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Chile or Chile/Argentina - 3 Itinerary Ideas, Can't Decide!

Chile or Chile/Argentina - 3 Itinerary Ideas, Can't Decide!

Old Dec 29th, 2014, 11:07 AM
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Chile or Chile/Argentina - 3 Itinerary Ideas, Can't Decide!

I have enough airline miles to go roundtrip to South America in 2015, and I'm very interested in Chile and Argentina. More interested in Chile, but especially interested in Patagonia in both countries. I'm hoping to go in early November, late November, or early December for about 15-16 nights.

My problem is there are too many amazing places I'm interested in! I want great scenery and opportunities for photography, opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities (horseback riding, kayaking). Less interested in the cities. Would probably lean towards $75 - $100 night lodgings except for one splurge (likely in Torres Del Paine or Atacama). I've read through a lot of posts on the forums, and come up with three different ideas.

OPTION 1 - Chile only - I am more interested in Chile, and this saves having to pay reciprocity fee. My miles will cover roundtrip out of Santiago, plus at least one internal flight. Plus to see the Atacama, which sounds like amazing scenery to contrast with Patagonia.

Nights 1 - 3: Santiago, visit Valparaiso
Nights 4 - 6: Atacama
Nights 7-14: Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas (stay as close to or in park as possible, PA for two nights to visit Isla Magdalena)
Day 15: back to Santiago - to NYC

OPTION 2 - Patagonia - Loses the visit to Santiago, which I am more interested in than Buenos Aires for some reason. Picks up Tierra del Fuego, slightly more expensive potentially. My miles will cover roundtrip to BsAs, plus at least one internal flight.

Nights 1: Buenos Aires
Nights 2 - 5: El Calafate and El Chalten in a 2/3 split (not sure where to put more nights)
Nights 7-10: Torres del Paine (stay as close to or in park as possible)
Nights 11 - 15: to Punta Arenas, boat through Tierra del Fuego to Ushuaia
Day 16: Ushuaia - Buenos Aires - NYC

OPTION 3 - Patagonia + Atacama - Probably the most expensive / least time-value friendly, more moving around. Loses the visit to Ushuaia in favor of Atacama. My miles will cover into BsAs out of Santiago, plus at least one internal flight.

Nights 1: Buenos Aires
Nights 2 - 5: El Calafate and El Chalten in a 2/3 split (not sure where to put more nights)
Nights 7-10: Torres del Paine (stay as close to or in park as possible)
Nights 11 - 15: Atacama (first day is transfer to PA, to Atacama via Santiago)
Day 16: Atacama - Santiago - NYC

What would you recommend as the best plan for my interests? I think Option 2 makes the most sense in terms of keeping things in Patagonia and very consistent, but I also really like the idea of contrasting Patagonia with the Atacama.
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Old Dec 29th, 2014, 03:01 PM
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I like option 1. With a short time frame, staying in one country reduces the possibility of problems with transport. Crossing between Torres del Paine and El Calafate takes a few hours and you lose time better spent doing other things.Also the contrast of San Pedro de Atacama and Torres del Paine is amazing. I would get to Santiago the night before an international flight.

If the trip to Isla Magdalena is not possible (weather issues), you can get Seno Otway by land to see a penguin colony.

Early December would be better than November for everything on your wish list.
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Old Dec 30th, 2014, 05:34 AM
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Thanks Huentetu, that's very helpful on the transit info. Thinking about it a bit more, I really don't want to miss out on the Atacama, and option 3 just seems like a lot of moving around.

I do hope one day to get to Antarctica, so hopefully then I could visit Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego (and maybe El Chalten and Calafate) at that point.
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Old Dec 30th, 2014, 09:14 AM
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If you want to say you got to Tierra del Fuego, just take the ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir! The new ferry takes 1 hr.45mins to do the crossing, vs 3 hrs with the old one. There is a small king penguin reserve you can get to from there if you have your own transport or take a tour, but it is a long day there and back. Porvenir does have a small museum, mainly dedicated to the Croatian settlers and history of Porvenir. In that area, if you weren't indigenous, you were probably either Croatian or Scottish.
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Old Jan 8th, 2015, 12:55 PM
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Hi Inspired - I just wanted to second the vote for itinerary #1. We did a family trip to Chile and BsAs a couple of years ago. We went to Santiago, the Valparaiso for a couple of nights, then Atacama, then to Buenos Aires via Santiago.

Santiago was fun but not somewhere I'd visit multiple times. I'd definitely go back to Valparaiso and spend more time. Pablo Neruda's home/museum was fascinating and we had one of our best meals ever at a restaurant nearby. Never made it to Vin del Mar.

Our very favorite part of the trip was the Atacama. We splurged on an all-inclusive hotel there which was FABULOUS but even if we had gone a less pricey route, I think it still would have been the highlight. The desert there is just other-worldly and gorgeous. Lots of fun things to do, from horseback riding to stargazing to visiting the salt flats or the geysers. You can book all those kinds of trips from agents in town.

We liked Buenos Aires too, but not as much as Chile. Took a graffiti tour and saw a tango show - the typical tourist things. I'm glad we did it, but would rather have gone to Torres del Paine. We couldn't, as we were there in June and that's winter - all the resorts/hotels were closed for the season during our dates. You, however, won't have that limitation.

Good luck with your trip planning. You picked a great part of the world to go explore.

Karen

All that to say,
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Old Jan 10th, 2015, 06:39 AM
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Thank you so much for that feedback, Karen! May I ask which all-inclusive you stayed at in the Atacama? I am definitely thinking to do either Torres del Paine or Atacama in higher end style, and Explora and Awasi (among others) have properties in both locations that look pretty spectacular.

I'm still wavering between 1 and 3 (I've completely removed #2, don't want to miss the Atacama). Trying to figure out how important it is to me to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. I am headed to Iceland in March, so I may not need more glaciers come December.
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Old Jan 10th, 2015, 08:21 AM
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I don't know the Atacama versions, but the Awasi in TdP is small, tours are 2 people max (so ideal for a couple). The Explora is larger, tours are 8 people max. No idea about prices aside from the fact that they are both top end.
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Old Jan 10th, 2015, 06:28 PM
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Certainly, Inspired! We stayed at Tierra Atacama. I wanted to try Explora but they were completely full and we could not. But we were very happy with Tierra. We were traveling with our teenage daughter and my 70+ y.o. father-in-law. My F-I-L got sick while we were there but the staff were SO accommodating - they encouraged us to go on and do our excursions and they would take care of him. And they did - brought him ice chips, made him special meals - they really saved the vacation for the whole family.

And we really enjoyed taking excursions with the other guests, for what it's worth. The people we met were well-traveled and very personable, from all over the world. One couple from Brazil, another from London, a single gentleman from Germany who spoke excellent English and was a photography buff like my husband. This fall we are hoping to go to Torres del Paine and I have already ruled out staying at Awasi for this very reason - I want the chance to meet and tour with other like-minded travelers.

Also, the guides at Tierra were wonderful. Great English skills and willing to help us with our Spanish. Knowledgeable and fun. We went horseback riding, flamingo-watching, hiking in several valleys (all spectacular), and up to the geysers. FREEZING cold but the guides provided a hot breakfast. That was one of my favorite excursions.

Hope this was helpful and that you end up seeing the Atacama. It ranks up there as one of my favorite vacation destinations ever.

Karen
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Old Jan 12th, 2015, 05:06 AM
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Bookmarking. Love these ideas and a trip to Patagonia is on our wish list.
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Old Jan 12th, 2015, 02:58 PM
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Thank you again Huentetu and Karen for the thoughts! As a solo traveler, sounds like the Awasi experience, while exclusive and private, may not give me the same opportunities to meet and interact with other people as Tierra or Explora. I will focus on those two operators (at first glance I prefer the Tierra's interiors to explora, so thank you for the great recommendation, Karen!).

For Patagonia, I'll also keep the explora/Tierra focus, and they have some interesting places like EcoCamp and Patagonia Camp that seem very unique, and I'll look into those also.

Looking at BA and LAN every day for award availability and posted flight schedules, respectively. I haven't gone on my Iceland trip yet, but it's clearly never too early to plan the next next trip!
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Old Jan 19th, 2015, 10:18 AM
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Just as an update, I was constantly on BA the last week for flight availability as schedules loaded. The way it turned out, I was able to grab flights for $50 in fees and 50K miles, flying into Buenos Aires and out of Santiago. It also added two extra days / three extra nights (no flight availability out until Tuesday). So now, with flights booked, I am fully committed to Option 3 and with more time, can hopefully have a relaxed pace while seeing/experiencing all of my most wanted places!

What I have now:

Nights 1: Buenos Aires
Nights 2: fly to El Calafate, drive to El Chalten
Nights 3 - 4: El Chalten
Nights 5 - 6: back to El Calafate
Nights 7-11: Torres del Paine (stay as close to or in park as possible)
Nights 12 - 15: Atacama (first day is transfer to PA, to Atacama via Santiago)
Nights 16 - 17: Atacama - Santiago, day trip to Valparaiso
Night 18: Santiago day, fly through night back to NYC
Land NYC 7:30 AM

Going to start learning/brushing up on some Spanish. I'm sure I'll be back at some point with detailed questions as I fully plan the trip, but I am already excited (and feeling very triumphant about my $50 flights).
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Old Jan 19th, 2015, 01:21 PM
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Here's another option that we actually did in late Nov to early Dec 2014. We took a 14 days Holland America cruise starting from Santiago (actually the port of Valparaiso -- UNESCO world heritage site) and ending up in Buenos Aires, so you'll get both countries. We were able to use our miles to fly into Santiago and out of BA for 50,000 miles pp -- really good deal.

The cruise goes through some amazing wildernesss in southern Chile (Patagonia)--glaciers and fjords. And it stopped in Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. Bonus was the Falkland Islands where we visited a colony of thousands of king penguins, besides gentoo and magellan ones.

Main drawback is you only have a day in each place, so not much time for long hikes, but we managed to squeeze in a few
hikes. We met a Canadian couple on the cruise, who actually spent a few days before the cruise in Torres Del Paine hiking hut to hut, so that's another option for an add-on.

You save so much on transportation, food and lodging with the cruise, and service was amazing -- like 5 stars. Price per day was incredibly inexpensive -- less than $100 pp -- including everything.

We really enjoyed our trip.
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Old Jan 19th, 2015, 02:55 PM
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Thanks, JC98! I'm interested in the idea of cruising overall (never been on one), especially in South America since it's the main way to get to Antarctica, but my main issue is that I'm a solo traveler. And by in large, paying the single supplement does not work out to a cost effective trip versus an independent, land based itinerary. (And though I really really do want to go to Antarctica, I'm not conceptually on board with sleeping in a triple or quad room).

My trip is definitely scenery driven, but also oriented towards active pursuits for hiking, kayaking, sandboarding, horseback riding, stargazing (well, that's not so active) that might be more difficult to do from a boat.

Your cruise experience sounds really wonderful though, JC98, and sounds like great value for a couple traveling together.
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Old Jan 19th, 2015, 05:24 PM
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Nights 12-15, you are flying to Calama. Atacama is the name of the whole huge desert. San Pedro de Atacama is served by the airport at Calama. It is about 1.5 hrs from Calama and there are shared vans from the airport.
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Old Jan 19th, 2015, 08:24 PM
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To save a bit of money in Torres del Paine, you might stay in the bunk rooms at Refugio Torre Central, which isn't bad and you can hike to the Towers independently from there. You won't have to bring sleeping bags, the beds are made up. You can buy meals from them as well.

You can book rooms through Fantastico Sur. They also have the bookings for Cabanas Las Cuernos.

You may have seen my trip report but if not click my name.
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Old Jan 21st, 2015, 06:17 PM
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inspiredexplorer, your current plan sounds really great too. Sorry, I didn't see your final decision when I wrote about the cruise.

Looking forward to your trip report, and maybe we'll follow that itinerary one day.

Have fun!
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