A Slice of South America

After initial reservations Amanda Bernstein falls in love with the adventure, wonder and excitement of this still undiscovered part of the world

Caminito in Buenos Aires

Caminito in Buenos Aires

Gauchos in Argentina

Gauchos in Argentina

Das Cataratas Hotel

Das Cataratas Hotel

Pool at Das Cataratas Hotel

Pool at Das Cataratas Hotel

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Views of Copacabana Beach from the Atlantis Restaurant

Views of Copacabana Beach from the Atlantis Restaurant

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

I have always wanted to experience South America, but thought it would be too dangerous, and too expensive to fly there.   So I decided to do some research and this holiday turned out to incorporate all the things I love about visiting a new territory – adventure, wonder and excitement. We booked direct non-stop flights on BA to Buenos Aires, and after 14-hours and a good night’s sleep, we arrived early in the morning with only a 4 hour time difference to get used to.

The Paris of the South

Buenos Aries is known as ‘the Paris of the south’ and it was easy to see why as I approached my hotel, Sofitel Buenos Aires. Located in Recoleta. This art deco building was once the tallest structure in South America, which is reflected in the themed lobby. The hotel is particularly well located in the heart of the art district, where the tree-lined streets and Parisian style buildings give an instant European feel to this up-market neighbourhood.  The word to describe Sofitel Buenos Aires has to be luxurious. Every amenity is considered and the well-equipped gym, spa, indoor pool, and wood-panelled library made me feel that this would be a relaxing retreat in addition to a bustling city break.

The Sights of Buenos Aires

There are lots of places of interest to visit in this huge stylish city. Our list included the Obelisk, a monument which is the symbol of Buenos Aires; the Opera House, which was inaugurated in 1908; Plaza De Mayo, the most ancient square in the city and houses the most important historical institutional buildings; La Boca, which is home to the football team Boca Juniors, historically known as Piccola Italia, which is one of the main settlements chosen by the Italian immigrants who came to Argentina. Caminito, one of the most colourful streets of the neighbourhood, is used as an open-air museum, surrounded by individually painted tenement buildings. Here you can watch the Tango being danced at one of the many cafes and restaurants. A visit to Recoleta’s Cemetery, which was the first public cemetery of the City of Buenos Aires, is a must. Rows of marble, granite and stone mausoleums fill this huge open space and visitors flock daily to pay respects to Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, otherwise known as Evita.

Buenos Aires is well known for its shopping, especially its leatherwear and Argentinian silverware (Alpaca silver). The main shopping street, Florida, has many little side streets, housing boutiques and speciality shops, as well as a huge indoor shopping centre with a grand painted dome.

This country is famous for its steaks, so a visit to a ranch, locally referred to as an ‘Estancia’ is a must. Although about an hour’s drive out of the city, seeing the gauchos at work, experiencing horseback riding and enjoying a BBQ lunch Argentinian style makes it totally worthwhile. Buenos Aires is an extraordinary city to explore in South America, particularly because of its significant European influences.

Iguazu Falls

After three days, I took a two-hour flight to Cataratas del Iguazu, located on the Argentinian side of the Iguazu falls. I then took a taxi ride to the Brazilian side of the falls, entered the Iguazu National Park and arrived at Hotel Das Cataratas, located within the park itself. Staying here you canview the falls long after the park closes, ensuring the experience is peaceful, without the constant stream of tourists arriving in their busloads. Residents can appreciate the  beauty of the magnificent Falls in quiet surroundings, apart from their tumultuous roar.

The décor of the Das Cataratas Hotel is predominately Portuguese colonial style. For relaxation after touring, there is a spa and an outdoor pool set in the most incredible tropical surroundings, where the hotel’s main restaurant is located. The breakfast offers the most exotic and extensive choice of fruit I have ever seen. Dinner is also served here or, for more casual dining, one can choose the bar. The atmosphere of the hotel is one of calm and relaxation – anyone visiting the falls should note that this is THE hotel to say at while visiting Iguazu.

The Iguazu Falls – and there are five miles of them – are the most dramatic waterfalls in the world, located over the cliffs at the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is said that Argentina provides the ‘show’ and Brazil enjoys the ‘view,’ so a visit to the Argentinian side is a must, as it is from here you can get close on a viewing platform and see nature showcased at its finest with the white foam spilling over the green flora and fauna of the jungle – the scenes that await are breath-taking. It will take an entire day to see everything and the concierge at the hotel can arrange either a tour-guide to escort you or a taxi to take and collect you. Remember not to forget your passport as you will go through border control!

Rio de Janeiro

After three days at Hotel Das Catataras, I took a short taxi ride to the local airport Foz de Iguazu for a two-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro. I was excited to see the vibrant city of Rio, which I had heard so much about. I was staying at the five-star Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Copacabana, conveniently situated at the end of Copacabana Beach and near Ipanema Beach. My first experience of Rio was how welcoming everyone was. I booked into my refurbished executive room, where the view from my balcony was exhilarating. I could see the entire stretch of Copacabana Beach and couldn’t wait to explore. Being located on the executive floor includes privileges, including balconies and suites all facing Copacabana, a butler service, speedy check in facility and most importantly, 24-hour access to an executive lounge, which served drinks and light snacks. One can also see the Statue of Christ perched high above the city, and at night the view from here is spectacular too.

The people of Rio, locally referred to as ‘Cariocas,’ enthuse a love of life that I’ve not experienced elsewhere in the world. Men and women of all shapes and sizes wearing the skimpiest of clothes feeling so good about themselves regardless of their age. Night-time beach activities include football, slack lining and beach volleyball, which are in full swing until the early hours. And not to forget the coconut juice served ice cold fresh in its shell that simply adds to the tropical flavour of this city.

Sights of the City

With lots to see and do in Rio, there are two places of interest that cannot be missed. Firstly, the most famous, Christ the Redeemer, perched some 710 metres above sea level on Corcovado Mountain. With its outstretched arms, it welcomes each and every visitor and up close to this sandstone structure it’s easy to see why it has become such an iconic landmark. The second most amazing site has to be Sugar Loaf Mountain, which after taking two cable cars to reach the summit. offers awesome views over the entire city. There is also wildlife to admire on the way up – friendly marmosets, that make Sugar Loaf their home, feed out of your hand. If time permits, I would also suggest a boat trip taken from the harbour downtown, where one can view these two landmarks simultaneously.

Relaxing, wining and dining

The beaches are endless – and Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Copacabana offer guests an exclusive beach service right in front of the hotel. Leisure facilities at the hotel include a fitness centre, two swimming pools and the Horses Neck bar, where local Brazilian musicians entertain on the balcony most Saturday evenings. The Atlantis restaurant boasts amazing views over Copacabana beach and has a veranda, with a perfect view of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

In residence at the Sofitel Rio is the finest French restaurant in Brazil, Le Pre Catelan. Having won many awards, not only as the best restaurant in Brazil, but also included in the top ten of the world’s finest hotel restaurants, its chef Roland Villard changes his haute cuisine menu every few weeks to ensure each dish is made with the freshest seasonal ingredients, in addition to typically Amazonian fare. With bespoke furnishings from around the world creating a sophisticated ambience, together with outstanding food and breath-taking views over entire bay of Copacabana, an evening spent at Le Pre Catalan makes for a night to remember.

Useful Links
Prices start from £194 per room per night at Sofitel Buenos Aires
www.sofitel.com
Prices start from £375 per room per night at Hotel Das Cataratas
www.hoteldascataratas.com
Prices start from £242 per room per night at Sofitel Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana
www.sofitel.com
British Airways non-stop flight to Buenos Aires, LAN Airlines (BA partner) flight to Iguazu, local TAM Airlines (BA partner) flight from Iguazu to Rio, and BA non-stop flight from Rio to London starts from £1,190 including all taxes.

 

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