I could not have been more pleased with our travel company. This was our first time using Zicasso as well. We were put in touch with three travel firms, but the communication from this company was the best by far. We have typically booked our own travel in the past, so were hesitant about how this would work out for us. It was the best decision we made! The agents we spoke with were both exceptionally well-informed, fully on top of details and made it easy to do business with them. They were very fair in pricing and giving us flexibility to book our own international airfare (we had frequent points we were able to use). All accommodated with no problem. We loved our primary contact--no detail was too small and she provided her cell phone # for any concerns 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She even answered on a Sunday night when we accidentally pocket-pressed. All you could ask for and more. They also informed us of a change in policy where travelers get a refund of the 21% hotel tax which became effective January 1st of this year--without us asking. Our contact did all the leg work to get that refunded for us--which was not insignificant and very much appreciated. This is an agency truly looking out for you--great customer service!!
We had a lot of concerns about our first trip to South America, having heard about Zika outbreaks and crime issues and eliminated Brazil for those reasons. Our concerns were addressed openly and honestly and our itinerary was developed to help minimize our concerns. We eliminated some things from our wish list (i.e. Salta) that I would not now eliminate having been to Argentina--but that leaves us things to see the next time we go.
Let me state that we both felt very comfortable with all of our plans and would visit both Argentina and Chile again. Of course, you do have to use common sense. We chose not to wear any jewelry or carry designer handbags/luggage. We also stayed alert while walking around and had no problems. Do not wear expensive watches--or even fake Rolex watches as one tourist did in our hotel. (He was robbed, but not hurt.) This is now true all over Europe as well as here though--we have a friend that wore a Rolex watch in Barcelona and was knocked over when robbed--dislocating his shoulder. (Six-foot four and 27 years old!) You can still look sharp, but don't flaunt wealth--again, just common sense.
With respect to the trip itself, we had a bit of bias toward Argentina as the city of Buenos Aires was much more what we liked vs. Santiago (which was also a good experience). But BA has more architectural beauty, sophistication and seemed cleaner in general to us. The drive to Santiago from the airport shows hovels and shanty towns a good part of the way in--hitting you with the extreme poverty that exists there. Stray and abandoned dogs were also everywhere--including the most popular tourist areas and homeless people were also found much more frequently. That said, the people in both countries were exceptionally warm and welcoming and the histories of great interest. We spent four nights in Santiago and it was the right decision so we did not have to move around constantly--but we were glad to take the full day trip to Valparaiso and a wine tour with our guide after a day touring the city. We also spent one day on our own and that was enough to see most important aspects of Santiago.
Let me say one more thing if you are the type of traveler who typically books for yourself: THINK AGAIN and USE THIS TRAVEL COMPANY! There are frequent strikes in South America (much like Europe) and unless you want to spend a fair amount of your time trying to re-map your itinerary and are able to speak fluent Spanish--use this company and rest easy.
All the people we met--mostly through our travel company. We chose to eat with both our tour guides and our drivers when we could--and absolutely loved the people we met. We learned so much more about the culture, the challenges faced and have so much respect for how hard working everyone is. They work very long hours--yet stay cheerful and warm to guests. We changed up our itinerary to have different experiences in each country--big city, mountains, lakes and wine country. We loved each one and really could not pick any one thing we liked more than another. We chose to drive around the Bariloche area ourselves and did tours of Mont Tronador and elsewhere on our own--which was great. But the tours where we took guides--such as the Osorno Volcano in Chile had the extra value of local knowledge and exposure. Highly recommend:
City tours of both Buenos Aires and Santiago with an outstanding guide!
--Be sure to see the market in Santiago--the best we have seen anywhere in the world!
--Visit Bariloche and drive up Mont Tronador. It is a rough drive on dirt roads with one way traffic at certain hours of the day--but the views going up are just spectacular. (The glacier in summer is largely melted--so we could have stopped after we reached the Mont Tronador Hotel and saved ourselves an hour drive on rough roads each way, but is probably worth doing in the Spring and possibly other times of the year.)
--The Osorno Volcano is beyond beautiful!! Go there for sure!
--Valparaiso is a fun stop, but we were glad we did it as a day trip from Santiago and didn't overnight there.
--Loved The Vines in Mendoza--beyond gorgeous and so relaxing. Do the Asado dinner there!
--Many great restaurants, but our favorite Argentine dinner was at Don Hulio's--don't miss it! The chimichurri sauce and steak is fabulous!
We were very happy with our trip overall--but if pushed, I might have adjusted two things. First, I am not sure I would drive from Bariloche, AR to Puerto Varas, Chile versus flying. We were counting on great views through the Andes making that worthwhile, but the weather was wet and misty--which I think can happen often--so views were restricted. We also experienced a customs mini-strike which took the form of a two hour closure and long lines. (Airports would also have been affected though--so not sure we wouldn't have had a long travel day either way.) I might also have shortened my time in Buenos Aires (we spent 7 nights there in total), not because I didn't like it or there wasn't enough to do, but because I could have seen Cordoba or another area of interest with yet another experience and perspective on the country. (I should point out that our travel agents offered this up and recommended a gaucho experience at an Estancia--which in retrospect would have been great. But we tend to like big cities and culture and decided to stay the extra time in BA. I am not sorry about this as I did get some great leather shopping in and saw additional points of interest we would not have wanted to miss....but wishing I had more time to also see Cordoba!) Next trip we will try that and Salta!
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