Lillian Martin traveled with us to Uruguay and Argentina, and left a piece of her heart behind in South America. From wineries and memorable meals in Salta, Argentina to the beaches and striking architecture of Montevideo, Uruguay, she got an opportunity to experience the very best of this fascinating region.
Author: Lillian Martin
During one glorious week in 2014, I walked the length of one of the world’s largest waterfalls, found myself on a mountaintop in the Andes, hiked up a glacier and took a tango lesson. I’m talking about Argentina, of course: a vast place filled with natural wonders and a melange of cultures.
On that trip, I recalled drinking a deliciously crisp wine called Torrontés that was hard to find when I got back home. Some internet research revealed that I wasn’t alone in my adoration of Torrontés . Its sweet floral aromas with hints of white peach and lemon zest were a favorite among all who tasted it. It turns out Torrontés is grown in the Salta region in the northern part of Argentina. I was determined to visit!
Why I chose Enchanting Travels
I emailed Lisa Fox, one of Enchanting Travels’ South America experts. We had recently gone on a fabulous trip to Belize that she designed, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would come up with. After a quick email exchange, Lisa and I met on Zoom to begin planning. We enjoyed brainstorming, and, after some additional back and forth emails, we settled on a fantastic itinerary that included everything on my wishlist.
Over the years, I’ve traveled with other luxury travel agencies and have settled on using Enchanting Travels for all my big trips. What sets Enchanting Travels apart is the level of detail and customization that goes into your vacation. Enchanting Travels brilliantly manages to incorporate my desire to go “off the beaten path” with my husband’s need to be independent and wrap it up in a level of luxury we’ve come to enjoy – even if our travels take us to the middle of nowhere!
Our first stop: Montevideo, Uruguay
We began our trip in Montevideo, Uruguay which is across the bay from Buenos Aires. With its elegant capital, windswept beaches and enchanting beach towns, Uruguay is a hidden gem. I had always wanted to visit Montevideo because my grandparents fled Germany and got married on the steps of the old courthouse.
We stayed in a boutique hotel in the tony neighborhood of Positos, a beachfront enclave of modern condos and inventive restaurants within walking distance. That afternoon, our private guide and driver picked us up for a fantastic tour of the city highlights. Montevideo’s wide avenues and Art Deco buildings speak of a bygone era. Our guide, Maria, was funny and talkative, eager to share her city with us. We learned that in the 1930s, Montevideo became an epicenter of European culture and finance as many Italians and French fled the war in Europe.
What to do in Montevideo
Visit the city’s parks and take in the sights along La Rambla, the 14-mile long pedestrian waterfront promenade along the Rio de la Plata, an estuary that separates Argentina from Uruguay. Drive to the old town and then walk from the Plaza de la Constitución to the Statue de Argas, with stops at the Art Deco bookstore, Librería Más Puro Verso, for a pastry and coffee.
The journey to Salta, Argentina
The next day we biked on the Rambla and then, before we knew it, we were headed to the airport for our journey to Salta.
We accidentally left a passport in our hotel room but it was swiftly handled after a quick WhatsApp exchange with our ground coordinator, Claudia. As with all Enchanting Travels trips, there is a specific person assigned to you that you can call when something goes wrong. This added value cannot be overstated when traveling in a foreign country. Whether it’s a luxury car or the individualized care you receive from a tour guide, when you travel with Enchanting Travels, you are treated like a VIP.
When our plane landed in Salta later that night, we were met at the baggage claim by a lovely guide who took us to our hotel downtown in a private car. When we asked the name of a good restaurant, both the driver and guide enthusiastically launched into an animated discussion about where we should go. Apparently, the whole town eats out on Saturday night and they eat late, “around midnight”, and restaurants stay open until 3 am. Sure enough, as we dug into plates of homemade pasta, empanadas and lamb at a local favorite, it only started to fill up as we were leaving.
Salta is a stunning city with a Spanish feel and neoclassical architecture. After a delicious breakfast at the lovely boutique hotel, Legado Mitico Salta, that included homemade individual pear tarts, we strolled around Plaza 9 de Julio watching people coming out of stately churches and merchants setting up for the Sunday market.
Winery hopping in Cafayate
The four-hour drive down to Cafayate on two-lane roads was full of twists and turns, with the topography changing from farmlands to sandstone formations. We drove through Quebrada de las Conchas Nature Reserve and it was spectacular. Think Southwest Utah with rugged red clay cliffs combined with Napa valley’s windswept vineyards and ringed by the mighty snow-capped Andes mountains.
We eventually pulled into the stately Patios de Cafayate Resort, an elegant hotel attached to the famous El Esteco Winery. The hotel and vineyard are set in the valley. Our room was palatial with an unmistakable old world charm. When I opened the window, the scent from the lavender bushes below filled the room. There was a casual elegance about the place. During our stay, the front desk clerk told us to go visit one of her friends who had a lesser-known winery, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Another morning, when I inquired about a horseback ride, the front desk clerk motioned for me to go outside and said: “Just go ask the guys to give you a ride through the vineyard.” These casual exchanges happened throughout our stay and made for a unique and exciting experience.
The Cafayate region is truly farm-to-table. Each night we dined on delicious grass-fed steaks and inventive salads served with hot, fresh-baked Italian bread. Over the next few days, we forged rivers and steered uphill rocky, unpaved roads to explore little known wineries. On Lisa’s recommendation, we visited Piattelli Vineyards which is a “must do” experience. It truly is a spectacular place with incredible wines, a tasting room and a gorgeous sun-soaked patio restaurant packed with visitors enjoying lunch and the views.
On our last day, we drove an hour south to the Tucumán Province and explored the Quilmes ruins. The highway was flooded at multiple points but we easily forged on in our truck. The Quilmes people were part of an incredibly successful civilization and the pre-Hispanic settlements had water ducts, fortresses built on mountains, irrigation canals, terraced fields and more. We wandered among the remains, a labyrinth of low slung walls with humongous cacti and white quartz rocks the size of small boulders perched among them.
Our final stop in Argentina: Buzzing Buenos Aires
No trip to Argentina is complete without a visit to Buenos Aires. Modeled after Paris, the city’s boulevards are made for wandering, shopping in local designer boutiques, drinking craft beers and eating delicious meals. Lisa had booked us two half-day city tours, so each morning we were picked up and taken to see the sights.
Our guide, Jose, was charming and insightful and willing to discuss anything from history to current politics. He took us to see the gorgeous Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, that sits at the end of the famous Plaza de Mayo. We walked over to Mercado de San Telmo, an indoor food market bustling with vendors, and enjoyed looking at all the local meats, cheese and specialty products. We also went to La Boca, a vibrant neighborhood, where we took photos of the colorful Caminito and bought jars of dulce de leche to take home. The next day we toured the north which included the Cementerio de la Recoleta. Jose knew all the different tombs and regaled us with stories of all the famous families who had extravagant tombs. He even humored me with a stop at the Palacio Duhau so I could marvel at the ornate, lobby and interiors.
Our ferry back to Uruguay
Our international flights left from Montevideo, so Lisa Fox suggested that the final leg of our journey include a ferry ride back to Uruguay to visit Colonia del Sacramento before flying out. We said our tearful goodbyes to Jose the next morning and made the one hour river crossing where we were met by another fantastic guide also named Jose! The ferry leaves very early in the morning, so Jose dropped us off at the Hotel Charco for a delicious breakfast overlooking the river. They served the best fresh squeezed orange juice I’ve ever had.
We were supposed to do a bike tour but the wind was too strong. After a quick discussion, Jose pivoted seamlessly to a walking and driving tour of the area which speaks volumes about the quality of guides that Enchanting Travels books – trained professionals at the top of their game.
Colonia del Sacramento is a UNESCO Heritage site and Jose told us fascinating stories about how the city was conquered throughout the ages. Of course, all good things must come to an end, and we wistfully made our way to the airport leaving a big piece of our hearts in South America but vowing to return. It truly is a spectacular place, and I can’t thank Enchanting Travels enough for giving us this amazing trip.
Would you like to discover the beauty of South America with us? Speak to our experts today and get one step closer to going on your dream vacation!
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