Breathtaking, Colorful, Delicious: Jennifer’s Trip to Argentina & Chile

Posted November 24th, 2014 by Mel Reger

By Travel Beyond consultant Jennifer Gillmore

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Jennifer Gillmore

Argentina

My trip began with one night in Buenos Aires, which isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy all this city has to offer. Home to thirteen million inhabitants, Buenos Aires has a notable European influence (especially Italian), which is reflected in its lovely architecture, history and culture. There truly is something for everyone here. While in Buenos Aires, I joined the Argentine Experience, which was an evening event focused on the food, wine and culture of the country in a fun setting with other travelers.

A 2-hour flight from Buenos Aires took me to Salta, located in the north of Argentina near the border of Bolivia. This area retains a largely Andean culture with its colorful textiles and adobe structures, and offers an experience quite different from the rest of the country. Outside the city you can find red rock canyons and fascinating geology, high altitude desert, active adventure, and some of the country’s highest vineyards. A stay of a few nights allows access to some of the region’s highlights including Los Cardones National Park with its massive wooden cacti, the winery town of Cafayate, the salt flats of Salinas Grandes, and llama trekking in Tilcara. From here it is also possible to access by road Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

From Salta I traveled by plane to Mendoza, Argentina (via Buenos Aires), where I met up with Travel Beyond’s Owner and CEO, Craig Beal, for a few days of exploration together. Mendoza is known for its superb wine, and the Cavas Wine Lodge was a fabulous base from which to access the vineyards closer to the city in the Lujan de Cuyo region. This small hotel is comprised of adobe-style casitas on 55 acres of vineyards, complete with fireplaces, private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and rooftop terraces with stunning views of the Andes. While grape harvest season is typically from February through April, this destination can be visited year round. We enjoyed our stay immensely as we had lovely weather and the opportunity to visit several vineyards. For those especially interested in wine, combining Cavas with a stay at The Vines, about two hours south of Mendoza in the Uco Valley, would certainly provide a more complete and diverse experience.

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Jennifer Gillmore

From Mendoza, we continued by plane to Bariloche (again via Buenos Aires). Considered the northern part of Patagonia on the Argentina side, this town has a distinctly German influence, which is reflected in its unique and beautiful architecture. While the southern regions of Patagonia focus a great deal on glaciers, in the north the highlight is the turquoise and green lakes. Bariloche is a popular destination in winter due to skiing found nearby, but the appeal for most tourists is during the summer months of December-March, when one can enjoy the sunshine and great outdoors. There are many opportunities for boating and fishing, as well as active adventure like hiking, biking, kayaking and mountain climbing. The area offers a variety of hotels and cabins that provide lakeside accommodations for water access and breathtaking views. We stayed at the classic Llao Llao Resort, located 25 km from the center of town and surrounded on all sides by mountains and water. The grand hotel boasts 5 restaurants, a golf course, and a beach and marina for outdoor excursions.

From Bariloche we did the “Lakes Crossing” to Puerto Varas, Chile with Cruce Andino using a combination of boats and buses. We experienced some heavy, wet snow the day of our crossing, but in the summertime this is a gorgeous and efficient way to transfer from Argentina to Chile, taking around nine hours in total. The boats are comfortable with cushioned seating and outdoor decks for observing the spectacular passing scenery. This excursion can also be done on a private basis using small boats and vehicles for families and small groups.

Chile

Puerto Varas is northern Patagonia on the Chile side. It is the gateway to Chiloe Island to the west, the Lakes District to the north, and a river rafting mecca to the south. Like Bariloche, Puerto Varas has a distinctly German history and ambiance, and day tours include visits to some interesting museums, in addition to the wonderful hiking and outdoor excursions you would expect in Patagonia. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, located on the outskirts of downtown on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, with views of Osorno Volcano and its perfect cone shape.

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Jennifer Gillmore and Craig Beal

From Puerto Varas, Craig and I went our separate ways in order to cover more ground and make the most of our time. I continued to Chiloe Island, which was reached by car and ferry in a couple of hours. Chiloe is actually an archipelago comprised of many islands. This area is distinctly different from anywhere I have visited in Chile, or all of South America for that matter. A guided tour is the best way to bring the fascinating community-based maritime culture found here to life. Chiloe features colorful homes on stilts, and is famous for its churches, 16 of which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some people visit to make a circuit of these churches, while others come for the unique and interesting birdlife that can be found here during the summer months.

From Chiloe I transferred about 3 hours to Puerto Montt, where I caught a quick flight to the capital of Santiago. While my visit to the city was very brief, Santiago is a comfortable place to explore and worth a couple of days, with many interesting historic sites and excellent infrastructure for tourism. It is also ideally located just a quick flight over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina (another easy- and even quicker- method for crossing between countries), and just a short distance to Chilean wine country and the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

My next stop took me about an hour and a half west to the Matetic vineyard in the Rosario Valley, which offers tours and tastings daily, along with a lovely restaurant for wine pairing lunch or dinner. For those seeking a more immersive wine experience, La Casona Matetic is a 7 room lodge located in an old country house with over 100 years of history for a wonderful overnight stay. Along with delicious meals and wine, excursions offered here include hiking, biking and horseback riding through the vineyards.

The final day of my trip was for me the highlight of my entire adventure… a visit to the seaside port of Valparaiso. This is one of the country’s most important cities and home to several government buildings, but for me the best part was “Cerro Alegre”, or Happy Hill. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, this historic quarter is full of brightly painted buildings and homes, with creative designs and elaborate murals. The streets are of cobblestone and wind around in confusing but beautiful arcs and angles, and the unpredictable hills will give anyone a good workout. One of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s former homes has been turned into a museum here, and can be visited for an inside look at his collection of eclectic antiques. There are classic diners and cafes, along with hip and modern restaurants and hotels built from the bones of the original structures.

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Jennifer Gillmore

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Consultant Blogs, Latin America, Travel Planning | No Comments »


Big Five in One Drive: Rose’s Trip Report

Posted November 24th, 2014 by Mel Reger

By Travel Beyond consultant Rose Loggi

Rose13

I recently returned from an amazing 3-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. I couldn’t wait to get back and share all about my adventure!

There were many magical moments on my trip, and I wish that I could share them all with you; for now let’s start with just a few highlights.

Zimbabwe

I began my journey in Zimbabwe, which offers great game viewing as well as the picturesque Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world. I especially enjoyed the beauty of the Falls during this time of year, when the water levels are lower (but still quite impressive) because this allows for better photo opportunities since there is a lot less spray.

One highlight of my Zimbabwe safari (well, in fact, of my entire trip) was to sit back and enjoy a “slow safari” one day at Little Makalolo in Hwange National Park. Observing animal behavior for hours while sitting at the log pile water hole, watching hundreds of elephant come to drink and wallow – and with a Gin & Tonic in hand – now what can be better than this I ask? Incredible! This was a tough act to follow for sure, and Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools National Park delivered more WOW moments: a bush walk with specialist walking guide and story-teller extraordinaire Mafaku, who shared tales of his adventures in the bush (complete with termite eating and dung-spitting displays), plus an amazing sunset on our Zambezi cruise. A perfect end to my Zimbabwe adventure!

South Africa

After my time in Zimbabwe I headed off to South Africa which began with a champagne welcome upon landing at the airstrip at Tintswalo in the Manyeleti Game Reserve! I really loved Tintswalo, with just seven beautifully decorated suites, excellent food and service, and incredible game viewing, where we saw four of the Big Five safari animals on our very first game drive. After enjoying a sighting of a stunning leopard, at what we thought was the “end” of our first drive, we took a little detour to come to the aid of another group whose vehicle was stuck…and our good deed was rewarded with an amazing sighting of a pride of 8 lions on the move – simply awesome! Ah, this is Africa, and you never know what you might see around the next bend.

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Courtesy Rose Loggi

Next on tap was the Kapama Private Game Reserve, where my stay at Camp Jabulani included a special elephant-back safari on a rescued elephant named Sebakwe; some of you might recognize him, since he is featured on the Amarula Cream liqueur label. Another nice lodge choice here is the chic and modern Kapama Karula; both lodges offer game drives and bush walks in this reserve renowned for its diverse wildlife, home to over 40 different mammal species.

Timbavati Private Reserve was my next stop, where I embraced the totally different ambience of a tented camp at the lovely Tanda Tula. This is an excellent option for those who wish to experience the wonders of safari while “under canvas”, but with all of the modern amenities (including a hairdryer, ladies). I loved the classic East-Africa style tents, each with Victorian bathtub and outdoor shower, and the communal vibe at dinner was fantastic, dining with your fellow safari goers and sharing stories of your day’s excitement. The bush breakfast the next morning was another rare treat; dining al fresco along the banks of the sand river. What more can I say about the extremely productive and exciting game viewing here other than to share that we saw the entire Big Five on One Game Drive – now this doesn’t happen every day on safari, let me tell you! You can also view game right from the camp, when elephant and other animals come to drink at the dam.

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Courtesy Rose Loggi

My final stop in this area was the northern portion of the renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had high expectations for this reserve, and it did not disappoint. Once again, we saw four of the Big Five on our very first game drive (and #5 the next morning), but much more than simply ticking off the boxes of the animal sightings, a safari is really all about observing and appreciating animal behavior. We started with a sighting of a lone male lion doing, well, what most lion do for most of the day – sleep! We then watched a rhino mom with her baby as she chased away a male rhino that she obviously did not want around. Next up was leopards mating – quite an extraordinary sighting. More sleepy lions, a pride of 10 which is usually 13, hmmm, now where could the others have gone? Well, our question was answered when we came upon a huge male lion not typically seen here, who was feeding on a kill at water’s edge; the 3 lionesses had made this kill in the night and then he came along and stole their meal. Life is hard out here in the African bush! There are tons of great lodging choices in the Sabi Sands, and hats off to Louis at Elephant Plains for finding and sharing these magical sightings with us.

Botswana

But wait, we are not finished yet! I topped off my adventure with a visit to Mashatu Game Reserve, located in the secluded and beautiful Northern Tuli block of Botswana, bordering South Africa and Zimbabwe. This picturesque area with panoramic views has many diverse habitats, with exciting game drives across the riverbeds, forests, hills and plains; a true off-the-beaten-path wilderness experience. In addition to game drives, Mashatu offers additional activities as well: observing animals from a photographic hide, exploring on foot on bush walks, experiencing a safari by mountain bike, or galloping through the plains on horseback. It is difficult to say what I enjoyed most at Mashatu; maybe it was the magic moment spent viewing some astonishing animal behavior, with lion chasing hyena, jackal and other lion from a kill, or maybe it was the more serene and surreal sunset on the final evening while I said goodbye to Africa for now…until my next visit.

“All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” – Ernest Hemingway

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Consultant Blogs, South Africa, Travel Planning, Zimbabwe | No Comments »


The ‘Profoundly Striking’ Makgadikgadi Pans

Posted October 27th, 2014 by Molly Demmer

Kota Tabuchi

Written by Kota Tabuchi, Travel Beyond’s Managing Director of Africa.

This August, I led a group of 40 travelers on safari in Africa, almost all whom had never been to Africa before. As they enjoyed their time in the Okavango Delta, I slipped away from the group to revisit an old favorite: the place that made me fall in love with Africa back in October 2001.

The Makgadikgadi Pans is an ancient lake bed roughly 45 minutes by light aircraft southeast of Maun, Botswana. During the dry season, the lake bed is a dry salt pan, roughly the size of Switzerland. Back in 2001, I was a college student in Lugano, Switzerland at Franklin University and ended up on the Botswana “Academic Travel” program (a 2 week faculty led journey that takes students across the world). When we visited the Makgadikgadi, we contacted a guide from Jack’s Camp; a man by the name of Super. He took us on quad bikes to the middle of the pans for a sleep out under the African stars. In 2001, I was a fairly irresponsible college student and placed academics on the backburner. However, on a warm October night in the middle of the pans, I had a pivotal life moment – something about this place was profoundly striking. In short, this single night was the catalyst to my stewardship towards conservation and drove me to pursue a career in my current field.

Fast forward to August 2014, when I revisited Jack’s Camp and to my surprise, Super met me in the dining hall and introduced himself. I recalled the story that I just mentioned – he remembered my group and got very emotional about how his connection with me and the place in which he guides led me to where I am today. We quad biked into the pans for a sundowner, and Super took me on a game drive. We inspected their sister properties (San Camp and Camp Kalahari), visited the habituated meerkats of the Kalahari and walked with the San Bushmen. Like 14 years ago, I found immense beauty and spirituality in this enormous emptiness. No wind, no noise, no light pollution, and stars packed from horizon to horizon. I relived that special day 14 years ago – it was magical.

The Makgadikgadi remains a very unfrequented area of Botswana – perhaps because it isn’t as wildlife dense as the Okavango or perhaps because people haven’t heard about it. But I can assure you that it is a stunning destination and one with considering if you ever choose to (re)visit to Botswana. San Camp was my favorite of the Uncharted Africa’s portfolio in the Makgadikgadi – a simple and tastefully decorated tented camp on the fringes of the pans overlooking the vast nothingness. I yearn to return with my family to San Camp someday to share the emotional journey that this place delivers.

Interested in learning more about Botwsana or the Makgadikgadi Pans? Contact us.

Posted in Africa, Botswana, Consultant Blogs | 1 Comment »