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,