Planning a Patagonia Adventure

One item on my 40 Before 40 list is traveling to Patagonia. My husband and I decided it’s time we check that vacation goal off and start planning. I’m not usually a fan of research, but research on a vacation destination and how to make the most of it is absolutely energizing!

First we needed to determine the best time of year to visit. According to US News & World Report, mid-October to mid-March has the best weather and price trends. With the desire to avoid the biggest crowds, and because we want to use United Saver Miles, we chose the last week in February. Once we had our dates, I reached out to our travel agent Colleen with Cadence Travel.

Aside from being one of my best friends’ mother (and someone I’ve loved since I was 7 years old), Colleen has extensively traveled her entire career. Starting out as a flight attendant for PanAm and later as a travel agent, she has visited everywhere I have ever wanted to go in the world and therefore can advise from personal experience. I highly recommend that if you’re planning to visit anywhere you’d prefer an expert opinion and guidance, contact Colleen to book it. We booked our last two vacations to Africa through her agency and they are still two of the top experiences of my (and my husband’s) entire life.

Today, Colleen sent me a sample itinerary that has us two days in Santiago, four days in Torres del Paine, two full days in El Calafate, two full days in Bariloche, and two days in Buenos Aires. In Torres del Paine alone, there are 19 different tours to choose from. So many options, all of which sound and look amazing.

Do we want to do strenuous hiking at 14 miles roundtrip and 3,000 feet elevation change, or would we rather do only five or six miles and see the rest by boat or horseback? Do we want to focus on looking down at sites or looking up from the base? Which glaciers do we want to see? What animals are important to track and photograph? I want to do it all, yet we only have a few days so I need to prioritize.

After spending most of today reviewing, researching and comparing each tour, we decided on a Full Day Paine (a), Full Day Las Torres Sendero del Ascencio, Full Day Mirador Grey, and Half Day Patagon. Full Day Paine will give us an opportunity to get the fullest amount of the park in the shortest amount of time. Option A includes a catamaran across Lago Grey to Grey Glacier. Las Torres Sendero del Ascencio features the celebrated Torres (“towers”) and includes an 11 mile hike and 3,000 foot elevation change. Mirador Grey explores the western side of Paine Massif with a catamaran crossing of Lake Pehoe and a 14 mile hike. Patagon will offer us an opportunity to see the “puma restaurant,” so dubbed because it’s littered with skeletons of their kills. We’ll also have a chance to see guanaco, foxes, condors and flightless rheas. I love photographing wild animals, so this last tour is a huge plus for me, personally!

On our first day in Calafate, we’ll do a boat tour to the Spegazzini and Upsala glaciers. For our second day’s adventure, we’ll take a catamaran across the Rico Arm of Lago Argentino to a part of the glacier where we will wear grampons to walk on the ice. As part of this tour we’ll also get to experience an Ice Bar, where the entire bar is made of ice. Yes, the tables, stools, walls, etc. are all 100% glacier ice. (Can we say AWESOME?!)

In Bariloche, we’ll explore the little mountain village and admire Moreno and Nahuel Huapi Lakes. On our second day, we’ll embark on a full day kayak and hiking tour of the Nahuel Heap National Park.

Our days in the cities of Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina will be spent exploring on our own and discovering whatever we find. We did that in Cape Town, South Africa and it worked out really well for us to not have an agenda. I’m pumped to put this plan into motion and get into hiking shape ahead of the treks.

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