the El Calafate region, I flew one hour south down to Ushuaia, which is the most southern city in the entire world. It is located at the southern coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego, 'Land of Fire'. The above photo is taken from a pier which juts out into the Beagle Channel. This town of 57,000 is the capital of the region and attracts plenty of tourists each year.
Just an hour's bus ride west of Ushuaia takes you into a scenic Parque National Tierra del Fuego. The above photo shows me at a most famous place, the southern most point of the Pan American highway, known as Ruta 3 in Argentina. It is literally the end of where a vehicle could possibly drive, and as the sign shows, its a mammoth 17000km from Alaska to the far north of the planet. In actual fact, it would be hard to drive the whole route properly as halfway along you would encounter the famous Darian Gap in Panama, which a wild rainforested region with no roads, and home to drug smuggling between North and South America.
The highlight of my trip to Ushuaia was taking a boat ride out for the day along the Beagle Channel. As you leave the harbour you see huge scientific ships which head off to Antarctica from here. It is only just over 600 miles from here to the world's southern most continent, across the violent sea known as Drake's Passage, named after England's Sir Francis Drake of course.
I was lucky enough to make the boat journey on a clear day and the Beagle Channel was lovely and calm. Along the sea, I saw albatrosses skimming the surface catching fish and on this island with the light house, was a colony of sea lions.
I really did feel like I'd arrived at the very end of the world, such was the remoteness of this incredible place. Indeed, the locals even call this place 'Fin del Mundo' - End of the World! The temperature here rarely gets above 10'c and in winter is regularly below 0'c. I highly recommend a visit to this unusual southern location, even if its just to brag you've been to the end of the world!
Thanks for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it and want to see more photos from South America then please click here. Next week I will be reviewing my travels from Chile, a massively varied country from south to north. Adios!