South American Retreats

Ushuaia Argentina
Photo by OlgaCanals/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Iguazú Falls is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is between Brazil and Argentina.
Iguazú Falls is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is between
Brazil and Argentina.

South America is a vast continent, blanketed with breathtaking landscapes, vibrant cities and romantic vineyards. With so many settings to explore, choosing a region to visit can be difficult. Happily for adventure-hungry travelers, however, combining Argentina and Uruguay — with stays in Buenos Aires, Puerto Iguazú and Punta del Este — is easy and allows visitors to enjoy some of the best city, rainforest and beach experiences south of the equator.

Algodon Mansion’s Royale Suite offers separate living and dining rooms, decorative fireplaces and wine-themed wet bars.
Algodon Mansion’s Royale Suite offers separate living and dining rooms, decorative fireplaces and wine-themed wet bars.

Buenos Aires

Our journey began with a comfortable flight from JFK to Buenos Aires (EZE) aboard LAN Airlines, which offers 100-plus in-flight films, TV shows and music channels to pass the time. Nevertheless, we were glad to deplane in Buenos Aires and check in at Algodon Mansion.

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Tucked discreetly on Montevideo Street in the city’s low-key, leafy Recoleta neighborhood, the 1912 townhouse turned Relais & Châteux boutique hotel has just 10 suites (two per floor). All are well tailored and offer amenities like oversized marble showers, L’Occitane toiletries and even butler service, but if you want to book the best, choose a Royale Suite. At 1,300 square feet, they offer separate living and dining rooms; elegant, decorative fireplaces surrounded by Pinterest-worthy built-ins; and wet bars stocked with bottles of wine from Algodon’s own private collection. Hotel staff says that tennis greats Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have each stayed in the first-floor Royale Suite.

We stayed just across the hall, in an Ambassadeur Suite marked Room No. 2. At a significantly smaller 750 square feet, the suite still felt spacious, thanks to high ceilings, a lounge area and lots of natural light. We’re told it’s the hotel’s only pet-friendly suite, and the only suite with a private terrace. (Others have modest, narrow balconies.) We found the pretty outdoor space the perfect place to sit and drink in the warm, fresh air — and a couple of glasses of Cabernet.

If you’re traveling with a larger group, you can take over the entire property, as previous guests have done while in town for weddings, bachelor parties and other events. For all bookings, contact the hotel’s reservations department ([email protected]; 011-541-135-307-777) directly, and let Team Leader Armando Dorta Pigaro ([email protected]) know of any special reservations-related needs. On occasions when Armando is off-site, the hotel’s front-desk staff tends to all reservations requests. For help finding the city’s tastiest steaks and empanadas (Algodon’s are delicious) or the best spot for a late-night glass of Malbec, reach out to the hotel’s concierge and butler staff ([email protected]), which is overseen by Camila Gobbi. They can also arrange lunch in the city [we liked the throwback atmosphere at Fervor], dinner at Algodon’s restaurant (go at 10 p.m.), or a private rooftop wine tasting. Before heading out for an evening, stop in the hotel’s lobby-level wine bar for a tart and delicious Chardonnay sour. We made it a nightly habit.

Between meals and exploring, invigorate your stiff muscles and plane-parched skin with a visit to Algodon’s spa, which has steam and sauna facilities and adjoins the rooftop pool deck and relaxation area. For our facial, we were shown onto the table in our treatment room still dressed in our street clothes — sneakers and all. The spa does have two changing rooms with lockers and showers, so if you prefer to change into a robe first, just ask. Reserve spa treatments when making your room reservations to avoid missing out on treatments.

Buenos Aires is a big, sprawling city, and we recommend spending at least one day with a private guide so you don’t miss any of the essentials, like Recoleta Cemetery, the neighborhoods of La Boca and San Telmo, or Plaza de Mayo. When you reach out to make room bookings, also ask Algodon’s staff to arrange for a guide.

Here’s a sightseeing tip: Take a taxi ride or, better yet, a stroll along Avenida 9 de Julio, especially near Teatro Colón and El Obelisco monument. It’s the widest, and arguably most beautiful avenue in the world. In December, Argentina’s springtime, the city’s parks, streets and avenues burst with the bright purple blooms of Jacaranda trees, a sight that will take your breath away.

Iguazú Grand’s Junior Suite. The resort, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, serves fine wine.
Iguazú Grand’s Junior Suite. The resort, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, serves fine wine.

Iguazú Falls

With your city fix complete, hop on a two-hour LAN flight from Buenos Aires’s domestic airport (AEP) to Puerto Iguazú (IGR). Iguazú National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 20 minutes away, is home to one of the world’s most spectacular waterfall systems, which straddles the border between Brazil and Argentina.

Each side of the park comes with advantages and drawbacks. The Brazilian side, home to the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, offers what are said to be the best views of the falls, but from across the Iguazú River. Helicopter tours are available on the Brazil side, as well, but not in Argentina. (Note that entry into Brazil for Americans requires a separate visa. The process can take 48 to 72 hours if done on-site, so it’s best to secure one before leaving the U.S.) On the Argentina side, three lengthy trails take visitors along the top, bottom and facade of the falls — providing the most breathtaking views and the best way to fully appreciate their beauty and magnitude.

We stayed on the Argentina side, at the Iguazú Grand Resort Spa & Casino, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The resort has 134 suites, whose categories ascend from Junior Suites to Exclusive, Garden, Paradise, Master and Presidential Suites. Its fourth floor, where our Junior Suite was located, was added to the property in 2012, and renovations were in progress during our November visit to bring the remaining suites up to the same fresh standards. We found our suite plenty spacious for a single traveler or couple, but Junior Suites can also be configured to connect for even more space. Choose a more premium category if you prefer a bigger bathroom, walk-in closets, or an additional bedroom. Contact Cintia Villagra ([email protected]; 011-540-375-749-8050, ext. 1441) on the reservations team for VIP bookings. She’ll ensure a perfect match.

When they’re not exploring the falls, most resort guests stay on property for meals and activities, as did we. For dinner, don’t miss the traditional asado — a selection of barbecued meats — at La Terraza. If you head to the casino for late-night blackjack, refuel between hands with dinner and dessert from the adjacent El Jardín restaurant’s international buffet. The restaurant’s waitstaff are knowledgeable when it comes to wine; the Luigi Bosca 2012 Malbec our server recommended was one of our favorites of the entire trip. La Terraza and El Jardín tend to get busy, so request tables by their windows for a bit more privacy, as well as pretty views.

Iguazú Grand’s Spa del Paraíso is well liked among guests, and its facilities include wet and dry saunas, relaxation rooms, water circuits, a heated indoor pool and a Roman bath. To arrange services, contact its reservations team ([email protected]; 011-543-757-498-050, ext. 1271) directly. Popular services include mud therapies and relaxing massages, but there are sufficient options to suit most any preference.

If you’re traveling with kids, rest assured they’ll be plenty entertained. The resort has a kids’ club with modern gaming consoles and ball pits; a climbing wall and zip line; and a designated activities team that organizes everything from pool games to kids’ cooking classes and art workshops.

When it comes to the main event — visiting the falls — request a private tour with Gisela Ramos ([email protected]; 011-540-375-749-8050, ext. 5000/5001). Although Gisela is an e-concierge for the resort and handles activities and reservations for guests from her office there, she’s also an expert on local history and wildlife and provides top-notch guide services. Gisela escorted us on a day trip to the falls, offering up bits of history and trivia from her encyclopedic memory along the way. Taking her priceless advice, we lined up at the park’s gates before it opened, which allowed us to avoid the obstructive crowds that swelled not long after we arrived. The park can and will cut off ticket sales when it reaches a certain capacity, so make sure to purchase yours well in advance of your visit.

Here’s a bit of our own advice: Pack a poncho in case of rain or heavy spray from the falls, and a few resealable plastic bags for cameras and phones. And ask Gisela to arrange a boat ride into the bottom of the falls with Iguazú Jungle, a thrilling experience you won’t want to miss.

The Grand Hotel Punta del Este is designed to resemble an ocean liner heading out to sea. The light-filled hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool.
The Grand Hotel Punta del Este is designed to resemble an ocean liner heading out to sea. The light-filled hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool.

Punta del Este

For the final leg of our journey, we headed to Punta del Este, which has been called “the Hamptons of Buenos Aires” in reference to its status as a seasonal playground for droves of wealthy Porteños. There, we checked in to The Grand, a sparkling hotel that opened on Brava Beach in January 2015. Designed to resemble an ocean liner heading out to sea, the light-filled hotel has 120 suites, an Olympic-size heated outdoor pool, a 45-foot heated indoor pool, a gym, spa, salon, movie theater, kids’ club, restaurant and café.

All of The Grand’s rooms feature minimal décor in a soft, earthy palette, plus brightly lit bathrooms with rain showers and Aqua di Parma bath products. Ocean View Suites are the most popular, but for the best views of Brava Beach, ask Commercial Manager Juan Izuibejeres ([email protected]; 011-59-842-491-234) for an Ocean Front Suite when you reach out to book. They’re positioned at the front of the hotel and feature semicircular panoramic windows, affording guests a total eyeful of shoreline and surf. If you’re in need of a connecting option, book the ocean front Grand Suite, and for more space still, pick the Presidential Suite, the hotel’s top offering.

For any plans you want to make on property, contact Executive Assistant Adriana Ruiz ([email protected]; 011-59-842-491-234). She can reserve a secluded table for dinner at LightHouse, the hotel’s ground-floor Mediterranean restaurant, or at a spot in town, like the delicious Lo de Tere. You can also ask her to assist with reserving a treatment time at The Grand Spa, where we enjoyed an out-of-this-world body massage.

While you might be tempted to hole up at the hotel, try to fight the urge. As one of South America’s most posh and popular resort towns — its population balloons from 20,000 to 250,000 during high season from December to March — there’s a lot to do in and around the area. Here’s a tip: The best way to take it all in is with a private guide and driver, which Adriana can arrange. We highly recommend our own affable guide, Nicolás, from Novo Turismo ([email protected]; 011-59-896-215-053). He ferried us from one can’t-miss spot to another, starting with a stop at Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal’s famous “Los Dedos” sculpture on Playa Brava, just minutes from the hotel, and ending with a private afternoon wine tasting at Alto de la Ballena, a utopian winery in the hills north of town.

Casapueblo, the waterfront home and studio of the late artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, is now a museum and a sought-after spot to watch the sunset.
 
Casapueblo, the waterfront home and studio of the late artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, is now a museum and a sought-after spot to watch the sunset.

Other highlights of the area include Casapueblo, the waterfront home and studio of the late artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, which is now a museum and a sought-after spot to watch the sunset; El Garzon, Argentine Celebrity Chef Francis Mallmann’s celebrated restaurant; Fundación Pablo Atchugarry, artist Pablo Atchugarry’s sculpture park, galleries and studio; and the celebrity-favorite coastal enclave of Jose Ignacio [it’s home to three exclusive Vik Hotels, whose laid-back but luxurious beachfront restaurant La Huella is one of the country’s — if not the continent’s — most in-demand restaurants.

If you plan to visit Punta del Este in season, make room, meal, spa and guide reservations as far in advance as possible. This is one place where you won’t want to miss a thing.