Here is the log of a trip to Chile made during November 2018. The story is preceded by some tips to get a quick idea. A small set of pictures taken during the travel can be viewed with an interactive map. A diaporama is also available.
If you plenty of time and you are not chained to comfort, it is possible to travel on a small budgetin South America. lots of young backpakers do it alone or in pair. In my case, constrained by time, 24 days on site (26 all in all), with upper comfort cost 8000€/person (all included, we loosed a little). In 2012, for 28 days (30 all in all), the trip cost 6600€/person with a lighter comfort. In both cases, the journey is taylor made by an available travel agency that can cope with incidents within a few hours to 24 hours.
Savvy travelers know it : its better to take time to find flight tickets at a good price if your destination and your dates can't be changed. Since 6 years, flight tickets to Chile are almost the same : near 1000€ for a roundtrip in our case.
Fuel price late in 2018 was 10 cents lower than in France.
Chilean roads are not difficult when they are tarred, as it is the case in urbanized areas. But when we move away from Santiago in Patagonia or in Atacama, tracks are more common. They are generally good but they can suffer from deep gullies or cross rivers in mountains. Be carefull, passages can be tricky, even impossible with a small city car if you go on a narrow lost track ( I tested it with a small car and an off-road car, there is a true difference, not only with the cost). Some areas, in the mountain ranges, are sparsely populated. Ensure sufficient fuel, water and food before taking the road/track can be helpful in bad moment.
PELIGRO CAMPO MINADO
During late 1970's, to protect its territory against Argentine troops stationed at the border of the two countries, Chile planted minefields. While some areas have been cleared under UN control, others that were not on the list remain trapped. Going there is "a bit" risky because mines have a long life and are still active.
(source : retired soldier converted into driver, witness and protagonist of the conflict).
The lakes Region straddles Chile and Argentina. Go through this area may drive you to pass the border. Your vehicle must be free of visible deterioration (e.g. : a broken light, and you may not be able to continue your journey as expected). You also must have a declaration that authorizes you to allow you to cross the border with you hired vehicle.
Chile is very strict with imported things, especially with food. A forgotten apple in the armrest can be very expensive (tested). Vehicle search is common and your luggages can be scanned like in airports.
Time of passage oberved : from less than 10 minutes to 2 hours.
A european tourist eats good food, prices are low for him. Contrary to the popular misconception, the dishes served are not particularly spicy. If you visit the Isle Chiloé and its surroundings, you will see on the restaurants menu a traditional dish from the isle : the curanto (special, not particularly tasty the one I ate). You will come across on the roads many trucks that carry... salmons. Chile is the second largest salmon producer in the world.
For a french, Chile is the opportunity to (re)discover a grap variety : the Malbec(k) also know as Côt. Finally, if you like lamb meat, the south of Patagonia will delight you with meat cooked over a wood fire or a barbecue.
The tourist offer is provided with hotels of all categories but for highly visited sites, such as Torres del Paine Park, booking in advance is sometimes necessary. This is even more true for cottages and shelters if you hike in high season. Camping is possible for free or for fees to regulated sites by guards in the parks.
Fire + wind + wood
End of 2011, a german hiker defecated and to reduce its ecological impact, he burned the soiled toilet paper and... 17 600ha of Torres del Paine Park went up in smoke.
Preparing for the trip
For the most part uninteresting, apart from the fact that you need an international driving license to rent a vehicle in Chile and Argentina. In summary, for a French citizen, obtaining the sesame may take longer than advertised (6 weeks).
If you decide to write your travel diary, whether it's published or not, start writing your notes right from the beginning of your project. A journey begins even before his preparations. And that begins by the enquiry of our international driving license, essential to hire a car in Chile and in Argentina.
Jump to the travel's diary.
29/07 - Decision
A travel thousands kilometers from your house, it is a bit of adventure. I finally succeeded to convince a cousin for a 3 to 4 weeks stay in South America, in Patagonia to be more precise. The little problem is that my cousin was slow to react. If we want to go diring autumn 2018, we have to prepare our travel without late.
01/08 - Ticket to ride
The travel materializes with the purchase of the flight tickets. As the delay is short, I call a proven travel agency. Our route goes by Patagonia with the trek W in Torres del Paine, the Siete Lagos region straddled cChile and Argentina, and Atacama desert. The travel agency has to find our accomodation and our transport means.
02/08 - The estimate
The travel agency did its job fastwith a nice proposal. To read and adjust if needed, but it is matching our enquiry.
07/08 - Bookings start
In order to book our accomodation, excursions and transport, we pay a first deposit.
17/08 - Bookings in progress...
No news, good news...
21/08 - Bookings & changes
The travel agency had to change our accomodation at Torres del Paine, El Calafate and Punta Arenas. I asked to find better suited hotel in El Calafate and to confirm that we can leave most of our luggages during the trek W.
Last detail, the flight Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt after the trek is dealyed to the next day. It will give us more time to rest.
24/08 - Bookings OK
The travel agency confirmed our journey is finalized. We still have to obtain our international driving license, to renew my old walking shoes, to buy travel pants, to chek my teeth...
31/08 - J-60...
A month passed and still no international driving license.
06/09 - Second enquiry
Impossible to know the status of my international driving license. I send a second enquiry in the case of the first has been lost.
08/09 - Final payment !
Today, I pay the travel agency.
11/09 - International driving license request bis
The Adminstration warned me that it is processing my international driving license, btu which one ?
14/09 - The driving license is here !
Et voilà, few days afters sending a new request, I receive my driving license.
26/09 - The driving license , finally !
My cousin also received his driving license.
10/10 - And two !
The Administration sent to me a second driving license with a delay of 6 weeks instead of the 3 announced.
13/10 - A bag story
Finding the right bag is a difficult time (women may know something about that). My new Gregory Miwo bagpack is a 18L+ and it is calling to be tested. With its shape, a rain cover does not fit it. If I cannot protect the contents from outside, I will do it from inside with a waterproof bag (20g).
01/11 - Let's go !
We take our flight each from our side to meet us at Madrid airport stop. The flight with Iberia is shorter (13h35) than from Paris with Air France (14h35). The night promises to be long and luckily on board, there is enough to deal with some movies and to play mahjong.
02/11 - Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile (510 m) : population around 5 millions souls over near 19 millions inhabitants of the 14th most unequal country in the world.
Landing early in the early morning, we find that a luggage is missing : the flight company is not serious and we lose near 2 hours to solve the problem.
After a brief refreshment at our hotel, we walk to discover the center of Santiago. At the Paza de la Constitucion, in front of the Moneda, photos of victims disappeared under Pinochet reign are exposed. After a few hours of walks, we climb to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia and we go to eat in a small restaurant near to the park.
Our climb on Santuario del Cerro San Cristóbal is shorten by a temporary closed trail for the last hundreds meters to the summit :-(
The night come, we are back to our hotel for a good sleep.
03/11 - Departure for the Great South
Patagonia : 3.8 hbts/km2, contrasted region made of deciduous trees forests, great dried plains, mountains with alpine climate, glaciers, lots of isles and fjords. Araucania Kingdom or new France from 1860 to 1862, result of Mapuches independance try for now unsucceeded.
Early start to the airport to get the lost luggage and to flight to Punta Arenas. A driver brings us to Puerto Natales where we leave most of our stuffs that we will pick up few days after our trek. We follow our driver's advice to eat in a quickly in a local restaurant and then, we take the road to Torres del Paine. We arrive around 23:30 in a dark night.
04/11 - Late start
Torres del Paine :declared biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the park encloses a wonderful nature with a wild weather that attracts more and more people. There are many walkers on the trails.
For the breakfast, I find the so typical summits of the park : Los Cuernos del Paine.
The weather is humid and windy, as expected in this area. But the wind is so strong that crossing the Lago Grey scheduled at 12:00 to our lodge. No matter, we will take the next boat at 15:00. Except that the wind does not decrease and all navigations are cancelled. We go on the shores of Lago Pehoé where a boat will bring us directly to Refugio Paine Grande. While we ara waiting for the boat, we decide to have a look to Sato Grande. A sign displays "Precaución zona de fuertes vientos", this is an understatement. I am used to a mistral at 100km/h, but here the wind strength is such that breathing becomes difficult and that I am forced to hang on a guardrail not to be carried away. Result of the day : we did not see the glacier Grey or even walked a lot, but we breath a fresh air!
05/11 - Hike start
We leave quite late after our breakfast despite a substantial walk (22 km). The weather is uncertain and we pass the first two hours adapting our clothes. When we enter in Valle del Francés, the sun is shining. A guard order us to leave our bagpack "for safety" in case of bad weather. From my experience, we take warm clothes (gloves, hat, rain jacket, fleece), all of that with no bag despite a clear blue sky and a promising 4 hours walk. Luckily, because near the Campo Britanico, clouds are coming above the ridges. In less than 30 minutes, we are under snow, hat screwed on the head. The nature is not jocking here...
At Refugio los Cuernos, the night is announced fresh under a dome.
06/11 - Quiet stage
If the previous stage was pretty sporty, today should be short (11.5 km for 04h30) with few climb. Easy in theory, it takes us 07h30 ! Ok, we take our time, but, however, we might have fallen in spatio-temporal flaw. The trail follows the shores of Lago Nordenskjöld (from the name of the swedish geograph Otto). The last kilometers until Refugio Torre Norte are flat and tedious.
07/11 - Tres Torres
Today is a bit challenging (20 km), particularly at the end of the climb. We walk for a 1000 m ascension to Tres Torres. Small detail, the temperature is by 7°C lower than in the plain (12°C) and the wind is strong. We take our lunch infornt of the three granite towers and once we are well frozen, we go back to Refugio Torre Norte quietly. We find our nice driver who bring back us to Puerto Natales, where our luggages an a comfortable room are waiting for us with a view on Channel Señoret.
Nota : go on the trek W from west to east seems to be easier because of the main wind direction and the final 1000 m climb to conclude with the Torres. One more thing, you avoid to walk with sun in the eyes.
08/11 - El Calafate
El Calafate (199 m) : from the name of a shrub with yellow flowers, Berberis buxifolia, Argentine town developed during the early XXth century upon the sheep wool supply and shipment. Fresh and dry weather. With some luck, you may see a huemul, south andean deer in danger of extinction.
We take the coache to reach El Calafate. The countryside does not change a lot along the 360 km and the 5 hours drive. At the border, the history of the 80's remembers us with an unambiguous panel : "las Malvinas son argentinas". El Calafate is a pleasant tourist town with many restaurants and tea rooms. We find what it seems the place to eat : la Lechuza, a very good pizzeria. Then we go to the Estancia Benipo Aïke, a typical museum farm situated in the Parque Los Glacieres. It was founded by croatian migrants. After a show about the gauchos work, tonight, it is barbecue with a sceneview on the far Perito Moreno.
09/11 - Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno (187 m) : famous glacier of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Front of 5000 m length, 60 m above the sea, 250 km2 along 30 km, its name comes from the argentine naturalist Francisco Pascacio.
If there is a glacier that must be seen, it is probably Perito Moreno. The foot trail with its belvederes offers wonderful views on the glacier's front. If you have enough time, a hike with crampons is possible. Choose a long tour to appreciate the experience and do not forget your equipment (sun and bad weather can both be on your head).
10/11 - The cruise is fun ... or not
Lago Argentino (187 m) : largest lak of Patagonia with a 500 m depth and a surface of 1560 km2.
When the travel agency suggested me a cruise, I was more than circumspect. They convinced me with the promise of nice glaciers. So We embark for 5 hours of navigation on Lago Argentino. Upsala glacier which is suffering of the climate change, is melting fast. Because of "the risk of landslide", the glacier can be only seen from many kilometers... We then visit a second glacier : Speggazzini. Smaller than Upsala, the view is nevertheless spectacular because we can see it near its front with its 80 m height above water.
Back to El Calafate, I am definitely angry with "cruises". Perito Moreno glacier is The must-see Glacier.
Nota : disturbing fact, no word about the global climate change and the melting of glaciers in the comments on board.
11/11 - Punta Arenas
We spend again 5 hours in the return coach back to Puerto Natales. The patagonian steppe, although monotonous, offers a unique spectacle of great spaces. On both sides, Guanacos, rheas, ibis, pairs of magellan goose and herds of flamingos with their feet in the water of the lagoons, are grazing. Magical moment impossible to immortalize with a large angle camera inside a buch at 100 km/h.
We continue with 260 km by car to Punta Arena with... our driver from the our first day in the region. We ought to continue to Puert Montt but the scheduled flights did not match our plan.So, we end this long day by a walk in the town.
12/11 - Cucao (Chiloé)
Chiloé : archipelago in the south of lakes area, heavily copiously sprinkled with 2000 mm per year. The Isle with samely named is the home to 60% of Chile salmonid production, the second largest producer in the world. (en savoir plus)
After landed at Puerto Montt, we discover our rented vehicle : it is a beast for me but we feel like nawabs behind the wheel of our citizen's X-Trail even if we cross many four wheels cars much more impressive. In short, we are on our way to the Great Island of Chiloé under a blue sky. The isle is famous for its wooden churches classified as world heritage by UNESCO.
The landscapes are sometimes like in Ireland, so much like that we find these pesky gorse introduced by german pioneers (end of XIXth century).
We are slow on the isle tracks and we arrive at night to our lodge, after many kilometers of roadworks. After our arrival, we go out by foot in the dark in search of something to eat. Many dogs free bark o us and I tell my cousin not to worry about them : dogs are polite in Chile... Finding some food after 21:00 in Cucao is a lost cause, so we savor our last four biscuits while we are playing a Star Realm game, a very good deck building, until midnight.
Nota : Quellón in south-east of Chiloé is one of the end points of panamerican road.
13/11 - Castro & Perro
Somebody could might call it a "crappy day" but that is also a way to make memories. After a walk in Parque Nacional Chiloé under drizzle, we drive to Castro. On our way, we make many detours before winning our palafito for the night. While we walk to the town center, a dog, who came from nowhere and not much polite, attacks me from th rear and pinches my calf. The animal tries to bite me three times before to flee. My trousers have 5 holes and a wound bleeds a little. Direcction the hospital where I wait for 3h30 for one injection of anti-rabies serum without disinfection of the wound and an antibiotic prescription. Not so good (see bellow). For the dinner, we order a typical dish : the curanto. Our nice driver told us about it by saying that "it's special". He was right and he could have add "not so good", question of gustative experience. That is what my cousin and I think. But as I have not learned the lesson, I choose the typical dessert. I would have done better to choke on the midday diesel meal (heavily oil). Tomorrow will be another day...
14/11 - Under the rain
I wake up with a contracture in the bitten calf, a little disturbing. So I Ask her advice to the pharmacist who sells me antibiotics. She tells me that everything is alright but if I want to pursue an anti-rabies protocol, it will be impossible in Argentina (where we go next days).
We leave Castro under a cloudy sky and we take a ferry to Dalcahue island. After that, we drive on muddy tracks in search of a spanich fort near Ancud with no success. We make a stop at Faro Corona, a lighthouse with a little museum about... light bulbs for lighthouses !
We end our day at Puerto Varas in a bed & breakfastparticularly cosy.
15/11 - Back to San Carlos de Bariloche
San Carlos de Bariloche (893 m) : served as a refuge to a Nazi nest,the home of scientifique trickery on the Huemul isle, houses the Balseiro Institute, a major argentine nuclear research centre.
After loitering on the road from Puerto Varas, we reach the border post. A compliant guard does not understand where we come from but he makes us to fulfill our adminstrative obligations with a smile : we leave the country by its entrance !
We decide to take our lunch in a landscape marked by the eruption of Puyehue volcano occured in 2011. Then we reach the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, a large deep blue water surface at 768 m of elevation, before we arrive at San Carlos de Bariloche. After a stop in our hotel located outside the town center, we go to Llao Llao with en heavy traffic on the road. The area looks like Switzerland or Bavaria. The evening is played locally at the hotel's restaurant, which serves particularly good dishes with a view of the lake.
16/11 - Refugio Frey (1740 m)
After the "excesses" of yesterday, we are off to a promising hike. From the Cerro Catedral ski resort, we walk to the Refugio Frey with the idea of making a loop. Our hike starts among burnt trunks, then we enter into a luxurious forest. Above 1500 m, the climb is done in a snowy landscape. Doing our loop at an elevation of 2000 m was a good idea which will stay under the snow. 20 kilometers later and under a warm sun, here two hikers delighted by their walk !
17/11 - Meliquina on the way
We go to San Martin de Los Andes with in our daily program a long distance on mountaineous tracks. The landscape are beautiful with some similarities with scenes of cowboys movies, sorry, gauchos. We stop at Paso Córdoba (1300 m) before down to Meliquina. Here, we take our lunch in a greasy spoon. The boss is very commercial : as we do not have any argentine pesos, she accepts our chilean currency.
At our arrival and during our visit, San Martin is very quiet. We end the day in a hotel on a golf course. Once arrived, we feel to be immersed in the old serie The Prisoner with the security control. Bad experience that the restaurant's menu softens though.
18/11 - Huerquehue
Villarica (2847 m) : one of the most active stratovolcanoes from Andean Cordilleras, erupted in 2015.
We leave our hotel, happy to escape. Our planning is a bit busy. We have to go to Pucón area and, on the road, to hike in Parque Nacional Huerquehue. At the entrance, we learn that almost trails are still closed because... of the remains of snow. We were warned, trails can be sometimes hard in this park. We have been well served with lots of mud and slippery roots. Our trail bring us around some lakes nested among an exuberant vegetation, where the water is everywhere. Trees are huge here. After the day effort, we reach our bed & breakfast held by a french family. With the late hour, we go to the recommended small restaurant on the other side of the road. Despite the nearly end of the service, we are very welcome : cocktails made with fruits and vegetables juices followed by a very good pizza.
19/11 - Parque Nacional Conguillío
Few drive today, we will stay two nights in Parque Conguillío, famous for its trees with prehistoric shapes : the araucarias. So, we search the Araucaria madre, a female specimen, 50 m tall and 1800 years old. The dean of the park is impressive.
We enjoy the lodge facilities with a serie of Star Realm parties accompanied by a beer and followed by a collective dinner with six other guests. We end the day delighted to enjoy a natural park almost desert.
20/11 - Sierra Nevada
Today is hiking day with a route we saw is start yesterday : destination Sierra Nevada. The climb is moderate with only 600 m. Nevertheless we meet a snowy ground and the last 2 km are done, and sometimes through, a more than 1 m thick snow layer. At 1700 m height, we admire araucarias that stand on a white ground with the majestic Llaima Volcano (3125 m) in the background. On the return, lizards seen during the climb are taking a sun bath on the stones, sometimes surrounded by snow.
21/11 - On the way to Atacama
Atacama : driest region in the world and rich in mining resources like copper and lithium. Chile holds 45% of lithium world reserve. Locals protest agains mining activities because they pollute their natural environment and they take all the water.
After the snowy slopes, we take a flight at Temuco airport to reach the driest region on Earth, at least in many guide books and on internet : Atacama. At our arrival in San Pedro, a tourist hot spot, the sun knocks us. That is why we choose to find the shadow of one of the so many restaurants, to cool off and eat. We feel dephased with the crowded streets and the shops. It is cartoonish to see so much so-called local souvenirs made far from here.
22/11 - Valle de la Luna, Valle Arcoiris
To visit the sourrounding of San Pedro, half-private tour is a good compromise between price and the group size. Tours in busses is the mean to be in the crowd at each stop. So, we leave with a belgian guide for the Valle de la Luna, nothin linked with the moon, just an apealing name for tourists. We discover a big dune and a rocky landscape which recalls a little the Great Canyon. Our guide invites us for a "trek" : a 30 minutes walks along a dusty trail. After a small drive, we explore a cave holed in the salt, followed by a stop to the "Coyote rock" before a good lunch at San Pedro.
The afternoon we visit the Valle Arcoiris. Mineral lands offer a festival of ocher tones and... dust. Then we go to discover the petroglyphs of Yerbas Buenas. The place has had to be a major step for travelers and shephers.
For the evening we are witnessing a sunset and a simultaneous moonrise.
23/11 - Geysers del Tatio & lagunas above 4000 m
Geysers del Tatio (4270 m) : 3rd site after Iceland and Yellowstone. A short geothermal industry ended by 1974.
All tour agencies in San pedro propose a rendez-vous at sunrise to watch the plumes of steams blown by Tatio Geysers. With our half-private formula, we arrived a little bit after the rush. If the sun was higher, the place was also more quiet. We take a welcome breakfast and we go to discover other geysers and hot ponds. We visit a small village of miners with nobody there (all at work) and we go to see lagoons. Some herd og flamingos stand in the middle of the water. We are surprised to note that birds are able to endure low negative temperatures of Atacama desert (-20°C at 4000 m during the night) and also the arsh condition of the Great South (mean annual wind speed : 60 km/h). Along the road and lagoons shores, we see some vicuñas. Particularity of this species, each herd marks its territory with its excrements.
Then we finish by a walk along a stream among hundred-year-old cacti before to be back in the restless San Pedro.
Back to Santiago in the evening, our last night in Chile rang.
24/11 - The end
This is the last day and we allow the only greasy morning of the trip : wake up at 08:30. After a very good breakfast we go to the airport. The return looks long with an overheeated plane. To spend the time, I wathc some films. The meal on board is not so bad when you are hungry. Final landing the 25th, back to home at 15:00, work tomorrow morning, changes guaranteed !
Chilean Patagonia, from north to south, offers exceptonal and vivid landscapes. Atacama region is probably as interesting for whom likes desert. But going far from San Pedro seems to me essential to fully experience the desert areas. The Great South pleased me with the region of lakes. The many parks offer lots of day or multi-days hikes in the heart of a wonderful nature overhung with snowcapped cones, the archetype of volcanoes. With its airs of the end of the world and of wild territory, the southern of Patagonia delighted me once again. Andean Cordilleras is a fascinating topic of travel and returning among its mountains is not excluded.
29/11 - Memory of Castro
About the bite of the not so polite dog : back in France, I contacted the Pasteur Institute who guided me to a vaccination center. By phone, the doctor told me at first there was no urgency. Then he suggested to come during the week may be good, and finally he asked me to come not later than the next day.
Classified severity 3/3 according to WHO, I had to apply a complete anti-rabies protocol, 5 injections in my case.
If you are unluckily bitten, it is advisible to clean thewound immediately with soap and clear water, for 10 minutes according to WHO. Then make an injection within one hour of the bite and follow the prescribe protocol.
The rabies, once the symptoms are visible, is a 100% fatal disease.
In a country where the virus is confirmed, for your safety, avoid any physical contact with pet and wild animals (dog, cat, bat...). A licking on a small wound is enougth to transmit the virus. If you are infected, the illness can stay hidden until the deadly stage despite medical analysis (source).