Patagonia Trip Report

Dec 28th, 2006, 08:30 AM
  #1  
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Patagonia Trip Report

Weíve just returned from a fantastic, wonderful trip through Patagonia. It wasnít exactly the trip I planned, but it was more than I could have dreamed of. Shortly before we left, I tripped down our stairs and injured my foot. I figured it was a sprain and would go away. It didnít and hasnít. Iím in the midst of a series of doctor appointments to figure out whatís wrong. Consequently, our trip involved less hiking and more touring, but was spectacular nonetheless.

Wow Argentina was instrumental in helping us to arrange this trip. In particular, I really appreciated all the private transfers organized by the agency. It was so nice to get some place and have a driver waiting for us. I highly recommend Wow Argentina.

We began our trip by flying from Minneapolis to Atlanta to Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile and then drove to Puerto Varas. 24 hours after leaving our house, we were at our first hotel. We stayed for one night and got up early to begin the Lake Crossing into Argentina. We arrived in Chile because we used airline miles to travel and had to fly to Santiago.

The Lake Crossing is a whole day event that entails crossing through the Andes both by bus and by boat. The scenery, particularly on our beautiful day, was breath taking: snow topped mountains reflected in perfectly blue lakes. The event is also well organized. Luggage and humans are escorted from place to place, nothing is lost, food is available, and tour descriptions are in both English and Spanish.

In Bariloche, we did a lot of driving rather than hiking. We visited a hippy, anti-nuclear energy town and generally enjoyed the soaring mountain vistas. At one viewpoint, we wondered if it was the most beautiful place weíd ever been. This is the only location where we rented a car. At first, it was a little nerve racking but my hubby quickly got used to the driving. We stayed at Villa Huinid. Our travel agent didnít have any data on this hotel, but I found it online and we tried it anyway. We loved it. It is just out of town (about 3K) with lovely grounds and fantastic views of the lake/mountains. The service was fantastic and our room was large and well appointed. Internet access was U$2 an hour.

From Bariloche, we flew to El Calafate. We were met by a driver from our next hotel in El Chalten. Our hotel in El Chalten was our splurge for the trip. We stayed at Los Cerros. Because of the foot injury, it was fortuitous that we stayed at Los Cerros. They took very good care of me. Our first day, we went with a group on a drive through the park, on a short hike to a hanging glacier, followed by a feast in a wooded cabin. During out second day, the resort insisted that we go horseback riding rather than hiking. Iíve never really rode a horse, but I was willing to give it a try. I wanted to have a view of the mountains from a high vantage point, but I knew I couldnít do it under my own power.

Horse back riding was quite the experience. The guide didnít speak a word of English and the horses were not well behaved. The guideís horse was a new mom so the baby came along for the ride. My horse, a male, didnít like the baby so it was always biting it and chasing it. I suspect it is because the mom horse is still nursing. Then, my horse would refuse to move whenever it came up to water or mud. Even the guide couldnít get it to budge. The icing on the cake is when we came back into town and had to cross through another horse field. Those horses started chasing the baby horse, so my horse got spooked and started rearing. I basically had to hold on while the guide threw rocks at the two other horse to get them to leave the baby horse alone. Meanwhile, my hubby had a nice horse that was always a block behind, casually eating its way through the mountains. Even after all of that, I had a really good time. But, we chose not to tell Los Cerros about what happened. We were afraid they wouldnít send people there to horseback ride in the future.

If I had a complaint about Los Cerros, it is that there was too much food. We literally had to refuse meals and stop eating to end the waste of us throwing things away. For example, for our horseback ride, they sent us with four sandwiches, dessert, two salads, dried fruits and nuts, two apples, and one thermos of soup. I, literally, ate none of mine. I was still full from the elaborate breakfast. I tried to give mine to the guide who wouldnít take it and, instead, insisted on munching on dandelions.

From El Chalten we went back to El Calafate to spend a few days visiting the glaciers. El Calafte is a lovely little town thatís doubled in size over the last two years. It has a nice main street with lots of shops and restaurants and is surrounded by mountains. We stayed at the Calafate Parque Hotel. It is one block off the main street so it is very convenient to get to the shopping and restaurants. The hotel is a pretty standard, but the employees are really helpful and we enjoyed our time there. The glaciers in Calafate are remarkable. They are huge. On our first full day, we took the Estancia Christina tour to the Upsala Glacier followed by another large feast. I highly recommend this tour. We did the 4WD option. However, a few members of our group went on the hike. The hike was highly recommended by those who took it.

The second full day, we went to the Perito Moreno glacier. The tour that we took started with a hike along the lake to the glacier, followed by time on the catwalks, followed by a boat ride up to the glacier. Some folks in our group chose not to do the boat part of the trip because the catwalks were sufficient for them. I really liked the boat portion because we got so close to the glacier and it is always calving. An interesting note: both the tours associated with Los Cerros and Estancia Christina are staffed and organized by Fitz Roy Expeditions. The folks affiliated with this organization are really professional and knowledgeable. I was very impressed with both tours. A different tour company organizes the Perito Moreno expedition. It was fine, but paled in comparison to those organized by Fitz Roy.

Our next stop was Torres del Paine, back in Chile. In this case, we took an almost all-day transfer between the two countries. This was not a private transfer. We went on a bus. With stops, it takes about 7 hours. My only complaint is that the bus seats are rather small and my hubby has very broad shoulders. He was uncomfortable.

In Torres del Paine, we stayed at Hosteria Los Torres. If you choose to go to Torres del Paine, be aware of how expensive it is. Food is unbelievable. Tours are outrageous. But, I feel very privileged to have spent a few days there. It is such a remote place that almost no one goes there. The roads are gravel and narrow so driving between places takes a while. Most interesting are the mountains. The park is at sea level, so the surrounding mountains appear huge at 10,000 feet. They just tower over everything. I felt like I was in Africa, not for the terrain or animals, but because the local birds and animals are plentiful and walk around, right in front of the car. They are all protected so they have little fear. And since it is spring, there are babies everywhere. The most common animals are guanaco (like a llama), fox, a big bird like an emu, a weird dear, and pumas. The condors were plentiful. There were many other birds too. There are even migrating flamingos that hang out there in the summer. Again, in Torres del Paine, we were supposed to hike, but had to choose other activities because the hikes were too great for my foot. So, on our first full day we did a half day tour with a guide, park expert, and two grad student geologists to learn about the flora and fauna. On our second day, we took an all day tour of the park, including another boat ride to a glacier.

From Torres del Paine, we had a private transfer to Punta Arenas. To get there were picked up at the Hosteria at 6am local time for the drive (200 miles, five hours). I didnít like our hotel, Cabo de Hornos, in Punta Arenas. It was a big business hotel and the rooms were fine, but the service was terrible.

We went to this city for two reasons. We needed a location with an airport so we could get back to Santiago and because I wanted to visit a Magellanic penguin colony. The penguin visit was excellent. And, since it is spring there were many babies. We were lucky in that the weather was good so the ride through the Straits was uneventful and we didn`t have to walk around in the rain.

We were only there for 24 hours, but in the morning before we left, we: watched a mariachi-like band and dancers; watched a military color guard and band play and march; visited a European-styled mansion that is now a museum, and went to the local cemetery. It is sort of like New Orleans except that there are people ďburiedĒ both above and below ground. And, the coffins stay interned, they don`t evaporate like in New Orleans. In every mausoleum or personal plot there are decorations, pictures, flowers, etc. A concrete fence surrounds each plot if it is not in a building. It was unbelievable. Even the people in the wall, had a front shrine with pictures and decorations. The owners have keys to the plots so they go in and replace the stuff regularly.

From Punta Arenas, we flew to Santiago, were we spent another 24 hours before we came home. We stayed at the Regal Pacific Hotel. It was lovely. In retrospect, I might have appreciated staying a bit closer to the downtown, but it really didnít matter. We took the subway and taxis to get around. I really liked Santiago. I had pretty low expectations because I had heard it was mostly an industrial city. But, I didnít find that at all. It is a booming city with lots of hustle and bustle. Before we left, we managed to visit some of the tour book highlights and loved all of them. There is a lovely central square with museums and a large cathedral. There are lots of parks, it is surrounded by very large mountains, and there is little in the way of graffiti or beggars.

This was the trip of a lifetime. I canít express how wonderful it was. I feel so privileged and honored to have visited this area of the world. Our lack of Spanish wasnít really an issue. (We took a quick class before we left home and were able to communicate very basically). When we had troubles communicating, we whipped out the dictionary, drew pictures, or pantomimed.
leelabell is offline  
Dec 28th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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What a wonderful report, leelabell.
cmcfong is online now  
Dec 28th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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Love your trip report. My husband and I are just starting to plan a trip to Argentina for next Dec. 2007. Did you plan your whole trip through WOW Argentina? It sounded like only part of it was planned through them. Did you drive yourself around most of the time or did you have a driver? How long was your trip? I couldn't tell from your report. We also want to visit Bueno Aires and the Falls. We are thinking of going for around 17 to 21 days. Did you find your trip very expensive?
anitas is offline  
Dec 28th, 2006, 03:21 PM
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When we decided to go to Patagonia, I thought I would plan the trip myself as I normally do with our vacations. I bought travel books and read websites. Since we were using airline miles, I booked my flight last January. Our trip was planned for 17 days because of what I thought our itinerary would be. The itinerary changed a bunch of times before we solidified all our destinations, but we never changed our arrival and departure dates. 17 days turned out to be perfect for what we wanted to do. However, we would have liked to go to BA, but it didn't make sense since we were flying into and out of Santiago and we were staying mostly in the south.

Once I really started the planning process, I realized it would be easier to use an expert for some of the bookings. I found WOW from reading this site. For the most part, I decided where we were going and when. However, WOW was good at advising me about travel between destinations. We had to cross the border twice and some of the distances were great, so planning the trip with a flow made sense.

They do custom itineraries, so you don't need them to book everything. If you are mostly concerned with transportation from place to place, my guess is they will work with you. We used a variety of transportation methods to get around the country. We flew, used private transport, used hotel transport, and used public buses. We also rented a car in Bariloche just to get around that area. The private transport was a luxury, but was also so wonderful. We also used WOW to book hotels and internal flights. In retrospect, we didn't need them for the accommodations, but it was nice to have them do all that communication.

Regarding cost, we could have pared it down a bit. For example, had we known I was going to have a foot injury, we probably wouldn't have gone to El Chalten. Everyone goes there to hike. It is a tiny town. In the end, Los Cerros was fantastic, but had we planned on staying at an inexpensive hotel or hostel, we would have been stuck trying to organize alternate daily activities there. Also, Torres del Paine is really expensive. There are cheaper places to stay than Los Torres, but they don't necessarily offer any guided activities. How much you spend in this park really depends on what you plan on doing there and how you get from place to place. There are great hikes, but depending on where you stay, you have to pay to get to the trail heads. (Many of the backpackers just brought everything they needed with them and get dropped off at the beginning of their hikes. In this case, TDP can be inexpensive.) It turned out to our advantage that we were at a place that offered activities other than hiking, but it wasn't the most fiscally prudent decision to stay there.

This trip wasn't cheap, but Argentina is fairly inexpensive, so there are definitely ways to economize.

Let me know if you have other question. I'll check back again to respond.
leelabell is offline  
Dec 28th, 2006, 03:39 PM
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Thanks so much for your quick reply. We are also very independent travellers. I usually book and research everyhing myself. From what I can tell so far that the airfare between countries is very expensive. I did contact WOW and they want 100.00 to plan our trip for us. I really don't have an issue with that. What I was trying to figure out first is the approx. cost of the trip before going any further. We also have FF miles for the flight. One other option we are considering is doing a 15 night cruise. Did you check into the South America Airpass? Thanks Anita
anitas is offline  
Dec 28th, 2006, 04:07 PM
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Anita, if you don't mind me jumping in here, I also used WOW! Argentina for my travel arrangements (my trip report is posted here as My Argentine Adventure(. They deducted the $100 from my bill and I was very pleased with everything Cintia arranged for me. Buen viaje.
Leelabell, I broke my ankle just before I left for my trip to Patagonia...not fun! You have my sympathies.
cmcfong is online now  
Dec 28th, 2006, 04:47 PM
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cmcfong,
Just read your trip report. Wow!! What a wonderful trip. Did you drive yourselves all around? We would perfer that. My husband has driven all over the world so it's not really an issue. I am glad to hear WOW was such a good experience. Of course, we would fly to the far away places. THanks for your input.
anitas is offline  
Dec 28th, 2006, 07:03 PM
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Thanks so much for sharing! You seem like the kind of person who gets a bang out of everything, planned or not - good for you. No wonder you had such a great trip!
hopefulist is online now  
Dec 28th, 2006, 07:33 PM
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Yes, the $100 gets credited back when you pay for your trip.

We didn't check into the airpass. Our Chilean flights were quite cheap (Santiago to Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas to Santiago, considered a round trip, for about $150-$180 per person), but our one flight in Argentina (Bariloche to El Calafate) was around $500.

We rented a 4WD in Bariloche for three days and it was expensive. However, in that area, almost everything is paved, so a 4WD is unnecessary.

Regarding driving in general, much of Patagonia is gravel roads, so my guess is that driving can be frustrating. I've also heard that one should budget for a windshield replacement. Every single van or bus we rode in had a cracked windshield, so that is probably an accurate statement. However, I can totally understand the desire for freedom. For example, it is a pain to drive in Torres del Paine. However, if you don't want to pay for transport inside the park, a car is a nice option.

CMCFong, thanks for the sympathies. My foot story just keeps getting worse, but I'll save that story for a medical issues forum.

Hopefulist, why not live for the experience, particularly when traveling? Right?
leelabell is offline  
Dec 29th, 2006, 04:08 AM
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Driving from Bariloche to Villa De La Angostura and El Bolson was relatively easy (although I am a horrid navigator and got us on some gravel and back roads). In that area I highly recommend a rental car. Standard shift is the norm.
In Buenos Aires a rental car would be a huge waste of time and money. Taxis are very cheap and readily available. We received excellent advice on this forum and TripAdvisors' forum about how to call a cab. It is important to read and remember that advice.
Buen viaje!
cmcfong is online now  
Jan 14th, 2007, 10:24 AM
  #11  
 
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What is WOW's contact info and who in particular did you deal with there?
Vacationer1 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2007, 02:10 PM
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Cintia Stella at WOW! Argentina can be reached by email at [email protected]

If you do not get a response within a day or two, resend. There are occasional delivery disruptions. Cintia is very helpful. She does charge $100 to enlist her services, but that is deducted from your total bill if you book with her.
cmcfong is online now  

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