Are you planning your wishlist or bucket list for where to go or travel in 2016? Don’t miss the amazing destinations of Chile & Argentina. Here’s our round up of the Hot List Top 5 travel destinations in the Southern Cone to visit this New Year.
5. High Andes near Mendoza
There are many Andean beauties to discover along the spine of each country, but the accessibility and yet remoteness offered by the high Andes in Mendoza is almost unparalleled. Head up via the Uco Valley into the high parts of the Andes where a special micro climate brings a whole different flora and fauna to the valley, and the skies are perfectly clear for star gazing at night, and endless sky views – only interrupted by the ever-so-close Andes mountains – during the day.
Escape for a couple nights in a mountain ranch where you can spend the afternoon on horseback and the evening retiring as a true gaucho with a home cooked meal and penguino of wine (highly recommended are Estancia La Alejandra and Estancia El Puesto). Then drive up via the dusty back road to Potrerillos and up towards Uspallata. If you want to take a peek at Aconcagua (or climb it!) then take the hour detour to Aconcagua Park (Hotel Ayelen is the only choice in Aconcagua). From Uspallata, take the road to Barreal where you will pass salt flats and remote landscapes until you reach the small village with real countryside dwellings to stay in, and a traditional feel. This is the real experience of Andean life: remote and stunning.
Buenos Aires has long been the belle of South America, but it is time to give a bit of elbow room to Santiago – another deserving capital of the Cone. It may well be home to the tallest building in South America, but don’t let that put you off – Santiago is more than high rises and glistening, modern office blocks. It is one of the financial capitals of the continent, but it also has a rich cultural history and a heritage which is finally being unmasked.
The region has had native settlers since at least the 800s, and colonial settlers since Pedro de Valdivia claimed it in 1541. There are heritage sites all over the city, but the main hubs to discover in your trip are:
Barrio Lastarria – A hip and historic neighbourhood with an artisan market on the streets, and delightful eateries, theatres and drinking spots on the sidewalks. Next to the pretty Santa Lucia hill, Parque Forestal and Bellas Artes area, it is the perfect place to lose a lazy afternoon and evening.
Barrio Italia & Providencia – Barrio Italia merged after dozens of Italians moved into the region to help out at the local hat factory. The hat factory is long closed, but the legacy remains with design shops, antique stores and cute cafes. Carry on into Providencia (around Orrego Luco street), where you’ll find a further plethora of top restaurants showcasing Chilean food and wine.
Barrio Bellavista – Pablo Neruda’s old haunt hasn’t lost any of its bohemian and artsy charm. Filled with artists, musicians, students and a spillover from the neighbouring Asian barrio Recoleta, Bellavista is diverse and delicious to visit. Framed with the San Cristobal hill, you’ll find colourful shops, bars and restaurants among one of the oldest – but still brightest – neighbourhoods in Santiago.
3. San Pedro de Atacama & Altiplano
While it is no surprise to see this destination on the list, the Atacama is truly worthy of every bucket list. The driest desert in the world, and one of the most spectacular to visit – the list of what to see there is surprisingly endless! From the spitting, steamy geysers, to the bone dry Moon Valley, there is a wide range of landscapes to witness as well as visiting some of the inhabitants – the pink flamencos that stand proud over their salt lagoons, and the centenary cacti that prove that life can withstand years of drought.
This year though, the individual spot on the hot list is a visit to the Altiplano. San Pedro de Atacama was on the ancient Inca route because the vagabond natives would traverse across the Andes between what has now been split into Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. You can retrace some of their steps by visiting the outstanding landscapes of the altiplano high mountains where the landscape changes colour every 40kms and llamas and guanacos rule the roost. Extinct volcanos, strange rock formations and remnants of ancient civilizations make it a fascinating terrain, and if you keep going you can head over the hills towards the other worldly salt flats of Bolivia, or towards Salta in Argentina. If you make it to Salta, visit the museum there that homes the Inca mummies that were found close to San Pedro de Atacama on the altiplano. Child sacrifices that were left to perish on the mountain tops, one was struck by lightening which left their corpse half blackened. A testimony to the extremity of existence on the altiplano.
2. Esteros del Ibera (Ibera wetlands)
Iguazu is often the jungle hotspot to visit in Argentina, but there’s a lesser known jungle zone that deserves a place on your bucket list. One of the most unspoilt and remote tropical destinations in Argentina, the Ibera wetlands (or Esteros del Ibera) are a buffet of wildlife for the more adventurous nature-lovers.
It takes a bumpy road trip a few hours out of civilisation but you are rewarded with a series of floating islands and lagoons which boast the largest rodent in the world – the capybara (or carpincho) – as well as the more sinister-looking caiman alligators that float between the islands, basking in the sunshine and spooking wildlife spotters. Other mammals to spot are the local monkeys, marsh deer, otters, bats, wolves and 350 species of bird.
A visit to the wetlands is a trip into the unknown and a step into a rural life you will be hard-pushed to find anywhere else in the world.
1. Patagonia: Torres del Paine & El Calafate
It may seem a shoe-in on the list, and it probably is, because nothing beats visiting this outstanding park at the end of the world. Patagonia is one vast area that covers the boot of both Chile and Argentina and stretches down to the tip of the continent. While you could spend months exploring the backlands of Patagonia, if you were to pick one region to focus on – my recommendation is Torres del Paine and El Calafate.
Start in either El Calafate or Puerto Natales, and enjoy the best of both countries with a week visiting glaciers, mountains, wild estancias and fjords. El Calafate’s highlight is the Perito Moreno glacier which you can climb by foot, get up close by boat, or simply stare in awe from the fantastic footbridges in the national park. Listen to it creek and crack as pieces of ice fall to the water below from this steadily moving glacier.
Take the beautiful bus journey across to Puerto Natales in Chile through the wilderness and estancia-land, until you reach the port town where you’ll find all the comfy necessities before you head into Torres del Paine park. A treasure trove of natural beauty, Torres del Paine is simply jaw-dropping. Try and stay in one of the fabulous accommodations in the park (Explora and Tierra are well worth the splurge, or Rio Serrano offers great views and competitive rates) or camp out while en route doing the W walk. The beautiful rock formations, deep forests and starkness of the hanging glaciers and tranquil ice burgs make it one of the most memorable destinations on the planet.
If you have only just wet your appetite for travel destinations to visit in Chile and Argentina, here’s our Top 10 for travel in 2016:
- Torres del Paine & El Calafate
- Esteros del Ibera
- Atacama & Altiplano
- High Andes in Mendoza
- Bariloche & 7 Lakes
- Iguazu & a trip to Paraguay
- Peninsula Valdes