The Southern Tip of the World

The Southern Tip of the World

The Southern Tip of the World

I’m an easy sell.
The phone rings. Its a friend and fellow traveler, and by the end of our short conversation I’ve agreed to clear my work schedule for the next two weeks and instead head down south. Waaay south…

Patagonia has always been low on my list: I don’t speak the language, prices are high, Americans need a visa, and you can drive there from the USA. Sure, the drive would take over a week, but there’s just something about being unable to drive home that adds to the exoticsism and thus the appeal of a place. So when I was asked to come along I quickly said yes, realizing I would never plan this trip myself.

Fast forward a week and a half. I’m about as far south as you can get, at a bar on the top floor of the tallest hotel in Punta Arenas, Chile. I’m drinking local Austral beer, looking out over the Magellan Strait, reminiscing the craziness of the preceeding week. The chilly daytime temperatures and all that wind could have fooled me, but it’s summer here and the sun just went down at well past 10pm. It’ll stay dusk for a while yet, and the sky will only be completely dark for a few hours before dawn. I plan to head to a viewpoint to catch some dusk panorama photos, then hit the city’s bars later to see what’s up. Beats working.

All said and done, in our two week trip we visited seven places in Argentina and Chile, including both capitols. Anyone headed to Patagonia from somewhere far away will need to pass through either Buenos Aires or Santiago. We made sure to spend time in each, and there were certainly some surprises:

 

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires.
I reeeally dislike bashing a place but it needs to be said: Buenos Aires is one of the most overrated destinations I’ve ever been. The streets are boring – every one looks like the next and the markets are cookie cutter copies of each other. There IS a nice area by the marshes; it’s lined with street food stalls that look promising, until you get close enough to realize they all have the EXACT same food. Even the styling is identical for each stall. After three days there, I felt as though you could glimpse one block and see it all.

 

Food Stalls
Seeing a trend?

So how about the legendary nightlife? Well, it’s what you make of it – we partied till the morning light, but the scene wasn’t particularly better than most big European cities. I would return to Buenos Aires, but only to dig a little deeper and try to understand why so many people rave on about it. I MUST have missed something, but I kind of doubt it.

 

Santiago

Santaigo.
I had just one night and a short day in Santaigo, and it absolutely blew Buenos Aires out of the water. The city is so much more vibrant and there is so much more to do that I would strongly suggest ignoring all the hype about Buenos Aires and instead heading straight for Santiago. The personalities are colorful and engaging, the pastel painted buildings are interesting to look at, and the markets are lively. Oh yeah, the food is great too. Its funny – every South American guide book I’ve see sings the praises of Buenos Aires and presents a take it or leave it appproach to Santiago, yet my experience was the exact opposite. Maybe its a well kept secret, but its time to get the word out!

 

Patagonia Bus

Patagonia.
Given that Patagonia was always low on my travel list, I hadn’t really ever bothered to research it as a destination. That was a mistake – its an adventurer’s paradise. There is so much to see with the varied landscape, and taking the bus from place to place is a big part of the experience. One hour you’ll pass prairies and grassland, the next you’ll curve your way through mountains, the hour after that you’ll be somewhere entirely different. Each place we went had its own distinct personality. There is enough in Patagonia to satisfy outdoors-loving travelers for weeks on end, and I would gladly return someday.

 

Moreno Glacier

El Calafate and Moreno Glacier.
Beautiful. This alone was worth the trip. The lake water is glacial runoff and if you’ve never seen a glacier lake, well, to describe it with mere words it to do a disservice to the sheer brilliance of it all. You HAVE to see it for yourself. The equally impressive glacier itself is a short bus ride outside the city.

 

Puerto Natales

Puetro Natales.
A VERY cool place! Its a small town that serves as a transfer point more than a destination, but it’d be a real shame not to spend the night here. The town is situated on a lake with mountains as a backdrop – sunset views are incredible. The town has a laid back vibe, the food is some of the best I had in Patagonia (lots of seafood dishes), and the dive bars are super laid back. Puerto Natales rocks.

 

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine.
You can do it as a day trip, but adventurous types will prefer to rent camping gear in the adjecent towns and make a real trip of it. In English, Torres del Paine means “Towers of Pain”. It’s an accurate description for the uphill hike to the top, but the view is rewarding. For the best light show, sleep in the campground at the base of the towers then head to the top before sunrise – the sunlight hits the towers first and makes for a hell of a scene.

 

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas.
I needed to let this place marinate a bit before I really sunk my teeth in. By the end of my time there I liked it quite a bit, but initially I figured the people to be an odd bunch; lots of expressionless faces, lots of people at bars drinking alone, and an overall cold and unwelcoming feeling. But as is often the case with travel, once you spend a little more time in a place you start to appreciate it.

Give punta arenas a second chance and you’ll realize a couple things. First, if your city was cold, cloudy, and windy year round, you’d probably drink alone and walk the streets with an expressionless face too. The people are actually pretty cool once you engage them. There is a lot of maritime history and the museums are worth a visit. The city has some scenic parts too, like the panoramic lookout or the top floor of the Hotel Dreams del Estrecho. And you can use Punta Arenas as a base for exploring other areas of southern Patagonia like Tierra del Fuego and Magdalena Island.

 

So would I return to Patagonia? Hell yeah! I’m a huge fan of outdoors adventurers and it was a great time. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

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Comments ( 8 )

  • anja

    El Calafate is on my wish list since years. Don’t know when I will be able to go there and what will be left of it by then:-(.

    Too bad that you did not like BsAs. I LOVE that city. Maybe it’s because I am a tango dancer and for them there is no better place then BsAs.

    I have been in BsAs for a bit over 3 months. Some of the things I loved were:
    the architecture, the many, many murals, affordable champagne by the glass everywhere, delicious simple steaks, people love pets and that shows (people with dogs everywhere), music, culture…and last but not least: tango all over the place. A very livable city.
    Over the years things changed several times: the big crisis, coming (partially) out of it…. Criminality has risen, the city is more grim. Air pollution (the buses!) is bad.

    But well, it’s always personal, wether we fall in love with a city or not, isn’t it?

  • Tips For Getting To Know A New City | Let's Roam Wild

    […] Aires is one of the most overrated destinations I’ve ever been,” says the author in this article. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that everyone has to like everything that I […]

  • Jack

    This is the most ridiculous article about Buenos Aires I ever read. Total non sense.

  • Manoj saroj

    Elegant.. Will reach there..

  • Derek B Brown

    I’ve been away from Buenos Aires for about a week now after having stayed there for five total days. I still haven’t quite concluded how I feel about the place. I guess my reaction would be “meh”. Obviously every city and place isn’t for everyone but here are my thoughts.

    Not a city that you MUST see. There are many more beautiful cities with a lot more history. If you’ve traveled Europe quite a bit you won’t see anything that blows your mind.

    The ice Cream is great, but could do a little less on the dulce de leche being everywhere. Steak is good and reasonable, but frankly no reason to go to Argentina when I live in the US. I can get a great steak here. Overall Argentine cuisine isn’t very good IMO. Lacks variety and relatively speaking it isn’t cheap. After about the fourth day it felt like the same stuff over and over again.

    While I’ve seen a lot of negative responses about portenos I can’t say we had any bad experiences. I don’t think they are necessarily warm people but once you talk to them they are friendly. My wife and both speak fluent Spanish. We also didn’t have anyone try to rip us off which I hear is a common occurrence.

    You can see everything in BA in about two days that are note worthy. We caught a tango show one night and another night a private dinner (that was probably the highlight in BA). I’d recommend doing those if in BA. We had fun in one of the cheesiest places, Caminito en Boca. Total tourist trap but it wasn’t over run with people the day we went and it was nice for us just to sit down and enjoy cold beers on a hot day while people tangoed in front of us. That’s why every travel experience is unique to the individual. Teatro Colon and Recoleta Cemetery are the most unique buildings I saw other than that, nothing to write mom about.

    The party scene was disappointing. I really don’t travel anymore for partying but you can find better places in Europe and Latin America. Heck even in the States I’ve found better party scenes. One of the places I went was so ridiculous just trying to get a drink. I was with other Latin Americans (Colombia, Brazilian, Dominican Republic) and they said this wasn’t how it was in their countries. Sorry I don’t need to wait until 3am to start dancing. That’s just a waste of time. Argentina ranks nearly at the bottom of all the places I’ve been to in this regard which really surprised me.

    Can’t say enough about Patagonia and Iguazu. That is why you go to Argentina. Two of the greatest natural wonders in the world that should not be missed in this life time are Cataratas de Iguazu and Perito Moreno. Those should be included in any itinerary to Argentina. Two full days in BA is all I’d recommend for the average travel with time constraints.

    I really had no interest in the Gauchos or wineries. I love Malbec and Argentine wines but no interest in seeing it made. I’ve also heard the wineries are a bit underwhelming especially compared to France, Italy and California. Just what I’ve heard.

    Anyways I definitely recommend Argentina to do by everyone who can at least once. I’ll try and make it back a second time much later in life, but focus on natural wonders as much as possible.

    • EdGraham

      Thanks for the comment, I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. I am actually looking forward to going back to Buenos Aires at some point, if it happens incidentally, because I am convinced I must have missed something. Yet I also realize that not every city is going to be a place I actually want or need to return to. Interestingly enough, while I think this is a totally fair assessment of a place, I’ve caught a surprising amount of heat over it. It’s just my opinion and I stand by it, but to those who do love BA I say enjoy it!

      • Derek B Brown

        First let me apologize for my grammar on my initial post, not my finest hour. Wrote it on a mobile device and didn’t proof read it.

        I really dislike when people attack other people because they may have negative things to say about a place. To each their own. You aren’t stopping anyone from going to Argentina, you are simply stating your opinion.

        Most people don’t have the money or time to visit every place in the world. Their resources are finite. I think it is actually helpful to hear about upsides and the downsides. When your resources are fixed and trying to determine what will be the best experience for you and your friends/family more info and honest info is better.

        In Argentina’s case if you’re into natural beauty I’d say it is must go destination. If you’re into beautiful cities, cuisine, partying, history and not so much into nature than IMO it is a skip. I’ll say though I can’t imagine anyone not being impressed by Iguazu and a place like Perito Moreno.

        • EdGraham

          Thanks Derek and once again I have to say that I agree. It is just my personal opinion that Buenos Aires is a place that might be skipped; I absolutely love Argentina, particularly the southern part of the country. But I don’t have to love every city I visit and neither does anybody else.

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