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To Guide or not To Guide

Naples, Florida
Level Contributor
196 posts
60 reviews
To Guide or not To Guide

Thought I would post some comments about our recent trip to Argentina. We visited Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Cordoba, and then Salta and Cafayate. Having been to the first three previously, that part of the trip was pretty easy to plan. Never having been to the Northwest, that part was more challenging.

The first issue was whether to go with guide or go independent. Having lived outside the US for some twenty years, and being a pretty independent woman, I thought we should go independent. Several of the posts on Trip Advisor reinforced this opinion. Then, considering that I was traveling with a friend that didn’t speak Spanish and was used to creature comforts and that I was responsible for the trip, I thought maybe I don’t want to be completely responsible . . . So, I decided to go with one of the guides recommended on Trip Advisor for part of the trip and then to rent a car for the rest.

Everyone has his/her own opinion about guides, but I found that I changed mine on this trip. The trade-off between time and money is important and so is the style of the guide. We were interested in the sights, the history, good eating and good wine. Shopping was a consideration also. Our guide found us fantastic (traditional, authentic, gourmet…) restaurants where we expected none, and she knew the wines of Argentina in addition to many of the bodega owners. She also knew which shops had good prices and quality merchandise. Once she knew what my traveling companion was interested in, she directed us to places that had very well made items. We never had the feeling that she was taking us someplace for a commission.

Having lived in South America, I thought I knew the history of the pre-Colombian period and the conquista. Well, the guide and I differed on a few of the facts. I would go back to the room, call up Google and start checking. She had the facts down on the history, as well as the geology of Northwest Argentina. In addition, her first language in English, so there was never any doubt about what she was telling us.

From the comments so far, you have probably guessed what happened. We extended the “guided” portion of our trip, and were so happy that we did. We would never have arrived at Colome without our guide Tracy. We would have been stuck in the Rio Molinos. We would not have known to hike the trail to the lookout on the Quebrada de las Flechas and send back our fantastic photos. The contrast between the flooding rivers and the desert-like gorges was incredible. I would have come home without my llama wool blanket purchased from the coop Suskay in Purmamarca; rhe blanket I thought was expensive until I saw one for eight times that amount in Buenos Aires. My friend would never have found her two-foot long alpaca silver platter in a leaf shape with horn handle that is going to her apartment in Istanbul.

So, you will make your own decision on how to do your trip. Ours was made memorable by an experienced and knowledgeable guide who made the most of our time, did the driving, took fantastic pictures, and challenged our knowledge of South America. If you decide to go with a guide, I can recommend Tracy Johnson of Northwest Nomads. If you want to do it on your own, allow more time, pay special attention to Trip Advisor, and prepare to miss some of the good eating sites that the guides know.

Wherever and however you go,

Happy Travels


Feria Artesanal
Gift & Speciality Shops
Gift & Speciality Shops
Buenos Aires...
Level Contributor
3,998 posts
1 review
1. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

thanks for your report! I see that you had a good time in the NW and yes, IMO guides are always better as you see and learn things about our country that a regular tourist cannot, but not everyone can pay for this and then some people have the buses and groups alternative.

Level Contributor
110 posts
5 reviews
2. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

This is really helpful Ms Mexico as so many people arent sure whether to drive themselves for the spontaneity or have a friend on hand to show you the best spots.

Leeds, United...
Level Contributor
5 posts
124 reviews
3. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

We are a married couple travelling around the world...3 months so far in SA. We arrived in Salta on a night bus from Iguazu and went for a walk in the afternoon to work out what to do whilst here.

We came across Nordic Travel on Buenos Aires and spoke to a French lady who spoke really good English. She had a 2 day trip going to the next day which went to Cachi, then Cafayate via Ruta 40 and back to Salta. We were very tired and should have walked out to think about things...first day and all that...but we didn't - we got sucked in and booked the trip. We paid 500 AR$ each which was to include accommodation and breakfast in Cafayate.

The transport was 30 minutes late in picking us up.

We were told we would be in a 4WD Toyota - we were picked up in a mini bus. We paid to store our large rucksacks at the hostel instead of them being in the back of the 4WD where they would have got very dusty. We could have put them in the mini bus, but they were now locked away and would have caused more delays.

There were 4 of us on the trip. The other 2 had booked the trip as a package from BA including flights, hotels and tours.

We whizzed by amazing scenery. We asked to stop for a picture...we eventually stopped 2km up the road where the view was totally different - yes there were places to stop as other vehicles had stopped.

We stopped in lots of small villages which to be honest looked very similar and weren't very interesting.

We were told we'd have lunch in Cachi - in fact we stopped in an expensive tourist restaurant outside of Cachi, then had 10 minutes in Cachi itself.

Again we whizzed by more stunning scenery with no stops. We eventually made one stop at the arrowhead canyon which would have been amazing had it not been getting dark..

When we reached Cafayate, the guide didn't know where we were staying at first. She jumped out at a hostel and at first said she would come back to make sure everything was OK, then changed her mind and said she wasn't. The man at the hostel asked us to pay for the room! We didn't. No breakfast included even though we were told it would be. The room was freezing cold despite the heater. The 2 cm gap around the window frame probably didn't help. We slept in our coats. In the morning there was no hot water, so no hot shower.

We were being picked up at 11.30am. We paid for our own breakfast and had a wander around and was then picked up by a different guide and a big bus full of people.

2 minutes later we were dropped off a the first winery - we could have walked. The 2nd winery was again about 1 minute walk away. Ninni winery was excellent as it included a tour, the tasting was only 5 pesos for 4 wines. Then we had MORE time in Cafayate - 2 hours. We could all have lunch in a local restaurant - guess what - it was attached to the horrid hostel we stayed in.

We made 4 stops on the way back where we could get out of the bus. The bus slowed down when got to 'The Bishop' and 'The Toad' but we didn't get off. The 'Turtle' was pointed out to us as the bus sped by.

All in all, we spent a lot of money to speed by stunning landscapes, stop in pointless towns and have a terrible hostel.

We would NOT recommend Nordic Travel in Salta. We have been back and explained the problems which fell on deaf ears.

We really wished we had taken our time to decide what to do and see. We would have probably hired a car for 3 days which would have been better value and a slower pace. The experience has put us off doing anymore tours.

Level Contributor
3,650 posts
36 reviews
4. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

I never recommend Nordic Travel because once they have your money they do not care who are guiding you or if the service is ok.

I heard terrible things about people who were left in the salt flats with no tranpsortation and no way to get to the next town!!!!


5. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

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Removed on: 06 January 2015, 13:35
Level Contributor
110 posts
5 reviews
6. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

Also - Visitors renting cars need to be aware that once again there is no Nafta (Gas, petrol) in Salta. You will need to be fluent in Spanish to talk with the fueller. People have been stuck in Cafayate and Cachi unable to get out

Leeds, United...
Level Contributor
5 posts
124 reviews
7. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

Wish I'd have known before I parted with my cash!

Do you know if we can hire a car in Tilcara...don't really want to do another tour to explore the area?

Thanks in advance

New Hampshire
2 posts
8. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

We are thinking of going to to the Salta area in December. Would you be willing to give us the name and contact for the guide "Tracy" Thank you, It sounds like a great trip!

Level Contributor
39,684 posts
234 reviews
9. Re: To Guide or not To Guide

NWNomadSalta, how do you mean there is no petrol in Salta? If we hire a car to do the loop where do you get petrol?

Destination Expert
for Buenos Aires
Level Contributor
4,848 posts
62 reviews
10. Re: To Guide or not To Guide


Your rental car should have a full tank. Our rental agent told us just where to find stations, and we had only traveler's Spanish (and some Italian :-)

There is a good tourist info. office (The Ministry of Tourism Office) in Salta, and they provide excellent maps to the whole area. You might find the De Dios map of the NOA in Italy, before your trip; our rental agent provided us with maps as well.

We had more difficulty finding service stations when driving outside of the Bariloche area than in the Salta/Cafayate area.

Enjoy your trip.


Edited: 07 August 2011, 14:12