Apr 22, 2015


|

Discovering the Beauty of the Far South



Last month, Adam and I packed up our bags and headed south on a month-long journey to Argentina and Chile. We wanted to return to Patagonia to strengthen our connections with suppliers and discover new, lesser-known hotels and excursions. We remain wholeheartedly committed to providing the best of the best in the Far South, and the only way we can ensure top-notch quality is to visit regularly to make sure we are up to date with the finest lodges and experiences that this distant paradise has to offer.

Here is a quick summary of what we discovered. The destinations are listed in the same order that we visited:


Polo Players outside of Buenos AiresBuenos Aires – “The Paris of South America”

Our journey to Patagonia began with a brief stint in Argentina’s capital. We spent three nights in Buenos Aires, the so-called Paris of South America, eating at exclusive restaurants, refining our palettes with distinctly Argentine beverages, and visiting some of the finest hotels in the city. During our short stay, we watched a Tango Show at La Cava del Querandí, which is said to have the most “local” feel of any of the inherently touristy tango shows in Buenos Aires. We ate locally inspired empanadas and the classic Lomo de Bife prepared by a renowned Argentine chef at one of Buenos Aires’ notorious closed-door restaurants. We even explored outside the city and visited Estancia Puesto Viejo, a high-end polo club in the pampas.

 

Fresh King Crab in UshuaiaUshuaia – “Fin del Mundo”

During our flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia we realized that we had majorly underestimated the beauty and grandeur of the Andes in Tierra del Fuego. Centuries of howling winds have left the peaks sharp and jagged, and each snow-capped peak is lined with a seemingly endless expanse of evergreen forest. For the adventure-loving type, exploring Tierra del Fuego’s backcountry would be a wild experience.

While Tierra del Fuego is usually synonymous with wind, rain, and less-than-favorable weather conditions, Mother Nature was very good to us in Ushuaia, and we experienced clear skies and beautiful views of Mount Olivia and the surrounding Andes during our stay. Having just spent three nights feasting on beef in meat-friendly Buenos Aires, we had been salivating in anticipation of all the fresh seafood to come in Ushuaia. Thus our brief stay in the world’s southernmost city consisted of copious amounts of freshly harvested crab and sea bass, a city tour featuring a visit to the wharf, and a brief hike in Cerro Alarkén National Reserve.

 

Perito Moreno Canopy WalkwaysEl Calafate & the Patagonian Estancias

Though Ushuaia is considered to be a part of Patagonia, in many ways our arrival in El Calafate felt like the beginning of our Patagonia journey. The Santa Cruz province is where Los Glaciares National Park is located and is home to Perito Moreno Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, and many of the iconic places that swirl through your mind when you hear the word “Patagonia.” For us, these are familiar territories that we have explored in the past and our expeditions frequent, so our goal in Santa Cruz was to fine tune our Estancias of Patagonia Expedition and learn about the latest and greatest experiences for future custom tours and expeditions.

We spent just over a week in the area, exploring Perito Moreno, the Upsala Glacier, and the Ice Museum, acquainting ourselves with the wonders of the Patagonian Ice Field. At Estancia Cristina, we went Chinook salmon fishing on the Catarana River with Director Alberto del Castillo and his climbing friend Juanpe, sight casting to thirty pound river-run salmon and sharing stories with these two accomplished mountaineers and Fitz Roy summiteers. And, of course, we visited as many estancias and hotels as possible, trying to get a feel each one so that we can determine the right fit for each and every traveler.

 

Aguas Arriba from Lago del DesiertoEl Chaltén & Lago del Desierto

Like El Calafate, El Chaltén is familiar territory for us. We returned to peruse alternative lodgings, discover off-the-beaten-path hikes, and to find the best places to eat in El Chaltén. More than anything, we wanted to visit Aguas Arriba Lodge, the remote hideaway that was just recognized by Forbes Magazine as One of the Ten Coolest Places to Visit in 2015 (alongside Estancia Cristina).

 

Torres del PaineTorres del Paine National Park

Arguably the most famous park in the Far South, Torres del Paine lives up to the hype ten times out of ten. Even when the wind is whipping across the steppe and the painted “horns of the Paine massif” are covered with clouds, there are still great hikes and nature experiences available for visitors. Not to mention Torres del Paine also boasts some of the most incredible all-inclusive hotels and lodges in South America.

During our visit, we stayed in a private yurt at South America’s first luxury eco camp. We got a close-up view of “Los Torres” on an expert-guided trek to the base of the Paine towers on a perfect morning. We drank “Calafate Sours,” a twist on the Pisco Sour made with the juices of the local Patagonian Calafate berry. To top it off, we nourished ourselves with classic dishes from southern Chile like Lamb Patagónica and Merluza Negra (Chilean seabass).

 

Chilean Lake District & Northern Patagonia

Upon arrival in Puerto Montt, the temperatures were much warmer, the winds calmer, and the scenery far different than what we left behind in the Far South. The jagged, feral peaks of the Paine massif were replaced by picture-perfect volcanoes rising dramatically above Lago Llanquihue and the surrounding lakes. The cultural landscape was every bit as different as the scenery. The town of Puerto Varas was far more developed, with Patagonia and North Face stores, and just about every outdoor apparel shop you can think of lining the main square. There was also a distinctly German atmosphere. During and after WWII, many Germans fled Europe and crossed the Atlantic to Argentina and Chile. These German communities are strewn about the Lake District and the area in and around Puerto Varas has a unique Chilean-German character.

 

Bariloche & the Argentine Lake District

We entered the Argentine Lake District by catamaran, taking the Cruce Andino crossing from Puerto Varas to Bariloche. This was a unique and scenic way to enter Argentina, winding through a series of Volcano-laden Andean lakes and remote mountain roads. However, we did learn that the one-day crossing is simply too tiring. We were absolutely exhausted when we arrived at the Llao Llao that evening. If we were to do it again, we would book the two-day crossing with an overnight stay in Peulla (or if short on time, avoid the Cruce Andino route).

Our stay in the Lake District began at the historic Llao Llao Hotel, which ranks beside Buenos Aires’ Alvear Palace as one of the most famous hotels in Argentina. In many ways, the history of the Llao Llao mirrors the political evolution of Argentina over the past century. During our stay we explored Bariloche and its famous chocolate shops and took the ski lift to Cerro Camponario to see first-hand what National Geographic described as one of the seven most beautiful views in the world. We then ventured to Villa la Angostura, stopping along the way to visit the famous Limay River where enormous, twenty pound, brown trout arrive every March and April to spawn.

 

Uco Valley the VinesMendoza & the Uco Valley

Our journey to the Wine Region involved a less-than-ideal 18-hour bus ride from Bariloche to Mendoza. As our friend Jose said, we needed to “rough it” for a night after staying at all the amazing luxury resorts in Argentina and Chile. Although the bus ride was long, it is hard to say that we were really “roughing it.” The buses in Argentina are known to be some of the nicest in the Americas, and they lived up to the hype. Our seats reclined to a 180-degree angle, we had a TV with the latest Hollywood movies playing, and we were even served two meals during the journey. It’s nearly impossible for me to get any sleep in a car or on an airplane, but I can honestly say that I got a few quality hours of sleep after the third movie!

Our arrival in Mendoza couldn’t have been more timely. This year has been an abnormally wet season in the Wine Region (in stark contrast to the dry conditions in the Lake District), and the first big snows of the season occurred just prior to our arrival. All of the Andean peaks were covered in white, providing a magnificent backdrop behind the vineyards in Lujan de Cujo and the Uco Valley. Furthermore, the wet conditions had forced many of the vineyards to hold off on the harvest for a few more weeks, so nearly every vineyard was teeming with fresh grapes that were ripe and almost ready to harvest.

Needless to say, we had a blast in the wine district, exploring different vineyards on bikes, eating like Argentine royalty, and learning the intricate differences in local wines from expert sommeliers.

 

All in all, our journey to the Far South was a success, and we returned to the United States with an expanded knowledge of the amazing experiences that Argentina and Chile have to offer.


 

If you would like to experience the Far South for yourself let us know by calling:

1-888-996-3558

No time to talk?

Send a quick Private Travel request ›

You can also experience Patagonia on these expeditions:

Estancias of Patagonia / Best of Patagonia

 

If you’re interested in seeing more pictures from the Far South, check out the Paragon Expeditions Facebook and Instagram pages. You will also find other cool shots that our travelers have taken from Peru, Patagonia, and beyond.