I don't understand why this trip is so poorly rated! I recently returned from two exciting and action-packed weeks that I would recommend to anyone. Here's what you need to know:
Bring lots of local currency! Money is not always easy to get out of ATM's (especially in Buenos Aires as we found), so be sure to bring enough cash with you to South America. It's usually not recommended to carry tons of cash on you, but all of the hotels we stayed in had safes in the rooms and there were no issues with these. ATM's in South America limit the amount of cash you can draw in a transaction, in some cases as low as about $100 USD (in local currency). This means that to take out any reasonable amount of money you're forced to do multiple transactions and get dinged on transaction and ATM fees.
Bring enough USD to pay for all of the Me-Time Optional activities. I wish that Contiki had told us that we could pay for the Me-Time Optional activities in USD. Contiki accepts either USD or local currencies, for this tour that's the Argentine Peso and the Brazilian Real. However given how unstable South American economies are, Contiki hedges their bets and you get a really shitty exchange rate. If you pay in local currencies, you will end up paying more for the same thing than you would have had you used USD. For example, a $100 USD activity will cost you 1200 Pesos, even if the bank exchange rate for $100 USD is only 800 Pesos. Bring lots of USD!
People on my tour that had their cards stolen or disabled by their banks had a hell of a time getting replacement cards sent to them. Vacation is a lot more fun when you have enough money to do things, so tell your banks where you’re going and take care of your cards while you’re away!
-Me-Time Optional activities
In general I find that the optional activities are fun and good value, and that is definitely the case on this tour.
The Polo day in Argentina was the most underrated activity, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. It's a little pricey at about $180 USD, but that's a whole day activity including transportation outside of the city, unlimited delicious red wine and beer, unlimited empanadas, unlimited steak, viewing a polo match and of course, playing a polo match. That’s right, you spend an hour on horseback playing polo. Bring a dirty pair of jeans for the riding, and a bathing suit for the pool afterwards. Definitely a must-do!
The Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires was also a must-do. A fun night where the staff explains some of the nuances of the culture, while drinking unlimited wine and eating some of the most delicious steak I've ever had. Definitely don't miss this one.
The helicopter ride over Iguazu falls was incredible, though a little pricey. The 10 minute ride will run you about $120 USD, but on a clear day the views are worth it and the once in a lifetime experience speaks for itself.
The speedboat ride to Iguazu falls is a must-do. You get to see all sides of the falls (especially if you do the helicopter ride), and the view from the water is not to be missed. This option is quite pricey as well, but it’s about 30 minutes of excitement, including a couple moments where the boat is driven right into the falling water.
Depending on scheduling, an extra optional activity might be to go see a soccer game in Rio – do not pass this up!
Hang gliding in Rio was the highlight of my trip, and definitely worth the cost. The views are incredible, the guides are friendly and it was definitely something I will never forget. It should be noted that hang gliding is not covered by most insurance plans, so look into that before leaving.
The cable car ride up Sugarloaf Mountain is a staple for Rio, and should not be missed. Of course, the views are spectacular and the value isn’t bad considering transportation is included.
The Brazilian dinner in Rio is worthwhile for anyone who is not a vegetarian, and even our lone vegetarian came along to see what it was all about.
Argentina and Brazil are not unsafe countries, but there are some things that should be obvious that weren’t for some people. Things like carrying phones when going out at night, getting into cabs alone at night while drunk, and even carrying a wallet in your back pocket will get you into trouble. Nobody on my tour had any issues with getting mugged and I never felt outright unsafe, but like anywhere else be aware of where you are and who is around you.
If you haven’t done a Contiki tour before, you should know that if one person gets sick, there’s a good chance it’s going to spread. This tour is action packed with very little down time, so don’t expect to be well-rested – your body is going to take a beating. It’s prudent to visit a travel clinic to know what shots you need, but on top of that there’s a few things to bring that will make life a lot easier for you. Don’t leave home without: multivitamins, cold and flu medicine, nausea medicine and diarrhea medicine. You’re going to need all of them.
My Contiki was: --