The arrangements went without a hitch except on the homeward journey when the Iberia flight from Santiago was delayed for an hour because of the need to change a tyre. We only just caught our connecting flight at Madrid. No apology for the delay was given.
In many ways Chile offers a similar range of interest to New Zealand. In our view Chile is equal or superior in every respect. It has better geysers than we saw in New Zealand, a wider range of, and in places more dramatic, mountains, better fjords and more varied and spectacular wildlife. Before deciding to go to New Zealand ‘think Chile”.
In more detail, the Hotel Casa Real just outside Santiago proved an ideal location to wind down before our main travels – a lovely old house surrounded by beautiful gardens offering superb accommodation and food, not to mention the vineyard at the bottom of the garden.
The Atacama provided a wide variety of desert and saltpan scenery and an amazing range of colours, particularly at the beginning and the end of the day. The Tatio Geysers were the best we have seen anywhere, although they only function for a couple of hours at dawn each day. Our guide, Patrick, struck the right balance between scenery and wildlife. He had an uncanny knack of managing to avoid the crowds at even the at the honey-pot locations The accommodation at San Pedro was good – much more our style that the much larger Explora Hotel. The one disadvantage was its central position in a town that has many street dogs that spend much of the night insulting each other.
The Lakes were our least favourite area, not helped by some fairly indifferent weather. We had 2 birding guides, a husband and wife team of George and Sandra. They were very keen birders and took a great deal of trouble to try and see those on Margaret’s ‘specials’ list. Because of the bad weather on our second day, the programme was changed, with our agreement. to visit Valdavia, where the birding opportunities were said to be better, rather than Chiloe. Our last day at Puerto Veras was spent doing a standard visit to the volcano area. The guide was rather uninspiring. The hotel location was excellent and the rooms satisfactory. It was however essentially a package holiday hotel and this was reflected in the food and its rather soul-less atmosphere.
The fjord cruise was excellent. It would have been nice to have seen a little more sun, but this did not spoil our enjoyment. We got into the heart of fjord country, seeing them in all their moods and the glaciers in all their forms and colours. The accommodation and food on Skorpios III was the best we have had on any cruise. Apart from tips, there were no extras. Drinks etc. were all included in the cruise price. Quark and African Lodges could learn from this: there was no signs of people taking advantage and indulging in excessive drinking. Our one dining complaint is that you are allocated a specific table for the cruise. We finished up with a table of 6 comprising an Italian couple who did not speak Spanish and only a little English, a Spanish couple who spoke no Italian and also little English and the 2 of us who did not speak Spanish or Italian. Conversation at mealtimes was limited. We would much have preferred ‘sit where you wish’ arrangements. The position was complicated by the fact that over half the passengers were members of a single US group that remained separate from the other passengers. Our other observation is that it would have been helpful to have the sort of experts on hand that Quark etc provide but we accept this is really a different form of expedition cruising.
Our return to Torres del Paine was memorable. The mountains were as impressive as any we have seen, and as in the fjords we saw them in all weathers. Our guide, Nino, was the best of a good bunch, so much so that we employed him for the leisure day as well. The Hotel Grey was the worst we encountered. The food was not good at the best of times and the service disintegrated the night a Chinese group hit time. The four hotels in the Park do, of course, enjoy an effective monopoly.
See our all our Wildlife Worldwide holidays to Chile