Thanks to Mrs Anna Rita Severini, Pescara, Italy
8 April 2019
8 March 2019
Arrival in Santiago de Chile
Connection and immediate flight to Punta Arenas
We arrive in airport in Santiago de Chile at 9.00 am after about 15 hours of flight. We leave after four hours for Punta Arenas, capital of the province of Magallanes. Even the start of the first day makes us perceive the brilliant rhythms of this journey.
At the airport we find Gabriele (Prisma Andino) waiting for us, who will guide us for the entire two-week trip through the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, but the group of eight participants is not complete for now. Six of us will arrive tomorrow.
It is late afternoon and there is just enough time to reach the city, enjoying, during the journey by car, the first emotion of this adventure in the land in the fin del mundo: on our left, for the first time in our life, we see the blue waters of the Strait of Magellan flowing, on which Punta Arenas faces.
We know that, before the opening of the Panama Canal, Punta Arenas was a necessary passage for the maritime connections between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and that today it is still an important starting point for visiting the region.
You go to bed early tonight, and not just for the fatigues of air transfers. Tomorrow morning, alarm clock before the dawn for the first excursion in program, with departure at dawn.
9 March 2019
Isla Magdalena, Punta Arenas, transfer to Puerto Natales
We reach by car the meeting place of the group that today will visit the Isla Magdalena, sanctuary of the Magellanic penguins. It is not yet day and, along the deserted streets, the lights of the street lamps dot the indigo of the sky streaked with long dark clouds.
A bus takes us to the pier where you have to board for navigation on the strait to the island. Let’s start. The trail of foam behind the fast-moving boat is going to disappear towards a deep blue horizon of sky and sea, continually crossed by flocks of birds. We already feel taken by a special atmosphere.
After about an hour, we stop in front of the Isla Marta, colonized by hundreds of sea lions. We observe them as they laboriously move on the dark earth, we hear their verses spread like harrowing moans that intrigue and disturb at the same time.
Passed by, we dock at the Isla Magdalena pier. On a large expanse that culminates in the lighthouse of the only height, there are numerous small penguins, we can also observe them from very close, following a path that follows the contours of the island. The landscape is extraordinary, made of dry earth and pebbles, of endless sea, of pinguni and sea birds, of sun and lashing wind.
We continue sailing to return to Punta Arenas at the end of the morning.
The program undergoes a change, pending the arrival of our traveling companions. So, after a tasty lunch break at the city’s fish market, we take part of the afternoon visiting, a short distance from the center, copies of the ships belonging to the history of the discovery and colonization of Patagonia, such as the Nao Victoria of Ferdinand Magellan, Ancud , the Beagle. Here, by the sea, it is also pleasant to observe the seagulls standing on the sand or the row of colorful fishing boats nearby. Everything is color, light and tranquility; there is nothing to do but look around and let go, in silence.
The last stop in the city is the Regional Salesian Museum “Maggorino Borgatello” which brings together testimonies of the Salesian settlement in Patagonia and various artifacts of the native populations of considerable ethnographic interest.
Finally, back at the airport to welcome the rest of the party arriving from Santiago, we allow ourselves all together a short ride downtown before dinner.
Immediately afterwards, with about three hours drive north-west, we reach Puerto Natales, where we will spend the night.
10 March 2019
Navigation to the glacier fjords Serrano / Balmaceda and transfer to Torres del Paine
Today another half-day sailing is planned, this time up to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers. It starts from the pier under a blue sky and inside the full light of the sun that turns everything into a show with vivid colors. As we slide fast on the water, the currents continually change the reflections on its surface, and, if you move on the deck of the boat, you can enjoy a different and magnificent panorama from every side. We are surrounded by wooded hills; the massive Torres del Paine stands out against the horizon. The entire itinerary proves to be a continuous discovery, a continuous wonder.
We go down to the ground and walk along a path in the native forest to the lagoon of the Balmaceda glacier. We skirt the turquoise waters, on which float blocks of ice sparkle in the sun, and we reach a few meters from the tongue of the glacier that juts out between the rocks: an expanse of white pinnacles with blue reflections.
Returning from this pleasant walk, and after an equally pleasant stop for lunch in an estancia surrounded by greenery, we return to the departure pier, in Puerto Natales. A new shift on the road to the Torres del Paine National Park awaits us.
Once again, the route offers spectacular views of the elegant and majestic peaks, partly covered by snow and ice.
This hotel for the night, with rooms in wooden huts, is right in front of this dream vision. Before dinner, one cannot but stand on a bench a few steps from the placid waters of the Paine river which, at this point, stretch out in a wide bend, moving slowly between dozens of whirlpools that chase each other and hypnotize the eye.
Apparently, this is just a preview of what we will see tomorrow, as the whole day will be dedicated to visiting the Park.
11 March 2019
Full day Torres del Paine and frontier pass, trip to El Calafate (Argentina)
In the early morning hours, the bench overlooking the Towers is still an irresistible attraction. As the sunlight advances, the river water reflects for a while the pink of the few clouds that rest on the mountains.
But we must resume the journey. The journey inside the park allows us to contemplate the Torres del Paine from different angles, making us discover, beyond the sinuous lines of the massif observed yesterday, also the three highest and sharpest peaks that sprout behind it: basalt at the top and below granite, brought to light by the erosion of the ice, as Gabriele explains.
Along the road, the view of the towers constantly accompanies us and, at their feet, here are the waters of the great lakes that frame them. First we find the Gray Lake, generated by the glacier of the same name, whose jade green waves arrive on a dark and windless endless beach; we cross it all on foot, feeling really tiny compared to such a powerful nature. Then we stop at Lake Pehoe, on Lake Nordenskold and close to the Salto Grande, an imposing waterfall wedged between large dark rocks. Along the way we see some guanacos grazing peacefully.
On the verdant banks of the Laguna Azul we stop for a picnic. And we leave again. We see the Amarga Lagoon and then the intense blue of Lake Sarmiento. Finally, another pause to be hypnotized by the whirlpools of the Paine Waterfalls, by the deafening roar and by the rainbows suspended inside the light mist that rises up to us on the path just above the boiling foam of the water.
It is the last emotion of a memorable day, made of breathtaking views, florid vegetation, grandiose mountains, wind and powerful sun, colors of a variety and unparalleled beauty. It was like moving into the great harmony of perfect nature.
Now, however, we must accelerate. Evening is approaching and we must arrive in good time on the border between Chile and Argentina. It’s all for the best, we spend very little for the checks and we leave again. So we reach our hotel in El Calafate.
12 March 2019
Flight to Ushuaia, city tour
Today we fly to the south, towards Ushuaia, a city “at the end of the world” overlooking the Beagle Channel and dominated by the mountainous group and the Martial glacier.
We land mid-morning; we immediately reach our hotel, located in the hills and surrounded by greenery. Just enough time to settle down and immediately we go down to the city to have lunch together. In the afternoon, the group dissolves following different options. We choose to explore the area of the promenade and the port, in search of the typical atmosphere of frontier places: here travelers, merchants, explorers, adventurers have always come and gone, stopping at Ushuaia as the last stop before Antarctica and at the extreme south of the American continent.
The water in the port is tranquil, a luminous table that perfectly reflects, without any shudder, the blue sky now nearing sunset and the straight and thin trees of dozens of boats docked at the pier. Going into the inner streets, we make some purchases in the lively San Martin, a street full of shops and clubs. Tonight, excellent fish dinner.
13 March 2019
Full day navigation with crossing of the Beagle Channel and visit Estancia Harberton
We travel from Ushuaia for a whole day of excursion by land and by sea. Along the way, we see some “flag trees”, curved by the constant wind that determined their particular shape.
We come by bus to the Harberton Estancia with a beautiful scenic route; here is the Acatushùn Museum, dedicated to the local marine fauna. A young and competent guide shows us the rich display of cetacean skeletons and other mammals, to then show us the archives and laboratories where the specimens are treated for conservation; one breathes a climate of passion and volunteering that is truly worthy of note. And the whole landscape of the estancia is equally impressive.
From here we continue sailing along the Beagle Channel. An unexpected fortune makes us jump shortly afterwards: two fin whales pop up on the surface of the flat water, they arch up on their back, they snort loudly and dive again, then they emerge a short distance away, one of them raises its big tail before disappearing. We are stunned and excited, we look forward to every reappearance as the boat follows them slowly. The pilot says we are lucky, because it is rare to see them this season.
We continue to sail up to the Isla ……. where we arrive to observe a large colony of Magellan pinguni, with other specimens of Papuan pinguni and only one royal penguin.
The itinerary continues on the canal, reserving for us other beautiful emotions: first the surprising passage of a small herd of dolphins, then the islands that we skirt slowly, inhabited by sea lions and cormorants, finally the beautiful white and red lighthouse that stands out against the sky and water.
Returning to Ushuaia, there is still time for a walk on the path that leads from our hotel to the Martial glacier, with a stop on a mirador that offers an interesting view of the city and its colorful roofs. Excellent dinner at a pizzeria.
14 March 2019
Visit to the Tierra del Fuego National Park and return flight to El Calafate
We start by bus from Ushuaia for a trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, a vast protected area lapped by the waters of the Beagle Channel and covered by thick and lush vegetation; in the early part of the morning, we can admire it by going up the Tren del Fin del Mundo, a train on the narrow-gauge line that in the past was used to transfer prisoners to work areas (Ushuaia was an important penal colony) and today is used to tourism purposes. Climb aboard and follow a panoramic itinerary in the park listening to the audio guide that tells the historical events of the train. The path is decidedly restful, however interesting.
The second part of the tour includes a walk in the woods that allows us to enjoy the evocative colors of the early autumn in this remote part of the world. The path leads us to a special post office, placed inside a sheet metal construction on the seashore. Inside, postcards, geographical maps and gadgets are sold and “Unidad postal fin del mundo” stamps are placed. Outside a sign reminds us how far we are from home: Rome is only 13,200 Km.
After lunch, a walk along the Rio Lapataia, a regenerating look at the marsh vegetation mixed with crystal clear water. Even today – and we are really lucky for this – the sun has never left us.
Finally, we take the bus back to Ushuaia. There is still a flight waiting for us to return to El Calafate, where we land in the evening.
15 March 2019
Excursion to Perito Moreno and return to Puerto Natales
We leave for the excursion to the mythical Perito Moreno, the pride of Argentine Patagonia.
Arrived by car at the entrance of the park, we take a series of walkways that run along the Lago Argentino.
As we walk, the front of the glacier is revealed to our eyes a little at a time. The journey of about an hour and a half leads us ever closer to that fascinating wall of ice on the edge of the white and compact mass that is upstream and feeds it perpetually. Twice we hear the crash of collapses, disturbing and exciting together, without unfortunately being able to see them.
And we continue, we take photos to stop in the images the suggestion of that whiteness and the long fissures of clear blue. We focus on the miradors always savoring new angles and new reflections of light, but then we must hurry to get on the boat that will take us a few meters from such a wonder. When we arrive in front of us, the show is assured, despite the lack of sunshine today; the white, light blue, blue and blue shades are placed side by side and the tips of ice are tightened in a long and compact curtain, resting on the mirror of water. This was the vision we came from so far away.
We are satisfied with it, while the boat moves slowly from one end to the other.
Let’s go back to earth. What you need is a refreshment stop in El Calafate based on delicious bife of chorizo and Patagonian beer. From here we start to cross the border again and return to Chile. The driver must be sent along Route 40, straight towards the horizon, bordered by fences that close the endless grasslands of the Argentine estancias.
In the evening, past the border, we return to Puerto Natales. This time, we have time to wander the streets of the center, observe the pastel colors on the corrugated roofs and on the walls of the houses, make some purchases of local crafts and then come together for a fun dinner with good Chilean wine and final pisco.
16 March 2019
Flight to Puerto Montt, Chiloe Island, Chiloè National Park, Cucao
At 6.00, we leave Puerto Natales to reach Punta Arenas airport from where we will take off for Puerto Montt. We slept a little over five hours tonight and now everyone is dozing in the car, while a diaphanous, milky light rises in the sky covered by compact clouds. We arrive in three hours. It takes off on time.
Landed in Puerto Montt, just outside the airport, we picked up the two jeeps rented by Gabriele to continue our journey. From now on, we will split into two crews. Destination island of Chiloè.
Arriving at the ferry dock, we see a kiosk selling raw mariscos and various types of ceviche. Impossible to resist. The stop is very tasty, fun and immersed in an idyllic setting, made up of small fishing boats, seagulls standing on the shore and a sea sparkling under the sun once again shining again. From a pier nearby the boys play to dive into the water.
Landed near Ancud, we head south. We know that Gabriele has a surprise in store for us and we are curious. After about three hours on the road, past the delightful village on Castro’s stilts, we stop near Cucao. We are in the middle of the countryside and there is a wooden building next to the road, a place where we will presumably dine. The owners welcome us by letting us pass in the back yard, because here they are preparing for us the “curanto”, an elaborate dish of chicken and pork, seafood and native potatoes, typical of Chiloè. So this was the surprise!
We are witnessing the entire execution which involves cooking the ingredients inside a hole with red-hot stones and covering large leaves of “nalca”, earth and grass.
After about two hours, removed the earth and the leaves, everything lands on our cheerful table. The result is a magnificent dinner, certainly an experience to remember for the direct knowledge of a culinary tradition of the place, for the excellent flavors and the beautiful climate created between us, accomplices also the wine and the initial pisco sour.
We get back on the really happy machines and reach our hostal in Cucao.
17 March 2019
Cucao, Chonchi, Castro and minor islands of Chiloè
Midnight has just struck. Outside it rains and the rain beats incessantly on the tin roof and the wooden balcony of our room, in one of the magical pile dwellings, Castro’s palafitos.
We are back from a field day, but full of emotions. Beginning this morning, when we reached a beach on the ocean overlooking Cucao, from Cucao, an expanse of dark sand as far as the eye could see, to walk for a long time to reach the shore beaten by the thundering waves. And not far away, a small herd of cattle that, a few meters from the sea, enjoyed long algae deposited on the sand. The impetuous ocean, the blue sky, the dark beach, the animals confused in the mist suspended over there between ocean and earth: an almost unreal scene that we walked in absolute solitude, as in a dream.
We then headed towards Chonci: tiny country, houses of dozens of different colors perhaps difficult to appreciate individually, but which, placed side by side, acquire a new harmony and beauty. And then large windows, often shabby wooden shutters, devoured by wind and rain, walls with wooden shingles all the same and aligned, lemon yellow, aqua green, blue, red, baby pink, brown. This is Chiloè, the island that is already conquering us.
In Chonci we see one of the various wooden churches, built with these same techniques, recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO.
We arrive at Castro in the middle of the day. Here we find the bright colors on all the walls of the palafitos adapted to hotels, overlooking the sea like on a large mirror that duplicates those colors, or on the sand, in the hours when the low tide leaves the long support poles outside the water . We deposit our luggage in our hotel and move back to the largest of the smaller islands, Achao.
Our itinerary on the island turns into a small treasure hunt, to discover the churches with their tall central bell towers, but also of rural landscapes and locals. Here too, like the large island of Chiloè, you can breathe an atmosphere of simplicity and genuineness, few frills and rough concreteness.
The evening in Castro spends joyful: we gather around the big table in an old fisherman’s house for a good dinner of fish, potatoes, red wine and pisco sour.
18 March 2019
Castro, Dalcahue, Aucar. Ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaiten
In the morning it rains thick again. Standing on the balcony sheltered by the canopy, you can look at the leaden gray of the sky and the sea and listen to the screams of the passing seagulls, the singing of a distant rooster, the ticking of the rain that seems a sort of musical rhythm on the sheet metal of the roofs or at the bottom of the exhaust pipes or on any other surface around here.
The enchantment lasts a moment. Today we have the morning available and we decide to walk along the sea and the port, where the boats float on the high tide with their bright colors, then visit the cathedral and make some purchases in the center. At the end of the morning we leave Castro to reach Dalcahue, another delightful seaside town with an unmistakable Chilote style.
Right by the sea, we look at a very simple but inviting tavern. In less than no time, the very nice cooks bring us raw curls and mariscos, steamed mussels, grilled salmon and a delicious white wine. All one step away from the pier and from the fishing boats, in a sober, authentic climate.
Let’s go back to Quemchi, home of the Chilean writer Francisco Coloane, and then dedicate the rest of the afternoon to the islet of Aucar and its small typical church. You can get there by crossing a long wooden pedestrian bridge, at the sides of which, at this time, low tide turns everything into a sort of swamp with an iridescent surface covered by dozens of birds. We stop for a while, but we need to take the road again; at the port of Ancud we ferry towards the continent, we leave the beautiful Chiloè and return to Puerto Montt, where another great ferry from Naviera Austral awaits us. We will spend the night on board heading south to the port of Chaitèn.
19 March 2019
Carretera Austral. Queulat National Park, Coyhaique
We dock at Chaitèn at 9.00 am and take the legendary Carretera Austral towards Puerto Aisen through the Quelat National Park. A short distance from the port, we dedicate the first stop to what remains of the original inhabited center hit by the eruption of the volcano Chaitèn and then abandoned. Alongside the new houses, a space arranged as an open-air museum shows those of the past, submerged by eruptive ashes and half-destroyed. They are ghosts of emptied houses, tilted to one side, whose constructional structures can be recognized beyond the ruined and worn walls. A sad place, but fascinating in its own way.
After an invigorating lunch break in La Junta, the next stop is at the Termas del Ventisquero, near Puyuhuapi, where we can relax by staying in the warm thermal water or even just enjoying in a beautiful landscape. We need it: today we have traveled hundreds of kilometers, contemplating glimpses of uncontaminated nature, we have met a few cars along the road, but above all travelers by bicycle and someone from the place on horseback; we are a little tired, but we still need to go ahead.
In the evening we arrive at our hotel in Puerto Aisen, made of cozy bungalows amidst rich vegetation, we have dinner and immediately go to bed. Tomorrow will be the last day of travel and discovery in Patagonia, then the two flights that will take us back to Italy await us.
20 March 2019
Puerto Tranquilo, Lago General Carrera and Cathedrals of Marble
Today the program consists of everything we can admire during the drive on the Carretera Austral, mostly on a dirt road. We head towards Coihaique, we see on the horizon the imposing peaks of the Cerro Castillo partially covered in snow and around us a natural beauty difficult to describe that comes to meet us constantly, keeping us constantly immersed in a sort of brilliantly colored films in a clear light as with remember for a long time.
We stop in Puerto Rio Tranquilo to have lunch. Outside the restaurant there is a sunny lawn and some of us ask for a table right there. We eat well, we talk to the prodigal manager of information, we know a young Australian who is traveling the area by bike and we wish him “buena suerte” when he is about to resume his tiring road.
We too leave again; you have to get to Puerto Guadal, where we will find a boat to sail on General Carrera Lake and see the Capillas de Marbol up close.
In fact, we rent a boat for the whole group. The water of the lake is perfect and there is no wind, time is still on our side. And once again nature amazes us, leaving us astonished: snow-capped peaks far away on the horizon and, a few meters away, turquoise and transparent water that creeps under white caves with smooth and sinuous shapes. Our boat, like others, slips under the rounded vaults and from there the backlights on the lake are spectacular.
It is really the last strong emotion of a journey that we will struggle to forget.
We leave for the next destination, a hotel scattered in the green, large igloo tents, wooden houses – some like ours above the trees – with a breathtaking view of the lake.
We arrive late and tired from the miles of dirt roads, but fall asleep in a big and warm bed, with the embers in the stove still lit, inside a wooden nest on a tree with a view, well, all this is priceless.
21 March 2019
Balmaceda Airport and Santiago
We wake up from a magnificent sleep and immediately the gaze is lost on the indigo-colored light of the sky and the lake and on the whitewashed peaks of the Andes.
But time, as always, is a tyrant. It only remains to take some pictures and close the bags. Here we are again on the dirt road that will take us from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Cerro Castillo, then continue towards Coihaique and divert to Balmaceda airport.
We skirt the lake and now the colors of everything are very different from yesterday: the lake is less blue and more opalescent, but the vegetation around has a thousand shades of green and the sky is of an intense turquoise among the white clouds.
We run, it looks like a rally route; and we run into some long pauses for work on this national artery still to be finished. We run, we run between endless straight and sudden curves, bridges over impetuous streams, open spaces on the edge of turquoise lakes, and still evergreen and dense trees, others that give way slowly to the soft hues of autumn, and peasant houses, fences of pastures and land endless, wooden fences for animals, horses, cows, and cyclists and motorcyclists. And above all this, always our beautiful sky full of blue.
Finally, in Cerro Castillo, the dirt road ends. We still face the peaks of Cerro, the last dream vision of this journey. Then the landscape becomes more common and less harsh, less fascinating.
We arrive at the airport. The ritual of greetings with Gabriele is very strong, it also contains an invitation to return. Who knows if it really happens; there are places here, and emotions to be found, others to be discovered again.
Meanwhile, tonight we will sleep in a hotel near Santiago airport and tomorrow we will finally leave Chile. We return home.
Let’s make a quick budget. What about the itinerary? The proposed route is very respectable, made up of places not to be missed – the Torres del Paine Park, the Perito Moreno, the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia – and others less traveled by great tourism but with a unique charm – Chiloè, the Aisen and the whole area patrolled with the Carretera Austral.
The strongest impression is that on this journey nature has welcomed us in a vigorous and tranquil embrace at the same time, both in places with breathtaking visions and in those that distribute their beauty over larger territories.
Not the imperious beauty of a great glacier or snow-covered peak, but the one that gracefully accompanies you through placid flowing waters and crystalline forests and lakes and lush countryside, almost giving you a pleasant addiction to all this, to a wonder without excesses, yet endless.
To all this we have combined the feeling, especially in areas like Chiloè and Aisen, of peeking into the everyday life of simple people, in small farms or unpretentious inns, close to the modest cattle herds, to piglets kept beside to the houses, to the horses grazing on the side of the roads. It would have been nice to stop a little longer in certain places that deserve reasoned, less hasty attention. Maybe someday …