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Jewish Tours Argentina

Spring Break In The Autumn
Hilary Larson - Travel Writer

Fallís chilly days are here, and soon enough the trees will be bare and gray, the wind icy and the days short.

But itís all happening in reverse in the Southern Hemisphere. Those who miss spring in November can find warmer days and blossoming trees in places like Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Spectacularly varied landscapes, lively cities and rich Jewish heritage await American travelers, and the cheap currencies allow a far more lavish vacation than anywhere on the euro.

Several Jewish tour groups offer excellent value and capitalize on the regionís return to relative calm after a series of economic and political crises a few years back.

Offering departures for its 12-day ďSouth America DiscoveryĒ tour on several dates in November and December.

Isnít it fun to spend Shabbat one week in a Santiago shul, the next week at a temple in Rio?

It begins in Santiago with a stroll through the main plazas and the Pre-Columbian Museum. An optional side trip to Valparaiso, Chileís lovely, hilly, bohemian coastal gem, is well worth the effort.

In Buenos Aires, travelers explore the upscale Recoleta district, with its Italianate buildings and legendary cemetery that is like a small city in itself; dodge across Avenida 9 de Julioís 26 lanes of traffic and shop for antiques amid the narrow, cobblestone streets of San Telmo. A tour of Buenos Airesí oldest and grandest synagogue is followed by a tango show at night.

Next up: Iguazu Falls. There is a reason that tourists from around the world fly to this spot in the middle of nowhere on the Argentine-Brazilian border: It really is that amazing. A stunning melange of 275 separate waterfalls, Iguazuís cascades splash down from the depths of a lush, green rainforest dotted with colorful butterflies and exotic birds.

In Rio, take the pulse of local beaches, travel to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain for that iconic coastal view and enjoy a samba show one night, Shabbat services the next.

Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls are the highlights.

In Rio, guests view the private art collection on the walls of a Jewish TV network and publisher, shop at a folklore market and learn about gemstones and jewelers at the headquarters of H. Stern Jewelers in Ipanema.

This tour includes Sao Paulo, home to a majority of Brazilís Jews and the countryís largest congregation, Congregacao Israelita Paulista, with more than 2,000 members. Prices vary depending on tour size and dates; 

For those who want a bit more flexibility, Buenos Aires-based Jewish Tours Argentina specializes in custom city tours and Jewish heritage tours of that city, as well as Santiago, Chile and Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil. The personalized tours are led by bilingual Argentines who are members of the local Jewish community.

Tours range in length from a three-hour stroll through the cityís major sights to a four-day Buenos Aires package, which includes hotel arrangements, transportation to and from the airport, kosher restaurant meals and tickets to attractions like a tango show and a river cruise.

Note to readers: After a column last year about Sao Paulo, a reader wrote in to complain that I failed to emphasize the dangerous crime rates in Brazilian cities. I assume my readers are sophisticated enough to be aware that many large South American cities are less safe than their European counterparts, and in fact violent crime rates have been stubbornly rising in places like Rio de Janeiro, despite new government initiatives aimed at controlling the problem. But many areas feel safe, and the average travelerís statistical risk of being victimized is low.

South Americaís cities suffer variously from extremes of economic inequality, a heritage of political instability, a violent drug trade and a low-grade but persistent anti-Semitism that can be unsettling. Nonetheless, in a decade that has seen violent acts of terrorism in such traditionally low-crime destinations as Madrid, London and New York, Latin Americaís day-to-day issues should be put in perspective.

All travelers should take common-sense urban precautions, make an effort to blend in visually, assume a certain healthy cynicism when approached by strangers and use their best judgments about what sort of neighborhoods seem safe to walk around at different times of day. Leave a photocopy of your passport with a friend at home and another in your luggage. Donít travel with large amounts of cash. Above all, do plenty of research on each destination before you go, so you know what to expect, what to avoid and what to savor during your fabulous voyage south. n

Jewish Tours Argentina: www.jewish-tours.com.ar

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