Chile and Argentina Travel Help
January 14, 2014 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Help us plan a last-minute trip to South America.

Hi all,

Mrs. Cheese and I are flying into Santiago on Monday, and due to a perfect storm of last-minute booking and work commitments, I have been unable to spend as much time as I'd like researching an itinerary.

We have a couple guidebooks, and are very used to traveling by the seat of our pants. But we'd love some travel itinerary advice, as well as general advice about the region. It's our first time in South America. The trip is 5 weeks total, but we are heading to Easter Island for the last week or so. So, that leaves a month.

I'd love to get over to Buenos Aires, if possible, but I'm not sure about the duration of the bus ride, and/or being able to do some kind of loop to avoid coming back to Santiago via the same route. I'd also love to get down to Patagonia, but I'm not sure we have enough time if BA and Easter Island take it all up. We won't be traveling with hiking or camping gear.

We'd love to see some local festivals or any other special events happening at that time. We'd also love to get some warm weather and beach time.

Any specific itinerary advice from some local folks or seasoned travelers? Anything else we should be thinking about? I really don't know how much we should try to tackle? We don't want to be moving too fast.

Finally, we've heard some anecdotes about high crime in Santiago. How worried should we be? We will be traveling very light, but will have an iPad and a couple decent cameras. What should we know?

posted by hamandcheese to Travel & Transportation around Chile (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Patagonia is such a stunningly beautiful part of the world. If you want to do some hiking but don't have your gear with you, it can easily be rented near Torres del Paine National Park in Chile or Glacier National Park in Argentina. The thing about Torres del Paine is that there are a couple of lodges in the park that are easy to get to and are basically like hotels, kind of like the old fashioned lodges in Yellowstone or Yosemite in the US. You can access some jaw-dropping scenery very easily in this region.

Culturally, though, Buenos Aires and areas further north like Bolivia and Peru will be far more interesting than Patagonia. Peru is also chock full of amazing stuff to see and do.

You'll have to make some tough choices though for the time you have. You'll be covering a lot of ground and it sounds like busses will be your primary means of travel. Don't try to do too much.
posted by theory at 7:51 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it is at all possible, go to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. It's got huge, beautiful waterfalls (which you can, for fairly cheap, ride a boat into and/or rappel down) and great walking trails through the rainforest on which you are likely to encounter very nearby monkeys and other adorable wild animals that will try to steal your sandwich from your hand, but not try to eat you. The falls are easily the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. The town itself is also fun to walk around in—very friendly people, nice shopping, excellent restaurants. If you do end up there, the best restaurant that I have ever eaten at in any country is El Quincho del Tio Querido (site in Spanish)—a little outside of the main downtown area, but worth the 15 minute walk/5 minute cab ride.

If wine is your thing, Mendoza is also a great idea. In addition to the vineyards, the town is similarly great to walk around in and shop in (though I didn't eat at any restaurants there, so I can't speak to those). I also went to Vines of Mendoza while I was there for a tasting and tutorial on the wines of the region, and it was well worth it. There was also some fantastic graffiti art all over town that made me very angry with myself for having not charged my camera before wandering.
posted by cheerwine at 8:26 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite] has English-language information on buses in Argentina. The bus ride from Santiago to BsAs is roughly 20 hours, $170. Buses in Argentina (at least) are pretty comfortable; sort of like first-class airplane seats with near-flat recline, snacks, video monitor, etc. (This is cama ejecutivo service; lower qualities of service are slightly cheaper, but it's not worth saving $10 on a 20 hour bus ride.) You might get a (dubbed) Owen Wilson romantic comedy or Vin Diesel action movie film festival along the way! I would try to pass through the Andes during daylight in at least one direction; the Santiago-BsAs buses are all overnight trips.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:55 PM on January 14, 2014

I'm an American who has never seen Niagara Falls and after seeing Iguazú, I never will. So as you can guess, I was coming here specifically to say what cheerwine did: you must go to Iguazú. Hell, I'd recommend seeing Iguazú over Buenos Aires! Should your budget allow, staying in the park at the Sheraton is a fantastic way to wake up in the morning. Half of the rooms face the falls, and the other half face the trees and still get the white-noise rumbling from the falls. The view from the Brazilian side is supposed to be more "rustic" but I didn't get there. Be aware that US citizens need a visa for Brazil (though they did let my mother in by land at this very crossing with no visa). If you're an engineer, a day trip to the giant hydroelectric plant at Itaipú may be in order. You can go by hired car or public bus (not the comfortable ones mentioned by Homeboy Trouble).
posted by whatzit at 11:48 PM on January 14, 2014

search for travel agencies that do 'design your own holiday' package and who specialize in those countries. these website often have pre made itineraries with 'add on' travel options and should give you some good tips.

not sure if i can post links here but send me a private msg and I will share a few (from personal experience).

my personal travel tip: get to a funeral, wedding or sporting event

saludos from Colombia /
posted by lapsang at 5:27 AM on January 15, 2014

It's been a long time since I've been there, but I really wouldn't worry about having to "wing it" once you're there. Unless things have changed a lot, there are a lot of local travel places specializing in regional travel - they can help you get on your way by bus or rail (the long distance buses are really very nice and frequent) right quick.

Puerto Montt is a pretty cool natural beauty site near Santiago, and just the bus trip through the Andes if you head into Argentina is full of sights in itself.

Lots of wineries in Chile and in Mendoza (Argentina) if that interests you.

Bariloche, Argentina is a good place to get some feel for Patagonia without venturing too far afield.

Buenos Aires is amazing. Be sure and attend a peña if you can (folk music and dancing and jugs of local red wine....a great time).

Yes, Iguazú -- but that is kind of a longer trip (way up in NE Argentina) so you'll need to plan you time.

It's summer -- Argentina beach cities like Villa Gessel and Pinamar are great for some down time. You'll meet a lot of Buenos Aires folks on holiday :)
posted by pantarei70 at 6:16 AM on January 15, 2014

I just got back from 2.5 weeks in Chile, with most of the time spent in Patagonia, and I am envious of your five-week timespan! We flew into Santiago but because it took two full days to get to Patagonia (by way of flying to Punta Arenas and then Puerto Natales, followed by a bus ride to Torres del Paines NP), we only spent about two days (one on either end of the trip) in Santiago. So, I can't comment much about the city other than to say that the one night we went out, we did notice a distinct divide between the "touristy" parts of town and the more local areas; however, I wouldn't say we felt unsafe at anytime, just a little more out of place and had to make more of an effort to get drinks and food, etc. Not a big deal, especially if you speak Spanish.

We did spend a weekend in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, which I can highly recommend for seaside relaxing and proximity to vineyards for wine tasting - definitely a place and activities I wish we had budgeted more time for.

If you're headed to Easter Island, I actually think it makes more sense to get there from the Chilean Patagaonia region than Buenos Aires, but I'm not sure if you already have that travel worked out. If you would be departing through southern Chile, I'd definitely recommend Torres del Paine, but you'd need to figure out ahead of time what sort of experience you're looking for in the park and work backwards from there in terms of renting equipment. As mentioned upthread, you can definitely rent everything you need once you're there, but the biggest thing you should figure out is whether you want a more self-sustained kind of experience (i.e. backpacking for several days, setting up tents each night, carrying all your food) or if you want a shorter trip where you can stay in lodges and not really deal with as much equipment. We chose the backpacking for multiple days throughout the entire trail system (the Circuit) vs. the shorter "W" hike, and I can HIGHLY recommend the Circuit for the amazing mix of vistas and glaciers and just overall experience of being in nature without a million other people around. However, if you don't have the time or desire to hike in that way, you can definitely still see a lot with a less intense preparation requirement - do a search for Refugios to get a sense of what sort of resources are available and where. You can pretty easily plan for 2 weeks in and around the park, between hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, etc.

We had friends who were in BA the same time we were in Patagonia, and FWIW they had an awesome (though totally different) vacation experience than we did - I think it's really just about what you're looking for.

Travel can take a long time between all these different places, and I'd recommend flying over busses if you can afford it just because the bus rides are SO long (as in like 20 hours to get from Santiago down to Puerto Natales.

If you do head down to Torres del Paine, feel free to PM for any other suggestions - we had 3 nights at one of the nicer resorts outside the park and had lots of great meals so I have some fresh recommendations in mind if you want them.

Have a great time!!!
posted by DuckGirl at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2014

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