After a devastating year for international travel in 2020, there are promising signs for a return to exploration and adventure in 2021. Nations across the globe have begun mass vaccination campaigns with hopes of mitigating and eventually eliminating COVID-19. In the U.S especially, vaccination efforts are quickly ramping up, with plans to inoculate every American by August as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to decrease each day.
A not-so-insignificant part of these efforts will be to create safe and healthy travel experiences for international tourists. Since late December, Delta and Alitalia have been offering “Covid-free” flights from Atlanta to Rome, allowing visitors to bypass quarantine upon arrival in Italy. With the addition of coordinated vaccine or testing programs like this, we’re very optimistic that European borders will open to American visitors by summertime.
While we hope international travel will be completely secure in the latter half of the year, there will surely be some lingering Covid concerns among travelers. After more than a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and plenty of self-isolation, we’ll all want to feel safe and comfortable as we explore new places and share new experiences abroad. That being said, our criteria for selecting the best destinations and travel experiences are, (1) Outdoor experiences and natural beauty, (2) Effective local health and safety protocols, and of course (3) Low (or no) infection rates. With these factors in mind, we’ve crafted a list of our top eight destinations for 2021.
Do you ever fall in love with a place then, when it comes to planning your next trip, struggle with the decision of returning or exploring somewhere new? This is a constant conversation in our house. We always want to explore the world and experience new cultures, but then there are those memories - sharing a bottle of red wine on warm stone steps overlooking ancient Rome; jumping off a 20-foot cliff into the clear water and swimming to the next cove to do it all over again; hiking along the narrow ridge of a volcanic crater surrounded by wild hydrangeas with the ocean on one side and a lake on the other - that we just want to go back and do all over again.
The Story of Getting to Buenos Aires
"The Four Seasons?!?!,” we laugh, in unison. “Seriously?,” still laughing. Oh man.
That’s how our taxi ride into Buenos Aires ends. This is how it started…
After a three hour flight from El Calafate, Lago Argentino and the Perito Moreno Glacier, we land in Buenos Aires around 9pm. We’ve booked an AirBnB apartment in the Retiro neighborhood, just a few blocks from the world’s widest avenue, 9 De Julio. The place looks great and the central location gives us easy access to the rest of the city, including the historic San Telmo, ritzy Recoleta, and trendy Palermo. But we digress.
At the present moment we’re standing in the Arrivals lounge, contemplating one of the few, financially brutal, transportation options into the city center. Ezeiza Airport is 20 miles outside of Buenos Aires, so it’s understandable that transportation isn’t cheap, but $50 for a taxi is pretty steep for South America, especially on our budget. Contributing to our pain is the Dollar to Argentine Peso exchange rate given by local banks compared to the value of actual US Dollars in Argentina. To elaborate, the rate is approximately 9.5 pesos to $1 when withdrawing Argentine Pesos from an ATM. However, if we pay with US dollars, the rate changes drastically - increasing to 14 or 15 pesos to $1. Unfortunately we’re fresh out of US Dollars (juggling currencies from 15 countries isn’t simple) and are forced to withdraw pesos at the much lower exchange rate, making a mental note to get our hands on some dollars asap.
We’ve heard there’s a public bus that goes from the airport into the city center for about a dollar. But where to catch it? After speaking with a few different people from the airport information desk we walk from Terminal C to Terminal A, in search of bus tickets. When we get there, it’s complete chaos and the tickets are nowhere to be found. Frustrated and hungry, we’re ready to give in. Back to Terminal C, where we see a special - only 350 pesos ($40) flashing on the screen above a taxi stand. We patiently wait in line until we’re nonchalantly informed that the special is “no longer available.” Excellent.
As we’re about to hand over our entire food budget for the next three days, we notice two ladies speaking english who just requested a taxi. Megan, in full budget travel professional style, approaches the women with an offer, we hope, they won’t be able to refuse. Would they like to share their cab with us? It would save us each $25. What a deal, right? They take their time pondering the offer, while Megan talks to them about how normal we are. Finally, they agree. We’re both, coincidentally, going to the Retiro neighborhood, so it really just makes sense.
In the taxi with Ryan upfront, Megan sits in between the two, slightly larger, ladies. The conversation quickly turns to the crummy exchange rate and the high cost and limited options for transportation. We share stories of places traveled and quickly “make friends” with the Australian woman and her mother. Once in Retiro, the taxi driver looks back and asks “which hotel?,” to which our new mates respond “Four Seasons.” Multiple repeated “Four Seasons??” and “Yes, The Four Seasons” exchanges later, and we’re pulling up to the Australian’s hotel. As we pour out of the cab, the hotel bellboys gently lift our dirty backpacks out of the trunk. Mistake. We quietly take our packs from them and thank the nice ladies for sharing their cab with us. They follow a gold bell cart into the elegant lobby and we roll out, off to our $35/night apartment. Hey, at least we saved them $25…
...And The Rest
With the exception of a few rainy days, our week in Buenos Aires is perfect. It may not be the Four Seasons, but our apartment is located in a cool neighborhood and is loaded with 5-star amenities: a washing machine, a bright, clean kitchen, and a television with CNN. We immediately hit the grocery store and cook dinners nearly every night (a luxury after being forced to eat out for the past few weeks), drinking Argentinian wine and Fernet Branca (a gift to Argentina from its Italian immigrants) like it’s going out of style. We explore the city’s many parks and varied neighborhoods, stopping at a couple of hip cafes and even a local microbrewery in the late afternoons. As we pack up for our 27 hour travel day to Central America (yes, you read that right), we agree that although our time here started off a bit shaky, Buenos Aires fully redeemed itself, securing its place as our favorite South American city.
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