Chile, and especially the wilderness of Patagonia, was on our bucket list for long. Back in April we finally had the opportunity to travel there. We were aware of the fact that the main season was over, but as we are lovers of autumn atmosphere and colorful leaves, not afraid of the cold. Also we rather like to share the beauty of a country with as few other tourists as possible, and therefore considered Patagonia the ideal destination. Still knowing that the Humboldt Penguins that are breeding on Isla Magdalena and Otowa had already left for their winter destination at the end of March was sad- but we found luckily and unexpected an amazing alternative program.
Sitting in front of our computers at home and searching for suitable flights, we realized that quite a journey would be in front of us: Luckily we found a great connection with Alitalia via Rome to Santiago and took the chance to spend some hours in the eternal city, including pizza, ice-cream and Cappuccino- but this is a different story. We also found an amazing market stall, which sold fresh fruits, were we just could not resist, and thought it might be awesome for the flight. Unfortunately we could not eat all of them and once we arrived after a 15h flight in Santiago had to discard them at the security check at the airport in Santiago, as it is prohibited to import any kind of fruit or vegetable. So better make sure to fill up your vitamin reservoir before entering Chile or buy just what you can eat before entering one of the south most countries.
Arriving in Santiago, our trip was not over yet: Our journey continued further to Punta Arenas. Planning the trip from Santiago to the South, we were in the beginning tempted to drive from Santiago to Punta Arenas by car- but soon realized that there is neither a Chilean road going to the very South nor enough time.
Therefore we chose the plane that brought us in roughly 3.5 h to the South of Patagonia: When checking in to your flight, make sure you get a window seat on the right side of the plane, which enables you to enjoy the beautiful Torres del Paine National Park with its glaciers, lagunas and impressive mountains. But it is not only the national park but dozens of small islands, scenery which is making the journey unforgettable. We had the pleasure to fly into the setting sun, but unfortunately had the seats in the middle and at the aisle, not allowing us taking proper pictures, but making us even more looking forward to exploring Patagonia.
Here we were: Punta Arenas, the southernmost city of the world! As there is no real public transport bus running from the Punta Arenas airport to the town, we took a taxi that was for both of us together 10.000 pesos and therefore the same price (5000 pesos per person) as with these small transfer shuttle busses.
Finally we were in the hotel and ready to make up for the tittle sleep. But when we opened our bag, we were surprised: The camping gas was gone, but instead there was a notice by the airport in our bag, stating that transport of gas is not allowed- something we were not aware of. Unfortunately they did not only take the gas but also the camping cooker that sat on top of the cartridge, still we think they could have left the stove in our bag.
Our plan was to camp most of the time, how should we do this without the possibility to prepare coffee and cook delicious meals?
Thanks to the jetlag we woke up early in the morning and had a long breakfast followed by a walk to the beautiful pier in stunning morning light.
Not only we but also the uncountable street dogs enjoyed the beautiful light at the old pier. Some of the dogs behaved strangely, they run behind cars, barking like crazy- why? We have no idea.
But some were also calm and cute.
We started to do our final shopping before going further south. First we were looking for a place to change money. Changing money is only possible at one bank (Servi Estado, opens at 8 am) – lucky we found this, as all other exchange offices were not open during the morning.
At home we already read that all outdoor equipment is extremely expensive, and initially therefore were very well equipped, but this was before we ‘lost’ our gas cooker. Luckily we found an outdoor equipment store- our cooking adventures became realistic again. What we had read proofed right, when we got our new ridiculously expensive (50 Euro) but except this very average new cooker and camping gas. Still we were happy that we found an outdoor shop in this sleepy city.
During the planning of our trip we early decided to rent a car and not to travel with public transport. On the one side an ‘own’ car is more convenient, than going by public transport, but the main reason was that we wanted to be flexible and independent and able stop at all beautiful places whenever we would like to.
So we picked up our Toyota RAV4 SUV- a car just big enough to sleep inside. We thought long about which car to rent and for some time believed that a “Wicked” camper jeep with tent on top is the ideal solution, but we were the whole trip super happy that we changed our mind, and had decided for a car and for a place to sleep where we were untouched by wind and weather.
Next we stopped at the supermarket to get food for the next couple of days- quite an expensive experience: But no wonder, given the fact that there is no direct road through Chile to the very south. If you are a coffee lover (we always bring our moka espresso maker) make sure you bring coffee from Europe or buy great South American coffee powder at the airport in Santiago- don’t expect to find great coffee powder in the supermarket. The only grounded coffee that was not instant coffee already had sugar added to the powder (yummy!!) and was not that cheap.
Now we were finally ready to begin the adventure. Our first stop led us along the central Strait of Magellan to the very south of mainland Chile, where we planned to go on a short hike to the Isidro lighthouse. The Isidro lighthouse (Cabor San Isidro) is the southernmost traditional light station of mainland South America and therefore definitely worth a visit.
We drove from Punta Arenas the 80km to the very end of the road, where we parked our car. Previously one could go further on an unpaved tiny road leading in direction of the lighthouse, but now a barrier prohibited driving along the sea. We started our hike to the lighthouse at the beach in complete lonesomeness, the ocean, some wildlife (birds, many mussels and the little guy on the next picture) and us at the end of the world.
The sign at the parking area said 4km to the lighthouse. From the starting point one can already see in the distance a very prominent wind-swept tree, which turned out to be our destination, as the lighthouse was situated just behind it. But we realized that the lighthouse is rather 5 kilometers from the parking lot, so we had even more walking along the beautiful beach. If this is still not enough for you, consider doing the 33Km hike to the most south part of mainland that can only be reached by foot. Usually people do this as a 2-3 day trip and we saw a hand full of people doing this trekking route. As we did not have that much time we kept it short and really enjoyed.
If walking on the sandy beach is too exhausting for you, you might also consider going by helicopter. At least during our hike we did not only meet around ten other wanderers but also one helicopter, showing the beautiful landscape from above- something we would never consider, as the best part of the journey was the quietness and the untouched nature. Talking about luxury travels: Something we would rather consider is staying at the awesome looking small hotel close to the lighthouse, with a beautiful terrace and nice eco- outdoor spa located directly at the beach. But the hotel was closed, probably due to off season (and hopefully not forever), and therefore we had the whole beach and the incredible view on the 2246m high Monte Sarmiento for us alone. Already Charles Darwin was impressed by the sensational glacier. He stated that the glacier which rises highly directly from the east shore of Tierra del Fuego is “the most sublime spectacle in Tierra del Fuego”.
After enjoying the view and the unique landscape, and admiring the tree we already mentioned above.
We did the last meters to the lighthouse: Unfortunately we could not go inside. Obviously it is closed to the public but there seems to be the option to enter when you come with a guide. Still we really enjoyed the great view on the Strait of Magellan.
After hiking back to the car, we drove 5 min and decided to stay the night at a beautiful river close to the beach- a place that is obviously very popular by local people who like to stay there for the weekend (during warmer times). Camping and sleeping in the car is in Chile in general no problem, in fact you often find facilities for waste disposal, portable toilets and water (which is at waters provided to clean fishing or other equipment from the water and its potential hazard algae or germs). So we had a great first night in our SUV, which should be our home for the next week!
Even if going south is against the main travel route, it is really worth the short drive as it is away from civilization and you will only find few other tourists, admiring the beauty and wildlife of the coast.
Still we cannot wait to tell you about our adventures at Torres Del Paine National park, Tierra del Fuego and the Atacama Desert in the North of Chile.