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Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.

In the Footsteps of Che Guevara

Wherever you go in Latin America, you see the face of ErnestoChe” Guevara on t-shirts and murals. Since the fall of the military dictatorships and civil wars throughout the continent, hostels and cafés tout this alluring 20th century revolutionary.

 

Interest in the mythical Che Guevara rose with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie that chronicled his journey from his homeland Argentina to Venezuela with childhood friend Alberto Granado. It’s a tale many travelers can relate to: Leaving for the open road to see what is there, and discovering how journeying transforms one within.

 

Che Guevara’s trip, though, was much more than a ride an old Norton bike engraved on DVDs. It was a real live journey, from birth to death. V!VA’s Travel Guides for Argentina and Bolivia can lead you in the footsteps of Che Guevara.

 

Che Guevara was born quite by accident in Rosario, Argentina. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, were en route to Buenos Aires by river from their yerba mate homestead in Misiones Province. By the time the boat reached Rosario’s port, Celia was in labor.

The old homestead.

In Caraguatay, near Montecarlo in Misiones Province, the family’s homestead is now Parque Provincial Che Guevara. Rosario, which has embraced Che as its native son, has several sites related to his life. The casa natal, where his parents lived several months after his birth, stands at Urquiza and Entre Ríos. A few blocks away is Plaza de la Cooperación with a mural to him (Tucumán and Mitre). Plaza y Monumento al Che Guevara (Buenos Aires and Bulevar 27 de Febrero) has an imposing statue of the revolutionary.

 

The Guevara-de la Serna family spent most of Che’s childhood in Altagracia, near Córdoba. One of their homes is now Museo del Che Guevara. The galpón (warehouse) where Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado spent the night during their epic Motorcycle Diaries journey is now Museo La Pastera, in San Martín de los Andes (Sarmiento and R. Roca, Tel: 02972-411-994, E-mail: info@lapasteramuseoche.org.ar, URL: www.lapastera.org.ar). For more information about the roads Che traveled in his homeland, visit www.loscaminosdelche.gov.ar.

 

Che Guevara began his life in Argentina, but ended it in neighboring Bolivia on October 9, 1967. In the eastern part of that country is the 800-kilometer (500-mile) Ruta del Che, which traces the steps of the last revolutionary army he led. In villages along the route are museums composed of displays with information culled from the revolutionaries’ diaries, as well as from Bolivian military documents and newspaper articles of the era. In Lagunillas is the Museo de Ñancahuazú and in Vallegrande, the Museo Municipal del Che Guevara.

 

Many of the sites associated with his last days are in La Higuera, where a large bust truncates the only road through town. Locals will offer to take you down to Quebrada del Churo, where Che was captured. In the village is the old two-room schoolhouse where he was executed. It is now a modest museum. The story ends in Vallegrande. At the laundry shed of the public hospital, the revolutionary’s body was displayed to the international press. Today, the building is covered with the messages from the thousands of pilgrims who have come over the decades. Near the airport is a memorial near the mass grave where Che and other guerrillas were secretly buried for over three decades.

 

Tour operators in Santa Cruz offer three-day excursions on the route, usually visiting Samaipata, Vallegrande and La Higuera. The Ruta del Che may also be trekked. Community-run lodging and local guides are available along the entire route.

Culinary Adventures in Argentina

Argentina offers travelers many types of adventures, like riding with gauchos across the pampas or hiking in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares around majestic FitzRoy and to breath-taking Perito Moreno Glacier. There are skiing and snowboarding Bariloche, and riding dogsleds in Ushuaia. No matter the season, no matter the place, Argentina has something for everyone. And that includes for aficionados of exotic cooking.

 

Indeed—Argentina’s cuisine goes much beyond its beef and wine. The country’s varied landscapes extend to the dinner plate. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina extends a fork to help you undertake culinary adventures in Argentina.

 

If you are really a parrilla (BBQ) fan, ready to carve into huge chunks of meat, then head to an espeleto joint in Misiones Province, in the Northeast of the country. At restaurants like ­­­­Kelo or La Querencia in Posadas, the waiters come to your table with meat speared on a sword. Another specialty of this region is ­­­­galeto: chicken grilled on a spit, stuffed with smoked ham, sweet peppers and tomatoes.

Carpincho, or capybara.

The Northeast also offers all sorts of temptations out of the ordinary. One of the local denizens is the world’s largest rodents, the carpincho (capybara). You can buy the farm-raised meat in Mercedes (Corrientes Province).

 

On the other side of the Paraná River, in Formosa, another regional resident arrives to restaurant plates: the yacaré or spectacled caiman. This tender meat can be tried at La Ribera, as a grilled steak or in empanadas.

A yacaré, or spectacled caiman.

Northwest Argentina has its share of culinary adventures, too. Because of its strong Andean cultural identity, you’ll see llama appearing on some menus. Cabrito (kid goat) and goat cheese are also common. But the real treat is suri (rhea), an ostrich relative. El Almacén in Tafí del Valle prepares empanadas from farm-raised birds.

 

At the other end of the country, in the Patagonia, lamb is most commonly thrown on the coals. In the summertime, you’re more likely to see campers throwing sides of this meat onto the grill instead of beef. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on some of the world-renowned Patagonian cordero.

 

All of Argentina’s meats, though, do not come from the land. One thing only found in its Patagonia is the Giant Patagonian Oyster, which is about the size of a hand. Try this delectable seafood in a whiskey sauce at El Rey de Mariscos in Las Grutas.

 

Another seafood delight found in the southernmost seas around Tierra del Fuego is centolla or king crab. Unfortunately, it is quite pricy in Argentina. It is much cheaper on the other side of the border in Chile. In the Fueguian village Porvenir, you can try centolla in the Club Croata’s Trilogía Austral crêpe, featuring shellfish, oysters and king crab.

 

These are just some of the culinary adventures V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can take you on. Argentine law states that any exotic game served must be farm-raised, not hunted, in order to protect wild populations Before ordering, ask whether the meat is cazado (hunted) or de criadero (farm raised). And don’t forget to have a bottle of wine to accompany your repast.

 

Buen provecho!

Digging Argentina: Archaeological Sites on the Pampa

A menhire at El Mollar.

Although Argentina isn’t thought of as a country with archaeological riches, there are ancient sites scattered across the pampas where you can dig into this country’s indigenous past. Millennia ago, great cities were founded in the Northwest and wandering hunter nations left their imprint across the Patagonia plains.

 

Salta is the jumping off point to visit the sites that scatter the Northwest of Argentina. From the Bolivian border to Catamarca, the canyons and highlands hide memories of the long-ago times. At Yaví, near La Quiaca, petroglyphs paint rock overhang. In the Quebrada de Humahuaca is Pukará de Tilcara, a pre-Incan hilltop fortress.

 

The sacred city Quilmes.

South of Salta is Argentina’s most famous and significant archaeological ruins, Quilmes. This religious city of the Quilmes nation was established in the 9th century AD and inhabited until 1667. It was a major center of resistance against the Inca and Spaniards. The ruins terrace the cragged desert hills near Amaicha del Valle. The Quilmes descendants, the Diaguita, still consider it a sacred site.

 

Once the entire valley on the other side of the ridge from Amaicha was filled with menhire, or carved stone pillars. The meaning of these enigmatic statues is lost in the mists of time that rise from Dique La Angostura. Modern man has gathered many of the sculptures together in El Mollar, near Tafí del Valle.

 

Pueblo Perdido

Continuing South, edging the Andean mountains, travelers will find more remnants of Argentina’s pre-Columbian past. Near Catamarca, cities of the Aguada nation protected the narrow valleys from the advance of invaders. One of the best-preserved examples is Pueblo Perdido de la Quebrada, dating from the 3rd to 5th century AD. From beneath cardoon cactus and desert scrub, the stone walls mutely give testimony to that part of Argentina’s history.

 

 

From Argentina’s Northwest, Ruta 40 winds through the Andean foothills into the Patagonia—and to a different type of reminder of the country’s ancient past. For thousands of years, the ancestors of the Aónikenk wandered these wind-swept plains, following herds of guanaco. Wherever they went, they left colorful handprints on the walls of shallow caves.

Cueva de las Manos.

The most famous of these sites is Cueva de las Manos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site south of Perito Moreno. The cave earns its name from the 829 handprints adorning the walls. Rhea prints, salamanders, hunting scenes and birthing guanacos under full moons are other creations these journeyers left behind.

 

Many other sites like this extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Near Puerto San Julián is Estancia La María, home to what archaeologists consider Patagonia’s second-most important site. In the center of the Patagonia, Sarmiento claims the Alero de Manos Pintadas. The pre-Áónikenk peoples didn’t only stay on the eastern side of the Andes, though. Just across the border from Perito Moreno, in Chile, there are other pre-Aónikenk hand paintings along the shores of Lago Buenos Aires (Lago General Carrera): in Reserva Natural Jeínemeni near Chile Chico and Paredón de las Manos at Cerro Castillo.

 

The hands at Cerro Castillo

With summer approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other archaeological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s barely excavated history, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina. To get to the Chilean sites, pick up on V!VA Travel Guides Chile.

Argentina’s Haunted Past

The ghosts of Argentina’s recent past ride high in the saddle throughout the country. In the 20th century, the nation suffered two episodes that deeply marked its gaucho character: a Patagonian worker’s massacre during the 1920s and a repressive military regime in the 1970s.

 

Argentina is fast becoming Latin America’s leader in a new form of tourism that is peeling back the veils of these tragedies: human rights tourism. Now travelers can learn more about the country’s experiences that go beyond gauchos, tango and parrilla BBQs. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina helps you to tear away this cloaked past.

 

The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

In 1976, the military overthrew Isabel Perón, third wife of the recently deceased President, legendary Juan Domingo Perón. A reign of terror then ensued. Youth were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Some of them were activists. Others were targeted only for the “crime” of being young. Up to 30,000 were murdered. Pregnant women were often kept alive to give birth then killed, their children being adopted by families close to the military junta. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo formed to fight for the truth of what happened to their children, and the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, to search for their grandchildren.

 

Resistencia's Museo de la Memoria.

In many cities, the former torture centers have been turned into museums, to remind people of that dark decade of Argentina’s modern history—and to pay homage to those who died. In Buenos Aires, the ESMA (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada), which was one of the principal detention camps, is now a museum. Both Rosario and Resistencia have museums called Museo de la Memoria. At the one in Resistencia, two of the torture chambers are being excavated for evidence to bring the guilty to justice. Córdoba’s Archivo de la Memoria, across the alley from the Catedral, has a particularly strong ambience. Here, the walls that hid the torture cells have been torn down, revealing the victim’s last words scratched into plaster. (Note: If you are particularly sensitive to energies, you might find this museum a bit overpowering.)

 

Coronel Varela's railcar.

Another obscure chapter in Argentine history occurred in the country’s south during the early 1920s: The Patagonia Rebellion. Because of the horrid working conditions on the sheep estancias (ranches), the workers rose up. From 1920 until early 1922, the entire region saw strikers taking over ranches in an attempt to get landowners to fulfill promised reforms. The military was sent in and a manhunt ensued of the labor organizers and anyone else involved. On some estancias, more than a thousand strikers were killed.

 

The memorial near Estancia Bellavista.

In many of the principle centers of labor organizing, monuments exist to the strikers. At Jaramillo is a statue to Facón Grande. At Puerto Deseado is the railcar that Coronel Varela used to pursue the workers; it is now a museum to the workers’ struggle. Puerto San Julián where the women of one brothel told soldiers looking for a little R&R, “We don’t sleep with murders,” has a memorial to Albino Agüelles. One of the largest massacres occurred in Gobernador Gregores, at Estancia Bellavista. In this village, Estancia Los Granaderos organizes the tour, Tras los Pasos de los Huelguistas (In the Footsteps of the Strikers), which takes travelers to various related sites in the Patagonia. The notable exception to cities with memorials is Río Gallegos, which was the headquarters of the main strike organizer, Antonio Soto. In fact, to this day, it is still quite a touchy topic for the local populace.

 

The Patagonian Rebellion even extended to the estancias in Southern Chile, where the ruling families—the Braun, Menéndez and Noguiera—lived and controlled their Patagonian empires. Although their mansions are mute about their role in this history, you can see the splendor of their lives on full display in Punta Arenas, Chile, from the Palacio de Sara Braun (where you might catch a ghostly image on your photo) and Museo Regional Braun-Menéndez, in another of the family’s homes, to the city’s cemetery gates. Puerto Natale’s Museo Histórico Municipal has a section on the 1920s strikes, as does Museo Histórico e Industrial in nearby Puerto Bories.

 

Grab a copy (or download one) of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina or V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina. They will take you to these sites—and many more—on both sides of the border and throughout the grand country, in your search for Argentina’s haunted past.

In Search of the Peróns

No other two people epitomize Argentina as much as Evita and Juan Perón. Ask anyone—native or foreigner—who the most famous person is of this southern country is, and it won’t be tango legend Carlos Gardel or rock’s bad boy Charly García, nor will it be literary legends like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. The first name to slip off the tongue will be either Juan or Evita. Their presences continue to permeate the landscape and politics of 21st-century Argentina. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can help you go in search of the Peróns.

 

• Juan & Evita : Photo by Iversonic (http://www.flickr.com/photos/iversonic/2785405124)

By the time General Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974) and Eva Duarte (1919-1952) married in 1945, Juan was a career military man who had been a coup participant, president and political prisoner, and Evita was a famous actress and co-owner of a radio station. With Juan’s election to the presidency in 1946, this couple forged one of the most lasting political movements in Argentine history. They supported the interests of the working class and poor. Evita was Vice President, Minister of Health, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare of Argentina and head of the Eva Perón Foundation. She led campaigns for social justice and equality, and promoted women’s political rights and involvement. Her death from cancer in 1952 was intensely mourned. When Juan was overthrown in 1955, the military junta kidnapped her body and secretly buried it under a false name in Italy. She returned to Argentina in 1974, when General Perón was in power for a third time.

 

 

Museo Familia de Perón in Camarones.

The nation’s capital echoes with their footsteps, but that is not where the journey begins. You must go deep into the Patagonia, to Camarones. When he was a child, Juan’s family moved to this small Atlantic coast village where his father was the Justice of Peace. The family’s home is now the Museo Familia de Perón. The extensive exhibits recount his family’s history, and explain the socio-political revolution he and Eva launched.

 

 

 

 

Museo Evita.

The majority of sites related to General Perón and Evita, of course, are in Buenos Aires. Here you can imagine Evita waving to the masses of workers and poor from the balcony of the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada. Take a tour of this sprawling, rose-colored building in the city’s heart and visit the museum, which has much information on the Perón period. Then head north to Palermo neighborhood, to Museo Evita. This museum, located in the former Fundación Eva Perón, is dedicated to her life and works. Afterwards, make the pilgrimage to the upscale Cementerio Recoleta, where her black-marble tomb draws thousands of devotees every year. (It isn’t hard to find: It is always bedecked with flowers and other gifts to this “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”)

 

 

Evita, however, was never buried alongside her husband, General Juan Domingo Perón. For many decades he was interred in working-class Cementerio Charcarita, on the west side of Buenos Aires. But now the General lies in rest even further away from his belovéd Evita. In 2008, his body was moved to a new mausoleum in his hometown San Vicente, 64 kilometers (39 miles) south of Buenos Aires. This imposing monument on his former estate begins beneath an image of Eva crying on Perón’s shoulder. A waterway then leads visitors to his new resting place. Also on the grounds is Museo 17 de Octubre, which is dedicated to the Peróns. The Duarte family has refused to allow Eva to join her husband.

Evita's grave.

The search for the Peróns doesn’t end there. You can look for it in the social movements and politics of Argentina. Evita still is so revered by many homes that you can find her picture displayed alongside loved ones.

Fantastic Nature Reserves on Argentina’s Patagonian Coast

The most talked about spot on Argentina’s Patagonian coast is Puerto Madryn. The whales, elephant seals and other wildlife at Playa El Doradillo and out on Peninsula Valdés draw thousands of visitors every year. Sports enthusiasts come for the prime windsurfing and scuba diving. The new V!VA Travel Guides Patagonia Argentina takes you there—and to lesser-known places on this Atlantic Coast that every traveler should put on the itinerary.

 

The restringas at low tide.

Las Grutas, an über-popular summer balneario (resort) with a Mediterranean-village feel to it, is barely on the foreigners’ radar screen. At low tide, the sea here—the warmest in all Patagonia—retreats up to two kilometers and forms pools in the rock-bed restringas. You can walk south along the coast to the fascinating Piedras Coloradas, El Buque, with a rock formation that looks like a ship and lagoons filled with mussels and small Patagonian octopus, and Cañadón de las Ostras, where 15-million-year old fossilized oysters stud the stone. Inland are Salinas de Gualicho, Argentina’s largest salt works and perfect place for star gazing, and Fuerte Argentino, reputed to be the refuge of the Knights Templar. Las Grutas is within a large nature reserve, protecting migrating whales and dolphins. Vuelo Latitud 40 is a migratory bird refuge and research center.

 

Whales can be spotted all along Argentina's Patagonia coast.

Further south on Ruta 3 is Parque Marítimo Costero Patagonia Austral, Argentina’s newest national park and the first one dedicated to preserving marine habitat. It stretches from Camarones in the north all the way to Caleta Córdova, near Comodoro Rivadavia. Within the park is Cabo Dos Bahías, home to 13 main species of birds, with a population totaling over a half-million residents, including Magellanic Penguin and Antarctic Giant Petrel, as well as a sea lion colony. The upscale resort at Bahía Bustamante is another prime birdwatching spot. In spring, whales are seen all along this coast. The best place to access this new park is at Camarones, which was the hometown of Juan Perón.

 

 

The Ría Deseada's beautiful landscape.

Puerto Deseado is the gateway to the Ría Deseada Nature Reserve. This over-40-kilometer canyon is the product of a freak geological accident millions of years ago, when the glaciers were receding. It is now a natural lover’s paradise with five types of cormorant, Magellanic Penguins, terns, skuas and dozens of other birds. Fur seals and sea lions tread the waters, and guanaco and rhea roam the plains. Kayak up the ría, following in Charles Darwin’s footsteps, to the Miradores named for him. Off shore from Puerto Deseado is Isla Pingüino, with Patagonia’s only colony of the yellow-tufted Rockhopper Penguins.

 

 

 

Cabo Curioso

Another place to follow in Mr. Darwin’s footsteps is at Puerto San Julián.  It was at this port that the Patagonia legend was born. With a deep history of pirates and explorers, this safe harbor also drew HMS The Beagle in for a spell. The Circuito Costero, stretching 22 kilometers up the coast, is a fantastic place to hike. The landscape is bedecked with birdlife, wild horses and ruins from Patagonia’s recent past. Cabo Curioso’s giant oyster fossil-studded cliffs caught Darwin’s imagination, and stirred his mind to theories of evolution. In the city itself, a waterfall forms at low tide, with a lagoon where flamingos, black-necked swans and other waterfowl can be spotted.

 

To enjoy the stunning natural beauties of these places, come in spring or fall, when migratory marine mammal and bird populations are at their peak. In summer, you’ll get to experience the culture of migrating Argentines on vacation. All of these destinations have year-round campgrounds, which make them affordable destinations even for shoestring travelers.

 

If your trip will take you all over this great country, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina, which is available in print and e-book formats.

Pebguins are also spotted all along this coast.

Seven Wonders in Argentina’s Most Forgotten Corner

It’s springtime in Argentina. Summer is nigh on the horizon, and everyone will be packing up the tents, boarding trains and heading out for vacation. But there is one corner of the country where only the most loco traveler would ever journey during those months when temperatures there soar above 50ºC (120ºF). Even the animals seem to disappear for cooler climes, making the great escape from the Gran Chaco.

 

Spring is the best time to head into Argentina’s Gran Chaco region. With several great expanses of national parks, indigenous cultures, premier fishing and other delightful wonders, it is incredible to think this Argentine corner has been for so long forgotten. But not any longer. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina takes you there.

 

Seven marvelous places to put on your itinerary are:

 

1 – Resistencia

The capital of Chaco Province is Argentina’s Sculpture Capital. The entire city is an open-air gallery, with over 200 works on display. Resistencia is also the jumping off point for day trips to Parque Nacional Chaco, which protects red quebracho forests where nearly 350 species of bird and endangered jaguar and maned wolf (agaurá guazú) reside, and the Reserva Provincial Isla del Cerrito, a former leper colony that is now a birdwatcher’s and angler’s Eden.

 

2 – Roque Sáenz Peña

Chaco’s second largest city is where you can soak in one of Argentina’s best hot spring resorts and visit the city’s zoo which has a very successful endangered species breeding program. From Sáenz Peña, hop the train to the remote Campo del Cielo, where an asteroid plummeted into earth over 6,000 years ago.

 

Wichí women

3 – El Impenetrable

Thick thickets of the world’s hardest hardwoods and thorny brush give the northwest corner of the Chaco its name: The Impenetrable. This region has two natural reserves, Reserva Natural Loro Hablador and Reserva Natural Provincial Fuerte Esperanza, both near Fuerte Esperanza. You can learn about the Wichí and Q’om indigenous cultures in villages like Misión Nueva Pompeya and El Sauzalito.

 

4 – Villa Río Bermejito

This small village on the banks of the Río Bermejito on the edge of El Impenetrable is one of the best kept secrets in the entire country. Get ready for a whole lot of chillin’ here, with boat cruises on the river, sunning on golden beaches, visiting indigenous hamlets and dropping in the ol’ fishing line for dinner.

 

5 – Formosa

The capital of Formosa Province, just a skip across the river from Paraguay, is home to Laguna Oca nature reserve, with bird blinds to watch its 176 species of avifauna, camping, boat trips and swimming.

 

Formosa's mysterious beings.

6 – Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo

Camp in this national park, taking a morning dip in the lagoon, watching the yacaré sunning on the banks and hearing the howler monkeys at dusk. The nearest village, Laguna Blanca, has the wonderful Museo Regional del Nordeste Formoseño, explaining local history and the mysterious beings that wander the Formosan countryside.

 

A yacaré working on its tan.

7 – Bañado La Estrella

 

South America’s third largest wetlands has a richly diverse landscape. The indigenous call this, “The River of Birds. Bañado La Estrella is, indeed, a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 300 species present include Jabiru, Black-faced Ibis, Roseate spoonbill and Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird. The best months for birdwatching are April to October.

A New Guide of Walking Tours in Quito

A copy of Tyler Burgess’ Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks landed in V!VA Travel Guide‘s office. The small, paperback guide has instructions of 12 routes in the Old Town, Mariscal and New Town, with hints on what cafés, plazas, museums, churches and other sites to know in Quito. Leafing through the hand-illustrated booklet, I became intrigued. In all of my years of visiting Quito, Ms Burgess proposes places I’d never explored.

Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks by Tyler Burgess

I decide to undertake the three walks in the Centro Histórico. The first, from Plaza Grande to La Basílica (4 kilometers / 2.5 miles), which will visit not only the Basílica, but also the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo Sucre and the Catedral de Quito.

The Old Town walks begin from Plaza Grande. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The second route will take me from the Plaza Grande, to the Centro Cultural Metropolitano and the Compañía church, up to Iglesia de San Francisco and its museum, and finally down to La Ronda (2.75 kilometers / 1.7 miles).

Another trek, again beginning at Plaza Grande, has the goal of Iglesia de San Diego and its cemetery, and the top of El Panecillo (7.7 kilometers / 4.8 miles).

Next week I shall share one of the adventures here in this space.

Quito, Ecuador Townscape Walks is not a guide with descriptions of each site. It is only a collection of a dozen circuit maps, with suggestions of places to visit. Throughout, Tyler Burgess weaves in several handy features, like where to stop for a fresh fruit juice or where there are bathrooms. The booklet is illustrated with sketches of things you’ll see along the way. She takes her fellow walkers into the back streets of Quito, where few tourists ever venture, to see the daily life of Quiteños behind the façade.

Some of the routes are through neighborhoods that, after dark, do have some security problems; but as long as you hoof around during daylight hours and use common-sense security measures (keep valuables back at the hotel, don’t flash your camera, take only the money you’ll need and go with another person), you should do okay. An additional map of the city is also handy. The walks, none of which are more than 8.5 kilometers (5.2 miles), can be quite aerobic, taking on Quito’s many hills.

And this is not a surprise, considering Burgess’ life. Born in 1950 in Wyoming, she spent her adult years in Montana and Oregon. She has always been an outdoors enthusiast. In her 40s, she played soccer, performed triathlons and undertook solo backpacking trips. She coaches marathon and fitness classes. Burgess also organizes walking tours across Ireland, England, Italy and Morocco, as well as in several US cities. A few years ago, she was a Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim, walking the 880-kilometer (550-mile) route alone.

Ms Burgess has written Townscape Walks for Seattle, Oregon, Eugene and Portland. This is is her first one in a foreign land. If you are interested in learning more about the books, visit www.walk-with-me.com.