Our last stop in Argentina was San Antonio de Areco, which is about a 90 minute drive west of Buenos Aires. It’s in an area of Argentina called “La Pampas” and it’s large plains and ranches are perfect for raising cattle for all those great steaks. We booked a two night stay at a historic Estancia called La Bamba, which is a Relais & Chateau property. We flew into the local airport in Buenos Aires and had a driver take us out to the Estancia.
The ground are absolutely gorgeous. The Estancia is over 100 years old and all the buildings have been carefully restored. This is also the location for one of the national polo pony teams and they have stables and polo fields. Each morning and afternoon you can watch them exercising the ponies. La Bamba is a very quiet and peaceful location – you will hear no planes or cars anywhere but the birds were quite loud! There were huge parakeet nests in several of the trees and those birds make a lot of noise all day and early in the morning.
So, what is there to do at La Bamba? Well, food is a big thing and they do a huge grilled meat lunch every day, which is a highlight. Personally, I didn’t think there was a lot to do and it’s really a place to just relax. They have a lovely pool area, which we used one afternoon to chill out and read a book. They do horseback rides each morning and afternoon. You can get a taxi to go into the small town of San Antonio de Areco for some shopping and lunch, which we did and I really enjoyed. The town has great shopping for “gaucho inspired” items, including leather goods, silversmithing, gaucho clothing items and boots/shoes and artisan jewelry.
Personally, we were a little disappointed with our stay here. The property and grounds are gorgeous and the lunch was great. However, we were very unhappy with our room which was the size of a shoebox. It was very tiny, dark and musty. The bathroom was way too small as well, didn’t ventilate at all and needed more plugs and better lighting. Also, the bed was a double so Steve’s feet were hanging off the end of it and it was too small for us. Then, on our second day, the A/C stopped working, they did nothing to fix it and the room got very warm and stuffy (and the mustiness got even worse). On top of that, every meal here is communal and you sit at the same long table with all the other guests – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That was fine for breakfast and lunch but we really prefer a private dinner. It got a little tiring having to force conversations with strangers for every meal. I’m sure some really social people love it but we got tired of it quickly. My recommendation is to do a day trip here, drive from Buenos Aires, do the big lunch and horseback ride and then return to the city. Many people did that during our stay.
Also, we thought the service was overall lacking. Don’t expect anyone to come check on you by the pool to see if you want a drink. It ain’t happening. To top it off, I had a little bit of a female issue with an early monthly visitor and I desperately needed some feminine items (sorry for TMI). La Bamba is a solid 25-30 minutes from town and you have to call a cab – no one can or was willing to give us a ride into town which means they have to call a taxi, you wait and then make the ride so it’s over an hour if you need something. Also, the hotel had nothing available for female guests in my situation, not even for purchase which I would have gladly paid. I just think for a property at this price point, they should be a little better prepared for some fairly basic guest needs like this, especially with the remote location (at least enough to make it to town w/o ruining your clothes). Lesson learned.
Finally, the wifi here was nonexistent as was the cell connection. I couldn’t get a signal even trying to use my international data plan. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal but we needed to be in touch with my parents who were watching our dog so it became a real issue. If you are parents and need/want to check in with family or anything, it’s almost impossible out here.
The grilled lunch setup was a real highlight, though. Many daytrippers came out here just to do the lunch, watch a gaucho in action and maybe do a horse ride. In retrospect, I would have preferred staying in Buenos Aires and doing the day trip instead. The lunch was massive every day – started with empanadas, then salad, grilled vegetables, then several different types of grilled sausages, grilled rubs, pork, chicken and steak. The best was dulce de leche crepes that were branded with a hot iron to give them a crunchy sugar crust. You were definitely stuffed every lunch.
On our last day, one of the gauchos did a “horse whispering” show by the pool area. My husband took all of these photos b/c I missed it. I was off trying to get a cell or wifi signal in the main building to call my parents and Steve couldn’t call or text me to come out to the pool b/c he had no signal either. Oh well. He said it was interesting but a little weird and based on his photos, I have to agree with him. Apparently the gaucho has such a strong relationship with the horse that he can easily get it to do whatever he wants. They do this to stretch the horse and keep it limber.
I did enjoy hanging out with the friendly ranch dogs, though. They have several dogs on the property who are all really friendly and I am a huge dog person. The black and white dog hung out at the stables most of the time and then there was a cute mutt that was all about food. We first found him rooting through the after-lunch trash and going to town on leftovers. He was always around wherever there was food so we nicknamed him “Garbage Dog.”
So, overall there were some things I liked about La Bamba, including the peacefulness of the property, the gorgeous sunsets, the amazing lunch and the pool area. However, I think it was a little too remote for me and I was a little bored and put out by the communal dining at every meal and hated our tired, small room. We discovered there are larger rooms on the property with soaking tubs and private patios, so I may have enjoyed it more if we had booked one of those and had more space and a working A/C. But honestly, if you are in Buenos Aires and want a gaucho experience, I would do this as a day trip only.
Also, if you do a day trip out here, it’s definitely worth a stop in the town of San Antonio de Areco to do some souvenir shopping and walk around. It’s an old colonial style town and has several good artisan shops with high quality leather and silver goods. We also found several “pulperias” which are known as “gaucho bars” and are laid back little pubs serving ice cold beer, wine and small snacks. We popped into one and enjoyed the local flavor for an hour over a cold ale. There’s also a pretty church in town on the main square that’s worth a look-see too.
Well, that wraps up all of my Argentina trip posts! I’m off to Iceland in less than month with my sister for a girls’ adventure trip so I’ll probably be fairly quiet until then. After that, Steve and I have planned a quick weekend getaway to Cancun in July and then New York City in late August for a holiday weekend. We’re also in the middle of planning our Italy trip for November, which is likely to be Rome, Tuscany and Florence! Hard to believe but I also just booked our trip for February 2020 and we will be heading back to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week!