Get the best out of the land of the tango

My husband and I are interested in organising our own itinerary for a three-week visit to Argentina in late autumn. The trip would incorporate spending a week with friends in Buenos Aires. We would like advice about cheap international and domestic flights, car hire, the best tourist spots, and whether it's necessary to pre-book accommodation. Would you recommend any books on the country that we could read?

Carol Young

Reading

The Travel Editor replies: Fares to South America are not cheap and the cost of flights to Argentina has risen significantly in recent years. But you are not travelling during peak season (which begins around the first week of December) and you should expect to pay something in the region of pounds 600 return. Iberia (tel: 0171-830 0011), Air France (tel: 0181- 759 2311) and Al Italia (tel: 0171-602 7111) generally offer the cheapest deals to Buenos Aires.

Often the lowest fares available are Apex tickets (advance purchase) from the airline or through an agent such as Journey Latin America (tel: 0181-747 3108), Trailfinders (tel: 0171-938 3366) or Quest Worldwide (tel: 0181-547 3322). These can often organise ground transport (internal flights and car hire) and pre-booked accommodation. You will be travelling out of peak season, so you shouldn't need to book accommodation.

Regional tourist offices are represented in Buenos Aires and they can help with onward accommodation. Almost all domestic flights come through Buenos Aires and the two major carriers (which offer identical fares) are Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral.

Both offer economical multi-destination air passes, too. A good budget travel agent in Buenos Aires for flights, car hire and accommodation is the non-profit-making company Asatej, which is situated in the centre of town (tel: 00 54 311 6953).

Despite Argentina's extensive public transport system, the only way to get to many parts of this vast country is by car. However, you should be aware that Argentinian drivers can be very reckless, even wilfully dangerous, and that traffic accidents are the main cause of death for Argentinians under 35.

As for "must-sees", there are more than enough to fill up a three-week trip. Some suggestions would be to travel from Buenos Aires to Argentina's "cultural capital" of Cordoba, then on to Cataratas del Iguazu (waterfalls) in the north-east of the country. If you did this you would have the chance of taking in the little visited marshland of the Corrientes province on the way.

Using the odd domestic flight will save time but cheaper, overland travel will permit you to see all these sights comfortably within three weeks. If you want to fit in the spectacular national parks and glaciers in the far south of the country (Patagonia) you will have to cut the above visits short and take a flight both ways.

Good books on the country include Lonely Planet Argentina, Uruguay & Paraguay (pounds 12.99) and the South American Handbook (Footprint, pounds 22.99). In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin (Vintage UK Random House, pounds 6.99) is considered by many to be essential South American holiday reading.

For further information contact the Argentine tourist office (tel: 0171- 318 1340).

How budding Biggles can reach for the sky

My 15-year-old son is interested in learning to fly light aircraft. Do you have any idea where I can find information about group holidays for this age group during the summer? This seems to be a rather in- between age since the summer camps appear to be a bit young and also do not cover flying, and adult courses do not address his social needs.

John Carr

via e-mail

The Travel Editor replies: The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom (tel: 0116-253 1051) is the umbrella body for all aerosports. It can advise on courses for all types of flying: powered aircraft, gliding, hang-gliding, paragliding. The organisation has a website which details various types of flying courses, see it at www.royalaeroclub.org

Taking lessons and getting a licence for a powered aircraft (including a light aircraft) is an expensive hobby. You must be at least 17 to pilot a powered aircraft solo (from 1 July, under European rules, the minimum age will be 16), but anyone younger than that can start taking lessons earlier as long as they pass certain height restrictions: if you can reach the rudder pedals in the aircraft - and most 15-year-olds should be able to - you take lessons.

The London School of Flying (tel: 0181-953 4343) does not run summer camps in Britain but has a number of centres in the south-east of England which offer flying lessons. An initial lesson (two flights plus a landing at a different airfield) costs pounds 125. The following 40 hours of lessons, the minimum required, including the pilot's test, costs between pounds 3,000 and pounds 5,000. The organisation offers a two to three-week summer course in Florida, USA, for pounds 3,000, including tuition fees and the test. Accommodation (from pounds 12 per night) and return flights from Britain cost extra. This course gives a full insight into aviation careers along with lessons, although the age range tends to be late teens upwards.

A good way for young people to get a general introduction to aviation without incurring huge costs is to join either the ATC (Air Cadets), run by the RAF (tel: 0181-845 2300 ex 7278), or the Combined Cadet Force (enquire through your local education authority). Both offer young people flying opportunities, including summer schools.

Ups and downs of cycling around China

I'm planning to cycle from Mongolia to Hong Kong next July. I need your advice on visas and formalities for transporting my bike from Mongolia to China, on health, road conditions, and accommodation en route. Do I need to carry a tent? Could you suggest the best route through China? I was thinking of cycling along the coast. Is this a good idea?

Cristiano

Brussels

The Travel Editor replies: The good news is that there are a fair number of crazy Westerners cycling through China on routes as long and arduous as Tibet to Shanghai or Peshawar to Peking.

Whether to bring your own bike or to buy one locally? Your own bike from Belgium will be easier to pedal and will have gadgets attached. But if you are in no great hurry there is something to be said for buying a bike on the spot. In this way your bike will attract nobody's attention and will be simple and cheap to repair along the way. Local bikes are strong, heavy things built for durability not speed - just what you need for the atrocious roads.

There is little use for a tent in much of eastern China. The countryside is so crowded that anybody doing anything as odd as pitching a tent instantly finds themselves surrounded by hundreds of onlookers. You'll always find grim, dormitory-style rooms in villages you pass through. Having said that, Mongolia is for the most part a vast wilderness and here a tent would be useful. The best thing would be to take a tent and then discard it once you have left the Mongolian wildernesses.

One problem you will occasionally encounter, especially in China, is that of inadvertantly cycling into unmarked "closed areas". The result will usually be nothing worse than a few hours in custody and a smallish "fine" of perhaps pounds 10 or pounds 20. In rare cases, you may be put on trial or expelled from the country.

As for your route, I would suggest cycling first from Ulan Bator to Peking. This 800-mile leg is mostly downhill. Avoid the coastal route south, which is mountainous and has few roads. From Peking head south through the flat plains of northern China as far as the Yangtze River; crossing the river at Nanjing will make you happy. From here to Hong Kong however is a fairly mountainous journey.

The total journey - some 2,500 miles - is going to take you several months, so remember to apply for a three-month China visa at the outset. You can extend it by a month or two while you are there.

For more information, call the CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club) (tel: 01483- 417217). It can supply information sheets on cycling conditions for most parts of the world.

A (very) alternative option would be to join an upmarket cycling tour of China. Try California-based Backroads (tel: 510 527 1555). Its two- week cycling tours of China cost about pounds 2,500 (including internal but not international flights) starting in Peking and finishing in Hong Kong. The next departure is in the autumn.

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Write to: the Travel Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2043. E-mail to: sunday travel@ independent.co.uk

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