Patagonia/Lakes Region Travelogue Part 1
Thursday, December 8, 9:15 p.m. Bariloche, Argentina. By Brian
I’m writing this before I go to bed to memorialize the first two days of our whirlwind tour of the Chile and Argentina Lakes Regions.
My buddy and I had long wanted to travel here, but the size of the countries and distance from home made travel logistically complicated. We finally booked a week trip in the summer, and then after much study decided to spend a week circling through the Lake Regions of both countries.
Because the process of travel is sometimes as important as the trip itself, I’m including details in here:
Most likely, to get here (at least from outside of South America) will involve an overnight flight. We flew to Miami’s airport, and then boarded a 10:45 p.m. EST flight from Miami to Santiago. The flight time was approximately eight hours, and had us land in Santiago around 8:45 local time (they are two hours ahead of EST).
I didn’t want to fly such a long flight in economy class, but also didn’t want to pay for business or first, so instead used miles to obtain a business class ticket. The trouble with using miles for business or first on American is that you will not likely get the trip you would have chosen had you simply paid. Sometimes that means American will take you through a layover city when you could have flown straight if you’d paid. In others, like this, it meant that we flew out and in mid-week rather than weekend. Not a bad sacrifice.
We’d expected to fly on a 777-300, which in business/first would have a configuration of a one-seat left hand row, a one-seat right hand row, and two seats together in the middle, meaning each seat had independent access out. Instead, we were changed to a 777-200, which has two seats on each side, and three in the middle. The seats were noticeably narrower than the old business seats, and also would not lie completely flat. I was fortunate in that the seat beside me was empty. My buddy was unfortunate in that he had the window seat and the aisle seat was occupied. This meant that when he needed to go to the restroom in the middle of the night, he had to wake up the person sleeping beside him. Later in the night, he found an aisle seat that was empty and spent the rest of the night in it. It was still much better than having to fly economy and be crammed in (I think their seats were four or five wide in the middle row), but very disappointing quality for the price that had to be expended for a business class seat.
Once we arrived in Santiago, we had about four hours until it was time to take our connecting flight to Puerto Montt. Using a Priority Pass I had because of a credit card, we stayed in the sole lounge in the domestic flight section. It was packed and pretty crummy, but I still was able to take a shower and get some work done on my laptop.
Our flight to Puerto Montt was on LATAM Airlines, and took a bit under two hours. Upon arrival, we were picked up by our driver.
My friend and I had weighed the pros and cons of different modes of transportation. We had used private drivers before, but the quote received for this one was far more expensive than we’d ever paid in part, this was because we would be driving much larger distances. In the end, we decided we didn’t want to be driving a rental car through the Andes in a new country, and in any event, we couldn’t have crossed a border with the rental car. Our driver is a nice guy and easy to please, but his English is probably as poor as my Spanish, if not poorer. We are able to cobble together communications and understand each other, though.
Our first stop was the lakeside town of Puerto Varas, in Chile.
We left our homes on Tuesday afternoon, and made it to our hotel in Puerto Varas approximately the same time on Wednesday. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, Puerto Varas, a higher end four-star hotel that was facing a lake. The town isn’t large, but was geared to Chileno (and probably Argentinian) tourists. We saw a number of sports outfitters in the town, along with a few ferry companies that would take you around the lake.
The lake (Llanqihue), was quite large, with a number of towns around it. I believe it’s one of the largest in the country. The weather was quite pleasantly sunny, and probably 65-70 degrees.
Puerto Varas was one of many towns in the area that had been settled by German immigrants. Because of that, and likely also simply because of the alpine location of the area, it reminded one of some German/Swiss/Austrian towns in its architecture and makeup. Some of the street, hotel and restaurant names were German as well, though all of the signs were in Spanish.
Similar to Argentina and Uruguay, many of the inhabitants were primarily of European ancestry, rather than being mestizo or native Amerindian.
Our driver said he believed Puerto Varas was the most beautiful town in Chile that he visits, and it truly was a scenic place. Although it definitely was tourism oriented, it was still small, and didn’t offer a lot of excitement. Rather, it would be a place to get away from things, or even a place to live out in the countryside. I’ll write more about the countryside shortly, but the residential part of the town itself was nothing spectacular: A slightly ramshackle alpine looking residences one after the other with no yards or space (I’m assuming flat buildable land might have been at a premium within the town). We spent the afternoon and evening walking around, before settling in at a restaurant for grilled steaks. My Spanish isn’t great, but my kitchen Spanish is typically quite passable. However, in this instance, both the waiter and myself had a great deal of trouble understanding each other. I suspect it might have been because his accent was different to what I’m used to hearing, though he might also say the same about me since there weren’t many English speaking tourists I ran into. Nonetheless, we had some pretty good steaks, along with a couple of pisco sours, and we called it a night, since we were feeling a bit jet lagged.
I went to sleep the previous night probably around 8:30 p.m., and slept until after 6 this morning. The hotel had a spa with an indoor pool and a gym, so I opened up the gym this morning when they arrived, and spent a good hour lifting and doing a little cardio.
After cleaning up, I met my friend for a nice buffet breakfast, that had all sorts of continental foods as well as meat and eggs. I overate, justifying it by telling myself that we might not stop for lunch.
We met our driver at 9:30, and were on our way to our next destination: Bariloche, Argentina. All indications were that the trip would take about three or three and a half hours. However, we found out that Thursday was some sort of holiday in Argentina, with there also being some sort of end of year trip for lots of high school students, with the result being that the border crossing ended up taking a couple of hours.
There are a couple of ways to make the trip from Puerto Varas to Bariloche. One, taking all day, is a scenic trip in which you cross over three lakes (with interconnecting taxi rides).Â That sounded very nice, but we wanted to maximize our time in order to perhaps stop along the way and to spend more time in Bariloche, so we took the road trip.
The first hour and a half of our trip was essentially spent circumnavigating the large lake. We saw lots of lush, green, open farm land. Our impression is that the primary business in the area is agriculture. Coming into Puerto Varas we passed a number of tractor and farm implement companies, and leaving Puerto Varas for the next 90 minutes most of the billboards were signs advertising various agricultural related products to farmers, and more specifically dairy farmers. My friend, who grew up on a dairy farm, was able to quickly grasp what was being sold though he doesn’t understand Spanish. Our driver indicated that one of the towns we passed was known as the dairy center of the country.
The area around Lago Llanqihue looks like it might be a place for someone who wants a more rural life, in a temperate/cool climate, away from large cities.
After about 90 minutes we started climbing the Andes and the scenery became much more dramatic. After, perhaps, another hour, we reached the Chilean exit border. The crowds were much larger than our driver had expected, but all told, they weren’t too bad. All told we might have spent 45-60 minutes going through immigration and customs. We got back in his car and continued to drive. The Argentina border entry station was probably another 30 kilometers away, on winding mountain roads. We saw the entry sign to Argentina shortly before reaching the immigration station, and it was as if at the country’s border, the landscape changed. Suddenly many of the trees on the mountains were dead, and the tops of the mountains ahead were covered with gray. We didn’t know what to make of it, but our guide informed us that in 2015, a volcano in Chile near the lakes erupted, with ash going kilometers up into the sky. The ashes didn’t settle in Chile, however, but were blown into Argentina. It was amazing, in that it had completely changed their landscape. Whole mountaintops were covered with the stuff, whole swaths of forests dead now due to the ash. Our driver indicated that the ash had even reached Bariloche and as a result tourism had been down this past year.
We made our way through Argentina’s immigration and customs in about the same time as Chile’s, and as a result, we were a bit behind schedule. We’d talked about eating in Angostura, but it was past 3:00 p.m. and so we decided to make our way on to Bariloche.
Bariloche, Argentina, is another lake side town, also known to have been populated by Germans, but much larger and a much bigger tourist trap than Puerto Varas. It was alleged to have been the refuge of runaway Nazis after World War II. Nowadays it is a site that houses much adventure tourism and skiing nearby, along with a lot of shopping. We walked around much of the afternoon and evening, taking in the sites.
Our hotel for the night is the Hotel Tirol, a quaint and much more basic European-style hotel than where we stayed the previous night. The views over the lake are good, the internet is spotty, but the location (two blocks away from the main square) can’t be beat.
More to come.