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Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil

October 9, 2017

Another month has been and gone here in South America and with lots of new experiences under our belts, it’s hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

If you haven’t been following our travels, here’s a run-down on our route, key expenses and highlights of the last month or so…

You’ll find our previous months’ itinerary and costings here too.

Puerto Varas, Chile

With a few days to spare, we caught up on some work at our hostel and purchased the last few items we needed for Patagonia. Puerto Varas was a pretty little town but didn’t hold a torch to Bariloche or Pucon.  With that said, Puerto Montt held even less appeal for us and really was just a place to visit a mall (to buy hiking poles) and to fly out of – pleasant enough but not somewhere we’d recommend staying.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 5-bed dorm at Margouya Patagonia Outdoor @ CLP7,600 each/night (USD12/NZD17).

Onwards travel to Puerto Natales:  Public bus from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt and then taxi to the airport (a bus transfer is available but we ran out of time). Flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas with Sky Airlines (CLP24,624 /USD39.43/NZD55.25 each) and then bus to Puerto Natales (CLP7,000/USD11.20/NZD15.70 each)

Puerto Natales, Chile

The jumping-off point for Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales is a quaint little town, buzzing about with hikers and adventure seekers.  There’s not a lot to do in the township itself beyond stocking up with gear and visiting the few restaurants (Mesita Grande is a real winner for pizza and pasta) but it’s a nice place to relax in between hikes.

Accommodation:  Whilst in town we stayed with ChileTour Patagonia in their guesthouse – this is only available to their trekking clients and includes home cooked meals – what a treat not having to cook!

Activities: Alongside our visit to the nearby Torres del Paine, we also went on a horse trek through the rugged Patagonian landscape –  something we’d definitely recommend on a still day.

Onwards travel to Torres del Paine:  Private transfer by ChileTour into the park.

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia

Our first South American bucket-list adventure, Torres del Paine was everything we hoped for and more!  Though it was at times a challenge (aching muscles, sore feet and sub-zero temperatures) the hiking was one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done in scenery that was, without doubt, the most gorgeous we’ve ever seen.

Accommodation:  1 night camping at Camp Italiano (free but be sure to reserve your spot), 1 night full-board in Refugio Paine Grande (organised by ChileTour Patagonia) and 3 nights at EcoCamp (pricing depends on the package selected)

Activities:

Onwards travel to El Calafate:  Though EcoCamp can organise transfers directly to El Calafate, we returned to Puerto Natales in their van and then caught a shuttle and bus a few days later.

El Calafate, Argentian Patagonia

Home to one of the biggest glaciers in the world, we really went back and forth as to whether it was worth visiting El Calafate. In the end, we did and it was the best decision we could have made! Not only was the Perito Moreno glacier one of the most impressive natural sights we’ve ever witnessed but the township was abuzz with energy and a great little stop on the way north.

Accommodation:  1 night before visiting El Chalten and 1 following at America del Sur Hostel in a 6-bed dorm @ ARS185 each/night (USD10.60/NZD15).

Activites:  A visit to the Perito Moreno glacier which cost ARS450 in return transport (through Cal Tur) and ARS500 for entrance into the park itself.  Once you’re in, there are a variety of boardwalks that offer incredible views out over the monstrous glacier.

Though you can pay extra to ride a boat near the base of the glacier we decided against it (they don’t get particularly close due to the danger of icefall) and didn’t regret the decision – even the boardwalks are amazing!

Visitors are also able to walk on the glacier itself but be prepared, the ‘big walk’ will set you back big time at a whopping ARS6,200 each (USD356/NZD501.60).  There is a smaller ‘minitrek’ available but it still costs ARS3,600 (USD206.70/NZD291.30) and according to reviews, really doesn’t include any time on the actual glacier.

Our friend Backpacking Becky did the larger of the two and said it was incredible but our budget just didn’t extend that far so we were left listening to her stories!

Onwards travel to El Chalten:  Bus with Cal Tur ARS900 each (USD51.50/NZD72.90 – return included back to El Calafate)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires was a bit of a surprise for us. Though we expected to absolutely fall in love with Argentina’s capital, it just didn’t happen for us. For what felt like months we heard bloggers and fellow travellers rave about BA but when we left, we felt a little underwhelmed by the city if I’m being honest (and I always am!)

Though the city felt much safer than we half expected and we had some lovely days out, for the most part, we weren’t really inspired to explore.

What did you think of Buenos Aires? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Accommodation: 2 nights in a 4-bed dorm at America del Sur Hostel Buenos Aires @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

3 nights in a three-bed private room at Circus Hotel & Hostel @ ARS238.50 each/night (USD13.65/NZD19.30)

Activites:  San Telmo Markets and lots of wandering around.  Unfortunately, the rain put a stop to most of our plans but we were quite happy just to take it easy.

Onwards travel to Iguazu:  Flight with Andes from AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) to IGR (Cataratas del Iguazú/Mayor Carlos Eduardo Krause Airport) @ ARS2115 each (USD121.25/NZD171.40)

 

Iguazu

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, services the most popular side of the Iguazu Falls.  There you’ll find three main routes around the falls, each with significantly different views – all are worth checking out!

Accommodation:  2 nights at Casa Tres Fronteras in a private double room @ ARS209 each/night (USD12/NZD17)

Activites:  ARS500 entrance to Iguazu Falls (Argentinian side) and ARS550 for the boat ride under the falls.

Onwards travel to Foz do Iguaçu:  Public bus @ ARS25 each (USD1.45/NZD2)

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Though we’d planned on accessing the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls (which apparently offer amazing views out over the entire falls area), we had such a great time on the Argentinian side that we spent the day relaxing and saved our pennies instead.

Accommodation:  1 night at Casa Celia Wernke in a private double room @ BRL34.70 each (USD11/NZD15.50)

Onwards travel to Rio de Janeiro:  Flights with Azul (IGU to VCP and VCP to SDU) @ BRL394 each (USD124.80, NZD176.45)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

With a little trepidation, we only booked three nights in Rio from the get-go.  We couldn’t have been more wrong though!  We absolutely fell in love with the city – vibrant, exciting and surprisingly safe (at least, so we found), we had an absolute blast.

Accommodation:  5 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Discovery Hostel @ BRL45 each/night (USD14.20/NZD20)

Activites:

  • Ipanema – Head out for a surf or do as we did and watch the sunset from atop the rocks at the Copacabana end of the beach.
  • Copacabana – An absolute icon, here an umbrella will only set you back BRL5 for a day and beach chairs BRL10 each, so get comfy and enjoy the beach.  On the days we visited the waves were strongest on the left side of the beach so we’d suggest heading right towards Ipanema.
  • Christ the Redeemer – For only BRL61 each, guests can catch official shuttle vans up to the top of this Wonder of the World and gain entry for as long as they wish.  It’s currently not safe to walk to the summit so this really is the most reliable and safest way to see Christ the Redeemer up close.  The views are amazing and it’s well worth the trip up.
  • Museum of Tomorrow – Free of charge on Tuesdays this intriguing museum includes a great range of digital artefacts and manages to be both interesting and thought-provoking.  This was a great way to spend a quiet morning in Rio.
  • Lapa Steps – A perpetual favourite amongst tourists, the Lapa Steps are beautiful.  Go hunting for a tile from your home country and see what you can spot.  We found three from New Zealand!
  • Parque das Ruínas – Beautiful views out over the city, an easy walk from the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa (and it’s free)
  • National Historical Museum – Not quite as engaging as the Museum of Tomorrow, the National Historical Museum is still home to a range of interesting Brazilian artefacts.  It wouldn’t be top of my list for a short stay but if you’re there for longer, it’s worth seeing.
  • Olympic Mural – Vibrant art in what used to be one of the rundown parts of the city.
  • Pedra da Gávea – A challenging but rewarding hike that includes a degree of free-climbing.  It’s a full day-trip so be sure to equip yourself with everything you need – in particular, sturdy shoes and 3L of water per person.

Onwards travel to Ilha Grande:  BRL95 each (USD30/NZD42.50) for private transfers with Easy Transfer, including hostel pick-up and delivery to ferry terminal (approx 2 hours) along with ferry ticket (approximately 45 minutes).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Travelling friends are the best.  After an amazing stay at Chili Kiwi, we’ve met up with a number of newfound friends on the road, each to varying degrees.  One thing remains the same though – it’s been so nice seeing familiar faces again and having others to travel with.  We’ve just left Jess and Simon and are now on the road with Becky for around a month – good times!
  • Supermarket service here is super slow!  Having now spent the last two months in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, it’s fair to say that the supermarket service is the slowest we’ve ever experienced.  It’s obviously not a major problem, just go with plenty of time to spare.
  • Chile and Argentina have an accommodation tax that’s added onto each night of your stay but as a foreigner, you won’t have to pay it.  Be sure to show your passport/PDI entrance paper to save 21% on all accommodation.
  • Drones might not be worth the hassle here.  We brought our Mavic with us in the hopes of snapping lots of amazing aerial clips but we’ve found the majority of places either aren’t worth flying or can’t be flown (due to local regulations and/or safety concerns).  We knew we wouldn’t be able to put it up in Chilean Patagonia, for example, due to strict laws protecting the national park but hadn’t really accounted for the fact that although we could fly it in Rio, but would prefer not to in case someone decided they’d like to pinch a drone post-landing for themselves.  It’s a fair bit of weight and money to be carrying around in our bags considering how little it’s being used.

So far South America really hasn’t been anything like we’d expected.  The people, for the most part, are warm and understanding when it comes to our lack of Spanish, the streets feel relatively safe and the places we’ve visited so far have been incredibly diverse.

We’re so pleased we ventured over to this part of the world and can’t wait to see more!

What’s up next?  More of Brazil, Bolivia, a quick trip back into Chile (to visit San Pedro where we’ll be using these helpful tips) and then on to Peru.  Bring it on!

Check out our Recent Posts

Day One of the W Trek – Rain, Wind Gusts, Sub-Zero Camping & Lots of Smiles!

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

and one for fun…

Why You Should NEVER Eat a Kiwi…

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina


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Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

October 1, 2017

Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia offers a number of world-class hikes to travellers keen to brave the elements. The most famous (and challenging) walk in the national park, the Base de las Torres (Base of the Towers) offers spectacular views amongst some of the most incredible natural scenery in the world. We took up the challenge and were rewarded a hundred times over for our efforts.

Setting off bright and early from EcoCamp, we were literally the first group on the trail, allowing us to set a comfortable pace and really soak up the morning air.  Thanks to its handy location at the start of the hike, visitors can maximise their time cuddled up in bed whilst still getting a big headstart on those coming from Puerto Natales for the day – a double bonus for our glamping crew.

“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” – Proverb

I must admit, in the days leading up to this hike I was incredibly nervous and the pink-tinged sunrise didn’t do much to set our minds at ease. Though I try my best, I’m not the fittest wahine around and even on a fair-weather day, the Towers were to present a massive challenge – both in body and mind.

Summoning a positive attitude, we began putting the kilometres behind us – something that was easily done on the flat but not so much so on the first major incline of the day.

The hike to the Towers can be divided into a few key sections, each unique from the other.

What Can You Expect on the Base of the Towers Hike?

The First Climb

After an easy warm-up on the flat, hikers are greeted with their first big climb and though there are small breaks where it evens out, for the most part it’s all uphill for a solid hour or so.  We took our time and made it up surprisingly easily but it was hard work, without doubt!

Solace

At the crest of the first incline, hikers are treated to a (gratefully received) rest. The track heads downhill towards the El Chileno campsite where, during the season, toilets are available (as is accommodation should you wish to break the hike into two days).

Not Your Average Walk in the Park

For the next two hours, the trails weaves through the forest. After the initial climb, this is an easy hike over undulating land. You’ll continue to gain elevation (so don’t get too excited about taking it easy), but in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty cruisey part of the track; even if you’ve never hiked before, you’ll manage this section fine.

The Final Push

Just after the forest clears, you’ll be greeted with the final climb to the Base of the Towers.  This hike will certainly make you earn that amazing view you’ve come for – saving the best (or worst) ’till last.

Starting with a 30-minute climb through the last of the forest, hikers approach the moraine, where the scramble begins.  On the day of our hike, there was significant snowfall in the area which meant the path that would normally be made up of rocks and boulders was practically unrecognisable.  Instead, we tentatively made up way along the line of the moraine, skirting our way over to the Towers.  Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks (but we’d love to hear from anyone who’s completed the hike without snow).

Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks.

Have you completed the hike without snow?  If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on tackling the last of the moraine!

With aching muscles but an unmistakable electricity in the air, we rounded the last bend and finally caught sight of the three towers right in front of us.  Peeking out through a veil of cloud, we couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been warned that on days like ours, hikers sometimes miss out altogether on seeing these granite monsters!

Honestly, we could not have asked for more.

Not only were we treated to the most amazing Winter-Wonderland scenery all the way up, but with a touch of blue sky, we stood marvelling at the infamous icons of Torres del Paine.

Though we were very fortunate to have the towers practically to ourselves (a privilege that would be absolutely unheard of during peak season), we had followed a set of little footprints all the way to the top.  Crossing our fingers, we’d hoped that it was a sign that we might get a glimpse of the resident fox and continuing on our lucky streak, that’s exactly what happened.

Standing under the towers, it was hard to believe that with all of our planning, dreaming and hoping, we were finally there in person.

We’d made it!

Do You Need a Guide to Climb the Towers?

Though it is physically possible to make it to the summit of the hike without the assistance of a guide, we would certainly recommend one.

Just days earlier, we’d been told about a pair of hikers who had made it almost to the end of the moraine just to have to turn back – with heavy snowfall they couldn’t find the track to continue safely through the maze of snow and under-cover boulders.  I couldn’t imagine the disappointment in getting that far only to turn away at the last hurdle.

Throughout the day our guides coaxed us along, sharing encouragement when it was needed and leading the celebrations when we’d pushed ourselves that little further than we thought possible.  They each shared a great deal of knowledge with us and knew exactly when we each needed that extra little boost.

Without our guides, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have made it to the top.

They encouraged us to walk at our own pace and step by step, we slowly chipped away at the challenge ahead of us.  We certainly didn’t break any speed records for our ascent but their patience, persistence and belief in us was invaluable.

In the middle of summer, when the path is well-worn and the snow we experienced is nowhere to be found, it would be possible to complete the hike successfully without the assistance of a guide but even then, I’d suggest booking one in.

This hike is anything but easy so why trust it to anyone but a pro?

We decided to spend our evenings relaxing in luxury at EcoCamp so booked into their ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘ – this allowed us to choose our own activities each day which included their own amazing guides.

If there’s one hike you do in Torres del Paine, make it this one!

Though the hike was difficult, with the mantra ‘slow and steady’ our whole group managed to make it up to the summit together.

Without doubt, the hike to the Towers was difficult but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

If you have the opportunity, absolutely go!


Thinking about hiking to Base de las Torres?  Pin this post for future reference!

The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek. The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek.

Thank you to EcoCamp for hosting us on this hike.  Without doubt, we’ll never forget our experience!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

September 23, 2017

With our first full day hike in Torres del Paine behind us we slowly rolled out of ‘bed’ (if you can call a sleeping bag, ground mat and a lumpy jumper-come-pillow a bed) and psyched ourselves up for day two out on the trails.

Being our first experience of multi-day hikes, the need to pour tired bodies back into dirty thermals and to squeeze aching feet back into muddy boots was a new one for us.  I know I’m not making the experience sound glamourous because I suppose with the lack of showers, running water and electricity, it was anything but – but without doubt, it was an adventure and one we were very excited to be on.  Even in our sleepless, dirty, aching state!

Because we’d walked further than most the day before (to Campt Italiano), we were able to leave our proper pack-up until after we returned from the French Valley – what was to be the second most challenging hike on the W-Trek.

For those hiking through from an earlier part of the W Trek, it’s safe to leave your bags at the rangers station for the climb itself and something we’d definitely recommend you do.

With our trusty hiking poles in hand, we began the 2.5km hike to the French Glacier Lookout.  The path up was often uneven, at times resembling a rock scramble more than a traditional hiking track, so our poles really proved their worth.  The climb up to the first mirador was relentless but absolutely worth it when we were rewarded with incredible views back over Lago Nordenskjöld and up to the French Glacier and Los Cuernos.

The night before, we’d heard parts of the hanging glacier above break off, the thunderous sound echoing throughout the valley but to stand so close to it was unreal.  Periodically we’d see chunks of ice and snow tumble down from the glacier, setting off little avalanches that devoured everything in their path.  Where else can you find yourself so wrapped up in the power of Mother Nature?

When we finished our descent, we were pleased to have our tents still out for a little lie down before heading off again.  With 7.5km of ‘Patagonian flat’ ground in front of us, the remainder of the day was manageable, if a little slow at times (sorry Thomas and Javier for slowing you both down!) with a fair few drinks breaks and photo stops dotted in for good measure.

This part of the park has an interesting history, having been badly affected by fires in the not too distant past.  What has resulted is a massive section of dead forest; ghostly fingers reaching towards the sky.  It’s a surreal feeling walking through the park, knowing just how long it took to grow in the first place and then considering how long it will take to establish itself after suffering at our hands.

Distance covered:  Camp Italiano to Mirador Francés (5km round-trip) andCamp Italiano to Paine Grande (7.6km)  Total 12.6km (but boy did it feel like more than that after the day before!)

Accommodation:  Paine Grande.  Our first stay in a refugio was a welcome respite from camping on the ground the night before.  We slept in a four-person dorm and were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which far surpassed our expectations.  Our rooms were nice and warm, as were the hot-water showers (even if you did have to press the button a few times to keep the water flowing).  It’s worth noting that the dining area wasn’t heated up so we’d recommend you wear your winter woolies downstairs where you head down there.  All in all though, a great option if you’re staying in the park and what an incredible spot to wake up to!

How Difficult is the Hike up the French Valley?

I can’t lie, by the time we got to the first lookout (after an hour and 10 minutes), we were breathing pretty heavily!  Though some choose to climb even higher to Mirador Británico, it simply wasn’t possible when we visited – the snow-cover wouldn’t have allowed us time to make it to our accommodation with certainty.

With that said though, within 5 minutes at the mirador, our breathing was back to normal and any memory of the climb was a distant memory so although I wouldn’t describe the hike as ‘easy’, it’s definitely do-able!


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Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required fitness. Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required level of fitness. Is this a holiday to suit every traveller? Find out!

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on this section of the W Trek.  All thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

September 20, 2017

Patagonia is a popular destination for nature-lovers to explore by foot but not all are up to hiking over challenging terrain – there’s a reason the term ‘Patagonian flat’ was coined after all!

For travellers looking to enjoy the local scenery without having to clamber up and down mountains themselves, horseback riding is a great alternative.

You’ll enjoy stunning scenery, experience the infamous Patagonian weather first-hand, make friends with the most gorgeous horses and best of all, your feet will thank you for giving them a break when all is said and done!

Where Can I Ride in Patagonia?

We rode with Pingo Salvaje on the outskirts of the Torres del Paine national park, enjoying the views that the region is known for, without the additional cost of park entrance (which is always a bonus when you’re trying to stick to a budget).  The horses were amongst the calmest that I’ve ever ridden whilst still having the ‘up and go’ that so many commercial trekking horses seem to lack; these beauties were a pleasure.

There is also riding available within the boundaries of the national park, both for pleasure and to assist tired trekkers coming down from the Base of the Towers, but remember, you’ll need to account for the additional cost of entering the park (which is well worth doing at some stage).

Plan Your Visit Well

The winds in Patagonia can be brutal so I would suggest trying to book your horseback adventure for a day when the winds are at their lowest.  Because we had a tight window of opportunity, we rode in crazy winds regardless and though the horses handled it well (they’re incredibly used to it), at times it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences.

We were pleased we chose to go ahead with the ride regardless but had we the option, it would have been even better on a slightly less windy day.

As always (at least in Patagonia), ensure you’ve got a wind-proof jacket to help keep you toasty warm and some comfortable gloves.  With those two things, we were warm even with the wind whipping up around us.

After hiking the majority of the W Trek, our legs were well and truly ready for a break and riding ended up being the perfect way to get out and make the most of the incredible scenery whilst giving our aching bodies a chance to recover.

If you’re travelling through Puerto Natales in Chile and either aren’t up for hiking or are just looking for a day off the trails, we’d certainly suggest saddling up and seeing this part of the word from a slightly higher vantage point.


Know someone headed to Patagonia?  Pin this post to help them out…

Torres del Paine by horseback in the way to go! The park is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile. Torres del Paine is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile.Thanks to Pingo Salvaje for so kindly hosting our ride.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia

Day One of the W Trek – Rain, Wind Gusts, Sub-Zero Camping & Lots of Smiles!

September 14, 2017

Stretching across two countries, Patagonia is as massive as it is impressive; it’s almost overwhelmingly so, covering almost half of Chile and a third of Argentina.  For an area with such vast landmass though, the lack of people is incredibly obvious and to be frank, refreshing.

Though Patagonia envelops such a large area, there’s one in particular that nature-lovers make a bee-line to – Torres del Paine in Chile.  With its uniquely-Patagonian peaks towering over the park, expansive glaciers, cascading waterfalls, moody weather and interesting wildlife, it’s a dream destination for many.

They’d be right too – Torres del Paine is the stuff of dreams.

Having arrived into Punta Arenas and catching a bus to Puerto Natales, we hunkered down at the ChileTour Patagonia guest house, preparing for the coming days.  We were about to face what was to be one of our biggest physical challenges to date, the infamous W trek. (well officially almost the full W), but first it was time to meet our new friends, prep for the hike and enjoy a delicious homecooked meal.

Equally apprehensive as we were excited, we enjoyed a final night sleeping cosily inside before heading into the wilderness.

After months of planning, it was hard to believe that our first major South American bucket-list activity was just over the horizon.

Did it live up to our expectations?

Did it ever!

The next few posts will outline what you can expect from each of the hikes and will share with you all of the helpful hints we picked up along the way, so let’s jump right into it…

Hint #1:  If there’s a trip you book this year, make sure it’s to Patagonia!

Day One on the W Trek:  Refugio Las Torres to Camp Italiano

After our transfer into the Torres del Paine National Park, Javier, our guide, purchased our park tickets we headed for the main entrance where we loaded up ready for our first day of hiking and what an introduction to hiking in Torres del Paine it was to be!

Though most start with the hike to the most famous peaks in the park, we opted to save the most challenging hike to the end (a decision which proved to be a real savior).  Instead, we broke in our feet on what for most people is day two of the W trek – Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos, only we continued walking to Campamento Italiano (an additional 4.5km) because the refugio was closed for reservations.  Though it meant a night of camping and a longer day on our feet, it also meant we had an easier day following which was greatly appreciated.

The hike itself as the definition of ‘Patagonian flat’ – a term that we were to become very familiar with.  The terrain in Torres del Paine switches between undulating hills and rugged mountains, very seldom flattening out, hence this term was coined – it’s never really flat but it’s about as flat as you could hope for in this area.  Though the hills were at times challenging, they always resulted in the most gorgeous viewpoints out over Lago Nordenskiöld, many of which left us stuck in our tracks.

Though there were a number of unrelenting hills, the hike itself was absolutely manageable, even for myself (and I’m a bit of a couch potato).  It was long and by the 15th kilometre there was no doubt both Nathan and I were dragging our feet but without doubt, it was worth every step.

With water glowing turquoise, a surprisingly still morning treating us to the best Patagonian weather we could ever hope for and not a soul to be seen, it was clear that we’d made the right decision in visiting the area during shoulder season.  At the season’s peak, we’ve been told that hikers dot the landscape like ants, at times following one another practically shoulder to shoulder.  By comparision, at times it literally felt like we had the park to ourselves, literally crossing paths with only two other sets of people on the way to our next stop for the night.

When you’re visiting paradise, it’s an amazing feeling to have it to yourselves.

Distance covered:  From Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos (12km) and Refugio Los Cuernos to Camp Italiano (4.5km).  Total 16.5km (or 17km allowing for photo ops).

Accommodation:  Camp Italiano.  This site is available free of charge (but reservations are required in advance) and guests are only able to stay for one night.  Services are limited but there is a small shelter that can be used to cook meals and long-drop toilets (that were surprisingly tidy).  To stay at Camp Italiano, you’ll need to carry your own gear in (tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, food, cooker etc) but if you can handle carrying your gear (or, if you’re more organised than us, ChileTour  Patagonia can organise a porter to help carry to load), it’s an adventure worth having.

Running water isn’t available at the campsite but there’s a gorgeous river running right past so there’s no shortage of agua for guests, you’ll just need to clamber down to get it!

Camping in the shoulder season was much more comfortable than we had expected.  With sub-zero temperatures and no ability to take a hot shower, we half expected to freeze but with quality sleeping bags from ChileTour, we were pleasantly surprised.  I wouldn’t go as far as to describe our sleep as a comfortable one but our newfound hiking friend, Thomas, slept like a baby so it’s definitely possible.

Hint #2:  Minimise what you carry wherever possible – every extra ounce will feel like much more after 15km+ of hiking!  Use a fleece or your bag as a pillow and be prepared to wear clothes again and again – your back will thank you for it as the hike goes on.

Whilst in Torres del Paine, expect to encounter a wide range of weather – from glorious sunshine to massive wind and snow, we experienced it all.  It’s an incredible place though and well worth putting the time into exploring; just ensure you’re prepared.

With day one under our belts, we mentally prepared ourselves for the French Valley (and what is known as being the second most challenging hike on the circuit).

How’d we find it?  Stay tuned for our next post!


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Torres del Paine's W Trek is a popular hiking route around Chile's best national park. Don't start at the 'Base of the Towers' though - we've figured out a better way to plan your active holiday. Camping guide, route info and pro tips included too!Is camping in Torres del Paine, Patagonia a good idea in the off season? Find out what we thought of our experience camping on the tail-end of winter. Itinerary guide and our first thoughts are included too.

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on the first leg of our W adventure; as always, all thoughts are our own.  

Map credit:  Fantasticosur

Argentina Back Packing Chile Monthly Round-Up South America

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina

September 6, 2017

As hard as it is to believe, it’s been a month since we left New Zealand for the start of our big South American adventure!

On one hand, time has raced by but on the other, we’ve started to find our feet here, making new friends and experiencing all sorts of amazing things.  Unfortunately, we can’t report a significant improvement in our Spanish but that will hopefully come with time!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We started our journey was an unexpected delay in Buenos Aires which left us with 24 hours in Argentina’s largest city.  We spent much of that time sleeping off our jet lag (or attempting to, at least) with a little city exploration thrown into the mix.

I must admit, both of us left feeling pretty underwhelmed by our experience in the Argentinian capital but we’ve heard so many people rave about it that we’re excited to give it another chance once we finish up in Patagonia.

If you have any tips to help us make the most of this cosmopolitan city, we’d love to hear from you!

Accommodation:  Tribeca Buenos Aires Apartments @ NZD55.83 (USD40) for one night, booked incredibly last minute.

Santiago (+Valparaíso) Chile

Better late than never, we made our flight connection through to Santiago – a city that would surprise us in an altogether different way.  We’d not heard a lot about Chile’s largest city but were pleased to find it to be so modern and friendly.  Yes, the Chilian’s speak incredibly quickly (which makes learning Spanish next to impossible) but they do so with great smiles and a truck-load of patience.

Accommodation:  5 nights in a centrally located (Providencia) Airbnb  @ NZD36.20/night for both of us (USD26)

Activities:  Our intention in Santiago was to sleep off our jetlag (which hit us surprisingly badly) and practice our Spanish.  By the time we were ready to hit the city properly the rain had well and truly set in, limiting our activities.  We’ve heard great things about the views from Sky Costanera and Cerro San Cristobal and have also been told that the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is incredibly moving and informative (though some of this is only in Spanish).

The highlight of Santiago was our day trip to the colourful port city of Valparaíso.  If you’re wanting to make the journey, you’ll find our Valparaíso city and travel guide handy to help you get organised.

Onwards travel to Pucón:  Bus tickets purchased through Recorrido on Pullman.  Salón cama @ USD31.30 each (CLP19,600), leaving at 9.45pm and arriving the next day at 7.15am (9.5 hours).

Pucón, Chile

I was excited to venture over to Pucón, the adventure capital of Chile, but nothing could prepare us for just how much we’d love it there!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a Chilian Airbnb just out of the touristy part of town (a great way to practice some Spanish) @ NZD40/night for the two of us (USD28.70).

From there we moved to Chili Kiwi to meet others travellers.  What was meant to be only three nights ended up being two weeks!  We stayed in the hobbity hollow (@ CLP28,000/night for us both = NZD62/USD45) before moving into a four bed dorm which we were lucky to have to ourselves (@ CLP10,500 each = NZD23/USD16.80).  If you’re considering staying in a hostel for the first time, this is the place to do it!

Activities:  Pucón is all about the activities!  Horse riding, hydrospeeding, snowboarding, waterfall chasing, geothermal hot springs, kayaking, trekking through snow-covered national parks – we had a blast doing it all.  Had my fitness been a little (actually, a lot) better we’d had hiked up Volcán Villarrica to catch a glimpse of the molten lava inside.

Onwards travel to Bariloche:  We shared fuel costs and grabbed a ride to our next stop with some newfound hostel friends but had we travelled independently, we’d have caught a bus either via Osorno in Chile or San Martín de los Andes in Argentina.  It’s worth noting that buses in Argentina can be noticeably more expensive so be sure to compare the price of your journey.

Bariloche, Argentina

A favourite getaway destination for Argentinians, this substantial town (AKA San Carlos de Bariloche) sits on the side of the beautiful Río Negro.  Known for its chocolates, craft beer and snow dogs, it’s practically the Switzerland of South America.

Accommodation:  5 nights at La Justina @ ARS200/night each (NZD16/USD11.50).  Again we were lucky to have a 6 bed dorm (with ensuite) to ourselves for the whole time!  Leonardo, the manager, was incredibly helpful and generous and the hostel was warm and tidy.

Activites:  Aside from munching on lots of chocolate and steak (check out Alto el Fuego – yum!), Bariloche also offers lots of snow activities in the winter and beautiful hikes.  Check out the Circuito Chico, a loop taking in some of the best scenery in the area.  We hiked up Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao), took in the views up Cerro Otto (which can be accessed either by cable car or driving) and enjoyed the crystal clear waters of Lago Gutiérrez.

Onwards travel to Puerto Varas:  Bus ticket purchased directly through Andesmar Chile.  Semi cama @ CLP22,000 each (USD35), departing 10am, arriving 5.40pm (7 hours, 40 mins).

The last month has been a bit of a balancing act, trying to find the balance between travel and work but it’s been fantastic.  It’s not every day you get the freedom to travel around, experiencing a new culture whilst continuing to clock into work (for those of you that aren’t aware, Nathan’s continuing to work for the family business back home whilst I’m focusing on Exploring Kiwis).

As we head into our second month on the road, we’ll be aiming to improve our Spanish and build our fitness – with some massive hikes in Patagonia planned, we’ll need it!

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Who knew how much we’d appreciate being allowed to flush our toilet paper?  Most toilets in Chile have a rubbish bin strategically located for paper to be thrown away.
  • Chilian’s talk really quickly and use a lot of slang; they’re pretty much the Ozzie’s of Latin America!
  • Everyone has been incredibly friendly and patient.  Though I don’t doubt there are some parts of the continent that aren’t quite as welcoming, it’s certainly not the scary place it’s sometimes made out to be.
  • It’s not as cheap here as we’d expected it to be – food is particularly expensive with prices sometimes rivaling New Zealand.
  • Chile is unbelievably gorgeous and reminds us a lot of home!
  • Figuring out our work schedule can be challenging at times.  Some days it feels like all we do is sit in front of the computer to make up for days spent travelling or out on activities – not that we’re complaining!
  • Getting out of bed when you’re travelling long-term in the wintertime can be a real struggle – the bed’s just as warm and snuggly at home but here we don’t have bosses to ensure we get up at a decent time.  We’re still working on getting to bed earlier and gettting up at a reasonable time… Let’s see if we’re any better in a month’s time!

If you’re thinking about making a change, I’d encourage you to take life with both hands and do exactly that – I’m so pleased we have.

What a start to our adventure!

Check out our Recent Posts

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

Pucón – The Home of Adventure in Chile (and our new favourite hostel!)


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After a month working as digital nomads in South America we've got some tips to share! We've laid out our itinerary, transport and costings to help you plan your own trip plus discuss the lessons we've learnt along the way. Headed to Chile and Argentina? Read our itinerary, transport guide, costings and top tips to help make the most of your South America travels. Whether you're working as a digital nomad or are on vacation, this will help you plan your trip!

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Pucón – The Home of Adventure in Chile (and our new favourite hostel!)

September 2, 2017

Sitting under the shadow of Volcan Villarrica (one of South America’s most active volcanoes) and on the shore of one of many lakes in the area, Pucón is a relatively small town in Chile that packs a massive punch.

This gorgeous spot is known as the adventure capital of Chile and offers the perfect combination of adrenaline and nature.  If you’re not careful, you might just blink and find an action-packed week has passed you by!

The Fun Stuff – Activities in Pucón

Huerquehue National Park

An easy bus ride from Pucon, Huerquehue National Park offers a variety of trails for nature-lovers and based on the photos we’ve seen, is equally gorgeous, whatever the season.

Entrance to the park is 2,500 pesos for tourists and the walk to the first lake inside the park is approximately 7km.  The day we visited, the tracks were overtaken with snow making it a fairly challenging hike but in the summer it would be a walk in the park (sorry, that pun was too good to pass up)!

Though some of our new friends gave us a ride in (thanks Lyle and Jackie!), buses are available from town – just chat with Chili Kiwi and they’ll send you on your way.

Horseback Riding

We’d already been told about the high quality of riding available in the region so when we arrived, this was one of the first things I checked out.

With beautifully cared for horses and an instructor that’s spent all of her life around these beauties, it was an easy decision to ride with Corina… and seriously, with views out over four volcanoes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot!

Hydrospeeding

Whatever you call it – riverboarding, white-water sledging, river surfing or hydrospeeding – it’s about as much fun as you’ll ever have in the water!

Though winter well and truly engulfed the day, we climbed into thick wetsuits and took to the river for a serious dose of adrenaline.  With a range of rapids, there were a number of occasions when we found ourselves gasping for air but the sense of accomplishment at the end of the run was amazing. Without doubt,

Without a doubt, it’s the best value extreme sport we’ve ever done.  The river is clear, the staff professional, the scenery gorgeous and the price is beyond good.  Adrenaline junkies, make sure it’s top of your Pucón must-do list!

Snowboarding/Skiing

It’s not every day you get to snowboard or ski on an active volcano but in Pucón, not only is it possible but it’s relatively affordable.

Lift passes will set you back 28,000 pesos each and by the time you arrange gear and transfers, you’ll be looking at around another 25,000 pesos.  The mountain itself has a few different runs and jumps but is really best suited to beginner to intermediate boarders.

Termas Geometricas

One of the surprise highlights of our visit to Pucón, was Termas Geometricas.  These stunning hot pools are dotted along a canyon and as natural stream rushes past, geothermal hot water keeps each of the 17 pools at their own constant temperature.

With the snow falling and steam rising all around you, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive place to relax and soak away your worries.

And yes, we have been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.  Believe it or not, this was much more impressive!


Kayaking/Stand Up Paddle Boarding

When you’re perfectly situated on the shores of a crystal-clear lake, even the chilly winter water can’t deter you from getting out there!

Our accommodation, Chili Kiwi, offers guests the use of their stand up paddle board and kayaks and with the volcano in the background and sun on your back, it’s a pretty magical way to spend an afternoon.  Guests can take them out to the nearby beaches or do as we did and enjoy just zipping around the lake.


In addition to all of these activities, there’s also a volcano to climb (it’s actually one of the main reasons people come to Pucón – on a good day, visitors will even see lava bubbling away in the crater) waterfalls to explore (Chili Kiwi will provide you with a treasure map – it’s well worth the hike), rafting, biking and more.

With all of the activities on offer though, you’ll definitely want a comfortable place to rest your head and prepare for the next days activities.

As luck would have it, Pucón is also home to the winner of the coveted ‘best hostel in Latin America‘ award and speaking from experience, it’s the only place in town we’d want to stay.

Where to Stay: Chili Kiwi – The friendliest hostel around!

Arriving into town we’d heard of the Chili Kiwi and knew we wanted to check it out.  After all, it’s not often you have the chance to stay in a hostel partially run by a fellow Kiwi in Chile!

What we didn’t realise was that our planned three-night stay in Pucón would turn into almost two and a half weeks of fun at the most friendly, social hostel around, resulting in what I imagine will be life-long friends.

There’s something special about this place.

It’s the kind of place you walk into to find someone baking cookies (true story!) and where everyone happily chats away to one another   There you’ll find a view would rival any top hotel and staff happy to share their insider knowledge about the town they love so much.

When we arrived, James, one of the owners, sat us down and took us personally through all of the activities in the region and his suggestions for the best restaurants, groceries and shops – as they do with everyone.

When a package didn’t arrive for us, Peter,  the other owner, drove me into town and spoke with the courier company to help ensure my gear would make it safely to me.

When Nathan needed a hair cut, Jean wrote down word for word (in Spanish of course) a description of the style he wanted.

For all of the funky rooms, toasty fireplaces and activities on offer, this is a place where they care about people to their very core.  A backpackers run by backpackers, for backpackers.  And maybe just the place for someone who’s never stayed in a hostel to give it a shot – I warn you though, it might just ruin you for life.

Pro tip – if your budget will extend to it, we highly recommend booking the hobbit holes – they’re private, warm and have incredibly comfy beds.

The Practical Stuff

Getting to Pucon

Your transport into Pucon will of course depend on where you’re coming from, but Chile being Chile, chances are you’ll arrive on a bus, like we did.

We purchased our tickets online for Pullman Bus through Recorrido and after visiting a copy shop in Santiago (to print a copy of our booking), we exchanged our paperwork for our actual ticket just before boarding at the terminal.

Santiago has two main stations, Terminal Borja and Terminal Sur; we opted for the second to allow ourselves a little more time in Valparaíso but either is fine.

The ride itself is comfortable (especially in Salón Cama seats) and came in at USD31.30 each or 19,600 pesos.  We were given a few snacks and drinks on the journey and drove continually through the night (save a few terminal stops)

Getting Around

Pucon is an easy town to walk around in but should you need to get a lift, you have a few choices.

Collectivos run relatively loose routes and can be flagged down at any stage (or hailed at set points in town).  For a flat rate of only 500 pesos each, they’ll drop you where you want to go, picking up and dropping others off along the way.  It’s an incredibly affordable means of transport and as the town’s quite small, a fast way to get around too.

For activities outside of town, tourist shuttles can be arranged through accommodation providers and booking agents.  These shuttles are fairly comfortable and will collect you either from your accommodation or a pre-designated location in town.

If you’re wanting to go further afield, bus stations are spread throughout the town (each company has their own office) and tickets can be purchased both online and in person.  The buses are comfortable and reliable, making both onward travel and local exploration a straightforward process.

When all is said and done though,

Is Pucón Worth a Visit?

In case you hadn’t figured it out already, absolutely – yes!

The town itself is drop-dead gorgeous whilst avoiding any sense of pretension.  It offers a range of activities to suit everyone, often at prices far superior to other adventure-capitals and plenty of restaurants in town to keep foodies happy.

For us though, the highlight of Pucón really was the people we met and that was made possible through our stay at Chili Kiwi.  It’s the one place in town where you’re practically guaranteed to make great friends and that’s worth a whole lot in our books!


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The best hostel in Latin America can be found in Pucon, Chile's adventure activity capital. This award winning backpackers welcomes travelers from around the world, offering amazing views, great activities and a friendly, inclusive environment. Find out why you should be planning a visit to Pucon to stay here! Pucon, Chile is known for its adventure activities but it's a must see in winter! This vacation destination offers amazing hiking, hot pools, snowboarding, skiing and more. If there's one place you visit, make sure it's Termas Geometricas!Thank you to Chili Kiwi for so kindly welcoming us to stay with them.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We miss you already!

Chile Santiago South America Tours Valparaíso

Valparaíso: Chile’s Painted City on the Sea

August 15, 2017

“Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.” – Pablo Neruda

Valparaiso is colourful, vivacious, chaotic and a little surreal.  It’s grungy, a little wild and the life of the party.  Only 115km from Santiago though, this port-town has to be seen to be believed.

Try as I might to sum it up, sometimes you just come across a description that fits perfectly.  This is Valparaiso to a tee…

Poets, painters and would-be philosophers have long been drawn to Chile‘s most unusual city. Along with the ever-shifting port population of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes, they’ve endowed gritty and gloriously spontaneous Valparaíso with an edgy air of ‘anything goes.’ Add to this the spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), some of the best street art in Latin America, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it’s clear why some visitors are spending more time here than in Santiago. – Lonely Planet

Colourful houses perch precariously, crammed in next to each other on the port hills.  Funiculars shuttle locals and tourists alike whilst those that choose to amble the streets are rewarded with incredible works of art, found in the most unlikely of places.

It’s a bit of a mess but it sure is beautiful!

To find your way around this unique city we suggest you join a walking tour to help get your bearings.  The city is fabulous but there are some areas that you probably don’t want to venture into.  Joining a local first will help give you the confidence to head off exploring on your own after the tour.

Good news travels fast and after a few people recommended Valpo Street Art Tours we planned our day around making it to their afternoon tour.  If we weren’t so jet lagged we’d have preferred to join their 10.30am tour (leaving us the rest of the day to explore) but sometimes you just can’t fight your internal body clock so the 3.30pm tour was the one we decided upon.

The tour itself was absolutely fantastic.  Eddie, our guide, was full of knowledge and passion.  He shared with us everything we could hope to learn – from the origins of graffiti in New York City in the seventies to the uniquely Chilean spin locals put on it now.  We came away with an understanding of the materials and processes involved in making this amazing works of art and a massive appreciation for the artists that pour everything into their projects.

Is Valpariso Safe?

It’s fair to say the port area doesn’t offer visitors much – it can in fact be a dangerous part of town.  By all means, make sure to visit the city but keep your wits about you, as you would anywhere.  Try to avoid walking on the flat parts of town when it gets dark and limit the amount of cash you take with you.  Don’t wander the city with your camera around your neck (unless you’re on a tour as they’ll ensure you only visit the safer areas) or your phone sticking out of your pocket.

We comfortably walked from the bus stop to the meeting point of our tour – it took approximately 30 minutes and we felt more than happy doing so.

Once it got dark though we hailed one of the local buses which took us directly back to the bus terminal.  Doing so is easy – just stick your arm out on the main road and jump onto any bus… they all head in the same direction.  You’ll pay 280 pesos for the pleasure and be there in a snap.

Chances are, walking would have been fine but why run the risk?

Getting from Santiago to Valparaiso

Getting from Chile’s capital to Valparaiso is a relatively straightforward process, even with minimal Spanish.  We used this helpful transport guide to get there but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll summarise the journey.

Though there are several spots from which you can catch an intercity bus, it’s easiest to do so at the last bus stop in Santiago city which is also conveniently a metro stop.  You’ll find Pajaritos on the red line, most likely in the direction of San Pablo.

As you exit the metro, simply follow the signs towards the ‘Bus Transfer’ area.  Once there, you’ll find the ticket counters directly in front of you and the buses to your right.  The main providers that run this route (Turbus and Pullman) do so every 15 minutes or so and there were plenty of seats available when we were there so there’s really no need to book in advance.

At the ticket counter we’d suggest asking for one of the following depending on your needs:

“Un boleto de vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – a return ticket to Valparaíso please.

“Dos billetes de ida y vuelta a Valparaíso, por favor” – two return tickets to Valparaíso please.

“Un boleto a Valparaíso, por favor” – a ticket to Valparaíso please.

Or you can do as we did and have your request pre-programmed onto your Google Translate app as back-up.  As it turns out, my accent is indistinguishably off so being able to flash my request up on the screen was invaluable (just turn your phone to the side to display it in an easy-to-read size).

Tickets can be purchased one way or return but they are cheaper if purchased at the same time.  We found a one way trip to be 5,700 pesos each but the return portion was only an additional 3000-and-something pesos (sorry, we threw out the ticket – silly us!)

If you do opt for a return ticket, you’ll be given an open-ended one.  When you’re in Valparaíso and are ready to head back to Santiago you’ll just need to approach the ticket desk, pass them your ticket and ask for

“La próxima salida por favor” – the next departure please.

Just don’t forget to get off again at the first major stop, Pajaritos (pronounced pa-ha-ri-tos) ready to catch the metro back home.

Valparaíso is unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been.  It’s gorgeous, a little crazy and undoubtedly real.  This city doesn’t try to hide who it really is, instead it embraces it and we’d encourage you to do exactly the same on your trip to Chile.

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