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Trip Report Southward Ho! Adventures in Chile & ARG

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We spent 6.5 weeks in Chile and ARG. I don't know how we would have planned without the help of this board. While there was not a lot of information to be found on Chile or parts of ARG, many posters were invaluable in their advice. Of particular note a big thanks to Huentetu, mlgb, Elizabeth-S, Jeff-Costa-Rica & Crellston. Of course a few others offered comments now and then and I appreciated those too.

Our itinerary was
Santiago, Valparaiso, Chiloe, Chilean Lake District, ARG Lake District, Puerto Montt, Torres del Paine, ElCalafate & BA.

SANTIAGO: A Slow Start to our Adventure
We arrived in Santiago bleary-eyed and bedraggled from the overnight United IAD to Buenos Aires flight and the onward morning LAN connection to Santiago. We took a taxi to our lodgings [Casa Bonita, Pasaje Republica 5]. We were so excited to be there that we promptly ran up to the door of the wrong building and had to be redirected by the driver. Casa Bonita is a small B&B – maybe five rooms. Our spacious room [#3] was on the second floor, at the corner of the building overlooking the intersection of Pasaje Republica and a side street. We found it generally comfortable, although too noisy and too light for anything other than the briefest of naps.

In the later afternoon, we walked in a sleep-deprived haze down Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins towards the city center. The weather was perfect, and the infamous Santiago pollution was not in evidence. We stopped by Bar Nacional [Calle Bandera 317] for empanadas and our first Chilean pisco sours. The empanadas were pretty good – we were to have better ones later – and the pisco sours fabulous. Bar Nacional had been recommended by some co-workers who had attended a conference in Santiago a few months earlier. From their description, I had expected palatial surroundings with antique waiters. The waiters were indeed of the old school, but the surroundings were more reminiscent of a Greek diner than a palace. Afterwards, we strolled through the Plaza de Armas at dusk before returning to our room. We slept like the dead for a few hours until awakened by a loud party in a neighboring building. The noise continued until the middle of the night until replaced first by police sirens and then by silence.

The next morning we headed for barrio Buenavista and the Pablo Neruda house “La Chascona.” We took the excellent and inexpensive Santiago subway from the Republica stop near Casa Bonita to the Baquedano stop. We strolled down calle Pio Nono, stopping at lapis lazuli shops and a “completo” cart (a completo is a Chilean hot dog topped with mashed avocado). La Chascona – the reference is to Neruda’s third wife’s exuberant hair – is a loopy, eccentric series of buildings with slanted floors meant to evoke the impression of boat at sea. We bought tickets for the English language tour. We had a very nice guide, a young woman who spoke excellent English who took us through the rooms of colored glass, paintings, bars, giant shoes and a photograph of the diminutive Pablo Neruda beside the immense Diego Rivera. The guide’s narrative – by turn amusing, illuminating and horrifying - and the whimsical house made me want to know more about the poet. A visit to La Chascona is highly recommended. It was the high point of our visit to Santiago.

We had lunch at Barandarian [Manuel Montt 315] in Bellavista Patios. Our lunch – ceviche, tiradito and Peruvian-style potatoes – was OK. Nothing to post about though. Our post-lunch dessert at Patagonia was a little better: dulce de leche panqueques and crème brulee. We blew off visiting other museums in lieu of wandering this barrio and the nearby Bellas Artes neighborhood. We returned to the room for another attempted nap and then explored barrio Brasil, where we were staying.

That evening, we had great pisco sours and a so-so shrimp tapa at Restaurante Tapes on the Plaza de la Prensa Libertad. Our later dinner at the nearby Restaurant Zully was an unparalleled exercise in culinary incoherence: beef with shrimp risotto and a sesame-crusted tuna that was tasty only because we rescued it from a cloying puddle of raspberry sauce by hastily constructing a dam of quinoa. The wine – a Chilean carmenere – was good. I watched a Chilean couple at a nearby table drink red wine mixed with Coca-Cola. The service was abysmal, perhaps because we had switched tables early on. The ultimate indignity was background music comprised solely of repeating Lionel Ritchie tracks. On the plus side, the restaurante Zully building – a converted mansion – was gorgeous. And the plaza outside was beautiful.

The next morning, based on a New York Times recommendation, we took the subway and a very long walk to visit the Museo de la Moda. This museum had been established by a member of a wealthy Chilean-Arab family, who was presumably possessed by an outsized fashion and footware fetish. The museum grounds were reminiscent of Cadillac Ranch in Texas, cars half-buried at a 45 degree slant. The museum itself was somewhat small. The then-current show was on 1980s fashion. Our admission price treated us to a view of a Princess Diana dress and a Michael Jackson jacket. On the whole, we found the museum less than impressive.

Afterwards, we took a lengthy stroll down Alfonzo de Cordoba Street. This shopping street, like many of the newer areas of Santiago, was reminiscent of Florida or Southern California. It had the feel of a fashionable street in a developed country. Our subsequent lunch – our first outstanding meal – was at restaurante Casa Mar, a stylish Peruvian/Japanese restaurant that would not have been out of place in Miami. Both the shrimp cocktail and a smoked salmon/king crab sushi roll were wonderful. After lunch, we took a long cab ride to the city center to see el Museo de Bellas Artes, a beautiful neo-classical building hosting a photo show. By then, exhausted by the mounting heat, we took the subway back to Casa Bonita, tried to nap and were again foiled by the noise and light.

Later that afternoon, we left for the Palacio de la Moneda on Avenida Libertador Bernando O’Higgins. We had passed by this beautiful building several times. (We didn’t realize that it was the presidential palace and I didn’t recognize it as the building where the Allende government made its last stand in the 1973 coup until I saw the far side facing calle Moneda.) There was no entry allowed to the building or the interior courtyard, and we were left to marvel at the guards’ outrageous Prussian-influenced military costumes, candidates for entry in the Museo de la Moda exhibition. We then checked out the underground Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda. This is an immense and wonderful space filled with both galleries and shops. Highly recommended.

We then wandered to the far side of the Palacio de la Moneda, where we first recognized it as the building bombed and shelled during the September 1973 coup. We then had empanadas and pisco sours at the nearby Blue Jar restaurant. Both the pastries and the libations were wonderful, even better than those at the Bar Nacional. We then returned to Casa Bonita again. Later that evening we went to Patios Buenavista where we had seen posters advertising a tango show that night. Try as we might, we never could find the show. We were directed to various parts of the Patios in our fruitless search and finally ended up sitting down where we hoped a tango show would materialize…it didn’t. We had nondescript sushi and called it a night. Other than the food at lunch, this had been an unexciting day. Increasingly, we felt had exhausted the limited possibilities of Santiago. We were looking forward to our departure to Valparaiso the next day.

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    Boy, this is a trip report setting some high standards for the rest of us traveling strangers. As you know, we're following in your footsteps, at least some of your footsteps, in buenos aires. Even though your report hasn't gotten there yet. So, hurry up!

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    Excellent start yestravel. looking forward to reading more!

    Sorry to hear hear of your Lionel Rithchie experience.

    "The ultimate indignity was background music comprised solely of repeating Lionel Ritchie tracks"

    Sounds like my idea of hell!!

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    I don't remember what I did to help, but I'm glad I did. Your description of La Chascona brings back good memories.

    I would be very grumpy with that lodging. An alternative is the Best Western Los Espanoles, a good combination of quiet and convenient, short walk to subway and walkable to Bellavista and Providencia.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Yestravel you are doing it again...a funny, interesting and useful Trip Report. And these folks do not have the benefit of your DH's great photos :)

    Dh and I followed in your footsteps, with your excellent TRs on the NOA in hand, and I can feel Chile plans a comin'

    Trying to be patient for the next chapter of your report. And gracias.


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    Valparaiso: Vertical & Colorful

    After breakfast the next morning, we took the advice of the B&B guy and took a cab from Casa Bonita to the bus station. (As it turns out, we could have taken the subway.) Valparaiso is less than two hours by bus from Santiago and buses run frequently. Thus we alighted from our bus in Valparaiso before noon. (I understand that, due to the slightly down in the heels neighborhood in which it is located, some travelers are nervous about getting off at the Valparaiso bus station and prefer instead to go on to Viña del Mar and then take a cab back to Valparaiso. Avoid this unnecessary expense. The high volume of traffic at the Valparaiso traveler bus station coupled with the friendly national disposition makes any crime unlikely.)

    We promptly hailed a cab. The driver took us zooming up Cerro Concepción at what seemed to be a 45 degree angle and promptly deposited us at the Harrington B&B on Avenida Templeman. Our room was fabulous. It was large and quiet, and had a small balcony overlooking Avenida Templeman. Basically, it was everything that our room in the Casa Bonita was not. Best of all was the dark purple velvet blackout shades; I would have killed to have these back in my black light days. A further plus for us – if not for the owners Oliver and Victoria – was that we were the only guests that night.

    The neighborhood could not have been more to our tastes. Cerro Concepción is one of seventeen (I think) hills in Valparaiso that overlook the spectacular Valparaiso harbor. Concepción and the nearby Cerro Alegre are both artistic enclaves with numerous galleries, artesiana shops and restaurants. The view to the harbor is nothing short of spectacular; reminiscent of great views in San Francisco. Many of the buildings are vertical and tilted and seem to be leaning on one another. Many are painted every color imaginable in all possible combinations. Also, much of the housing is constructed of galvanized metal over wood frames. The general impression is of a vertical madly-colored tilted city that seems like it should slide into the ocean but does not. Streets turn into stairs and vice versa. Graffiti art adorns much of the public space. Like Santiago – and unlike the United States – the graffiti art is pictorial and enjoys public respect.

    At Oliver’s suggestion, we went for lunch at La Concepción restaurant [Papudo 541]. We started with a “locos” (abalone) appetizer in a salsa verde, then had ravioli stuffed with centolla (king crab) and a jaiba (a different crab, presumably of less noble origins) “pastel.” The locos and the ravioli were both superb, by themselves some of the very best food we were to have in Chile. Unfortunately, the pastel suffered from the Chilean culinary habit of adding excessive amounts of cheese and cream to seafood; consequently, the result resembled an excessively creamy crab bisque topped with three quarters of an inch of melted cheese that had been browned on top. The accompanying white wine – I neglected to note the name – was superb. The panna cotta dessert was so-so. Overall, this was a very good meal.
    After lunch, we walked down to the lower section of town. The buildings here are solid, of brick or stone, many in the neo-classical style popular in Valapariso’s pre-Panama Canal heyday of wealth. Now, some were in a state of disrepair. We checked out the Chilean Navy Headquarters on Plaza Sotomayor and the new National Council of Culture and the Arts buildings, among others. We then took an ascensor (a kind of funicular) back up to Cerro Concepción to our barrio,. There we meandered the slanted streets of Cerros Concepción and Alegre and gaped at the color combinations of the wooden and galvanized metal buildings. We stopped by Bar/Restaurant Pobleou for the boho atmosphere and some truly stellar pisco sours. Unfortunately, our food – potatoes with aioli sauce and sushi - wasn’t nearly as good as our drinks.

    The next day, we went to La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. We took the long way there, walking up Templeman to Avenida Alemania, which went on a ridgeline above the city for several miles, offering spectacular views. We then dropped back down on Ferrari to La Sebastiana where we did a self-guided tour. This four-story house had been designed and owned by an architect who later sold it to Neruda. It has panoramic views of the city and the sea, a post-modern Neruda-designed fireplace and the now familiar array of whimsical and eccentric objects collected by Neruda. Loved it.

    We left by continuing to head down Ferrari, detouring for a neighborhood of murals that I found to be less impressive, on the whole, than the graffiti art in Cerro Concepción. Once we were down in what we had taken to calling “the flatlands,” we made a beeline for plaza Sotomayor and the restaurant Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo is an old seafood restaurant reputed to be the best in town. And it was pretty good: Great machas (razor clams topped w/ parmesan cheese and spices) and fantastic seafood/cheese empanadas. The smoked salmon carpaccio was OK. Then back up the hill via ascensor for more walking and a nap. We took an “onces” (an afternoon snack) at La Concepción: pisco sours and the locos we’d had the day before. Later that night we wandered out to the Aleman Nacional, a kind of artisan shop/restaurant near our room for empanadas (two kinds, both doughy and nondescript) and some great carmenere wine.

    The next morning, after breakfast, we took a bus to Isla Negra to see the third of Pablo Neruda’s houses. Isla Negra is a coastal town an hour south of Valparaiso. This was Neruda’s favorite house, for good reason. It has a spectacular seaside location with waves pounding on the rocks. Like his house in Santiago, the Isla Negra house is tipsy and nautical, filled with antique maps, bow sprints, colored glass, sea shells, figurines and flotsam from the four corners and seven seas of the world. It is also the final resting place of Neruda and his third wife. Neruda may have been the only whimsical communist to have ever lived.

    We had lunch at the café there: tasty machas with salsa verde, a wonderful tomato/ palta (avocado)/heart of palm salad washed down by Neruda’s favorite cocktail. I’ve forgotten what exactly comprised the drink, which may be a tribute to its potency. (I think this was the beginning of my love affair with the Chilean avocado.) Then back to the bus stop and back to our hotel on the hill in the tilted city. We had an early dinner at Café Turri – if one can consider a pisco sour, a mango sour, orange cake and a view dinner. We plotted future trips that could take us back here. Perhaps a Valparaiso to Mendoza to Buenos Aires bus trip? We liked it here. We wanted to come back.

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    Chiloé: Colorful and Bucolic

    This had promised to be our day from hell: Awaken at 6:00a.m., somehow get across Valparaiso to the bus station for the 7:00 bus to Santiago, exit at the “Cruz Aeropuerto” stop and somehow find a cab to the airport in time for our 10:00 flight to Puerto Montt. One crossed connection would have left us stranded. However, despite our caffeine-deprived state, it ran like clockwork, in large part thanks to Oliver, our B&B owner, who was kind enough to drive us to the bus terminal at 6:30 am. We smoothly made the 6:45 bus and requested the Cruz Aeropuerto stop from the driver. Had we been fully awake, we would have felt a touch of sadness at leaving Valparaiso. We weren’t and we didn’t.

    The Cruz Aeropuerto stop turned out to be nothing less than the highway roadside outside of Santiago. No exit road. As we got off, we panicked a little - could this be correct? However, the bus driver’s assistant – after digging our luggage out of the storage bins - pointed out a cab stand across a small field. With taxis. The airport was nearby and we actually were checked in on our flight by 8:30 and had time to briefly wander the airport. I particularly admired the 40 foot tall obelisk in the luggage area that was comprised of old suitcases bolted together.

    The flight to Puerto Montt was flawless. I had a window seat on the left side of the emergency exit row and gazed in amazement at a series of volcanoes and cloud-filled valleys in the foothills of the Andes. We landed on time, immediately picked up our rental car (a nearly new Nissan with manual transmission) and were headed south on Ruta 5, the Pan-American Highway within minutes. We had only a short wait at the ferry crossing from Pargua to Chiloé island. Smooth sailing!

    We continued south on Ruta 5, and decided to detour into Ancud, the first large town, for a late (~2:30) lunch. Ancud was somewhat grimy and very crowded. After slowly circling the central block twice, we decided to eat at Restaurante Artesanias, located at the second floor of the local artesania market. The restaurant was crowded with prosperous Chileans, smelled delicious – and we managed to get what appeared to be the last empty table. After discussions with the waiter – many items on the menu weren’t available – I ordered the following in my finest caveman Spanish:
    • Machas (clams with parmesan cheese),
    • Salmon ceviche,
    • Palta (avocado) salad,
    • A ham and cheese “milanesa,”
    • Soft drinks and water.

    We received the drinks promptly. And then we waited and waited and waited. People who had arrived after us ordered. We waited. People who had arrived after us were served. We waited. People who had arrived after us ate. And we waited. People who arrived after us paid and left. And still we waited. Our waiter shrugged. Si, si, si. A group at a nearby table – also waiting - began cheering when their food was served. Our food finally arrived after we’d been there over an hour. It was very good, all of it. But not worth the wait. Our waiter – an apt title – didn’t even bother adding the optional - yet obligatory - 10% propina to the bill. We left Ancud for Castro, regretting not having stopped by the roadside for a snack of empanadas in lieu of our extended detour to Ancud.

    Chiloé is a fairly good sized island, very green with low rolling hills, and brightly painted houses and churches. However, Castro is almost an hour south of Ancud and we were no longer in the mood for sight-seeing. We just wanted to get to town and find our lodging. We arrived promptly at 5:00. Castro made a bad first impression. The streets were crowded with Chileans on holiday – a local music festival had just ended – and there was little in the way of signage. We drove through town and couldn’t locate either the Palafito Hostel or the street it was on. When I asked for directions (twice from traffic police), the inquiry generated a complex set of instructions that invariably seemed to lead us in circles. Finally, after orbiting Castro several times, we managed to get back to the Plaza de Armas and the tourist office for a map. The Palafito Hostel turned out to be on the far side of an estuary on the outskirts of town. Given the ongoing revelry in town, we told ourselves it would at least be quiet. We arrived at the Palafito Hostel without further incident (palafitos, by the way, are houses built on stilts over water), only to discover that they had us down for the wrong nights – they didn’t think we were arriving until the next day and had no vacancies that night. Fortunately, there was a Palafito Hotel (same owners) up the street and they had a vacancy, albeit for a slightly pricier room. We took it, happy simply to lie down and rest after a long day.

    Our dinner was sandwiches at a café/store up the street. And I do mean “up” - as in a small hill at the end of 30 degree incline. We accompanied the sandwiches with our first truly bad pisco sours – these were so tart they put the “sour” in pisco sour.

    The next morning, the hotel agreed to move our bags to the Palafitos Hostel and we hit the road, going first to Chonchi. Chonchi is home to an all wood church constructed without nails and painted yellow, turqouise and dark blue. The interior had stars painted on the blue ceiling. Then westward to the Parque de Chiloé. We stopped periodically for roadside snacks, homemade bread, cookies, lemon pie, a cheese empanada and an apple empanada. The Parque de Chiloé is on the sparsely-populated western coast of Chiloé. The landscape in route was beautiful, bucolic, wet and green – reminiscent of parts of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, although less rugged. We drove along the Pacific Coast for a bit – the paved road turned to ripio - and then parked and hit the hiking trail towards the beach and the distantly roaring Pacific Ocean. Some of the flora was incredible, in particular the immense low-growing pangue plants with leaves five feet across and two foot seed stalks.
    After our hike, we explored the coast by car a little more, coming at one point to a boat that had been turned into a bridge (or a bridge designed to appear like a boat). Crossing this struck us as a dubious proposition. We deferred further exploration and headed back to Castro and our new room for nap and some afternoon tide-watching. We stopped along the way to view a grave yard and the brilliantly painted headstones…Chilotes are colorful even in death. Our new room down the street at the Palafito Hostel was as spacious and comfortable as our previous one. Later that afternoon we went to the local “modern art center” – a converted farmhouse outside of Castro. It had a “Marilyn of Chiloé” show on; the general concept was that both Chiloé and Marilyn Monroe were the “common patrimony of humanity.” All I can say is that I’ve seen other contemporary art that was much, much worse.

    That evening we went to Restaurante Sacho in downtown Castro for dinner. We were directed upstairs and entered an immense second story room with a great view that was completely devoid of diners when we arrived. We summoned up a waitress and had some of the best Chilean food so far on our trip: choritios (a kind of mussel) with salsa verde, salmon ceviche, sliced palta and palta “reina” (stuffed with a mixture of ham and a savory sauce). Fantastic pisco sours. Prompt service. Sacho slowly filled as we ate – mostly with tourists from North America and Europe, pretty much the first we’d seen since arriving on the island. We left, contented, to the sound of American laughter.

    The next day we went to church. Indeed, we went to church several times. Sixteen Chiloé churches have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. We started in Dalcuhue, which is also home to what has to be the world’s absolute worst artesania market – crudely knit sweaters with mismatched arm lengths in dull earth tones for men and phosphorescent neon colors for women. The Dalcuhue church is large, wooden and painted white with blue trim (a somewhat subdued color scheme of Chiloé), with an exquisitely crafted interior.

    We hopped a ferry ride to Isla Quinchao, a five minute trip across a narrow inlet. The interior of the island comprised more rolling hills dotted with colorful farm buildings and fields of cattle and sheep, all with views of the Chiloé archipelago. Our first stop was Achoa (pronounced not unlike “achoo”). The Achoa church was of weathered wood, with a magnificent all wood interior. The town itself was pleasant and spotlessly clean. We stopped at a panaderia for bread and then backtracked to Curaco de Veléz. Curaco de Veléz was, if possible, even more spotless than Achao. The church – a tall gray tower fronted with a green A-Frame – was closed. We hit the panaderia in Curaco de Veléz also: cookies, lemon pie, and an apple empanada. By now, the interior of our rental car was littered with crumbs and I’d consumed more carbohydrates in one morning then I usually do in an entire month. We topped our gluttony off with a late lunch at Donde Eladio in Castro…a churrasco/palta sandwich and good arroz con pollo. We spent the remainder of our afternoon at our hotel, writing, emailing, updating photos on Facebook, reading, relaxing and, later, strolling our colorful neighborhood.

    Our impression of Castro had changed for the favorable with the departure of the music festival crowds over the past two days. So, late that afternoon, we drove to the Plaza de Armas in Castro to view Castro’s two-spired cathedral. In the fading light, the dinginess of the yellow and violet exterior was no longer apparent. Instead, it seemed to glow. The interior of alerce wood gleamed. The subtle stained glass was glorious. We had inadvertently saved the greatest of Chiloé’s churches until last. When we left, we walked the perimeter of the immaculate Plaza de Armas. We were looking for the recommended “Años Luz” restaurant, but couldn’t find it. We checked in at the tourist office. The restaurant had gone out of business a year or more earlier. We settled for Hicimar, on one of the corners of the square….OK pisco sours, salmon ceviche, a marisco omlette, overly large salads of palta and palmito. Food was tasty, but fell far short of fabulous, and portions were so large we couldn’t finish the meal. We did get to hear some traditional Chilote music there. It sounded like Cajun music sung in Spanish. We returned to our room and fell asleep to the sound of the lapping water.

    My overall impression of Chiloé is that it is green, beautiful and relaxing. It has some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. And the circuit of churches – we saw several others not written up – is eye-opening, particularly because all construction was done without nails. That said, everything to see and do in Chiloé, even at our relaxed pace, can be seen and done in three days. For once, we’d timed the length of our stay perfectly.

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    Thanks all! It's always fun to relive one's trips via these reports.

    marnie -- i wouldn't be surprised if we made a serious dent in their salmon supply -- it truly was a staple. Nothing beat fresh salmon with a palta...hmmmm good!

    sm - hope your rentry isn't too bad.

    schlegal -- all went smoothly with the few arrangements Eugenio did for us. Again appreciate the advice u gave me.

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    Chilean Lake Country

    The next morning we had the last of our minimalist breakfasts at the Palafito Hostel, loaded up the car and hit the road. We returned through the beautiful rolling countryside towards Ancud and then made the right towards Chacao. As we neared Chacao, we kept our eyes open for a smoked salmon place we had spotted three days earlier when we had arrived on Chiloe island. After several false starts and slowdowns that irritated drivers behind us, we found it: Die Räucherkate Productos Ahumados. (This was our first exposure to the profound German influence in this part of Chile.) We turned off the road and drove up to a flower bedecked cottage and a nearby smokehouse/shop. Nobody was in the smokehouse, but soon enough one of the owners came out and showed us into the shop. We tried some of the smoked salmon – it was great, every bit as good as that in the United States Pacific Northwest. We bought a fair-sized slab that was to last us a couple days. This place is highly recommended. I was also impressed by the brevity of their address: Ruta 5 Sur Km 1082 – not to be confused with Ruta 5 Norte Km 1082 if you’re in the market for smoked salmon. We were a mere 650 miles south of Santiago.

    We drove right up to the ferry and promptly boarded. Soon we were on our way back to Pargua. We made good time on Ruta 5 (toll), skirted Puerto Montt and exited at Frutillar Alto. This section of Ruta 5, at least as far north as Osorno, is comparable to a US interstate. Frutillar Alto is the new section of Frutillar, with American-style supermarkets and new houses reminiscent of miniature United States tract homes. We found our way to the old section – Frutillar Bajo – by the simple expedient of heading towards Lago Llanquihue, visible from Frutillar Alto. We arrived in Frutillar Bajo and drove along the lake front beach crowded with end-of-summer tourists. The town was shaped like Chile: long and narrow. It consisted of a lake front road with another parallel road a block in. The houses were older; many had a German architectural influence, albeit with a Chilean color scheme. Due in part to the shape of the town, we found our hotel (Hotel Elun) without difficulty; it was about two kilometers out of town on a hill overlooking the lake front.

    We immediately liked Hotel Elun – friendly staff, a beautiful and spacious light-filled lobby with multiple (and comfortable) couches and low tables that flowed into an equally pleasant exterior sitting area. Our room – number 17 – was a delight, large and private, had a king size bed and was at the very end of the hotel’s one wing. It – as well as most of the hotel – had a view across Lago Llanquihue to the spectacular Volcán Osorno. The bar section – I didn’t notice this until breakfast the next day – had a three-foot long turtle carapace hung on the wall like a warrior’s shield in a medieval castle. Nonetheless, the bar/lobby/sitting area was beautiful, expansive and comfortable – as well as the only area in the hotel with dependable wifi. We bought a bottle of Chilean white wine – La Hoya Reserva sauvignon blanc – relaxed and enjoyed the wonderful view. Volcán Osorno’s perfect cone looked like a slightly dietetic version of Mount Fuji. Later, we walked into town for a simple dinner – a crab appetizer and a milenasa-like dish of sautéed ham, cheese and mushrooms. We stopped at the lake front kuchen bakery (I’ve forgotten the name) and bought a piece of cake, which we shared in the room for dessert.

    The next day, we drove around Lago Llanquique. We started by going northeast towards Puerto Octay, driving past well-tended farms on a nice lakeside ripio road. We saw several empty campsites as we went; the summer season had ended. Between Frutillar and Puerto Octay, in particular, there was a very strong German feeling. In Puerto Octay – a pleasant little town - we picked up snacks…bread, grapes and a kind of multi-layered pastry surrounding a chicharrón interior (great!).

    We rejoined paved road shortly after leaving Puerto Octay and then left the lakeside road at La Cascada for a waterfall hike, driving a lurching mile of bad ripio to a parking lot. Admission was 1000 pesos, a little over U$D 2.00 apiece. It was a great hike upstream on a muddy trail. We crossed over the stream three times on rickety log bridges and ended a mile or two later at 100 foot waterfalls. Spectacular. On an amusing note, on our way there and back, we repeatedly ran into Chileans hiking the slippery trail in flip-flops, loafers, and heels.

    After the marvelous hike, we returned to our circumnavigation of Lago Llanquihue. Our few guides on the area indicated that the road between La Cascada and Ensanada was unpaved. However, we found most of it paved and road crews at work on the remaining unpaved sections. Conversely, the road between Ensanada and Puerto Varas, which our guidebooks indicated was paved, seemed to be in a parallel process of being unpaved. There were a good half dozen traffic stoppages where workers with “pare” and “siga” signs stopped traffic for fifteen minutes at a stretch. It took us longer to get from Ensanada to Puerto Varas than it did from Fruttilar to Ensanada, waterfall hike included. It was a miserable end to a previously perfect day, marinating in diesel fumes in the hot afternoon sun.

    We gassed up at Puerto Varas, then joined Ruta 5 north and exited at Llanquihue town. (There isn’t a lakefront drive between Puerto Varas and Llanquihue.) The road between Llanquiehue and Frutillar was paved and pleasant, more rolling hills and pleasant farms, along with occasional isolated luxury resorts.

    After a nap, we went to the Club Aleman in Frutillar for dinner:
    • An appetizer of choritos en salsa verde (cold mussels accompanied with a sauce of onions and parsley).
    • Grilled salmon with rice. (Salmon here, as everywhere in Chile, very fresh and delicious.)
    • Grilled steak with fries. Although not “al punto” (rare) as requested, it was quite tasty.
    We hit the German cake place again for dessert.

    We dedicated most of the next day to Frutillar. We walked all the way across town to the Edmundo Winkler botanical park. There I saw my first araucaria (“monkey puzzle”) tree. It was shaped like a conifer, but its branches are covered with small thick pointed succulent-type leaves. It quickly became apparent that our walking shoes were inappropriate – this was a hike, not a walk. We left the park early, returned to town and walked along the beachfront. I stopped for an espresso – probably my first since Valparaiso – in the immense waterfront concert hall, Teatro del Lago. It’s tempting to compare the hulking wooden building to Noah’s ark or a clipper shipper, but the exterior, made of native woods, was actually architecturally stunning. Unfortunately, the concert hall itself was closed and we never saw the interior.

    Had a quick lunch (empanadas and a sandwich). At this point we felt we’d pretty much exhausted Frutillar’s limited and Teutonic possibilities, so we hopped in the car and drove down Ruta 5 to Puerto Varas. Puerto Varas started at the lakeside, but, five or six blocks in, rose abruptly. It had a farmacia (unlike Frutillar), the best artesania we saw in Chile and a spectacular red and white church constructed of galvanized steel. The town was scenic and beautiful. We stopped and had fantastic pisco sours at a bar called Papa Brava. This had started as a bathroom expedition but had turned alcoholic. We checked out both “Vicki Johnson” businesses – one a chocolate and artesania shop, the other a historic house converted to a backpacker haven. (We were staying there on March 2, the night before our planned Andean lake crossing.) Dinner – one of the better ones we had in Chile – was at the Ayacara Hotel:
    • Grilled beef with duchess/dauphine potatoes.
    • Shrimp with pesto and rice.
    For dessert, we returned to the German cake place on the beachfront and shared an apple strudel.

    We left for Villarrico fairly early the next day. Now that summer was over, Hotel Elun was practically empty. For two nights running their restaurant had been open – but empty. And they downsized the breakfast buffet - no more of the tasty little sausages that I’d taken to calling the “breakfast hot dogs.”

    We took Ruta 5 North to the Los Lagos exit. In the flat farmland between the Los Lagos exit and Panguipulli, we passed a newly-opened primary school painted in blue, yellow and red. In Chile, do they designate primary schools by using primary colors? Somehow, we thought this hilarious. A little later, on the way to Lican Ray, we made a wrong turn, lost the paved roadway and ended up on a pleasant (but out of the way) drive on well-maintained lakeside ripio that dead-ended at a hydro-electric station. Lost again. We stopped for directions and got ourselves successfully rerouted to Lican Ray. There was a great bakery – “Panaderia San Luis” – outside of Lican Ray. We stocked up on bread, bread with chicharrones and empanadas. We drove on – and down – to Villarrica, another lakeside town. Through sheer good fortune, we found our lodgings - the Hosteria de la Colima – easily. This time we had a smokin’ view of Volcán Villarrica and Lago Villarrica. I mean “smokin’” in the literal sense - Volcán Villarrica was an active, although currently dormant, volcano with a continuous gray/white plume of smoke. Hosteria de la Colima’s grounds were beautiful, particularly the gardens in the far back. The owners also run a plant nursery (“vivero”). The owners – Glen and Beverly – were very pleasant and extremely helpful. Our first room, as it turned out, was right under the hotel laundry and we heard continuous thumping from above. We moved to one of the cabins at the rear of the property, a nice private room with a king size bed and large deck. We’d gotten lazy. We spent the day in the hotel, reading, checking email, and ate dinner in:
    • Green salad - a real salad - which we scarfed down.
    • Trout with a hazelnut crust
    • Roast lamb and potatoes
    Pretty tasty, all of it. But the best thing was that we didn’t have to go out.

    The next morning we had an actual American breakfast, including bacon. (As a basic philosophical point, we believe that everything goes better with bacon.) After conferring with owners – they were very knowledgeable about the area having lived in Chile for something like twenty years – we decided on a morning hike at the peninsula Lican Ray on Lago Calafquen followed by the hot springs at Termas Geometricas in the shadow on Volcán Villarrica. The hike was pleasant, the lake was beautiful. I didn’t appreciate that much the peninsula was a Mapuche Indian reserve (Zi Wil We) until we arrived at an impromptu concession area after our hike. We dodged some murky Mapuche chicha by claiming it was too early – “demasiado temprano” – for imbibing. Then I rocked that “acabo de comer” (“I just ate”) thing to avoid an offer of dodgy food. For once, I was feeling pleased with my Spanish.

    The termas were fantastic. There were over a dozen pools of varying sizes and temperatures connected by red wooden walkways up a lushly overgrown narrow canyon. The heat of the individual pools was controlled by the addition of hot (from springs) or cool (from stream) water. We changed clothes in a red wooden cabin with plants on the roof and lazed in a pool. We met a nice couple from San Francisco, retired teachers, who were now spending their lives traveling the world.

    Despite having brought and eaten an avocado and bread earlier in the day – the Chiloe smoked salmon was by now a memory – we ended up at the Geometricas snack bar, eating the Chilean equivalent of grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a very relaxing afternoon – we stayed until well after four. We left the Termas and, a little before Coñaripe on the road back and down to Villarrica, a woman’s frantic waving caused us to pull over. An emergency? No. She was selling what she called a “tortilla,” a very fresh, warm, round, crusty, slightly flat bread that shared only a geometric similarity with Mexican and Spanish foodstuffs of the same name. Only 700 pesos, about U$D1.50. I think we finished it off within three miles. Roadfood – meaning food people were selling by the side of the road - has been our downfall this trip! We returned via Lican Ray, stopping at a smoked salmon place between Lican Ray and Villarrica.

    We spent that evening catching up on notes and internet, washing clothes and hanging them in the bathroom to dry. We ate in again:
    • Garden salad
    • Quinoa salad
    • Tomato/lentil soup
    • Pork chop w/ spicy tomato puree
    Maybe because we hadn’t any real salads – or a lot of green vegetables - before hitting Hosteria de la Colima, but we preferred the salads to the entrees.

    We went to bed a bit late. About midnight, we awoke to hear someone fumbling at our cabin door. As the door opened, I sat up in bed and – for want of any other handy item – threw a pillow at the immense intruder who seemed to fill the entire doorway. With a series of “disculpe me”s he closed the door and left. We then heard him fumbling with the door of the cabin next to ours. We later learned that my pillow toss had thwarted the entry of the night security guard accompanied by late-arriving travelers. I’m still living this one down with my laughing companion.

    Another American breakfast. Bacon, blessed bacon, and eggs. Also, I learned that one could order the house hot sauce – typically served with bread at dinner – with one’s breakfast eggs. What more could one ask for?

    The major advantage of Hosteria de la Colima relative to Hotel Elun is that the Colima owners have extensive information on the surrounding area. So, after breakfast, we conferred at length with Beverly: Where to hike? She pulled out a photocopied map sketch that took us on a nice uphill hike. However, one of us was had gotten bad knees from the uphill/downhill hikes. Something flat perhaps? Another suggestion, another map. We ended up with three maps, one of which was to an acceptably flat hiking trail. Somehow we mixed up the maps. The one with trail we sought ended up on the back seat. We had another that we were using but once we entered the park the landmarks did not match up. We kept on driving on ripio until we almost hit the Argentine border. We turned around at the Chilean customs office and retraced our route. The lake had a different name. The ranger station was on the wrong side of the road. Do you think they moved it? Where was the museum on the map? There? It looks run down. I’ll check. No, it’s an abandoned house. It wasn’t until later, sitting by the side of a stream drinking cokes and eating grilled cheese/ham and cheese sandwiches , that the light clicked on. I dug the other map out of the car. We were using the wrong map. By now, it was too late to go to the other park. We headed back to the Villarrica barely speaking to one another. On the plus side, we did get to see a whole lot of araucaria trees on the road to Argentina.

    We had dinner in for the third night running. We were hooked on the salads.

    Arose early, ate early and left for our drive south on Ruta 5 – here a toll road and a superhighway – for Puerto Varas. (We paid 6,200 Chilean pesos – over U$D 13 - in tolls.) We arrived at 1:00 sharp – Volcán Osorno greeted us like an old friend. We checked in at the Vicki Johnson Guest House, which we’d scouted out four or five days earlier. It was a 1920s Craftsman style house that had been converted into a backpacker hostel. The common area was filled with art, old photographs, crafts, antique furniture, abandoned paperbacks and an aura of backpacker camaraderie. Fortunately – as we were arising very early the next day and didn’t want to awaken the entire guest house by banging our luggage down one or more flights of stairs – our room was right off the common area. Unfortunately, it was a room that let in a lot of light and backpacker camaraderie noise. And it had a bathroom that straddled the border between miniscule and microscopic. Worst of all, the bed was small and uncomfortable. We dropped off our luggage and then drove downtown to confirm our next day’s Andean lake crossing reservation at Turis Tours. We then returned our rental car at the rental company located at a spectacular lake front hotel, Hotel Cumbres Patagonia. Predictably, the rental company was closed from lunch (2:00 to 4:00). We left the car and took a lake front stroll into Puerto Varas.

    We stopped at several artesania shops and I bought my daughter a pair of lapis lazuli earings. Although Puerto Varas had the best crafts I’d seen in Chile, I was struck again by the generally poor quality of Chilean crafts relative to other South American countries. I suspect that this is because of the relatively high – almost first world – standard of living in Chile. I suspect this is because there are more opportunities for income in employment than in creating crafts.

    As the artesania shps began to shut down for their lunch hour, we went in search of a restaurant. Our first choice – based on a somewhat dated guidebook – was no longer in business. We headed back towards the waterfront, bypassing a plausible looking Italian restaurant because we wanted to sit outside. We finally settled for a Chilean restaurant a couple of blocks from the waterfront. We sat outside and ordered a salad and a pizza. Even by the lackluster standards of Chilean cookery, what we received was ghastly. The salad comprised mounds of pale tomatoes, tough corn kernels, limp carrot slices, canned beets and iceberg lettuce. The pizza was a little better – a pale disc of dough topped with the same pale tomatoes, melted cheese product diced olives, mushrooms and “chorizo” slices that bore a suspicious resemblance to sliced hot dogs. It was, at least, edible with the addition of olive oil. The salad wasn’t. We pushed around the salad components into re-configured mounds of vegetable debris that we hoped would give the appearance of partial consumption. (The accompanying beer was quite good.) We’d paid the price of breaking the prime directive of Chilean restaurants: Research beforehand. Otherwise the potential for bad food and wasted money – Chile can be an expensive country – was just too high.

    After our late afternoon lunch, we went back to the rental office and returned our car. No issues. We headed back to our Guest House by way of the cathedral. This was the church that was built of galvanized steel and painted off-white with red trim. It was on the hill overlooking Puerto Varas and was visible throughout the town. The interior was striking - a deep blue ceiling, a radiant dove suspended high over the altar and subdued stained glass. After our architectural epiphany, we checked out the nearby Papa Brava – it was time for a pisco sour. Alas, Papa Brava was closed post-lunch. We returned to our room and caught up on email and notes. After very careful research, we made on-line reservations at Restaurante Ibis for an early (8:00) dinner. Then we went out again and took the Puerto Varas “ruta” of fine houses constructed in the early years of the last century. In addition to the Vicki Johnson Guest House – which was on the route – they were a number of others. All displayed the high level of craftsmanship and the detailed woodworking of that era.

    Ibis turned out to be a long walk out of town, the better part of two miles. We found ourselves arriving late to a very popular restaurant. Oddly, the main dining room – non-smoking – was set in the rear of the restaurant, away from the lake view. We opted instead for the empty smoking area and ended up with the best seats in the house – a great view of Lago Llanquihue with Volcán Osorno’s perfect cone in the distance. Our dinner was fantastic, exceeding even La Concepción in Valparaiso. This was to be our best meal in Chile. We started with locos al ajillo. (Locos are abalone, which is not endangered in Chile the way it is in California.) The garlic sauce was so good I found myself first mopping it up with bread and then trying to eat the remainder with a spoon until my sense of propriety – as embodied in my spouse – kicked in. Our main courses were trucha salsa maestro and crepes Poseidon. The “salsa maestro” was a pepper-based sauce that resembled a milder version of the spanish salsa brava. Fantastic. The crepe Poseidon had a variety of shellfish in light sea urchin crème sause. Also excellent. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of sauvignon blanc - a great wine and a good match with the food. Dessert – which I usually skip – wasn’t memorable. By sheer coincidence, we had experienced both the best and the worst of Chilean food in one day.

    On our long walk back to Vicki Johnson’s we noticed that Papa Brava had reopened. We passed on late night pisco sours to turn in for the next day’s early departure for the bus-boat-bus-boat-bus-boat trip across the Andes to Argentina.

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    Just great ! Will you be my travel planner ? I will be teasing you about that pillow from now on too:-)

    Really, your adventures are so interesting to read, and your report so great to save for future reference.

    Gracias to you both,


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    Gosh, everybody has better vacations than we do. Driving all over the place, beautiful lakes at the end of the world, smoked salmon, cool little bakeries, getting lost and getting found, white water rafting (actually, that was ncounty in peru, but still). Next trip I'm going to do better. Watch your backs, Yes and Ncounty.

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    santamonica, you might want to check out some of the TRs for the NOA of Argentina, too (including the one by Yestravel which we used as a guide to our excellent trip there).

    This is another extraordinary region to explore from the gorgeous scenery to the fascinating cultural aspects and sites,to the charming towns (and good white wines - torontes).

    Best to you and to DW #1 :)


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    Marnie -- u're not exactly a slouch when it comes to trip planning.

    av -- I'm speechless, a big WOW coming from u!

    sm - well, u're correct, no white water rafting, but coming up eventually glacier trekking. Your trip sounds pretty good 2 me -- I mean playing volleyball with the girl from ipanema, pretty cool. Have no fear we will eventually get to a matter of fact next up ARG lake country.

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    Andes Crossing: Bus-Boat-Bus-Boat-Bus-Boat-Bus-Boat

    On March 3, in Puerto Varas, we awoke to a beautiful late-summer dawn, hurriedly ate an early breakfast of bread and Nescafe, made our picnic lunch sandwiches (smoked salmon and mashed avocado), did our final packing and departed Vicki Johnson’s. Although the bus arrival point was half a mile away, getting there was a cinch. We went to the end of the block, turned right on Del Salvador and let our suitcases pull us as they rolled down the hill towards the lakeside Casino. For once, gravity was our friend. We waited for the bus outside Turis Tours, across from the street from the Casino. It arrived on time (7:30), and was a comfortable modern bus half-filled with a mixed Chilean/foreign contingent of passengers who had boarded at Puerto Montt.

    Our first stop was at the Parque Vincent Perez Rosales between Ensanada and Petrohué. What a beautiful setting! Cool and damp and green. There was a river here that seemed to be half rapid and half falls, “rolling and tumbling” through the dark gray volcanic rock. We walked around the area for half an hour and then it was back onto the bus and on to Petrohué where we boarded our boat. Petrohué is located on Lago Todos los Santos, which is intermediate between Lago Llanquihue and the Argentine lake country. We boarded the boat and our luggage went away by truck. We were to cross Lago Todos los Santos by boat and would not be re-united with our belongings until the end of the journey in Argentina. (This is the same crossing - except in the opposite direction and absent a fog machine - shown in the hagiographic Che Guevera biopic “Motorcycle Diaries.”)

    Lago Todos los Santos has an eerie aquamarine – some people say turquoise – color, that is the result of minerals washed down from the surrounding mountains. We slowly made our way across the lake. The perfect cone of Volcán Osorno was visible astern and slowly receded as we made our way. To our left, the somewhat less photogenic Volcán Puntiagudo also appeared and then receded, sometimes concealed by intervening banks, hills and islets. Then the enormous Mount Tronador began to loom on the horizon. Formerly, an active volcano, it was now, like me, retired. Repeated eruptions had shattered the cone into what now resembled very bad dentition. As we neared Peulla, the tour operator announced the availability of helicopter overflights of Mount Tronador during our three hour (!) layover in Peulla. In a rash moment, perhaps because all flights other than one had been promptly booked, I signed us up. Herd mentality? Fear of missing out on something? I’m not sure.

    Peulla is set in a remote part of the park (Parque Nacional Vincente Perez Rosales) and is accessible to the outside world only via boat. Its economy is based solely on the lake crossing, tours and lodging. It has one very modern and quite impressive hotel as well as a second, somewhat ramshackle one that is currently unused and in the process of being restored. Instead of dining in the massive hotel restaurant, we found a shady spot to eat our sandwiches and fruit.

    After our lunch, we toured the grounds and then headed down the unpaved road to the grassy area that served as the helipad. Our trusty craft was awaiting us, a very small bright yellow five seater. The pilot and one passenger were to sit up front and there was room for three people behind them. We were scheduled for the half hour flight with a Spanish-speaking couple. It wasn’t until I was strapped in next to the right-hand door – and non-verbally warned not to touch the door handle by an “x” drawn in air and a shake of the head - that the enormity of our undertaking hit me. This was my first helicopter flight. I suddenly found myself consumed by a strong fear of flying! I speculated as to whether the helicopter was painted bright yellow in order to easily find its wreckage. I think it might have been better had there been something to hang onto other than the door handle that I’d been warned about.

    After lift-off, my nerves weren’t helped by the pilot’s unnerving habit of heading straight for Tronador’s precipitous cliffs and then either rising above – or banking away from – them at the last second. I steadied my nerves by focusing on taking photographs. I think I took one about every thirty seconds we were aloft. And the views over Tronador were impressive. No fewer than seven glaciers have their origin here; four go into Argentina and the remaining three into Chile. And not all glaciers are the same. Some were pristine white; others tinted with cool blue undertones, yet others gray-black from embedded detritus. It being the end of summer there were numerous glacier-melt waterfalls. I shot a series of spectacular shots of glaciers, rock faces, waterfalls, and a small glacier-melt lake as the pilot danced around the shattered cone of the extinct volcano. We learned that it got its name – “thunderer” – due to the noise created when large chunks of ice crashed off the glaciers. As we were heading down, I had my last view of Volcán Osorno in the distance. The overall helicopter experience was both frightening and exhilarating. The other passengers were grinning ear-to-ear. I smiled weakly. To me, it had seemed an eternity before we landed.

    After our flight, we rejoined our group and boarded busses at the hotel for the next stage of our crossing. We lurched our way on ripio through farmland that belonged to people whose farms had been grandfathered-in when the Chilean government had created the park. (I couldn’t help but mentally contrast this with the treatment of farmers in the Shenandoah area of Virginia who were forced to relocate entirely when Skyline Drive was created.) As we left the farmland, our tour guide announced that we were entering an environment know as “Valdivian rain forest.” We boarded a boat at Puerto Frios for a brief journey across Lago Frios to Puerto Alegre. We then reboarded a bus that took us through more Valdivian rain forest until we arrived at Puerto Blest. We were now in Argentina – we had crossed into Argentina on the bus ride, entering Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.

    The immigration process was comic but prompt. In an odd bureaucratic tic, we were to present ourselves and our passports in the same sequence as the bus manifest. Customs was practically non-existent – four randomly (I assume) selected suitcases from those that had been checked at Petrohué. (Ours was not among them.) I celebrated my arrival in Argentina at the nearby tienda with a great hot chocolate spiked with cognac. We were then reunited with our checked luggage – in a way. We watched as it loaded aboard a boat via the windows. We boarded via normal means and started our final crossing, the long way down one of Nahuel Huapi’s many arms to Puerto Pañuelo. Nahuel Huapi didn’t seem to have the spectacular fluorescent green color of Lago Todos los Santos, but it was too late in the afternoon to tell for sure. It had been a very long day and we were exhausted. It was 8:00 p.m. when we pulled up to the dock in Puerto Pañuelo underneath the magnificent hilltop resort of Llao Llao. In lieu of the final stage of the crossing – a bus to San Carlos de Bariloche – we gathered our luggage and took a cab to our relatively nearby lodgings at Kilometer 20 outside of Bariloche. We were done in –but what a fabulous day!

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    Good Morning AV! We had the cost for the lake crossing bundled with a couple items that we got thru a travel agent so I don't know precisely what we paid. Probably around $200. Here's the web site for Cruces Andino who runs the crossing.

    Helicopter ride was about $200...not cheap for sure, but worth it!

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    That was, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling and fascinating reports I have ever had the pleasure to read on this forum. GRACIAS !

    I hope you will put this whole trip together into a TRIP REPORT and re-submit it in one, longer lasting, more easily accessed place. Not only so great to read and experience, albeit from afar, with you, but such valuable information and ideas for future travelers to these places.

    Have you posted your photos in a site we could access ?

    Again, many thanks.

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    Hey Marnie! beautiful day, eh? no photos up, maybe at some point we'll do some.

    I'm not sure how I would go about resubmitting it as one long TR. Do u mean pull out just the reports minus the comments and resubmit once we get to the end? Next one is Arg Lake Country so I'm going to start a new thread with Bariloche in the title since I know people seek that out. any ideas to make it more accessible?

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    You keep bringing back such fond memories. The Lake crossing was one of the highlights of our first trip to AR. The helicopter ride is new and when we stopped in Puello, there was only one hotel. It was a long day, but one of the most memorable (we were picked up in Puerto Montt as 6:30 AM).

    We stayed at the Llao Llao, did not realize it was right where we landed. I felt like a fool when I asked someone how to get there and they pointed across the street :) It was a nice way to end the day though.

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    Smoked salmon and mashed avocado! Hot chocolate and cognac! Yum, yum and yum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    WHAT a great post. We'll have to do it!

    When I explored prices for Dec.2008, it would have been about $350/pp round trip: Bariloche-Chile. Didn't know about the helicopter then. Decided on doing it some other time.

    My interest is now greater than 10.

    Thank you MUCH!

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    FANTASTIC! I can remember my first helicopter ride, in Maui, the pilot was racing through, these long NARROW slot-type canyons and we suddenly came to a dead end where there was a beautiful waterfall. The pilot then slowly rose up the face of the waterfall until we popped out the top of the canyon! I thought I would die, but wow was it spectacular!

    Could one do the lake crossing but stop half way thru to spend the night at the hotel you mentioned?

    I don't think it necessary to start a new thread. If someone does a search for Bariloche, this thread will come up.

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    Thanks for the great memories - we did the Puerto Varas - Bariloche crossing last November and it was one of the highlights of my first trip to both countries. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking being surrounded by the snow covered mountains and volcanos.

    Odie1 - We chose to take 2 days to cross rather than doing it all in one. We booked at the Peulla Hotel, but since it was still closed, we were upgraded (at no charge) to the Natura which was much nicer. I liked having the extra time in Peulla - plenty of excursions to choose from or just walk up to the waterfall, along the lake.

    You leave Peulla the next morning and arrive Bariloche around 1 pm.

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    Thanks 2 all! Yes, we shall continue the TR (next up will be the ARG lake district) -- just enjoying the beautiful weather here in DC, but more to come.

    Yes, there are several options for the crossing. Some people go to Peulla and come back to PV or PM, Chile in the same day. Others stay over as colibri describes and others do as we did and do the entire crossing in one day. It should be noted that it is possible to arrange this all on your own for considerable less $$$, but it didn't seem worth the trouble to us.

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    Argentine Lake Country

    Our pre-arranged cab delivered us promptly to our lodgings at Los Juncos at kilometer 20 of the lakefront road that ran west from San Carlos de Bariloche. Los Juncos was immediately likeable, a converted farmhouse filled with an eclectic collection of furniture and art. Music – a languid mix of Brazilian lounge, jazz vocal standards and French pop – whispered in the background. One of the owners, Gabi, warmly greeted us and we half-dragged, half-carried our luggage to our upstairs room. We were starved – we hadn’t eaten since noon – but too exhausted from our long day on the lake crossing to even think about going out for dinner. Instead we decided to eat in – and Gaby was to be our chef. Works for us!

    While he cooked, we started with wine, a superb bottle of Pulenta Estate malbec. It was so wonderful just to sit, listen to the music and relax! Our first course was a green salad – a real green salad – and a samosa (actually an empanada in disguise) of spinach, anchovies and black olives. Both were fabulous. Next up was an absolutely superb spinach and ricotta malfatti and a Thai lamb in curry sauce w/ vegetables, which was a bit under-seasoned for Thai food, but savory nonetheless. Dessert was simple and heavenly, figs flambéed in Gran Marnier. We crawled upstairs to our comfortable bed, sated and exhausted.

    We slept in and started the day with a late breakfast of whole-wheat medialunas (miniature croissants), fresh bread, orange juice and fruit. And real honest-to-god coffee. After breakfast we set out to explore Bariloche. We were fortunate that the “20” bus ran straight into town and had a stop in front of Los Juncos. The previous evening our cab driver had mentioned that everybody who bought property in the Bariloche area wanted a lake front view; the twelve miles into town proved him right. The lakefront road was continuously fronted with alternating commercial areas, artesania shops, restaurants, hotels and lake front houses. We exited the bus at one of the first stops in Bariloche and began our explorations.

    Bariloche didn’t make a positive initial impression, a situation worsened by the unseasonably warm weather. Every other store seemed to sell a mix of overpriced outdoorsy clothing and Patagonia/Bariloche-themed t-shirts. We wandered a bit, entering stores and fingering synthetic fibers and eyeing cotton t-shirts. We visited the central plaza, lined with heavy stone German architecture. In the center was a vandalized statue of General Roca (hero of the Argentine campaign against the Mapuche Indians) astride what seemed to be the world’s most exhausted horse. After an obligatory gift purchase (t-shirts), we had hot chocolate – fabulous! – at the famous Mamushka café and then wandered some more. The cathedral had an impressive neo-Gothic exterior. However, we were too sapped by the heat to check out the interior – a mistake in retrospect as the stone cathedral was likely to be cool inside. We found a tourist office and some maps. By then hungry – and with many stores closed for lunch – we went to the parilla recommended by Los Juncos, El Bolinche de Alberto, for a 2:30 lunch.
    El Bolinche de Alberto – there are four branches in Bariloche and the surrounding area - was up a steep side street. It was crowded but we had prime seating where we could watch the cooks at work grilling over a large wood fire. The grill could be raised and lowered to allow the addition of more wood. Watching the grill master work the various sausages and cuts of meat was like attending a carnivore’s ballet; this was an art. Our meal arrived promptly and we slid the breadbasket away.
    • A large porción of lomo de chorizo cooked perfectly “al punto” as we had requested. (“Chorizo” in this case refers to a cut of meat, not the sausage we are familiar with in the USA).
    • An immense mound of extremely crisp and delicious papas fritas.
    • A half bottle of the house malbec.
    All in all a fabulous meal that was too big to finish for about U$D30.

    After lunch, we began our trudge through the heat back to Los Juncos. We were uncertain of the exact route – as well the location of stops – that the #20 bus took going back to kilometer 20 and on to Llao Llao. (The street we came in on had become one way once the bus entered Bariloche.) So we walked out of town to the two-way coast road we had taken in. It was a bit of a walk in the heat and we couldn’t find any marked spots, which was a tad odd as stops on the way in had been clearly marked. An inquiry at a hotel resolved the issue: The stops back were directly across the street from the marked stops in – they just didn’t bother with marking them since everybody could see where they were. I think this comes under the category of logical but not exactly intuitive.

    When we returned to Los Juncos, we met Flavia, Gabi’s sister and co-owner. We liker her immediately and talked at length talked about Los Juncos, Bariloche, the upcoming four day “bridge” day weekend (one of two in March) and our plans. The grounds of Los Juncos were so pleasant they seemed to invite inertia, particularly given the heat. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, wandering the grounds, admiring the nearby arm (Brazo Campanario) of Lago Nahuel Huapi, washing clothing in the sink and updating our emails. (Our room was within reach of the Los Juncos wifi.)

    That evening, we took the #20 bus back down the road to Cerverceria Berlina at kilometer 12 for a dinner of one empanada and two salads accompanied by wine and artisanal beer. Berlina was a bit noisy with a rock-and-roll décor and soundtrack. I don’t think I’ve seen that many Rolling Stones posters in one place since 1972. We took a taxi back to Los Juncos.

    Our plans for the next day called for at 10:00 a.m. rental car drop-off at Los Juncos followed by a road trip to San Martin de los Andes via Villa la Angostura and the Seven Lake Drive. 10:00 came and went. No car. Both Flavia and Gabi were out. We managed to figure out how to use the house phone to contact the car rental agency in Villa Angostura. There had been a mix-up. In January, we hadn’t responded to an email that had, in passing, mentioned a very minor price change (less than U$D5 a day) in the daily rental rate. The rental agency had taken our non-response as a lack of further interest and had cancelled the reservation without notifying us. Through sheer oversight, we had not done our customary re-confirmation. The result: no car on the Saturday start of a four-day holiday weekend. (Tuesday was Mardi Gras and Carnival was being celebrated for the first time ever in Argentina by Presidential decree; not coincidentally, there’s an upcoming presidential election in autumn.)

    After a series of phone calls made by the car rental lady in Villa la Angostura, she finally managed to acquire a car from a Bariloche car rental agency. Although it was initially supposed to be there within an hour, the car did not arrive until after 12:30 – and only then after repeated phone calls tracking its purported progress from the far side of Bariloche. We then had some extended bilingual negotiations with the rental representative, Newton. The car was more expensive than our initial rental (understandable given our 11th hour request) and he wanted to be paid in cash (doable, although I wondered if his employer was aware of this requirement). But Newton also wanted us to return the car to the Bariloche airport Wednesday morning – which was some distance out of town. But we had to catch an early morning bus to Puerto Montt, Chile, from the centrally located Bariloche bus station. On top of everything else, Newton wanted to charge us a surcharge for washing the car – an absurdity in a country where many of the roads are dusty ripios. (The car in question was already coated with khaki patina of dust.) Back and forth we went. We managed to get some concession on the price, but had no luck on the return location or the washing surcharge. We felt that we had been held hostage to events, but signed some papers and took the car.

    We were on the road a little after 1:00. The route took us first through Bariloche on the south side of lago Nahuel Huapi, then around the east side of the lake until we took a left on Route 231, the road to Villa la Angostura. As we moved east after leaving Bariloche, the landscape turned from green to brown – a high desert ended right at Bariloche. Route 231 paralleled the north shore of lago Nahuel Huapi and we soon found ourselves again in the coniferous foothills of the Andes. Villa la Angostura is fairly close to Bariloche – the drive was only about an hour and a half even after winding our way through Bariloche’s thick holiday traffic.

    Villa la Angostura reminded us of a Colorado ski town…a main street of four or five blocks of stores and restaurants, all recently constructed out of rough timber. It wasn’t unpleasant, but the part we walked around seemed to have an aura of a forced and artificial rusticity. We sought out an older restaurant, La Encantada, on a side street for a late lunch. (We barely made it before closing.) We started by sharing a great empanada “de trucha” (trout). Our mains were lomo de trucha w/ papas and Patagonian lamb, also with potatoes. I liked my lamb – and the accompanying oven-roasted potatoes – a lot. We were less enthusiastic about the trout and its bland potatoes. I had a glass of wine – a Patagonian red – which was excellent. After lunch we strolled through town – perhaps three of the five blocks. The stores were repetitive and the sun was ferocious. We returned to the car and hit the road.

    Villa la Angostura is the starting point for the Argentine ‘siete lagos’ (seven lakes) drive as well as the only crossing in Patagonia to Chile via paved road. The siete lagos route is in the process of being paved, but most is still unpaved, perhaps due to the prevalence of government-decreed holidays. Hence, most of it is either under construction or unpaved ripio. We had also gotten a late start due to the stressful car fubar. Perhaps this, in combination with the extensive time spent in Chilean lake country, accounted for our lack of appreciation for the siete lagos drive. We drove past the various lakes and dutifully noted their differing hues. But our underlying feeling was that of viewing something we had seen before – majestic and beautiful, yes, but familiar. Perhaps we’d become jaded.

    From our very moment of arrival, however, San Martin de los Andes captivated us. We immediately loved this small charming town and its mixture of gaucho and modern, Argentine and German. We found our lodging (Casa de Eugenia) without difficulty and immediately loved it as well. It had a common area filled with books in various languages and whimsical items (e.g., a collection of old cameras) followed by a series of vividly painted guest rooms. We had an option of rooms and chose the one furthest in the back, which was comfortable although occasionally stuffy – we left the door to the patio outside open when we could. We settled in, and, as we had so often this trip, washed various articles of clothing and set them out to dry. Then we went to the common area for wifi access and checked emails and current events. Later, based on the recommendation of the woman at the desk, we set out on foot across town for dinner at “Bar and Bistro” Torino. We found it with little difficulty after a longish walk through town. The dish I ordered was, I think, one of the best of the trip…lamb-stuffed ravioli with a sauce of caramelized onions studded with berries that the menu described as “fruta de bosque.” (I later determined that these were most likely calafate berries.) The salad we ordered was OK. The wines, glasses of chardonnay and malbec, from the “Fin del Mundo” winery were both good. In fact, the chardonnay was excellent. As we walked back, we stopped for dulce de leche ice cream at a busy corner ice cream store. Then we wandered to the central square where people of various ages danced to recorded folklorico and tango music and artisans offered their wares. We pressed our noses to the glass of a gallery of fine art photography and eyed a kid (cabrito – a baby goat) being grilled Patagonian-style, splayed in front of a wood-burning fire. It would have been hard to imagine the festive air, the late-night crowded streets, the quality crafts, or the music on the other side of the mountains in the comparatively staid – albeit more prosperous – Chile.

    The next morning, after a good breakfast of eggs, pastries and fruit, we conferred at length with the owner of Case de Eugenia, Augustín, regarding local driving/hiking possibilities. He recommended the hike to cascada Chachin off lago Nonthué at the western end of lago Lacár. So we braved the thirty kilometers of rough ripio (route 49) on the north side of lago Lacár to do just that. The road became even bumpier as we left route 40 at Hua Hum for the falls. We lurched down a road that seemed scarcely more than a clear spot in the woods. But the drive was worth it – it took us to a remote trailhead in Parque Nacional Lanín. Entry was free, unlike national parks in Chile. The trail wasn’t crowded, despite it being a beautiful Sunday morning. We hiked to the falls on the well-maintained shaded trail. When we arrived at the overlook, the falls were a little distant but beautiful nonetheless. After our return hike, at the trailhead kiosk, I had a lengthy conversation in Spanish with an Argentine family about our trip – where we’d been, where we were going. They were passionate about both San Martin de los Andes and the nearby Junín de los Andes.

    When we left the Chachin trailhead, I promptly took a wrong turn on the little road we’d driven in on. We spent half an hour going to ever more remote parts of the park on an increasingly bumpy road before arriving at a barricaded bridge. Ooops. We righted ourselves and eventually found the road back to San Martin de los Andes. Following another suggestion of Augustín’s, we turned off about halfway back to go to Café Quechuguina, a lakeside restaurant. The little road took us through fields of summer flowers to an old barn and an adjacent farmhouse. Outside, there were several tables set up under a huge oak tree. At one of them – at the head of the table of a group of eight – was none other than Augustín. Another table of six sat nearby. We selected one of the smaller tables and carefully adjusted it for the optimum combination of shade and sturdy footing. It felt like a Sunday in the French countryside – the dappled light, the fields of flowers, the old path that went onwards and downwards to lago Lacár. A server explained the abbreviated menu and took our order. The food was delicious: Chicken curry with rice, gnocchi made of polenta, and a bottle of Cafayate torrontes, a familiar white wine from the Salta region in northwestern Argentina.

    Following lunch, we befriended the owner/chef, Jeannine. As our luck would have it, we were the last customers on the last day of the summer season. She was shuttering up the restaurant the very next day in preparation for her return to Buenos Aires Wednesday. She owned a frozen food business there. We took her phone number and made tentative plans to contact her in Buenos Aires. We then had a walk down the path to the lake, going through a field of purple thistle-like flowers until we entered a forested area. We reached the lake and we just wandered.

    Due to our late afternoon lunch in the country, we skipped dinner, instead opting to meander through San Martin de los Andes and have an ice cream cone whenever we encountered a parlor. It was impossible not to love this delightful town!

    The next day, after another superb breakfast, it was time to return to Bariloche. Instead of returning on the siete lagos route, we opted for paved road – northeast on route 234 to Junín de los Andes, then south on paved roads. We didn’t have time to actually stop in Junín de los Andes, but, from what little we saw of it, it had the same appeal as San Martin de los Andes, a mixture of gaucho and German style that was a little reminiscent of the American West. From Junín, we went on route 234 towards route 40. The vast landscape turned to high desert. The Andes receded to the horizon and the sky stretched out into what seemed a speckless infinity of blue. We stopped at a viewpoint under fantastic basaltic cliffs stained white in places by condor droppings. High above in the immense sky we saw the condors effortlessly gliding. Our route 40 drive was one of the most scenic of our trip, lined with increasingly convoluted rock formations as it neared the intersection with route 237.

    A little after noon, we followed a roadside “trucha” sign to Hosteria Gruta de las Virgenes, where we stopped for lunch. Hosteria Gruta de las Virgenes overlooked a river and spectacular shattered volcanic hills. The food was inevitably less spectacular than the scenery: So-so trout, the oxymoronically named but oddly tasty milanesa napolitana and Argentina’s finest bottled water. The next twenty or so miles of route 237 were simply awesome: a parade of jagged hills. These ended well outside Bariloche. We nonetheless arrived in Bariloche with a feeling that the paved road via Junín and routes 40 and 237 was more scenic than the siete lagos route.

    We returned to the very same room in Los Juncos and filled Flavia in on the car rental story. She was indignant, both in regard to the washing surcharge and the airport drop-off. She conferred with the car rental lady in Villa la Angostura and they tag-teamed Newton into submission by phone. He eventually agreed to waive the washing fee and to allow us to drop the car off at the bus station. At one point during the telephone negotiations, she turned to us, rolled her eyes, made a face, and hissed that Newton was Brazilian – she could tell by his accent. Thank you Flavia!

    Having a car – we didn’t have to drop it off until Wednesday morning - gave us more flexibility in regard to exploring the Bariloche area. That afternoon we went to the pricey and cavernous Llao Llao resort for cocktails and were rewarded with a spectacular sunset. We then ate dinner at a branch of Bolinche de Alberto at kilometer 11 of the lakefront road. The meat - we ordered filet instead of the lomo – was still good, but the fries were a bit soggy. Tuesday, we hiked lago Escondido near Llao Llao – there’s a municipal park adjacent to the ridiculously luxurious lodge – and took a drive in the hills overlooking Llao Llao, the lake and the hills on the far shore. We lunched again at Berlina – more salads – and drove to Villa Cerro Catedral, way above Bariloche and the lake. That evening, Los Juncos recommended a pizza place named “la Barra” and accompanied the recommendation with a byzantine set of directions. We managed to find it anyway. Closed Tuesdays. The owner of the pasta shop next door recommended another pizza place called “Don Corleone” up the hill and down the road on Avenida de los Pioneros. Somehow, we managed to find it. Also closed Tuesdays. Tuesday is definitely not pizza night in Bariloche. We drove into Bariloche proper on Avenida de los Pioneros and somehow stumbled across the oddly named Restaurante Kandahar. We remembered it being recommended in guide books and popped in. Great décor, great food, great wine – indeed, so great that I lost my notes in regard to what it was we ate and drank. But it sure was good.

    We returned to Los Juncos for our last night. The next morning we found Newton waiting at the bus station parking lot with a lop-sided smile. I tossed him the keys and we were off to await our 7:30 bus to Puerto Montt, our stepping stone to the far south of Chile.

    Note: All things considered, we would have preferred to spend more time in Argentine lake country, particularly in San Martin and Junín. It would have been nice if we could have done our itinerary more efficiently – spending two nights apiece on a Bariloche/San Martin/Bariloche circuit gave us a feeling of constantly being on the move. Maybe we would have appreciated Villa la Angostura and the Seven Lakes drive more had we not felt rushed. And we should have allowed enough time to visit (and stay) in El Bolson, a mountain crafts town south of Bariloche. And, of course, we should have done our chocolate and ice cream research in advance - and reconfirmed our rental car reservation.

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    You know, we also recently returned from a wonderful week in the Bariloche region; I only wish I could have written about it as eloquently as Mr. Yestravel.

    Our experiences were somewhat less energetic than yours, but our responses to the towns and drives and scenery were very similar. So this was a wonderful refresher of our own trip.

    This report will be invaluable to others who will surely want to follow your path(except perhaps for that uh oh!).

    Thank you for all the effort you put into this report. I really enjoyed every minute of reading it, and I am sending it on to our friends who joined us on our Bariloche adventure.


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    Thank you again, my dears,for a terrific account of Argentina Lake Country.
    If it makes you feel any better....Allan and I took the Seven Lakes Road in Dec.2008 and were completely UNDERwhelmed. However, we REALLY enjoyed the main road back to Bariloche from San Martin. Go figure.
    Even though we spent 3 nights on the Llao Llao peninsula...would have enjoyed another 2 for more extensive hiking.
    Those lamb raviolis are making my mouth's time for lunch here in Boulder.
    Looking forward to the next chapter.

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    What a great trip report! I enjoyed reading it so much, and it brought back so many wonderful memories of my trip the previous year.
    I know this report will be a huge help in the future to anyone travelling to this area.
    Thank you for taking the time to write it.

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    Wow, I have taken copious notes of where to hike, eat and what to order!!!!

    Tentatively we are planning this and was wondering if you would agree with the amount of time
    Dec 23-27 BA
    Dec 27-Jan 5/San Martin/Junin and Bariloche (we are looking to fly fish)
    Jan 6-Lake crossing spending the night on Pehuille
    Jan 7-Punta Arenas (from Puerto Montt)
    Jan 8-14-El Calafate
    Jan 15-BA

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    Oldie, What do u plan to do in el Calafate? We were there 4 days and could have easily stayed one or even two days less. I think 6 days may be way more time then u need there. (that portion of the TR should be next). r u flying from PA to el Calafate or busing it? I love BA and would add the time there.

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    yestravel-We want to go to TdP, El Perito Moreno Glacier and maybe a trip up to see Fitz Roy.

    Am anxiously awaiting your next installment.

    We are busing it up to El Calafate.

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    Oldie......7 nights in El Calafate is way too long(IMHO). Definitely 2, maybe 3. In Dec.2008, we took the 5 hour bus ride to El Chalten and spent 3 nights there, before heading back to El Calafate. Truly enjoyed El Chalten!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You've got scenery, hiking and a few delightful restaurants. Enjoy!

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    I would try and stay in TdP -- if u go there from el calafate, u will not have much time to actually do anything in TdP. U've got to spend a fair amount of time getting to TdP and returning to el Calafate. TdP is truly spectacular. Much more engaging then el Calafate. (We did the glacier trek on Perito Moreno.) I know it will make for more moving around, but at least a night, even 2 in TdP would be my recommendation. We took the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales where we picked up a car. We drove from Puerto Natales to TdP for 3 nights. It's only a couple hours trip. We went back to PN, returned the car and took the bus to el Calafate. But I wonder if u could get a bus from TdP to el Calafate so u could stay over night at TdP?

    We didn't make it to El Chalten and r sorry we missed it.

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    The walk up to Chachín waterfall is nice and there never seem to be many people there. I don't know how you didn't pay to get into the park as they definitely charge. There is a little hut with a barrier on that road. Different fees depending on whether you are a foreign tourist, Argentine tourist, local, etc. Long list. Perhaps the people collecting the entrance fee were on holiday too!
    I have done the 7 lakes road about 6 times. It is always about to be paved. I thoroughly agree that the route through Junin is more scenic. The lakes road is fine if you stop for lunch or a picnic. There are nice campgrounds on the route which have a day fee and you can sit and relax by the water. It is a nice entrance to San Martin as you get a view of the town from above. Did you meet the double decker red London tourist bus on the road in? That always makes me laugh. If Transport for London had ever known where some of their routemaster buses would end up they would have been amazed.

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    yestravel-First off, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hijack your thread at all. I just thought you might have great info for me, which it turns out I was right! So thanks. I should have been more specific in my plans so here is what we are doing:
    Dec 23-26-BA
    Dec 26-Jan 4-San Martin/Junin/Bariloche
    Jan 4-Puerto Varas
    Jan 5- Fly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas and bus to Puerto Natales (spend the night).
    Jan 6-rent car-TdP
    Jan 7-TdP
    Jan 8- TdP (back to Puerto Natales to return car, bus to El Calafate)
    Jan 9-El Calafate for Perito Moreno Glacier
    Jan 10-Bus to El Chalten
    Jan 11-El Chalten
    Jan 12-El Chalten
    Jan 13-Bus back to El Calafte and plane on to BA
    Jan 14-BA

    I can't wait for the next installment of your Trip report.

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    odie, not a problem -- glad to be of help. Ur plan sounds similar to ours I'm already getting jealous that you'll be doing it! I absolutely fell in love with TdP. PN is a nice little town to just wander about for a day. U really feel like u r at the end of the world. Don't miss the calafate berry pisco sour at Indigo. Delicious!
    If u rent your car from Europcar in PN, Marco (or Marcus) is a real sweetheart. We picked our car up a day early and not a problem or additional charge!

    Huentetu-we figured we'll be long gone by the time that road gets paved! A little hut with a barrier? hmmm...absolutely don't recall seeing that. there was the hut where they sold drinks and stuff, maybe that was it? Didn't see a double decker bus -- actually saw no buses and very few cars.

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    Al Fin del Mundo

    A correction from the previous post: Our bus left Bariloche at 9:00 a.m., not 7:30. (We got up at 7:30 to catch it – thus the confusion.)

    One thing that Argentina and Chile have in common is comfortable buses. We left promptly and, as we had anticipated, headed towards Villa la Angostura and the paved crossing into Chile. We made good time and arrived in Villa de Angostura by 10:30, then took the sinuous paved road (Route 231) towards the Chilean border.

    When we arrived at the border, our crossing took a while. Passport processing was reasonably quick, but customs was a different matter. Chile has a ban on the importation of all outside agricultural and food products. And, since much of the Chilean economy relies on agricultural exports, they enforce it rigorously for fear of disease. Every bag on the bus had to be unloaded and then lined up on a concrete apron. Dogs then sniffed the bags and indicated those that smell like they might contain forbidden fruit (or other items). These bags are then inspected by hand. The end result, however, was a series of false positives that included one of our bags. It contained some Mapuche spices that I’d bought in Puerto Varas a week earlier. And the border beagle sniffed them out. The Chilean border guy opened the bag and the first thing he found was a gift bottle of high-end pisco that we’d also bought in Puerto Varas. He grinned, showed it to his co-workers and pantomimed drinking it. He then examined everything else in the bag and then waved us through once he determined that we were guilty only of the re-importation of Chilean food products.

    Behind us, a bedraggled backpacker had his entire immense pack – and its manifold attachments – opened and spread out. Among the contents was an equally bedraggled teddy bear, much to the amusement of his hiking companions. Once everybody had made it through Customs we re-boarded the bus and headed west. After an hour or so, we turned onto Route 5 just south of Osorno and were on the fast road to Puerto Montt. In a little while, we were passing exits to familiar places: Frutillar, Llanquihue and Puerto Varas.

    We arrived at the Puerto Montt mid-afternoon and immediately sought a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Club Presidente. Our cab driver gave us a funny look, but diligently loaded our baggage into his trunk, left the bus station, drove three or four blocks, turned right – and we were at the hotel. We could have walked it! I felt a little embarrassed for the short ride and tipped generously. The Hotel Club Presidente was a modern mid-rise business-style hotel one block off the waterfront. What a change from the B&Bs, guesthouses and small hotels where we’d been staying! Our room was a large corner suite on an upper floor with a superb view of Puerto Montt and the adjacent pewter sea. We opened up some of the windows for cross-ventilation and then headed for the top-floor restaurant for a lunch of salmon ceviche.

    We explored very little of Puerto Montt. From what we saw, it was an unremarkable jumble of old and new buildings with little of interest. Moreover, Puerto Montt had not really been a destination - we were using it as a stepping-stone to Torres del Paine Park and were there only because of the airport. We were catching a morning flight to Punta Arenas in the far south. After some walking around, we returned to our room to nap and repack for the airplane flight. Over the previous two and a half weeks, the contents of our two suitcases had expanded to fill several backpacks and another bag despite only minimal purchases. Time to reconsolidate.

    There was supposed to be an area of seafood restaurants two or three miles out of town. However, we were uncertain of their hours or the difficulties involved in getting there and back. Instead, we opted to eat in the hotel for a second time. Dinner was, again, salmon ceviche. We took a cab to the airport the next morning and were soon on our way to the far south.

    Our first impression of Punta Arenas, formed as we arrived at the airport and were driven into town, was that we really were at the end of the world: It seemed to be a land of constant wind, stunted trees, weathered wood, faded colors and rust-stained galvanized metal. We were staying at the small and aptly named Hotel Plaza, right off the central square. Another nice room in an older hotel with high ceilings. We dropped off our bags and went for a walk.

    The wind was simply incredible! As we made our way across the Plaza de Armas, sometimes it was so intense that we were forced to stand still rather than try to walk into it. For the first time on our trip, we were actually cold…we’d been haunted by warm, sometimes hot, weather from Santiago south. No more. We walked down to the waterfront – the Straight of Magellan. Across the channel we could see Tierra del Fuego on the horizon. We then decided to walk to one of the town’s featured attractions – the cemetery. We made good progress when the wind wasn’t against us.

    The cemetery was interesting because of what it revealed about immigration to the area. We passed tombs for the “Pavisich,” “Dragnic,” “Blanchard,” “Pivcevic” “Martinovic” families. The tombs tended to be either neo-classical style or ornate. The graves and tombs were in lanes demarked with twenty-foot tall bell-shaped topiary. And there were many elaborate arrangements of plastic flowers on graves and in front of tombs…long-lasting and wind-resistant, I guess. The wind eventually became unbearable – dust from the lanes kept getting in our eyes. We headed back, hunched against the wind.

    Back from the dead, we visited the Palacio Sara Braun. This is a magnificent Gilded Age mansion on the far side of the square constructed back in a prosperous era of sheep ranching. The building had been nationalized by the Allende government back in the early 1970s. (I don’t know the fate of the owners.) It was now a combination of museum and hotel/restaurant. We took a brief walk through the plush French-style rooms and admired the gorgeous woodwork. Then we went to the lounge of the nearby Hotel Cabo de Hornos for good pisco sours. We also spent some time in the computer room there, checking up on current events. Dinner that evening was at Restaurant La Luna. We followed some advice we encountered on the Internet and ordered scallops with hot pepper, king crab salad and chupe (a kind of baked crab dish). The food was undistinguished and the service was negligent; we couldn’t even find anyone to give us a check. We went to another restaurant for dessert. Also so-so – but it least it was so-so accompanied with attentive service.

    The next day, we took an early bus to Puerto Natales. The bus route took us past the occasional homestead in a sparse dry landscape dotted with clumps of plants. I saw my first rhea in route – a scuttling flightless thigh-high bird that seemed to be tracking the bus on the other side of the roadside fence. By the time we reached Puerto Natales, I’d seen about half a dozen of these odd creatures.

    Puerto Natales is a colorful (literally!) town maybe a hundred miles northwest of Punta Arenas. It faces the Ultima Esperanza (“Last Hope”) Sound (love that name!). We took a cab to the Hotel Francis Drake – and immediately disliked our lodgings. Our room was small with low slanted ceilings and a claustrophobic bathroom. Since we planned on returning to Puerto Natales after going to Torre del Paine, we began our visit there by looking for another hotel for five days later.

    We liked the town itself and spent the morning wandering around checking out various hotels and several nice artesania shops. We photographed many vibrantly-colored galvanized metal buildings. We encountered Hotel Indigo overlooking the Sound. We later were to return to its bar for wondrous pisco sours flavored with calafate berries. Almost as important, we discovered Chocoloteria Al Sur del Mundo, a fabulous chocolate shop. And the chocolate shop, as it turned out, was across the street from the Europcar office that was providing our rental car for Torres del Paine. We talked to the guy there (Marcos) and he let us pick up our car a day early - at no extra charge! What a change from Newton! We drove around town and hit a grocery store, a bakery, and a dried fruit vendor. We stocked up on bread, avocados, various varieties of dried fruit as well as chocolate from Chocoloteria Al Sur del Mundo. Then we drove out of town past the world’s only statue of a giant sloth - the extinct milidón mentioned in Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” - to visit Explora and Remota, two boutique hotels slightly out of town facing the Sound. They shared audacious architecture, minimalist furnishings and very high prices.

    That evening we ate at Parrilla Don Jorge. This was the first Chilean Parrilla we had encountered and we were hoping for a good meal. We were among the first ones to enter the dining room – great gaucho-style décor - and unwisely sat near the fire. We later had to request to be moved as it became intolerably hot as the restaurant filled and they started some serious grilling. We were fortunate to get a second table. Our dinner – lamb, potatoes, red wine – was good. Not up to Argentine standards, but good nonetheless.

    The next morning, after an unexceptional breakfast, we loaded up our car and were off to Torres del Paine on Route 9. We left Route 9 at the first exit for Torres del Paine. We were staying at Hosteria Lago Tyndall, which is immediately outside the park entrance on the south. Our route took us on the western shore of lago Toro. There are at least two other park entrances that come in from the east and skirt the eastern shore of lago Toro and the northern shore of lago Sarmiento. These access other hotels in the park, in particular Hotel Torres del Paine. All roadways within the park – as well as some of those leading to it - are ripio. Thus distances within the park, while not immense, can be very time-consuming due to reduced speeds. Also, we did not see a gas station between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine Park or within the park itself. Gas is available – more on this later.

    From our perspective, Hosteria Lago Tyndall was well situated; it gives reasonable access to all parts of the lake, in particular lago Grey and its glacier in the far west, which is a very long haul from the hotels accessed via the eastern park entrances. Our hotel looked across a river-crossed prairie area to the “Cuernos” – some spectacularly rugged mountains that comprised the un-eroded core basaltic flows that are all that remain of otherwise eroded volcanoes. The Cuernos del Paine rise at something close to a ninety degree angle. Coupled with the windy climate, occasional sun and constantly changing cloud cover, they were extremely photogenic – we photographed them again and again at various times of day over the next three days.

    The Hosteria itself was nearly empty – we had arrived March 12, at the end of the season. The manager – who couldn’t have been more pleasant - allowed us to switch our small room for a larger one near the end of the building. (This did put us out of wifi range though – we had to go to the lobby or the dining area to use our iPad.) The hotel as a whole, although not unpleasant, was slightly down at the heels – but nonetheless comfortable and a reasonable value in a very expensive area.

    Since we arrived early in the afternoon of a beautiful sunny day – and were uncertain about future weather - we took advantage of the day and drove around the park, taking some great photos and making a few short hikes. The short Salto Chico hike – near Hotel Explora on Lago Pehoé – was particularly spectacular. Beautiful falls, low wind-blown vegetation and a playful fox that I photographed multiple times. (Explora, by the way, has the same owners - and architect - as the hotel of the same name outside Puerto Natales.) Parts of the park in the east – we went all the way to Hotel las Torres – have numerous guanacos, a gracile cousin of the llama. Hotel las Torres is the only place in the park that you can drive to and have an reasonably unobstructed view of the Torres – three spectacularly vertical mountains of similar size and shape from which the park takes its name. We then drove to Hostel Lago Grey in the western part of the park. Great views. Glacier Grey was a thick light blue line on the horizon on the far northern end of the lake. An iceberg – calved off the glacier – had been blown to the southern shoreline and sat stranded there, a miniature blue-tinted ice mountain. At Hostel Lago Grey we had good pisco sours, skipped the expensive restaurant in favor of cheap bar food – grilled cheese sandwiches – and took window-side seats to watch the sun go down behind the mountains.

    The next day was a bit overcast, but not too windy or cold. We drove to the eastern end of lago Pehoé and took the first catamaran at 9:30 across the lake, a spectacular trip that took us by Salto Grande, a cascade on the north side of the lake. Our destination, the campground at the far eastern side of the lake (El Refugio y Area de Acampar Paine Grande), is the trailhead for a hike to Campamiento italiano and the Valle de frances (“Frenchman’s Valley). The hike was rugged – a lot of ups and downs – and scenic. We took our time. It took us three hours to hike the eight kilometers to Campamiento italiano. There we sat down, ate our mashed avocado sandwiches and the last of our dried fruit and pondered our situation. The hike had taken us along the base of the Cuernos – striking views and more photos - and under a large glacier. Continuing up Frenchman’s Valley towards Campamiento britanico would eventually give us views of the Torres that are only possible from the hiking trail. However, at our pace, continuing would also cause us to miss our return catamaran back across lago Pehoé. We reluctantly turned around and headed back. The end result was that we cooled our heels for two hours while waiting for the catamaran. We’d had time to do at least part of Frenchman’s Valley. But we did manage to get an empanada and a beer from the Refugio cafeteria. And I took some comfort at a group of hikers sharing a plastic tub to soak their feet. Enough for one day; it had worked out well. We were pretty much the first people on the boat on the way back.

    By this point, gasoline had become a concern. We’d last filled the car in Puerto Natales. Since then we’d driven to Torres del Paine and then driven extensively within the park. We had about a quarter tank left and were unsure if it was adequate to get us back to Puerto Natales unless we spent the next day not driving and hanging out in our hotel – something we had no intention of doing. Supposedly, gasoline was available at Posada Serrano on the way back to our hotel. We got there at nightfall – Posada Serrano made Hosteria Lago Tyndall look palatial. We looked around. No pumps. We asked at the Posada. No problem – they had gas. They pumped it from a drum into a five liter plastic jug, then siphoned it in to our car. I bought ten liters – about two and a half gallons – of gasoline. It was the most expensive gasoline I’d ever bought in my life – over $8.00 a gallon by my reckoning. For some reason – perhaps the fact that we’d pretty much exhausted the food supplies we’d brought with us and had been storing on the balcony outside our hotel room – we decided to eat at Posada Serrano. Bad move - we walked down a tilted hallway to a grim dining room and had the absolute worst dinner of our trip. Everything we order was tough, tasteless and bland. We should have braved the immense but empty dining room of Hosteria Lago Tyndall.

    Our luck with the weather held. The next day was brilliant sunshine although somewhat windy. We took off to revisit Lago Grey and hike part of the southern shoreline. There’s a boat that leaves near Hostel Lago Grey and travels up lago Grey for close views of the glacier. We didn’t take the tour because we had plans for glacier visit/hike in El Calafate.

    During our recurring drives around the east side of lago Pehoé, we’d noticed the Hosteria Peloé. It was on a small island in the lake. One got to it by walking across a pedestrian bridge from the shore. Viewed from the road, the hosteria, the bridge and the island made a beautiful (and photographable) scene. We decided to go there for our last night’s meal. They weren’t serving yet when we arrived, so we wandered the hotel and grounds. Finally we tried again and it was a go. Food was good, the view terrific. I interrupted my meal at one point to go outside to photograph the impact of the sunset on the Cuernos and the moonrise over some hills to the east.

    We left late the next morning. Parque Nacional Torres de Paine is simply incredible, perhaps the most physically spectacular place I’ve ever been. I’d go back again tomorrow – although I’d make sure to bring more food and devote more time to hiking.

    On our return to Puerto Natales, we stayed at the Hotel Charles Darwin. We had a very large, very nice corner room on the second floor. This small hotel is pleasant, friendly, well situated – and the rooms have high ceilings. It is very close to both the Chocolateria al Sur del Mundo and Europcar. Indeed, I didn’t so much return my car to Europcar as return the keys to Marcos and point to the car parked across the street in front the of the Hotel Darwin. That evening we returned to Indigo for calafate pisco sours and then splurged for dinner at Angelica’s, Puerto Natales’ best seafood restaurant. Superb king crab (centolla) cannelloni – we even liked the cream-based sauce - wonderful wine, good dessert. Angelica’s has an immense centolla shell – over a foot across – on one of the dining room walls.

    We left the next day by bus for El Calafate. As the condor flies, El Calafate is perhaps sixty miles from Torres del Paine. However, the ruggedness of the intervening landscape necessitated a return to Puerto Natales and then a three and a half hour bus ride through the sparse Patagonian steppe. At one point we stopped for ten minutes in a gas station while the bus was refueled. The German guy in front of me, a fellow passenger, had his U$D5 bill rejected by the cashier because it was too wrinkled, forcing a lengthy delay as he dug around in his pockets for a small pile of Argentine peso coins. When I paid for my water, the cashier gave me the world’s most torn and soiled five peso note as part of my change. I was tempted to refuse it in return. (I didn’t – the folks behind me had a bus to catch.)

    By the time we arrived at El Calafate, we had been traveling for over four weeks. During that time we had always been on the go and had never spent more than three nights in one place. The previous week – with a series of overnight stays in different towns on the way to and from Torres del Paine – had been particularly exhausting. We just wanted to get to one place and kick back. And El Calafate was the perfect place, although we had to split our nights between two hotels. We spent the first night at the charming Casa de Grillos B&B and the next three nights at the beautiful and accommodating Hosteria Sierra Nevada. El Calafate was a pleasant small town, and it and the adjacent lago Argentino had felt like an oasis when we’d arrived after the bus ride through the remote reaches of Patagonia. We slept late, walked around town, and did the last of our gift shopping. And we ate – El Calafate has wonderful restaurants. We went to Casmiro Biguá twice for their salad of smoked trout with blue cheese, grilled meats and “Calafate” malbec. We had the mixed grill at La Tablita; the delicious grilled lamb, in particular, was excellent. We had pasta and wine at Restaurante Cucharon. The weight we had lost on our salmon and avocado diet in Chile was slowly regained in Argentina.

    But we had come to El Calafate for a reason: the Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. We wanted to do the glacier trek. We asked around and found that all tours cost the same and departed at the same time (which was early - very early)! We booked our tour and counted on at least a little extra rest as we were in the last hotel on the road out of town to Perito Moreno. The tour started with a bus ride. Then we decamped to a boat that took us to the glacier. It was awe-inspiring, boating near sheer 90 foot walls of ice and hearing the muffled roar and boom as sections occasionally calved off and fell into the lake. It was unexpectedly warm, well above freezing. (Perito Moreno, due to its unique micro-climate, is one of the few glaciers on the planet not shrinking from climate change. It basically comprised an accumulation of snow that had fallen out over the Andes and pushed its way down to lago Argentino. And there was still enough Pacific-based moisture, westerly winds and high altitude cold to ensure its continued existence.)

    After viewing the front of the glacier we landed some distance from it on its south-eastern side. We then hiked over a rocky landscape to arrive at the glacier. Before ascending, we strapped crampons – metallic snowshoes with spikes - on our shoes and listened to a lecture by the guide: we were to go single file and step only where others had stepped before. We clambered across a field of mixed ice and glacial detritus and went up onto the ice, which was dirty near the edges of the glacier. They showed us a crevasse. It looked like a mysterious blue slit large enough to swallow someone; we could hear melt water running somewhere far, far below. The guides made us all pass on one side of the crevasse. As I eyed it the body sized cavity, that “step only where others had stepped before” thing suddenly started to make a lot of sense. To me though, not everyone. A party of three young people wandered off and had to be retrieved by the guides. They also had to cut some foot holds into the glacier so that we could continue our ascent. The view from the top of the glacier was overwhelming…the icy landscape, the lake beyond – fantastic! We clumsily walked around for a while – this was a “trek” in name only – and then the guides announced we were nearing the end. They led us to a wooden table set on the ice with twenty glasses and ice bucket and a bottle of Jim Beam Kentucky bourbon. We were having bourbon on the rocks over glacial ice. What could one say other than “salud”?

    We returned to the shore, removed our crampons and returned to the boat landing via a different route – this one took us on a path through a cool moist boggy landscape that was as green as the Olympic Peninsula. We re-boarded our boat and left this enchanted land- and water-scape. The glacier boomed goodbye.

    After our return by boat, we-boarded our buses, which then took us to an overlook on land above and directly across the lake from the glacier. At this point, the sheer immensity of Perito Moreno became apparent: This was a huge river of ice that completely filled the valley that it had carved on its way down to the lake. We spent the better part of an hour at the overlook and then re-boarded the bus and headed back to El Calafate. We, and others on the bus, were so exhausted by the excursion that we slept much of the way back.

    The next morning we boarded our flight to Buenos Aires. It was then that it started to sink in that our fabulous adventure to the far south was over.

    (Note: We booked all of our hotels in the far south of Chile - Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine - via Alta Tours. Alta Tours’ local representative also promptly rebooked us to the Hotel Charles Darwin when we expressed our dissatisfaction with the Hotel Sir Francis Drake. They were responsible for getting us the suite in Puerto Montt. They also booked our lake crossing and some of our bus trips and the car rental. That said, and although they did a very good job, we could have done all of this ourselves.)

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    Very nice report! The place outside Puerto Montt with the fish restaurants is Angelmó. They aren't really restaurants but small roofed seating areas next to their respective open air kitchen. These little places are called "cocinerías" and are usually found around markets in Chile. There is a large craft market there too and, of course, a fish market. You can only eat lunch there. It is a good spot for photographers as the market is colourful, the variety of seafood impressive and the walk by the water pleasant. It is more lively on weekends or in the summer months, worth a visit even if you do not eat there.

    I loved the bit about the backpacker with his hidden teddy bear!

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    Just wanted to let you know I am still really enjoying your report...we stayed in Puerto Natalas also, did just a day trip to the TDP, in retrospect, wish we had spend a couple of nights in the park. Anyway, your report is really bringing back very fond memories. Thanks for taking the time to post!

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    Thanks all for your comments -- nice to know these long TR do get read!

    That's all folks...I don't think a BA report is in the cards. Wanted to get info out there on Chile primarily cuz there was so little to be found when we were trip planning. Ditto for el Calafate.

    Not much I can add on BA that hasn't already been said, we love it as much this 3rd trip as our first trip!!! And we met some fabulous people in BA this trip which greatly enhanced our stay there.

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    Well I have taken copious notes and hope to visit some of the places you have. You wrote an excellent report. As you said, there isn't much info about this area of the world. We can hardly wait to get there. Thank you!

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    It was a good report and I guess it's ok not to add a chapter on BsAs, given all you've written already, although it would be nice, but I would like to know if you went tango dancing. What I'd like to know is, can you tango without taking lessons or do you have to take lessons in a class filled with people who don't look like they should be able to dance better than you can but they can?

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    Fabulous trip report! I tuned in to it to research a potential trip to Chile, but found myself reliving our trip to Argentina last February which, coincidentally enough, I just reorganized my trip notes today and plan to post before year end.

    Your writing style is a wonderful combination of description, humor and information.


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    Dear YesTravel...
    Thank you for sharing your trip report with me. I need to take some time to read it fully to get more details. A 6.5 week! Sounds like a trip of a lifetime. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and Merry Christmas!


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    All of a sudden, I seem to be developing an interest in traveling to Patagonia, an interest which has been heightened by reading your terrific report!

    Question: I've been thinking about a much shorter trip focused on Torres del Paine. Will I be missing too much by skipping the difficult hikes?

    Would a trip that included Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, and maybe Perrito Moreno, El Calafate make sense? (and probably mandatory overnight in Santiago.)

    Are there glaciers in Torres del Paine, or does one have to go to Argentinian Patagonia for those? (I know I sound ignorant, that's because I am, having read only a couple of magazines articles so far; the new Saveur has a story about Chilean Patagonia focusing on the food,w hich is what drew me in..the roast lamb and the seafood especially....and now those Pisco sours!)

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    Hey! Currently in SF on a Xc road trip and will get back to answer your questions shortly. Quickly, it sounds like a great trip. Depending upon flt arrival in Santiago and connections you could possibly avoid overnighting in Santiago.

    On to explore the SF Moma which is fantastic!

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    I think your trip could be great. It's a stunningly beautiful area.

    No need to do difficult hiking in TdP. Lots to see without difficult hikes. As mlgb said Grey glacier is there. I believe you can do a boat trip to see it close up. Since we went there are some newer really nice places to stay.

    In ARG perito Moreno is beautiful. Again boat trips are possible and there is a huge walkway that you may walk around to see PM.

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    Great...come back when you are back home. Can I add Perrito Moreno to the Chile portion, and return to Chile to fly home? (I will order guidebook--Fodor's Chile looks like the only recent option there; Moon is a few years old)

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