Argentina never ceases to amaze me. In the span of just two weeks, I traveled north to the rainforest to see my first world wonder, the majestic layered waterfalls of Iguazú, and then south to the snow-peaked mountains of Patagonia, where I skied and sipped on hot chocolate in the cozy town of Bariloche – all without leaving the country. Here’s a quick run-down of those amazing side trips.
Iguazú: My First World Wonder
During the feriado junio – a weeklong break in Argentina – I packed up my backpack once again and headed downtown to catch my twenty-hour-long bus to Iguazú falls, the majestic layered waterfalls shared by Argentina and Brazil and named one of the natural world wonders of the world.
I was particularly excited to escape the “cold” weather in Buenos Aires, don a bathing suit and sunglasses and soak up some sun. Well, that never happened. Iguazú was freezing (and very wet) and I was less than prepared. Nonetheless, the trip was nothing short of magical. Our first stop was the ruins of the Jesuit mission of San Ignacio in the province of Misiones, a little more than halfway to the falls. I absolutely love old anthropological sites like this – my imagination runs wild and it’s like I’m five years old again, imagining the daily lives of the families that lived within these crumbling walls or the Guaraní music that drifted towards the now-absent ceiling of this once-majestic church.
The next day we headed to the Brazilian side to catch our first glimpse of the falls. It wasn’t easy to wake up with the cozy pitter-patter of rain at my window and the knowledge that I was going to have to be out in that storm. After a quick bite at the hotel – the typical Argentinean breakfast of media lunas and white bread with dulce de leche and coffee, not quite my style but at least it was free – we boarded the bus. There we met Nilda, our awesome guide for the next two days inside the park. I was a bit nervous when we neared customs, since U.S. citizens usually need a visa to enter Brazil, but it wasn’t a problem; I was just going to have to pay more to enter the park than my MERCOSUR-member friends. (Tickets that, according to Nilda, are now even higher than usual as Brazil attempts to raise money for the Olympics and the World Cup.)
The rain turned out to be a blessing. Seeing Iguazú in a storm was a unique experience: the water was a dulce de leche gold, and the hours of rain had raised the water levels so the falls were that much more powerful.
The next day we headed to the Argentinian side, where the natural park is much bigger and encompasses the surrounding rainforest as well as the falls themselves. We started off on the “Green Trail” to get to the falls, winding through a few miles of greenery as we admired the wildlife: butterflies, coati, and even a few monkeys!
By the time we got to the falls, though, I was freezing – the kind of cold that sinks into your bones and can only come from putting on wet clothes in the morning and hiking under a dark canopy with no sun in cold, humid weather. Which is why I was overjoyed to see the sun come out – and with it, rainbows!! As the sun began to warm me and lift my spirits, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
Bariloche: Skiing in Patagonia
Iguazú was beautiful, but Bariloche was another world that took my breath away. After another twenty-four hour bus ride (luckily, there was wine) we arrived in Bariloche, greeted by cozy smoke-blowing chimneys and gorgeous Saint Bernard dogs against the backdrop of the snow-peaked Andes: I was in heaven.
The first day we boarded (yet another) bus for a panoramic view of the area’s breathtaking mountains and lakes.
The next day we got up bright and early to go skiing at Cerro Catedral. After spending a fortune on a rented coat and snow pants, ski equipment, and a lift pass, I was finally ready to head up the mountain. Only a few of us who had skied or snowboarded before bought lift tickets; the majority of our group had never seen snow before, and would spend the day taking lessons at the base. This place amazes me and I grew up with New York winters – I can’t imagine what a winter wonderland it must be to someone who’s never experienced snow!
Cerro Catedral is huge, with giant bowls like the Rockies in the western U.S. The skiing was incredible and we even had fresh powder, but be warned: they don’t have much of a concept of grooming trails or closing trails that shouldn’t be opened, so expect adventure!
The next day skiing was optional, but nothing would keep me away from that mountain another day. I’m glad I went, because the view was completely different. Today it was snowing, and there was zero visibility… until we rose above the clouds and got a glimpse of heaven.
What an amazing way to wrap up my time here!