I love the idea of your travel in South America. I was never in Ecuador and Uruguay, however I have traveled extensively in Chile and Argentina. So, I thought to send you my ten favorite things to do or to see, once there. I hope you and N*** will find it useful and inspiring for your holiday there!
1. One of the most exciting experiences I had in Chile: take the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. It is a four days cruise through the fjords of Chile, sailing the Pacific Ocean, and seeing some of the most amazing glaciers in the world. Here is the link: http://www.navimag.com/site/ (When I took this cruise, I saw the whales for the first time in my life!)
2. Take a day, or two, to visit the Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile. Incredible landscapes and wildlife: meet the guanacos, see the condors flying high in the sky. A memorable experience. The best way to visit the National Park is to be based in Puerto Natales (a small Patagonic village) and to take one of the many organized tours of the park.
3. Have dinner at La Luna Restaurant in Punta Arenas (Chile): O’Higgins 1017, Punta Arenas, Chile — go there in the night, enjoy Chilean food, and talk to the locals! It is the only place in Chile where I went twice! (I love to explore, but this place was so nice that I had to go back before leaving!) — In the restaurant they have maps of the world hanging on the walls, and after dinner you are always given a small pin with a flag, so that you can add your home town on the map! Please check if mine on “Trst” is still there!
4. Read the book “In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin and then visit “La Cueva del Milodon” — In Bruce Chatwin’s book you can see some of his photos from this cave: I have been able to retake exactly the same photo! Now it is yours and N*** turn! By the way, another book to read in Chile is “El Zorro” by Isabel Allende (one of her least known books, and the most enjoyable one!)
5. Visit the most South city in the world: Ushuaia. Take a boat tour in the Beagle channel, greet the sea lions for me, take a photo of N*** in front of the bay, then spend a day in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It is an easy walk in the middle of the nature, and you will never see the Andes so gracious as here. The Andes chain is really tough and rough: but not here, where it becomes gentle and meets the crossing points of two Oceans.
6. Cross the Strait of Magellan and visit the Isla Magdalena, housing one of the most incredible colonies of penguins. Those lovely screaming birds took over the island, and overruled the few humans (currently 4 or 5 Argentinian soldiers watching the local lighthouse). You can get on the Island with small zodiacs (several tour operators organize the journey) and see the dolphins swimming after you.
7. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the most important and impressive glaciers in South America. You can pass the night in the cozy town of El Calafate and take a day trip to the Perito Moreno. If you are lucky, you could witness the “ruptura” (or “gran ruptura”): the glacier cuts away a branch of the Lago Argentino lake, then the water on the isolated part of the lake increase in volume due to the glacier’s melting contribution and finally — after some years — the pressure breaks (“ruptura” in Spanish) part of the glacier! Look up for some videos on YouTube!
8. Have the 5 o’clock tea, with some Welsh-style cake, in a private house in Gaiman or Trelew! These two Argentinian towns keep the British tradition of the afternoon tea, since most of the local inhabitants are descendants of Welsh immigrants. Several private houses open their doors to the (few) tourists at tea time. You can enjoy some old time atmospheres, a good chat, and learn a lot about the history of those places: just talk to your host! Some tour operators organize such visits, but you can also walk around and find a place by yourselves (so there is a greater chance to be with locals). Tea houses have signs on the doors! This is one of the best kept secrets of Argentina!
9 . Visit the city of Mendoza and get to explore the surroundings. In February they have the wine festival, and even if you do not drink it, you can enjoy the fantastic Argentinian food, live the spirit of the place, talk to people and have a unique experience. Then, take a daily tour to the Cristo Redentor de los Andes (Christ the Redeemer of the Andes): climb up to 4000 meters on the sea level (there are mini vans, you should not walk!!!), driving up one of the craziest roads on the mountains in the world. See the Mount Aconcagua, visit a silver mine, send me a postcard!
10. Well, actually, I am now suggesting you a destination which I did not visit myself. And I deeply regret not doing so. Travel up North and see the Iguazu Falls: they are one of the seven wonders of the world. I plan to visit Argentina again just to go there! But yes, I am sure you already had them in the list of things to do and see in your South American trip!
There would be so many other places to see: Puerto Madryn, Cueva de las Manos, Rio Negro and of course everything around Buenos Aires. And many more others too, for sure. These 10 are in my heart, and one day I will be back in Argentina and Chile with Bella and our daughter A***, to share these experiences with them!
Hope some of these ideas will help you and N*** planning your holiday: a journey begins always in our dreams!
My kindest regards,
S*** is a friend of mine who is fighting against cancer. He wrote me, a few days ago, telling me how he and his wife N*** are planning a travel to South America, once his cycles of chemo therapy will be over. I wrote this small guide to Argentina and Chile for them. With all my love.