Wineries and Olive Oil in Mendoza, Argentina

While it also offers adventure tourism including hikes in the Andes and rappelling in caves and old mines, Mendoza, Argentina is probably most well known for its many wineries. While I was there on a quick stop between Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina I decided to do a little exploring and I visited two of the region’s wineries as well as an olive oil factory – and, of course, enjoyed the samples.

I had done some research online but didn’t find any good deals for winery tours so I decided to wait until I got there and see if I could dig up a more economical option. Luckily, I was right! If you’re headed to Mendoza, I highly recommend holding off until you get there to book a tour as the ones I found were about 1/5 the price of what I saw online. This is likely especially true if you speak Spanish (I took a Spanish language tour) but you should still find a better deal on English language tours by waiting. Head to the main pedestrian street that connects the Plaza de la Independencia and the Avenida San Martin and you’ll see a number of tour companies. Just walk in and start comparing prices and you’ll find yourself a good deal.

Check out the video below to get an idea for what the wineries and olive oil factory were like (it wasn’t harvesting season so there’s not a lot of action with the machines, but it was still a cool experience). Bonus: random useless knowledge: green olives and black olives are actually the same fruit from the same olive tree, just at differing levels of ripeness.

Mendoza, Argentina on Argentinian Independence Day

To break up my trip from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina I made a quick stop for a few days in Mendoza (known for its wine production) and one of those days just happened to be Argentinian Independence Day. While their were no fireworks (our standard method of celebrating our Independence Day in the United States) there were fountains dyed the color of the flag, a celebratory gathering of vendors, and live performances from child dancers and professional musicians alike.

It was a pretty low-key celebration, but it was lovely. Check out the video below to see for yourself.

How do you celebrate Independence Day in your country?

Crossing the Andes: Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina by Bus

Instead of flying from Santiago, Chile directly to Buenos Aires, Argentina I decided to take the scenic bus route through the Andes and stopping in Mendoza, Argentina to visit the wineries and olive oil factories (which you’ll hear more about next week). All I can say about the bus trip is WOW.

I booked my tickets online via the Andesmar (an Argentinian bus company) website and all I had to do was show up at the bus station the morning of my trip with my printed ticket, my reciprocity fee receipt (Argentina charges all those traveling on a U.S. passport a $160 reciprocity fee in order to enter the country, which you must pay online in advance), and my luggage and check in at the Andesmar desk. My advice: if at all possible choose the a seat on the top level and in the very front of the bus for the best views.

While 6-8 hours on a bus isn’t really anyone’s idea of a good time, the views of the snow-capped Andes were absolutely amazing. Please check out the video below to get an idea, but it doesn’t do the journey justice at all. It was incredible to see and I am so happy I chose to cross the border by bus instead of choosing the more convenient flight.

Viña del Mar and Valparaíso

Two popular beach towns to which people from Santiago escape in the summer are Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Less than two hours outside of the capital city and rather adorable, I can see why they would be popular spots for weekenders in the summer. I, however, visited Chile in the winter so there wasn’t a ton going on.

I still had an awesome time and tasted some delicious food though (shrimp and cheese empanadas – delicious). Check out the video below to see what the two cities look like in gloomy winter and try to imagine them with sunshine and summer crowds.

Santiago, Chile

Today’s post will be short and sweet. I’ve been super busy here in Chile going to startup events and interviewing people in the entrepreneurship world so I haven’t had a chance to do a ton of touristy activities yet. I’m staying in Santiago and, to be honest, the city seems like it could be a city anywhere in any country in the world. It doesn’t have much of a unique personality in my opinion, but it’s definitely more European than the other Latin American countries I’ve visited so far.

Last weekend I did finally get out and do a little Santiago sightseeing  so check out the video below to see some of the more popular tourist spots.

Jungle Land Panama Tour with Captain Carl

The Jungle Land Panama tour I did with Captain Carl was the highlight of my time in Panama. I 100% recommend it to anyone visiting Panama. I was picked up by a shuttle in Panama City and taken out to the boat dock about 45 minutes away. From there we jetted out into the Panama Canal where we got to see ships, tug boats, dredges, and a host of other machines and activities related to the Canal’s operations and all pointed out and explained to us by Captain Carl – the owner of Jungle Land Panama and our tour guide for the day.

After we left the main Canal waterway we explored into the jungle learning about some of the native (and surprisingly not native) flora and fauna from Captain Carl and even stopping to feed some wild monkeys! As you all know, I’ve been traveling in Latin America for quite some time now and before I took this tour with Jungle Land Panama I had been in Central America for nearly two months and was just a few days away from heading to South America. If any of you have done research on vacationing in Costa Rica or Panama you know that everyone talks about the abundant monkey population and how unafraid of humans they are. Well, with t-minus 4 days and counting until I left, I had yet to see any monkeys until I took this tour and THANK GOODNESS this tour changed all of that!

I know this video is a little bit long but that’s just because there was a ton of amazing stuff on this tour so please watch it to the end to make sure you see all of the cool animals you can meet and fun activities you can do if you ever make it to Panama and do this tour.

Eventually, we arrived at the floating lodge where we got to feed another type of monkey and then enjoyed our own tasty and satisfying local lunch including free non-alcoholic beverages and $1 beer and wine. The lodge is literally built on a dock floating in Gatun Lake but with a slightly separated area that Carl claims is free of crocodiles and other critters that might eat you alive while you’re swimming. The top floor has a host of hammocks and an area where you can lay out and enjoy the sun or take pictures of the jungle and lake. The middle floor hosts the eating area and some of the overnight rooms and the bottom floor has the bathrooms and equipment for water activities.

After lunch we were given the option of a kayaking tour, fishing in the lake, or just relaxing at the lodge – none of which cost any extra. I opted for the kayaking and we ventured deeper into the jungle and eventually made it to a secluded waterfall where we could jump off the edge into the water below. After the activities we hung out a bit more at the lodge, met a few more animals (which you’ll see in the video) and then headed back to civilization.

All in all this was an amazing tour and I would definitely do it again.

 

 

The Panama Canal

Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal
Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal

Of course, anyone who goes to Panama has to visit the Panama Canal. Located within Panama City itself, the Miraflores Lock is probably the most visited and that’s where I headed one of my first few days in Panama.

Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal
Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal

The Miraflores Lock isn’t right in the downtown – it’s out near the Ciudad del Saber or City of Knowledge but can be reached on your own if you have a rental car, by public bus (I’m not sure which bus, I just saw the bus stop), the Hop-on-Hop-off bus, or in a taxi. You’ll have to purchase tickets before entering and you can choose to visit just the observation deck or visit the observation deck plus the Panama Canal Museum and watch a movie about the Canal’s history and construction. It was unclear what the price of each section was because each sign I saw showed different prices for the various combinations (Panamanian vs. foreigner and observation only vs. observation and museum and movie) and when we actually purchased our tickets the total price didn’t match up with any of the signs. My friend and I paid a total of $5 for one Panamanian and one foreigner entry to the observation deck only (at all of the tourist attractions in Panama foreigners will pay quite a bit more than Panamanians).

Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal
Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal

I got lucky and was there while some ships were passing through so I was able to see the changing of water levels and the opening of the lock system’s gates. An employee explains over the loudspeaker what’s going on and a little bit about the history and operations of the Canal (in English and Spanish) while the whole process takes place.

Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal
Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal

While it wasn’t the most exciting tourist attraction I’ve ever seen, it was fun and worthwhile and something you should definitely do if you make it to Panama City.

Isla Tortuga – Costa Rica

While in Costa Rica I stayed in the capital city of San Jose, which is not on the water. However, since Costa Rica is known for its beaches, I did take a few trips out to the Pacific coast to see what it had to offer. One of those trips was a visit to Tortuga Island.

Those who want to visit Tortuga Island, which is a small, semi-private island where you can enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, bird-watching, or just lounging on the beach should take a ferry or a catamaran from Puntarenas. You’ll have to book this as a day tour and you’ll be provided lunch on the island by your ship’s staff. The lunch and a few tickets for basic drinks are included. Alcohol and any of the other activities like kayaking and snorkeling will cost you extra and I recommend trying to haggle with the activities vendors.

Having worked on cruise ships, I’m a little hard to impress so I wasn’t swept away by the entertainment or the beach’s beauty, but it was definitely an enjoyable day and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to have some leisure time and see beyond Jaco or Puntarenas.

You can check out the ferry ride and the island in the video below:

La Paz Waterfall Gardens – Costa Rica

La Paz Waterfalls and Sanctuary is one of the more popular tourist activities in Costa Rica. The main attractions, of course, are the two waterfalls but you won’t get to them until you first make your way through the sanctuary exploring the flora and fauna of Costa Rica and the Costan Rican rainforest. You’ll see amazing greenery in addition to bird habitats where you can even hold a toucan on your arm, a butterfly house, reptile buildings, hummingbird clusters, jungle cats, monkeys and a host of other creatures. You can even take photos in a colorful ox cart.

Ox Cart Ride at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
Ox cart ride before getting to the waterfalls.
Butterfly House - La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
Making friends with a butterfly, unfortunately, not one of the pretty blue ones (see the video).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you make friends with some animals, you’ll “hike” along a path to get to the waterfalls. I believe the waterfalls are between 35 and 37 meters each – definitely worth seeing and very pretty, but they’re certainly not the largest you’ll see in the world.

La Paz Waterfalls, Costa Rica La Paz Waterfalls, Costa Rica

 

 

 

 

 

This video will take you through a mini tour of the sanctuary and waterfalls starting at the beginning of the tour and ending at the waterfalls, so be patient!

The visit to La Paz was part of a larger combo tour in Costa Rica on which we also visited the Doka Coffee Plantation and Poas Volcano so keep an eye out for those posts soon!