Category Archives: South America

Montevideo to Madrid, Spain

Flying from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile over the Andes Mountains which stretch along South America’s western side, is among the world’s longest mountain ranges. Its varied terrain encompasses glaciers, volcanoes, grassland, desert, lakes and forestation. The mountains shelter pre-Columbian archaeological sites and wildlife including chinchillas and condors. From Venezuela in the north, the range passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. So much more to see of South America and one destination on my ‘return list’. LANTAM have an extensive network right across South America and destinations such as Spain is well serviced.

Australian passport holders do not require a visa to enter Chile. You will receive entry for up to 90 days with multiple entries.

Australian tourists entering Chile through Santiago International Airport are required to pay a ‘reciprocity fee’ and at the time of writing this blog – USD117.00 per adult. The fee can only be paid by cash or credit card upon arrival before clearing immigration. Transit passengers (like myself here) are not required to pay.

Contact the  http://Embassy or Consulate of Chile in Australia for updated information.

The LANTAM Lounge in Santiago offers a place to relax with fast wifi and facilities for a shower before heading off onto a long-haul flight with LANTAM being part of the Oneworld Alliance. Flying on a Boeing 789 from Santiago, Chile to Madrid is approximately 13 hours and being able to unwind beforehand is worth being a member of the group. On a commercial ticket just think of all those points you’ll accumulate!

Delicious canapés and drinks are available for passengers who qualify for entry.

Arrival at Madrid Airport is quite efficient despite its size, with a Visitor’s Desk nearby to the baggage carousel, they are happy to advise your options of ground transport and city attractions.

The Metro in Madrid is one of the best and fastest ways to make your way around a city whereby its population exceeds 3.3 million. For less than 20 Euro you can purchase a three-day Metro Pass or around 26 Euro a five-day Pass.

As a travel agent, I’m off to check out some of the best hotels Spain has to offer – Melia Hotels are superior and quite unique in their own right, not just in its own country, but they’ve been expanding further afield for sometime now. Let’s take a sample of what’s here in Madrid.

For starters, hotel of choice is Melia Princesa which is 50 metres from the Ventura Rodriguez subway – phew no taxis required!   It’s truly an affordable luxury hotel with a polished entrance (which I might say from the street is a little deceiving). The smart interior design shows off some striking ornaments in the foyer with staff gushing to take all your stresses away after a very long flight from South America.

The Level rooms are exclusive – located on the 12th Floor and allow entry to the Member’s Lounge on the ground floor. One interesting aspect of the hotel was the delightful staff member Sandra who asked me to choose a scent for my room. She chose the right person to ask as exquisite fragrances are one of my passions – lovely bouquets and the aroma filled the room after I’d returned from a relaxing time in the Lounge area.

Magnificent panoramic views over the city; felt very comfortable here with a nice desk to catch up on some work.

Breakfast was more than sufficient with an interesting drink cart to choose a wake-up brew and the coffee was one of the best. Trust me, us Aussies are fussy about their caffeine. Alternatively, the Lounge was also available for qualifying guests.

Moving onto Plaza Santa Ana there’s a vibe worthy of a visit and shopping in Madrid has some of the best brands, eateries and bargains. So kick your heels up and make your way over there! Not a place to be missed and loved by locals.

The ME Madrid Reina Victoria Hotel right at the Plaza offers a welcome drink of sparkling wine or water which certainly adds to the feeling of satisfaction you’ve chosen a great hotel. Staff were extremely pleasant and enjoy a bit of a chat too. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to speak English again …

This Hotel radiates chic and an urban culture and, oh so stylish at the same time. Very modern with my ‘Mode’ room which looked straight out over the Plaza along with its ceiling to floor length windows and the abundant natural light into the room made it feel like home. Just how we like it in Australia!

At night a visit to the hotel’s ‘The Roof’ Bar looks right out over the very busy Plaza, allowing you to relax without feeling you need to be a part of the buzz at street level. Just kick back, admire the view of the lights and sip those yummy cocktails. The sound/video equipment is cutting-edge technology and a drawcard for anyone who considers they’re a ‘cool cat’ at night.

The ME is also located perfectly at the pulse of Madrid’s major theatres, nightclubs and museums. It’s a destination of its own – no need to go too far away for anything else really.

If you feel you’re wanting a luxury five-star retreat in the heart of Madrid, the Gran Melia Palacio de los Duques is the one – look no further than this magnificent palatial building which is virtually at the epicentre of the Royal Palace’s location and surrounds.

And indeed,  the hotel was a 19th century palace itself and still maintains an air of royalty with the staff doing their utmost to make you feel warm and welcomed. And staff member Hector deserve a special mention for his willingness in giving me an insight of the hotel’s historic beginnings and in particular the art work which is embedded as part of the interior design, in particular Velázquez’s Meninas.

The roof top view can’t go unnoticed.

A contemporary swimming pool is a relief (with an infinity outlook over the Royal Palace) after a big day out visiting the sights such as the Teatro Real, the Almudena Cathedral and the Sabatini Gardens. Serious shopping is a short walk up the hill, not only top brands, but interesting labels which Madrid is well known for having new and emerging designers. By the way, there’s also a Jacuzzi on the top floor for those aching muscles from all your day’s walking; no need for a vehicle as it’s all here.

What I’ve enjoyed so far with the Melia Hotel group is that they are all unique and not the normal ‘copy cat’ style of say other leading hotel chains. This hotel The Gran Melia, is not just at the top of the echelon, but it exudes a rare style and elegance which is synonymous with its own décor and surrounds.

My room had a spa bath and Clarins amenities (love ’em) to make it even more enriching. The bed was two metres long and fitted me perfectly as I’m 183 cm tall (6′) and the pillows were so, so soft. Fast wifi is a must for me and no problems there. Good size safe and easy to use.

So, if you’re looking for an experience where you know everything will be taken care of, then this hotel is not to be missed. And, I do have to mention, it has one of the finest breakfasts I’ve enjoyed – reading a paper (in English) whilst the staff make you feel like royalty …

For bookings see

And yes, a quick two-minute walk down the road and you’re at the Royal Palace and Sabatini Gardens!

Grounds of the Royal Palace nearby.

Well it’s bye to Madrid for this year – a city which never disappoints – architecturally, its culinary delish and culture cannot be missed.

I know where to direct my clientele in future should they wish to experience intimate details of an amazing city with its centrally located hotels.

Punte Del Este and Montevideo, Uruguay with Norwegian Sun.

Leaving Brazil and onto Uruguay is definitely one of the highlights of a South American cruise and being onboard NCL’s Norwegian Sun. If you enjoy being on the port side of the ship (left-hand side of a vessel when looking forward), then you will see some of the most amazing sunsets.

While at sea there was a myriad of ‘what’s happening today’ – not just ‘sea days’ but the whole cruise. I’m up to day six and still haven’t covered off many of the activities. Trivia was high on my list of must do items and the gym would have to wait.

One of the best presentations onboard was the ‘How to Run a Floating Hotel’, which was hosted by one of the staff members who introduced us to the head of various departments. They spoke about their responsibilities such as ordering, catering and waste management along with budgets and keeping the passenger happy.

Art auctions were on for two days whilst at sea and so many bargains to be had with renown artist’s work going for a fraction of what you’d pay in an art gallery.

One really great aspect of the cruise, early each evening there was a solo traveller’s meet up in The Library which offered the chance for other like-minded travellers to say hi and have dinner together if they so wished. I spoke to Ron who is less mobile than many of us and asked about his cruising history. Without doubt he’s an avid cruiser and he said his first priority was to look for an itinerary which he considered plausible. We are with the lovely Abigail who is from Argentina and looked after us all at dinner time. Meals were ‘freestyle’ which gave everyone the freedom to eat when they chose to do so and not be bound to a set time and table each night.

Our first port of call in Uruguay – Punta Del Este and it’s definitely a tourist hot spot without doubt for the rich and famous. Numerous yachts  and sea vessels moored close to the maze of eateries along the harbour. There’s an abundance of fashionistas to be seen even early in the day for a light salad – I assume.

Lovely to walk around and see the wonderful architecture at Punte Del Este. Glorious weather and a typical summer day.

Homes are simply delightful with a European feel. There were many differing styles of buildings too which made it so much more interesting to walk around and take photos.

No shortage of seafood here and fresh as …

Entering Montevideo Port after an overnight sail was really a highlight being on my list of places to visit and the chance to catch up with a long-time friend. In the distance we can see Palacio Salvo which is central in the city and many were ‘chomping at the bit’ to go ashore and experience Montevideo’s offerings.

Markets are straight across the road from where the Norwegian Sun has docked and no tenders needed here. Countless yummy markets, shops and tempting eateries all along the way into the Ciudad Vieja (Old City).

Thought-provoking street art to keep you amused and it doesn’t matter which street you walk in. This capital city is home to some of the most innovative and daring stencil art and graffiti on the continent.

Think I already said previously I just love taking photos of old doors. Bet they’d like to tell a few secrets if they could …

Spectacular architecture and this is what we could see in part as we docked early in the morning. Fascinating to see the magnificient Palacio Salvo up close. The building was originally intended to be a hotel, but this plan didn’t work out and it has since been occupied by a mixture of offices and private residences.

There’s so much more to see and do in Montevideo, I would recommend at least a three-day stay here on another visit just to soak up the atmosphere and friendliness of the people.

Walk around the harbour foreshore is a pleasure and quite peaceful. Though I might not say that at the end of a working day as I’d imagine many locals would be out and about enjoying it too.

Did someone say ‘meet up’? Well the smoke, which takes hold of the Port Market and its surroundings at midday is clear evidence of what happens inside the venue. Even day workers were here to enjoy a hearty lunch before the weekend’s tourists hit town.

The best samples of Uruguayan cuisine; from chivito al plato (a steak with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise) or a la canadiense (the same steak in a sandwich version) up to the best and most simple meat cuts, achuras (offal), asado (grilled meat), chicken, matambres (stuffed meat rolls), chotos (plaited intestines), pamplonas (grilled stuffed-meat) and other delicacies are popular in this corner of the world.

Landscape is similar to Australia and I felt very much at home in Uruguay due to the weather and scenery being similar to many country locations; especially central NSW in Australia. Uruguay and Argentina are almost the same latitudes as Sydney , so if you’re thinking of travelling to South America around September through to December you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Historically I’ve found flights from Australia are usually cheaper for the month of November.

But best of all, catching up with my long-time friend Dinorah at Bacacay Restaurant in Montevideo for a Christmas drink and canapés was the ultimate treat before heading off again. We’d met on a Moroccan tour many years ago and luckily for us the advent of the internet and email has kept us in touch.

Salute and the malbec was a pleasure too … just wish they’d grow more of it at home.

Cruising with NCL from Rio De Janiero to Ihle Grande, Brazil

On this ten-day South American itinerary from Rio De Janeiro to Buenos Aires, Argentina, one night is spent in the Port of Rio which I really appreciated as it gives a little more time to explore this really groovy area. It’s fast become a hub for cafes, museums and street artists.

As always ports, railway stations and airports are a drawcard for unsavoury mortals, who unfortunately are attracted to unwitting tourists. Always take just the bare essentials when going out, such as enough cash for a taxi to return to your hotel/ship and eateries. Leave all other valuables in your safe. Also take a business card with the address of where you are staying so the driver will know where to drop you off. Additionally, take your room key out of the little pocket folder with your room number on it, just in case you lose it allowing undesirables access to your accommodation.

Heading out of the port was a bit wild with the horn blowing and saying bye to RIO – but hey when you’re inside enjoying a wine and some delectable goodies no one seems too worried …

And this is just the entrée in the A La Carte La Cucina – yum! There are some dining options which do have a cover charge, but you have to treat yourself every now and again.

Our first stop – Buzios is a simple fishing village until the early 1960s when it was ‘discovered’ by Brigitte Bardot and her Brazilian boyfriend.

It’s now one of Brazil’s most upscale and animated seaside resorts littered with boutiques, fine restaurants and posh posaudas.

Having the tenders shuttle back and forth made an easy day because once you’ve had your coffee and shopped around, you could then go back and enjoy the activities onboard.

Next day the same process and a visit to Ihle Grande in Brazil allowed us to visit places along the coastline I might not have done so on a road trip.

Hard decisions need to be made each day!

I can take a hint, but it’s a little too early for me.

Really lovely place to visit with tourists coming from all over the globe. Ihle Grande remains largely undeveloped and for almost a century it was closed by the Brazilian government to free movement or settlement because it first housed a leper colony and then a top-security prison.

And now for our first city port whereby tenders are not needed here in the port of Santos (Sao Paulo). The Brazilian city is also home to the Coffee Museum where coffee prices were once negotiated. There is also a football memorial dedicated to the city’s greatest players which includes Pelé, who played for Santos Futebol Clube.

I’d recommend take a shore excursion from Norwegian Sun’s tour desk for an informative day as there’s quite a few sites to visit here. Otherwise taxis are about $10.00 USD one way into the central city area.

Lots of street art abound, there are buses which run into the main bus and rail Terminal and costs about $1.00 USD for a one-way ticket.

Here we are at the Coffee Museum in Santos, the architectural style and splendour houses the history and importance of coffee in the golden years of the coffee trade in Brazil and locally.

Many of the exhibits are beautifully restored and visitors can appreciate what does goes into making a great coffee – past and present. There’s also an Auction Room where it was the setting of the daily price for bags of coffee until the 1950s.

The Museu Do Café at the entrance of the building is a must if you’re a coffee aficionado and wanting to admire the collection of stained glass along with a number of paintings by Benedicto Calixto.

A walk around the city reveals a lively vibrant atmosphere with small markets in the centre.

Many buildings have been kept in their original state with no evidence of modernising it by developers.

When you’re a little tired of walking, take the historic tram ride around the perimeter of the city and enjoy the local sites.

Next port – Punta Del Este, Uruguay after two days at sea with Norwegian Sun.

I know at the Captain’s Cocktail Party everyone wants a photo with the Captain, but on this occasion Claudia who is in charge of Customer Services is also a very important staff member to my way of thinking. Considering all guest’s needs are taken care of and issues dealt with on an immediate basis, it makes the difference between having a great cruise or a mediocre one.

And at the end of the day, you’ll be greeted by one of these funny little animals which have taken up residence on your bed while you were out!

Cuba to Rio De Janeiro – NCL Norwegian Sun’s Cruise

Leaving Cuba wasn’t easy but I’ve no doubt I’ll be returning to a different country in the future.

Arriving and leaving Havana with LATAM was seamless and onto Lima for great connections to other destinations within South America. I’m off to Rio De Janeiro for a few days before taking a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line down the east coast to Argentina.

LATAM has been my airline of choice every time I’ve visited South America, not just because they are part of the Oneworld Alliance, but they have a great network and numerous destinations to choose from. The service onboard is exceptional with all meals and drinks being included. The experienced crew were extremely helpful and English spoken perfectly. I really like their uniforms as well which are stylish and look quite professional.

Heading into Christmas in RIO is very much what it’s like at home in Australia – hot, hot and hot. Taking a walk along Copacabana beach allows you to enjoy some of the most incredible sand sculptures, and then when you feel thirsty, try some of the agua de coco straight from the coconut.

I love Copacabana Beach, it’s one of the best and most famous – not just for Brazil but it’s world renown.

Great for people watching too, especially with the mix of bike riders, dancers and games being played on the sand.The view to the left of Copacabana beach is the towering Sugar Loaf Mountain and while the beach runs for 2.2 miles (4 km) in an east west direction running from Postos Dois to Posto Seis there’s plenty of other sights to see. Stop by one of the several beach bars and enjoy a gold cup of chopp (draft beer) and refeicao (herbed meat and fried onions).

Or you might just stumble across the commemorated song/music writer Jobim. He was a primary force behind the creation of the bossa nova jazz style and one of the most memorable songs ever written – Garota de Ipanema. In English ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s and won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It was written in 1962, with music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes.

Think this sculpture may have had his head and toes rubbed a few times.

From the beach and on the right is Copacabana Fort which dates back to 1914. It houses the Army Historical Museum and worthy of a visit with plenty of cafes and restaurants looking back over to the waves pounding the beach and swimmers alike.

Football is the most popular sport in the country, it’s well respected and defended by the adoring locals. Just don’t mention Argentina … In fact, some employees are even given time off to watch important World Cup matches when Brazil is playing.

And if you can’t make it to the Mardi Gras held in February each year, don’t panic, there’s festivities going on most weekends in Rio De Janeiro along the beach. Music, dancing and performers showcasing in their best frocks – doesn’t matter it’s over 30 degrees Celsius here early in December – just a great vibe all round.

Now it’s time to head to the port and I’m taking the light rail VLT which is easy enough and slices through the traffic. VLT do Rio de Janeiro or VLT Carioca, is a 30 km (18.6-mile) light rail system linking the region to the subway, ferries and bus stations. The project covers seven neighbourhoods spread out over five million square meters (1.9 million square miles): Centro, Santo Cristo, Boa Saúde, Gamboa, São Cristóvão, Cidade Nova and Caju.

Buy your card for about BSL3.00 and then top it up. One sector is about BSL3.70 regardless if it’s bus, train or light rail. The port for ships to dock is one of the last stops and you just walk over to the check in area.

Please note: Australian passport holders require a visa to enter Brazil and also must pay a Reciprocity Fee online to enter Argentina prior to boarding.

There’s my ship! Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun which has one of those itineraries I’ve wanted to experience for a very long time. I’m heading onto this passenger cruise ship which carries just under 2,000 passengers and wondering what I’m in for over the next ten nights. Yes, I know I’ve been selling cruises for many years but this is my first cruise on this size ship. Nervous excitement? Yes definitely now that I’m looking at her and wondering about my upcoming journey.

Balcony cabin is perfect with space in the centre which is what I like personally; even with hotel rooms. Ok, I know I’ve had a nana nap and the staff in the evening tidy up the cabin which is really lovely with all those funny towel impersonations of different animals. So far, so good.

A lovely gesture from the Captain and a most welcomed treat … Lots more blogging coming up from this cruise. Stay tuned as we sail down the coastline towards Buzios and Ilha Grande in Brazil in my next blog post.