Patagonia and its End of the World charm have always tempted adventurers and we were no different. Although the confines of our two week vacation window stopped us from having a grand “North Face commercial” expedition full of glaciers and penguins, it did allow us to see the Lake District of Patagonia between Puerto Varas, Chile and Bariloche, Argentina, Mendoza Wine Country, Buenos Aires, and even Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.
The biggest challenge of Southern Cone travel is getting there. Taking three flights for 14 hours in the air, not including layovers, equating to about 20 hours of travel (not including the 4 hour drive to Minneapolis airport before even taking off!) can be enough to discourage many travelers. I thought I was being very wise by tacking on a $400 upgrade to already high airfare to put us in a bulkhead row for more legroom on our American Airlines flight. However, when we boarded this new, shiny aircraft, we found out that the bulkhead seats with dividers between each seat were even narrower than the regular child-size coach seats. So for all that money we ended up in seats so pinched on the 10 hour Dallas-Santiago leg that fitting into the seat AND putting the tray table down were impossible. This is not a great way to start a trip!
Upon landing in Santiago, we faced a six hour layover so we paid for admission into a VIP lounge and spent our time attempting to sleep, eating, drinking wine, and getting a shower in so we were ready for the next flight to Puerto Montt. From the airport we were transported to Puerto Varas to the stellar Hotel Dreams de Los Volcanes http://www.mundodreams.com/puerto-varas . It was one of the nicest rooms ever—patio door leading to a balcony overlooking Lake Llanquihue and Volcano Osorno, huge bathroom…heaven!
Once settled in and freshened up at the hotel, we wandered around Puerto Varas, a German style village in Chilean Patagonia. Hunger was calling and we’d be leaving Chile already tomorrow and heading for beef-centric Argentina so we opted for the Chilean specialty of fresh seafood at Las Buenas Brasas. The place was packed and for good reason! We had scallops on the shell broiled with parmesan and king crab chupe, a fantastic crab/cheese creation that paired perfectly with the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
It was still early and light out so we strolled around by the shore of Lago Llanquihue to stretch our legs, which were still suffering from the flights. We returned to the hotel and Russell crashed, but I got a second wind and went and checked out the pool and spa area. After a dip in the Jacuzzi and pool, I spent some time in both the steam room and sauna, and then was officially worn out as well.
The next morning we needed to board the bus for the Cruce Andino, conveniently located next door to the hotel. An early, fantastic breakfast at the hotel included smoked salmon, cappuccino, and a view of the volcano. Just how I like to wake up in a new country!
It was hard to leave the perfection that was Hotel Dreams, but the highlight of our trip was that day and we were anxious to start our Andean cruise. The Cruce Andino https://www.cruceandino.com/#/home takes you across the Andes from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina via buses and three different boats. It is an absolute MUST! It is the reason we flew into Chile and not directly into Argentina. We started on a coach bus and passed three different volcanoes, the last one erupting in 2015 with ash damage still visible. We made a stop at the falls in Petrohue (by the “way”, I found out that “hue”, present in many Chilean words, is an indigenous word meaning “place of”) and then boarded the greatest boat ride of all time across Lago Todos Santos. It was a mild autumn day and the sky was free of clouds and wind. Snaking between the mountains and volcanoes was like a dream. We got a great spot to stand/lean on the top deck and we got a really nice bottle of Chilean Cabernet, making the views even better! We also met some students from the Midwest who were studying abroad in Santiago so that was very informative and entertaining.
We made a stop for lunch at Peulla. Some passengers stayed there for a night, but I was glad we were continuing on as there wasn’t really much there but a hotel and restaurant. We had a lunch of salmon with vegetables and spaghetti and then took a nap in the sun on the hotel lawn overlooking the lake and mountains. Once again—heaven!
The next stretch was a two hour journey crossing the border into Argentina on a super treacherous gravel road with no shoulder. Thank you to the best bus driver on the planet! We were relieved to be off the bus when we arrived at Laguna Fría, where Che Guevara crossed on his motorcycle, La Poderosa, during his South American road trip many years ago.
Our next boat ride only took 20 minutes, but was a pretty ride across a green colored lake. We arrived in Puerto Blest where another bus took us the 3 km to the boat launch for our last leg of the trip across Lago Nahuel Haupi. This ride was about an hour, but the sun had set and the chill rolled in so top deck viewing was not for the faint of heart. I warmed up with some coffee and set my eyes on the shore ahead and the lights of Puerto Pañuelo, northwest of the city of Bariloche.
The entire Cruce Andino experience lasted about 12 hours and it was one of the best days we’ve ever had. We arrived after 8:00 pm, an hour later than expected, but luckily our driver was still waiting for us. Next stop, Bariloche!