Thinking about a traveling to Chile with visits to the capital city of Santiago, the northern desert of Atacama, the rugged peaks of Patagonia and the Glacier Lakes near Puerto Montt, then Chile is for you to discover the diverse terrain and it’s unique culture.
Chile is a destination that congers up images of rugged mountains, lush alpine lakes, superb vineyard and wines, isolated desert landscapes with 19,000 feet volcanoes off in the distance, remote glaciers in the wilderness of Patagonia mountains in Southern Chile. Grab your hiking boots, day pack, binoculars and Camera, Chile is for the traveler who wants to experience the soft (or extreme) adventure of seeing the rugged mountains and glaciers, taste the unique flavors of Chilean wine and experience the diverse climates from North to South. It’s a trip of a life time into the remote areas and regions that will excite your senses and pamper your experience.
Recently my wife and I had the opportunity travel to Chile for 21 days in September during the transaction from winter to spring. Our journey began when we flew into Santiago the Capital of Chile. We took a cab from the airport to our hotel (about $25 dollars) the Best Western Premier Marina Las Condes hotel a modest clean 3-star hotel in the middle of the business district. The hotel was great, very friendly staff, good breakfast in the morning and a great location for easy walking distance one of the local central parks, the Parque Arauco shopping mall which has many restaurants and shops , Starbucks across the street, 1-block walk to the the subway.
Our first day was walking around and taking the “Turiskit Bus” for sightseeing around the city. The Turiskit Bus is a “hop-on & Hop-Off” bus that takes visitors around the city to strategic sightseeing stops where you can explore the different parts of the city, then you can Hop back on. This bus allows you to discover Santiago with flexibility. You can hop on and off as many times as you like along the circuit between 9:30AM & 6:00PM and once you have visited what you are interested in, you can continue the route taking the following buses which pass approximately every 30 minutes in each stop. The approximate cost per person is around $35.
After 2-days in Santiago we were ready to fly north to the Atacoma Desert in Northern Chile. Over the course of the next week, we spent our time exploring the high plains desert with day excursion to the “Valley of the Moons”, “Tato Geysers” world’s 3rd largest Geysers at 12,000 feet, Mountain biking up the Devils Throat Canyon, swimming in 40 degree salt water in CHAXA LAGOON and HIKING GUATIN Canyon. On arrival into the Calama airport, the major city of the Atacama area that feeds the desert area, our driver met us at the airport for a 1 ½ drive to the small town of San Pedro where we stayed at the Cumbres Hotel & Spa, a nice 4-star luxury hotel.
The Cumbres Hotel is a luxury hotel where guests will enjoy the personal service and hospitality for which the Cumbres is known. The hotel is two kilometers from the village of San Pedro de Atacama, the world’s driest desert, similar to a desert luxury lodge in Arizona. Rooms are individual casita in native wood and stone design with private terraces with views of Vocan Licancabur Volcano (19,000 feet). Each day we would arrange either (2) half day excursions or 1-full day excursion to explore the sights around the area. After returning back to the hotel, dinner was usually served around 8pm. The Atacama area has a similar climate as Arizona, dry warm sunny skies during the day and cool temperatures during the evening. The elevation in San Pedro is over 8500 feet with towering Volcano’s and mountain ranges over 20,000 feet off in the distance. Bolivia and Argentina are the boarding countries off in the distance, the best time of the year to visit this area is between September – March.
After spending 5-days in the Atacama Desert area in Northern Chile, we boarded our flight and flew to the furthest point South in Chile, Puntas Arenas. Our flight arrived into Punta Arenas late in the afternoon and the outdoor temperature in September was 35 degrees. We boarded our shuttle with a group of 12 other travelers who we spent the next 5-days traveling together around Torres Del Paine National Park with. This afternoon we are heading to Puerto Natales, a 3 hour drive where our overnight accommodations was the Hotel Costaustralis. The hotel is located on the water’s edge of Golfo Almte Montt with panoramic views of the Torres Del Paine National Park in the distance. The chateau-style design has a European feeling, rooms are comfortable and clean. Dinner that evening in the hotel was a combination of local king crab and fresh Salmon. The next morning after a large buffet breakfast we headed for Torres Del Pine National Park, which was a combination of shuttle and a boat ride across Grey’s Lake to our overnight Shelter Grey’s Shelter.
Our shuttle dropped us off at Greys Hotel located in Torres Del Paine, we located our back packs and started out with an easy 1 mile hike to board our boat on Greys Lake for an hours ride to Grey’s Beach and a short hike to Grey’s Shelter our accommodations for the evening. As we motor up the lake we notice the floating icebergs, lush vegetation and dramatic mountains. As we approach Grey’s Beach, the massive Grey’s Glaicer and it’s imposing massive size is right at our door step. We unloaded and hiked for 20 minutes to Greys Shelter for for lunch before continuing on a guided lake kayaking journey to the front of Greys Glacier later in the afternoon. Greys Shelter is a modest back-packing lodge with dorm style rooms with shared bathrooms that provide hot & cold running water. The Shelter can accommodate approximately 20 people comfortable. Rooms are small with 2-bunk beds (sleeps 4 shared if you are willing to share a room) sheets, blankets, and towels are provided.
The wood burning stove in the hall way provides the only source of heat for the rooms, the evenings can get chilly. The shelter has a dining area and small bar that serves hardy buffet sytle meals, breakfast, sack lunch and dinner. Most of the hikers who overnight at Grey’s Shelter gather in the main dining room / lounge area to play cards, sit by the fire, read and talk, the bar is usually open during the dining hours. Grey’s Shelter can also accommodate back packers who want to set up their own tents and camp and use the dining area for meals. Grey’s Shelter is located on the Northern West side of the Park.
This afternoon we headed back to Grey’s beach and got set up for an afternoon guided kayaking excursion for an up close look at Grey’s Glacier, massive mountain of ice. Before paddling out to the glacier, our guides provided us with the
necessary equipment (wetsuits, paddling jackets, life jackets, gloves and kayak skirts). Our guides took us on the east side of the lake to enter the protected bay with lots of icebergs floating by our kayak. After 2 or 3 hours of paddling, taking pictures we headed back to our base camp Grey’s Shelter for dinner.
The next morning after breakfast, we hike back down the Grey’s Beach where we boarded a boat that took us on a 20 minute ride to the west side of Grey’s Glacier, from there we unloaded and hiked (moderate to semi-difficult) for about an hour (2.5 miles) to the base of the ice of Grey’s Glacier. Here our guides gave us technical equipment (harness, crampons, ice axe and helmet ) and showed us the correct technique on how walk on the Glacier ice. We spent the next 2-hours hiking on the glacier, sipping pure glacier ice water, taking pictures and following our guides before heading back to Grey’s
Shelter for lunch. After lunch we put our back packs (no need for tent or sleeping bags) and followed our guide for a 4-hour hike (7-miles) to the next Shelter called Paine Grande Shelter, where we spent the next 2-nights.
Grande Shelter located at the base of Pehoé Lake off the south side of Cerro Paine Grande Mountain. This Shelter is a strategic overnight destination for hiking the W circuit, and it is the ultimate base camp Shelter for Torres del Paine. The Shelter is only accessible by boat or walking the hiking trails. The Shelter is much larger than the Grey Shelter, over a 100 hikers can be accommodated in 22 dorm style rooms with bunk beds, (if sharing a room expect 4-6 people in bunk beds). These rooms have a beautiful view of the Pehoé Lake, Paine Grande and the French Valley on the east side of the Cuernos del Paine. Bathrooms are shared, with wash basins, toilets and independent showers with hot and cold water. As with the Grey Shelter, most hikers gather in the dining area to dine, relax, read, play games, cards and visit at the bar during the dining hours.
The next morning after a hardy breakfast, our group left for a full day of hiking the French Valley a 10-hour hike roundtrip or approximately 18-miles. The first 6 miles up the French Valley was flat and easy walking before we reached the Italiano Camp, from there the next 3 plus miles up the French Valley was steep and difficult. At times you are scrambling up a boulder/rock field using your hands to help you along the way, the reward is one of the most dramatic views you will ever see. Once above tree line you can see the mountain peaks of Cerro Castilo, Cerro Catedra, Cerro Aleta de Tuburon and Cerro Trono Blanco the rugged cliffs, peaks, and hanging glaciers makes this part of Patagonia so spectacular. To the east you see the back side of the famous towers of Cerro Mascara, Cerro Hoja and Cerro Espada. We ate our lunch and watch avalanches fall from the rugged glacier peaks of Cerro Aleta de Tuburon off in the distance. Our group returned to the Grande Paine Shelter for a welcome dinner and local Pisco Sour or beer.
The next day our group boarded the boat across Lake Pehoe to board our shuttle bus ride drive back to Punta Arenas, a 5-hour drive. Here we flew to Puerto Montt and our transfer took us to a quaint Germany town in Chile called Puerto Varas, where we spend the next few days. Puerto Varas is considered in the lake district, located in the center of Chile between the north and south. The city is famous for its German traditions, its panoramic scenic location close to the mountains, lakes, forests and national parks. Puerto Varas is located on the shore of Llanquihue Lake, the second largest lake in Chile with distance views of Osorno Volcano and the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Calbuco and Mt. Tronador. To drive around the lake from Puerto Varas it’s a full day to navigate the roads, small towns and beautiful sights for pictures. Our hotel for the next few nights was the CABANA DEL LAGO, located a few blocks from the main square, shops and restaurants. Puerto Varas has a great selection of small boutique restaurants and shops for browsing and buying. Most shops will have
someone on staff who speaks English and dining is relaxing with good local dishes that feature fresh fish, meats and wine. Many of the large tributary lakes and rivers that feed into the Pacific ocean are the farming grounds for Chile Salmon and many restaurants feature fresh local Salmon.
Cabana Del Lago is a modest 3-star hotel with spacious clean rooms and helpful staff. The hotel has 157 guest rooms with views of Lake Llanquihue and the near-by Mountain range in the distance. The German influence and unique architecture style offers clean rooms free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and minibars. Breakfast is included in the room rate and the hotel offers dining options and a nice bar overlooking the Lake Llanquihue. The next morning we began our day with a Fly Fishing excursion to the Puelo River. Our guide meet us at the hotel early for a 2 – 3 hours drive to the river. As we approached the river we loaded into small out-board fishing boats for a 45 minute ride up the river to the Puelo River Lodge where we picked up our fly fishing gear (fishing rods, waders ,boots and local flys i.e streamers).
The Puelo River is a glacier fed river that tumble down from Argentina through Chile in route to the Pacific Ocean, the river picks up a dozen tributaries which provide habitat for trout and spawning beds for salmon. In the area closest to the sea, wild migratory rainbow trout, brown trout and Chinook salmon are abundant. The Posada del Puelo Lodge is located on the edge of the Puelo River which can accommodate approximately 17 fisherman in 5 fully equipped cabins. Guests stay in cozy double or triple cabins with private bathrooms. Each cabin has a private bathroom with showers, hot water, heating and 220V electricity. Accommodation at Posada Puelo is based on double or triple rooms or fully equipped private cabins, shared guides with the emphasis is on creating a quality experience. Comfortable lodging, great food and wine are part of the features of the lodge, it’s the attentive personnel and great fishing that makes this lodge a great experience. After gearing up and boarding guided outboard boat, we spent the next 3-hours boating up the river and fly fishing the various pools of the Puelo River for Rainbow, Brown and Chinook salmon. Our guide did not speak much English, but we were able to communicate regarding where to fish, the type of fly to use and the method for stripping the streamers through the pools. During the morning we were able to catch and release more than a half dozen fat 15 – 25 inch rainbows. Our guide took us back to the lodge for a fresh crab salad, fresh bread and wine lunch. The afternoon fishing took a turn in weather, the rain started to pour and the fishing became tougher. We were still able to catch and release another half dozen rainbows, but the fishing was much more difficult due to the pouring rain and visibility. We ended our day of fishing around 7pm and drove back to the hotel in Puerto Varas.
The next morning was sunny and bright, so we rented a car and decided to drive around Llanquihue Lake, which took us about 10-hours with all the stops, sightseeing and lunch. As we drove along the shores of Llanquihue lake we passed through the small town of Ensenada before we reach the turn off to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park and the road leading up to Los Santos Lake. We stopped along the banks of the Petrohue River and hiked up to Petrohue Falls, a short hike through the magnificent lush evergreen forests to the famous Petrohue falls. We continued up the road to the headwaters of the Petrohue river to Todos Los Santos Lake, a beautiful glacier lake with panorama views of the distance mountain range that boarders Chile and Argentina. Travelers interested in crossing the lake to the other side can rent a “water taxi” to the other side, it’s a 2 hour boat ride and there is small town called Peulla where you can walk to the Cascade de la Novia waterfall and overnight at the local Peulla Hotel Natura . We decided not to cross the lake and have lunch at the Saltos Del Petrohue hotel located on the shores of Todos Los Santos Lake. From there we continue our drive around the lake to the turn off to Osorno volcano road. The road winds it way up the volcanco to a local ski area with fantastic views of the surrounding valley. Our day ended back in Puerto Varas at our hotel with dinner at a local pizza restaurant that served local Chile craft beer and wines. This was the last day of our vacation with many days of fun adventures touring the country.
September is the beginning of Spring and considered shoulder season, it’s still cool, temperatures range in the mid 40 – 60’s in the lake district and in Patagonia mid 30’s – 50’s, good temperatures for hiking. The tourist season is not in full swing yet, so less crowds everywhere. In my opinion, it was an ideal time of the year to visit Chile, we had warm temperatures in Northern Desert and cool temperatures in the Southern end of the country. I like visiting countries in shoulder season with minimal crowds. The weather in September and October can be like anywhere in spring, you get some beautiful days and some days that might have rain our cooler temperatures. In Patagonia, it’s a good idea to bring a good rain coat and pants that are rain & wind resistance, warm under layers, a down jacket, hat, gloves and good hiking boots. If you are not planning on any long hikes in the Patagonia region, you still will want the rain coat and down jacket, the mornings are chilly and the afternoons warm up, so layers are a must. Peak season for traveling to Chile is December – March when its summer and Chile is at it’s peak tourist season.
If a trip to Chile has been on your “bucket list” with the expectation of seeing dramatic mountain ranges, Glaciers, Snow Capped Volcanoes, beautiful valleys, friend people, small towns, great wines and un-crowded small lodges than Chile is a great destination to visit. You like soft or advanced adventure, whether soft and easy walking or advance hiking this destination offers a variety of modes of transportation for everyone to see and experience the highlights of Chile. Let us help you arrange your next trip and help you with the right tour or package. Give us a call and let us help you with your next vacation.
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