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A guide to visiting South America: Argentina and Chile

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Andy Kirkman, Adventure World Travel

South America – a continent filled with glaciers, rainforests, peaks, ruins, beaches, unique wildlife and so much incredible history! It’s an ambitious job to explore the whole continent in one trip, unless you have a few months up your sleeve to be able to fit it all in and truly experience everything each country has to offer.

We thought we’d break down the continent into bitesize travel components, to give you some inspiration of what to do in each destination and a guide on how to make the most of your time travelling here. To help us, our friends at Adventure World Travel – who are experts in travel to South America (both guided trips and independent itineraries) – are going to do a series of Q&A style blogs about travel to South America over the next few months.

To begin the series, we sat down with Andy Kirkman, Industry Account Manager for Adventure World Travel, to find out all about his recent travels in Argentina and Chile and hear about some of the great ways you can explore these destinations with Adventure World.

Let’s start with Argentina:

1. When is the best time to visit this part of the world? How much time would you recommend people allow to visit?

From the rainforest-like region of Iguazu, to the icy climates of Patagonia, Argentina is a vast country with a range of climates and landscapes. There is no one ‘best time’ to visit and really depends on where you wish to go. Spring is thought of as the optimal time (Sep-Nov) as you will find great weather just about everywhere, but Summer is also a fantastic time if you don’t mind it being a bit busier. Summer will also give you the best time to explore the jagged mountain ranges of Patagonia – especially Los Glacieres National Park!

How long to allow…that’s the million-dollar question! Again, it all depends on what you want to see! Adventure World (AW) offers a fantastic in-depth itinerary over 12 days – ‘Handpicked Argentina’. Whilst offering a fantastic range of experiences from tango in Buenos Aires (BA), to the thundering falls of Iguazu, and towering granite peaks of Argentinian Patagonia, most of our itineraries can be customised to suit exactly what a traveller is looking for. If you’re on the lookout for world-renowned wines, then we can modify the journey with a visit to Mendoza for a few nights too.

2. Tell us a bit about your travels, where did you visit in Argentina?

My time in Argentina, was just one part of a longer South America trip and so our 10 days were spent with a few nights initially in BA enjoying both day and night of what this captivating city has to offer. From there we headed up to Puerto Iguazu for a few nights, allowing plenty of time to explore Iguazu Falls National Park and witness the power of the thundering Falls. Even after 4 years of promoting Iguazu Falls, I still wasn’t quite prepared for it! Departing early on New Year’s Day (ouch!) we flew down to the most southern city in the world – Ushuaia – in preparation for our 11-day Antarctica expedition cruise. On returning to dry land, it was onwards to El Calafate, a quaint but surprising small town and the gateway to Los Glacieres National Park, Perito Morino Glacier and Argentine Patagonia.

3. What were the top 3 places/ sites you visited?

In no particular order as they were each incredible in their own ways:

Iguazu Falls (as I said earlier, nothing can prepare you even if you think you know what to expect!). The lookout at Devils Throat is spectacular!

Mini-trekking across the Perito Morino Glacier with crampons and poles and enjoying a whisky on the rocks (with fresh glacier ice of course!)

‘The Argentine Experience’ in BA – it’s not JUST a cooking class, it’s not JUST a food demonstration, it’s not JUST wine tasting. It’s all three combined in a fun, cosy and very friendly group environment. And to be honest, it offered possibly one of the BEST steaks I ate on the entire trip! (and I tried a lot of steak!)

Iguazu Falls

4. What activities can people expect to be able to do in Argentina?

Argentina isn’t short of activities, whether you’re looking for culture and heritage, wildlife and wilderness or more active adventures. The key is Adventure World works with Peregrine Travel Centre SA to build their travellers itineraries so that we can tailor any amount of the above to customise their ideal combination.

Buenos Aires and surrounds: city tours to uncover its secrets and admire the Spanish/European influenced architecture, iconic districts unique in their own right (Recoleta with its historic cemetery, La Boca for its colourful houses and freestyle tango dancers in the streets, San Telmo for local markets and the theatre district). Join a cooking class and meet fellow travellers, learning how to cook the best steak and create your own empanadas, or go local and join a family in their own home to create a series of dishes, learn traditional cooking techniques and then sit with the family to devour your efforts. Take in a tango show!

Iguazu I’ve already mentioned this must-do for anyone’s itinerary. Even if you’ve seen other waterfalls around the world, each are unique in their own way and Iguazu is no different. The park itself is sensational to explore. A series of ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ meandering walkways allow you to explore the areas and vantage points surrounding the various waterfalls. There can be up to 300 falls at high water level! You’ll also have no issue spotting the local wildlife – expect to be stopped in your tracks by a family of adorable coatis (although be warned they do bite) and butterflies are everywhere and will land on you.

Patagonia: El Calafate and El Chalten are the gateways to Argentinian Patagonia and will grant you access to not only some breathtaking hiking, but also kayaking amongst icebergs in Upsala, or trekking across one of the few glaciers in the world which are still growing – Perito Morino!

Mendoza: A fantastic part of the world which sits on the wine-growing belt of 30-50 degrees south. Some of the world’s finest Malbec comes from this region and is easily accessed from either BA or Santiago, Chile (being just a 30 min flight from here). Sat high in the Andes mountains, the region offers a beautiful contrast to other regions you may visit on a trip to Argentina.

5. Any tips or recommendations for people considering travel to Argentina

The main attractions in Argentina are quite dispersed and flights can quickly become a costly part of your trip. If you book via a travel agent like Peregrine Travel Centre SA, they can arrange you a LATAM Airpass, offering access to highly discounted internal connective airfares with the benefit of allowing the same luggage limit as your international flight when flying with LATAM. An Airpass can honestly save you thousands!

If time allows in your itinerary, give yourself two full days at Iguazu and visit the Brazilian side for an alternate perspective of the falls. It’s an easy day trip simply across the bridge from Puerto Iguazu if you are staying on the Argentinian side and then opens up the option for a magnificent helicopter flight over the falls too. IMPORTANT: you must apply for your Brazilian visa far in advance (before you leave Australia). You cannot just decide on the day! That extra day also gives you a much better chance of a sunny day! (Again, the team at Peregrine Travel Centre SA can help you with visa requirements)

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Now Chile….

1. Tell us a bit about your travels, where did you visit in Chile?

A country as diverse as Chile can easily swallow your entire vacation time! Running for 4,300km north to south, it encompasses a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes. In the 10 days of my trip we could only really pick out a few country highlights to visit. Connectivity is the main challenge when travelling in South America, so we were largely dictated by ease of access. We arrived overland into Chile from El Calafate (5hr transfer) and directly into Torres del Paine National Park (TdP) – the heart of Chilean Patagonia! After 3 nights in TdP it was another 5hr transfer to Punta Arenas, a coastal city and major maritime hub for both trade and passenger ships to connect with a flight to Santiago – Chile’s capital city. A few days exploring the city (we could’ve done with a little longer) and we were off again to the Atacama Desert region in northern Chile to finish off our South America adventure.

2. What were the top 3 places/ sites you visited?

Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-nay) was one of the standout highlights of our entire trip! A wealth of hiking options in every direction, wildlife ranging from the abundant guanaco to the rare and elusive puma, and superb fully-inclusive accommodation options.

The Atacama Desert region, considered the driest desert in the world, pounces upon you unannounced as you descend into the valley on arrival from Calama airport. A place of moonscape valleys, vast arid salt lakes and trembling volcanoes. Prepare for some early starts and long days to squeeze everything in! But worth every moment.

Santiago – the country’s capital – caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting much more than just ‘another city’ but it has an energetic modern vibe, contrasting to its 9th-century neoclassical architecture with dotted art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles too. A hike up Santa Maria Hill will have you power-walking (and out of breath!) with the locals, otherwise a day trip out of town to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar offers a contrast once again with its colourful houses and funicular railways running up the steep streets.

Atacama Desert

3. Did you do any hiking in Patagonia? Can you tell us more about this part of the world?

Did I ever! Torres del Paine National Park sits in the heart of Chilean Patagonia and at first glance reminded me of the Scottish Highlands with its rounded hills and scrubby landscape. It wasn’t until you start to venture out into particular areas that the towering, jagged granite cliffs spring out of nowhere and knock you for six! Still now, when I glance at the desktop wallpaper of my laptop I sit in awe of it!

Torres del Paine is a trekking mecca and you’ll meet everyone from hardcore campers taking on the challenge of the famous ‘W’ Trek to the more discerning traveller staying in one of the luxury accommodation offerings such as Tierra, The Singular, or Explora. We enjoyed the mid-range accommodation at a stunning property called Hosteria Las Torres – previously an estancia (ranch) and now the best-situated accommodation for the iconic Torres trek and the only one to offer horse-riding options to explore the region.

The best way to enjoy Torres del Paine is to take advantage of an accommodation’s all-inclusive package which not only ensures your arrival and departure transfers, but also all meals, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and most importantly, a menu of half-day and full-day excursions to ensure you maximise your time – cruising lakes and glaciers, mountain trekking, horse riding, gentle walks. It’s all at your disposal!

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

4. Any tips or recommendations for people considering travel to Chile

Don’t rush it. We really didn’t have enough time in Chile and I honestly believe I could spend 3 weeks here! There was so much more to offer than what we were able to see – Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas offer gateways to the Lake District where volcanoes meet the lakes! Think the Swiss Alps of South America. Overnight in Valparaiso would be a lovely addition to a Santiago visit rather than just a day trip. Lastly, let’s not forget the opportunity to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui), the remote volcanic Polynesian island is home to over 900 monumental head statues known as moai left behind by the 12th Century AD inhabitants!

As you can see, Argentina and Chile are fascinating destinations, with so much to offer travellers. They are also great to combine as a complete itinerary. If you’d like to know more about travel to this part of the world with Adventure World contact our friendly team of consultants today.

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