We recently travelled from Buenos Aires, Argentina through Uruguay to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, thanks to Intrepid Travel. It was a fast and fun 17 days with lots of great stops along the way. In this podcast we break down the itinerary with our own comments and give the feedback we feel most important when considering this trip as part of the tour or independently.
The quotes below are taken directly from the tour description on the Intrepid Travel Classic Journeys website, with our photos and annotations below each section.
Day 1 – Buenos Aires
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Bienvenidos! Buenos Aires must be the ultimate cosmopolitan city. With Latin passion, European elegance and a distinctive style all of its own, this is a city that will steal your heart. The Portenos (local residents) are justifiably proud of their city which is comprised of distinct neighbourhoods, each with its own style.
A day just isn’t enough to see Buenos Aires, so make sure you plan another couple of nights here, at the very least. Our hotel was well located, but we were told the area was dangerous at night. That’s kind of true, but we had already walked the area in the late evenings several times over the last few weeks … so its as unsafe as the centre of any city at night.
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Day 2 – Colonia
We cross the Rio de la Plata into Uruguay by ferry (up to 3 hours) to the charming colonial city of Colonia del Sacramento. Stroll down the cobblestone streets and rub shoulders with locals as they go about their day, continually sipping from their cup of mate (tea).??We stay the night at a simple and well located hotel.
We talked about Uruguay in a recent podcast, so check that for more details on the next few days. Colonia is a beautiful town, and we had enough time to see all the ruins, pretty buildings, and down a few beers on the waterfront or within the town. If you want to relax, this is the place.
Day 3 – Montevideo
We continue on to Montevideo by public bus (approx. 3 hours), Uruguay’s capital and its largest city by far. This is the commercial and cultural hub of the country. Despite all the trimmings of a modern metropolis, it retains a laid back atmosphere and with many good museums and beaches, it is a lovely place to stay.
The hotel was really well located, which was a major plus considering the limited time we had here. Although we had been in Montevideo before this, we learned some new things from the guide, and found a great little place for lunch — the markets down by the port.
Most people on the tour thought the afternoon was enough, but we felt there was no time to do anything but the most superficial sightseeing. Two days here wouldn’t have added much however; you really need to get under the skin to get a lot out of Montevideo.
Days 4-7 – Estancia Stay
Our stay on a local estancia is the real deal as we spend a few days experiencing a working farm. If you are up for it, you can fully involve yourself in the day-to-day jobs (which change according to any given day and the season) and may include herding the sheep and cows (on horseback), branding cattle, and marking and injecting the lambs against worms.
The estancia (ranch) was definitely the hightlight of Uruguay for us, and that’s something we were surprised about! After this finished up, we spent an afternoon at the hot springs in Salto before a long trip up to Foz do Iguazu.
If you’re thinking about Uruguay, see our Uruguay travel section.
Days 8-10 – Foz do Iguazu
Arriving in the morning at Puerto Iguazu we take a minivan to Foz de Iguazu (approx. 1 hour), crossing the Brazil-Argentina border. After a couple of hours at the hotel to freshen up, you have free time to visit the Brazilian side of the Falls (optional). The following day you will have free time to visit the Argentinean side of the falls (Optional activity–transport, guide and entrance fees not included).
Our time in Iguacu was great! It deserves to be called a natural wonder and, we think, was a highlight for everyone on the tour. Intrepid organised a transfer to and from the park, but we split off from the rest of the group and did our own thing with Urban Adventures’ cheap day tours. It was nice having a rest day here too, with the option of either going to the Itaipu dam (on the Brazilian side) or a shopping day in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
Days 11-12 – Paraty
The overnight bus arrives in Paraty at about 6pm. ??Sitting between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Paraty is a great place to ‘get away from it all’. This is one of the world’s best preserved Portuguese colonial towns and is now World Heritage-listed.
Up until now, we had been revisiting places we had already visited (with the exception of the estancia). So, this is where things started getting ‘new’ for us. The next three places we visited were both beautiful and interesting. I don’t know what else you might look for in a destination.
Paraty is a little colonial town, surounded by water and mountains, with nice cobblestone streets, little churches, and a car-free centre.
Nearby are great beaches, plus diving and hiking trips, but we opted for some lazy days around town. We met our friend Washington for dinner one night, and arranged to meet later, in Rio.
Days 13-15 – Ilha Grande
Leaving Parati behind, we head by public bus and ferry to our island getaway on Ilha Grande (approx. 5 hours). Spend time contemplating the sandy beaches with a caipirinha in hand or go snorkelling and swimming in the beautiful warm waters.
Someone on tour said Ihla Grande was much more like Costa Rica than anywhere she had seen in Brazil. There’s a lush tropical forest that comes down to the sea, with plenty of natural harbours. One side is sheltered and smooth, whilst the other is great for surf. Much of the island is dedicated nature reserves, and there are only a handful of vehicles, run by police and emergency staff. You can hike around, or use water taxis to visit other beaches.
Days 16-17 – Rio de Janeiro
Our adventure comes to an end in the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) (approx. 5 hours by ferry and minibus). In this heaving metropolis, set against the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay and surrounded by the slopes of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado, it’s hard not to be caught up in the Carioca’s (residents) passion… ??In Rio we stay in a hotel only one block from Copacabana.
We arrived in Rio for lunch, and had one night’s accommodation included in the tour. Surprising for us, most of the tour group was flying out that day or the next while we had a week or so to explore Rio. Our guide did some research and offered several tour options for everyone so they could see the highlights of the city on that first afternoon. We enjoyed the beach instead (how often are you so close to Copacabana and Ipanema?!) and left sightseeing for another day.
Value, money and time
This is a great itinerary that takes you to lots of wonderful places. We found the time was sufficient for a sightseeing tour without becoming exhausted by the end.
However, it seems too fast to do independently. With Intrepid we had someone else organising accommodation, transport and transfers — as well as giving us a brief orientation and ideas on things to see, restaurants and bars. If we were doing this ourselves, we’d need to do this itinerary over 25-30 days or longer in order to enjoy each place, rather than just be organising all the time.
The cost of the tour, when we did it was approximately US$2,250, or $140 per day; that’s for accommodation and transport, with some meals. We estimate the cost of accommodation and transport was US$750-800; approximately $50 per day. That’s quite a large difference, but comes back to the question of time vs money, and the value you get from it. Independent travellers who want to cover the sights quickly, those on short vacations, and people who don’t yet feel comfortable with travel in South America will all find good value in the tour.
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