The trip destinations were very well selected so that we saw beautiful areas of both countries and saw variety in both. With the exception of our arrival in Santiago, when the driver was not there to meet us, all connections happened on time and the drivers and guides were courteous and adequately (and sometimes well) prepared. The places selected for us to stay were uniformly good--the location of our hotel in Santiago was excellent and gave us the opportunity to explore the downtown without going too far, and in addition there were many restaurant choices. The Mendoza and Bariloche lodging choices were a distance from the city centers, but that was a good choice because in those two places we had a rental car. In Puerto Varas, where we again did not have a rental car, we were in the heart of the town, and that gave us many restaurant options. The one weakness in the trip planning was that the travel agency that our agency subcontracted with in Santiago was disappointing. As I noted, the driver did not meet us at the airport, and we ended up taking a cab and paying almost $100. The company reimbursed us without delay, but it was an anxious time for us as we navigated at the airport and made our way to our hotel. This company also provided a half day tour of the city (where we spent most of the time crawling through traffic rather than seeing sights), followed by a full day tour that did not take us to two sights that were described as part of the tour: one of the houses of Pablo Neruda, and a museum in Valparaiso. When I asked about the Neruda museum, the guide acted as if there had never been the thought of including that. There was also to be a stop where we "tasted the signature wine" of a vineyard. The implication was that this was to be a tasting; however, the stop was actually a bathroom stop/gift shop for tour buses, with 100 wine glasses filled with a taste of a wine but no description or explanation whatsoever of what the wine was, the process used to make it, or what made the wine significant. The third day with this subcontracted travel agency was much better: it was a day long tour (with tasting) at two wineries. Both tours were excellent and at one of them we had the chance to have lunch there; it was also excellent. But overall the Santiago subcontractor consistently underperformed.
We loved seeing the Mendoza area (we arranged wine tours on our own), and the place we were staying was absolutely lovely. We also very much enjoyed visiting Bariloche, which we were not familiar with and would not have put on our itinerary. Again, the apart-hotel we stayed in was very nice, with pleasant staff, clean rooms, and plenty of privacy. Puerto Varas was also interesting, and we had a wonderful day trip to Chiloe Island with a lovely guide who was easy to get to know. We did the lake crossing between Bariloche, Argentina and Puerto Varas, Chile. It involved 4 bus rides and 3 boat rides--quite an experience and one I'm glad we did, although we were 14 hours in transit!
We enjoyed the pace of the trip and loved each location (although Santiago was "okay" but not terrific). I would definitely not give the Santiago travel agency high marks--there seemed to be no real effort to provide quality experiences, and not being met at the airport, after a red-eye flight, with no real sense of the currency and almost no command of the language, was a recipe for mishaps. It got us off on the wrong foot, but the fact of the matter is that two of the three subsequent days with the company were lackluster, at best.
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