For my birthday I got a message from my sister saying that if she made it into the Start-Up Chile Program , she’d fly me to South America. Well..she made it out of almost 2000 applicants and now here I am – getting ready for my first trip to South America!
Given that I would be travelling in late April/May where it would be Autumn in South America and cold in Chile, Patagonia was out of the question and we settled on this.
The Final Itinerary
Vancouver, Canada –> Santiago, Chile –> Mendoza, Argentina –> Puerto Iguazu, Argentina –> Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil –> Rio de Janeiro, Brazil –> Vancouver
Here’s an overview of how I planned for:
- Visas/Reciprocity Fees
- Language Lessons
- Currency Exchange
- Activities/Excursions (Links to all my full blog posts on each activity at the bottom!)
My initial searches priced the entire round trip with all 5 flights to be just over $3000. Since that amount was ludicrous, I started to think it wasn’t realistic to go. I kept checking kayak Luckily, one Wednesday evening I saw flights to Santiago, Chile and out of Rio de Janerio, Brazil for $1300 with American Airlines so we booked it! After that, we bought the Foz do Iguaçu/Rio leg ($90) and the Santiago/Mendoza/Iguazu Falls ($500) parts using local airlines (Aerolineas Argentinas and Gol).
(SIDE RANT! ** I want to add a quick warning about some super shady and annoying service from Travelocity! I orginially booked the Santiago/Mendoza/Iguazu Falls leg with Travelocity and a few nights later I get a voice message from them saying they tried to contact me about my account information, but since I didn’t answer, they were cancelling my flight! Long story short, they never emailed me once, and although I did see a registered missed call, they gave my less than a 24 hours turn around time to get back to them! I still don’t know WHAT was wrong with my account information that caused them to cancel as I had been booking everything for this trip on the same card, with the same details. Here’s the kicker, they did not use the same exchange rate to refund me, as they did to charge me, so I ended up losing over $100 due to a crappy exchange rate! Travelers beware of Travelocity and their terrible service!! I even went on twitter and noticed MANY others with similar customer service complaints ** )
As soon as the flights were confirmed, we researched hotels. I would be staying with my sister at her place in Santiago, Chile so that was taken care of. As for the rest, we decided to do a mix of budget, B&B and 1 super-nice-only-because-we’re-on vacation place :). Overall, it ends up being the same price as doing an average stay per night but then you get to treat yourself to a night somewhere special.
In this case, we were planning to visit Iguazu Falls (one of the 7 natural wonders of the world:) and wanted to stay directly in the Park. General park visitors are only allowed to visit between specific admission hours, however, hotel guests can walk around the park and beat the lines and crowds. The Park is quite expansive and it would be a good 20 minutes cab ride from town to the park so by staying in the park, you are saving on time and cab fares (yes I am justifying the extra cost to stay there!!) I’ll report when I’m back!
I did the same thing in France this past summer at the Mont. St Michel. It was a special and unique experience to stay on the Mont after the majority of tourists had left for the day and walk around through old alley ways and take photos once everyone was gone! I also did this in the Cook Islands.. what can I say but location, location, location 🙂
I liked using booking.com to make my reservations because they had a 24 hour no charge cancellation policy for many of their accommodations.
** will update with accommodation reviews when I return**
- Santiago, Chile – My sister’s house
- Mendoza, Argentina – Lares de Chacras Boutique hotel – rustic and charming
- Iguazu Falls (Argentina and Brazil) – Experience including comments on hotels *IN* the park – a splurge but worth it! – At a later date, I’ll do an in depth review of the hotel because it was such a unique experience 🙂
- Rio de Janeiro I LOVED staying at the Rio Dolphin Inn B&B – amazing host and great location!
Visas and Reciprocity Fees
Argentina – Need to pay ahead of time online and print out the receipt – $75 USD one-entry
There are two possible options:
· a one-entry fee of US$75 (which also allows exit and re-entry from bordering countries Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia at no additional charge within the three month period usually granted by Argentine Immigration)
· a multiple-entry fee of US$150 which allows unlimited re-entries from all countries (bordering and non-bordering) until one month before the expiry date on the passport.
Brazil – Need a Visa – $81.75 CAD
This page explains everything and you need to fill out preliminary information here: http://vancouver.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/
It took about 1 week to prepare my application because I needed so many documents! ie) Signed letter from my employer, bank statements, employment contract, pay stub etc. Estimated wait time was 10 business days and you can check online for the status updates. I gave myself just under a month to process to be safe and it only took 5 business days in the end.
In Vancouver, the consulate is only open 2 hours a day and you need to pay by money order (no cash or chqeue) so I advise to do this in advance!
Chile – Pay a reciprocity fee upon arrival at the airport – $132 USD.
I went to the doctor to get my HepA/HepB shots since I figured that would be cheaper and covered under my medical plan. I also made an appointment at the Travel Clinic because I needed the yellow fever vaccine for visiting Brazil/Iguazu Falls. All appointments at the travel clinic require a consultation with the doctor (this is part of the price you pay). During the consultation I was told that I should also get a measles/mumps booster which is covered under the BC Provincial health plan. That helped offset the $125 Yellow Fever price tag (yikes!). It’s the same price at Vancouver Coastal Health so I don’t think it matters which clinic you go to. It’s more a matter of convenience where you end up.
I now have a vaccine book that I’ll keep with me in case a formal immunization record is requested.
My sister has been taking Spanish classes while in Chile so I knew I’d be fine in the Spanish speaking areas. However, based on my research, it seemed like it would be really hard to get around in Brazil without knowing Portuguese.
At the beginning of March I was preparing a Board meeting at work at a new location downtown. A nice woman named Ella helped me set up the room and arrange some catering. I heard her speaking in another language to the caterer and I don’t know if it was a sixth sense/gut feeling or just pure curiosity but I asked her, “what language were you just speaking just now?” “Portuguese” she replied. I probed further, ” Where did you learn to speak Portuguese?” “I grew up in Brazil”, she replied.
I couldn’t believe the coincidence! I immediately asked her if we could go for coffee and practice Portuguese and luckily, she said yes! I’m very fortunate that she was super cool and didn’t think I was too crazy 😉 We ended up meeting 4 different times and she even printed out sheets of Portuguese phrases and wrote out the names of pastries for me to try 🙂 I also asked her about Brazil since she had spent half her life there.
I guess my advice is to keep an open mind and ear 😀
Given that we would be traveling to 4 different places in 3 countries, we wanted to minimize the amount of cash we had on us so I took out enough Brazilian Reais for the first day and the cab fare and planned to mostly withdraw money from an ATM once there. In Argentina, I was told they charge a large tax on credit card usage so it’s preferable to pay in cash. On top of that, the American dollar is valued much higher there so it’s best to take out US dollars and change to Argentine Pesos once you’re in Argentina. I went to my bank to inform them I would be overseas (and thus have access to banking!) and asked about exchange rates. Even the bank teller told me to go to the Vancouver Bullion and Currency Exchange to get the best rate and the exchange rate for Reais was better by 4 cents to the dollar.
Activities and Excursions
I made reservations for a few things in advance to guarantee that there would be availability including:
- Horseback riding – Mendoza, Argentina (Blog post)
- Wine tours – Mendoza, Argentina (Blog post)
- Private Tour guide/car rental – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Blog post)
- Hang gliding – Rio de Janerio, Brazil (Blog post)
Looked up ticket prices for the following, so that I would have enough cash:
- Iguazu National Park official site
- Foz do Iguaçu official site
- Sugarloaf Mountain
- Christ the Redeemer/Corcovado
The rest was up in the air! (Will update all of these when I’m back for more specifics 🙂 )
** Update May 13th, 2013 **
Just got back from one of the best, most eye-opening experiences! I will definitely be going back (especially since I paid so much in visas and immunizations that will last me at least 4 more years 😉