Just Back From: Chile
May 13, 2016 by Ashleigh O'Connor
Ashleigh just returned from an incredible trip to Chile – here is what she has to say:
CHILE IN GENERAL
Chile offers diversity and 5 geographical contrasts. Atacama in north (dry desert), wine country (central), Lakes Region, Patagonia (cool with glaciers and mountains), and Easter Island. We visited the wine country, Lakes Region, and Patagonia.
Nonstop flight from JFK to SCL on 787 Dreamliner. Business class was amazing excellent service, good food, variety of menu options with suggested Chilean wine pairings, crazy amount of space/legroom, flat bed seats, large screen tvs, etc. They also have a flight that connects in Lima- we took this on the way home.
ARRIVAL INTO SANTIAGO
VIP meet and greet at gate. Huge added value and I highly recommend this service! And Beyond quoted an additional cost of around $60.00 USD for this service. A greeter will meet you at the gate, escort you past immigration line ups to a separate kiosk with no line. Baggage claim was a major issue- one of the members in our group had to wait almost 1 HR since we landed to retrieve her suitcase. Important to note- they are very strict about food entering into the country. They want you to declare everything you are bringing in. There are agricultural dogs everywhere. If you are caught with a piece of undeclared fruit, nuts, etc. you will pay a fine of around $200-$250. In addition it is important to note that there is no longer a reciprocity fee for US and Canadian citizens.
TIERRA CHILOE, LAKES DISTRICT
To get here you have 2 options: 1) You can fly from SCL to Castro via Puerto Montt (whereby you do not get off the plane in Puerto Montt). 2) You can fly into Puerto Montt, drive 2hr, and take a ferry to get here. There are 2 flights daily into Castro- it is a very tiny airport. The airplane was a 737 I believe (a large aircraft for a small town). Tierra Chiloe is about 20km from The airport. There is a bumpy road leading up to the hotel. The hotel is very unique- reminds me of Fogo Island. Unique from an architectural perspective. Very small with only 12 rooms all offering views of the lake (they are building 12 more rooms once they are close see for the season). They close for the season Apr 30- August (their winter). This area sees a lot of rain- they say the average rainfall is around 220 days a year. (We lucked out and had sunshine every day). Rain or shine this hotel will typically continue to offer their included excursions/activities. They offer a full board rate plan- all meals, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, and activities are included. I was informed that you may be able to negotiate a breakfast only plan but you are in the middle of nowhere with nothing else around. Breakfast is very limited- fruit, cereal, salami and ham, cheese, juices, coffee/tea. They offered to make us eggs any style as we wish. Lunch and dinner was a prix fixe menu with 3 choices each of an appetizer, main, dessert. Options are mostly fish, and 1 meat option so if you do not care for seafood/fish you need to advise before your arrival. Mussels and salmon were featured quite a lot as these are 2 things that are known to the area (numerous mussel farms in the lake in front of hotel). Activities are very good though not as good as Patagonia area hotels. We did a lovely boat ride to 2 smaller islands. Activities offered were a strenuous bike ride, kayaking, and zodiac ride. The guides here were absolutely wonderful.
DEPARTURE FROM TIERRA CHILOE TO PATAGONIA
Drive 2hr to ferry. Take a 30min ferry across water. Another 1hr drive to Puerto Montt. Take flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas. Cannot fly from Castro to Punta Arenas in one day. They also have a closer airport to the Torres del Paine than Punta Arenas- called Puerto Natales. They are trying to get a domestic flight with LAN to service this airport from SCL (it is in the works). We stopped in a cute European influenced town called Puerto Varas. From here u can go to Bariloche, Argentina. Or stay and ski, hike, etc. Cumbres Hotel is the only 4.5 star option in the city. From Puerto Montt we fly to Punta Arenas (2hrs) and then took a 2.5hr drive to the Singular Patagonia.
Minimum length of stay is 4 nights. 6 nights is recommended. Explora is right at the glacier but hotel received complaints on their guides. Singular and Explora both offer many excursions but they are in larger groups. If you are looking for a more private experience, Awasi is the best option. Or Andbeyond can arrange for their own private guide to take clients out but this will be an $$$ option.
This property is a 2.5hr drive from Punta Arenas airport. (You may want to combine this property with Tierra/Explora/Awasi Patagonia to offer different experiences/activities, but also cut down the travel time depending on when flights arrive into Punta Arenas). Hotel has a lot of history dating back to 1896, as it was once an Industrial Complex named Cold Storage Plant (which received sheep from Patagonia and slaughtered/processed/froze meat for export to Europe).
When you first arrive to the hotel you are whisked away in a short funicular ride to the lobby. From the glass enclosed lobby you can see the boiler room and engine room. The hotel itself is very unique but not warm and welcoming like Tierra Patagonia. It was extremely dark everywhere and difficult to see. The areas of the hotel which featured restored items from the past were extremely cold but very interesting. You had to pass through these freezing cold rooms to get to the lobby and restaurant. Lobby and hallways were also cold. The reasoning behind this is due to government regulations on the building. They offer 3 meal plans: full board, 1/2 board (breakfast and dinner only), and bed and breakfast. Full board includes 3 meals daily, all beverages (alcoholic and non alcoholic), transfers (which are very expensive if you choose to pay for this separately OR one can rent a car but this is not recommended), and activities with guides. You can choose full or half day group excursions. Our activity was a full day boat ride through the Last Hope Channel to the glacier Serrano, followed by a visit to an Estancia along the channel with an awesome lunch, and option for a hike or horseback ride later that afternoon. The excursion was outstanding and guides were great. The food at the hotel was excellent although their menu did not change/rotate like Tierra Chiloe/Patagonia. It was a regular dinner menu, not prix fixe. There was much more variety than Tierra hotels and the food was of a better quality/presentation. Food items were a little pricey if you are not on a full board meal plan.
Rooms here are interesting to say the least. They only have 2 categories and 3 floors: 54 regular rooms and 3 suites, all of which offer views of a lake out front. The bathrooms were all very modern with a tub, single sink, and separate shower. The sleeping area is large but it feels like you are in a museum with old style decor/furnishings/accent pieces. They do not have any connecting rooms for families but will do their best to ensure rooms are next door to one another. Bedding is either 1 king or 2 doubles. The spa here is very nice, offering a co-Ed steam room and co-Ed sauna. Their pool is cool because part of it is outside and the other part inside. Overall, guides and excursions were great here, service was pretty good at the restaurants. Wifi was quite slow which was frustrating at times. Singular Patagonia closes between May – September (winter months). The weather here was a little cooler than Tierra Patagonia area as the Singular is slightly further south.
This property is a 4hr, 15min drive from Punta Arenas airport. (Again, you may want to combine this property with Singular Patagonia to offer different experiences/activities, but also cut down the travel time depending on when flights arrive into Punta Arenas. As I mentioned they are working on getting flights into Puerto Natales and when this happens Tierra Patagonia would only be a 1hr 15min transfer).
Pulling up to the resort will have you in awe- it is an absolutely gorgeous property located at the entrance of the park, Torres del Paine. This hotel offers stunning views of the ….. Mountain and its 3 towers. The design is of a contemporary lodge- wood design throughout but with modern decor and furnishings.
They offer 3 meal plans: full board, 1/2 board (breakfast and dinner only), and bed and breakfast. Full board includes 3 meals daily, all beverages (alcoholic and non alcoholic), transfers (which are very expensive if you choose to pay for this separately), and activities with guides. You can choose full or half day excursions. Because you are at the entrance of the park you must be driven by van with your guide and other hotel guests to areas where the tours start (one place we went to was 1hr drive from the hotel). Roads are windy and not paved. Torres del Paine is a massive park offering trails and hikes for people of all ages and physical activity levels. No matter where you are in the park you always have something to see (whether it is the flora and fauna of Patagonia, waterfalls, lakes, glaciers, etc.).
Food at Tierra Patagonia was good but better at the Singular. Menu mostly consists of fish and lamb dishes. Full board guests had a special prix fixe menu for lunch and dinner (although they had another menu at lunch with sandwiches and different items for the non full board guests- however they let us order off of both menus). Breakfast was identical the Singular- toast, pastries, avocado, tomato, 3 deli style meats, 3 types of cheeses, fresh fruit, cereals/granola/muesli, yogurt, and fresh fruit juices. Rooms here are quite small especially compared to the Singular. There are only 2 floors featuring 3 loft suites, 3 standard rooms and many superior rooms- all of which offer amazing views of the mountains. Standard rooms offer a smaller bathroom and single sink and separate shower. Bathtub is in the room with the bed. Superior rooms have a larger Bathroom with double sink, separate shower, and tub with a window offering views of the mountains. They have a few superior rooms they can make into “apartments” for families- have a big door at the entrance that closes and you can make them externally interconnecting. All beds can convert from 1 king to 2 twins. The spa is gorgeous offering a hydrotherapy pool, separate steam room, separate sauna, and outdoor jacuzzi (which is especially amazing when the sun is setting behind the mountains in the evening hours). Overall, guides were great here, service was just “ok” at the restaurants. My only complaint is the wifi- it is not available in rooms, only lobby and library area. It was very temperamental-would not work half the time and when it did it was super slow. Tierra Patagonia closes from May -September. The weather in Patagonia is very unreliable and inconsistent- wearing layers of clothing is key!
Other hotels in area (we did not see):
Good 4* options: Hosteria Las Torres and Hosteria Grey (have a boat and u can do the lake and glacier)
Patagonia Camp: offers a “lamping” experience
Explora Patagonia: in the park. Only hotel opened year round. All excursions are directly from hotel (no driving to/from areas like we did). We heard there were issues with guides here. Location of hotel is one of the best, and offers amazing views of ……. If you have clients with mobility issues this is not the hotel for them with respect to activity levels, location, etc.
Awasi Patagonia: very personalized experience, very expensive. All tours/excursions are on a private basis. Located outside of park area.