Day 1: Santiago
I arrived at the Santiago Airport and was immediately greeted by my customs escort, a service provided by our Destination Management company &Beyond, and was whisked past the lines and aided in passing through customs and immigration. A service very worthwhile! A half hour drive in a Land Rover had me at the door of the Singular Hotel located in Lastarria, an older part of city. The Singular is a luxury 5 Star hotel with very comfortable rooms, and an array of wonderful restaurants in the area within walking distance. The newer commercial center with glass tower blocks, the tallest building in South America and wide streets to stroll along lies just north and is known as Uptown. Santiago is sprawling city, home to over 7 million, and soaked in lively culture and the day’s hustle and bustle while stile, amazingly, maintaining a certain laid back style.
Day 2: Atacama Desert
After a hearty breakfast, I returned to the airport for my 2 hour and 10 minute flight to Calama, gateway to the Atacama Desert. A 1.5 hour road transfer had us at the Alto Atacama Lodge and Spa, an oasis of luxury surrounded by glowing red hills. After a wonderful lunch, the afternoon activity was a visit to the local village of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro de Atacama is a small, dusty town with lots of restaurants, bars and small shops radiating out from the typical town square.
Day 3: Atacama Desert
Today we rose early in the morning, and headed out at 6:30 for a hot air balloon trip over the desert. Seeing such a vast landscape lit aglow with the reds, oranges and pinks of the sunrise from high above was quite a treat.
After lunch at the lodge, we began our drive to a small lake surrounded by vast sand flats to visit the pink flamingos. An interesting, and unexpected, site set against the desert hills.
Day 4: Atacama Desert
Today there were a couple activities on offer, I opted for a hike through the slot canyons of the Moon Valley while others visited the Taitio Geysers. The changing colors of the hills and valleys were spectacular and the salt crystals that grew along the floor of the canyon made it seem as though the ground was blanketed in snow.
For lunch we gathered around the lodges pool for a barbecue of local meats and enjoyed the ambiance of a serenading local band.
This afternoons excursion took us to the Rainbow valley where various geological formations merge, creating a landscape awash with color. A great photographic opportunity! We also visited an area where very old pictographs and rock paintings indicated a very ancient human presence.
Day 5: Colchagua Valley
Today we returned to the airport for our flight to Santiago. Upon arrival we were met by our vehicle transfer and made the short drive northwest into the wine producing Casablanca Valley. A very interesting tour of the Veramonte vineyard and winery highlighted the areas organic farming practices. A delicious lunch, with wine pairing of course, preceded our drive south to the famous wine producing area of Colchagua Valley. The vineyards were beautiful and the producers held a true passion for the process and final product. The wines were wonderful and enjoying them in the very spot that they are brought to life only added to the experience.
We enjoyed the night’s dinner at the Vik Vineyard Hotel where we would be resting up for the next day. This one of a kind hotel sits on a ridge overlooking the vineyards and is unlike any hotel I have ever seen. The glass encased public areas are festooned with original art and each of the 22 bedrooms is decorated by a Chilean artist and is totally different from one another.
Day 6: Colchagua Valley
After a leisurely morning we took a tour of the hotels vineyards and the amazing winery. Lunch was at De Tapas, a restaurant that is an integral part of the winery and features a fantastic and delicious menu. A leisurely walk back to the hotel was followed by a relaxing massage before a cooking class. In the class the hotels head chef taught us how to prepare and make empanadas, a tasty south American staple.
Day 7: Puerto Natales
We left our incredible hotel after breakfast and headed back to the airport for a 3 hour flight to Punte Arenas, the southernmost town of Chile. On arrival we were met by our transfer driver and headed for Puerto Natales, a small town in the heart of Patagonia, and home to our hotel.
The Singular Patagonia Hotel is built around a sheep processing factory that used to supply the ships rounding the Cape Horn on their way from Europe, en route to the American west coast before the opening of the Panama Canal. Most of the heavy machinery and the old brick buildings are intact and the hotel rooms are spread along the south side while the bar and dining areas are located in part of the original building. All the rooms have views of the fjord and distant mountains.
Day 8: Torres del Paine
Today we climbed aboard a fast, and very comfortable, boat that sped us up the fjord to the foot of the glacier. The weather was perfect with calm flat waters and clear skies highlighting the spectacular scenery. We disembarked at the glacier and walked along a narrow path to a great viewing spot, just adjacent to the point where the glacier flowed into the sea. After lunch we embarked on a 2 hour scenic drive to our next stop, the Tierra Patagonia Hotel on the border of Torres del Paine National Park. Another fantastic hotel with views towards the famous “torres”, towering peaks of volcanic rocks and beautiful Patagonia rolling landscape.
Day 9: Torres del Paine
An early start had us walking a fence line on a neighboring ranch hoping to catch a glimpse of the areas pumas. The puma tracking is organized by an independent company in cooperation with the ranch owner. Unfortunately, we did not see and pumas on our track! Next time! After lunch we were driven to a designated point in the middle of the park and began our 2 hour Mirador Cuernos hike to the base of the towers that ends near a pretty waterfall.
Day 10 & 11: Santiago & Departure
After a comfortable morning we departed on the 4 hour drive for Punte Arenas and our hotel Cumbres Lastarria. The hotel provided a picnic lunch for our trip. The rooms were very nice, but the hotel was street facing in the busy city, so be prepared for a little bit of noise!
The following morning it was time to get back to work! We visited hotels in the area to scout out the best fits for our current and future clients as well as noting restaurants and activities near by before sadly bidding farewell to this incredible country…… at least until next time!