12/19-20 – Travel day – arrive EZE am – cab to Miravida Soho – approximately 45mins. Charming boutique property with 6 rooms – we had rooms #4 and #5 - #4 had a lovely patio. Pickells ate at La Hormiga – very popular restaurant about 8 blocks away.
We took a cab to the Matadero market – very authentic outdoor market with crafts from all over Argentina – lots of leather. Traditional food, music and a Gaucho demonstration. Only on Sundays
Then to San Telmo market – also only on Sundays – lots of great merchandise –all down cobblestone street – Defensa street – main street in San Telmo. From chatchkies to antiques and anything in between – bands playing – fun energetic vibe, crowded.
12/21 – Breakfast at the hotel and out the door at 9:30am – Cab to San Telmo for bike tour with Biking Buenos Aires –Guides Santiago and Dominic. Heart of the City tour – La Boca (street art) Puerto Modero, San Telmo, Pink House, Plaza de Mayo. Stopped for lunch at food truck along nature reserve.
Cab to Recoletta – beautiful cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. Highlight for me. Not often can one say that a cemetery is a highlight! The crypts are beautiful and elaborate.
Walk back to the hotel through the center of the city – long walk! Back at 6:30
Dinner at Don Julio – Proveleto, Chorizo, lots of meat.
12/22 – Jon, Ryan, Rob and Derek went to Uruguay for the day. Em and I went shopping - back to San Telmo then walked around Palermo, SoHo Hollywood and Soho (?) San Telmo more antique stores – Soho, etc more high end clothing boutiques and restaurants.
“We are Tango” for dinner and show. Small place with room for maybe 20 people. Great band and the Tango show was fantastic. Not a big production like some of the other more touristy options. Emcee was not good and food was below average but the music and dancing made up for these flaws.
12/23 – in a cab at 5am to EZE for our flight to Ushuaia – Aerolineas Aregentinas had sent me an email the night before that our flight had been moved up 1 hr – good thing I checked email. Had heard horror stories of cancelled flights so I was anxious to get there and get to the ship check-in. No problems at all - Phew! Got to USH and took a 10 minute cab ride to the Australis office downtown Ushuaia – checked in, completed paperwork, left our bags then went to lunch at Tia Elvira a few blocks down. Em and I went to site inspect Arakur, a Virtuoso property about 15 minutes out of town. Beautiful property overlooking the downtown of Ushuaia. Very contemporary feel – rooms did not standout but the views were stunning. Most unique feature was the indoor/outdoor swimming pool and the hot tubs – stunning setting. Spa has 2 treatment rooms but adding 5 more. Host group events and have a lot of conference space/ballrooms. Game room and cinema, too.
Boarded Australis at 5:30 – basic rooms. Welcome toast and info session then to dinner at 8. Bed at 10
12/24 – Up and queued up for first excursion at 6:45am – we were toward the back so had to wait approximately 45 minutes for our zodiac ride to Cape Horn – southern most part of the world. Nice day and great excursion to the top of the island where there is a monument – beautiful views. Then walked to the lighthouse and chapel – Santa was there wishing us all a Merry Christmas. We stayed on the island for about 1 hr then headed back to the ship for breakfast. After breakfast, I napped and some of the others in our group watched a documentary on Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure. Info session on second excursion to Wulaia Bay.
2nd excursion on Wulaia Bay at 4pm – We took the “intensive”hike which was in parts difficult but do-able. Beautiful hike with Mauricio where we learned about beavers and minks and the ecological challenges facing the island. There is a visitor’s center with history of the island. Excursion ended with hot chocolate and whiskey for those who wished to partake. Zodiac back to the boat and shower and change for dinner.
Note – Bring your own blow dryer as the ones on the ship are terrible. Dinner at 8 and Santa arrived bearing gifts for the children – a nice touch. There was a Christmas party at 11:30 which was really not anything celebrating Christmas but we played hearts and put carols on Emelie’s iphone – although it was hard to hear. Saw several glaciers as we passed by.
12/25 – Breakfast at 8 – The family went to listen to the lectures on the Magellan Strait and the Aguila Glacier which we were to visit later. One excursion today to the glacier at 3pm. Beach landing and walk to the glacier – beautiful. Ended with hot chocolate and whiskey again
12/26 – disembark Stella Australis and met up with our transfer for the 4 ½ hr drive to Tierra Patagonia. Stopped at Rubens for lunch. Great driver – Christian. Stopped
in Puerto Natales for a coffee/restroom break and a brief shopping excursion. Got to the hotel at around 6pm. Huge “Wow” factor as you arrive not because the of the grandiosity of the property but because its architecture blends in perfectly with the stunning natural beauty of the Torres del Paine park and drama of the view. The architecture is incredible. Beautiful throughout – loved the rooms – we had two rooms side by side but can become an “apartment” by closing an outer door and locking from inside – a nice alternative to connecting rooms. Lots of families here – young kids and adult kids – all ranges of ages. My only critique of the rooms is that the lighting in the bathroom is very poor. Stunning glass doors for privacy to the toilet and shower – great large bathtub. Windows all look out to the park and the Towers. We got settled then met with the excursion coordinator. Based on our review of the offered excursions, we had ideas on what we wanted to do on our 3 full days here. We wanted to hike The Towers, kayak the Grey glacier area and possibly fly fish. The excursion leader said that she would not let us hike the Towers until we did the French Valley hike first as that would determine our ability to do the Towers. She also discouraged us from the other two excursions as she said that the transfers to these were very long relative to the amount of time you actually participate in the activity. These two activities were additional cost also. So, after this discussion, we decided to do the French Valley hike on the next day, then Hunters Trail Hike on the 2nd day in the morning followed by horseback riding for me and Em , mountain biking for Jon and Rob and relaxation for the rest of the group. The Towers Hike was scheduled for the 3rd day.
Hiked the French Valley – stunning 12 mile hike – the last mile is more like rock climbing as there really isn’t a clear trail. Our guide Pelin was outstanding. Gorgeous day. A 45 minute van ride to the boat across to the trail head. The French Valley is one of the legs of the popular W hiking/backpacking circuit. A strenuous outing but worth it. While at the top, we watched small avalanches occur and took in the unbelievable scenery. Highly recommend this hike – just know that it is not easy.
Hike Hunters Trail in the morning – very easy hike with stops as some rock paintings. Saw lots of Guanaco and birds – our eyes were peeled for Pumas but no luck (thankfully!) After lunch, Emelie, Pelin and I went to an estancia for a horseback ride with some gauchos. Great fun and a different way to see the natural beauty.
Most of our group hiked the Towers with Pelin. I was under the weather so stayed back and did some research on the spa. Great, if small spa but my treatments were wonderful. I had a hot stone massage and a facial. As a matter of fact, I was coming
down with a cold that day and after the treatments, I felt much better – quite a recovery! The only shame is that the pool and hot tubs only stay open until 8pm (?) so by the time you return from excursions, you have to choose between eating dinner or using the spa facilities – seems that they should extend the hours at least during the high season. The “hikers” loved the Towers hike and felt very accomplished.
Departed from the hotel – sadly! I did a quick site inspection of The Singular Patagonia in Puerto Natales – This is a fascinating property. A bit on the dark, masculine side - hallways, etc Restaurant had a cool vibe. YPO group had a buyout when we were there so couldn’t see room product.
Bullet points on Patagonia/TDP properties:
Explora-good location same excursions as Tierra. Own boat for French Valley hike-on same lake as trailhead
Awasi-everythng is private-excursions, dining not social, best for clients who want privacy-honeymooners, celebrities
Singular-best chef/restaurant in Chile-different excursions-just outside Puerto Natales-go to Serrano glacier-2hrs outside the park-suggest 2 nights here
Tierra-pros:awesome architecture-such a sense if place-gorgeous design, guides (pelin). Cons-spa closes at 9pm-get back late from excursions and dont have time to use it-poor lighting in bathrooms. Based on our experience here, I would definitely recommend staying here.
Flew to Santiago from Punta Arenas for overnight at Singular Santiago – great property. We were only there to sleep then up for flight to Atacama the next morning.
Atacama desert – Stayed at Hotel Cumbres San Pedro de Atacama – We decided a bit late to spend a few nights here at the end of our trip. Our accommodation options were very limited. This was definitely more of a 3 star experience. While the rooms were nice and spacious, the property was very poorly managed and disorganized. This was a full board experience and activities were included. We are not fans of group excursions where everyone gets in a bus and goes to the excursion together.
The excursions we participated in were:
Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) – for sunset and sand dunes
Cejar Laguna – flamingos and salt flats
Valle de arcoiris (Rainbow Valley)– rock formations and slot canyons
Tatio Geysers – VERY early morning but very cool with hot springs, geysers. Saw Guanaco, llamas, flamingos and bird species. This was a private tour that we arranged.
Walked around the town of San Pedro de Atacama – small little village with tourist shops, artisan crafts and restaurants.
Recommended lodging would be Tierra Atacama or Awasi