Patagonia mid November tour
This is just an unorganized review of our tour in no particular order, before I forget more detail.
I would heartily agree with all Ken from Vegas has posted on another thread.
Here are a few additions
The hotel in Puerto Natales was closed because of the connections to the past president and not noise but it is a longer walk into town. There is a shuttle that leaves the hotel every hour on the hour and returns from the town twenty past the hour.
The Singular Patagonia activities, you will be able to go on any tour you chose without it filling up and you can do two of them if time permits, one morning, one on the afternoon. You get a free 25 minutes massage at this hotel, so sign up for that early, you cannot give your free minutes to someone else to boost their time, but you can pay for the additional 25 minutes which is what we did, we had a fifty minute each couples massage. The massages were of a high standard. There was a nice swimming pool there.....(.if you are planning to swim at the Singular Santiago, it does not open until December 1st)
We did the Condor walk in the morning and booked our massage for 3pm instead of taking a second outdoor activity.

Condor walk. A strenuous hike up the cliff path, starts at a steep part, the guides walked very quickly. Five of us went. Another lady and myself had to make stops along the way, we did not go to the final look out but saw at least six condors there. It was very windy and rainy. The views were beautiful. I was very nervous when we went on parts of the trail that were near a steep drop off especially because of the weather conditions. Mr B and two others made it to the top, by then it was very cloudy and snowing and they could not see any more Condors there. I was glad I did the walk. The cave walkers saw three Condors sitting by the caves!

This is the most strenuous, active Tauck tour I have ever done, I could do it but some may find it too challenging and if you can’t do the walks you will miss all but the Moreno glacier and even that has quite a few steps.

The restaurants did not open until 7-30pm and service is really really slow, even if you catch a waiter’s eye they may ignore you. I don’t normally worry about slow service but with meals ending past 10pm most nights and having to be up before 6am quite a bit, you just wanted to get to bed. We had no issues with getting our meat cooked the way we wanted it prepared.

Electrical outlets— these have two or three round pins in a line. All the hotels provide one adapter in the room for your use. If there isn’t one, ask. I also saw the Australian two flat pin slanted outlets in the Alvear Palace hotel.

Clothing—— we took plenty of clothes to layer. In Patagonia we wore, long sleeve t shirt, hoodie fleece or fleece, puffer feather coat and rain coat over that . Long johns, we took three pairs each, laundering them after we wore them—- clothing dries very quickly when you have to launder over night. Then over long underwear we wore thin safari type pants and then good rain pants, yes three layers, we needed all that at times. And no we do not get cold easily. Woolly hats and gloves, I had fingerless ones, good with the camera operation, but I had regular gloves as an alternative. We wore a hoodie or coat or rain coat good over the woolly hat. We took buffs for our faces which were invaluable for wind and stinging hail. All the guides used buffs over their faces but we were the only ones on our tour that had any. Woolley socks and waterproof boots/shoes. You will spend a lot of time taking off layers and then needing to put them back on.

We encountered winds as high as 60 miles an hour with gusts up to 70 at the Uppsala glacier It was hard to keep upright. At the Grey glacier the wind was also fierce and hail stung your face. But it was all still wonderful.

We enjoyed visiting at this time of year because all the trees and plants were in flower, very pretty. As it is Spring, we saw baby Guanacos, cygnets, lambs, feels, calves etc
When we arrived in Buenos Aires we were strictly warned by our tour director to remove all jewelry and watches, even if it was fake, lock in the safe with passports and other valuables. Only take one credit card, not American Express, and a small amount of money. There is little need to change money into local currency. Not having to worry about pick pockets made us feel perfectly safe when we were walking around.

In Buenos Aires, if you are there on a Saturday or Sunday, there is a large craft market very near the hotel which has nice ‘stuff’ at fair prices. They take dollars but will give you change in local currency. There is a really good ice cream cafe down the street directly opposite the Alvear Palace hotel, Volta, try the Dulce de leches flavors.

Shopping. The best place for variety is El Calafate, we restricted ourselves to one hour so only went in a few shops, the prices are not cheap. Some will give discount for paying cash in dollars. The craft market in BA would have been a better first choice.
What to buy, silver, lapis lazuli, the pink stone in Argentina, leather, things flavored in calafate plant in Chile. Mate cups and straws in Argentina.
Do not attempt to take even dried fruits into Chile, they are very strict and the fine is $200.
On our last morning, the tour director did not think it was possible to get a late check out because the hotel was busy because of the G 20 summit about to begin. We tried and got two extra hours for a payment of $50. Apparently a 4 hour late check out is $150. This was perfect for us because it gave us time to visit the famous Japanese gardens here that did not open until 10am. We did not want to carry around passports etc which is why late check out was what we needed. The garden is a 35 minute very brisk walk from the hotel and it is free if you are over 65 and have ID, of course we took no ID! They take credit cards for the modest entry fee. It was lovely there.

When we arrived in BA it was unusually quiet because of the famous football game. But come Monday morning it was chaotic as is usual. We saw all the people running and exercising on the streets and in the parks and many many professional dog walkers with as many as ten dogs on a leash. BA is known as the Paris of South America and it certainly is, we loved it. Next time we will be sure to stay several extra days.
Money and shopping...... the Argentinians and Chileans use the American $ sign to price their goods, but that does not mean the price is in American dollars, it’s rather confusing at first.

Two unique situations occurred on the tour.....
In Santiago, on the day before the tour began, a policeman shot the son of the chief of an indigenous tribe. There were major protests, little fires were being lit all over the city and then a truck was set alight right by our hotel. We knew nothing of this but then all of a sudden all of us in the restaurant which was near the front of the hotel and went forward to an outside part, began to be overcome by fumes and a cloud of gas, our eyes started streaming and throats were affected, we were evacuated to a back room of the hotel. The staff were very good and immediately distributed pieces of cut limes to ius to suck on to counteract the reaction in our throats. And then free champagne. We only then learned that the police had thrown tear gas or pepper spray, I have no idea of the difference, to disperse the crowd. Things eventually cleared and we began dinner again. Other people on our tour were in the streets when it happened and got caught up with people running to safety.
Then in Buenos Aries, there was the attack on the football players before the big match but we were in the hotel at the time and did not see anything happening.
The tango dinner and show do not finish until almost midnight on the last night, it was excellent but be aware!


  • British - Thanks for the report. We leave in 3 weeks. Funny thing about the long johns - I've been skiing in the Colo Rockies the last few days. When I hit my first lift yesterday morning at 9 AM, it was 6F (was 20F this morning). I had on my ski pants with bare legs underneath. I wasn't cold.

    And a special thanks for the line spaces between paragraphs :-)
  • BKMD wrote:
    British - Thanks for the report. We leave in 3 weeks. Funny thing about the long johns - I've been skiing in the Colo Rockies the last few days. When I hit my first lift yesterday morning at 9 AM, it was 6F (was 20F this morning). I had on my ski pants with bare legs underneath. I wasn't cold.

    And a special thanks for the line spaces between paragraphs :-)

    I am not sure bare legs and ski pants will work because you are inside then outside all the time and it is too hot inside I would think for ski pants. It's not the temperature that is the fact, it is the wind. I don't think anyone wore ski pants but most wore rain pants, they were great for wind protection. We were pleased we bought them, wore them every day, so the $80 plus was worth it.
  • I didn't mean I'd be bringing my ski pants on the trip. Just used that as an example about cold tolerance. Sorry for the confusion.

    In one of the other threads, going back a month or two, mentioned that I picked up rain pants at REI. I plan to wear those over my regular pants, as necessary.
  • Ah yes now I remember. We were very pleased with our REI pants. You will love the trip. Would happily take it again.
  • My wife and I were on the same trip as British. Here are some quick notes:

    All the books say that the best time to visit is their winter. But 6 different guides told me that while the temperatures are higher, the visibility is often worse, and the best time to ensure seeing all good stuff is winter. We couldn't see Torres del Paine peaks in Chile.

    Arrived in Santiago one day early. Plenty to do. When you land and go through passport control, they will give you a PDI form. It looks like a store receipt. Do not lose it. You need it to leave Chile.

    I got a face full of the police tear gas that they dropped in front of the hote as I was coming back from the steam room. The subway system doesn't allow single ride purchases. Need to get a Bip! card at the subway station, and load it with money. Only need one card for everyone in your party. Rush hour is crowded. Visited Paseo Ahamada, a pedestrian-only zone of shopping streets and buildings. Think of Barcelona's La Rambla, but bigger. Took one of the two free (donations only) walking tours offered by Tours4Tips for about three hours. Went to the top of the tallest building in Latin America, but the two observation levels were enclosed in glass, so no clear view. Huge mall at its base.

    Lots of time spent during the tour traveling by plane, bus, and boat. Eating and sitting. Eventually I began skipping meals.

    Entered Patagonia in Porto Natales. Singular Patagonia Hotel is its own tourist attraction. Remarkable place. All the hotels offered breakfast buffet. Tauck offered all big lunches and dinner, except for one or two lunches. Mini-bar is free.

    On the free day, can choose from four (I believe) free tours. Can take two in one day. Can use own money to book another tour. The cave walk and horseback riding free option go to the same area, Laguna Sofia, as the condor hike. We needed exercise. If you've ever walked uphill for 45 minutes, you should have no problem. I'm 72 and I ran up in some parts. It seeme to me that many people over dressed, but layering is important. It was around 42/6 degrees, and windy in places. I wore a t-shirt, long-sleeved cotton shirt, and I put on a puffy lightweight jacket that I had in my stuff bag a couple of times. No hat. Nothing around my neck. Had long underwear under my pants. It never rained enough to put on rain pants. Wore wool socks, and my running/trainer/sneaker shoes. It helps to have shoes with some tread. But that's me. I'm from Southern California. Embrace the experience.

    The wind gets stronger, and the air temp cooler when it's coming directly off the glaciers.

    Drove across border to El Calafate in Argentina. Stay at Xelena Hotel. Peso and the economy are tanking. Peso has lost 52% against the U.S. dollar since the start of the year. Nearly all vendors, except for taxi drivers, prefer dollars. You'll get change in pesos. One person told me that the maximum number of pesos from ATMs is 2,000. Exchange rate is around 36 pesos to one dollar U.S.

    Always check your camera lens for rain drops. If you can, put a strap on your cell phone to protect it from the wind and pickpockets in the cities. Buy a quick charge plug for your cell and camera before you leave to replace the slow one that comes with your device. If you have a photo opportunity, take it. The weather could change for the worst in minutes. Don't wait for the perfect shot. Bring an old toothbrush to scrape the mud off your shoes. It's the first time I never had to buy a bottle of water. They're free in the coaches and hotel rooms. When the background is bright, such as when you're standing in front of glacier and trying to take a pic of someone, force the flash on to illuminate them. Take the business card of the hotel with you in case you return via taxi. Umbrellas are useless because of the wind. Bring a pen for the driver to write down his fare estimate. One driver quoted from 350 pesos. An hour later, one from the same company gave me 180-200. There are marches and demonsrations all the time. Plan for it.

    While cruising on Lake Argentino to the Upsala Glacier, there will be a lunch stop at Estancia (ranch) Cristina in the middle of nowhere. Look for the 8 dogs and baby calf outside the house next door. Perito Moreno Glacier is huge, and worth every minute of the time we spent there. One couple opted to split from the group and do an excursion with another vendor that allowed them to put on ice shoes and walk atop part of the glacier.

    Save uneaten food in El Calafate for the street dogs. Never saw a thin dog. The cambio (money exchange) is new, and they require a passort. Next to it on the right, is one of the restaurants that Tauck uses. Go upstairs, and there is a woman who sits there and does money exchanges at a fair rate.

    In Buenos Aires, the taxis are not costly. Look for the black ones with yellow tops. Make sure they turn on the meter. Alvear Palace is new for Tauck, but it's first class, and in a good area. The G20 meetings were about to begin, and the Russians and Germans were in our hotel. The big futbol game had to be postponed twice because of unruly fans. They'll try again on December 8. Freddo ice cream shop is part of a chain, one block from the hotel, and it's good. Famous cemetery is 1 1/2 blocks away. Find someone with a guide book and ask where Evita is buried. Flea market outside the entrance on weekends.

    We took a taxi to El Caminito, and loved it. Small area near the wharf in the Boca area. Artists reclaimed it. Brightly painted buildings. Many souvenier shops that are all the same. But lots of outdoor dining places with tango dancing. Plenty of atmosphere. A mix between Venice Beach and Key West without the palm trees. Information booth is there to help you out.

    Tauck will drive you 2 hours out of town to an estancia for a massive outdoor BBQ, and a gaucho show that included a horse whisperer. Use the mosquito repellent.

  • edited December 2018
    I wanted to clarify a portion of Greg's review, the Condor Hike and clothing.
    Greg did indeed seem to find the hike easy and I thought he was about 80 so it impressed me even more. Even though I am 65 and Mr B 66, he certainly moved fast on the hike compared to me in particular. He was the only person on the tour who constantly just wore a t shirt and not even a hat. Quite frankly, he must have a body temperature that runs really high. I walk daily here in Pennsylvania, swim daily for six months of the year and take a fairly tough exercise class twice a week. In below freezing weather I usually wear just two layers because I warm up quickly, as well as the quick pace from the start of the climb, I began with four layers because it was windy and cold, then I peeled off clothing to two layers, but it was difficult to remove them because it was windy and rainy, that certainly slowed myself and the other lady who was very fit down, she was having a lot more difficulty than me keeping up. Mr B's pace was hampered by me, otherwise he would have been able to keep up with Greg and the guides at the front from the get go. I got wet and cold and had to put my waterproof top back on. Whatever Greg says about clothing, most Tauck travelers I have encountered over the years will require layers on this tour at the same time of year, at least three. When Tauck says for a tour, you will need a light jacket, I don't, but most people dress warmer than me. For this tour I needed four layers at times. I wore rain pants every day to protect my legs from the wind, they were guaranteed wind proof up to sixty miles an hour and that was what the wind speed was on one day. This is the main reason I recommend rain pants, for the wind. Greg wore light sneakers that were not waterproof, Mr B said Greg fell at the top, I feel more sturdy footware is required for that walk, especially if it is wet, remember I said it was snowing at the top.
    Forgot to mention, the walk begins at 50 feet above sea level and the top is 1750 feet directly above you, according to Mr B's handy dandy altitude app.
    The very experience tour director recommended all the layers most days and certainly to have all that clothing with you and readily available if conditions change as they rapidly do. Do not come on this tour without having warm clothing or clothing you can layer and with a waterproof outer garment.
    I think this was Greg's first tour with Tauck, you always get free water and non alcoholic drinks, not like other tour companies. My one experience of that, having to settle a hotel bill just for water is darned annoying.
    If you go on a land tour with Tauck, you will spend time on planes and buses, on this tour there were longer than usual days. If you did this tour yourself you would probably spend two to three times longer just covering the same things because only a tour company specializing in the region would know when and where you needed to be at the right time.
  • British:

    I forgot about the slip and fall coming down the hill during the condor walk. My attitude on trail hiking is the same as it is about skiing. If I don't fall down at least once, I'm not trying hard enough. If I had to do the trip again, I'd still wear running shoes, but I'd pick ones that have a little more tread on them than the ones I brought.
  • edited December 2018
    Greg - I'm about 10 years younger than you, still ski challenging runs, but prefer not to fall. Falling isn't fun any more, unless it's into deep powder. I have 6 ski days in already this season and my no-fall record remains intact, despite one young snowboarder crashing into me last week. She was small enough that she just bounced off :-) Days 7 and 8 will happen this week. I'll be bringing some good (water resistant) hiking boots with me on the trip.

    Thanks for your report.
  • While setting up my Dvr for a Botswana show on Nat Geo this morning, I came across a show called Man v. Puma, all about Puma trekking in Patagonia, so we sat down to watch it along with our grandson who is really into wildlife, though on a later walk in the woods announced he wants to be a Botonist. I digress, there are some great views of Torres del Paine, lots of Pumas and Guanacos. A puma family is trekked in Torres del Paine and another on the coast in Argentina where a young Puma practices killing Penguins, of which there were hundreds. He killed them, just ate the brains, then left the remainder in great numbers. Great show, a great reminder of our tour. I always enjoy the wildlife shows more when I have actually been to the locations because I can imagine it all with much more passion.
  • edited December 2018
    Sitting in the AA lounge at EZE, waiting for my flight home from thiis trip.

    Just a few comments to add to British's review above:

    My trip occurred during the summer solstice and was clearly warmer than the Nov trip. Overall, weather was great. We had a little drizzle here and there, but NO significant rain. The rain pants I bought at REI for this trip were never used. However, as many others have said, don't underestimate the wind. It blew at 20-30 mph most afternoons. My wool hat came in handy, as my baseball cap would have blown away. I had no need for long johns or gloves (neither brought with me).

    The condor hike at Singular Patagonia was great and shouldn't be missed if you're up to it. It IS fairly strenuous and I wouldn't recommend it if you don't exercise regularly. I also did the Milodon cave hike and that was pretty dull (and not strenuous).

    Overall, very pleased with this trip. Only complaints are the Xelena Hotel in El Calafate was a disappointment with a bad location, 2 miles from the cutesy town, bad food, and paper thin walls; and the bus in Chile wasn't very comfortable, with tight leg room and noisy/poor shocks. Also, for bus rides this long, they should provide wifi-equipped buses, like other (lower end) tour companies do. And last, if I had to do it again, I'd skip the final day's activities. The silversmith was a complete waste of time and the gaucho show, while entertaining, isn't worth 4 hours in the bus. I would have preferred to have spent more time seeing Buenos Aires.
  • Thanks BKMD for adding your review. I wish more people would do this to give a balance and show how we all have different opinions about a tour.
    How lucky you were to get better weather than we experienced because all that layering is tedious and I certainly felt that all the clothing I was wearing on the Condor trek contributed to me tiring as I took it off and put it back on in the heavy rain and strong winds. And after all discussion about rain pants you did not need them. For us we were so grateful we had them with us. I never thought I would need them for warmth because when I am exercise walking every day in the winter my walking partner can never understand how little I need to wear compared to her.
    How different our opinions are. We enjoyed the visit to the non big city town where we met the silversmith. It was so interesting to go into the home and see all the craft tools and to meet his wife and child. We loved walking along the street and looking at the buildings.
    It was also interesting to visit the ranch to see the gaucho performance even though we know they are brought in to that location especially for us.
    We rarely notice how long the bus rides are on a trip because there is always something to see out of the window. I never think of needing wifi on a bus though Mr B occasionally wants to look at his email. There were many places on this tour where there was no phone service, so we did not expect wifi on a bus.
    As far as not seeing enough of Buenos Aries. We learned long ago that if you want to see more of the start and end locations of a Tauck tour you have to plan to arrive several days early or stay on a couple of days, which we do when we can. Before retirement, just having a longer tour would have meant not being able to taken it, so thank goodness one can chose to go on a Tauck tour and extend it if time and money permit. This time we saw pretty much all of Santiago we wanted to see but not so in BA where I hope we can visit again. Maybe do the Patagonia tour again since we don't have much interest in going to Antarctica.
    The Xelena hotel was not the original hotel used for the tour, I forget the reason it was changed. It was far from town but there was not much free time to explore and for future travelers the hotel does provide a shuttle service. We were able to have about an hour in town, we don't like to waste too much time looking in stores, you could actually spend hours going in all the stores on the long Main Street. We had time to have a swim in the very nice indoor pool here. I can't recall the food quality here, though Mr B reminds me the breakfast was not as good as other locations. These days i try to limit what I eat for breakfast on tour to help with the weight I normally put on on the Tauck tours.
    By the way, did you have Carla as your tour director?
  • edited January 2019
    We arrived a day early (with early morning arrival) and that was enough for Santiago. I forgot to mention above that we did a private tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, arranged by the hotel concierge, on the day the tour started with the evening welcome dinner. It was about $400 for 3 people. We left at 8:30 AM and got back at 5 PM. It was an interesting side trip, passing through Chilean wine country on the way.

    Re BA, my quandary was the trip ended on 12/31, so if I stayed an extra day at the end, nothing would be open on New Years Day. My daughter and her travel mate are staying several more days in BA, as they really enjoy wandering cities. Yesterday, with them, I walked almost 9 miles around the city (daughter has a GPS watch to track it), and that didn't begin to cover the south part of the city.

    The reason the hotel was changed in El Calafate is the previously-used hotel was owned by the former president and wife, the Kirchners, and the gov't shut it down. They are either under indictment or in prison for fraud and corruption, as seems to be SOP in Argentina.

    Another interesting thing, as an alumnus of 6 trips now, this was by far, the youngest group. If you look in the archives, you'll see I queried about the appropriateness of a couple of 20-somethings coming on the trip. There was another family with three 20-somethings, and a third with two teenagers. The TD was kind enough to work out some bigger hiking trips for them in a few locations, as they had ants in their pants from the relatively tame stuff the group did :-) I suppose the reason for the younger crowd was because this trip was over the school/work holidays, as well as the unique "adventure" nature of this trip.
  • edited January 2019
    BKMD wrote:
    The reason the hotel was changed in El Calafate is the previously-used hotel was owned by the former president and wife, the Kirchners, and the gov't shut it down. They are either under indictment or in prison for fraud and corruption, as seems to be SOP in Argentina.

    Just to correct the record, Nestor Kirchner was president until 2007 and died in 2010. His wife, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, succeeded him as president. It is she who has been charged with several crimes, including treason, after the change of government and a large portion of her assets has been frozen. The freezing of the assets is probably why the hotel was closed (shame - a beautiful hotel). She remains a senator and thus enjoys immunity from criminal penalties. She can however be tried in the meantime and there is the possibility that the legislature could strip her of her immunity.

    The political history of Argentina is a colorful one and people who are interested in such things would do well to read up before traveling there.
  • Thanks for the correction, Ken.

    What baffles me about the country, particularly BA, is BA is a beautiful city - clean, well-maintained parks, modern buildings with several currently under construction, in additional to the European architecture. How do they do it with the constant political and financial turmoil? Where does the money come from? Inquiring minds want to know...
  • But when you drive to the airport and around the wider area of the city, it looks very slum like to me, although the center of the city looks appealing. We enjoyed our walk through the main park areas on our last day before an e ending flight.
    I have never encountered more than one or two younger people on all our tours. One was during the holiday period. Generally speaking, we are used to mixing with all ages in our everyday life, it keeps us have younger outlooks on life.
    We would seriously consider doing this tour again.
  • BKMD-

    BA is indeed a beautiful city, although I recall getting a peek at some of the slums while we were there. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Argentina was an economic powerhouse. Many of the beautiful older buildings stem from this period. As the economic and governmental center of Argentina, BA attracts much of the nations wealth. They continue to have one of the better economies in Latin America, despite the turmoil you mention. Exports of agriculture and raw materials are strong and they continue to have a strong-ish manufacturing sector.

    While the city is beautiful as a whole, it does show the impact of government mismanagement. When we were there in 2016, many of the sidewalks and streets were in desparate need of repair. A local guide we hired on our extra day blamed the financial crisis of 2001 and the Kirchners for the decline in infrastructure.

    So, I guess the short answer is that it takes more than bad government to ruin an economy. It does make one wonder how much more prosperous the country might be, if not for the government mismanagement.

    If you're interested in the gory details, Wikipedia has an article here:

    There is also a interesting article on Argentine slums (villas miserias) here:

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