To kick off our adventure in the Patagonia area, we took a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. Chile might not be a wide country (it never exceeds 150 miles), but it sure is long (like 2,700 miles), and it takes forever to travel up or down. We decided not to spend the next few days in a bus and we booked a flight instead.
After a few stops on the plane, we arrived in Punta Arenas which sits on the Straits of Magellan. This waterway is very important for shipping, which of course made Joe excited.
There are the normal Patagonian activities to do around here (trekking, camping, being outdoors, freezing), but they were all pretty pricey. By this time, we had mostly gotten over the shock of Chilean prices. However, price gouging took on a whole new meaning once we got to Patagonia. At times, you felt like you were getting seriously ripped off.
In many of the countries in South America, foreigners pay more for entry in to tourist attractions or national parks. This never bothered us because the price difference was always small (like a dollar or two), and we were visiting countries where locals make significantly less than the tourists. In Patagonia, it was much harder to swallow paying 8 times the local rate when you’re in a country where the cost of living is equal to, if not more than, home. The high prices definitely limited our options, but we still got to see all the major sights.
We spent a few days wandering around Punta Arenas, checking out the waterfront, and making new friends from Germany. (Practice your German, and check out their blog here: http://www.hauabundnimmmichmit.jimdo.com!)
One of the funniest things we found in Punta Arenas was the workout/playground equipment right on the waterfront. It was like a free outdoor gym with an amazing view. Since then, we have seen this equipment all over Southern Chile.
Since we couldn’t spend all day working out, so we took a tour to Magdalena Island which is full of cute penguins. This island has around 70,000 penguins waddling around (don’t worry, we counted them all to double-check their numbers). To get to this island of cuddly creatures, you have to board an overpriced tourist ferry ($50 per person) with 300 friends, and sail the Straits of Magellan for about two hours.
Once you get to the island, the ship drives on to the beach, drops the ramp on the bow, and everyone starts to “explore” on the clearly marked path.
The island has a roped off path that you must stay on, which is great for the penguins as it gives them some room to roam without being trampled on by a tourist. Unfortunately, the large number of people on the small path gave it more of a Disneyland or zoo-like feeling. Luckily, there were heaps of these overdressed birds, and they were so cute that it made up for the insanely large herd of tourists.
And now for an educational moment: these are Magellanic penguins and they migrate to this island once a year to have babies. They choose this island because it is so far south and the sun stays out longer during the summer. This gives the new parents plenty of time hang out with their new kids. They dig holes to nest in and the parents alternate the responsibilities of fishing and taking care of the babies.
We showed up a little to late to see the babies, as they were already voted off the island and were returning to Brazil (or somewhere else warm) for the winter. Oddly enough, the penguins seem to leave in age order, with the youngest leaving first.
We enjoyed our time walking around the island and hanging out with the penguins. They were so cute, it was hard to stop yourself from crawling under the rope and giving them a little hug.
Some of these guys looked like they had fur coats on because they were still molting.
After seeing the penguins, we left Punta Arenas and jumped on a 12 hour bus heading south to “the bottom of the world,” Ushuaia, Argentina. We originally wanted to go to Ushuaia to score a last-minute deal on a cruise to Antarctica, but turns out it was a lot more money than we were ready to part with, especially after discovering how expensive Chile and Argentina were.
While in Ushuaia, the weather wasn’t the greatest, and everything was pricey. (Almost $20 each to get in to the prison/maritime museum? Seriously?) We started to develop a bitter taste in our mouth as it seemed that we were being ripped off at every turn. Prime example: trying to be cheap (and somewhat healthy), Kristen ordered a nearly $6 bowl of vegetable soup for lunch one day. We nearly fainted when this soup turned out to be nothing more than a bowl of hot water with a packet of instant soup mix dumped in. All we could do is reminisce about all fresh, delicious, and cheap soups we had in Bolivia.
As we were increasingly feeling down about Ushuaia, we knew we had to do something to snap us out of it. We decided to spend the money and visit Tierra del Fuego National Park and explore its beauty. We made a conscious decision to not gripe about the expense: $20 for the 20 minute bus ride to/from the park and $20 each for entrance (locals pay less than $3), and just enjoy it.
Joe did try getting the local rate. When the park officials asked where we were from, Joe, in his best Spanish, said, “Aqui.” Not sure what gave us away, but we had to pay the full amount.
This park was beautiful and we spent the day hiking. Luckily the weather held out for our hike, and we scored with a day of no rain and minimal wind, definitely not the norm in this area.
It was a nice day, even if it was a bit cold, but what else can you expect when you are at the bottom of the world?
The clouds held out long enough for us to get some good pictures of the mountains around the park.
There was really not too much to do in the Ushuaia area expect book expensive tours, and although we were tempted by the “Dinner with the Beavers” tour (random!), we passed on all other excursions.
During our time there, the weather was not the best and it even snowed a little on us. Luckily, Joe picked up some new foul weather gear.
Ushuaia is in a beautiful area and we enjoyed checking out the Beagle Channel and surrounding mountains, but we decided it was time to start moving north (for the first time this trip!), and hopefully find some better weather.
We booked another bus and started our 18 hour trip to El Calafate, to visit the Los Glaciares National Park.
The biggest highlight in this area is visiting the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier.
This was also a pricey event ($3o for the bus to/from; and $20 for entrance), but we both felt that this was well worth it. This glacier is huge and you are able to get really close to all the action. There are walkways all around the leading edge of this glacier that offer many amazing, and slightly different, viewpoints.
The face of this glacier was massive as it is around 200 feet high. We sat here for hours just watching the glacier calving into the water. You could almost hear everyone praying for a massive crash.
This glacier would make some of the most amazing noises as it slowly made its way into the water. You had to sit and stare at the ice closely because by the time you heard the crack, it was already too late. We were lucky and patient, and we had a large section come down right in front of us.
It is somewhat hard to tell by this photo just how much ice fell, but if you look at the trees you start to get some prospective.
We had great weather for viewing the glacier and witnessed many giant pieces of ice fall. This glacier is one of only a few in the Patagonia area that is advancing.
Of course, a week after we were there, this glacier was all over the news as the huge section dividing the lake came crumbling down (an event that occurs approximately once every four years).
From El Calafate we took a four-hour bus ride to El Chalten, one of the hiking capitals of Patagonia. We really enjoyed this area because the park was free and you could do all sorts of day hikes from your hostel. This was the first time in Patagonia where we were able to stay under budget and we didn’t feel like we were getting nickeled and dimed at every turn.
Turns out we were VERY lucky with weather during our time in El Chalten. According to the forecast there was only one day with blue skies and no wind that week, and that was the day we planned to hike.
We took two hikes in order to take advantage of the great weather, one to Los Torres and the other to a Fitz Roy viewpoint.
For our hike to Los Torres, the weather was still lifting, but the lookout was incredible.
The second hike we took was to a lookout of the Fitz Roy mountain, one of the more famous mountains in Patagonia. We had unbelievable weather and the only cloud in the sky was made by a plane flying by.
This mountain range might look familiar if you own any Patagonia clothing.
We continued on our hike to a lookout over a lake. The weather held out for the whole day and we lounged on the shore side for quite some time.
To round off our tour of the famous sites in Patagonia, we headed back to Chile to visit the super famous Torres del Paine National Park. Once again, the scenery was gorgeous and it was nice to visit, even if it was full of “trekkers” loaded down with everything REI has to offer.
We decided to take a bus in for the day from Puerto Natales and hike to the base of Torres. This side of the park was not damaged by the recent fires, unlike the west side. It was a long 8 hour hike round-trip to the lake, but again we scored with great weather and mostly clear skies, although it was much chillier.
We had a great time visiting Patagonia but we needed to keep moving. This area is just too expensive and we have to make our money last.
Time to board a ferry and sail up the Chilean Fjordes. Yeah, like that sounds cheap.