South America 2017

Well…I write this 3+ years after we took the trip.  The memories are not as fresh as they once were.  But, I have notes and pictures.  That should be enough to give a general idea of the trip.

As you may (or may not) recall, our 2017 trips were supposed to be Portugal/Spain in the spring, Charleston in the summer, and TBD for the remainder.  Buying our house changed that.  Portugal/Spain became a long weekend in New York.  Charleston stayed the same.  Nothing else was planned, but I wanted to fit something in.  In the fall, we found award availability in early December and made the call to spend a week between Chile and Argentina.

Why these destinations?  I had been wanting to make it to South America for quite some time.  Also, it is a relatively easy trip compared to Asia, Australia, etc.  And our last 3 international trips had been Euro-focused, so changing it up was not a bad idea.

We found business flights in both directions for the two of us (James would be staying home with his grandparents for this one).  There were a couple hotel options in Santiago, Chile – but we ended up in the Crowne Plaza. Points redemption was reasonable there, and the location was good as well. 

In Buenos Aires, the options began and end at the Park Hyatt.  We booked it with points through a friend who is a Globalist (formerly Diamond) member and received guest of honor benefits. 

For some customary intro stuff before I get into the day-to-day…Argentina and Chile are long countries (top to bottom) separated by the Andes mountains.  They are both Spanish speaking countries, and each had a more European feel than you might expect where we were – especially Buenos Aires.  Size wise, the United States has about 3.5 times the area of Argentina and 13 times the are of Chile.  Population – The US is about 7.5 times the size of Argentina and 13 times the size of Chile.

Overall, I don’t remember communication being a major issue.  Sure, there were times that we had some trouble, but overall it was not bad.  Getting around wasn’t always the easiest.  Seems there was constantly some kind of protest going on to cause a major traffic jam (I’m talking turning a 10 minute ride into a 60 minute one).  Uber was not very reliable at the time, but that may have improved since then.

Planning…we just wanted to sneak something in.  My parents were willing to help with James, so it would be just the two of us.  A week was about the most we could fit in.  With award availability working out, Santiago and Buenos Aires were the easy choices.  We stayed in two major cities and that was it. 

Overall, it was a good and needed trip.  

Travel Day (Day 0)

We were flying out through Miami later in the day.  Our connecting flight was unmemorable (literally…).  I do recall the American Airlines flagship lounge in Miami and was very impressed by it.  The setup was substantially better than a standard Aadmirals Lounge.  The concept was relatively new at the time, so I was legit impressed and surprised.

We didn’t have too long to spend there – about an hour – before our flight to Santiago.  We were flying business on American Airlines.  Boarding was without issue.  The seats were the reverse herringbone style and far superior to economy class.  Food and wine were fine.  I got about 4 hours of sleep in with the flight being barely 8 hours. 

Alyce probably got a little more sleep than me, but she woke up feeling terrible.  It stuck with her through mid-day.

Immigration and customs were without issue.  Other than Alyce feeling bad…  We caught a cab to the hotel and got there at about 9:00 a.m. 

Day 1 (Santiago)

It was way early to get a room, but we lucked out and they set us up in one.  Alyce was most grateful as she was still feeling very poor.  The Crowne Plaze Santiago was fine.  The location was solid.  Overall, the experience was not notably good or bad.  Not the worst thing for lodging.

We did not have executive lounge access included, but we were offered access for $40 (US) a day.  We did one day, but that was it.  Honestly, it was not really worth it.

We got settled in the room, and Alyce took a nap.  I went out for a long walk through Bellavista park, Lastarria Park, and a couple other areas.  I also picked up some water while I was out.

After making sure Alyce was alive, I went out to find some cash and checked with the front desk that they had booked our dinner reservations (as confirmed by email).  They had not.  Fortunately, they were able to book us a table right there.

By this time, Alyce had started to come back to life.  We went to the club for the evening happy hour.  They had some snacks and ok wine – nothing noteworthy.

Prior to dinner, we planned to go to Noi Vitacura rooftop bar.  Rooftop bars are pretty popular in Santiago, and I could see why as we had a good time.  The setting was nice and the drinks were delicious – especially the pisco sour.

We walked to dinner at Naoki Sushi after a couple rounds.  And our meal was excellent.  It was probably right behind Pakte in Barcelona as our favorite sushi outside of Japan.  We didn’t have overly high expectations going into dinner, so we were pleasantly surprised.  Several years later, it still stands out as one of the dining highlights of the trip (along with Parilla Pena in Buenos Aires).

We Ubered back and called it a night following dinner.

Day 2 (Santiago)

One of our two full days in Santiago – and the only one we’d be spending primarily in the city.  We wanted to get out and see some of the sights. 

Breakfast was in the lounge as we had paid for lounge access on our first day.  It was uninspiring at best.  After regrouping in the room, we set out on a pretty similar path to the one I had walked the day before.  In addition to my previous stops, we did make it to Mercado Central Plaza de Armas.  It was too busy to stop, but that may have had some to do with being a Sunday afternoon.  We also just happened to walk into a museum which had a live concert.  This was lucky as we were able to catch some rest and listen to live music.

After all the walking, we stopped at a wine bar called Utopia for some snacks and wine, then made our way back to the hotel where we took a quick afternoon nap.

Before dinner, we went to Singular (a hotel rooftop bar) for drinks, it was a cool spot and we enjoyed ourselves.

Dinner was at Bonanariz, which is a wine focused restaurant.  We did a 3 course meal with pairings, and it was good enough.  Nothing stands out as overly good or bad several years later.

Day 3 (Santiago)

No time to laze around today as we were hitting the road.  We grabbed some coffee and then walked over to the Avis rental car place.  Check in was very slow (as it always seems to be on international trips for rental cars).  We eventually checked in and got our car.

Driving in Santiago was interesting, but not that bad.  And it was smooth sailing once you get out the city. 

Our first stop was the Vineyard Villard.  We started off with a lady on site, and then old man Villard finished the tour.  I remember it being a very positive experience overall – both wine and the tour/tasting.  Wine was good and the people were friendly.

After Villard, we had a slight drive to our lunch stop at El Sauce, which is a Chilean rib/bbq joint.  Parking was a little confusing, as was making our way into the restaurant, but we figured it all out and enjoyed lunch.  Lots of meat.

From there, we had a short drive to our next stop at Casa Marin winery.  This one was ok…I was expecting more.  The wine was not really worth the price, and the tasting was alright. Not worth going out of the way for.

The drive back and returning the rental car was mostly easy and uneventful.  We walked back to the hotel from the rental car place.  Alyce took a nap, and I went walking around one last time through some nearby parks.

I had booked us a table at Borago for dinner.  It was highly spoken of from my research.  Since then, it has gained even more in its reputation, currently ranking in the 20s on the 50 Best Restaurants in the World list.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it belongs in that highly rated of a location.  It was a little too on the creative side, and maybe should have focused more on the food. Alyce was way more critical than me.  She called it the leaf dinner (or something like that) as everything seemed to be served on a leaf, with a leaf, or was just a leaf.  Again, not bad, but not one of the best restaurants we’ve been to by a wide margin.

Following the meal, we made our way back to the hotel to pack for our flight to Buenos Aires.

Day 4 (Buenos Aires)

We got up and weren’t in too much of a rush to catch our flight, but things did get much tighter than expected.  After wrapping up packing and getting a coffee,  we hailed an Uber…but it took much longer to arrive than anticipated.  And then the ride went even slower due to traffic.  Despite that, we still were able to check in, clear customs, and get to the gate before boarding started.  Still, things were to close for comfort.

The flight was uneventful other than the views flying over the Andes.  We did get meal service, and I remember it being surprisingly good – a salad and dessert.  Immigrations and customs were easy at EZE.  After making it through, we paid for a remis and had an uneventful 40 minute ride to the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires.

Our room was not quite ready, but we did get some good news in that we’d be getting upgraded to a suite.  This was not guaranteed by any means, but it was a possibility as a Globalist guest of honor booking.  Breakfast for two was also included.

We killed an hour or so in the lobby and did some walking around.  The property is one of the more interesting ones we stayed at.  It is a former palace and was really a cool setup.  The Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is up there with my favorite city Hyatts.

Our suite was spacious and plenty nice for the two of us.  The room looked out into the courtyard, where a band was setting up and playing songs in preparation for an American Express event of some sort.

At this point, we had some time to kill, but not enough to really do much.  I went out and walked around.  I also “lucked” my way into a wine shop and grabbed a bottle or two for the room. 

I had read a couple of recommendations about a speakeasy style bar in the basement of a flower shop and figured it was worth a go.  We walked over before our dinner and managed to make our way down after some slight confusion.  We definitely did not feel cool enough walking in, but they were friendly and made us some delicious drinks.  We would venture back several times during our Buenos Aires stay and thoroughly enjoyed the bar.

We caught an Uber to Parilla Pena, which was a Argentine meat feast.  The meal was very tasty and shockingly inexpensive.  It is still one of the meals that I remember most from the trip – and that was not just because of the extremely reasonable pricing.  It was a cool, seemingly authentic (looking at the rest of the crowd) experience.  By the time we left, the wait looked to have grown to an hour plus, compared to the 15 minutes we waited.

Catching an Uber back to the hotel was uneventful (which was not always the case for Ubers/cabs).

Day 5 (Buenos Aires)

We were sure to make it to the included breakfast.  And while the service was not the fastest, the setting was fantastic, and the food was good.  After breakfast, we returned to the room and planned out the day.

Our first stop was supposed to be Recoleta Cemetery.  We struggled finding the entrance a little bit and ended up taking a detour tour of a church as a result, which was fine.  Recoleta impressed us both more than we expected.  It was huge, and all the stone work was highly impressive.  We walked around for at least an hour and could have spent more time there.

There was plenty still to come on the walking tour.  Next up was the big metal flower sculpture, followed by the planetarium.  There happened to be some sort of Christmas village set up along the way as we walked. 

We concluded things by walking through Plaza Italia and Palermo Soho.  We considered sitting down for a glass of wine but decide to just Uber back to give us plenty of time to make dinner.

Speaking of which, we’d end up an hour or so late for dinner.  2 Ubers canceled before even arriving to pick us up, and when we finally had one get us it took forever with all the protests going on (which is apparently not that unusual).  It was frustrating, and we were apologetic upon arriving, but the restaurant did not mind and seemed to indicate that people are always late in this area with the protests.

The restaurant was El Baqueano, and it was supposed to be one of the better ones in Buenos Aires.  We both enjoyed it, and there were some out there/different courses.  Overall good, but on the more adventurous side of things.

Fortunately, getting back to the hotel was less of an event with the protestors having retired for the night.

Day 6 (Buenos Aires)

Breakfast was enjoyable again, though still a little slow.  We took the morning pretty easy and decided to do a walking tour that afternoon.  Alyce preferred to hang in the room and relax while we waited; I went and took a walk through Plaza San Martin and Florida Avenue.

I made it back just in time to head out for the tour.  We struggled to find the group…because we were the group.  The tour guide seemed willing to proceed, but we said that we’d just give it a shot the following day.  Instead, we walked through Puerto Madero, the waterfront, and Florida Ave.

We made time to get drinks at Floreria Atlantico and felt more like we belonged since we knew how to get in right away.  Dinner was within walking distance at La Pecora Nera.  This was an Italian styled restaurant, and we enjoyed it very much.  We did have a communication hiccup or two, but really had a good meal overall.

Day 7 (Buenos Aires)

After another nice hotel breakfast, we walked to our meeting spot for the morning tour, which was through the more downtown/government/political related areas.  The walk to the meeting spot ended up being much farther than anticipated, but we made it…barely.

Overall, we covered some decent ground and enjoyed hearing insights from a local.  I enjoy just walking and seeing the sight, but having a tour guide definitely adds to the experience.  The tour was a “free tour” which means the guides a compensated solely on tips.  Everyone appeared to contribute, which was well earned by the guide.

We had a brief break at the hotel, then caught the second tour that covered Retiro/Recoleta.  It was very interesting, and we probably enjoyed this one more of the two.  Though, they were both good.

After the tour, we walked back and set up dinner based on a concierge recommendation for an Argentine steakhouse (like parilla Pena our first night).  She recommended Rio Alba, and it was good.  But, Parilla Pena was better – not too mention a good bit cheaper.

We Ubered home after dinner and started the packing process.

Flight home

We enjoyed our final breakfast in the courtyard, and then took off for the airport with time to spare.    The ride was uneventful and check-in was easy.  We killed some time in the lounge while waiting to board.

We were also flying American Airlines business on the way back.  It was similar to the flight there, but it was a day flight.  I don’t recall sleeping – maybe I dozed off briefly.  I did watch the first two Godfather movies, which helped the flight go by pretty quickly.  Alyce caught a nap.  Overall the travel was easy, and – as always – business class is fantastic.

We had a couple hours to kill in Miami waiting for our connecting flight.  Fortunately, we had access to the American Flagship lounge again and were able to eat and relax there. 

I can’t even recall the MIA-MSY flight, so it must have been fine.  My dad picked us up, and we were excited to get home and see James after our longest trip away from him to this point.

Concluding Thoughts

We worked to fit this trip in with all the house related stuff going on.  I’m glad we did, as the only trip (other than the gulf coast beach trip) in 2018 we would be able to work in was a long weekend to Boston for a wedding.  I probably didn’t do quite as much planning as I usually would, but I still was able to do enough.  Overall, I thought we gave it a pretty good go.

I had seen Santiago referred to as “Sanhattan” as a play on Manhattan for its similarity to US city – especially in its business district.  While I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it did have the more American feel of the two cities. 

The food was good, and there were plenty of things to walk around and see/do.  That said, I think the more interesting destinations in Chile are outside of Santiago.  There are several day trips to do from there, and even more places to travel to/stay at.  We enjoyed out stop here, but I’d expect our next Chile stop to venture more towards Patagonia.

Buenos Aires is a shockingly European city if you don’t know what to expect going in.  The Palaces and building architecture are very reminiscent of Paris.  Turns out there was a good reason for that as it was planned that way and the stone for many of the buildings was imported from France.  I don’t remember the exact details from our tour, but Argentina was apparently a very wealthy country back around the late 1800s and wanted to model itself after Paris.

Unfortunately, not all of the architecture remains.  Some palaces were torn down to make way for gaudy 80s style office buildings.  As bad as that sound, fortunately much remains.

Overall, we probably enjoyed our meals more in Buenos Aires, with the caveat that our sushi meal in Santiago was one of the better meals of the trip.  There is also a ton to see/do in Buenos Aires, but it also offers interesting day trips.  The great Hyatt hotel also aided our enjoyment of Buenos Aires.

That said, our next trip to Argentina will also likely be focused on making several stops throughout the country, but I will try to work in a couple days in Buenos Aires as well.

Another successful trip in the books.  Hopefully this January 2021 report of a December 2017 trip was mostly accurate.  From here on out, I’ll try to not let 4 New Year’s pass between a trip and its report!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *