Jan 2014 Patagonia Trip with Adventure Life
Hello all travelers. I know I enjoy reading other trip reports so after our latest trip thought it be good to actually write one of our own since we had such a great time. Actually we were surprised that our trip turned out so well since we originally were heading to Hong Kong to visit family but changed our minds late December not to go due to scheduling issues around Chinese New Years. With that we kind of decided on a whim to go to another place on our bucket lists... Patagonia.
Preparing for the trip was pretty challenging... of course we started with a lot of research to see what options are out there (there are a lot). It was only after a few days of browsing and reading reviews that we found Adventure Life. The options they had for Latin America and the Patagonia region was definitely the biggest draw. Our fate was basically sealed when I call them and after a lengthy chat did I realize that in the time frame that we had (2 weeks or so) it made more sense to customize a trip rather than choosing a specific package that was offered. The customer service from Adventure Life was great since they provided guidance in terms of some of my concerns (I enjoy physical activity but my wife not as much) with some of the activities in the packages offered. Our service reps, Jenny and Jodi, did an amazing job putting together an itinerary that maximized the time we were to spend on our trip. We also were worried about the logistics of our trip since we were to go to multiple cities in 2 countries... but all of that was taken cared of by the reps at Adventure Life.
We traveled on a Red Eye flight from JFK to Santiago so we were pretty tired by the time we go in the airport. I have to say the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago was pretty nice. Much of it is under construction but it felt clean and efficient. We paid our reciprocity fee for Chile $160 each person and was out of customs in about 15 minutes.We were greeted by an very friendly Adventure Life / Cascada Tour (Adventure Life's Partner in Chile) rep at the exit and escorted to our hotel, Meridiano Sur. We love small boutique hotels that feel much more intimate, the Meridiano Sur was definitely everything we love (9 rooms total and a very friendly staff that is willing to do a little extra if you need).
While in Santiago we enjoyed 2 days trips (both arranged by the Hotel), a city tour of Santiago and a day trip to Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso. Pro Tip: Save a bit of money by booking these trips with the local hotel, its cheaper than if you do it online. Both day trips were great... my favorite was the food in our day trip to Vina Del Mar (Congrio a lo pobre) and Coquito nuts. We also enjoyed the fine dining that is offered in Santiago, Aqui Esta Coco and Astrid & Gaston. Without a doubt if you visit Santiago you should go to Astrid & Gaston... get the tasting menu, you won't be disappointed.
Punta Arenas, Chile
From Santiago we took a 3 and a half hour flight to Punta Arenas. The weather definitely changed and it was very very windy when we came out of the small airport. We again had another private transfer arranged for us from the airport to a hotel in town which was actually quick a bit of a drive away. The hotel we stayed at Carpa Manzano looked nice online but we were pretty disappointed when we got there... its a dated hotel and a little bit out of the way. We only had 1 night there so it was not too bad but would not suggest this hotel.
Adventure Life had planned a day trip to the Marta and Magdalena Islands to see penguins up close. This was a treat for my wife. We took a boat with about 20 others to Magdalena island and were greeted by the welcoming calls of 300K penguins inhabiting the island. Lets just say that my wife probably have more pictures of the penguins the rest of the trip. Afterwards we had a quick ride to Marta island where we were able to sit on the side of the boat and get pretty close and watch seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Being that close was definitely something to remember.
In terms of food a few things I realized about Chile... don't get the pizza especially if you are used to NY style pizza. Also don't trust the reviews from online... we went to La Marmita and it was nothing to rave about... I am sure other places would have been better.
EcoCamp -Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile (the highlight of the trip)
A private transfer was made between our Hotel in Punta Arenas to EcoCamp in Torres Del Paine Nation Park. The ride was a 5 hour long drive with a stop in Puerto Natales and a awesome small cafe in the middle of no where in route to EcoCamp. The scenery on the ride itself was amazing. We saw the great landscape pass up that included mountains, sheep, ranchers, Rhea, Guanaco, etc. All of which were expertly explained to us by our guide. Did I mention that we were the only ones in a sprinter van with a driver and a guide... it always feels much more intimate when its a small group.
EcoCamp, what can I say... this was the best place we stayed in our entire trip. We had a Suite Dome with a fire place... but the best was to be able to walk out and see sights. It is unlike anything else to be able to wake up and walk outside and have the brisk morning air fill your lungs and the mountains of Patagonia fill your eyes. It is definitely something that one must experience in their lifetime for no words can ever describe the feeling. A little about the domes. The suite dome is about as big as studio apartment in Manhattan with a king size bed (probably even bigger than that), a private fire place, a individual bathroom with shower and toilet. The dome is insulated with padding the windows are just see through port holes. We had 1 outlet that is used mainly for charging camera batteries and our kindles. There are places to sit around the room and a 3 lights to help you read at night time. But really at night the only place to be is near your fire place... it gets pretty cold at night time.
We were part of EcoCamp's Safari group so we had a choice of 2 different activities on any given day (1 that is more demanding than the other). For each of the treks you will be escorted by 2 guides that are provided by EcoCamp. The guides are bilingual and are filled with information. Most of them majored in EcoTourism and have a great deal of knowledge on the Flora and Fauna of the park and take a great deal of pride in their work and protecting the park. We went on both demanding and easy treks and both had their rewards. The highlight was definitely getting up the French Vally and seeing all that nature has to offer on the look out (beware this trek is not for everyone,very demanding ~ 10 hours of walking on difficult terrain, although the other couple with us was in their mid 60s and we couldn't keep up.at times, Mike and Jean you guys were amazing if you ever read this).
Food at EcoCamp was really really good. Every night they have cocktail hour were you can snack and chat with all of the other travelers. Dinner was always 3 courses and cooked fresh. The food was really on par if not better than some quality restaurants in NYC... their vegetable tart is something to remember. Although the best part of the food for me was the juice. I could not have enough of it... it is just something with fresh juice after a full day of trekking that satisfied me like nothing else could.
All in all EcoCamp is by far the best part of our trip... We will remember this for the rest of our lives.
El Calafate - Argentina
A private transfer was also arrange for us between Eco Camp and our next destination in El Calafate Argentina. Unfortunately, this transfer was part of a transfer offered by Hotel Las Torres and compared to our previous transfers... not as nice. The van that was used was small and was full. The other passengers were great but it was pretty cramped. The driver also did not speak any English. The weird thing is that the transfer is 2 parts, from Torres Del Paine national park to the Argentina side of things and then we were dropped off and had to go on another van to take us to El Calafate. Again since the driver did not speak any English we were a bit confused... thank goodness some of the other passengers did this before and told us that this would be the case.
We arranged with Adventure Life to stay at a working sheep ranch, Hotel El Galpón del Glaciar, in El Calafate instead of a hotel in town. Thank goodness we did, the town felt very touristy and just did not fit with our kind of travel. El Galpon was much better. It is a bit out of town, about 10 to 20 minute drive outside of town but well worth it. While the place seemed a little dated the experience itself was much better. We were treated to a tour of the ranch and shown how they sheer sheep and how they use their herding dogs. The tour also included a great meal at the ranch including Patagonia Lamb, and lots of sides. My wife's favorite dish for the entire trip was the lamb empanada at the ranch. The lamb is just like nothing else you ever tasted, that and the views of course.
Included in our package at El Calafate was a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier. We were picked up on a packed bus and driven to the Los Glaciares National Park. With a short ride on a boat with spectacular views of the glacier we prepared ourselves to walk on the glacier! We were outfitted with crampons and off we went with our guides. As a single file we walked all around the glacier and saw the spectacular views. Although it was a bit difficult to walk, you get used to it and start enjoying the fact that your on a glacier. Our day trip ended with going to the look out that oversaw the entire glacier. This is were we stared at awe at the glory of mother nature once more and appreciate everything that much more.
Overall our trip was spectacular. This was definitely one of those things on our bucket list and the experience is something we can share with our loved ones forever.
1. If you are going to the Patagonia region and staying in EcoCamp, make sure you bring cash. There are no ATMs and no real means of getting money. We had a bit of trouble tipping our guides since we did not have cash on hand...
2. If you are exchanging money for Argentinean Pesos do it in Puerto Natales, the exchange rate you get there is far better than you will get in any border town or in Argentina
3. In Santiago if you are going to have a Lomito sandwich, make sure you tell them to put a little bit of mayo... unless you love mayo... they put a lot of it and I mean a lot
4. If you plan to take the more demanding treks in Torres Del Paine and EcoCamp, it might be good to bring some trekking poles... it will help
5. Overall always take into consideration travel times between places in Patagonia. It might be good to consider staying a little longer at a location since the trip between places takes quite a bit of time. We could have spent another full day or 2 at EcoCamp.
6. If you are looking to book anywhere to Patagonia, Adventure Life recommends to book something 10 weeks before hand since availability is limited to certain things in high season.
Generally, we thought Chile was much better than Argentina, it was more of our style, people were nicer and it seemed cleaner.
Will be doing individual reviews of all of the places we stayed in with photos if you are looking for details. Thanks for reading.