Marta's Photo Album of South America, March 2011

South America
March 2011

Getting there
We departed Johannesburg on the services of SA at 11H00 . The flight to Sao Paulo in total would be nine hours and forty five minutes. After a short while we were well on our way across the Atlantic. The staff on board were fabulous, lunch was served shortly after take off. The lamb was good and we felt this was a good indication of the food we would be enjoying in South America. Dinner was to be served later.

We arrived in Sao Paolo at around 15h30 and connected immediately for our flight to Rio De Janerio. On arrival in Rio at 19H06 we were transferred to the Augusta Copacabana Hotel where we would be staying for three nights. The hotel is well located and is about four blocks from the Copacabana Beach.

This 3 * hotel is good, clean and offers basic accommodation. The staff do not speak much English, Portuguese is the national language. We had breakfast the following morning in the small dining area. This was buffet style with an array of pastries which is commonly served for breakfasts in South America. Yoghurt and cheeses were also available.

Rio de Janerio

Rio de Janeiro is nestled between the mountains and the sea. Its magnificent shorelines includes charming bays and beautiful beaches dotted with islands up and down the coast. Flying into Rio is a beautiful sight, whether it be at night or day. It is also an important centre for art and fashion.

What To Do
We had the opportunity to do the two tours Rio is famous for. We departed from the hotel to visit the Christ Statue, recently elected as one of the seven modern wonders of the world. The statue sits 2,300 ft. above sea level, atop Corcovado Hill. Following a scenic drive along the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, we arrived at the foot of the hill, where we embarked on a small train which climbs the beautiful mountainside. Upon reaching the top, we experienced a panoramic view of Rio de Janeiro and discovered why it is known as the “Marvelous City”! The tour also included a drive along Rio’s famous beaches.

Later in the afternoon we went to the top floor of our hotel which has a swimming pool and of course a spectacular view of the city. The city is very overpopulated with many people crammed into very basic houses. However despite this there is a great mood and vibrancy that is infectious. In and around the hotel the streets are very European in character and many of the homes have elaborate carved steel entrances and gates. We felt as though we were in Paris here.

The following day we did our tour to Sugar Loaf Mountain. This was spectacular as it was a bright sunny day and you could see forever. Over a million tourists each year visit the world famous ‘Pão de Açúcar’, (Sugar Loaf Mountain), which has become an iconic symbol of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Rising up from a small peninsula at the entrance of Guanabara Bay, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of a concentrated, refined sugar loaf. The journey to the top is made in glass cable-cars. The first cable-car takes passengers to the top of Urca Hill, which rises 215 meters above sea level and offers spectacular views of the entire bay and its surrounding islands. From Urca Hill, passengers continue in a second cable-car to the top of Sugar Loaf which rises 395 meters above sea level and offers a 360 degree view of the entire city including Botafogo and Copacabana Beaches, Corcovado Mountain and downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Before returning to the hotel, we stopped by the Municipal Theater and an amazing with stunning stained glass in the center of the city. We took a walk along the Copacabana promenade and had a snack at a restaurant on the beach. The pricing is on the high side for food and most things in Rio, however we found the food very fresh. Later that night we ventured out of the hotel, into the streets of our area. We came across some late night spots that have chairs inside and out with music and good food. It was great to see how the locals enjoy their lives there. They set a long table in the street and order a whole lot of food and share it all, whilst talking and laughing all at once. The prawns are great there as is the beef and the pizzas are out of this world. When you order a cheese sandwich it is very full of mozzarella, chedder is not common there. Well we got back safely on foot to our hotel that night. We did not get to experience the clubs and very late night life, however I will leave that to the more adventurous.

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Estantia El Ombu

We checked out of our hotel in time for our flight departure at 06H05 to Sao Paulo and duly arrived at 07H05. We then departed Sao Paulo at 10H00 and arrived in Buenos Aires at 13H05. The airport is massive and we collected our luggage and passed through customs, we were met by a representative Leisure and Incentive tours and transferred to the Estancia El Ombu for our two night stay.

The comfortable ride took an hour and a half, past the outskirts of the city. On arrival we were greeted by the hostess and shown around the ranch. We checked into our room, which was located in the main house. The room was very comfortable with three huge queen size beds, with furnishings being in period style antiques. We were then shown to the dining room where we took a late lunch. We strolled around the beautiful grounds and took in the setting sun, what a view. Dinner that evening was in the main dining room which is also decorated in period style with many items of interest on view. Many of the memorabilia was to do with horses tack as well as antiques from a bygone era together with pictures of the ranch many years ago. The following morning we rode out on the pampas, the guachos who led the ride are skilled with all levels of riders and made us feel very comfortable. We found the riding great fun as were able to ride the beautiful, muscular and strong horses that they have there.

After our ride we enjoyed a typical Asada which is an outdoor barbeque prepared with the finest beef steaks and black pudding, chicken and traditional potato salad. This is washed down with a robust red Argentinian young wine. During this feast we were entertained by the resident gauchos with songs and a riding show. A siesta is recommended afterwards or a nice walk in the grounds or a great ride on the pampas. We felt really relaxed after spending two nights at this amazing part of the world.

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Uruguay / Colonia

We were transferred from the estancia back to Buenos Aires and to the jetty. We checked in and boarded the ferry for our one hour ride across the Rio De La Plata river to Uruguay. After clearing customs we were met by a representative from Leisure and Incentive Travel and were transferred to the La Mission Hotel.

The transfer took 5 minutes as Colonia is a very small town and has the feeling of, where time has stopped. This is the oldest town in Uruguay with a population of around 22 000.00. It is renowned for its historic quarter and cobbled streets. The restaurants are very colourful and have so much character as do all the shops. The food is excellent wherever you eat and the prices very reasonable.

There are few cars here and most people cycle or walk, a very tranquil and safe little town. We found the La Mission Hotel where we spent two nights, owner run and centrally located. The breakfasts were in a loft area with fresh eats and fantastic tea. Our room was small but so clean and fresh and we were most comfortable here. We spent the two days exploring the various antiquity shops and loved just walking around and stopping for a glass of wine, in the evenings. This was followed by a great meal either steak or Italian. The portions are large so you need to order one portion first and share and if you are still hungry you can move to another little restaurant and order something else. This is all in the fun of the area. We transferred back to the jetty and were transferred on arrival to the Intercontinental Hotel.

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Intercontinental Hotel Buenos Aires

This hotel is 4* and located in downtown Buenos Aires, the area is not ideal for walking around at night. The lobby was most impressive and the check in was swift with the conceirage speaking very good English, they also have an excellent information desk. Our room was high up and spacious with a large bathroom. The room facilities were very good with tea and coffee making facilities, we found the carpet tired and the room will require refurbishment soon. We ordered a pizza from room service, this was well priced at around R 60-00 and was delicious and could have easily fed two people. Breakfast was great with a large buffet in an elegant dining area, the choice of food was very good and fresh, the smoked salmon was my favourite each morning.

Buenos Aires

Julia and I decided to brave the underground and went exploring in the Palermo area. This is the fastest and most cost effective way of travel to the outlying areas.

Palermo Soho is well known for its trendy boutiques and coffee shops, we had great fun taking in the quirky atmosphere and walked a lot, so excellent walking shoes are a must. We caught taxis where needed and enjoyed an afternoon walking around the luxurious upmarket area of Recoleta. The bag and shoe shops are fabulous and expensive, however compared to South Africa they are well priced as the quality is amazing and the styling very sophisticated. If you are keen to spend around R 5 000.00 for a stunning bag in butter soft leather, then this is well worth it in Recoleta.

We visited the El Quarandi Tango show. We enjoyed the dinner and drinks there whilst taking in the quality and warmth of the sultry powerful tango dancing and music. The show included the transfers from our hotel. We went shopping in Florida road for dozens of boots and not to mention pairs of shoes which we deposited in our hotel.

Later we walked down to the Puerto Madero area. Here we visited the famous Art gallery Amalia Lacroze De Fortabat. This super modern building houses Andy Warhol, Pieter Brugel and famous Argentinian artists. We loved the time spent there. We enjoyed lunch over looking the water in Puerto Madero and found the restaurant to be excellent.

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In Conclusion

South America is very diverse offering imposing landscapes, a variety of climates and much to attract foreign visitors. The name Argentina means silver. The origin of this name goes back to the first Spanish conquerors to the Rio de la Plata. The vast Argentian territory has a diversity of landscapes, where ice fields contrast with arid zones, mountains with great valleys, fluvial streams and lakes with large oceans, broad grassy plains with woods and forests. The country’s territory offers a wide variety of climates, sub tropical in the North and sub Antarctic in the Southern Patagonia, and mild and humid in the pampas plains. The current population of Argentina is 40 million inhabitants almost half of which live in Buenos Aires. Spanish is the official language. There is complete religious freedom, with Roman Catholics being the majority.

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General Info and Tips: Brazil

Climate
There are very few areas of Brazil that cannot be comfortably visited all year round. Generally, seasonal changes are not dramatic. Winter in Brazil is from June to September. Summer is at its height from December to February. Brazil's highest rainfall is in the Amazon, however, this usually takes the form of a short daily downpour.

Language
The national language of Brazil is Portuguese. English is often spoken in large cities and tourist centres. Spanish is generally understood and If you are thinking of buying a dictionary or phrasebook, it's important to make sure it is for Brazilian Portuguese.

Visas
No visas required for South African passport holders to visit Brazil for a stay up to 90 days.
Passports have to be valid for a minimum of six months to enter Brazil. A return or onward air ticket and sufficient funds for the stay in Brazil is required.Most important, on no account should you tick the box marked 'business', whether you are going to a conference, congress or business meeting, as you may be refused entry if you do not have a work permit.

Yellow fever and Polio
A valid Certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever is required by all travellers from South Africa visiting Brazil. Children under the age of 6 also require a vaccination certificate against Polio.

Money
At present, the Brazilian currency is the real (1 real = 100 centavos).

Exchanging money
Exchange rates in the banks and "cambios" are almost the same at present. Changing money is easy in large cities, except at weekends. Wherever possible it's better to change at the bank .The easiest currency to exchange is the US dollar. In the larger cities and tourist centres it is possible to change travellers cheques at a slightly lower rate, but it is always a good idea to have some cash. Do not change money on the street.

Tipping
Tipping in restaurants is normally 10%. Usually this is included in the bill under service charge. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, although it is common to round up the fare.

Airport taxes
Don't forget to put aside some dollars to pay airport tax when you leave Brazil.. The departure tax is not cheap (at the moment it US$36) and often prices change so try to check how much it is on arrival. There is also a charge of about US$7 for domestic flights, but again you should check this when buying the ticket as sometimes it is included in the price of your ticket. Tax must be paid on checking in, in reais or US dollars.

Reconfirmation
You must contact the airline at least 72 hours before departure in order to reconfirm that you still intend to travel on the flight. Failure to do so, may mean that your name is deleted from the passenger list and you could lose your seat.

Electricity
The electrical current is not standardized in Brazil. In Rio and Sao Paulo it is 110 or 120 volts, 60 cycles AC. In Manaus and Salvador it is 127 volts. Recife and Brasilia have a 220 volt service. Most sockets are for round two-pin plugs. 4 and 5 star hotels will provide adapters if required. If you will be using electrical equipment it is advisable to bring an adapter with you.

Business Hours
Shops and services are generally open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Shopping centres are open from 10am until late. Some centres open on Sundays. Banks are open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.

Safety
You are in a large city with abroad cross-section of social classes. Act carefully and stay alert as you would in any major city in the world. Be sensible: Leave your valuables, flight tickets and passport in the hotel and just take your hotel card with you. Don´t wear expensive jewels on the street.

General Info and Tips: Argentina

Visas are not required for South African passport holders to Argentina. A Yellow fever vaccination is compulsory. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the return date.

Money changing facilities are available at most hotels, but the rate is slightly better at the airport on arrival. Travel with US dollars cash as these are also accepted for payments at hotels. Travellers cheques are not widely accepted The local currency is the Peso. Do not convert more money than you need. Do not wear valuable jewellery as this attracts attention and is not advisable.

Special Thanks

A very special thanks to all the wonderful people who made our stay in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay so unforgettable.