First Visit To The Dark Continent

Dozens and dozens of countries visited over the years, and not one visit to South America. A friend of ours called it “The Dark Continent” because, over time it started to seem intentional. The truth is simply that between mileage runs to East Asia and the fact that Martha knew she would be the de facto translator, visits there just kept getting pushed back. But the stars aligned this year for a quick visit to four more countries to close out the year.

For this post, I’m going to spend a little time on the logistics for this trip, as it was planned with essentially no padding on time. One delayed flight or missed ferry ride and we were screwed. The whole trip was 8 days, leaving essentially 2 days per country, including transit.

Ok first, why? That’s a boring answer here: we had some United vouchers expiring, this itinerary was all United and eligible, the miles would kick us up to “platinum” with them next year, and we get four countries closer to our goal.

Now, when planning transit for a multi-country trip, I often start with a round-trip “backbone” ticket to a major hub. In this case, we’re talking a round-trip to Buenos Aires. From there, I explore available one-ways and round-trips on local carriers. I wanted to stay with Star Alliance if possible, which left Avianca as my best option. I also had a specific goal of visiting Paraguay. Paraguay is a country you would likely miss if you were just doing a typical tourist circuit. As such, I knew that large hubs like Buenos Aires would have multiple visits from us over time and I’m not as concerned about not returning. So, itineraries to Asuncion in Paraguay were kind of the next step, which is how things get a little weird. Avianca flies from Montevideo all the way to Lima for a connection to Asuncion. This was great for a mileage run, but would be pretty lousy for most normal folks. Another issue, (for us a benefit) is that the layover in Lima was about 18 hours each way.

Ok, so here is our whole itinerary: Arrive in Buenos Aires–ferry to Montevideo (couple days)–fly to Lima for day tour—fly to Asuncion in evening (stay a couple days)–fly to Lima for day tour–fly back to Montevideo–ferry back to Buenos Aires and spend remaining couple days there. That’s the whole trip, which has two overnight flights.

It was a pretty challenging itinerary, but actually not as miserable as I had worked it up to be in my mind ahead of time. Spoiler alert here… no flights or transits were delayed or missed. The whole thing went off with really perfect timing. For anyone considering a trip to the same area, one piece of advice that I had a hard time clarifying ahead of time: For the Buquebus ferry on the Francisco boat, First Class is totally worth it. It’s in a much quieter area and has nearly lay-flat seats. We got some much needed sleep on those two-hour ferry rides. 

Now, reading this, it’s probably apparent why I’m posting well after the fact. Normally, I try to stay on top of posts while we’re abroad. Once this trip got underway though, it was totally clear that just wasn’t going to happen. Time was way too tight.

Our first stop in Montevideo had us stay for a couple of days to get the trip off to a start. We also spent a morning here on the return before taking the ferry back to Buenos Aires. The standard of living in Montevideo is quite high. As I understand, Uruguay has some of the highest in South America. We definitely found the place clean, hip, and safe. The weather was unfortunately a bit dreary on our arrival days, but we still had a nice time. We took a day tour that brought us around the city, to a large market, and we finished out at an old prison that’s been converted to a modern shopping mall.

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