As an avid lover of South America, I was slightly jealous when I heard that my colleague was heading over that way on our Chile and Patagonia Walk. A fantastic 13 day tour that starts and finishes in the bustling city that is Santiago and takes in some of the worlds most incredible and unique landscapes, from the Salar de Atacama to Moon Valley, witnessing glacial ridges and epic icebergs. Matt Newman our Sales and Customer Service Manager tells us why this trip was so special for him.
What was it about this tour that caught your eye?
South America is the one continent I haven’t seen and heading to the south of Chile has always been a dream. Seeing the towers of Torres del Paine is something I had to see in the flesh.
Santiago is a spectacular city with the majestic snowcapped Andes as a backdrop, what were your first thoughts upon arrival? Did you make time to go on a city tour?
I was surprised with the size of the city. We did a city tour and had some amazing views showing the sprawling mass of buildings. Not too many high rises but a vast city. I enjoyed some amazing food and wine and the cervicio and pisco sours were a real highlight.
Torres del Paine is one of the most beautiful and wild places in the world, did it live up to your expectations?
It sure did, we were blessed with amazing weather, clear blue skies and no wind (which is unusual). The whole area is spectacular and you can look at all the pictures but nothing quite does it like seeing it with your own eyes. Although it was high season I was still surprised at how many people were out trekking and enjoying the great outdoors, it was really inspiring.
Most of the tour you sleep in hotels, what was it like sleeping in the mountain refuge for some of the nights?
The refuges certainly weren’t as comfortable as the hotels but they had everything you needed. The surroundings made up for any of the home comforts that you missed. After a long day’s walking as long as you have decent food, a cold beer and comfy bed you should be happy. Well I certainly was!
How did you find the walking elements of the tour? Do you think you have to be of a certain fitness level to enjoy this tour properly?
We did 3 days of trekking. You are in the mountains so it is tough at times but with the scenery on offer you just get on with it. You can push yourself if you wish or take it slightly easier if desired. It makes it more enjoyable if you have a basic level of fitness certainly, but you don’t need to be super fit to enjoy it.
You visit some very unique landscapes, such as the Moon Valley and Salar de Atacama, was there a particular part of this tour that blew you away?
The stars, they’re unreal. 180 degrees of the solar system on view. We had an amazing few hours with some astronomers who were so knowledgable. Watching shooting stars, learning about constellations and viewing planets through telescopes. A truly memorable evening.
The days are packed with lots of activities, what did you and your tour group do to relax on an evening?
We had such a great group that the evenings’ highlight was food. The benefit of being with a local guide is they know the best places to eat. Forget about being sucked into tourist traps, we ate at amazing restaurants filled with locals. It was fantastic to all sit down together as a group, eat great food and enjoy the local wine in places you might not search out if on your own.
Do you have any special and/or funny memories from this tour?
So many great memories. Torres del Paine was my highlight but on a free day I hired a bike and cycled out to Laguna de Cejar (the floating lagoon) which is a small lake just outside San Pedro de Atacama. Due to the high salt content, just like the Dead Sea, you just jump in and float. It’s actually quite hard to swim as you are so buoyant. Lie on your back, hands behind your head, watch the flamingos fly above, float away and take in the rays! What a great experience.
If you could go back to South America on another trip, where would your next destination be?
It’s such a big continent with so much to see. I always thought Brazil or Peru, which of course would be great, but with a number of well travelled people in our group singing the praises of Bolivia and Columbia I might need to look at taking a sabbatical and taking 3 months to take in a number of countries in this amazing continent. Maybe start in Bolivia