Argentina: Adventure at the Bottom of the World
When Nishi Kothari and Ravi Amin began their global love story, their first trip was to Prague and Budapest. Nishi, thinking of her childhood with parents who took her and her siblings on non-stop action-packed expeditions across the globe, asked Ravi how he liked to travel.
“And he told me, ‘I like a mix of seeing the sights, but also relaxing and immersing ourselves in the food and the culture.’ And it’s really changed the way I travel,” says Nishi.
Ravi is more of the outdoorsy type, looking for beautiful hikes along the way – something that was never a priority for Nishi. But that, too, has changed.
“The real test was our honeymoon in April of 2017,” recalls Nishi with a laugh, glancing at Ravi. “We did a 13-mile New Zealand hike. I think it’s the longest hike I had ever done in my life. And ever since then, I think you've gotten me on a hike every single time we've traveled.” Something Nishi’s closest friends can hardly believe.
And Nishi, for her part, has introduced Ravi to the world of fine dining, with a twist: Nishi is a long-time vegetarian. And she’s found that with just a little research, it’s usually not necessary to sacrifice sampling great local food, since many chefs offer exquisite vegetarian options. Even in the steak-heavy culture of Argentina.
“I would have never thought to look for really nice restaurants that cater to vegetarian diets,” said Ravi. “And she's done a great job of continuously finding them and not just finding good restaurants, but world-class restaurants that are started by some of the topmost chefs in the world. Especially in the last few years, there’s been this renewed focus on healthy living, healthy eating, and more vegetarian, plant-based diets. And it's reflected in some of the cutting-edge cuisines and dishes that some of these top chefs are making.”
When Nishi, a Houston native and personal injury attorney, and Ravi, a software developer, talk about their recent travels in Argentina, the conversation reflects the travel style they have evolved in their journeys together over the years. In their 10 days there in the Southern Cone, they sampled the best: the highlights of Buenos Aires, the wine country capital of Mendoza, and the epic landscapes of Patagonia and Iguazú Falls – and left wanting more.
They went to Argentina last fall (springtime in the Southern Hemisphere) and decided to only explore Argentina, and not to hit the highlights of neighboring Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, for example. There was one exception – seeing the other side of Iguazú Falls, in Brazil for half a day – but otherwise, it would be an entirely Argentine experience.
Nishi and Ravi try to take one big trip a year and have mostly succeeded in the nine years they’ve been together (Covid halted their travels for a couple of years). They’ve been to Portugal and to Mexico, explored a little bit of Europe, and have jetsetted to New Zealand and Australia. Separately, they have both been to Costa Rica, and Nishi has been to Peru. But aside from Mexico, they’d never traveled together in Latin America. Nishi has a friend from Argentina who talks about the country often, and Nishi began to bring those stories home. One day last summer, Ravi surprised her with a Lonely Planet guide to Argentina and a bottle of Malbec.
“He was like, ‘Look, you've been talking about it. Let's just put pen to paper, really think about it and get it done.’ And then we just decided to go for it,” she said.
They figured they’d go to Buenos Aires and Patagonia. “And as we read about it more and more, we just realized, it's such an amazing country. It's so massive. I think most people don't think about it like that.”
As they planned their itinerary, the list of must-sees began to grow. Finally, they settled on a plan. Their arrival, Oct. 21, was the day before a contentious presidential election, so at their friend’s advice, they took a direct flight to Buenos Aires and then booked a national flight straight to Iguazú, the wondrous falls that span the border between Argentina and Brazil and left Eleanor Roosevelt famously lamenting, “My poor Niagara…” Indeed, as a point of reference, the three majestic falls of Niagara span about 1,060 feet and a height of 167 feet; Iguazú’s 275 falls span around 1.7 miles and the tallest, Devil’s Throat, is 269 feet tall.
Most of their time was spent on the Argentinian side, where they stayed in the lush Loi Suites Iguazú, surrounded by the Iryapú rainforest and just minutes from the falls, and took a boat tour right up to the edge of the Devil’s Throat (wear a swimsuit, warns Nishi, you will get wet). They went to the Brazil side to get the grand panorama view of the falls in all their vastness.
After two days, they headed to Buenos Aires to see for themselves how this city of 15 million earned the moniker “Paris of South America.” Some of Nishi’s friends expressed their skepticism at how she would fare in this beef-heavy culture. They needn’t have worried. Nishi has made it her mission to disprove the old food stereotypes, and especially in recent years, she’s found many allies, among the top chefs wherever she goes.
“The main thing to do in Buenos Aires is to eat and drink,” writes Nishi in her detailed trip writeup (see the online version of this story for more). “The wine is superb and the food is phenomenal…. And you probably are wondering, what can she recommend in BA, the capital of steak?”
Just for starters, the two of them were blown away by the restaurant called Martí, run by Chef Germán Martitegui, who ran one of the most successful fine dining restaurants in Buenos Aires, and now runs a fully vegetarian restaurant in a lush and beautiful garden that also happens to produce much of the restaurant’s organic food.
Nishi called it “one of the best meals of my life.” And Ravi elaborated: “That was an amazing experience. It was all organic ingredients that they grew on premises, and they created it right in front of you, which was a pure experience just to watch them. From the moment you order to the moment you get it, you see your chef – who also happens to be your waiter, because of the way the restaurant was situated – prepping it, cooking it, and then serving it to you.”
They stayed in the beautiful centrally located Recoleta neighborhood, near tourist attractions like Eva Perón’s tomb and the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s version of the White House. They walked rather than taking taxis, finding the city to be much more enjoyable on foot with all the parks and charming architecture and people-watching. Their two days in Buenos Aires were over before they knew it, and then it was time to head to Patagonia: El Calafate, the Perito Moreno glacier, a trek up to see Mount Fitz Roy, and a stay in the beautiful mountain town of Bariloche, “like something right out of the Swiss Alps,” as Ravi put it.
This is where the couple donned their hiking shoes and set out to enjoy Ravi’s favorite activity: hiking.
“All of my friends would make fun of me for not being a hiker,” Nishi said with a laugh. “But now they all make fun of me because for the past seven years, every single one of our trips has ended in a big hike. And so we've been hiking all over the world now. And all of my friends are like, ‘who have you become? This is not you at all!’”
“That was the only thing we didn't get to do too much of in Argentina,” mused Ravi, seated at her side in a December Zoom interview. “We did a short hike in Patagonia.”
“The ‘short hike’ was – what was it, four or five miles?” shot back Nishi, teasingly.
The hike was up a mountain on a cold and windy day in the snow and the rain. But the reward was rich. As they reached the placid waters of Laguna de los Tres, the famous glacier lake that normally reflects Mount Fitz Roy, or El Chaltén, and two other magnificent peaks, and turned to head back down, the clouds parted, and they got a glimpse of the famous “mountain that smokes,” as it is known by the locals. “It’s the quintessential Patagonia experience,” as Nishi put it – one of Patagonia’s most impressive trails, according to the Voyagers trekking group, in the “Argentine capital of hiking.”
“I think [the trip to Argentina] definitely broadened our perspective on the world in the sense of, this is not maybe an area of the world that a lot of people feel like, oh, I have to go to,” said Nishi. “I think the tendency, especially in America, is to look to Europe and those kinds of countries. And maybe you would expect that the language barrier would be a reason to not go.”
Nishi speaks “broken Spanish at best,” and Ravi doesn’t speak Spanish – but neither of them found it to be a barrier, as many people speak English and those who don’t are patient and kind and try their best to understand.
Ravi was moved by the way that Argentines take care of their environment, and it’s stayed with him long after he left.
“I found myself walking around somewhere, maybe in the zoo, and I noticed there was a wrapper on the pavement, and I picked it up and I threw it into the nearest trash bin. I don't think I would have done that before I saw people in Argentina taking pride in their natural beauty.”
Tips from our Travelers
Nishi and Ravi share tips on travel in Argentina.
Worth the splurge: The Gran Aventura boat ride and truck ride in Iguazú Falls. There's one main company that runs it. You can buy tickets at the gate or ahead of time. Don't forget to bring your bathing suit and a towel – you will definitely get soaked! Also worth the splurge is the mini trekking adventure on the Perito Moreno glacier. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Don’t miss: Bariloche, Iguazú Falls, and Patagonia
Favorite restaurants: Martí in Buenos Aires, El Mallín in Bariloche; Pura Vida in El Calafate
Currency exchange: Check bluedollar.net for current rates, but the Argentinian Peso is currently around 800 pesos is $1 USD. Your credit card tends to give you pretty good rates as well, so if you don't want to carry a lot of cash, use your credit card. Most places will accept cards. Keep cash for tips, and cab rides in smaller towns.
Packing: Don’t forget: layers! Different parts of Argentina have different climates. When we went in October, Iguazú was hot and humid (just like Houston!), Buenos Aires was more moderate (around 60-70 degrees), and we had snow in Bariloche, and close to freezing temperatures in the early mornings of Patagonia. They say in Patagonia especially you can hit almost every different type of weather even in the span of one day! Layers are your friend.
Tourist trap: In El Calafate, there's this one "tourist attraction" called La Leona Petrified Forest. It's pretty overhyped and I wouldn't recommend it. The small little cafe that's run by a local family is nice and a good stopping point for coffee, pastries, and souvenirs if you want to stop on your way to El Chalten from El Calafate. Also clean restrooms for customers.
Unexpected hit: Food walking tour in Buenos Aires! It's all-you-can-eat-and-drink and you'll eat some of the most delicious food. Come hungry!
Nishi and Ravi’s Argentina experience was filled with delicious details, which they relate in their mini-travel guide here.
Want more buzz like this? Sign up for our Morning Buzz emails.
To leave a comment, please log in or create an account with The Buzz Magazines, Disqus, Facebook, or Twitter. Or you may post as a guest.