Patagonia March 2014

We were on the Feb. 27 to March 11 trip to Patagonia, in 2014

Since there has been so little posted about the new Patagonia tours for 2014, I'm going to take a shot at covering a lot of information:

1. The tour started in Santiago, where we arrived early in the morning and took a seven hour day-trip on our own over to the coast at Valpariso and Del Mar, which was terrific. The cost for a guide and van by ourselves was $350 USD for the day with tip. It was worth every nickel. The dinner that night was exceptional as it took place outside on the grounds of the hotel. We met with our guide, who was Marcos Soto. More on this great guy later.
2. Our flight out of Santiago was on a Boeing 737. Inspite of all the grief about the baggage size and weight from Tauck, they never weighed or check any of our bags going down or back to the northern cities. This was without doubt the most difficult trip we have taken with Tauck (#8 for us) as the weight and temperature issues for north and south areas made packing crazy. Everyone mentioned this problem and I think Tauck did a really lousy job in their pre-trip info about what to bring. Using 'layers' as the their suggestion was very misleading and left many people improperly dressed for the cold weather we encountered. Make no mistake about it, this trip is difficult on multiple issues. You better be in great shape physically and if you need assistance to walk or climb then don't go. If you are in reasonable shape, it will be one of the most wonderful trips you will ever make. We rated it right up there with the heli-hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies.
3. Anyone with medical issues should NOT take this trip. You are in a remote and physically difficult area of the world and it is not for anyone who cannot walk or climb steep grades. If you need medical attention above first aid, think again. You don't have to be jock, but it is the mountains and there are places on boats and rocky surfaces that require balance and mobility. It is not a cake walk in the park!!
Think action and adventure, not peace and calm. It's big fun and a trip of a lifetime.
4. The distances you cover each day are extreme, both by plane, boat, and bus. If you can't hang-in there for 12 hour bus rides, pass on this trip. The wind blows like crazy and the boat rides are rough, but extremely fun. Trails up to the glaciers are steep in places and yes, it rains. Again, this is high adventure. Pure adrenaline. You'll love it if you like to have fun and enjoy excitement.
5. A word or two about our magnificent tour guide, Marcos Soto. This guy busted his tail from sun up to sun set every single day. He had to put up with one woman who was a total pain in the ass for everyone on the trip and Marcus deserves a metal for the abuse this woman put him through. Without Marcus, I don't know how the trip would have gone as his smiling face and hard work made our trip so much better.
6. Hotels: As usual every place we stayed was four or five star, but The Singular was far above our expectations. The staff was terrific and since we were there for four days, it made the trip terrific. I can't begin to tell you how great this place was for everyone on the tour. The day at the polo ranch also defies description, but suffice to say it was a high point of Buenos Aries.
7. By the time we reached Buenos Aries, things had settled down and it was time to kind of relax at the Soffitel Hotel. There were no problems at the end of the trip and we took an extra day to further tour the town with two other couples. Tauck didn't spend much time on touring the northern entry and exit cities, so we were glad to have had time to arrange private tours on our own.
8. Our flight back to Miami was on Lan (an excellent airline) while sleeping in the business class pods. All in all, it was a great time and worth every cent we paid. Thank you Tauck Tours and especially our guide Marcus.

Michael Echols, Fort Myers, Florida

Comments

  • Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful and detailed review. You have given some really valuable information here.

    I have a couple of questions, if you don't mind?

    I am guessing that a walking pole would be useful? I also wonder if altitude medication might be helpful for those (like me!) who are affected by pretty much any altitude over sea level! (Not quite, but it does feel like it sometimes!) And could you also explain why "layering" of clothing didn't work? What would have worked better?

    And most importantly, did you manage to lose any tour member down a crevasse, or similar? ;)

    Cheers,

    Jan
  • Michael, your email prompted us to look at this trip. We did the Empire of the Incas trip last year. Marcos was our tour director, and he was FANTASTIC. That trip was amazing. We loved it. One of the best vacations we've ever had, but as with Patagonia, it was challenging at times, mostly because of the high altitudes, at one point reaching over 14,000 feet. Did you reach such high altitudes on this trip? By the way, we are neighbors -- we live in Punta Gorda.
  • Jan,
    To answer your question about altitude issues on the Patagonia trip, there were none. The highest elevation was maybe a thoustand feet. Most of the time we were at sea level, so altitude sickness is not an issue on this trip. I used to get sick on every trip I took to ski at Vail until a doctor friend recommended using antidiuretic medication at least a day before the trip. It works! Talk to your physician.

    As to walking sticks, there were a number of folks on our trip who used them without any problems. The people who had problems were just plain medically compromised and had no business on this kind of trip.

    The layering issue was not fully addressed by Tauck in the pre-trip literature. There are multiple micro climates around the mountains: RAIN in one area, and WIND in the next. Everytime you got near a glacier, the cold wind would blow like crazy and the temperature would drop drastically. What worked best was a rain and wind proof outer jacket with a hoodie or snow gear that was water proof. Under that, you needed a much better layer of insulation to block the cold. And of course being able to strip off or add layers from a backpack really helped. Long johns were great on some days. Shirts and pants that were quick drying worked best too. Personally I wear outdoor/fishing pants and shirts as the beginning layer so nothing gets wet and dries fast if it should. Just my take on it, but some folks showed up in thin clothing like it was spring and complained non-stop.

    We didn't loose anyone on the trip but one older gentleman took a face plant after he tripped on his shoe laces as he got out of the 4 x 4 truck. His fault, not the tour. He spent his evening in a clinic trying to get fixed up. Thankfully we had enough drugs and knowledge if something serious had happened. Most people don't even think that way and they pay for it later when in third world countries or isolated areas.
  • Sidecar,
    I think I answered your question about the altitude in my previous post. Not a problem on this trip. All except some hiking was at sea level. The hiking got interesting a couple of places, but nothing serious if you don't have a bad hip or knee replacement....!!
    Michael
  • edited March 2014
    A couple of other things I forgot to discuss: Entry fees in Chile and dollar values.

    Week before last, Chile resended the $165 entry fee. Argentina did not. You still have to pay the Argentina fee on line.

    The exchange rate in Chile works for you with the dollar. In Argentina they tend to play more games with you when you ask about the black market rate, but we got some terrific bargains on leather coats and belts and I mean terrific. We didn't even bother to exchange any dollars for Peso's. Everyone was happy to take dollars and generally we got much better rates when we asked how much in US dollars. But don't think the natives can't figure out how to inflate their prices in Chile. We didn't notice the inflation in Buones Aries, but it was apparent in Santiago where the exchange rate was much higher.

    Take lots of dollars if you are shoping, it can't hurt.

    No one on our trip last week had any problems with pick pockets or being threatened. Everyone was very friendlly to us.

    Go on line and check the weather reports at towns with airports to get accurate feedback. Plan on weather changing quickly in the Andes. It's normal.

    Take medication with you for routine problems like colds. You do not want to have to buy anything like that in country. If your doctor will set you up with a broad spectrum antibiotic, do it. Be prepared. Think ahead because you might need general meds in areas where it takes days to get to a hospital or find a doctor.

    You do NOT need to worry about any vaccinations on this trip. It's too cold for anything to survive down there in the winter.
    Michael
  • On another topic: a great hotel for the first four days in Chile.

    One of the best surprises on the trip was our four day stay at The Singular hotel. Their website doesn't begin to do justice to his fine hotel. It's like nothing you have experienced. Service is outstanding, the food is beyond terrific and the staff is exceedingly outgoing and helpful. Words simply cannot describe the experience of staying in this highly unusual facility. Embrace the experience and look forward to staying there.
    Michael
  • Hi Michael,

    I do so appreciate your (multiple) replies! This trip is Still on my list!

    I was actually wondering if you managed to jettison your problematic travelling companion. (Oh, the stories I have! My lips are sealed. Mostly.)

    Last time I checked, it pays to be an Aussie … because the Argentinian visa fee was cheaper for us. ….whoopee! But by the time I get there… who knows! The joys of traveling, huh?

    Thanks again!

    Cheers,

    Jan
  • edited March 2014
    Jan,
    Unfortunately for our wonderful and stressed out guide, the problem woman, traveling alone, on the trip was not ejected. Tauck does inform you in their documents there is a provision to remove troublesome people, but our guide pretty much walled her off from the rest of the people on the trip. We all felt badly she was abusing our guide, but other than ostricism, there was little we could do about her. One person actually threatened her phyiscally after she repeatedly poked him with her cane and another woman finally forcefully told her to sit down and shut up.

    (Note: just today, we have been assured by Tauck that they are standing behind our guide 100% in the matter of dealing with the problem guest discussed here and above.)

    Just a word or two about the other terrific travelers on this trip to Patagonia. It was the most well educated group with which we had travelled in the eight trips we have taken with Tauck. Several Ph.D's, M.D's, DDS, Wall Street and Hedge fund types, Lawyers, and seasoned businessmen and women. There were also three other single women on the trip who were just a complete delight. The concensus was that you needed a good education to even know WHERE Patagonia was located, much less why it was important to visit. When we told most people at home where we were headed, we got blank stares and mumbling about "why there." Most people, who don't travel alot, are clueless about South America and especially the Andes. Yes, it's the end of the known world, but one of the most beautiful and exciting places on Earth.

    Enough about the horrible woman on the trip. She was just a minor distraction from all the exceedingly fantastic experiences we all enjoyed.

    Michael
  • I am Michael's wife, Jane. It truly was one of our favorite trips with Tauck, ranking right up there with the heli-hiking trip we took with them years ago.

    As to the layering: I wore jeans, a sleeveless tennis top, a long sleeved tennis top, a fleece pullover (from Sports Authority), and a waterproof windbreaker (we bought for the heli-hiking trip) or cold weather waterproof thermal style coat (Bass Pro Shop). Socks and gloves are also a must and the day we took the catamaran to Estancia Cristina we also needed hats and long underwear. Actually.........the two days of trips we needed the long underwear were in Argentina but I didn't feel we needed them in Chile. The wind coming off the glaciers and icebergs is what made the difference in Argentina.

    The food was outstanding and Tauck provided all but a couple of meals. The flight (at 12:30 pm) from El Calafate to Buenos Aires served cookies for 'lunch', and I believe there was a dinner in El Calafate that was on our own.

    Their beef has the best flavor. Not as tender as ours, but they don't cut it the same; but move flavorful. And their lamb is outstanding. Salmon is on most menus also, but (I asked) and it is farm raised, and we don't eat farm raised fish. Pasta is also available, along with vegetarian options.

    The only thing I would suggest, truly, would be to add a day in Santiago and in Buenos Aires; but the trip is titled PATAGONIA, so I understand them not doing that. We did arrive at 7 am in Santiago and got a private tour guide (via the hotel) to Valparaiso, as a friend had suggested we do that. The ride over (close to two hours with a stop along the way) reminded us of California's countryside and the town itself reminded us of Cinque Terra in Italy. It is a busy port city on the Pacific coast, but the houses are all built up the cliffs like in Italy. It was well worth the price.

    We also stayed an extra day in Buenos Aires and along with two other couples, hired a private guide (thru the hotel) for a three hour afternoon trip. That morning we walked to a leather shop of which we had heard and got outstanding deals on leather jackets for the ladies in the group. Then went to another store for belts, also a fabulous deal, price wise. And USD. Better prices with our American money.

    The distances traveled are great. Saturday morning we flew from Santiago to Porta Arenas, about three hours with one stop, and then had an almost four hour bus ride to Porta Natales to The Singular Hotel Patagonia. The following day was an 8 am to 8 pm day, as we left the hotel and it took two full hours to get to Torres del Paines National Park. And then we had to get to all the places we wanted to see. Well worth it, mind you, but long distances.

    The hikes were also a minimum of 30 minutes and maximum of a bit over an hour. Mostly the terrain was rocky and full of pebbles. Only a few places had real 'steps' so to speak. Several areas had you hiking up an incline. Most areas were 'one way up, same way down', so if it was steep going up, it was steep going down also. But all 'doable', altho both my husband and I are in good physical condition with no issues in our way.

    The distances in Argentina were also great. One day there was 7:30 am to 7:45 pm, again well worth it! That was the day we drove a long time to get to the catamaran on Lake Argentino, then a long ride to the ice berg field, then a long ride to where the four wheel drives picked us up for the trip up to the most beautiful vista EVER! An azure lake and three glaciers coming together. That last part was a half hour hike over rough terrain. And the only misstep on the entire trip was one gentleman exiting the truck and tripping on his shoe lace and falling into the gravel on his face. He was immediately cared for and, as Michael said, they took him to the hospital in El Calafate that evening when we returned.

    The wind is a constant on this trip and it is COLD. They say it doesn't blow in the winter, but their summer temperatures are in the 40s, so thank goodness it stops during the winter. It was colder off the glaciers in Argentina than I felt it in Chile.
  • edited March 2014
    Hi Michael & Jane,

    Thanks so much for all your information. I confess that I misunderstood when you did this trip … I assumed you had only recently returned which would have made your visit in summer. I am thinking about a November departure, some time in the future.

    So, it's pretty much heavy duty layering, then. When faced with a Canadian glacier I have resorted to thick tights under my trousers & liner thickness socks … they dry so much quicker than the outside woolly ones! (I've learnt all this because I have just returned from an expedition to Macquarie Island, in the Southern Ocean. And being an Aussie, it sure was odd to have to deal with all that cold & wind in our Southern Hemisphere summer!)

    I've travelled with Tauck many times (18, so far) and not always in the States. Very interesting, and indeed heartening, to hear about all your well-educated and erudite travelling companions! I have often wondered why, and indeed how, some people end up in some places … when they don't appear to know where the places are … let alone where they themselves are! :))))) Sounds like an unfortunate miracle your "problem" lady found the right departure lounge! And three cheers for Tauck's wonderful Tour Directors!!

    Cheers,

    Jan
  • Michael and Jane,

    Just now booked the Patagonia trip for Jan 30,2015. Am wondering about the 2 boat rides as Michael had mentioned strong winds and rough seas.
    I get seasick--despite using medication.
    How long were the boat rides?

    Thanks so much....if you are still looking at this forum..

    SSZZ
  • edited November 2014
    For the person who asked about the boat ride: on the way back it got pretty rough due to high winds, but the type of boats they use at the hotel (Singular) are well constructed and have excellent seats, so there were no problems. The boat is completely enclosed with airline type seats for each person. It's not a rough ride due to swells, which is the type of motion that makes you sea sick, but rather just choppy and the trip out is about an hour at most. Just depends on the weather. Really nothing to worry about. Don't miss the boat ride, it's terrific!!!!!!!!!!

    I'm answering this question in Nov. 2014 as we book our next trip for Feb. 2015 to Panama and Costa Rica for the small ship cruise.
    Michael
  • Question about the physical part of this tour. I am not sure how you can define "difficult", as what would be difficult for some might not be for others. Is there a comparison you can make to define the difficulty? For example, one would need to be able to easily climb X number of steps in a row plus walk X number of miles in a day plus anything else?

    This will help me determine what to do to prepare for this trip.

    Also, is there intense hiking involved? Again, that work intense is subjective, but if you can help define these things, that would be really appreciated.

    Thanks.
    Felicia
  • PEchols wrote:
    We were on the Feb. 27 to March 11 trip to Patagonia, in 2014

    Since there has been so little posted about the new Patagonia tours for 2014, I'm going to take a shot at covering a lot of information:

    1. The tour started in Santiago, where we arrived early in the morning and took a seven hour day-trip on our own over to the coast at Valpariso and Del Mar, which was terrific. The cost for a guide and van by ourselves was $350 USD for the day with tip. It was worth every nickel. The dinner that night was exceptional as it took place outside on the grounds of the hotel. We met with our guide, who was Marcos Soto. More on this great guy later.
    2. Our flight out of Santiago was on a Boeing 737. Inspite of all the grief about the baggage size and weight from Tauck, they never weighed or check any of our bags going down or back to the northern cities. This was without doubt the most difficult trip we have taken with Tauck (#8 for us) as the weight and temperature issues for north and south areas made packing crazy. Everyone mentioned this problem and I think Tauck did a really lousy job in their pre-trip info about what to bring. Using 'layers' as the their suggestion was very misleading and left many people improperly dressed for the cold weather we encountered. Make no mistake about it, this trip is difficult on multiple issues. You better be in great shape physically and if you need assistance to walk or climb then don't go. If you are in reasonable shape, it will be one of the most wonderful trips you will ever make. We rated it right up there with the heli-hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies.
    3. Anyone with medical issues should NOT take this trip. You are in a remote and physically difficult area of the world and it is not for anyone who cannot walk or climb steep grades. If you need medical attention above first aid, think again. You don't have to be jock, but it is the mountains and there are places on boats and rocky surfaces that require balance and mobility. It is not a cake walk in the park!!
    Think action and adventure, not peace and calm. It's big fun and a trip of a lifetime.
    4. The distances you cover each day are extreme, both by plane, boat, and bus. If you can't hang-in there for 12 hour bus rides, pass on this trip. The wind blows like crazy and the boat rides are rough, but extremely fun. Trails up to the glaciers are steep in places and yes, it rains. Again, this is high adventure. Pure adrenaline. You'll love it if you like to have fun and enjoy excitement.
    5. A word or two about our magnificent tour guide, Marcos Soto. This guy busted his tail from sun up to sun set every single day. He had to put up with one woman who was a total pain in the ass for everyone on the trip and Marcus deserves a metal for the abuse this woman put him through. Without Marcus, I don't know how the trip would have gone as his smiling face and hard work made our trip so much better.
    6. Hotels: As usual every place we stayed was four or five star, but The Singular was far above our expectations. The staff was terrific and since we were there for four days, it made the trip terrific. I can't begin to tell you how great this place was for everyone on the tour. The day at the polo ranch also defies description, but suffice to say it was a high point of Buenos Aries.
    7. By the time we reached Buenos Aries, things had settled down and it was time to kind of relax at the Soffitel Hotel. There were no problems at the end of the trip and we took an extra day to further tour the town with two other couples. Tauck didn't spend much time on touring the northern entry and exit cities, so we were glad to have had time to arrange private tours on our own.
    8. Our flight back to Miami was on Lan (an excellent airline) while sleeping in the business class pods. All in all, it was a great time and worth every cent we paid. Thank you Tauck Tours and especially our guide Marcus.

    Michael Echols, Fort Myers, Florida
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