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Trip Report - Hotel Explora Salto Chico – Patagonia – Dec 2006/Jan 2007

Trip Report - Hotel Explora Salto Chico – Patagonia – Dec 2006/Jan 2007

Old Jan 18, 07, 4:31 pm
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Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Arlington, VA USA
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Trip Report - Hotel Explora Salto Chico – Patagonia – Dec 2006/Jan 2007

Let me start by saying that all of the reports I could find on this hotel prior to my travel, consisted over whether or not it was worth the money. This is an expensive place to vacation, but this report will not address value, but rather give people an idea of what to expect.

Travel to Patagonia:
I would be going to Patagonia with my Parents, Sister, Brother, and a family friend. Leaving from DCA, I flew to ATL to catch my overnight flight to Santiago, Chile. This flight was on Delta, and I was in coach. I had an aisle seat, and the person in the window requested a change with brother so he could have an aisle, so we shared the 2 seats against the window in a 2-3-2 setup 767. The leg room was a little tight as the seat in front of me had something underneath along the aisle. I was able to just my left leg into the aisle occasionally, but it was tight otherwise. Food was plentiful, as they served dinner and breakfast on the flight. Only one movie was shown, and the screens are few and far between. I was probably 8 rows away from a small screen attached to the ceiling. Not the best for viewing. Once in Santiago, we had to wait until the next day to fly to Punta Arenas, as the only Lan Chile flight we could get left at 7:30am. Don’t forget to pay the $100 tax(one time per passport) when you arrive before jumping in the customs line. The right side customs line moved much quicker for us. The airport in Santiago does not really get moving until 6:30am(Santiago & Patagonia are at GMT-4, with opposite DST cycles than the US), as that’s when the breakfast places open. No need to take out laptops, or liquids here when going through security. I could even walk through the metal detector with my shoes on. It was very nice. The flight to Punta Arenas is not bad, but it does require a brief stopover. The stop over was just enough time to let people get off, and then get the new people on. They served a half of a Ham & Cheese sandwich, along with yogurt or fruit, on each leg of the trip. Upon arriving in Punta Arenas, you collect your bags, and there is an Explora stand right by the baggage claim. You get your bags, and they tag them with a room number(see a little later about rooms). Once you have signed in, then you head outside to the right to wait to be put into an Explora van. Note: Punta Arenas was VERY windy. All of the trees near the runway were on a slant. You should anticipate high winds, and I recommend being ready with long pants and a light jacket (even during summer).
Travel to Hotel Explora:
Once were loaded into 4 different vans, we took off. Keep in mind that if you are traveling in a decent size group, you may want to get outside quickly, so that you are assured of being in the same van. My family was the final van, and took on one person from another family, so we had more space than most. The vans have 4 rows of seats that 2 people fit in comfortably, but three could be a little tight. The drive will be long. They stop about 2 hours into the drive for a lunch. This should be called a snack. They have two different places that they stop. We stopped at the second one, and were offered a choice of 4 sandwiches. You can feel free to ask for things you do not see, like adding tomato or avocado to your sandwiches. I had the steak and cheese, and we asked about french fries, that were not on the menu, but got them. You can also get wine, beer, etc. This meal is all covered by Explora. If you are tired, take a nap before the snack, as you will want to be awake for the drive afterwards. It is generally, about 2-3 hours to the hotel after the stop for a snack. They are doing construction on the road, so that adds some time, but once they are done, it looks like it will lessen the travel time. Once you pass the construction, you will reach the Torres Del Paines National Park. Now you are getting close to the hotel. Once you arrive, you are directed to main lobby where you sign a waiver, saying basically that things happen when hiking, and that you won’t sue. My brother and I were directed to room 32. I would recommend avoiding this room as it is in a higher traffic area, and the window is too close to an outdoor walking path. Incidentally, I would also avoid rooms 1 & 2, as well as 33 & 34. You can probably ask for a room on an upper floor, and away from the stairs. There are no elevators that I saw, so keep that in mind if you don’t like stairs.
The rooms:
The room is fine. It is not a Motel 6, nor is it the Waldorf Astoria. It is a basic room, with wonderful views. Wood walls, and we had 2 full-size beds. Down pillows(so ask for allergy pillows if needed). Comfortable beds, but not luxurious. The bathroom is nice, with slate walls, and 2 windows out into the room. The windows provide a view of the outside from the bathroom. They have one from the bathtub area, and one above the sink. The problem is that I don’t want to see into the bathroom when I am in the room. They have a shade for the one window off the tub area, but the other does not, so privacy from your roommate is not the best. I found my room to be very dry, so I slept with the window open most nights. There is no TV, or internet in the rooms. They didn’t even have a clock in my room. There is a decent sized safe for valuables, but it cannot hold a laptop or anything of that size. They provide nice shampoo/soap/conditioner, and they leave two chocolates every night, in addition to the 4 cookies that were there upon our arrival. There is only one real place for a suitcase, so you will need to use the closet and dressers.
The orientation:
You are instructed to take part in orientation for Explora, at either 7 or 7:45. We opted for the latter. The orientation room is small for the crowd. The room seats about 24 comfortably, and orientation is for upwards of 70 people on a busy changeover day. So get there a little early if you want a decent seat. Gentian gave our orientation, and gave us some great info on the location. She is one of the guides, and the guides do so much more than guide trips. She is also the only guide from the States, and speaks English perfectly. Once orientation is done, you are instructed to go off with certain guides if you are sure about doing a full or half day trip, or to stay if you are unsure. My first real tip, be decisive. If you want to do something, make your decision, and sign up with one of the guides. There is a little pamphlet on all the trips in your room upon arrival, and the descriptions are also on the web site. We were not decisive, and when we finally settled on a trip, we signed up with a guide, and walked away to dinner. The guide came to find us at dinner, and informed us that our trip was already full. They only allow 8 people per hike, which I will explain later. No problem, we would take our second choice, even though we felt like we had been bumped. She came back a few minutes later, to say that was also full. So we settled on basically the only thing left, the French Valley hike. The picking of hikes, is pretty disorganized, and the organized aggressive people will likely get what they want. The choosing of hikes for the following day begins at 7:30 each night, but if you hover around the bar area, you can probably get your choice in before then. You just need to be nice, but aggressive in making the request. We would learn this the next day. The guide who finally assigned us to the French Valley hike the first night, promised us preference for the Grey Glacier hike with an extension hike for the following day’s sign up.
Dinner:
Dinner was to be served nightly between 8:00 and 10:15. There are two dining rooms, with the downstairs being more quiet generally. We were given a menu with 2 options for appetizer and entrée. You are also given a nightly choice of salad dressing, light vinaigrette, herbal, or citric. I found the herbal to be the best. Our appetizer options were Goat Cheese and Mushroom Soup. The entrée options were Flank Steak and vegetarian Pasta. The steak was beef brisket, and very well cooked. Once the entrées are finished, you are given a choice of 5 desserts. I had a chocolate tort, which was like a bombe. Keep in mind that these are not your American sized servings, but are plenty. They also serve bread with every meal.

Breakfast:
Breakfast is served from 7-10am, and is seat yourself. The only things you order from the wait staff, is coffee, tea, and eggs. You can get your eggs with cheese, bacon, or ham. The rest is a small buffet of breads, silver dollar pancakes, fruits, cheese, ham, cereal, and random things like guacamole and cookies. The Orange Juice is freshly squeezed the day before, and they have water, milk, etc.

The French Valley Hike:
Valeria led us onto a boat off the hotel dock, as we set off on a 20-30 ride to our starting point. We were to hike up to the Italian Camp in French Valley, a total of about 16km. We set off going up and down small hills, hiking around a lake. Due to high winds and water, we were unable to cross one bridge, so we had to hike up and back on the same path. Once around the lake, we hiked up into the valley, and over a running stream from the glacier to the Italian Camp. The more ambitious can go on to a plateau one hour beyond the Italian Camp, or the British camp, which is 2 hours beyond. We elected to go to a glacier view which was only about 20 minutes past the Italian Camp. Valeria laid out lunch for us. She setup in the woods, and then called us over. She had laid out all the sandwich choices in little piles, and sprinkled the trail mix over them along with laying out 2 types of mustard, guacamole, tomatoes, and string beans for toppings. We had Cheese, Roast Beef, and Shrimp sandwiches. First she broke out a thermos of Tomato soup, and poured each of us a small cup. That felt good, as the wind was blowing and it got cold once we stopped hiking. After sandwiches were devoured, she offered coffee, tea, and muffins. Pass on the muffins. She even offered a little Baileys in your drink. We all declined, not sure why. We hiked 20 minutes up to get a view of the glacier

Grey Lake Peninsula(half-day):
My parents did this one, and they saw many great icebergs that had drifted down from the glacier. They hiked around the peninsula, and then on the hike back, were hit by hard winds and hail. This left them soaked on one side, so they came back to the hotel for lunch, changed, and went out on an afternoon hike. Pablo was their guide. If you don’t do the Grey Glacier hike, this is an alternative so you can see the icebergs. You could even be daring like some of the other guests that jumped out onto an ice flow and had their picture taken.

Lunch:
Chilean Sea Bass was offered as an entrée along with Ricotta stuffed ravioli

Mirador de Nordenskjold(half-day): My parents walked to the shore or Lake Pehoe. It was still very windy, but not a taxing walk. They then went to the waterfall before coming home. Gentian was their guide.


The 2nd night:
We had gotten back to the hotel around 5:30, so I cleaned up and went to do some email. They have wireless internet in the bar, and 2 computers hooked to the internet downstairs off of the orientation room. I figured I would get to the hike choosing process around 7:15. When I did, I asked about the Grey Glacier with extension hike. I was told it was already full. 2 groups of 4 had already jumped the guides upon their arrival, and I was bumped again. After much discussion, we signed up for the Grey Glacier hike without the extension. This ended up being fortunate in my mind, but shows how you need to be ready if you know which hike you want to do. Dinner consisted of appetizer options, Onion Soup and King Crab. The entrée options were Lamb Chops and Shrimp Risotto. The risotto was undercooked in my opinion, but I think that is pretty normal for risotto.

The Grey Glacier hike:
We left the hotel at 8am, along with the group that was doing the extension hike. This extension was supposed to add 2 hours to the hike, and increase the difficulty substantially. This extension would get you above the glacier for a look down. The problem is that we all had to meet at the same point at 3:30 for our trip home, so they would have to make up 2 hours on us, in about 14 km. So after taking the same boat as the day before over to a launching point for the hike, the other group took off on a very brisk pace. We took our time, and talked about the hike, checked out the map, and walked at a decent, but not quick pace. The rains started, but without any wind. So we hiked through this to about 5 lookout points along the hike. The extension crew would not have been able to stop and take pictures, eat granola bars, change clothes, etc. Guides bring along trail mix, and granola bars for you. I was thankful for this extra time, not only for the views, but also for the ability to adjust my wardrobe to fit the wet weather. We got to a lunch spot, just as the rain stopped, and enjoyed another similar meal, Corn Soup, Turkey, Cheese, and Salmon sandwich halves, with toppings of guacamole, mustard, tomatoes, roasted peppers, and artichoke hearts available. Guides layout the meal, and some are more concerned with appearance than others. Pablo, our guide today, was a wonderful guide/person, but admittedly didn’t put as much effort into making the picnic pretty. After lunch, we got a little hail, and we were only 45 minutes from the pickup spot. We had 2 hours until we had to be at the boat pickup, so we hiked a little past the boat pickup for a great glacier view from across the water in the shadow of the mountain. The sun broke out just at that time, and made for a wonderful conclusion to the hike. After we hung out and took pictures for 30 minutes or so, we went to meet the boat. Once on the boat we cruised right up to the glacier, and spent about 45-60 minutes cruising around the glacier and taking pictures. Then the crew brought out Pique Sours, and we headed back to the Grey Beach, where we would get in a van to head back to the hotel. We saw numerous icebergs along the way, and the ice for our drinks was taken from one. On the van ride back, we saw 2 Huemuls. These are an endangered species, that look like a cross between a deer and a mule. The van stopped so we could get a good look. Even one of the guides, said she had never seen one before. As I was writing this Gentian, who helped me spell Huemul, said she was jealous as she had never seen one.

Aonikenk Trail(half-day):
My parents saw all sorts of wildlife, birds, foxes, Guanacos, Huemuls, etc. They walked up to the caves, and saw some Indian paintings. Valeria and Pepita were their guides. I would do this trip later on in the week, as they recommended it.

Lunch:
Duck Confit with Fava Beans was one of the entrees, along with artichoke fettuccini.

Mirador del Toro(half-day):
My parents afternoon hike took them to three different viewpoints, with wonderful views. They saw lots of birds as well. Molita was the guide. This is evidently a very nice hike on a beautiful day, but limited by high winds or poor weather.

The 3rd night:
We decided to do 2 half day trips after feeling pretty drained from the day in the rain. My Sister didn’t particularly like any of the half-day hike offerings, so they opened up one of the others in the morning, so that we could go. My Sister, Brother, and friend all wanted to horse back ride in the afternoon, but I preferred a hike. There were no hikes scheduled for the afternoon, so they asked what I would like to do, and they opened the one I thought I might want. No one else signed up for it, so I elected to go horseback riding with the family instead(although I eventually bailed on that too).
Dinner gave us appetizer options of Grilled Shrimp with fava beans and Carrot Soup. The table next to us, didn’t like either option, and asked for salmon, which was delivered. The entrees were Steak and Black Linguine with scallops. My brother and friend, were not thrilled with the linguine, and were able to get another steak entrée to share. My dessert was a chocolate tart, that was like a little chocolate pie.

The Cornisas hike(half-day):
Our guide Benjamin, led just my sister, brother, and me out of the hotel, and up the big hill behind us. This hike was tough for the first hour, and relaxing for most of the remainder. It took us up to the top of the ridge on the “mountain” behind us. It was about an hour of hard climbing, and then just spectacular views in every direction as we hiked along the ridge. I highly advise doing this hike(or the full day Toro heights) on a clear day, so you can get a full view of the park and surrounding mountains. Benjamin was able to give us geology lessons along the way that I had long forgotten since high school, and tell us about flowers, trees, and layout of the park. We relaxed for 15-30 minutes at the highest peak, and then hiked down to the road where were picked up in a waiting van to be ushered back to the hotel for lunch. The lunch options in the hotel were similar to the dinner in the size, and selection. We had an appetizer option of Tomato Soup or Salmon. Entrée options were Lamb or a Chilean bean dish with corn. This is a traditional Chilean dish, and was wonderful. I highly recommend trying it. I had a chocolate mousse for dessert that was great.

Laguna Cal Sarmiento:
My parents finally took a full day hike, and it may have been a little much for them. The hike was 14km, and the end was hiked in rain. They saw many ducks, and the walk was long, but not too difficult. The length was what wore them out. Pepita was their guide. Evidently, their guide was joking with them about how their group set the record for the longest hike ever.

The 4th night:
New Year’s Eve. We signed up for short hike starting at 9:30 the next day, and then were going to have a van pick us up and take us to a BBQ area. They tried to do a special dinner for NYE, and I wish they had not. The half-grilled lobster was certainly not as good as Maine lobster, and the foie gras, in addition to being foie gras, was not cooked well. We partied with the staff and other hotel guests for New Year’s

The Aonikenk Trail plus BBQ:
My brother was too hung over for the morning hike, but my sister, friend, and I went on this easier hike. It starts with a 30 minute van ride to the entrance of the park, followed by a pretty easy walk through the plains. It could have been because of New Year’s Eve, but I enjoyed this hike the least. We saw a ton of Guanacos, a local llama-like creature, and saw some old Indian paintings. The problem was that it was very windy, cold, and not the best of days for views. I think the guide is important on this one, as you need info on what you are seeing. Our guide was pretty quiet, and was my least favorite guide of the trip. From the end of the hike, we were picked up in a van and taken to the BBQ location. This is at the stables, and is not your traditional BBQ. They have Lamb being cooked against the fire pit, along with Empanadas, salad, grilled chicken, salmon, and all the typical beverages. The Gouchos manage the BBQ, along with help from the guides. This was unique experience, and the food was quite good. Make time for this. The rest of my family went on varying levels of horseback rides and hikes after the BBQ, while I went back to the hotel(about 45 minutes in a van).

The 5th Night:
You will get back late after the BBQ if you do anything, so make sure you are up for it. It would have been a very long day for me. Instead, I went back to the hotel, jumped in the hot tub, jumped in the river(very cold), and back to the hot tub. I then stole my step-mother’s massage time, as she wasn’t going to make it back. Patricia gave a great massage, and I wish I had more than 30 minutes scheduled. I told her I was having problems with my right knee, and she gave that area a little more attention. I had some fluid built up in the knee, and I am sure I would not have been able to do the Towers hike the following day if I had not gotten a massage. The rest of the group raved about the other masseuses as well. Massages cost extra, but they were worth it. That night, I signed up my sister, brother and friend for the hike to the base of the towers with me. Dinner offered corn soup and ceviche as appetizers, and lamb chops or spinach/cheese ravioli for the entree. The ravioli was quite good. Dessert was standard fare, and I decided to pass, as I was exhausted. I recall the Apple Tart looking good after it arrived at the table.

The Base of the Towers Hike:
The earliest departure hike, we had to be in the lobby at 7:45 for a hour long van ride to our departure point. I had been having real problems with my right knee, and asked about a knee brace. Thankfully, they had a neoprene brace at the reception area that I was able to borrow. I had never used one of these before, but was extremely thankful to have it, and I am sure it helped me on my hike. This hike was all business for us. Most of the hikes we went on proceeded at a leisurely pace, people stopping to take pictures, chat, etc. This one was unlike any of those. We had to cover 17km, and ascend 880 meters. The first part of this hike was a killer. It is a steep ascent, and I was not in good enough shape to keep up with the group. I was quite winded, and started regretting skipping trips to the gym every day. My sister and brother did not have as many problems, as they were in better shape. After the first hour to 90 minutes, the hike levels off through the woods, and I had no problems keeping up. I wish we had more time to enjoy some of the views, but that’s the problem with being at the back of the pack. There are a couple of places to fill up water on this hike, which was great for me, as I was chugging through mine, and the guides did not carry extra water on this hike. After the woods, you get to the hardest part of the hike, which is a steep ascent over boulders. This will take 45-60 minutes, and is physically taxing. I fell back from the pack, and one of the guides stayed back with me. I was thankful to have her conversation as I rested, as it kept my mind off the climb. She tried to make me feel better, saying that she was not feeling well, and needed the break too. Even though I know she was lying, it sure sounded good at the time. I reached the top about 5-15 minutes after the rest of the crew, and we set up for lunch. Broccoli soup never tasted so good. Standard sandwich fare, and the marginal muffins for dessert. We spent a little extra time resting at the top of this mountain, and then headed for home. The downhill part was MUCH easier than advertised. They kept telling me that the downhill was worse than the uphill, but I completely disagree. I was thankful I had brought a walking stick from the hotel though. On the way back, we stopped to check out the mountain, and managed to see an avalanche. The tough thing is that by the time you hear the avalanche, you basically miss it. We got lucky. The end of the hike, which is a steep downhill was very hard on my knees, and even my sister said her knees started to hurt. Once we got back to the vans, they broke out a cooler of beer, soda, and water. These were much appreciated before the long van ride back to the hotel. Just to reiterate, this hike can be done by someone out of shape, but it is very taxing, and should not be taken lightly.

The 6th night:
The last night. We had to leave for Punta Arenas at 5am the next day, so we ate early. To my surprise, the last night was very quiet. I expected the guides to come hang out for a little while, so we could say thanks, goodbye, etc. Tips for the guides are generally given in a lump sum to be split, but you can slip your favorite guide a little extra if you like. Some dinner options re-appeared from early in our stay, so I guess the menus, while diverse for a week, might repeat on a longer stay. It was sort of like camp, with people saying goodbye, exchanging contact information, etc. I think my parents made a couple of friends that they will stay in touch with. The guides were such interesting people, that I can only hope a few come to DC so I can buy them drinks as a thanks for their hard work.

The Travel Home:
A 4 hour van ride to the Punta Arenas airport was the highlight. Check-in there is easy, and was almost entirely comprised of people from Explora. There is a Solones VIP club behind security, for those with Diner’s Club International cards. The 4 hour flight to Santiago, with a brief stop-over, got us to Santiago 7 hours before our red-eye to Atlanta. The biggest problem was that the Delta check-in didn’t open until 3 hours before the flight. Killing 4 hours in the Santiago airport is not easy. Gatsby’s restaurant was OK, but there isn’t much else until you get past security. Behind security, you have more Diner’s Club type places, but you need to get past security. By the way, when you entered the country, you had to fill out a little travel disembarkation card that gets stamped. You NEED this to leave the country. If not, you need to ask for a duplicate. Thankfully, my sister spoke Spanish, or I would have been in trouble. Mine was at the bottom of my checked luggage. Once again, security was rather painless, but you could not bring any liquids on the plane with you, even those you bought after security. The Delta Crown room in Santiago was quite nice, with decent food and drink. The flight back was similar to the flight down there.

My favorite guides:
Valeria: Young woman, just out of school. Her English skills are not the best of the guides, but she communicated fine once you engaged her in conversation. She keeps a good hiking pace, and takes extra special care in her lunch presentation, making it a nice little picnic.

Pablo: Young man, also just out of school, although a little older. He was very kind, and helpful. One of our hikers that day, was an older woman, and he made sure she was able to make it through, and did it with a smile.

Carolina: Young woman, who was definitely a hard core hiker. She led the extension of the Grey Glacier hike the morning after her birthday party, which lasted until 3:30am reportedly. She did it all with a smile, and then crashed hard(taking a power nap) when we got in the boat to go look at the glacier close up. The next day, she led another full day hike.

Benjamin: Young man who lived in New Jersey for 6 years, so his English is great. He gave us tons of information, and was respectful of my fear of heights, when it came up.

Gentian: The only guide from the U.S. Gave our orientation, and was helpful when looking for hikes to do. She also led our hike to the base of the Towers on the final day, and really helped me out when I was laboring at the back of the group. She took her time, and stayed back with me. Despite the fact that I am sure she was being nice, she kept telling me that she was happy to take her time going up the final ascent.

Preparing for Explora Patagonia:
This is possibly where most mistakes are made, and the equipment shop that they have is not cheap. First of all, hiking sneakers are OK, but I would recommend boots, especially for the harder hikes. Waterproof is key. Smartwool socks are a must to avoid blisters. As for pants, I brought waterproof hiking pants, and I was fine, but some people might prefer rain pants over their typical hiking pants. Jeans won’t work on a full day hike, as the weather can change very quickly. It gets very windy, so a baseball cap can fly off if you aren’t careful. I would bring a hat that can cover your ears at least as a backup. Polarized sunglasses are a must. I never wear them usually, but I needed them on some days. As for tops, you should bring a wicking shirt for the bottom layer. You should have a fleece for warmth on days that it is needed, and a waterproof shell for your top layer. I went against advice, and wore a long sleeve t-shirt over my wicking shirt on the first day, and once we stopped I started to freeze, as this shirt was soaked. The sun is strong, so bring suntan lotion. The wind can be even stronger, so a good wind breaker/shell is critical. A backpack is needed to carry things like camera, water, layers of clothes. Attire in the evenings was casual, but I definitely felt a little under dressed when I wore a long sleeve t-shirt and jeans in the evening. A decent shirt seemed to be the standard.
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Old Jan 19, 07, 12:49 am
  #2  
 
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Great trip report, thanks for posting!

Sounds like we were in Patagonia at the same time; we flew into PUQ on Boxing Day and back to SCL on New Year's Day, but rented a car and drove to Puerto Natales, El Calafate, and back over the six-day period. Did a huge loop and put a couple thousand kms on the clock.

I've been meaning to do a trip report on this journey (which included AF and AM Business Class as well as side trips to New York City and Vancouver) but I've had no time, it's been CRAZY since I got back.

We made SIX one-way trips on the road between Puerto Natales and Cerro Castillo (2/3 of the way to PN Torres del Paine) and so became well-familiar with the construction... to the point where some of the flagmen recognised us. That road will be GREAT when it's finished, but replacement of the gravel section from C° Castillo to the PN hasn't even been started.

We stopped by the Explora to check it out, as I was curious about it. Before our trip I had considered staying there, but I just couldn't justify to myself the prices they were charging and that you stay there on their terms (min number of days, etc.). After looking about the place, I feel I made the right decision FOR ME. It's very expensive but then it's all about VALUE... what your priorities are. For me, it would be an absolute shame to go all the way down to Punta Arenas and not see the town, the penguins at Seno Otway, spend some time around Puerto Natales, see PN Los Glaciares in Argentina, kick back in El Calafate for a couple of days, etc. There is much more to the area than Torres del Paine. But then, I didn't get the chance to do much in the way of good hikes. The weather was definitely a factor for us, and we never did get a close-in view of the Torres (though the Cuernos were kind to us) and Glaciar Grey like you did. Again, it's about balance and trade-offs!

Was VERY impressed with the Chilean airports that I saw; SCL but especially PUQ... what a nice little terminal! A couple of tips:

First, not all flights between SCL and PUQ have a stopover in Puerto Montt (PMC); there are non-stops as well.

Second, PUQ has a decent little bar/restuarant on the mezzanine level that does sandwiches and small meals. Stragely, both the bar and seating area are divided in two by a glass partition separating the secure and non-secure area. We went upstairs to grab a bite to eat after checking in only to find the restaurant area chocka... no free tables. But strangely there wasn't one table taken on the sterile side of the glass; so we went through security with NO QUEUE, sat down at an empty table and got served right away. This garnered some withering looks from people who were still waiting to be served on the other side of the glass! We ordered a sandwich which was HUGE (big enough for two, and I have an appetite) as well as a couple of beers. By the time we finished the security line had at least 50 people in it!

Third, if you fly on an A320 DO NOT ask for the exit row. If you get the first window exit (Row 10) there is less legroom than any other seat on the plane. For some strange reason LAN has installed bulkheads on these exit rows, so there is nowhere to put your feet.


Last edited by TrayflowInUK; Jan 19, 07 at 12:58 am Reason: Added picture to illustrate my point
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Old Jan 19, 07, 9:25 am
  #3  
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Pictures

I wasn't sure whether pictures or links were allowed, but I figure I will try and post a couple of pics to add to the report.
From the hotel

The Towers

The Cornisas Hike

The Grey Glacier

Last edited by coachigdon; Jan 19, 07 at 9:33 am Reason: added photos
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Old Jan 27, 07, 4:12 pm
  #4  
 
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Originally Posted by coachigdon View Post
The picking of hikes, is pretty disorganized, and the organized aggressive people will likely get what they want.
I didn't have this experience, but the lodge may have been hosting fewer people when I was there. I was neither decisive nor aggressive, but got whichever hike I wanted on the day I wanted it.

the bar area
I would also mention that alcoholic and other drinks are complimentary and practically unlimited.


If you don’t do the Grey Glacier hike, this is an alternative so you can see the icebergs.
There is an extra-cost option (I think not offered by Explora, though) to hike on the glacier and do some ice-climbing.

The Base of the Towers Hike:
We had to cover 17km, and ascend 880 meters.
Definitely one of the most difficult hikes they offer.
Nice report and recommendations! Also great that you saw some huemules--they're apparently less common in that part of the park.

I think there's a lot to do in PN Torres del Paine. Although of course it would be nice to see El Calafate, etc., if you're just looking to do some good hiking you won't be disappointed with the hikes mentioned.
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