This adventure wraps some of the most famous excursions in South America into one wildly romantic package. You'll begin in Argentina's wine region. Here you'll visit the vineyards and sample world-class wines. Next, head to Salta to tour the rugged countryside, and see a number of natural wonders, including the painted hills of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Then it's off to the east of the country and Iguazú Falls, the largest network of waterfalls in the world. Afterward, you'll travel north into Brazil, where you'll enjoy a romantic, relaxing time exploring the beaches, music, and cuisine of Rio de Janeiro, Angra dos Reis, and Paraty.

Highlights

  • Go on a tour of Mendoza, the famous wine region of Argentina
  • Spend a couple days in the city of Salta, the colonial gem of northern Argentina
  • Visit the Quebrada de Humahuaca, an ancient valley once used by the Incas and featuring awe-inspiring landscapes
  • Walk along the thundering cliffs of Iguazú Falls, the largest falls in the world
  • Spend a few days touring the tropical isles of Angra dos Reis by boat

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 2 Fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza Mendoza
Day 3 High Mountain Full-Day Tour Mendoza
Day 4 Full Day at Termas de Cacheuta Cacheuta
Day 5 Mendoza Wine Tour Mendoza
Day 6 Fly from Mendoza to Salta Salta
Day 7 Quebrada de Humahuaca Full-Day Excursion Salta
Day 8 Cafayate Full-Day Tour and Wine Tasting Salta
Day 9 Salta to Iguazú Iguazu Falls
Day 10 Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side Iguazu Falls
Day 11 Iguazú to Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro
Day 12 Angra dos Reis Islands Boat Trip Paraty
Days 13-14 Angra dos Reis Free Day Paraty
Day 15 Goodbye Rio!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires

The iconic Obelisco
The iconic Obelisco

Welcome to Argentina! Renowned as the "Paris of South America," and the "Queen of El Plata," the capital city of Buenos Aires is defined by passion. This is exemplified in the rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer), which is far and away the country's most popular sport. 

When you arrive at the airport, your driver will be waiting to take you in a private car to your hotel where you can relax after a long flight. But make no mistake: the city will beckon you. So after a quick recharge, be sure to venture out into the welcoming arms of Buenos Aires and explore. The best starting point would be the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, the most iconic landmark in the city. This obelisk (which even Argentines admit is a little too reminiscent of the Washington Monument) is worth a visit for its location alone. It sits right in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio, which boasts a whopping 16 lanes, making it the widest city street in the world.

  • Stop by the Teatro Colon, one of South America's premier opera houses. The horseshoe-shaped gallery features 2,487 seats and incredible acoustics. Even if you plan on taking a tour or catching a show here on another day, it's always breathtaking to pass by its exterior. The Colon's neoclassical facade has been the face of one of the most handsome buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.

  • Stroll Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Puerto Madero may be the "new money" finance center of Buenos Aires, but it's also one of the most pleasant walking areas in a city famous for its walking areas. A romantic stroll involves walking over the canal on the Puente de Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 

  • Dine at an Argentine steakhouse or parilla. When night falls and dinnertime arrives, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak—Argentina has some of the best beef in the world—drizzled with the nation's famous chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Know that Buenos Aires is a culture that thrives after dark, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza

Vineyard in Mendoza
Vineyard in Mendoza

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and you'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight to Mendoza. It's another world here when compared to Buenos Aires. This western region of the nation is a wild expanse of fertile land that's ground zero for the country's booming viticulture industry. A seemingly limitless number of vineyards abound here, with many producing Argentina's flagship wine grape: Malbec. Originally a French import, the Argentines took a largely ignored European berry and ran with it. The result is one of the most robust wines anywhere in the world.

Mendoza also features some breathtaking scenery and outdoor opportunities. With the Andes looming high above the area's vineyards, there is a wide range of opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting.

Upon arrival in the city, you'll have the rest of the day to relax and explore at your leisure. The city center features expansive plazas and wide boulevards shaded by canopies of bushy green sycamore leaves. In stark contrast to Buenos Aires, people in Mendoza move at a relaxed pace, making this the perfect city to enjoy a tranquil stroll.

Some suggested activities around town include: 

  • Stroll Mendoza's famous parks. One of the most popular meeting spots for locals is Plaza Independencia. It features impressive fountains and is dotted with elegant acacia and tall plane trees. Parque General San Martín is the most impressive park in the city, as its well-manicured grounds dotted with palm trees were designed by the famous Argentine landscape architect Charles Thays (who also designed the most famous parks in Buenos Aires). 
  • Visit a museum. There are a few in Mendoza. One recommended option is the Museo del Pasado Cuyano, which features many exhibits on the history of Mendoza as well as collections of weapons from the independence era.
  • Enjoy some local cuisine. Mendoza sits in the middle of the rugged countryside at the foot of the Andes. So as you'd expect the fare here tends to be rustic. That said, you'll find a wide variety of eateries and many high-end options too. There's none more famous and revered than 1884, the flagship restaurant of legendary Argentine chef Francis Mallman, who perfected the technique of cooking over an open flame. The food here is heavy on grilled meat and can best be described as "haute country." This is one of the most popular restaurants in Argentina, so be prepared to splurge. 

Day 3: High Mountain Full-Day Tour

Into the Andes
Into the Andes

Today you'll explore the untamed landscapes and historic sites found just outside the city of Mendoza. The tour starts early, as there's a lot of ground to cover. After a pickup outside your hotel, you'll drive along the Mendoza River and enjoy views of the Cordón del Plata mountain range, a subset of the Andes that is a popular trekking destination. You'll also pass by the Potrerillos Dam, which is notable for distributing all the water for the vineyards of the region. It's also home to hydroelectric power plants that produce 20% of the energy Mendoza consumes.

You'll continue on to Uspallata, a pre-Hispanic indigenous settlement, which at one point was the southernmost territory of the Inca Empire. There are archeological remains here, including the Bóvedas de Uspallata, a series of conical-shaped smelting furnaces built by the Jesuits in the 17th century. Then you'll head to the villages of Picheuta, Polvaredas, Punta de Vacas, and the Los Penitentes ski resort, where you can hop on a chairlift up to a summit featuring panoramic views of the area.

Later, drive to the Puente del Inca, a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Las Cuevas River. You'll now be on the ascent as you climb 2,750 meters (9,022 feet) above sea level to a viewpoint at Cerro Aconcagua. At 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), this is the highest mountain in the Americas. Other highlights include a visit to the glacial lake of Laguna Horcones.

Your final destination on the day's adventure is the European-style village of Las Cuevas, located just before the Chilean border at 3,200 meters (10,498 feet) above sea level. Between Las Cuevas and the international tunnel to Chile, there is a path that leads to Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. This monument sits at 3,832 meters (12,572 feet) above sea level and symbolizes the union between Argentines and Chileans.

Day 4: Full Day at Termas de Cacheuta

The Termas de Cacheuta
The Termas de Cacheuta

There's nothing quite like the rejuvenating properties of geothermal hot springs. Whether you're stressed, sore, or simply looking for a bit of good old fashioned romantic relaxation, the Termas de Cacheuta is just what the doctor ordered. Cradled in a narrow valley surrounded by the Cordón del Plata, this luxurious natural spa and resort features a network of stone lagoons filled with thermal waters.

Here you'll enjoy a full day of thermal hydrotherapy, which includes a sauna in a natural grotto, a soak in thermal relaxation pools, mineral mud therapy, and a dip in freshwater infinity pools overlooking the Mendoza River. Afterward, wash off in Finnish and Scottish-style showers and relax on a lounge chair in the solarium. You can then feel free to book a deep-tissue massage (not included) to further help the natural detoxification process. 

The day's outing also includes a criollo (country) buffet lunch (including a vegetarian buffet and salad bar), and a full barbecue with beef, pork, chicken, and grilled vegetables.

Day 5: Mendoza Wine Tour

Ready for the bottle
Ready for the bottle

It's time to get out and explore beyond the city while discovering the region's wine culture. On this circuit, you'll visit the most famous wine destinations around Mendoza, from the area around the town of Luján de Cuyo to the fertile soil of the Maipú Valley. It's a fun-filled excursion that mixes equal parts wine history with wine tasting.

First the history. Over the course of the tour, you will glean insight into how Mendoza rose over the centuries to become Argentina's premier wine-making region. It began with immigrants who settled here and utilized knowledge of irrigation techniques (canals and ditches) handed down from the Huarpe indigenous people. It was through these methods that the Huarpes transformed a vast desert into a productive oasis. The end result is that this region is now home to renowned wineries producing high-quality varietals that are deservedly famous on the global viniculture stage.

You'll visit two wineries that still rely on traditional irrigation methods as well as others that use the latest technology in the winemaking process. On tours of the bodegas' facilities, you'll learn about vinification methods, processing, bottling, and even the labeling of wines. Of course, this is all accompanied by a tasting of the different varietals these bodegas offer. You'll also get to sample locally grown olives, artisanal cheeses, and eat Malbec grapes right off the vine!

Day 6: Fly from Mendoza to Salta

Salta Cathedral
Salta Cathedral

A car service will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport. You'll then hop a flight bound for Salta. This well-preserved colonial city has been a traveler's favorite for years and has recently come into its own as a popular tourist destination. It's not hard to see why—it offers fascinating museums, great nightlife, and an expansive plaza lined with patio cafes that make great people-watching spots. 

Upon arrival, a shared car service will transfer you to your hotel, whereupon you'll have the rest of the afternoon to explore the town. Some recommended activities include:

  • Stroll the city center. Salta was founded in the year 1582 and its downtown area is impressively well preserved. You'll see this in the colonial mansions and 18th-century buildings around the city center. On the central Plaza 9 de Julio, you'll find the rose-hued Salta Cathedral, which was completed in 1882. Its ornate facade and twin bell towers dominate the plaza from the north; inside it's even more opulent, with long columns leading to an enormous baroque altar.

  • Visit a museum. And there are many fine ones in this city. Salta has a rich indigenous history that informs much of its culture even today. You can glean a history of this culture in the Museo Historico del Norte, located on the south side of the plaza. Not only does it cover pre-hispanic times, but there are exhibits featuring the Wars of Independence and even an ancient wine press on display. For more indigenous history (particularly of the Incan variety), visit the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, which is also located on the plaza. This archeological museum features indigenous artifacts and even, yes, mummified remains of sacrificial children. 

  • Take a cable car up to Cerro San Bernardo. The most famous lookout point in the area is located on the outskirts of the city. An eight-minute cable-car ride will take you to the top of this 260-meter hill. Once at the top you'll find waterfalls, lookout points featuring panoramic views of the city, and a cafe serving delicious snacks. You can also hike up the hill if you're game for a bit of exercise (about 45 minutes to the top). 

  • Sample the local cuisine. Salteño cuisine differs greatly from that found in the capital of Buenos Aires. Here there's a heavy indigenous influence and ingredients like maize are prominent, and you'll find them in the humitas and tamales notable in this region. That said, there's probably no more famous culinary tidbit than the empanada salteña. Argentia is famous for its empanadas, but the best come from Salta. So indulge in these savory and flaky pastries, complimented perfectly with a dash of hot sauce.  

  • Enjoy a night out at Calle Balcarce. From Thursday through Saturday this area, located about 10 blocks north of Plaza 9 de Julio, is ground zero for nightlife in Salta. So come and enjoy the discos and peñas (local bars that feature live folclore music and traditional food). This area is also the site of an outdoor artisan market on Sundays.  

Day 7: Quebrada de Humahuaca Full-Day Excursion

The Quebrada de Humahuaca
The Quebrada de Humahuaca

There are few more mystic, historic, and evocative areas in Argentina than the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This arid desert valley gets its start in the high altitude Andean plateaus before running down into Jujuy Province and meeting the Río Grande, at which point it forms a 155-km (96-mile) corridor.

Believe it or not, this north-south-running valley gorge has been populated and used by humans for over 10,000 years, starting with the earliest hunter-gatherers. It then became an important Incan trading route in the 15th and 16th century, and later it was a link between the Viceroyalty of the Río de La Plata, in Buenos Aires, and the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was even an important battleground in the War of Independence. You can see remnants of pre-hispanic towns here, and small white churches still dot the stratified rocks that make up the landscapes.

Your tour of the area begins with a pickup at your hotel in Salta at 7 am. The first place you'll visit is the village of Purmamarca, where you'll find the famous Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors), which is notable for its strata, which is seemingly "painted" various shades of red. Other notable sites in the village include the whitewashed Iglesia de Santa Rosa, and the artisanal craft market.

You'll head a few kilometers north to the town of Tilcara and Pucará de Tilcara, the hilltop remains of a pre-historic fortress where you'll visit a fascinating archeological museum. Next is Huacalera, located two kilometers north of the Tropic of Capricorn (a giant sundial marks the exact location). Then you'll visit the tiny village of Uquía, which boasts one of the most impressive whitewashed churches in the region, the Iglesia San Francisco de Paula, which was built in 1691. Inside you'll find a number of paintings done in the Cuzco style and featuring angels in 17th-century battle dress. Before lunch, you'll Arrive at the town of Humahuaca, which is denoted by its labyrinthine narrow streets, adobe houses, and its monument to independence, El Indio, done by sculptor Soto Avendaño.

After lunch, your will visit Maimará, a town notable for its haunting hillside cemetery and the brightly colored mountains that surround it. These are known as La Paleta del Pintor (The Painter's Palette). If time allows, we will return to Salta via the Abra de Santa Laura ( a mountain path lined with subtropical vegetation), which is surrounded by stunning scenery, including Las Maderas Dam, and Campo Alegre reservoir.

The tour ends with a return to you hotel at around 8:00 pm

Day 8: Cafayate Full-Day Tour and Wine Tasting

The wineries of Cafayate
The wineries of Cafayate

Today you'll be visiting the village of Cafayate, located in the middle of the Calchaquí Valley. The optimum growing conditions here make this area a wine region to rival even Mendoza. But the destination is only half the fun. On the way from Salta to Cafayate, you'll pass by amazing mountain landscapes and impressive rock formations. Upon arrival you will visit one of the area's famed wineries and, of course, indulge in a tasting. 

The day begins with a pickup at your hotel, at which point you'll drive through the Lerma Valley, passing alongside tobacco fields and colonial villages featuring German-style architecture. You'll then enter the Quebrada del Río de las Conchas, where you'll see curious rock formations (the result of erosion caused by wind and water). There are many noteworthy sights here, with names as unique as the formations: the dunes, the toad, the bishop, the devil's throat, castles, amphitheater, among others.

Then, continue along the National Route 68, arriving in the village of Cafayate, which is internationally recognized for its wine production. The most popular varietal grown here is Torrontés, which you'll get a chance to taste when you visit a regional winery. At the end of the day you'll return to Salta by the same route by which you arrived, but with the sun lower in the sky, the high-altitude landscapes will be all the more evocative.

Day 9: Salta to Iguazú

Iguazú Falls, the largest falls in the world
Iguazú Falls, the largest falls in the world

After breakfast, a car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport. You'll then catch a flight from northwestern Argentina to northeastern Argentina and the border with Paraguay and Brazil. It's here you'll find the greatest natural attraction in the country: Falls de Iguazú. This is the largest network of waterfalls in the entire world. 

Upon arrival to the city of Puerto Iguazú, you'll check into your hotel and then have the option for a half-day tour of the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls (as opposed to the Argentine side) beginning in the afternoon. This is a good introduction to the falls, as the Brazilian side offers what amounts to a couple of easily accessible viewpoints. So you'll be able to enjoy the majesty of this natural wonder without the extensive walking that accompanies a visit to the Argentine side (don't worry, because you'll experience that tomorrow). 

Note: special visas are required for certain countries. Please ask the specialist if it is necessary for your itinerary.

Day 10: Iguazú Falls - Argentine Side

Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side
Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the entrance of Iguazú National Park, on the Argentine side of the falls. This is where you will begin the day's adventure. It's a full-day excursion that involves traversing three circuit routes around the falls, each offering exceptional vantage points from which to view this magnificent natural wonder. 

Circuit routes include:

The upper circuit, which features 800 meters (2,624 feet) of catwalks. These wooden walkways are elevated from the jungle surface so as not to disrupt the natural pathways used by the indigenous fauna. This circuit affords views of the upper portion of Iguazú. That means you'll be treated to no shortage of panoramic vistas of the surrounding falls.

The lower circuit, which consists of 1,600 meters (5,250 feet). These are also elevated and offer views from directly below and around Iguazú falls. This circuit takes you near the base of falls and provides a unique experience where you'll be up close with the natural surroundings, feeling the magnitude of the falls from up close. 

Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Gorge) enjoys an intimidating reputation that will precede your arrival to the park. This is the star of the show and the biggest of the some 275 falls that makeup Iguazú. A small tourist train leaves from within the park at the Cataratas Station and travels 18 minutes to Garganta Station, where you'll find restrooms, a snack bar, and the start of the wooden pathway to the falls. Then a walk of about 1200 meters (3,937 feet) will take you over the river, culminating at a viewpoint. Just hearing the plunging falls reverberating in your ears is a one-of-a-kind experience. Actually peering 82 meters (269 feet) down into the cavernous abyss as the highest of Iguazu's falls thunders all around you is downright unforgettable. 

At the end of the tour, the driver will pick you up and transfer you back to the hotel. 

Upper circuit duration: One hour
Lower circuit duration: Two hours
Devil's Gorge duration: Two hours

Day 11: Iguazú to Rio de Janeiro

The view from Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro
The view from Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro

Today you'll be whisked off to Rio de Janeiro,  a city famous for its long beaches, sultry samba, relaxing days, and hot nights. Rio's carioca culture is defined by a zest for life, a passion for music, and a love for friends and family. It's the perfect spot for a bit of fun and a lot of relaxation. You should arrive early enough so that you'll be able to head out and explore the city.

Suggested activities include:

  • Laze on Río's beaches. Río de Janeiro's beaches are deservedly famous and for nearly a century have been a global destination for jet-setters looking for fun, sun, and sand. The two most iconic beaches here are Copacabana and Ipanema. Both are popular with locals but Ipanema is often more crowded because the surf is a bit better for swimming. Don't miss other, more off-the-beaten-path beaches, like Grumari and Prainha, both located in the far southwest coast. Not only are they less crowded than the aforementioned options but the scenery is just as stunning. 

  • Visit Lapa. The Lapa neighborhood, located near the city center, is a bohemian enclave full of life, art, music, and passion. On the weekends it's ground zero for Rio's party scene, and you simply can't miss spending a Friday or Saturday evening strolling the streets, enjoying the food and cocktails served by street vendors, bar-hopping, dancing, and generally comingling with the exuberant locals filling the area. It's also home to the famous Escadaria Selarón, also known as the "steps of Lapa." The decor of this brightly painted staircase is the handiwork of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón and is one of the most famous selfie spots in the city.

  • Take a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. So named because it resembles two great lumps of sugar, the Sugarloaf is a 396-meter (1,299-foot) peak situated on the mouth of Guanabara Bay. You can take a cable car up to the top, where you'll find a number of lookout points that offer views of the neighborhoods of Botofogo and Flamingo in the southeast, and out to Copacabana and Ipanema in the southwest. You can also hike to the top if you're up for a bit of exercise. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top, and along the way you'll likely see a few fluffy-eared common marmosets (a type of primate) scampering about on the trails. 

  • Sample Brazilian cuisine. It wouldn't be a trip to Río (or anywhere in Brazil, for that matter) if you didn't try the local rodizio bbq (churrasco). "Rodizio" is a Portuguese word that means "rotating," which is how the meat here is cooked: on rotating spits, typically over fiery coals. In these all-you-can-eat restaurants, servers take the skewers right from the fire to your table and carve copious amounts of various cuts of grilled meat onto your plate. Another must-try staple of carioca cuisine is feijoada, a rich dish of black beans, pork, and beef that is slow cooked for hours. It's typically served on a Saturday because it takes so long to prepare, and it will take you nearly as long to emerge from the food coma after consuming it.

  • Make the pilgrimage to Cristo Redentor. Christ the Redeemer (as it's known in English), is the most famous monument in Rio. It sits on the peak of the 700-meter ( 2,296-foot) high Corcovado Mountain, and to access it you must both hike and take a tram. Get lucky and you might avoid the more massive crowds. Regardless, once you arrive at the top and bask under the outstretched arms of the benevolent statue, you'll be treated to full 360° views of the city and the surrounding countryside. It's might be the most epic view on the entire continent. 

Day 12: Angra dos Reis Islands Boat Trip

Angra dos Reis
Angra dos Reis

After enjoying the city you'll now experience the natural beauty and luxury of Angra dos Reis, a municipality comprised of a network of hundreds of islands located a three-hour drive west of Rio. To arrive here, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the small port that acts as the jumping-off point for this tropical paradise. 

You'll then board a ship and embark on a four-hour sailing tour. During the trip, the boat stops at different isles so that you have the time to relax on the beach and swim in the sea. You will also enjoy a full lunch featuring some of the exotic and delicious tropical fruits for which Brazil is deservedly famous. 

The largest and most famous of all the isles you'll visit is Ilha Grande. This island is home to a number of wide and inviting beaches, like Lopes Mendes, Dois Rios, and Longa. It's also home to a small, laidback beach community. There are no roads here, just sand pathways leading to funky little cafes and restaurants. The order of the day on Ilha Grande is relaxing in a hammock with a cold beer and enjoying the sounds of light reggae music and the waves gently lapping at the shore. 

After the boat trip, you will be taken to your hotel, which is located in the seaside town of Paraty. This is one of the most well-preserved Portuguese colonial towns in the entire nation. Once a shipping port for gold extracted from nearby mines, it is now a popular tourist destination. Over the next three days, in between boat excursions, you can discover the town and the surrounding mountains.

Suggested activities include:

  • Strolling the historic city center. Walk along Paraty's cobblestone streets of the historic center, amid the whitewashed houses, and relax under the shade of the palms in Matriz Square. Also, don't miss the Capela de Santa Rita chapel, located on the waterfront. 

  • Sampling the local cachaca. Cachaca aniseed cane liquor popular throughout Brazil. It's particularly popular in Paraty because there are a number of distilleries in the area. So come and sample the various cachacas available from purveyors in town. Just don't overdo it—this stuff is potent.

  • Go for a swim at a waterfall. In the mountains around Paraty are a number of waterfalls including Tarzan, Tobogã (which acts as fun natural waterslide), Pocos do Penha, and Poco das Andorinhas. All of these offer nice swimming opportunities. 

  • Visit Praia Grande and Prainha. Praia Grande is a tranquil fishing village just north of Paraty that is home to a fresh fish market. Here you'll also find Prainha, a lovely and equally peaceful beach perfect for relaxing. 

Days 13-14: Angra dos Reis Free Day

Angra dos Reis
Angra dos Reis

Today you will have a free day to explore Paraty and Angra dos Reis any way you see fit. You can relax on the beach, visit islands, or make an excursion to one of the waterfalls in the area. Whatever your heart desires!

Day 15: Goodbye Rio!

Godbye Rio!
Godbye Rio!

It's time to transfer back to Rio and begin your journey home! Not to worry, though, because we will be waiting for you with open arms when you come back to South America for another adventure of a lifetime.