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Monday, March 5, 2012

Visiting Carilo

Carilo's "City Center"
As I mentioned in the Beach Baby post, we took our first full-week vacation in Argentina since arriving here in 2009 and went to a little beach community called Carilo.  This town is about 4 hours outside of Capital, a little south of Pinomar (another popular beach town) and and hour north of Mar del Plata (the grand-all, everyone-goes-there-in-the-summer beach city). It is a great, smaller alternative to the two previously mentioned towns on the Argentine coast, though it is much more low-key with less commercial shops, restaurants and bars.  It is also seen as being a bit more expensive, though we didn't notice a huge difference from the prices in Buenos Aires.

We made the cardinal error of booking our hotel too late.  It is a well known fact that a large portion of Buenos Aires skips town during the summer months (Jan-Feb) and heads to the beach, so recommendation #1, if you're going - book early.  Many places will only book week or two-week stay minimums during these months, so be sure you know what your hotel/apartment's policy is before getting too far into the booking process.  Some places will only rent Sun-Sun, some Sat-Sat and other non-flexible rules like that, so again, be sure you know what you're getting into.  We consulted many of our friends and coworkers, and then Trip Advisor and a number of other websites for hotel recommendations, but found sparse information online when it came to hotel reviews and general information about the town.  After emailing back and forth with a number of hotel/apartments, I finally gave in to calling and trying out my Spanish because the information exchange over email was generally cryptic and incomplete.  For example, a room that sleeps 5 adults may only have one bedroom with a sofa and a futon that provide the beds for 3 of the 5.  Or an apartment with "3 habitaciones" (3 rooms) may actually only have a kitchen, dining area and a bedroom.  This was important in our search because we were looking for a place with a bedroom for Jon and I, a room for my in-laws and a separate room for Gretchen (if we're going to be there for a week, we at least wanted to get some sleep...). I ended up booking a place called Terrazas de Carilo, an apartment with a full kitchen, 2.5 baths and 3 bedrooms.

I could go on and on about how the shower curtain fell on Jon's mom during a shower, or how they gave us watered down dish soap (a used container for washing our dishes that was clearly diluted with water), or how they provided one stained dishcloth with a hole you could fit your whole hand through, or how any room with a drain smelled like a fishing boat - but I won't.  I'll just say - don't stay there until they've done at least US$500,000 in renovations.  On their survey at the end of the week, I gave them a whole lot of "malo's" (bad/unsatisfactory).  But it DID have lots of space, a parilla on the porch and some very friendly staff members.

Gran and Poppa walking along the beach
Most hotels I spoke to offered some sort of "beach service" which generally provides a few chairs and maybe an umbrella on the beach.  Our beach service was a kind of hut with plastic lawn chairs that was a little ways from the actual water - so we abandoned that spot and used the beach service guy, Willie, to rent better chairs (AR$30 for a lay-down chair, AR$15 for a low-sitting beach chair; per day) and put them closer to the water.  I am unclear as to if Willie rents to people that are not included in his beach-service domaine, but I imagine him or someone else provides that service.  Moral of the story is that beach service is different depending on the hotel, and my Spanish is not strong enough to determine between styles of chairs and umbrella/huts - so I would just remove that factor from my decision making process while booking a hotel next time around.

The roads in Carilo are made of sand, and therefore behave the way that packed sand generally does.  They are nice to look at and made the town feel more quaint, but we had some serious pothole issues both on our way in and out of the town, and there was some significant flooding during the 4 nights of rain we experienced (to the point where I didn't think our car was going to make it out of town).  The other factor regarding the road is the popularity of 4-wheelers and motorbikes - great for fun-loving kids, not so great for sleeping babies.  I would choose to stay in a place either further from the beach access or in a room away from the street if I were doing it over again - those suckers were loud.

Don't get me wrong, we really liked the town - we would just do some things different when we travel next time around.  The downtown area was adorable, and we were able to pick up a few keepsake items from a great little shop we found on the last afternoon we were in town.  We also tried a number of restaurants in the town, our favorites being Bar de Tapas (great for a sit down meal) and Jalisco (an impressively good Mexican restaurant that offers delivery - and a commemorative tote bag to boot!).  The beach is very similar to the eastern shore of the US, North Carolina or New Jersey, it was clean, well maintained, and had surprisingly competent lifeguards every 100 meters.  Our sunny days were wonderful, though we had an unanticipated number of rainy days (which, according to the locals, happens every year in late February at the beach), so the weather, combined with the hotel really tainted my view of this specific vacation.

If you're headed to Carilo, or anywhere on the Argentine coast, do your research, try not to travel at the same time as everyone else in the country - and, for goodness sakes, book in advance!

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