We had a marvelous, unforgettable trip overall, including visits to Santiago, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Easter Island, Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile, and finally Antarctica. We experienced a great variety of Chile's vast geography and ecology, from the beautiful central valleys, to the northern desert, to the tropical Polynesian island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), to the forests and mountains of Patagonia. The lodges and excursions they provided in each destination were well organized, with knowledgeable, English-speaking guides. We visited Antarctica and it was spectacular. The tour operator offers expedition travel for people who want to experience the polar regions firsthand. Our expedition, 14 days that went below the Antarctica Circle, featured expert guides who enjoyed sharing their considerable knowledge of geology, glaciers and ice (!), mammals, birds, and plants, to name just a portion, and excursions twice daily on zodiacs to sail among glaciers and whales and seals and walk among penguins and skuas. It was not a leisure cruise, but an expedition for folks who want to experience and appreciate the Antarctica up close. That said, the ship was extremely comfortable, with a remarkably hospitable staff and delicious, copious food.
Our travel company was excellent in helping us to conceptualize, plan, and organize our trip. They offered many useful suggestions about where to go, how much time to spend in each destination, and which options to consider for hotels/lodges and the Antarctica expedition. We greatly appreciated their advice and assistance in putting together our trip. All of the hotel and transit reservations were made, and that part of the trip went smoothly.
However, there was a persistent problem with our air travel in Chile that was unnecessary, and which caused us needless aggravation. For our internal flights (to/from Calama/Atacama, and to Puerto Natales), our travel company purchased the cheapest LAN tickets that did not include baggage allowance. I discovered this a month before we were set to travel, when I was carefully reviewing the reservations (and about 5 months after they purchased the tickets). When I informed the travel company in early January 2018, I said we of course had baggage (especially cold weather gear for Antarctica) and needed the 23 kg allowance. After I informed them of the problem, they did work to correct the problem, telling us they had purchased baggage allowances for those flights that didn't originally have them. We got a receipt from them for baggage for one of those flights (to Puerto Natales), and were told it was resolved for the Calama flights but LAN couldn't provide a receipt. When we did check in for those flights, the baggage allowance was covered, but our concern before each flight could have been avoided if they had bought the correct tickets.
This problem became more apparent, and more aggravating when we were checking in to fly from Atacama to Santiago, and then on to Easter Island. We were told we could not check our bags all the way through to Easter Island because our tickets for the two flights that day were not on the same record. (This was due to the fact that two different priced tickets had been purchased. The Easter Island tickets were regular, economy tickets.) So we had to check in our bags to Santiago, retrieve them from baggage claim at Santiago Airport, and then return to the Departures area of the airport and check them in for the flight to Easter Island. Santiago Airport is a huge, crowded, messy airport, and this process of literally running around the airport took us 1.5 hours (of what was a 2 hour layover). We arrived at our gate for Easter Island just as people were boarding. This was not what we planned for or expected—and it could and should have been avoided if the travel company had bought the proper air tickets from the start.
We enjoyed every leg of our trip, and would not change the itinerary at all. We try to enjoy every minute of every day when we travel, and not let the unavoidable wrinkles and mishaps detract from what was an extraordinary trip. Except for major snafus (like the air tickets noted above), our trip was exceptional. It worked out beautifully to start in Santiago, then head north, then west, then south, so we left Patagonia and were not far from Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, where we boarded our ship.
We stayed four nights in each location, which gave us three full days at each, allowing for sometimes long travel days. We traveled essentially from the northernmost area of Chile, to the westernmost part (Easter Island), to the southernmost area. So a few days involved long hours of travel. The Tierra lodges were magnificent, with exceptional architecture adapted to each locale. Tierra Patagonia, notably, is one of the most beautiful hotel lodges we have ever stayed in or viewed in our lives--extraordinary! It had a unique feel and energy to it, given its intrinsic beauty and the extraordinary surroundings of Torres del Paine National Park and Patagonia. A must!
Our trip to the Antarctica was exhilarating, surreal, other-worldly, and ... and... There are not enough adjectives to describe a trip to this extraordinary continent. The "White Continent" is full of color, including the rich blues seen in the glaciers and the greens of the lichen growing on the glaciers in the summer.
As we said above, we would not change our itinerary at all.
There were a few wrinkles, however, that are worth mentioning. Our travel company contracted with a Chilean company to provide us airport transit and guided visits of Santiago and Valparaiso. Our guide in Santiago twisted his ankle just after picking us up at the airport, and though hobbled, tried to guide us around Santiago. He was knowledgeable and interesting, but clearly in pain. Eventually, because of his injury he had to cut short our afternoon guided visit. He was also not available the next day to guide us around Valparaiso. The tour company called and said they had no other guides available. They asked us if it would be ok just to go with the driver who spoke some English. We (mistakenly, upon reflection), said ok. The driver was pleasant, but knew little about Valparaiso, so we basically drove 1.5 hours to the city, drove around Valparaiso (including a visit to Pablo Neruda's house, but not much else) and Vina del Mar, and then drove back to Santiago. It felt like a wasted day because we did not have a guide to help us appreciate the history and culture of what is a UNESCO World Heritage City. The next day, the company provided us with someone to help us with our transit and check-in at the the airport for our flight to Atacama. He was an expert guide and knew Valparaiso well. In fact, he had been in Valparaiso the day before with another group. When he told us about Valparaiso and how exciting he found it, we really felt we missed something. Next time we would cancel the day trip if the company could not provide us with a qualified, English-speaking guide.
The hotel we stayed in is the only high-end lodge/hotel in Easter Island. The facilities are lovely, clean, and well-maintained, and the food and other services are generally quite good. However, we found most of the hotel's guides on most of our excursions to be blasé, bored, and uninterested. They were often looking at their cellphones during our excursions, and were quick to leave once we returned to the hotel. Fortunately, their lack of interest did not diminish the grandeur and mystery of the hundreds of magnificent stone carvings (mowai) we saw throughout the island. Given our terrific experiences with our hotels in Atacama and Patagonia, including enthusiastic, engaged guides, we would not choose to stay at an similar destination--except for Easter Island where there are no other, equivalent options.
Travel Company Comments
We're really sorry about the problem with the luggage. However, we're glad that we could solve it before your trip started.
About the flight connection, we booked the best we could find by the time the trip was confirmed. We should have told you that you couldn't check in your luggage till the final destination, so we apologize for this lack of communication.
We would like to thank you for the time invested to write this feedback. It has been really helpful for the improvement of our services. You're more than welcome to travel with us again, whenever you would like to experience your next amazing trip!
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