10 Highlights from South America
We've made it through our first week back from South America. Both Jared and I had to hit the ground running and it seemed to make the transition back to reality a little easier. Or at the least, we didn't have time to dwell on the ending of our travels and sink into post vacation blues (...if you're currently suffering from said sickness, check out my tips on how to bounce back quickly). I've been reflecting on our time away and each memory fills me with more gratitude for our safe, transforming and positive travel experiences. Today I'm sharing my top 10 highlights from our 3 week trek around Chile & Argentina, in no particular order because I can't play favorites.
Hiking Mt. Fitz Roy, Argentina:
Truly the views don't get much better than this. A World Heritage Site since 1980, and the highest peak in Los Glacier Parque, Mt. Fitz Roy was one of the hikes we were looking forward to the most. The week before we got to El Chalten, the jumping off point to many of the hikes in the park, we had collected stories of other travelers experiences and were told that the summit of Mt. Fitz Roy’s granite spire is usually obscured by clouds. With only a few days in Chalten, our window of opportunity was small, but our first day there ended up being as close to perfect as possible. We summited to clear skies and were able to see Mt. Fitz Roy in all it's glory.
Lodging at the Eco Domes Patagonia in El Chalten, Argentina:
Our accommodations during our 3 week trip ranged from Airbnb to hotels to, our personal favorite, ECO DOMES! Located 16 km away from town and with only 11 geodesic domes, it is an intimate retreat. I fell in love with this little oasis instantly. A small, hardworking staff of 4 people manage the property and do all tasks from checking guests in, booking tours, giving hiking advice, preparing the breakfast (included with our stay) and the fantastic 3 course dinners.Once we checked in, we promptly decided we would only go back to town on our way to the next destination. We wanted to take full advantage of the quiet and solitude.
Feeling Small Next to Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina:
Pretty much the only reason we made the trek to El Calefate from El Chalten (about a 3 hr and 30 minute drive) was to see Glaciar Perito Moreno. Coming from the Northwest, we had each seen our fair share of glaciers, but nothing even comes close to comparing to this breathtaking behemoth ice field. There are a number of ways to experience the glacier- trekking on the ice, taking a boat tour, or simply walking alng the boardwalks. Not being huge fans of group tours, we chose the latter option and took our time leisurely walking around the park, and stopping to watch HUGE chunks of ice (I'm talking the size of a house) cave and collapse into the Iceberg Channel below. I don't remember the last time I sat fixated on something for so long, but captivating truly is the best way to define this dynamic slice of nature.
Aimlessly roaming the streets of Valparaíso, Chile
Valparaiso wasn't a town that came up during our planning phase, but a few days before take off, I found myself doing research and looking at photos of this port city near Santiago. Google's impressive collection of images was enough to convince me that we needed to stop here even if was just for the day. The cobbled alleys, ubiquitous street art and vibrant buildings make it an unique place to visit, where each corner you turn seems to offer a fun surprise.
Waking up to the sound of the Ocean in Matanzas, Chile
Thanks to Pintrest, I found Hotel Surazo while creating a travel board for Chile. A quick map search showed that the town was a 2.5 hour drive from Santiago. I daydreamed about our last days in Chile being spent bronzing on the beach, relaxing our sore bodies after days of trekking. Matanzas provided just that plus surfing, morning beach workouts, jazcuzzi time, massages, walks through the teeny tiny town, reading, and a lot of time spent in the hammock on our patio.
Backpacking the W Trail in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
When people asked what I was most excited for, my answer was the W trail. (So I guess I do play favorites?) Just a few days after flying into Santiago, we laced up our hiking boots and were on the trail for 6 days and 5 nights. Of course I had read many blogs and see a LOT of photos leading up to the trip so I kind of knew what to expect. But really, no pictures could do the beauty of the park justice. While the raw powerful artistry of nature definitely had my captivated and high with happiness, what I enjoyed just as much was the connection and community that was made on the trail. We met international travelers of all ages and backgrounds and regardless of our differences, connected over our love for the outdoors and exploring. Since so many of us were hiking the same route, we would eat breakfast together, pass each other on the trail, and then regroup at the refugios every night for dinner and lively conversation. It was like summer camp for adults and I loved every minute of it.
Sharing the Trail With Gauchos
We didn't stay at any estancias (ranches) but we were stoked to see gauchos on the trail! Many of the refugios were only accessible by hiking in or boat, so many of the supplies were delivered by horses. For long stretches of the hike, the trail would split off into two- one for the horses and one for the hikers. When you heard them jangling behind you, you had to be quick to jump out of the way because those horses weren't stopping for you.
14 + Hours of Sunlight and Incredible Sunsets
We strategically chose to visit the southern half of the world at the time when the northern half was experiencing winter. The PNW is pretty dreary this time of year and it was refreshing to swap seasons and live in summer for a few weeks. It was easier to relax knowing we had so many hours of sunshine, and it gave us the opportunity to fully enjoy our days. And some of the sunsets we experienced? Mind blowing. The cloud formations and the colors were enough to keep us outside until the last hue of pink had faded.
Encounters With Wildlife
My obsession with alpacas is pretty well known. So you can understand my disappointment when I realized they weren't prevalent in Southern Chile or Argentina. BUT, something both countries do have are Guanacos and they are related to alpacas and llamas so it was close enough. I admit I had a slight freakout when we saw our first herd on the way to Torres Del Paine. Jared and I started a "guanaco count" but eventually stopped counting after seeing so many. In addition to guanacos, we encountered flamingos, nandu, condors and Andean fox! (I wish I could have gotten closer to take a better photo, but these guys are fast!)
10. Hiking the French Valley, Chile
The French Valley is a natural basin ringed by the black slate “horns” of the Cuernos del Paine. We stopped at the French Glacier to watch avalanches tumble down and lingered at the top for almost an hour taking in the 360 views.
What's on the travel list next? Nothing. At least for a month or so. :) It feels good to be back home and in the swing of a routine. Have you been to South America? What were your favorite experiences? Or where are you going next? Share your travel destinations and suggestions with with me in the comments below. Happy exploring!