Day by Day Itinerary

Take this South American tour and discover a spellbinding blend of native cultures and international influences as you cross the continent from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Your tour begins in Santiago, Chile's Andean capital city, from which you can explore the captivating Pacific coast. You'll then visit Puerto Varas, your jumping-off point for tours of the breathtakingly beautiful lakes region, and the perfect place to interact with locals and to savor delectable deserts with a surprising German influence. Next, cross the Andes Mountains to Bariloche for a chocolate-covered taste of the Alps in the heart of Patagonia. Your tour concludes in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, where included sightseeing, exclusive Discovery Series events, and your own wanderings will give you a fascinating glimpse of South American daily life.

Santiago Buenos Aires Expand All
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    Fly overnight from the U.S. today.

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    You will touch down in the Chilean capital this morning to begin your South American tour, where your Program Director will meet you and assist with the transfer to your hotel. While you wait to check into your room, take part in a guided orientation walk, giving you the lay of the land in your Santiago neighborhood.

    Early this afternoon, meet your travel companions, including those who took our optional pre-trip extension to Peru: Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lima, and your Program Director. Then, depart for a nearby family-owned winery, where you’ll enjoy a tour on one of Chile’s most famous exports. Here, you’ll also sit down with fellow travelers for a delicious Welcome Dinner.

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    This morning, enjoy a Welcome Briefing, during which you'll learn some more details of what's to come in South America, before embarking on your tour of Santiago.

    Home to a third of Chile's 16 million people, Santiago rests at the confluence of the Mapocho and Maipu rivers, surrounded on all sides by Andean peaks. To be sure, it's a breathtaking setting for a capital that has witnessed a remarkable history—from settlement by conquistadores in 1541 to the Marxist, military, and finally, democratic governments of the 20th century.

    This morning, pass through Providencia, a district of great tradition and strong commercial and social activity. Then begin your included city tour with a ride through the residential districts of Bellavista, and Las Condes, where you will see beautiful homes and parks. As you continue, you'll see several historic monuments and buildings, including the Palacio de la Moneda, the current seat of the government. Stop for a stroll at the city's most important plaza, the Plaza de Armas, which has been the heart of Santiago since its origin in 1541. Ringing the plaza are many important buildings that are considered national monuments. Here you see the Correo Central (main post office), Iglesia Catedral (Cathedral Church), the Municipalidad de Santiago (City Hall), and the National Historic Museum. Nearby, you find the Mercado Central (Central Market), an elegant wrought-iron structure inaugurated in 1872 as the site of a National Exhibition. Now it is the city's central market, filled with colorful stalls and seafood eateries (called marisquerias). Here, you'll enjoy an included lunch.

    Tonight, enjoy a discussion on Chilean history and the country's most controversial leaders: Allende and Pinochet.

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    Today, set off to the Chilean northwest on a full-day tour to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is an important Chilean port city (and a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site), where 17 hills tower over the "basin" district. Enjoy an included visit to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's home, where you'll learn about the life and legacy of this great local poet.The city's distinctive features include meandering cobblestone streets and ancient ascensores—electric cable cars that climb into hillside neighborhoods and afford splendid sea views. You'll ride one of these ascensores up the hill for one of the many views of Valparaiso, then walk through the colorful streets, known for the colorful public art on the walls. Learn more about this cultural heritage, and make your own contribution to a work in progress, during an exclusive Graffiti Art of Valparaiso Discovery Series event.

    Afterwards, enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before returning to your hotel. Enjoy the evening and dinner at your leisure.

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    After an early breakfast, transfer to the Santiago airport for your group's flight to Puerto Montt. You'll arrive in the early afternoon, and then transfer to Puerto Varas.

    After checking into your hotel, you'll enjoy a taste of everyday, family-centered Chilean life as a guest at a local horse-breeding ranch. During this exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll see how a farm family lives and works—and witness a Chilean rodeo demonstration as well. Enjoy a tasty homemade meal at the ranch in the company of these welcoming people.

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    This morning, gather for an exclusive Discovery Series discussion on the fascinating Mapuche people native to this area. While the Mapuche only make up about four percent of Chile's total population, their traditions surrounding the extended family and their agricultural customs have had widespread influences.

    Then depart for Petrohue Falls, where you can explore the lush setting surrounding the rapids. Petrohue Falls is located just a short distance downstream from Lake Todos los Santos, and the chute-like waterfall is supported by basaltic lava. Enjoy the views of Osorno Volcano in the distance.

    Later, enjoy a visit to Angelmo Fish Market with your Program Director. Walk amidst the bustling stalls and browse some of the local seafood found in the nearby Chilean lakes. Perhaps sample the local curanto stew, a mixture of meat, seafood, and vegetable, and admire an array of dried shellfish. Then you’ll enjoy some time at leisure and lunch on your own in the area.

    You'll also have a presentation about tomorrow's travel through the Andes, to prepare you for what promises to be a rewarding and scenic, if long, day. Enjoy a pisco sour tasting with your Program Director, then savor dinner at local restaurant.

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    Be prepared for an early start and a long—but very rewarding—day of travel today. You'll travel by motorcoach for about nine hours while making a passage through the Andes from Chile into Argentina. En route, you'll stop at Villa la Angostura in Argentina for lunch on your own. Despite its location in the mountains, this tiny village is warm and inviting, and you'll enjoy strolling through it after lunch.

    Arrive at your hotel in Bariloche in the early evening, just in time for an included dinner.

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    Today Patagonia bids you bienvenidos as you awaken in Bariloche. Officially called San Carlos de Bariloche, this city is a curious amalgam of cultural influences. Its buildings recall the Austrian Tyrol in their design. Many of the ranches dotting the outlying Patagonian plains remain English-owned and run, worked by Chilean peons from over the border. (Film buffs: This is the territory where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made their real-life last stand.)

    Bookended by stark granite peaks and mirrored in 40-mile-long Lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. Discover this on a panoramic tour this morning, which includes a visit to Campanario Hill. You’ll go on to take in breathtaking views of the lake. Ride a chairlift to the top of Campanario Hill for spectacular views of the mountains (if the weather is clear). The lake is studded with fir tree-covered islands. After that, you will enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series visit to a traditional brewery, where you'll have lunch and learn how this family prepares local beer.

    This afternoon, enjoy time at your leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    This morning, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series discussion on the Nazi presence in Patagonia during World War II. Later, you'll depart for the Patagonian steppe, where you'll be the guests on a Patagonian working ranch. You’ll have the opportunity to tour the ranch and its grounds, learn about life in the windy Patagonian steppes, and enjoy a traditional lamb barbecue lunch.

    The afternoon is free for your own discovery. Perhaps you will visit the Museo de la Patagonia, with its archaeological, historical and cultural displays, or enjoy a walk through the beautiful City Center. Or you can join us for an optional Floating in the Limay River cruise, to enjoy the steppe landscape and fresh air while you float along by raft.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast, you'll have some time to bid Bariloche adios before transferring to the airport for your flight to Buenos Aires. You'll arrive in the late afternoon and continue to your hotel.

    The most memorable part of your visit to this charming city may well be tonight’s dinner. Take a seat at the table of an Argentine family, share their evening meal, chat, learn about each other, and make new friends.

    Prepare yourself for an evening seasoned with good conversation and fellowship.

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    After breakfast, set off on an included half-day tour of Buenos Aires. You'll see the city's elegant mixture of Spanish Colonial architecture and several traditional European styles. Visit Avenida de Mayo, which runs into Plaza de Mayo, where many buildings important to Argentine history are centered. See the Casa Rosada (Government House); the Metropolitan Cathedral; and the Cabildo, the first City Hall built during Spanish rule.

    Next, you'll visit La Boca, Buenos Aires' first merchant and fishing port. You'll have time to visit the famous Caminito, an outdoor museum and art show where painters offer their tango pictures, or stroll along the renovated waterfront promenade.

    Your tour passes by the beautiful Colon Theater. Built in 1908, this is one of the world's most famous opera houses, and international stars vie to perform here as they do at Milan's La Scala and Vienna's State Opera House. Continue on to the final resting place of Eva "Evita" Peron, the Duarte tomb at the Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery is in the Recoleta district, an area of elegant homes, fashionable restaurants and shops.

    Lunch is on your own. The rest of your afternoon is at leisure for you to discover Buenos Aires.

    This evening, join a tango lesson and learn the basic steps of Argentina’s fiery, passionate, signature dance. Before it was a dance, tango was a sound—a composite of rhythms and voices born out of the slums of Buenos Aires, where a diaspora of Europeans, Africans, and idle, discharged local soldiers congregated and sang their tales of solitude and struggle. From the music emerged the dance, and that unique and passionate mix came to encapsulate, in the opinions of many, the Argentine national character.

    Interestingly though, the tango was not always the celebrated tradition it is now. Many Argentines viewed its humble origins and sensual stylings as unsavory at best—and vulgar at worst. The tango had to cross the Atlantic and become the red-hot rage of Europe before it found favor in its native land. And in recent years, it has undergone a revival, receiving an injection of modern energy from artists like Astor Piazzola and receiving broader national (and international) exposure through TV, radio, and touring tango troupes.

    While your steps may not be as sure as the most seasoned tanguero, you’ll learn the basics during this special lesson—certainly enough to impress the folks back home.

    Now that you’ve learned the basics of the tango, you have the opportunity to see how it’s really done. Tonight, watch some of the best tango dancers and musicians in Argentina perform at a sophisticated supper club during an optional tango show and dinner.

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    Today, experience a change of pace from city life as you take a Discovery Series tour of the area where the Parana River empties into the Rio de la Plata on its way into the Atlantic, forming a huge delta. This exotic landscape is just half an hour from the city but seems a million miles away. Traditional houses on pilotes (stilts) are surrounded by lush subtropical vegetation, and are built on islands that are separated by a twisting maze of waterways.

    Enjoy a relaxing boat ride in this scenic area, which is one of Latin America's most amazing wetland environments. You'll sail through the many islands that populate the rivers of the delta, and take in the lush, subtropical scenery and plant life. Then, enjoy an included lunch, followed by a visit to a local school (when in session) supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation, where you'll have the opportunity to get to know students and teachers there.

    Later, after returning to your hotel, you will attend an exclusive Discovery Series discussion on Argentina Today, highlighting the current state of Argentina's economy and political scene.

    Then toast your adventures and companions from your South American tour at tonight's Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast at the hotel together, enjoy a morning at leisure to explore Buenos Aires before lunch on your own. Tonight, fly back to the U.S. or continue on our Brazil's Iguassu Falls & Rio de Janeiro post-trip extension.


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Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 4 locations in 12 days

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 2 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs


  • Daytime temperatures range from 51-85°F during touring season
  • December-February are the warmest months
  • Weather in Patagonia can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time


  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestone


  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach, cable car, chair lift, and 50-seat boat
  • 2 internal flights, approximately 2 hours each
  • 1 day features 9 hours of travel by motorcoach


  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Argentina: No visa required. Note: Argentina charges an advance reciprocity (entry) fee.
  • Chile: No visa required.
  • Peru (optional extension): No visa required.
  • Brazil (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Crowne Plaza Santiago

    Santiago, Chile | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located in mid-town Santiago, near the city’s Providencia neighborhood and west of Plaza Baquedano, this Superior First-Class high-rise hotel is just a few blocks from the nearest metro station. Amenities include a fitness center, outdoor pool, piano bar/lounges and full-service restaurant featuring Italian and Chilean cuisine. Each of its air-conditioned rooms features cable/satellite TV, direct-dial telephone, minibar, iron and ironing board, in-room safe, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.
  • Hotel Bellavista

    Puerto Varas, Chile | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Superior First-Class Hotel Bellavista features views of the nearby Lake Llanquihue, and is a short drive to downtown Puerto Varas. The hotel offers a restaurant, bar, and tea room, and its 70 rooms feature cable TV, a safe, telephone, and private bath with shower. At the end of the day, unwind in the on-site sauna available for guests.

  • Cacique Inacayal Hotel

    Bariloche, Argentina

    With Nahuel Huapi Lake as its backdrop, the 67-room Cacique Inacayal Hotel welcomes guests with water views and friendly service. A light-flooded six-story atrium is just one of the appealing features in this hotel, which also offers a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and sauna, as well as a Patagonian restaurant. Each room includes private bath, cable TV, and wireless Internet.

  • Panamericano Buenos Aires

    Buenos Aires, Argentina | Rating: Superior First Class

    Situated in the heart of vibrant Buenos Aires, the Superior First-Class Panamericano Buenos Aires offers a central location to the city, with amenities such as air-conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, an in-room safe, satellite TV, and high-speed Internet access. There is also concierge service, as well as laundry facilities and a business center with computers for your use.


  • José Antonio Executive Hotel

    Lima, Peru

    Located in the heart of Lima’s seaside Miraflores District, the Jose Antonio Executive Hotel offers 44 air-conditioned rooms with cable TV and private bath. A small on-site restaurant serves a daily breakfast buffet, and from the hotel, you’ll find it easy to explore one of Peru’s most famous neighborhoods.

  • Taypikala Cuzco

    Cuzco, Peru

    The 51-room Taypikala Cuzco is situated behind the Temple of the Sun, just three blocks from the Plaza de Armas, the city's main square. After spending the day exploring Cuzco, you can relax and enjoy a pisco sour on the lovely patio, or in the restaurant and bar, also located on-site. Rooms feature color/cable TV, direct-dial telephone, in-room safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Santuario Hotel

    Machu Picchu, Peru

    To explore Machu Picchu over two days, we stay overnight at this hotel in Aguas Calientes, a very small town near the site. Hotel Santuario offers wireless Internet and a restaurant that serves regional cuisine. Each air-conditioned room is simply appointed with a private bath, TV, hairdryer, and minibar.

  • Bourbon Cataratas Resort & Convention Center

    Foz do Iguacu, Brazil | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Bourbon Hotel is located near the Brazilian-Argentinean border, a perfect place for visitors to the falls. Each of the hotel’s 229 rooms features air-conditioning, cable TV, and wireless Internet access. Enjoy a variety of cuisines at the hotel’s five restaurants, some pampering at the spa, or a dip in the heated pool and whirlpool.

  • Royal Tulip Rio de Janeiro

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | Rating: Deluxe

    The Deluxe Royal Tulip Rio de Janeiro is situated just steps from São Conrado Beach, Gavea Golf Club, and myriad shops and restaurants. Enjoy your spacious accommodations with a balcony and amenities such as a minibar, safe, and satellite TV. And relax in the hotel's on-site fitness center, sauna, and outdoor pool.

Flight Information

Your Flight Options

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the Grand Circle vacation that’s right for you:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Flight Times

Traveling to Santiago, and from Buenos Aires, will involve long flights and some cities will require multiple connections. These rigors should be a consideration in planning your trip.

The chart below provides estimated travel times from popular departure cities. Connection times are included in these estimates.

Partner since: 2012
Total donated: $109,295

Supporting a World Classroom: Argentina

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. When you visit the Parana Delta, we bring you into a local school supported by Grand Circle Foundation and introduce you to Argentina's future as part of our World Classroom experience (provided class is in session).

"This is our fourth classroom visit with Grand Circle, and it topped them all—we loved the children!"

Rita & William Roth
Sheffield Village, Ohio

Escuela No. 27. "Jorge Hall"

Partner since: 2013 • Total donated: $5,392

Before 2003 when our partnership began, the school was lacking in basic necessities, such as restrooms, walls to shield students from the elements, and a kitchen. Through donations, we’ve provided all this, plus two classrooms, a presentation hall, sidewalks, and a fresh coat of paint.

The school principal, Adonai Oviedo, is excited about the changes at his school, and hopes to make even more improvements with our help. We've already donated computer equipment, as well as contributed to roof repairs and modernizing the children's dining area.

School in session:

March through November

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pencils
  • Notebooks
  • New or gently used clothing
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series events

  • Chilean history discussion. Learn about controversial Chilean leaders Allende and Pinochet.
  • Graffiti Art of Valparaiso. Discover the cultural legacy of Valparaiso's colorful street art.
  • Chilean rodeo demonstration & dinner. Enjoy a meal and an up-close look at the rodeo culture.
  • Mapuche discussion. Learn about the people native to the Puerto Varas area of Chile.
  • Brewery visit & lunch. Visit a brewery in Argentina for lunch with local beer.
  • Discussion of Nazis in Patagonia. Hear about the influence of the Nazi Party during World War II.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Enjoy great company and cuisine in a Buenos Aires family's home.
  • Tango lesson & demonstration. Enjoy a demonstration—and then try the moves yourself!
  • Argentina Today discussion. Gain insight into national issues.
  • Parana Delta ride. See traditional stilt houses and lush subtropical vegetation.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Valparaiso
  • Rio de Janeiro

10 Reasons to experience Discover South America: Chile & Argentina—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From crashing waterfalls and the imposing Andes to the vibrant tango and world-famous wines—here are some of the memorable experiences that travelers have shared with us our South America tour.

Petrohue Falls, Chile
"The water thundered down between ridges of black, volcanic rock, raising up clouds of mist. It roiled around in pools of all sizes, then spilled over or down into wider channels where the turquoise color of the glacial water was absolutely stunning. And where the water was still, we could see, through the crystalline water, incredible detail of the rocks in the river bed. And in the cracks of the lava sprouted little tufts of yellow flowers.
A 12-time traveler from Grafton, WI

Brazil's Iguassu Falls & Rio de Janeiro post-trip extension
"The falls were spectacular and Rio was wonderful with Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf. I have always wanted to see the falls, and they did not disappoint! Well worth the money and time!"
A 13-time traveler from Decatur, AL

School visit
"The most heartwarming place was School #27 outside of Buenos Aires. A very poor public school with many immigrant children that is funded by Grand Circle Foundation. The children were precious and so eager to show you their school. There's no way you couldn't be proud of Grand Circle."
A 4-time traveler from Los Altos, CA

Campanario Hill, Argentina
"The ride on the chairlift to the top of Campanario Hill near Bariloche was the highlight of the trip for me. The day was warm and crystal clear and the view from the top was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen."
A 9-time traveler from Bradenton, FL

Tango Show & Dinner optional tour
"I recommend the tango show in Buenos Aires … the food was good, the entertainment dazzling, and best of all, the wine was free-flowing."
A 6-time traveler from Claremont, CA

Santiago, Chile
"My wife and I took the funicular in Santiago and saw a wonderful zoo perched on the side of the mountain. We went up farther to the top and saw a spectacular view of Santiago and the Andes."
A 13-time traveler from Gilmer, TX

Patagonian ranch visit, Argentina
"The town of Bariloche is beautiful and the Patagonian Steppe most unusual, as we found out on our trip to an estancia out in the middle of nowhere. What fun we had learning about the gauchos, climbing to the top of the hill to get a better view of the ranch, and drinking yerba mate."
A 15-time traveler from Beverly Hills, FL

Buenos Aires, Argentina
"Buenos Aires is a beautiful city … La Boca used to be the fishing port, it’s intriguing and lively, full of colorful houses and shops."
A 7-time traveler from Plymouth, IN

Chilean family winery
"We were treated to a visit to a family-owned vineyard and winery for wine-tasting, empanadas, and dinner—with lots more wine. Great family, lots of laughs—and wine drinking."
A 6-time traveler from Portland, OR

Peru: Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lima pre-trip extension
"The pre-trip was great and a must ... Machu Picchu is unbelievable—much more incredible than we ever imagined ... the food was always very good."
A 3-time traveler from Pembroke Pines, FL

For reservations and information about our South America tour, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

Big Landscapes, Big Personalities

The dramatic characters of Bariloche

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

The story begins simply enough: with one determined character.

Argentina’s beloved outdoor playground, San Carlos de Bariloche, is known for the beauty of its mountains and lakes. But for a richer understanding of the city, it’s worth taking a cue from the word “Bariloche,” a version of the indigenous term Vuriloche, which literally means “the people behind.” To fully appreciate the city, it helps to meet some of the most fascinating “people behind” its colorful 117-year history.

Sweet beginnings

The story begins simply enough: with one determined character. Carlos Wiederhold, a German immigrant living in Chile, wanted to live in the Andes, and settled on the current site of Bariloche in 1895. He opened a general store named not for its contents but himself: La Alemena (the German). This small wooden outpost, which sold everything from sundries to penny candy, soon attracted his fellow Germans and Austrians, as well as a few Italians and Slovenians. With this mix as its founding population, perhaps it’s no surprise that the city modeled much of its architecture after Europe, designing itself to look like a fairy-tale village.

But Weiderhold was not the only European named Carlos to define the city. In 1928, Swiss candymaker Carlos Tribelhorn (often misspelled as Triberholn) opened a chocolate shop in the city center.  The handmade confections combined traditional Swiss chocolate-making skills with the use of regional fruit. The unassuming white-stone shop, a wooden balcony its only flourish, drew crowds of eager locals, and soon other master chocolatiers opened storefronts. To this day, Bariloche is synonymous with chocolate for many Argentines.

The dark side

Not everyone came to Bariloche with aims of contributing to local life. One notorious duo famously used Bariloche as a way station on their criminal exploits. In the 1880s. Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh, better known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, fled to Argentina in hopes of ditching the well-known Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been pursuing the bank robbers since their Wild Bunch days. After several quiet years ranching in their adopted country, the pair returned to their bank-robbing ways, which revealed their location to Pinkerton detectives, who had never stopped trailing them.

With their cover blown, the duo set off for Bariloche, traversing Lake Nahuel Huapi safely into Chile. But Argentina still beckoned them, and when the heat died down, they returned. This time, their idyll was shorter: Within the year, the pair robbed yet another bank, and once again, Bariloche was their escape hatch. They hiked from the outskirts of the city into the mountains, leaving the frustrated Pinkerton detectives in their wake. The robbers never made it back to Bariloche, though historians still debate whether they died in a Bolivian shootout or retired to life as ranchers elsewhere. 

The same remoteness that made the city so attractive to the famous outlaws made it an ideal haven for criminals who occupied a much darker place in history a half-century later. After World War II, Argentina became a destination for Nazis trying to escape prosecution. While easy-to-recognize figures like Adolph Eichmann passed through Bariloche briefly, others were able to fly under the radar and settle in. One SS captain, for instance, lived here 50 years—eventually sitting on the board of a local school—before his discovery and arrest. Bariloche’s most notorious author, Abel Basti, even claims that Hitler and mistress Eva Braun did not die in Germany, but in fact lived out the rest of their lives here. Though such a claim is easily disputed, it seems fitting that Bariloche's dramatic landscapes might give rise to such wild speculations.

Visions of grandeur

Wild ideas played a central role in a scheme intended to put Argentina on the scientific map.  In 1948. President Juan Peron chose Bariloche’s Huemul Island to be the location of the world’s first fusion reactor. The top-secret project cost $300 million—and failed. The official reason for the flop was that the advanced technology needed was simply not available in such a remote locale at that time. The reason given by most locals was that Ronald Richter, the plant overseer, was mentally unhinged. With his wild mop of hair and a penchant for wearing spy-style raincoats at all times, the man who claimed he could deliver nuclear energy in milk bottles was taken seriously by few aside from Peron. The president eventually admitted his error, shutting down the project in embarrassment, while leaving behind an empty complex, the remnants of which can still be visited today.

A man who had no such problem finishing what he started was Alejandro Bustillo, whose architecture anchors the city. One of the nation’s most acclaimed painters and architects, Bustillo designed the luxury Llao Llao Hotel, a grand all-wood structure—which burnt to the ground nearly as soon as it was finished. Undeterred, he redesigned the hotel to mimic its original glory but in concrete and stone, and the sweeping, red-roofed result became a town icon. (It remains a member of The Leading Hotels of the World consortium.) Among his other edifices here, the Cathedral of San Carlos de Bariloche is most striking, a castle-like Neo-Gothic church that furthers the impression of a European idyll.