Level 1 Traveler
Tours I've Done
Argentina & Brazil Experience 2 countries \ 10 days
17 Nov 2012 - 26 Nov 2012 \ Day 1: Arrival to Buenos Aires and meet on the 9th floor of the hotel with 12 of the 31 travelers on the trip. Later we head out to a bar for some drinks and a welcome dinner. At no point in time were any introductions made as a group, leaving it up to us all to introduce ourselves. (this proved somewhat difficult as half the group had been traveling together for the two weeks prior.) After drinks we head to dinner for a very overpriced and less than subpar dinner as a group led by our tour guide. The restaurant did not have over 70% of their menu available and the food we did receive was dry and not very good. Day 2: One the night of the first day I called down to the hotel reception and asked for a wake up call to go on our first scheduled activity, a bike ride around Buenos Aires. I was a little perturbed when I woke up at 8:30 am and had not received a wake up call and therefore missed the days scheduled activity. As this is not entirely Contiki’s fault it was a very disappointing start to the trip. I stay in hotels more than 150 days a year and it is the first time I did not receive a scheduled wake up call…(I was not the only one) After missing the Bike Tour we rejoined the group of the motor coach tour with Frederico and while the weather wasn’t fantastic, Frederico certainly was. He was a great guide and had a lot of knowledge and a good sense of humor. That evening was followed by the included tango show which exceeded expectations and was one of the highlights of the trip. Day 3: On the third day we were given a free day and a couple of optional activities. We decided against the activities and I am thankful that we did, as based on other travelers views, the Uruguayan trip was guideless and a real struggle. However, I cannot think for the life of me why Day 3 and Day 2 were not switched around in the schedule as all the Polo Matches and futbol games took place on Sunday not Monday. In addition, when we asked our tour guide for a couple of things to do we were told about some great parks, but upon arrival at these parks found out that they were closed on Monday’s. Wasting quite a bit of our time. Also, late Monday night we were told about imminent strike by the Argentinean labor agreement, but not to worry as Contiki was going to handle everything if our flight got cancelled… Day 4: I want to start out by saying by this point we still had not had a formal introduction to our group and still did not even know the names of about 1/3 of the people traveling with us. However, Contiki’s management at this point completely fell apart. We got to the airport to find out that the strike had indeed cancelled our flight for the day, but rather than be given options. (Such as flying out on Monday night on at our own cost, taking a bus from Buenos Aires to Iguassu, dividing the group up on separate flights to see Iguassu) we were all just booked on a flight the next day at 3:30 in the afternoon essentially cancelling the Iguassu part of the trip (pretty big deal for us as that was the entire reason we booked this Contiki to begin with) Now it’s time to return to the hotel in Buenos Aires, but we don’t have a big enough bus to take everyone at once, so we have to wait an additional hour for another bus to show up to take the rest of the group back to the hotel. We are then given another free day without any direction of things to do and just wander around Buenos Aires for the day. At night, however we are told about a great Tango show that will cost us about $160 pesos each. About 10 of us decide to take our tour guide up on this offer and head to the show at 8PM. Upon arrival we realize that dinner and drinks are not included but we can buy empanadas and beverages from behind the bar. Also, the first bit is to be dedicated to people dancing the tango themselves rather than a tango show. (told the show will start imminently.) Furthermore, the place we are taken to is a gay tango bar, this is in no means a showstopper, but something that should have been communicated to the group before deciding to spend their money to go. But it gets better, by 12:30AM the show had still not started and we aren’t even sure that there was a show, but the group had grown very tired of the environment and decided to just eat the cost of the “show” and go home. When I got home I went online to look up the show at what it actually cost. To my dismay I read that the tango for the evening was actually FREE, Good work Contiki, where did that money go to? Day 5: At this point we are told that we are going to miss the falls entirely but we still need to fly to Iguassu for the hotel and to catch our flight the following morning to Rio. Awesome! Let’s waste another two days instead of just flying directly to Rio and moving on with the trip. Great management by Contiki, presenting us viable options! So after wasting our day at the airport to fly to Iguassu we finally arrive and get picked up by our bus to take us from Argentina to Brazil and through customs. We get to customs and have to sit there for about 20 minutes to go through all of the visas before being able to leave. Shortly after leaving our bus runs out of gas and we need to call another bus and switch all of our bags, but in the meantime one of our traveling companions had an issue with their visa so we need to return to the border so that he can get off the bus and explain his situation. One of the Contiki people remains behind with him and he meets up with us at the ATM machine. At this point we are about 2 hours late for our dinner that was supposed to begin at 8PM. The hotel pushes back dinner to 10PM and our included pool party is shortened quite a bit. The pool party however was the first time that the group truly hung out together. At its conclusion, I personally offered to buy everyone’s first drink at the bar tonight as it was my Girlfriend’s 30th birthday and I wanted to have a celebration. The group went out in its entirety that night and had one of the most fun nights of the trip, but again it was due in no part to Contiki. One other thing to note is our helicopter tour, samba show, group picture, and grand adventure activities were all cancelled and our money was to be refunded. However, my money could not be returned to me that day as our tour guide had used it to pay for other peoples activities that they hadn’t paid for yet, so I would need to wait a couple more days to get my refund. (not sure why my money would be used to book other people’s activities) Day 6: Another early start to the day and our 10 hrs in Iguassu without seeing the falls has come to an end. We take a flight to Rio where we are to catch a bus from the airport and head to Buzios for a couple of days, including a booze cruise that night. When we arrive in Rio our bus is not there yet so we wait for it to arrive, upon its arrival we once again run into a well-planned agenda from Contiki. We are given a 27 passenger van for 31 people! As we start to load up this van we realize we have no chance of squeezing everyone on and even less of a chance of getting all the bags on the bus, so we have to wait another hour and a half for them to switch out the bus before we can embark on our journey to Buzios. When we arrived in Buzios we were told our hotel was absolutely fantastic and came with a private beach. This got everyone in good spirits and looking forward to our stay in Buzios. Upon arrival, we realized that 1) The hotel that had been sent in our tour package had been changed without us being told. (big deal for me as I was trying to meet up with a friend and he called the hotel we were supposed to be at and they had no record of us) 2) The hotel that had been talked up by our tour guide was less than ideal, the rooms smelled bad, the internet only worked sporatically, and only in the lobby, the rooms were difficult to find, and best of all the “private beach” was actually a public beach about 300 yards away. In addition, when we arrived there (5PM) we were told we couldn’t check in and just to leave all our bags with them while we were out on a boat. I don’t know about you but I am not a real big fan of leaving my passport and money behind a counter, so we had to pack a bag to bring on the boat with us. (thankfully we did not lose our passports while out at Sea) All this puts us a little behind schedule for our booze cruise, but the operators of the cruise were great and made the cruise enjoyable for us all. When we got off the cruise we were to take the trolley from the center of Buzios to our hotel, our tour guide was nowhere to be found and didn’t mention to anyone that she was going to be helping another couple find a place to eat. After about 10 minutes the group decided just to leave her behind and head back to the hotel, where we struggled mightily to check in, as no one behind the desk spoke any English. At this point in the trip the group had stopped trusting our tour guides recommendations and we all went our separate ways for dinner and drinks. Day 7 – Based on how things with the trip were going thus far, we decided to skip the optional activities for the day and head to Arraial de Cabo for the day and some Scuba Diving. This ended up being a great decision as we heard that some of the activities such as the trolley tour were less than ideal. (apparently, people were told that the trolley would take them around town to a couple of spots and they would have some drinks, when in actuality the trolley just drove them around town and the tour guide didn’t speak English) That evening we again ignored any tour guide recommendations and the group headed off in different directions and came back together at the end of the night by coincidence. Day 8 – After partying it up last night, its another early day for the Contiki crew, or they would have you believe. We are told for everyone to meet at no later than 7:15 to head back to Rio and do our city tour. At around 8:30 our bus decides to show up and take us back to Rio, but in the meantime, two of our traveling mates have locked their passports in the safe and lost the key. So while we are waiting for the bus a locksmith comes out and charges them $240 dollars to unlock the safe for them. But when our bus comes our tour guide just leaves the two guys behind and says they will have to take a taxi to Rio on their own dime (rather than ask the group if it would wait, and Rio is about 3 hours away) Turns out we later found out it had taken them about 10 more minutes to retrieve their passports. Finally, we are all aboard the bus and head to RIO! We make a pit stop about halfway through the trip to use the bathrooms and grab a quick bite to eat. We board the bus to continue to Rio and start to pull out of the station, but guess what…our tour guide never bothered to count to make sure everyone was on the bus and we were leaving on our single travelers behind at a stop with no phone and no money. Luckily for her one of our tour mates noticed she was missing and was able to stop the bus before we had left her behind. Finally, we are on our way to RIO!!! Wrong, about an hour into the drive from the station our bus breaks down and we have to wait another hour for another bus to come and take all of our bags again. (At this point our tour guide seems to have checked out as she stopped conversing with the group and just looked miserable.) The new bus also had a broken air conditioning unit, which leaked onto two of our bags for the remainder of the day so that all of our clothes were completely soaked with nowhere to do laundry! Ok, so now we are in Rio and the rest of the day was fantastic, our tour guide Marise was extremely knowledgeable and gave us a great perspective for Rio and some great views from Christ the Redeemer and the sugar loaf cable cars, not to mention the unique steps she showed us and our first quality Contiki recommended meal. (Kilo place) As we head back on the bus we are told of two great restaurants in the Ipanema area that we could dine at if we don’t want to go on the Contiki recommended dinner…Mcdonald’s and KFC!!! As a subset of a group we walk around Ipanema for a little while and notice that there are actually quite a few restaurants in the area but we have no idea which ones are good and which ones are not. Finally we take a chance on one called La Mole and although our wait staff didn’t speak a lick of English the food was pretty good and we enjoyed our evening. Day 9 – Lightening strikes again! As the weather turns sour and we cannot go on our hang gliding excursion, which we had all been looking forward to. (this I do not blame Contiki for at all) Next up on the agenda is our Favela tour, after running about 30 minutes late (the group not the tour guides) we are off on the busses to one of the Favelas. We are told many stories that are a bit scary but are ready to make the best of it. We arrive at the bottom of the hill to be told that we are going to be taking motorcycle taxis individually to the top of the Favela. This is not a big deal but would have been nice to know that we were going to have to ride on a motorcycle. Especially, for the woman traveling with us that was pregnant with twins! Also, after being told how dangerous this could be one person had to go to the top first to wait for the rest of the group. Ok no problem our tour guide will just go first and the other tour guide will come up last. Great plan…oh wait our tour guide is not going to go first, but send a female up there to be scared out of her mind for 5 minutes. But once we got to the top the rest of the tour was enjoyable and the people of the favela appeared to be quite nice. Next up was the futbol match that I had been looking forward to the entire trip, but again some details were left out… Such as the league champion had already been crowned and the game we were attending was meaningless. So we pay about $50 us dollars for the tour and are given our tickets for the match, where the price had been crossed out. (Turns out the tickets were 29 Riya or less than $15, nice upcharge Contiki!) But the part that was the most disappointing was the stadium was about 10% full. However, the game ended up being well contested and pretty entertaining and we sat with the fanatics which made the experience more enjoyable. Upon the return to the hotel, we have about an hour to get ready for a Contiki included dinner and fill out the Contiki reviews. It’s a shame the reviews couldn’t wait until after dinner, as the food was horrible and ended up making me sick (which I’ll get to in a minute) Now it’s time for our final optional activity, which is a Favela Party…I can’t for the life of me think of why this is a great end to a tour but as it’s the last activity everyone signs up because they want to hang out together. It takes about 30 minutes to get out to a run down club where you are told not to interact with the locals and that it is very dangerous and that you need to be leery of any interaction with the people from below. It is on arrival of here that I get sick and cannot continue with the night’s festivities. However, because we are at a favela and not a normal club I can’t just go outside and catch a cab home. I have to go find an escort to take me around the streets and walk around in the rain for about 30 minutes before we eventually can flag down a cab and get back to the hotel. All in all this ‘Party’ cost me about $100 for literally nothing. Day 10 – Tour ends and we head home and say goodbye to all the great people we met along the way. However, even after 10 days our group is still very segregated as we had never been properly introduced. A couple of things I had heard from the Contiki veterans were: 1) We never had a Contiki Song 2) Our tour guide left without even asking for tips, which apparently is unheard of 3) This was the worst Contiki tour any of them had ever been on and we should give Contiki another chance (hard to believe for us, as this was our only Contiki experience, and our Top Deck tour in Italy had been far far superior to our experience here)
Day 1: Arrival to Buenos Aires and meet on the 9th floor of the hotel with 12 of the 31 travelers on the trip. Later we... read more
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