Essence of South America Trip Review (10/15/23 - 10/28/23)

Rio de Janeiro - Belmond Copacabana Palace

Located right on Copacabana Beach. An old, luxurious hotel with a lot of history. The Tauck rooms were on ocean facing suites in the newer wing. A nice swimming pool area is kind of the hub of activity, more so than a smallish lobby.

One evening there was an event at the hotel and it looked like the Academy Awards with limo after limo pulling up dropping off tuxedoed men and women dressed to the nines.

Iguazu Falls - Belmond Das Cataratas

A functional hotel located within the National Park, which means you have access to the falls when people not staying at the hotel don’t. The hotel is right across the street from the start of a couple of trails that run along the falls. The hotel has a nice swimming pool.

You will likely see coati (or several of them) during your visit to Iguazu Falls.

Buenos Aires - Alvear Palace

An older, functional hotel located in one of the more well to do areas. A lot of old ‘palaces’ are located in this area, that have been turned into consulates/embassies. The rooftop bar wasn’t operational during our visit. The Alvear Grill and the Lobby Bar were both nice.

Millahue Valley - Vina Vin Resort

An unusual hotel for a Tauck tour. It is a artsy, boutique hotel located in a vineyard. Each room is unique, with its own very artsy decor. Activities include horseback riding or bicycle riding and a several associated with wine.

As an aside, not being a ‘winey’ I consumed more wine on this tour than I have in the last year combined. So if you’re a wine drinker (like my wife is) this could be the tour for you.

Santiago - Ritz Carlton

A functional hotel, but with very basic food options restaurants. We encountered unseasonably cold weather here. The local guides mentioned that they had to bring back their winter clothes that they had put away in early September. They mentioned how they rarely get any rainfall from October through April, but it was starting to rain as we headed to the airport to catch our plane home.

The Pan-American games were going on while we were in Santiago. We weren’t impacted but if we had stayed one more day we would have been because the area near the hotel was included in the route of one of the games bicycle races.

Here are the daily itinerary sheets provided by the Tour Director.

Here are some General Comments, from a person that likes to be 'wowed' either by natural wonders, amazing man-made creations, or things of significant historical importance. I provide my preferences simply to put my comments in perspective. I'm sure everyone has their own set of drivers that would fuel their comments about a tour.

The ‘Wow’ factor is present during Rio and peaks during the visit to Igauzu Falls and falls off significantly during the rest of the tour.

The ‘Wows’ in Rio were Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. Other activities in Rio included a pre-tour visit to the Agua-Rio aquarium, a boat ride on Guanabara Bay, a visit to Samba City (a behind the scenes look at Carnival), and a Brazilian barbecue. In Buenos Aires you get its version of a barbecue. You get lots of opportunities to eat beef and drink wine on this tour.

The ‘Wow’ in Iguazu Falls is, as you would expect, the falls. The water level at the falls during our visit was 5 times the normal water level. Almost the entire visit at the falls was ‘Wow’.

The only thing that went not as we had hoped was the boat ride to the falls didn’t happen because the person that was going to provide this, their credit card machine wouldn’t work (we didn’t find that out until he picked us up at the hotel and we tried to pay). This activity was one of the excursions offered by Tauck that we hadn’t selected. Unlike most Tauck tours that we’ve been on where optional excursions are provided you can only do one, even if you’d be willing to pay for the others.

The excursion 14 of the 16 people on our tour selected was the helicopter ride over the falls and a visit to a bird sanctuary. Both elements of this excursion were very enjoyable. The two people that selected the boat ride option said they enjoyed it. Only two of us had wanted to do both excursion options.

The excursions in Buenos Aires, for me, was highlighted by the evening Tango Show. Other activities included tours of the opera house, Recoleta cemetery (where Evita Peron is buried), a local market. One of the days in Buenos Aires was spent visiting a noted silversmith’s shop and a gaucho demonstration in San Antonio de Areco, a small town about two hours from the hotel.

The Chilean portion of the tour was very low key and focused on activities at the Vina Vic hotel.

The only aspect of the tour in Santiago was a drive by city tour, to provide a glimpse of some of the older sights of the city followed by lunch at the Ritz Carlton. From the Ritz, we did a short walk on our own to go to the top of the tallest building in South America. The sights from the top are amazing even in the cool, grey weather we had. If we had, had crystal clear blue skies the views would have been unparalleled.

I have pictures for most everything discussed if people are interested.



  • Options

    Thanks, Sam. That's a factual report. Sounds like it wasn't one of your favorites. I've been considering this tour. (My wall map of the places I've visited shows only Peru and Bolivia in South America.) If I went, I'd add a day or two extra to see some of Santiago. I don't really need to spend time at a winery. I can do that in the US -- or many other places in the world. Did any of your travel companions stay later in Santiago? And I'm very interested in your photos.

  • Options

    Great review, Sam. Thank you.

  • Options

    MCD - 7 of 16 stayed at least one extra day in Santiago. One couple that stayed 2 days did a trip to Valparaiso. One couple did a private city tour of Santiago and they said they enjoyed it. We were the other three that spent an extra night in Santiago. Our reason for staying was driven by saying over a thousand dollars a person on airfare by doing so. Our routing isn’t flown every day of the week. In our, extra time we simply visited the tallest building in South America as I mentioned earlier. The cold weather kind of deterred our plans.

    Rio and Iguazu Falls stacked up with any tour we’ve done, but the Buenos Aires and Chile portions weren’t as fun for me.

  • Options

    Great factual report Sam. It was useful for my future decision making. Although I would love to see Iguazu Falls, I could live without the Rio part. I think in reading your report, I would prefer to do the Patagonia tour again. We seemed to see and do more in Buenos Aries and Santiago on that tour and of course it repeats the Silversmith and Horse Whisperer place and the Tango experience.
    It’s interesting you mention not being able to do both choices on the tour, we have never been able to do that on any tour either, also when we offered to pay. If you have, then that’s lucky!
    Was there a lot of free time, it seems so.
    In BA, we were also told to remove all jewelry, I think when I’ve mentioned that on my comments, I feel people rhought I was exaggerating, so thank you for that clarification.

  • Options

    We have been to Iguazu Falls (not with Tauck) and found it utterly amazing. The ONLY place we have been pickpocketed in all of our travels was Buenos Aries!

  • Options

    I will now try to give a bit different perspective on the tour in a series of posts:

    Post 1

    October 15th

    Arrived in Rio along with all of our bags at about 8:30AM local time. The Tauck representative was there to meet us. Almost half of the 16 people on this tour were arriving at the same time. We all shuttled to the Copacabana Palace together. We arrived at the hotel around 10:30AM. Ours was the last room to become ready about 2:30PM. While waiting for our room we walked a bit and had drinks by the pool.

    After getting our room and settling in a bit we walked about one block for a early dinner/late lunch at a Tour Director recommended local restaurant.

    October 16th

    The Welcome Reception and Dinner is at 6:00PM tonight.

    During the day we took a roughly 4 hour tour that we had arranged through Trip Advisor. We visited the area around the Museum of Tomorrow, walked along the Boulevard of the Olympics, and visited Agua Rio (the largest aquarium in South America). Our pickup and drop-off was at our hotel.

    Upon return to the hotel we had a small something to eat by the pool and then got ready for the Welcome Reception/Dinner

    At the Welcome Reception we had drinks and did the typical introductions. It was a relative new set of Tauck travelers. We were the most experienced with Tauck, this being our 12th tour. There was one couple that this was there first tour. Again there were only 16 people on the tour.

    The TD had arranged for some local musicians and Samba dancers to join the festivities, getting everyone in the touring spirit.

    We had dinner at a restaurant in the hotel.

    October 17th

    The morning was split between two activities: a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain and a private boat ride on Guanabara Bay. Lunch was a Brazilian Barbecue (think beef, beef, and more beef - there were other things as well, but numerous cuts of beef) on a restaurant near the hotel. The weather was perfect today.

    The afternoon and dinner was on our own.

  • Options

    Post 2

    October 18th

    We departed at 6:40AM so that we could get to our assigned time for the Corcovado train ride up to Christ the Redeemer. Upon arrival we discovered that there at been trees toppled across the tracks that took our some power during an overnight storm. Tauck scrambled into Plan B and arranged for shuttle vans to take us to the top of the mountain to visit Christ the Redeemer. The weather was iffy today with clouds rolling across the city. Because of having to go the Plan B and the weather our visit to Christ the Redeemer was very brief. We still had to go to Samba City and have lunch at a local restaurant.

    We had to be ready to take pictures in an instant when the clouds parted and left the Christ the Redeemer clear for pictures. After about 30 minutes at the top we departed for Samba City.

    The Samba City visit was a behind the scenes look at the timeline and steps required to stage the yearly Carnaval festival. As part of the visit they had everyone don Carnaval costumes from years past.

    Lunch was at a local restaurant, the afternoon was free time, and dinner was at another barbecue type of restaurant down Copacabana beach from our hotel.

    October 19th

    We departed Rio and flew to Igauzu Falls. We arrived at our hotel inside the National Park around 3PM. We did a guided walk along the Brazilian side of the falls staring at about 4:30PM, just as day visitors were leaving the park. They have to be out of the park by 5PM.

    The water levels at the Falls were 5 times normal. By the time we finished our walk, we were walking in an all out rainforest downpour. I was prepared, having worn a water shirt, water shoes, and brought my underwater camera to take pictures. That was a good thing because in certain places on the walk it was the same as being underwater due to the rainstorm. Still it was great fun. Pictures can’t do the walk and water levels justice. Videos help capture the magnitude of the water.

    Dinner was a buffet at the hotel.

  • Options

    Post 3

    October 20th

    Two excursions were offered: 1) a helicopter ride over and the falls and a visit to a bird sanctuary, 2) a boat ride up the river to the falls, getting very close to the falls. Unlike most Tauck tours I’ve been on where you can only do one of the excursions, you could do the excursion that you didn’t do in the morning during the afternoon if you were willing to pay additional. Only two of us wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to do both excursions. Well the best laid plans. As I mentioned in an earlier post, our chance to do the second excursion fell through.

    Of the 16 people, 14 opted for the helicopter ride and bird sanctuary visit. We were part of the 14. Both the helicopter ride and bird sanctuary visit were very enjoyable. It was quite warm and humid during the bird sanctuary visit even though most of it was done under protection of tree canopy.

    The afternoon was free before we had a private dinner at the home of a well know local chef. The dinner, along with the discussion provided by the chef was a history/tour of food around Brazil. I think the women liked the chef.

  • Options

    Post 4

    October 21st

    We departed the hotel about 7:30AM for a bus ride to the Argentina side of the falls. New procedures at the border started today, so the transit wasn’t as smooth as normal Tauck country transitions are.

    We arrived at the Argentina side of the falls around 9:30AM for a guided walk. This walk wasn’t in a rainforest downpour like our walk on the Brazil side (thank goodness because after lunch we were catching a plane to Buenos Aires). The walk was very crowded because some of the paths were closed due to the water level. Still the walk and views of the falls were amazing. Again it’s impossible to due them justice in pictures.

    After lunch we flew to Buenos Aires and arriving at the Alvear Palace around 6:30PM, where the group had a wonderful dinner in the Alvear Grill around 7:30PM

  • Options

    Post 5

    October 22nd

    In the morning we did a city tour, stopping at Plaza de Mayo, location of the palace made famous in the movie Evita. We visited the Cathedral of Buenos Aires while at the Plaza. Next we stopped at a local market that only operates on Sundays.

    We had a Argentinian barbecue at the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires, Cafe Tortoni.

    The afternoon was free, before we went to the Tango dinner show in the evening.

    October 23rd

    We drove to San Antonio de Areco for a visit to the shop of a noted silversmith and for lunch and gaucho demonstration at a ranch. It was about a two hour drive each way.

    The evening and dinner were on our own.

  • Options

    Post 6

    October 24th

    In the morning we did a walking tour of the Recoleta Cemetery (where Evita is buried) and then drove to and toured the Teatro Colon opera house.

    Lunch, the afternoon, and dinner were on our own.

    October 25th

    We departed Argentina and landed in Santiago around 1:30PM. We then drove 2 hours south to our hotel in the Millahue Valley, the Vina Vik Chile hotel, arriving around 5PM

  • Options
    edited November 2023

    Great travelogue! What are the animals with the black and white rings on their tails on Oct. 21 (Post 4)?

  • Options

    Coati (or coatimundi)

  • Options

    Fantastic Sam..
    Coatimundis are frequently seen on our visits to Costa Rica too, very cheeky animals.

  • Options

    Nice review Sam. The photos - especially the falls - are lovely.

  • Options

    How about agoutis (called nyekes by the locals)? Saw lots of them in Panama.

  • Options

    Great review and photos Sam, the later were amazing. I started this tour in Chile, arrived 2 days early and did a private tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, well worth it, also went to La Chascona (Pablo Neruda's house/museum) and Museum Precolumbiano.

  • Options

    Can anyone comment on the Patagonia trip, we can't decide between it and the Essence Of South America? Going in January 2025. Thanks! Fran from CT

  • Options
    edited December 2023

    We took the Patagonia tour several years ago and enjoyed it very much. We have booked another Argentina and Chile tour for 2025 that also goes as far as Ushuaia and the Beagle channel with an option to extend to Iguazu Falls. We don’t really have any desire to go to the parts of Brazil that Tauck visits or we would have taken that tour. Given a choice, we would do the Patagonia tour again.
    Hotels are not our priority on a tour, tour content is, but having said that, the Singulair hotel Patagonia is just so cleverly converted from an old meat packing factory, we just loved all the preserved machinery on display. Service at dinner there was very very slow and late starting, which I understood is still a problem.
    Brazil has reinstated visas but applications will be much easier to obtain and online, they state about five days. When Brazil had visas in the past, you sent your passport in the mail and it might take three months to be returned.

  • Options

    British - Hotels are not our priority on a tour, tour content is ...

    It would help if you put your 'tour content' comment in context. That general statement is different for everyone, so to understand your comment we have to understand what makes for 'good tour content' for you.

    For example, some people think that Christmas market tours provide great tour content, seeing all of the cities decked out for Christmas, visiting all of the shops, etc. Other people have no interest in this, thus they don't think there is good tour content.

    Some people love safaris, and seeing exotic animals while others have no interest in seeing animals as the main attraction of the tour.

    Just two examples where 'tour content' would be called 'good' or probably 'terrible' based on a person's interests and drivers.

    So to understand your comment about 'tour content is your priority', people need more specifics as to what defines 'good content' for you. I think I have a feel for what you like and don't like, but it would help the Forum in general if you added specifics to explain your general comment.

  • Options

    Ok Sam, we like lots of site seeing, pretty much anything. We prefer that to free time becaise it’s easier to skip an activity than find one when you are unsure even on the day when the free time will start and so many places now require booked online timed tickets. My husband said recently that finding meals and free time might be not in the place you would chose it to be if you had a choice, or even the time of day.
    Christmas markets would be a nightmare for my husband!

  • Options

    British -

    What sites in Brazil that Tauck visits don't interest you? No matter where Tauck visits it seems like it would meet the criteria of 'lots of site seeing'.

    Since the Tauck Essence of South America tour only visits two places in Brazil - Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls, I guess you are saying you have no interest in visiting Rio (since you referenced Iguazu Falls in your 2025 tour).

    I found there to be lots of 'site seeing' in Rio (see my reviews above).

    There must be specific 'site seeing' that you don't enjoy, that makes Rio an unattractive site.

    Based on reading your posts on the Forum it seems to me that you might prefer 'more rustic' site seeing that urban site seeing. You seem to love almost anywhere in Africa, which in a general sense is 'more rustic'. You have purposely avoided Europe, which is generally 'more urban'.

    You seem to like the Patagonia tour much more than the Essence of South America tour, perhaps because it is much 'more rustic' than the Essence tour which is 'more urban'.

    Based on your overall Forum posts here's how I would assess your tour selection drivers (it could completely wrong, it is just my assessment)
    a) visit more rustic (non-first world locations) vs visiting urban (first world locations)
    b) minimizing periods when there is no planned tour activity or meal
    c) prefer longer vs shorter tours

  • Options

    We like cities and like Europe but leaving there until we feel less able to visit far flung places. We have already seen a lot of places in Europe, remember we used to live next to Europe….most British people do not class the Uk as Europe.

  • Options

    Sam, what an excellent review. Thanks for taking the time to write it up. I’ve never done a Tauck land tour so can you tell me about the air transfers? Does Tauck arrange fast track processing through the airports? Is there an option to book business class seats?

  • Options

    All the intertour flights I've been on with Tauck have been economy. Most of the aircraft have been two class - first and economy - and Tauck did not use first class.

  • Options

    Fran: We returned from the Patagonia tour in November. It was excellent and very casual. Like a national park trip you would take in the USA, only with nice hotels (Agree with British about the Singular Patagonia. It's amazing). We added on 2 days at the Belmond das Cataratas on the Brazil side, where Tauck stays. My husband had no desire to go to Rio and it's also not on my bucket list, not that Sam's photos weren't great (thank you, Sam). Also, being from California, we are not interested in wine tasting, so we chose the Patagonia trip. The Belmond is a really beautiful property, and it is fantastic to look out your hotel window and see the falls, or to simply walk across the street to view the power. Being an older property, the rooms were nice but not huge for a luxury property. We got picked up from the airport by a Belmond guide. We spent that afternoon going up and down the trails on the Brazil side. The next day we were taken to the Argentina side by the same guide. We returned to the hotel in the mid-afternoon. On our final day, we were taken back to the airport by the same guide. Our travel agent booked this side trip for us, but we could have simply done it ourselves through the Belmond hotel. The major thing to note is the border crossing, as described by Sam. Since the Belmond is right on the Brazil-Argentina border, you will go about 1.5 hours getting to and from the hotel from either the airport or the Argentina side of the falls. It's a lot of driving, but it is such a beautiful property that I would do it again, and the food there is excellent.
    While we were at that hotel, we saw the Tauck Essence tour group. I got the impression that the folks on that tour were more in a mindset of a typical Tauck European-style tour, whereas our group definitely had a "national park" vibe. I could be wrong.
    We enjoyed our 2 days in Chile especially our private tour to Valparaiso, but we enjoyed Buenos Aires more and would like to return, perhaps as part of a trip to Northern Patagonia/Bariloche, which Tauck used to include but has sadly since dropped.

  • Options

    Wan, thank you so much for your clarification of your observations of the two tours. Based on your observations and your comments here and on other tours, I think we are definitely of the ‘National park vibe’ at this present time. Too many winery visits on one tour are not a priority especially as my dr tells me I’m allowed one drink a day which is what is recommending for all women. I’m not saying I always stick to that, but there can already be lots of extra alcohol for us on Tauck tours. A winery is a winery, I’d rather see something more unique.
    Sam, looking forward to your comments now.

  • Options

    Gourmet Gal - MikeHenderson described the inter-tour flights very well. Tauck assists with all of the processing through the airports. The group does it in lockstep, for the most part. I wouldn't call it fast track, more like assisted. Like Mike said, there isn't a business class. Whether you could somehow arrange with Tauck to have first class tickets I'm not sure. I've never seen it done. If you could I would expect that it would be very expensive.

    I respect Wan and British's love of the Patagonia tour and their lack of desire to see Rio de Janeiro, but it seems those comments praising the virtues of the Patagonia tour would be better served in a Patagonia tour thread, not in a thread that is a review of a different tour. It's almost like you're travel agents that get a commission for hyping the Patagonia tour. I understand that Fran asked for comment about the Patagonia tour, but you could have directed her to a Patagonia thread. Perhaps something like the following:

    Fran: We returned from the Patagonia tour in November. Perhaps you should look at my review posted in the Patagonia tour area.

    I'm not a rookie to the Forum and I understand how threads diverge from their original purpose. But it makes it much more difficult for people to find useful information when content about one thing is posted in a thread titled about something completely different.

  • Options

    Hi Sam, once again thank you for your excellent photos and documentation of the Essence tour. I don't look at all tour reviews, but yours did catch my eye because I've respected your comments on the forum and your sunny attitude and I was curious about your impressions of this tour. Now that I've been to South America, I would love to go back, and I haven't completely ruled out this tour which I might take some day with a girlfriend or on my own if hubby is not interested.
    I always really appreciate direct comparisons between tours, and in fact I'm trying to choose an Africa tour these days and have looked at other comparison threads. Since I've not done the Essence tour I can't directly compare, and also the South America tours have been greatly re-arranged post pandemic. Probably very few people have done both the Essence and the Patagonia tours because my understanding is that they used to be combined. I was simply trying to point out that if someone chose the Patagonia tour, it would be relatively easy to add a few days to Iguazu Falls on their own. I do appreciate your feedback anyway, thank you! You are correct that separate threads are more helpful.
    And here's my brief trip report, not a masterpiece by any means:

Leave a Comment

BoldItalicStrikethroughOrdered listUnordered list
Align leftAlign centerAlign rightToggle HTML viewToggle full pageToggle lights
Drop image/file