December, 2012

 

 

I was in Chile and Argentina (and, briefly, Bolivia) from October 23 to December 15. 54 days. Prior to leaving, I asked a bunch of folks for advice, which I've compiled into a digest at the end. In anticipation of others asking me for advice, I'm writing this, while memories are more likely to reflect reality and less likely to reflect a narrative I consciously and unconsciously construct from memories over time.

 

I had a ticket in and a ticket out, no plans other than a few speaking engagements in the first week, which was the excuse for the trip. Forces in my life lined up to allow for a long trip, so, yes. You could also say that I lined up the forces in my life so that I could take a long trip. Of course long is relative; I ran into folks who were traveling for a year or forever. But by the end of eight weeks I was ready for home, which is one of the great benefits of taking a long trip, how it brightens the way you feel about your routine.

 

I reviewed a similar document I wrote about my trip to India, and what struck me was how struck I was, while in India, by India. That wasn't the case in Argentina and especially in Chile, which are quite Western. The pleasure of traveling in Chile and Argentina for me was spending a lot of time outside in extraordinary natural beauty, the distance from my usual life and perspective that distance offers, and hanging out with locals and fellow travelers. I traveled alone throughout, though, unlike in India, I was pretty social.

 

I brought a laptop and my iphone. Wifi is prevalent, though connection speeds are variable. I didn't use my phone for voice very often, but when you need to make a call, it sure is nice to have. I got a travel package from AT&T for like $150 and that took care of the roaming voice and data. For data, I kept the cellular data off unless I needed it, when I would turn it on, do what I had to do, then turn it off. Of course the iphone can use wifi for free. I brought a camera but never used it, the iphone camera is good and the panorama feature is awesome, and, most importantly, it's already in your pocket. I speak very little Spanish, and recommend a Spanish dictionary that you can either keep in your pocket or, better, on your phone. I used the Ultralingua product which was pretty good, 20 bucks. Google Translate is free but only works with an internet connection, so it's not a good option to rely on. I brought the Lonely Planet Chile book, and bought the Kindle edition of both Lonely Planet Argentina and Bolivia, which were stored on my iphone. It is really great to have the guides as a reference on your phone, again, because it's already in your pocket. But because, at least on the iphone, so few words fit on each page, it's not great for browsing. I ended up buying the paper Argentina book when I decided that I was going to head that direction and had no idea where to go or what to do in that country. If you already have a firm itinerary, you don't need to carry the book, just get the Kindle editions. The recommendations you find online on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet Thorntree are often superior to what's in the books.

 

I didn't get any vaccines before I left, you can consider typhoid but it's not mandatory. I took rifaxamin 200 mg twice per day, as in India, until I got to Buenos Aires. Unlike India, I don't think it was needed. I didn't encounter many travelers having GI problems. A visa is required for Bolivia that you do better to arrange in advance, but this can also be done in the country.

 

I flew from new york to Santiago, then connected to La Serena and the beach town of Coquimbo, where I had a conference. I stayed at a resort hotel/casino. I didn't do much exploring beyond a couple of runs along the beach, but there doesn't seem to be much reason to go to La Serena; if you want beach in northern Chile, check out Arica and Iquique (I'm told).

 

I flew back to Santiago and stayed at lovely Hostel Caracol in the Bellavista neighborhood. I was happy with Bellavista - it's the most eclectic area of the city I think, and very close to most of the central attractions, and also features a large hill/park that is great for running. Tons of bars, too many actually, so if you're looking for quiet, not a good choice. The food in Santiago, especially the street food, was a disappointment. Unlike, say, northern europeans, who can be excused for their unappealing cuisine, Chileans have access to whatever ingredients they want, they just seem to not know how to use them. Moreover, Chileans don't appear that interested in food, it's a live to eat vs. eat to live thing. There are plenty of good restaurants in Santiago (I recommend the upscale La Mar, in the upscale western part of town, for Peruvian and Etniko, on the trendy side, for Sushi), but the only low-key local place I was impressed with was Fuente Alemana, for traditional sandwiches, as much for the atmosphere as the sandwiches. I spent a while in Santiago, I was doing some work-related stuff, and met a few people, and had a good time, but the city itself–safe, clean, attractive–is uninspiring, despite being in the foothills of the Andes.

 

I headed north to the Atacama desert. I flew to Calama and spent a night there, which is one more night than most travelers. There is a massive copper mine nearby that I wanted to tour but didn't for time. Because there are few tourists there, you feel at least like you're in an authentic working class town, I appreciated that. But I didn't appreciate it that much and you're probably better off to arrange to move on to San Pedro immediately. I would have myself, but booked a tour from San Pedro on a holiday weekend and after 5 hours on the phone, with my horrible Spanish, and countless emails, I could find no beds in the city, nothing. That was very frustrating but the lady from Cordillera Traveller, Mijal, god bless her, found me a bed and I took the quick bus ride from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama the next day.  San Pedro is a tourist town in the desert. It's cool for a brief stay. You step off the bus into infinite sun and dust, then are greeted with the sights and sounds of all backpacker meccas. I walked past a hundred hostels with completo signs hanging outside until I found Hostal de la Musica, run by a charming couple. He speaks Spanish and a little English, she speaks French and a little Spanish. It was great to speak French with her, though I am a poor French speaker as well, I can at least string words together in that language. She was explaining to me my bed situation and kept using a word that sounded like tante, which I didn't understand, until she led me to my quarters, it was a tent. Beggars cannot be choosers. The next day I rented a bicycle and rode out to Valle de la Luna. I had booked a 3-day tour of the desert in Bolivia with Cordillera, which left the following morning.

 

The San Pedro to Uyuni trek through the desert by Land Cruiser is one of the crucial activities in South America for good reason. It is a landscape from another planet. Your experience will depend on your driver/guide and your group, whom you are going to be in very close quarters with for three days, so there is a luck of the draw component, but everyone I spoke to was similarly grateful that they got to see this intensely remote and beautiful region. Our driver did not speak English, but he was able to explain things here and there, and of course what you are beholding speaks for itself. Warning: if you do this, know that the first night you spend at five thousand meters elevation. That's over 16,000 feet, and everyone gets a little sick. I got very sick. You do not want have the night I had, so either make sure you're acclimatized or take your diamox starting a couple of days before. I used Cordillera Traveller, they are quite well organized, and the lady who manages the reservations, Mijal, is the bomb, as I mentioned.

 

After the tour I spent a night in Uyuni at the fabulous Petite Port hotel, run by a terrific French guy named Christophe. Uyuni is exactly the desert outpost town you would expect given its location, there's not a whole lot to do other than contemplate and discuss the terrain you just traversed. I flew from Uyuni to La Paz the next morning. The best thing that happened to me in La Paz was the taxi drive from the airport, an entirely different way to be shocked and amazed by geography. My tourist apartment was also really great, unfortunately I had another round of altitude sickness that made me miserable, and other than a difficult walk around the principle avenues, I was too weak to do much of anything. I flew back to Santiago the next day.

 

I stayed in Santiago a few more days doing who knows what, probably just thrilled to be closer to sea level, then flew to Temuco and immediately took the quick bus ride to Puc—n, a touristy town in the midst of lakes, rivers, mountains, and volcanoes. I stayed at Hostal La Bicicleta, which was terrific, run by a guy named Jose who is impossibly chilled out and easy to get along with, perhaps because he lives there with his gorgeous wife, kids, and superb dog. The town was relatively quiet in anticipation of what is apparently a mad rush of tourists in January and February. There is a nice black sand lake beach in Puc—n, and I did a couple of good runs and a solid bicycle ride but the main attraction is the climb to the top of the active volcano that looms menacingly (is there anything that can be done menacingly other than loom?) over the town, Volcan Villarica. It's a long, steep hike through snow, but you are rewarded with a tremendous view from the top, and the stunning, massive crater with steam and lava and wow. After taking this in, you sled down, incredible fun. I stuck around for five nights in Puc—n, it's hard to leave that town for some reason. My favorite restaurant in Puc—n was the vegetarian cafe at Hosteria ÁŽcole!. There's a dive-y place run by an American guy named Rob called Latitude 39 that I also liked, it's kind of an expat hangout, and he knows how to make dessert, take advantage of this.

 

I took the bus from Puc—n to Puerto Montt and then another bus (and ferry) to the island of ChiloŽ and its largest city, Castro. ChiloŽ feels different than the rest of Chile, it has a strongly indigenous vibe, and a maritime culture. One welcome consequence of this is a bit, just a bit, of an emphasis on food. I stayed at the Palafito Hostel, which was nice, with impressive views. I rented a bicycle from Juan Pablo, who runs the fabulous tour agency ChiloŽtnico–he arranged a one way for me, so I could spend a number of hours riding and then he picked me up at the national park, about 40K away. I moved on to the other major city on ChiloŽ island, Ancud. I actually preferred Ancud; it's a more compact city that I had an easy time getting into, with a mildly industrial atmosphere, and tons of panaderias, and teenagers in school uniforms wandering around all afternoon looking for trouble. I stayed in the new 13 Lunas Hostel, run by a young guy who learned english while staying with an older couple in small town Oklahoma, poor son of a bitch. My big activity was a long, difficult bike ride to see the penguins at Punihuil. The bike ride was memorable, the penguins, not as much. Retro's Pub is more of a restaurant - they serve a really delicious pineapple licuado and are open late. And have wifi.

 

I wasn't sure where to go from ChiloŽ, torn between heading further south into the more popular parts of Chilean Patagonia and possibly even to the southern tip of the continent at Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, vs. heading east into Argentina. In times of uncertainty, I rely on rules of thumb, and the applicable rule of thumb in this case stipulates that, when traveling and faced with a choice between itineraries that will have you going to more destinations or fewer, choose fewer and spend longer at each destination.  So into Argentina, which would have been easy except that I decided I wanted to check out the mythical Futaleufœ river, at the town of the same name. Futaleufœ is on the Argentina border in between where I was and where I was going, but much easier to access from Argentina. The only bus route from Chile is an all day affair through Puerto Montt, north into Argentina, then south through Bariloche, which is the route I was planning to take up, and I hate backtracking. There is a ferry that leaves from the southern ChiloŽ town of Quell—n and 10 hours later arrives in ChaitŽn, from where you can take a 4 hour collectivo ride down a dirt road to Futa. I tried to arrange this with a couple of agencies but no one could get in contact with the ferry company, apparently they only answer their phones occasionally, so I gave up and booked a chartered flight from Puerto Montt to ChaitŽn.

 

It was a good choice. The flight, through Pewen Air Services is not expensive, brief (though stomach-churning, on a 7-seater plane), and awesome, over the beautifully scalloped coast and the rim of the Andes range. Apparently during the summer you can charter a flight from Puerto Montt directly to Futaleufœ - if that's an option, do it and prepare for what is apparently a stunning trip just barely over the top of massive snow-capped mountains, into the hidden village below.

 

I arrived at a gravel airstrip outside of ChaitŽn in a mid-day drizzle. The pilot handed me my checked luggage as I exited the plane. There was no airport, just a little hut there, and a dirt road, presumably leading to town. I knocked on the door and a middle-aged indigenous lady with two long braids of hair answered. I told her I was trying to get to Futaleufœ and she stared at me with a look that said, what the fuck am I supposed to do about that? I then asked her where I could get a bus or taxi into ChaitŽn and she stared at me a few moments longer and then shook her head. At that point I realized what was going on here and thanked her for her time. Everyone was hopping into pickup trucks and driving off, and I was about to be alone with the indigenous lady at this airstrip. I flagged down one of these vehicles and they graciously agreed to take me into town. I got the sense that everyone who goes to ChaitŽn goes for a reason, no one really lives there or hangs out there. These guys were professional divers, one of them tried to explain to me what they were going to be doing in the area but I couldn't understand. We drove 20 minutes into town, and it's a bleak, cold, rainy, ghost town on the coast. We pull up to a Chilean Navy office, which is obviously where they have their business. I thank them and ask the Navy guy behind the desk where the bus station is, and off I go in the rain. There is no one in the town. Eventually I find the bus station and it's just a house, no one inside. I sit on a bench, fish out my cold weather gear, a little confused as to my next step. Fortunately a few minutes later, a 30 year old van pulls up and out pops a family of four, including a guy named Nicolas who speaks perfect English.

 

Nicolas is a Canadian who has lived in ChaitŽn for 20 years, married a local, has two kids. He tells me that the bus to Futa leaves in a few hours and he can sell me a ticket but is much more interested in describing the efforts of the community to rebuild the city after it was wiped out by a surprise volcano eruption a few years ago. Apparently the government decided that it wasn't worth it, that the small population should go somewhere else. But the good people of ChaitŽn liked their town and decided to reestablish it themselves, without government assistance. No electricity, no water, no waste disposal, no mail, no internet, no infrastructure, no nothing. It took them five years, but the government relented and now they're getting some services. Would I like to run some errands with him? Sure.

 

A large bus showed up from Puerto Montt and dropped off a bunch of people, including two American river rafting guides who had been hired for the summer going to Futaleufœ. Half a dozen of us piled into the collectivo and a few hours later we pulled into Futa, after dark, it was cold, and the town seemed closed. Not abandoned, like ChaitŽn, but asleep. Turns out that Futaleufœ is a very quiet little place for 9 months of the year, then a river sports jubilee for 3 months, but I arrived on November 21, a few weeks early for the celebration. With help from the good folks at Patagonia Elements, I made my way to Hostal Las Natalias, a gorgeous huge house just built by an American kayaker, Nate. The hostel wasn't open yet but he agreed to take me in, and when I arrived, cold and tired, I felt like I had walked into an aprs-ski. A small group of pro kayakers, Nate's friends, were gathered around the wood-burning furnace drinking beer and in the kitchen making pizza. The topic of conversation was kayaking, and not much else, but I was very happy to be there. The next day it became clear what Futaleufœ is all about. The river is everything, and because river sports are logistically heavy, almost everyone arranges expeditions (usually rafting) with companies that are scattered around the outskirts of town. I had made no such arrangements, and have little river experience, and none of the companies were doing anything anyway, I was too early and the Futa was too high/dangerous, the season opens in mid-December. So I was going to have to move on, but I was able to go for a great run along the big river and arrange a terrific half-day trip down one of the nearby smaller rivers in an inflatable kayak for the following day, with the husband-wife team at Patagonia Elements. That afternoon Nate invited me to thanksgiving dinner with the few Americans who live there and some of their friends. A terrific group of people and a memorable evening.

 

I took an early evening bus to Esquel, across the border into Argentina. I was really ready to get over the border and start heading north into warmer climes, more gregarious locals, and better food. I only spent about 12 hours in Esquel but that was long enough for two delicious steaks. I stayed at Casa Del Pueblo, a Hosteling International place which is a little run down but a very welcoming backpacker destination. The following morning I took the 2 hour bus to El Bos—n, a pretty cool hippy town cuddling snow-capped mountains on all sides. The weather in El Bos—n was distinctly outstanding, cloudless and warm and dry, with a cool mountain breeze every few minutes, I could not bear to be inside. The huge fair, held three days per week and most active on Saturday, is the best I encountered, mostly because of the terrific natural foods vendors. The highlight was a very strenuous combination bicycle/hike/climb to the top of Cerro Piltriquitron. Though I was quite inured to natural beauty at this point, the view was astounding.  I stayed at the large, new, mostly vacant hostel Refugio Patagonico, which was fine. Do not miss the ice cream at Juajua.

 

Another quick bus ride gets you to the very touristy, relatively large city of Bariloche. Bariloche is set on a large, steep hill that ends at a large, immaculate lake, hemmed in by, what else, gorgeous snowy mountains. It is a premier ski destination, and has lots of high end hotels in and especially around town. There are a number of great hikes and bicycle rides and car/bus excursions and a very well-developed infrastructure, lots to do (though renting a motorcycle was impossible), lots of eateries and bars - it's easy to spend time here if you don't mind the package tourists. Inspired by my experience in Futaleufœ, I took two days of river kayak lessons with Extremo Sur and did a very long run around the cucuito chico, which is probably better done by bicycle. I stayed in Hostel Pudu, which was great. The vegetarian restaurant Covita was my favorite.

 

I flew from Bariloche to my final stop, Buenos Aires. I had heard so many good things that I decided to rent an apartment on airbnb in the Palermo Soho neighborhood for two weeks. After a month roaming about obscenely beautiful geography, I was elated to see billboards and skyscrapers and a million people frolicking in the streets. I was in BA from Dec 1-15 and during that time it rained like crazy for two days, and was blazing sunny and warm for the other 13. I think part of the reason that everyone in the city is in such a good mood is that they get so much sun.

 

Disappointed in the cuisine of Argentina and especially Chile, I was excited to have lots of good food options in the big city. My favorite parrilla, or steakhouse, was Tito's in Las Ca–itas. I spent a lot of time at Ë Manger, a deli on the corner of Charcas and Malabia. But the restaurant options are endless, and the food is usually good. Usually not great, but good. Great food can be found at puertas cerradas or closed door dinners, basically a dinner party you pay for. These are often run by expats, for tourists. Depending on the setup (one table vs more restaurant style smaller tables) this is also a great way to meet fellow travelers. I ate at Colectivo Felix, which was excellent, and I have good reason to think that Jueves Ala Mesa is as well. I also recommend checking out a parrilla libre, which is buffet style, usually family-oriented low key restaurant great for sampling a variety of dishes without knowing a lot of spanish. The desserts of interest are helados and alfajores. Helado is gourmet ice cream, served up until midnight at heladerias all over town. The classic alfajor is two cookies surrounding a dulce de leche center, but they come in infinite varieties and if you're smart you'll try to sample as many types as possible.

 

I think Palermo Soho is the neighborhood of choice for visitors. San Telmo is more central and also a good choice, but I wouldn't stay in the too-congested Microcentro or the sterile Puerto Madero neighborhoods. The subway is excellent and easy, busses are a little tougher to figure out but most of them have a list of destinations painted on them. I got their metrocard equivalent, called a SUBE card, which probably isn't worth it for most visitors. Taxis are plentiful but, like most everything else, not particularly inexpensive, and it is impressive how predictably taxi drivers will try to fuck you. As usual, determine the price before you get in or whether the meter will be used, and really try to have small bills to pay with–they will always, always pretend not to have change, and they love to pretend you didn't just give them that 100 peso bill you just gave them. If you don't know where you're going, and unless you've been in the city for more than a few days you probably won't, consider ponying up a little cellular data cash to follow your route on google maps or something similar. Note that once the map is loaded, you can turn data off as you don't need data for GPS tracking.

 

Petty crime is prevalent in Buenos Aires and you should be very mindful of pickpockets in congested areas like the subway; consider a money belt or the like.  I personally met several travelers who were victims of the mustard scam, where an old lady squirts mustard on you then helpfully points out that you've been pooped on by a bird and starts wiping you off, next thing you know your bag is gone.

 

I did both the 11am and 5pm Buenos Aires Free Tour walking tours, and recommend them. I visited the cemetery and followed the 25-tomb iphone-based Endless Mile tour which I thought was great. I joined Always Gym near the corner of Guatemala and Gurruchaga  paid US$40 for 2 weeks, great facility. I didn't do any tango or see a soccer game, but I did see Madonna at the largest stadium on the continent.

 

I had to fly back to Santiago to catch my return flight to new york. I am pleased to report that two weeks in the city was enough to renew amazement at the spectacle of passing over the Andes.

 

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Felipe

Even coming from Canada, the South (Lake district and Patagonia) will be impressive and particularly beautiful/peaceful that time of the year. The problem is that you need at least a week to make the trip worthy. If you can/want to do that, places you should visit are: Pucon, Puerto Varas and Torres del Paine. Treks, Kayak, active volcano hikes, that sort of stuff you want to do in the south. My second rec is the Northern part of Chile. I would fly from La Serena to Calama and from there go to San Pedro de Atacama, town in the middle of the Atacama Desert. Pretty unique town to visit - I promise you will love it. One great additional trip from San Pedro, is a 3-day 4 x 4 truck tour across the Chilean/Bolivian altiplano towards the Uyuni salt flat (actually in Bolivia). You can do it as a roundtrip from San Pedro. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to. You could reasonably do a trip to the north in a week. In Atacama, check out Miscanti and Meniques lakes...unbelievable.

 

Santiago recommendations: Infante 51 (also near in Providencia): classy, one of the few restaurants I'm really proud of in Santiago... Fish at its best. This place is unique because has fish that no other restaurant or hotel gets. Get early, like 7-8pm. îpera catedral- in downtown barrio Lastarria, near Bellas Artes...Liguria- in Providencia. Fuente Alemana - simply a must. Parque Huequehue: Run up like 2 -3 hours there are three lakes on top of that park. Refugio Tinquilco is the name, owner is Patricio Lanfranco - the guy cooks for you. Is an awesome lodge run only by him.

 

Alejandro

Hello RubŽn, this is Alejandro a good friend of Mistaya, i am from Chile but i live in Barcelona. Any way i want to send you name of places you should see in Chile. I dont know where you flying to probably Santiago thats were i am from. In Santiago there is a nice aea "Bellavista" full of nice restorants and bars, nice to walk around day and specially night time, another cool ‡rea with nice cafŽs is Barrio" Las Tarrias",very close to museo de bellas artes,also in the same ‡rea "Santa lucia hill" across from santa lucia you have a beautiful mercat of artesan’a. Of course there is alot of monuments and biulding to visit in Santiago and just an hour and half from Santiago you have really nice city by the beach like Valpara’so, vi–a del mar, Horc—n. If you travel north you must go to San Perdo de Atacama is a magical place, and if you go south, Chiloe, Puerto Montt (lago de todos los santos) Puerto Varas (lots of nice volcaneos) and then all the way south you have beautiful Patagonia (Torres del Paine). And if you have lots of time and money try to go to Easter Irland (la isla de Pascua). there is so many things places to see i am just giving you some of the most beautiful places that i know. In Santiago you can try to eat one day at "La Vega" frut and vegi marcket really cool. Close to La Vega there is a crazy cool place to have a tipical drink (terremoto) call "La Piojera".

 

Danielle

1. Patagonia. Spectacular. It's really far, and very expensive (think Arctic - hard to get supplies there, and not a ton of choice, so food, lodging, treks, etc are costly). But if you're heading south anyway while you're in Chile, it's extremely impressive. The scenery is arresting. The glaciers are incredible. The weather is not great most of the time so dress appropriately (cold and windy - you need layers, hat, gloves, a good windbreaker or rain coat).  We went to El Calafate, which is where you can see some of the most amazing glaciers. There are penguin colonies around there too, I can't remember where. But may be worth it if you have time/money. I think they are in Ushuia or Torres del Paine or Tierra del Fuego. We did some amazing kayaking and hiking in El Chalten. A really small town, very cute. Tons of incredible hikes, some easy and some hard. Most are very long, most of a day. You'd probably have an easy time hooking up with people at hostels to go with. We ended up spending almost a week there 'cause at times you had to wait a few days for good weather in order to enjoy some of the hikes. The Fitz Roy peaks are incredible. There are probably some equally spectacular places on the Chile side. But El Chalten is hikers' heaven. Unless you have tons of time, I would suggest flying south. You can organize a flight while you're there. On the Argentina side, there really isn't much to see/do between the south and civilization up north/central.There are some beautiful ranches where you can probably have an amazing time, but they are expensive. I think the bus ride takes 2 days from BA. Although the buses in Argentina are luxurious, I wouldn't want to spend that much time on a bus. 

 

2. Buenos Aires. If you're a city person, this is one of the best cities in the world in my opinion. CafŽ culture of Rome, architecture of Paris, big city feel of New York. Plenty to do - great markets, antiques, Soho-ish neighbourhoods, art galleries, restaurants, etc, etc, etc. 

 

3. Bariloche. A little touristy, but worth it. Very quaint town. Feels a bit like Switzerland. Mountains, lakes, etc. Big ski town in the winter. Great food (they are famous for their chocolate). Public buses make it pretty easy to get around. Most of the good stuff is out of the town though. There is an area/circuit called the 7 lakes or something like that. It's absolutely stunning. We ended up taking a tour, 'cause neither of us drives a manual car, and the rentals are only manual. If you could rent a motorbike, that would definitely be the way to do it. There are lots of little towns around there where you could probably find an awesome spot to stay. We stayed in Bariloche, because of convenience. Tons of activities if you're into that (biking, hiking, kayaking, etc, etc, etc). We stayed at a really great hostel just out of the central part of town. Took buses everywhere. 

 

4. Mendoza. Wine, wine, wine. And amazing food. If you're into renting a bike and visiting a bunch of famous and not-so-famous wineries, then you should go here. Fairly similar scenery to a lot of other wine regions, not particularly incredible, but very nice. It's a nice place to go and relax for a few days, pamper yourself a bit with some excellent meals. Try to stay at a place with a pool - it's hot there. I'm sure there are similar places on the Chile side. 

 

5. Northern Argentina. Other than the scenery and experience of Patagonia, Northern Argentina is by far the most interesting and rewarding region of the country. Most of the country is extremely scenic, and very European. The north, by contrast, is much more traditional, indigenous, rugged. Salta is a big town/small city. Colonial architecture, very interesting and beautiful. Big plazas where you can sit and eat and watch the world go by. Jujuy is apparently the most beautiful place around. I can't actually remember if we went there, or were just told to go there. But whoever told us to go there (I think it was an Argentinian we met somewhere along the way) said it was by far his favourite place in Argentina.

 

6. Atacama desert, salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) We did a tour of the salt flats from Bolivia. You end up near the Atacama desert, right on the border with Chile. So if you're in northern Chile, DEFINITELY try to organize a tour. It was a 3 or 4 day tour, SPECTACULAR. Just do it if you can. I can't stress this enough. Moonscape volcanoes, lakes with flamingoes, bright white salt flats as far as the eye can see, remote indigenous towns, bubbling sulphur hot springs of all colours. You travel around in a 4x4, and hopefully you are stuck with people you like. If possible, try to hook up with people and sign up for a tour together, otherwise there is a chance you could be stuck in a jeep for 3 days with annoying people. We ended up with this guy Allan Karl, whose blog you need to check out: http://www.worldrider.com/blog/archives/2006/11/to_tour_by_jeep_1.php  He has been riding around the world on his motorcycle for years, photography equipment in tow. His photos of the slat flats, and South America in general are exquisite.

 

Elliott

the south is basically Patagonia, in both Chile and Argentina. yes, very outdoors focused, where i did NOLS. i was meaning to recommend Isla de Chiloe to you, halfway down. it's off the coast of a town on the mainland called Puerto Montt, really attractive little rundown port town full colorful wood houses. there's a ferry there you can take to Chiloe. I never went there and I regret it. Supposed to be very unique culture and bucolic. But if you want the young Euro backpacker scene, head straight to the north, to Atacama. the desert. San Pedro de Atacama is the town. all the young euro backpackers stop there on the way north to Machu Pichu in Peru. also, warm.

 

Orli

Hi! It's hard to believe that I was there almost 12 years ago...so I'm sure some of the places I went to that were less-traveled are now more touristy...but Patagonia is incredible, particularly Torres Del Paine national park in Chile (if you like backpacking). You can trek from hut to hut and sleep in the cabins if you don't want to bring your own tent (I think you need to make reservations for that - when I did it I just camped though). There is a long hike called the O circuit that takes a while to do, and a shorter one called the "W" which you can do in 3-4 days if you're very fit or 5-6 days if you hike more slowly. The scenery is spectacular. However, it's spring now in Chile so will still be cold there, especially in the South - you should aim to go to Patagonia in the warmer months, like December. And if he is into poetry, Pablo Neruda's houses are pretty cool to visit - there are three of them, the most amazing is in Isla Negra on the beach, but if he's going to spend any time in Santiago the one there is small but cool too. In terms of cities, Buenos Aires is a much bigger and more cosmopolitan city than Santiago, so if he's going to spend much city time he would probably enjoy B.A. more. I love Santiago, but I think it's much more interesting if you live there for a while than if you just travel through as a tourist. At the time when I traveled through Chile many years ago I found the Lonely Planet guide extremely helpful.

 

Carolyn

BUENOS AIRES: Go to La Brigatta for a steak dinner. It's in San Telmo, so you can go hit various bars there after dinner, it's quite a happening night-time scene. Get the lomo (that's one of the choice cuts of beef). {note - I had several recommendations for this restaurant from locals as well, I didn't go but should have} Go to La Catedral to watch locals tango in a really neat club. Very authentic experience if you ask me. Avoid the tango + dinner tourist traps. Go here instead. Recoletta Cemetary, of course. It's the biggest tourist attraction, but is really very cool. We did a half-day bike tour through La Boca, San Telmo and Porto Madera. It was a fun way to see the city. Your hotel can probably hook this up for you, or you can book in advance. See a soccer game (the Boca Juniors are the local team) if they're playing while you're there! Spend a couple of hours relaxing at the extremely lovely MALBA (modern art) museum. Then get a coffee in the cafe after seeing great art. I have been there twice to see 2 different exhibits and both have been very memorable. It's not overwhelming like the MoMA here.

 

IGUAZU FALLS: You will spend a lovely day walking around the falls - take the boat ride that goes under the falls as well, I didn't do it but heard it's really fun. Take the jungle walk that starts near the visitors center and goes for about 4k to some sort of oasis-like pond. That's where I saw monkeys. It was an easy trail with nobody on it and was a welcomed change-up after spending a day at the falls. 

 

Michael

consider going to Salta as well and the lake district. in mendoza we did a wine tour, --it is a must do. Also a hike into the mountains around aconcogua is supposed to be awesome. If you go to igauzu don't stay where we stayed--it was a dump, the other hotels were fine. 2 days max there. do the speed boat under the waterfall. also consider going to punta del este, but book far in advance, everything books up very fast and we missed out. If you go to el calafate, we did a horse tour (cabalgata) which was great, and the glacier hiking tours which was also fun.  If we had time you should also go to fitzroy. For Chile, it has been a while but I did: Santiago but buenos aries was more fun Torres del paine--we did a 10 day trek around the mountains which was amazing, but you can do some smaller hikes.

 

Nabeel

Reubs at this point I've traveled 85+ countries but recall fondly one of my fav trips was Chile (specifically the road trip via land rover from San Pedro Atacama, Chile to Salar de Uyuni BoliviaÉ.n.b.  donÕt fucking skip out on this if you only take one piece of advice from this email).  Do yourself a huge favor get out of Santiago asap fly to Calama and then bus it to San pedro.  You destination from Calama (don't linger there)  will be san Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama desert is one of the driest place on earth with un-worldly vistas that recall a lunar landscape ( you will base yourself in san pedro for a few days doing a few daytrips to places  near san pedro like the valle de luna and the antiplano lakes).  The daytrips you can do from san pedro are cool but  the real fun begins once you leave san pedro on a 4 day road trip through the andes to salar de uyuni, bolivia.  Reubs trust me this is surreal and ranks up there in terms of amazing trips I've been fortunate to have experienced.  The whole trip to salar de uyuni and back takes about 4 to 5 days via a landrover tour you can organize for a very affordable price once you are in san pedro. Its amazing the vistas you see driving through the andes and 4-5000 meter passes.  (take Diamox to avoid altitude sickness) Once you get to salar de uyuni  the scenery is amazing. Google image it if you are curious. There is also as I recall on the way up there an abandoned series of trains in a random desert. At the end of your trip fly back to Santiago to set off on your next destination,  itÕs a decent city but unremarkable to be honest so donÕt linger there long if you can help it much cooler places to spend your time in south america. Instead consider hanging out in Valparaiso, there are also some ok beaches in vina del mar if you are up for a beach. There are a number of vineyard s near Valparaiso.

One way to get to Argentina to consider is leaving from Santiago, perhaps a stop in mendoza along the way in argentine wine country.  You will eventually end up in Buenos Aires (BA). BA is a great city, cheap, cultural, fun etc lonely planet will orient you to what to do in the city. A good day trip from BA is to head to Uruguay across the rio plata, there is a city called colonia there thatÕs interesting Montevideo is worth a look to but doesnÕt warrant more than a few hours. Consider flying from BA to Puerto iguzu to see iguazu falls.Those are the things IÕve done above.  Argentina and Chile of course offer amazing landscapes in Patagonia although IÕm not an expert on where to go in Patagonia consult lonely planet on that. one thing to consider is a trip to antartica aboard an ice ship that leaves from ushuaia in Argentina. (this is on my list of trip to do!) Perito Moreno Glacier is meant to be amazing too although IÕve not seen the glacier myself. Bariloche is a great region in the lake district if you have time. Good luck on your trip post some pics when you go.

 

Ram

Chile (from North to South, crossing over into Argentina): 1. San Pedro de Atacama -  Altiplano lakes, El Tatio geysers and Valle de La Luna 2. Patagonia - do the Torres del Paine trek, either the 'W' trek (4 days), or if you have the time, the 'O' trek (6 days, more untouched terrain, less people, probably better). I did the W trek. They're called W and O because thats the actual shape of the trek. 3. From Chilean Patagonia, hop over to the Argentina side, get to El Chalten - cool little town, awesome day hikes, hike to the Fitz Roy peak. 4. the Futaleufu' river in northern Patagonia is a mecca for white water rafting and kayaking. i haven't been there yet but plan to one day. Its tops in the river sports department. 5. southern tip of Argentina - Ushuiaia, Tierra del Fuego; cool end of the Earth feel. 6. Bariloche, AR I hear is nice. 7. Buenos Aires: eat steak, stare at gorgeous Argentinans, and watch an Argentina futbol game. I know you hate watching sports but this will be an experience. bring a pocket knife for protection and a scalpel in case you have to cric someone.

 

Matt

I think a 4 day trip to Buenos Aires is a requisite while staying for an extended period of time in Santiago. it is a quick flight, approx an hour and 4 days is enough time to appreciate BA for what it is. Buenos Aires is my second favorite city in the world behind NY, way cooler than San Francisco. The streets are wonderous, neighborhoods magnificent, the culture is stupendously unique, and the women are some of the best in the world. The trip to BA would be worth it alone for a meal at Cabina Las Lilas, the best steak you may ever have. A nice dinner there with a bottle of red was 30$ when I was there. If you do end up in BA, I can give more specific recommendations although I'm sure the go to spots have changed in 5 years.

 

Mendoza is a cool, little city with a nice wine country on the outskirts. I am not that hot on it as it isn't even the best wine region in the country. For that you would have to go to El Cayafate which is in the north and only really accessible via a 20 hour bus ride. But Mendoza is a quick jaunt from Santiago and probably worth the trip. There is nice biking in the airy, green countryside with picturesque restaurants to stop and picnic at. Stay at the Park Hyatt Mendoza if you go, a grand hotel with a patio over looking the main square in the city. A splendid place to laze the morning away. I remember good white water rafting and rapelling near Mendoza. My favorite part of Argentina is actually in the North near Salta. A trip to Jujuy and Pamamarca was one of the best times in my life although i'm sure that it was partly co-traveler dependent. But the culture is beautiful, the salt flats are fun and it is nice to be the only white people around. Cayafate, which is a much smaller wine region in the north, is just an idyllic little place to saunter around town (which consists of a plaza and 4 restaurants) and not do anything for a while.

 

Bariloche is another place that is absolutely amazing and worth checking out and just a quick trip from southern Chile. It is a bigger, more commercialized Pucon but despite the negatives, still worth seeing. They have huts in the mountains next to lakes here which you hike to during the day, sleep overnight, be forced to interact with other travelers as there is no electricity, be fed the best food you have eaten in a week and hike back the next day.The lake region is hard to pass up here and it is almost impossible not to completely enjoy every single day you are there. I did not make it to El Calafate and El Chalten but I heard it was great.

 

I spent 3 weeks in Santiago and didn't get bored which surprised the shit out of me. It is no Buenos Aires but it is still pretty cool. But I do think the majority of your time in Chile should be spent out of Santiago. Pucon is a 10 hour bus ride south of Santiago where Villarica, the active volcano, is located. I climbed it in the snow with crampons and slid down the volcano on my butt. I highly recommend spending at least 4-5 days in Pucon as there is so much to do there and climbing the volcano can take a few days because you have to wait for the weather to cooperate. The lake is gorgeous, the biking is surreal and the whole town seems like a fairy tale. Valparaiso and Villa del Mar were cool but I honestly didn't think they were anything that unique. If you have a day to check out both places it might be worth it. They're basically beach towns with some cool architecture and flamboyant colors and decent art. Valle Nevado is worth driving to for the serene ride even if you are unable to ski at that time of the year.

 

Roy

Must sees in Argentina in my opinion: Bariloche and surrounding area (the stunning Lake District) was my favorite place. El Chelten (sp?) atmospheric town at the base of crazy cool mountains with mind blowing hiking. Mendoza is nice to hang out in. Sunny. Lots of wine. Cordoba was a cool city in the north....see the blog we wrote. But dude my advice is just follow your nose with no plan. Let the trip just take you and respond to all opportunities adventurously,

including new potential travel mates. Argentina has amazing busses. Overnights like a first class plane. Use them in style.

 

Steve

In Argentina, I have been to Buenos Aires and Mendoza, as well as Foz Iguazu, the massive waterfalls on the border of Brazil, where the Movie the Mission was filmed. In Buenos Aires, we stayed at a great little boutique hotel, and ate some delicious restaurants. It is truly a country of steak and wine heaven. I will have to brainstorm with Kris about the names. Agoda.com was pretty good for hotels. Mendoza is all about the wine tasting. Great to pass through if you are in Santiago, as it is right on the other side of the Andes. The south of both countries is impressive: Barilloche, the lake district is supposed to be beautiful, as well as Patagonia. You should look into the One World Air pass option. You must buy it prior to arriving in South America, and have a flight in and out of South America on a One World  partner, such as American Airlines. The distances in SA are huge, so flying is probably your best option, and the One World pass gives you some very good rates. Def look into it before buying your tix.

 

Jennifer

Hi Reuben, Hope your having a great time. We loved Chile, definitely a favourite place. The Atacama Desert in the north next to Bolivia and Argentina was a big hit for sandboarding, scenery, star gazing etc. We also did star gazing and hiking at the Mamaluca observatory in Vicuna north west of Santiago. The other really great place was Easter Island definitely not to be missed. Going south there are loads of places in Chile but we spent the time in Argentina doing Mendoza and Baralochie very pretty places, the later is a good base for skiing. 2 other places not to miss in the South in Patagonia are; Torres Del Paine in Chile hike the W trail, awesome! Also hop over to El Calefate, Argentina (5-6hr bus) and see the Marino Glacier (do the boat trip and wrap up warm!). If you have time then go to El Chalten from there and spend a few days hiking and camping if it's not too cold. It's the back end of nowhere so be prepared to back track. I do recommend doing zig zagging through Argentina and Chile as on some parts its better to cross the border to get there quicker. The road infrastructure in some places isn't the best so be prepared for a 28hr Andesmar bus or an expensive flight! Have fun and let me know if you need any more details on any of this. I can tell you where the transport goes from and to and a rough price for most buses!

 

Judith

Never been to chile, but had a good time in southern argentina november 2006. would defo recommend los glaciares national park. think we flew into el calafate, following a few days in ushuaia (also cool, but not the most amazing place ever, other than being so far south, and you know PENGUINS). trekking the perito mereno glacier was pretty unbelievable and led to some good pictures. crampon and on and on. at the time of my visit it was evidently one of the world's only growing glaciers - i wonder if it's shrunk/receded significantly over past 6 years. otherwise, i would recommend avoiding getting sick and landing up in the hospital in el chaltŽn. definitely did not lend to any fun pics or stories. BA is a pretty, wanna-be high-brow city with a lot of good street art and claims of being european. check out the hydraulic blooming flower sculpture if you can. the newish Faena Arts Center is supposed to be pretty good and from the looks of it, the greenification of the planetarium, could make for a fun night time vision. check graffitimundo's workshops or gallery out, for me if nothing else, because i've heard they're doing great stuff. just asked my flatmate for chile pro-tips: she suggests wine tasting at concha y toro, and found val paraiso a "cool, quaint lil place." 

 

Alex

Hey Reuben, super jealous. Try to go to  Boca Juniors soccer game at the Bombonera stadium but maybe bring some locals. Eat a full parrillada (including chinchulines), I recommend the restaurant La Estancia I believe on Calle Florida. Best steak cuts I recommend in general are the bife de chorizo and bife de lomo. Try a lomito sandwich - very similar to the samitas in Queens but better. Teatro Colon is a treat if you want to see a fancy opera. Go to a tango show either in San Telmo or Recoleta.

 

Cindy

Santiago: i loved this section of town, calle londres and calle paris, the cobblestone streets and preserved architecture of the buildings, all of the hostels.  if you're not staying in this area, it's worth a walk through (or at least it was in 2000).  i had a good feeling about this building immediately, with its character and wrought iron door and window designs.  sonnets, my internet cafe, was at street level (the window right next to the door in the picture).  it wasn't actually a cafe - it was about the computers.  the coffee was free, i didn't get a license for food/drink.  looks like the people there now have a nice proper cafe (or restaurant or whatever) with tables outside.  my law school application essay juxtaposed this with the story of londres 38/40 across the cobblestones, which was a jail and torture facility for political prisoners under pinochet. for nightlife, wandering, etc., i recommend barrios bellavista, lastarria and brasil, but better to get advice from someone with more recent experience.  i would avoid calle suecia, which i am happy to leave in my 22-year-old past.

 

i'm not sure what your level of proficiency in spanish is, but you've probably already discovered that it doesn't much matter in chile.  chileans speak their own language.  i thought i was fluent in spanish after a year in ecuador; when i arrived in santiago, i understood virtually nothing.  eventually i got the rhythm, the slang, the chilean eccentricities (como estai po', huevon?).  the same goes for argentina. 

 

if you haven't discovered this already, bus travel around chile is nicer than you would probably expect.  then again, this is from the perspective of someone who had just left a year of bus travel around ecuador, which is probably exactly what you would expect:  mudslides, chickens, precarious curves on mountain slopes where missing guard rails and matted foliage betrayed stories of vehicles that didn't fare as well on their journeys.  crossed fingers, recognition of the fragility of your own life and a hope that the bus driver values his enough to keep the bus on the road.  overnight bus trips where you'd use the bathroom and could see the road moving underneath you through the toilet bowl.

 

chile also has great, reasonable accommodation, good hostels / pensiones / albergues / inns / B&Bs where you have a private room with a shared bath, etc.  highly recommend traveling this way through chile, you'll meet lots of great, outdoorsy, adventurous folks along the way; this is how i made my way through san pedro de atacama, la serena, valparaiso, pucon, etc.  chileans are very welcoming; you'll have an amazing time (sure you already are) and i'm envious & looking forward to details.

 

i can still imagine living in valparaiso for some part of my life.  i would recommend a visit.  it's a port city with some grit under its fingernails.  i went there often & stayed at an inn in the winding streets above sea level where i spent about $4/night for a nice, clean room with a shared bath.  i forget the name, but i think there are plenty of them.  i'm most comfortable perched & observing; valparaiso seems custom-made for a poet in the attic and you can imagine pablo neruda everywhere.  vina del mar next door is touristy and resort-like; you won't like it.