Joan Johnson – Senior Travel Manager
Tour Operator: Bespoke Journeys by Sportstour – Virtuoso Onsite
Having spent only a week in Chile, I can recommend not only the country, not only Santiago, as part of a South American tour or a destination on its own.
A week is not long enough! Santiago is a modern city with excellent hotels, restaurants, shops, wine bars, museums and art galleries. We stayed at Leading Hotels of the World Singular Hotel, located in the historic and artistic area with many cafes and restaurants, and downtown at The Ritz Carlton Hotel.
We visited Santa Rita winery in the Maipo Valley, 45 minutes south of Santiago, with its classic historic hotel, Casa Real where one can spend a night or two. The Carmenere grape, resulting in a fabulous red wine, is relatively new in Chile. The original vines grown in France were wiped out by a fungus in the 1800s. In the 1990s in Chile, the European immigrant wine growers realised that their merlot had a distinctive taste, and after a DNA study was finished, the grape was recognised as the Carmenere which was thought to have died out in Europe.
A 4-hour flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas then a 4-hour transfer brought us to the Tierra Patagonia Hotel on Lake Sarmiento, in wild and remote Patagonia. Although a long day of travel (shorter in summer when the airport at Puerto Natales is open) we got to experience this wonderfully peaceful hotel (no TV or radio, but it does have internet) built into the landscape, and each of the 40 rooms has a magnificent view of the Torres del Paine. We walked to view Grey Glacier, Cuernos (Horns) del Paine, the Salto Grande Waterfall, and after ten years after my first hike up to the base of the Torres del Paine, I was able to easily do the 22kms again! Starting up the steep ascent to the Pass of the Winds (Patagonia is windy!) then through dense forests and the most challenging part of the track which crosses streams and winds up the loose rocks of the moraine to view the three incredible granite towers, the Torres.
Although high season in Patagonia is November to March, April is good too – fewer tourists and the red and yellow leaves of the lenga trees in autumn are spectacular against the lakes and snow-covered mountain backdrops. It’s worth noting that some hotels close at the end of April, and most are closed from the end of May till November.
There is much more to see in Chile – north of the country is the Atacarma Desert which some of our group visited, the southern coast with it’s many fjords and channels, Chiloe Island, even a self-drive of the Lake District from Puerto Montt to Temuco or vice versa.
Joan flew as a guest with Latam Airlines in premium economy, same economy seat but with lots of extra legroom.
TIP! On arrival into Chile, Australians have to pay a US$117 reciprocity fee and no torn or old notes are accepted, but credit cards can now be used.
If you would like more information or help from Joan creating your bespoke tailored South American tour please call 1300 130 464.