The individuals with whom we worked at the travel company were very nice and responsive and it is overall a good and reputable provider who could stand to learn a few things. All sub-providers were prompt and waiting for us without a hitch. We found all guides and drivers to be extremely friendly and personable, and for the most part well-organized.
The provider in the Atacama, was highly educated and experienced in touring. He helped arrange early check-in at the hotel in San Pedro which was very helpful
We only have a few "teachable" items to report:
1. The 2:50 a.m. pickup at the hotel in Valparaiso was absolutely brutal. The hotel said that they would have something for breakfast while we waited for our guide to pick us up. We arrived downstairs and there were a few stale cookies out from the prior evening and no coffee. The young man working the night shift scrambled to get some coffee together for us, but unfortunately we had to wait until we got to the airport in Santiago for the trip to Calama to get a meaningful meal (at our expense). Our guide, however, stayed with us to efficiently navigate domestic check-in, and even arranged for a little known way to get discounted checked baggage handling with the airlines that saved us quite a bit of money.
As we later discovered, there is a hotel at SCL airport where we feel it would have been better to stay instead of overnight in Valparaiso, as due to the early wakeup we were not going to take advantage of the night-life there. Logistically, we would have liked a little better advice in this regard as the recovery from the early wakeup was tedious. We felt like overall using a booking agent was worthwhile, as we probably could not have had such good coverage with the limited amount of time we had to spend planning.
2. HUGE discrepancy in Patagonia itinerary led us to initially believe we were flying in to Puerto Natales (1 1/2 hours to Torres del Paine), but it turns out we were actually booked to Punta Arenas (4 1/2 hour drive to Torres del Paine). Much to our displeasure, the hotel had sent a small vehicle for transit to the Park and we were crammed very uncomfortably into the backseat for the entire ride minus the stops. It was late in the game when the travel company had to change these arrangements (they did not notice the discrepancy until I called a trip planner and pointed it out), and the hotel said all their larger vehicles were in use at the time. NOT HAPPY with the error on the itinerary nor the transit from Punta Arenas to the park! The return to Punta Arenas was much more accommodating.
3. Given that we did a pay a premium for the travel company to arrange logistics, we would have hoped for a recommendation for the star-gazing tour in the Atacama. This is one of the top attractions of the desert. We feel that we just told them what we wanted to do and they did what they could to accommodate our requests without much additional creativity or forethought to some of the itinerary and logistics.
1. The stay and the view at the hotel in Patagonia.
2. The surprising charm of the hotel in Atacama in San Pedro.
3. The demanding off-track hike to get the alternative view of the Valle de Luna in the Atacama.
4. The wonderful food, wine, and people of Chile.
5. The half-day excursions offered by the hotel in Patagonia. Spectacular.
6. The kindness and responsiveness of the guides and drivers.
7. The excursion at the Park in Torres.
1. Get a little more clarity on how the excursions are booked at the hotel in Patagonia. The travel company laid out our four days/five nights in a way that seemed like the excursions were confirmed for us, but booking an excursion at the hotel is more ad-hoc in nature and required significant interaction with excursion staff to get what we felt we needed. In hindsight, it is good that we did not attempt to do Sendero de Ascencio, Valle Frances, and the Grey Glacier treks consecutively because not only would that itinerary have not been available on those consecutive days, but we would not have had the energy to complete all three. As it turns out, a series of half-day adventures and one full-day trek (Sendero de Ascencio) turned out to be the most sensible.
2. The booking of the Sendero de Ascencio trek turned out to be somewhat painful and disappointing due to the fact that a member of the excursion who knew he was unfit to complete the trek had to stop, which halted the trek for the other member (me) and the single guide booked for the trek. The "option" the guide gave me to continue the trek was really not an option, as he was bottom-line refusing to split up the team. He made me the bad guy by giving me the option to continue and have the other member wait for two-hours, which I was fine with doing. Once I pressed to continue up the moraine to get to the base of the Towers, it then became apparent that the "option" the guide gave me was really not. He took us to a more quiet viewpoint of the moraine which hid half of the towers on the wonderfully clear and warm day, and he was kind of perturbed that I was not happy with not being able to proceed to the base. Moreover, the guide said that he observed that I was "shaky" going up the moraine and tried to use this as part of the narrative to discontinue the hike to the base. In reality, I was just fine to continue! Everyone struggles hiking up that moraine and I was no worse than many others!
In the future I would choose to take the "W" segment treks only with a fully booked group and two guides staffed on the excursion so that it could continue with hurt or unfit members. I wish I would have known in advance that the small group put the excursion at risk in the event that a member could not continue.
Travel Company Comments
Dear Mr. W.,
Thank you so much for taking the time for sending us your detailed feedback.
You are correct, on the last version of the itinerary sent, the text mentioned a flight to Puerto Natales that was originally planned for the 11th November: then when we changed the dates, we had to book the flight to Punta Arenas as there were no flights to Puerto Natales operating that day. It was my typo mistake to leave the original legend, while at the bottom of the itinerary your flights were correctly informed to Punta Arenas.
The problem with Puerto Natales Airport is that there are no daily flights. I truly apologize for this typo mistake as I can imagine how disappointing was for you. We are still working manually, but are developing an internal system that will help a lot. I`m sure we won't have this type of problems anymore.
Regarding the transfer to the hotel in Patagonia, I`m glad that you enjoy the hotel, the location, and the tours. Its one of the best locations in the park! It's a shared shuttle transfer (minivans of around 10 seats). These are the transfer that the hotel includes on their all-inclusive packages. As for the tours, they are all shared during high season due to the limited amount of guides.
The "W Trek" is a great trek, very demanding as you had 3 consecutive hard treks: Ascencio Valley, French Valley, and Grey Treking. It's a great alternative and you can always add nights in the middle if you feel you will need them.
Regarding the Atacama Desert, I`m also glad that you enjoyed the Hotel, and we are checking with the local supplier to see which was the guide and what happened that day.
Overall I hope you have had a nice experience and thank you again for your feedback, that is vital for us to keep on improving our services.
Best regards from Buenos Aires,
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