After around a dozen trips to South America since 1997, Greenmount Travel has a fair idea of the best places to go, especially from a farming point of view. Our local operators in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru are all first class. So how did we make it a little different in 2015? Well, we decided to go clockwise instead of anti-clockwise. And we decided to visit Uruguay for the first time.
Going clockwise was all part of a clever plan to get any altitude related problems out of the way while the group was still fresh. And overall, it worked well, although a nasty bug still managed to find a few people towards the end of the tour.
Once again, the spectacular beauty of South America weaved its magic. Cusco and Machu Picchu, Iguacu Falls, Rio, Buenos Aires, Patagonia and the lakes and volcanos of southern Chile.
The huge farming operations in the Mato Grosso in Brazil left everyone gobsmacked and the first foray into Uruguay was a winner. In recent years, farmers have flocked into Uruguay from Argentina, attracted by the fertile soils and reliable climate – plus the fact that the cost of land is about half, and the Uruguay government doesn’t levy the same crippling export taxes on primary products as their Argentinian neighbours.
A tour of South America always involves a lot of flights and the local airlines often have a ‘flexible’ attitude to departure times – that’s if they depart at all. Our tourists were prepared for the inevitable delays, but amazingly enough, everything ran like a Swiss clock. Until the last flight back home, that is, when the airline (LAN) decided that the husbands and wives had probably seen enough of each other by that stage and decided to split the couples into different parts of the plane.
Apart from the inexplicable outbreak of punctuality, we also (just) missed on that South American sporting tradition – the demonstration/strike. For some reason, the residents of Rio were revolting and we just managed to squeeze out before they closed the roads.
And in Chile, we missed a total blockade of the roads by the truckies by about 10 minutes. And when we got to Santiago, we could still see evidence of the clash between police and students the day before which had closed the airport and all the streets.
Overnight flight to Santiaga (Chile) via Auckland. The flight time from Auckland is about 11 hours, 20 minutes, most of which is at night. On arrival we transfer to a flight to Lima (Peru). As we fly north along the Chilean coast we should get a great view of the coast backed by the magnificent snow capped Andes. Afternoon arrival and transfer to hotel.
Short city tour of Limathen transfer to the airport for our flight to Cuzco. Short tour of the city on the way to the hotel and time to visit one of the markets. Dinner and folkloric show at a local restaurant this evening.
This morning we enjoy a spectacular bus and train journey through farming valleys and imposing mountains to Aguas Calientes station (1000 metres lower than Cuzco). From here we are transported by bus to the top of the mountain and our unforgettable introduction
to the citadel of Machu Picchu, one of the most renowned examples of Inca architecture, surrounded by lush cloud forest. Lost in history, it was not discovered until 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. After a guided visit of the ruins, we will have a self-service lunch at the local mountain-top restaurant. After lunch, there will be plenty of time to wander the ruins and maybe climb to the Sun Gate for a spectacular view of the whole site (about 45 minutes each way) or go back down the mountain to explore Aguas Calientes. Late afternoon return to Cusco. No dinner has been organised, but snacks are available on the train.
Fly to Foz do Iguacu, then enter the Iguazu National Park to check in at our magnificent colonial hotel. This is the only hotel within the National Park and is spectacularly located on the edge of the falls.
Full day to explore all aspects of the falls. We go straight to our jungle tour and exhilarating jetboat ride to the most impressive part of Iguazu Falls – Garganta del Diablo (translated as the ‘Devil’s Throat’). After lunch, visit the giant Itaipo Dam – one of the seven wonders of the modern world. This enormous hydro scheme is a joint project between the governments of Paraguay and Brazil. Eight kilometres wide and requiring enough concrete to build five Hoover Dams, the Itaipu Dam spans the Parana River at the Brazil/Paraguay border.
The plan is to get back to the hotel in time for sunset and an unforgettable (and easy) stroll along the boardwalk, from the front of our hotel, to many vantage points including Garganta del Diablo. Free evening to explore the falls and enjoy this magnificent hotel.
An early start as we fly to Cuiaba then travel through the spectacular Chapada dos Guimarães, an area of stunning table-top mountains, ravines, caves, streams and waterfalls perched about 800m higher than the enormous, flat plains of the Pantanal. It enjoys cooler temperatures and its vegetation is \'cerrado\' or tropical savannah which gives rise to different flora and fauna. This cerrado landscape dominates Brazil\'s broadacre agriculture – not
only in Mato Grosso, but Minas Gerais, Goias and Bahia. It was thought to be worthless for agriculture until Brazilian researchers found that it could be made highly productive with the addition of lime and phosphorus. We will visit some of the huge farming operations near Campo Verde. It is truly farming on a grand scale. Dinner with some local consultants and farmers.
Visit to Bom Futuro. The size of this family owned operation is almost incomprehensible. They grow 90,000 hectares of cotton which is classed as a secondary crop to soybeans. They are
big enough to build a hydroelectric power station 200 km away which provides 60 per cent of the power to their nine cotton gins and farming operations. They have scaled back their cattle enterprise but still have something like 100,000 head. And they have moved into fish farming in a big way. Be prepared to be amazed.
Visit more farms in the area as we travel along some roads which will give you an idea of the logistical problems facing farmers in this frontier area. Then back to Cuiaba, where we catch a flight to Rio de Janeiro for an evening arrival. Transfer to our beachside hotel.
While in Rio we will see the major sights of this fantastic city including Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer), the Lagoon, Copacabana and Ipanema Beach and the Sugarloaf cable car. After lunch, we have the opportunity to do something most tourists don’t – an amazing guided tour of some of the favelas (hillside shanty towns) of Rio. This tour is not intrusive or patronising. It has the full backing of the local communities to help raise awareness of their unique living, social and political conditions.
This morning we transfer to the international airport and fly to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
Short city tour and then embark on farm visits. We will be met by two farm specialist guides/ agronomists who are linked with the Argentina Minimum Till Association (APPRESID). Over the next few days our guides will introduce us to the farms and farmers of La Pampa (the pampas), an almost uninterupted fertile plain of 75,000,000 hectares covering a large part of eastern Argentina through to Uruguay and southern Brazil. In the afternoon we arrive at Fray Bentos on the Uruguay River, the border between Uruguay and Argentina.
We cross the border into Argentina and visit farms through the province of Entre Rios – Spanish for “between rivers.” The rivers in this case are two giant waterways, the Uruguay and the Parana which eventually meet just outside of Buenos Aires.
In the afternoon, we cross the Parana into Rosario, the agricultural capital of Argentina, .
This morning we will visit a family farm (La Sorpresa), producing crops over a large area and with a long history of efficient and sustainable use of natural resources. We’ll visit some crop production plots and a feed lot. A BBQ lunch (asado) in the field and then we’ll travel through to reach a major town of the Pampas region, Pergamino city.
Thurs, Aug 20 (B,L,D)
Early this morning we\'ll visit another large farm where we\'ll enjoy another asado. We\'ll also visit one of the local machinery dealers. After lunch, we\'ll travel through rich farming country to Buenos Aires where we will say goodbye to our AAPRESID friends.
This morning we have a guided city tour of the major sights of BA to get our bearings. BA
is a city of many barrios (neighbourhoods) and we\'ll visit colonial San Telmo, the colourful houses of La Boca and the newly redeveloped Puerto Madero. At the Plaza de Mayo, we get a look at the Casa Rosada (the Pink Palace) where Eva Peron waved to the adoring crowds and visit her tomb in the cemetery at La Recoleta. Our hotel is located on the widest street in the world, the Avenue 9 de Julio, which honours Argentina\'s independence day in 1816. It is in an area known as Microcentro and is close to shopping and almost opposite the beautiful Teatro Colon, BA\'s opera house. The afternoon and evening are free, but we will try to suggest a few options such as bike tours and just generally exploring the many interesting areas of BA. For those interested, we can organise an optional visit to a Tango show, which can also include dinner. Or you may enjoy a night at the opera.
Today we fly south to the magnificent Patagonian region to the lake-side resort centre of El Calafate, the gateway to the Argentine glaciers. In the afternoon we will visit one of the local large scale sheep farms and discuss their particular (and unique) problems, such as pumas.
We are in the arid rain-shadow region of the Argentine Patagonia. This is an environment ranging from enormous, majestic glaciers through to thick sub-Antarctic woodlands and savage unclimbed crags. El Calafate is sited on the shores of Lago Argentino, one of the world’s largest and most beautiful lakes.
El Calafate is also the access town for Glacier Perito Moreno, undoubtedly one of the world’s natural wonders and one of the very few advancing glaciers on Earth. Early this morning we board our charter 4 wheel drive coach and travel about an hour to visit this glacier as it wages a titanic battle with Lago Argentino. On our spectacular boat cruise to the face of the glacier we will witness huge chunks of ice detonate off the face with the report of a cannon, and plunge into the water below. There will be plenty of time to enjoy the walking trails and viewing platforms. Lunch has not been organised, but is available from the well stocked kiosk. After our glacier encounter we will return to El Calafate by the \"back road,\" passing through a very large sheep operation – Estancia Altavista. This estancia (ranch) is 75,000 hectares running 28,000 sheep. We then travel to Estancia Nibepo Aike for a welcome reception and a run-down of the operation from the owner, Senor Adolfo Jansma, followed by a Patagonian lamb barbecue and a late return to El Calafate.
We start early on a long, but spectacular trip across the stark Patagonia plains – with some wildlife spotting, especially the local guanacos (type of llama) and maybe a condor or two. We cross the border into Chile and the famous Torres del Paine National Park with a picnic lunch on the way. Torres del Paine is a massif crowned with weird twisted granite peaks rising out of the surrounding plains. It is one of the planet’s most visually stunning national parks standing guard against the elements at the foot of the world.
By late afternoon we arrive at the ferry terminal of Puerto Natales. The town is a spectacular settlement sited on the Seno Ultima Esparanza channel – or Last Hope Sound.
We board our Chilean coach and enjoy a scenic journey to a local estancia. There will be time to inspect the farm and livestock and talk about grazing at the far end of the world, before we arrive at Punta Arenas, on the Straits of Magellan in Patagonian Chile.
This was long-considered the world’s southernmost city (with a recent surge in population, Ushuaia, a bit further to the south, now carries that tag). Punta Arenas is roughly 1420 km from the coast of Antarctica.
This morning we fly through to Puerto Montt and pick up our coach for a wonderful drive through the beautiful Osorno region. There will be spectacular views (weather permitting) of Volcano Osorno and other snow clad peaks soaring to 3500 metres. The region is the jewel in the crown of Chile’s southern lakes district. It is also the heart of the pasturage zone, concentrating over half the cattle in the country, with many dairies and beef operations. We visit the farm of the Neumann family, descendants of the original Germans, where they produce milk and beef with the local dual-purpose breed – the Overo Colorado. Marcelo and Maria Elena, and their children, will welcome us to their home for afternoon tea.
Full day of farm visits. We visit some major farms in the area to talk with the owners
about their agricultural practices and product marketing. With reliable rainfall and rich volcanic soils, this region of Chile boasts some of the highest average wheat yields in the world. Then continue through to spectacular Villarica for overnight. Our hotel is perched right on the edge of Lake Villarica, with snow capped Mount Villarica just behind. Free evening.
Visit farms in the morning then take the short flight to Santiago and a short panoramic tour of the city. This intriguing city of 5 million people has one of the world\'s most dazzling locations. Sights visited include the Palacio de la Moneda, the Plaza de Armas and the incongrously named, Avenida del Libertador Bernardo O\'Higgins (la Almeda). In the evening, we have a farewell dinner.
With a late night departure, you have the option today of a rest day in Santiago or a day trip through some magnificent scenery to the beautiful and historic seaside city of Valparaiso for lunch (highly recommended). Then transfer to the airport for the flight home.