A Travellerspoint blog

From Chile to Argentina Through the Lakes District

sunny 85 °F

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The Cruce de Lagos is a route through the Andes from Puerto Montt, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina by way of several mountain lakes connected by backcountry roads. We elected to take two days to make the crossing, spending a day and night at Peulla, a resort hotel built 80 years ago. The first crossing, at Lago Todos de los Santos, provides spectacular views of mountains and volcanoes, of which there are over 2,000 in Chile.

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These mountains were formed by glaciers that created long narrow lakes and valleys with steep sides. Peulla and Todos de los Santos are under 2,000 feet in elevation, so the temperature is warm and we are unusually lucky to have no rain. Amy the gaucha rides the horses again and the rest of us take a long kayak paddle up the Rio Negro where we see absolutely no other humans. It is difficult to believe that places like this still exist.

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As we enter Argentina, we climb higher into the mountains and the lakes become glacial - the water is the color of melted glacial ice. The landscape becomes more dramatic as the valleys and gorges become steeper and narrower. The forests have trees with shapes, textures and colors unlike those of North America.

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On the eastern side of the Andes, we enter the huge Nahuel Huapi National Park and sail across the lake of the same name to reach Bariloche, Argentina´s destination for mountain recreation. We hike and then continue on to the smaller town of San Martin de los Andes where the pace is much slower and we discover Quila Quina National Park and its more deserted beaches. Accessible by boat from the town (one of two boats on a lake that is the length of Lake Tahoe), we have found a mountain paradise.

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Posted by RobandAmy 11:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

Coastal Patagonia - Punta Arenas and Chiloe

sunny 60 °F

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Leaving the mountains of Patagonia, we travel south from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, a small city at the southern extreme of the South American continent. Located on the Straits of Magellan, it has a fascinating history as a maritime and commercial center. It was a very prosperous port during the Victorian era and up until the Panama Canal allowed ships to bypass this end of South America. The City has beautiful old buildings of the 19th century when the powerful Braun and Menéndez families competed to dominate the business world here.

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The city is laid out with broad tree-lined boulevards that anticipated a city that never really grew after the canal was opened. The cemetery shows the opulent lifestyle of the founding families and is just an amazing landscape to see. Later in its history, Punta Arenas was the center of planning for the expeditions of Shakleton and Scott. A fascinating (but windy -- trees grow at about 10 degrees from vertical) city to visit.

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Since we are so close to the antarctic, we can take a bus out to the penguin colony at Seno Otway to see a small colony of Magellanic Penguins. Another very windy walk, but there are about 30,000 penguins nesting in burrows along the coast here. We aren´t able to see quite this many, but we watch them coming in from feeding in the ocean and gathering in large groups at both the beach and at their burrows.

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From Punta Arenas we continue our visit to the Pacific side of Patagonia, flying into Puerto Montt. This is a larger and more contemporary city as it was largely destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1960. Just to the south of the city is the island of Chiloe where residents live a more relaxed lifestyle of gathering shellfish and seaweed. The coast has abundant wildlife and unspoiled coastline.

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Compared to other parts of Patagonia, we are delighted to discover (and of course eat) a much larger variety of seafood.

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Posted by RobandAmy 18:47 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Torres del Paine

all seasons in one day

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We have headed up to the national park for some hiking in the mountains and more extreme weather conditions. We have rented a 4-wheel drive vehicle as this is the best way to get to the park and to cover the large distances within it. We will be covering 400 miles of dirt roads as the pavement stops not far from Puerto Natales. The park has some very rugged mountain terrain interspersed with large lakes where there were once glaciers -- there are plenty of glaciers as well.

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We are very excited to see some guanacos alongside the road (remember last night's carpaccio) but soon they are everywhere, some just watching us drive by from the shoulder of the road. Every one we see, though, reminds us that we are in The Andes. Our first night is spent at a ranch with guest facilities. Because electricity is generated with a wood-fired generator, we only have that luxury available from 7-10.

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Our first hiking day starts out with snow on the ground and some cold temperatures. However, the weather seems to change hourly so we are treated to a variety of conditions. We finally experience the 60 mile per hour wind we have heard about and watch it whip clouds of spray from the surface of the lakes as it approaches. The park has a wealth of hiking trails that are supported by backcountry lodges and campgrounds. Even though we don't meet much vehicle traffic on the roads, there are plenty of people hiking here.

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We move on to a small hotel located on an island in the center of the park and spend the next day exploring the French Valley which can be accessed by a boat trip across a lake and a fairly lengthy hike into a valley surrounded by glaciers and enormous peaks. There just isn't enough time to see this place!

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We are treated to an amazing display of clouds as we leave, heading back to Puerto Natales.

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Posted by RobandAmy 10:43 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Southern Patagonia - Puerto Natales

semi-overcast 65 °F

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From the dry lands on the east of The Andes, we head west to Chile and the town of Puerto Natales. Until recently, Puerto Natales was a port town on the Pacific fjords of Chile and the center for shipping wool and lamb to Great Britain from the huge sheep and cattle ranches of Patagonia. Today this is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park which is the classic mountain destination in the southern part of the range. While we are on the shore, the town is surrounded by very large mountains and glaciers.

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During our two days in Puerto Natales, we take a boat up the Seno Ultima Esperanza, or Last Hope Sound, past soaring mountains and huge glaciers that nearly reach sea level (they reached it not too long ago). The water is so clouded by glacial dust that there is little wildlife, but we still see cormorants, sea lions and other smaller creatures.

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Our hotel here, Remota, was designed by a well-known architect from Santiago who was inspired by the local buildings and the landscape of Patagonia. He used local building materials and carved it into the site to fit the topography but still capture views and plenty of sunlight. This was an enjoyable place for an architect to stay.

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On our final day here we hiked through some of the local ranch lands. The forests are wind scoured and there are as many trees on the ground as there are standing upright. The weather changes many times each day from sunny to rainy and we occasionally get a taste of the legendary Patagonian winds. Not many people or signs of them while hiking. Fantastic place!

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At the end of each of our days here has been the asado (barbeque). In the Chilean part of Patagonia, that means lamb. We have also been able to have some seafood again (best was conger eel) and on our last night we were served guanaco carpaccio (guanaco is a wild llama) which has been the source of much commentary ever since.

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Posted by RobandAmy 06:34 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

El Calafate, Argentina

sunny

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We have arrived in Patagonia, beginning our visit in the south of Argentina. El Calafate is on the "Patagonian Steppes," a near desert on the eastern side of the Andes. There are incredibly vast open spaces, huge rivers and lakes and incredible views to the mountains when the weather cooperates.

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Because of the inclement weather on the western coast of this tip of the continent, the Andes are topped by the Patagonian Ice Sheet and huge glaciers spill down both sides. We visited the Perito Moreno Glaciers, one of the only (or maybe the only) glaciers that is growing. We put on crampons and took a hike on the ice..yes, Amy did it too.

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North of El Calafate is the town of El Chaltén, devoted very nearly exclusively to hiking and climbing. Dave, Larry and I took a day-long excursion into the hills for a taste of the backcountry and some inspiring vistas of the Fitz Roy ridge.

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Posted by RobandAmy 15:02 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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