Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote “Love is so short, forgetting is so long” and that captures exactly how I feel about Patagonia. Patagonia, you are my heart. My visit was one short week, and yet I still think about that sacred place everyday and dream of going back. There are a million ways to experience the magnificent scale and staggering beauty of Patagonia's 400,00 square miles, it would take many lifetimes. I won't be delivering a comprehensive travelogue in this post, go to Patagonia for an excellent orientation and overview of options. Instead, this recount is my introductory visit to a land that blew my mind and stole my heart all at once.
‘I've graduated from roughing it, my travel motto is now 'dirt by day, lux by night'. ‘
This trip, with dear pals, was earmarked as the celebration of our collective 60-year-old birthdays, so we went big and booked Patagonia Camp in Chile on the recommendation of other seasoned travelers. Patagonia Camp is the first luxury camp in South America and their stellar reputation is well-earned. The setting is very remote and drop-dead gorgeous. The exquisite attention to detail, the 5-star comfort of the lodge and yurts, the gourmet food, and world-class guides all combined to make this trip a gracious and memorable introduction to our Third Age. I've graduated from roughing it, my travel motto is now 'dirt by day, lux by night'. I am happy to adventure, challenge, play hard, even suffer a bit all day, but at night? I want that hot shower, big white king-sized bed, and a hearty meal waiting for me!
Traveling and hiking in a slow group of eight to ten is not our level of sexy (NOLS) so we quickly ascertained that if we talked to the head guide about our desires, we could get the hikes we wanted with a smaller, fitter group. This was especially critical on the highlight hike, Base De Las Torres. A spectacular 14-mile trek and 4+ hour drive–you gotta move on this route and if you are lucky, you'll be back at camp for a very late dinner. The charming, expert guides have a lot of whims to juggle, so make your desires known in a friendly, firm manner– they want to make your Patagonia dreams come true. The French Valley hike is stunning, along with the not-to-be missed Grey Glacier boat excursion. For a rest-day, the hiking right out of our yurt was fabulous, too, the bonus being around for the delicious three-course lunch served daily. Patagonia Camp is a wonderful way to travel with friends and family; if you have a variety of aspirations and fitness levels in your group, the hikes are custom-planned and everyone gets to choose their own thing and feel great about it.
We traveled JetBlue to Santiago in late January, which was easy from Vermont. One overnight at the Ritz in this spunky city was plenty, the highlight being the tour of Pablo Neruda's home museum and lunch in the 'hood of Valparaíso.
For Patagonia Camp, fly directly to Punta Natales if at all possible–this eliminates flying into Punta Arenas and a long van transfer. The transfer itineraries are sparse and tight given Patagonia's scope–it takes a lot of time to traverse everywhere, it's serious business. Don't expect to get to trail heads quickly, most day junkets involve 2-4 hours of van time. This is the case wherever you to stay. I can chit-chat only so much, so I queued up Neruda's poems and Act III In Patagonia by the conservationist William Conway on audible– both made for enriching narration as I relaxed and absorbed the spectacular landscape and wildlife sightings.
Early February is early summer there, yet I packed like I would for a cool late-autumn hiking trip with lots of layering options. It's 50-75 degrees but always very, very windy. On the Grey Glacier excursion we needed to be extra-warm. Vermont's Skida hats, both lined and unlined, versions were perfect daily options. I brought along a couple of extra hats for gifts for our favorite guides and they loved them. There's a reason that the Patagonia brand is so popular; it's fantastic for layering, the colors mirror the landscape exactly, and yes, everyone wears Patagonia–not ironically–all the gaucho guides are tricked out in it! Full disclosure: our youngest daughter works for Patagonia so packing was easy.) We also brought camelbacks/day packs, Rx bars, nuts, gloves, and the Houdini raincoat. Resort dress is sporty-casual, maybe throw a scarf or necklace over some chic Lululemon layers; the hospitality is polished, the clientele worldly.
My next Patagonia adventure will be a lot longer, include Argentina, and will involve both hiking and mountain bikes. I cannot wait to return with my friends to the land of the giants —I'm pretty sure I left my heart behind last time.
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me! (Trip 2017)