Bottom is the Top for this Patagonia/Cape Horn Adventure

Hilton Smith in Patagonia

It is harder every year to explore parts of our planet untouched by humans.  The Patagonia Region of Argentina & Chile\, in southern South America, still has that result.  In January I traveled in stark contrast to warm, summery Buenos Aires and cold, stark but breathtaking Patagonia. 

Our trip began with United Airlines from LAX via Houston to Buenos Aires.  The international flight was on their new B787-9 Dreamliner in Business/First. A comfortable aircraft with lie flat beds and in row 6 with a bit of extra feet and leg room.

Buenos Aires was hot -- in the 90’s -- and our hotel was in the happening Palermo District. It was more local and artistic, busy and full of outdoor venues as well as the botanical gardens. The Palermo UNO Soho was modern and comfortable with just what we needed and no more.  The staff was very helpful, and I loved the neighborhood with its cobblestone streets.  No high end shops here, but lots to explore on every other level.  Of course the legendary nightlife did not kick in until about 10:00PM.   

After a couple of nights here, we were off to the international airport (EZE) for our wide-body flight on the national carrier to Ushuaia, billed as the southernmost city in the world.  There is no rich history here, as the city has grown almost solely due to Patagonia and Antarctica expeditions of scientists and lay people.  Here the ski jackets come out and the temperature has dropped 50 degrees from Buenos Aires, a mere 3 ½ hours north.  We were fortunate that although cold, the weather was clear.  We checked into the land office for the ship Via Australis, our cruise home for the next three nights.  We left our luggage there and we had a few hours to explore the town.  It had a feel of a frontier town, but comfortable. 

About 5:00PM we boarded the Via Australis and our luggage was already in our compact cabin.  The ship was clean and sufficient, but not a luxury vessel. The passengers numbered fewer than 130, and the crew was kept very busy.  The cabins had no TV or internet.  The lounges were comfortable but not striking.  The food was fine but not gourmet.  The focus on this three-night round trip voyage was stunning Patagonia and the national park that straddles Argentina and Chile.

The excursion crew, complete with Zodiacs, performed miracles each day to get us as close to the heart of the park as they could get.  Glaciers of all types and sizes could be seen complete with snowcapped mountains.  One glacier went down to the sea, one had a huge waterfall right in front of it.  One was surrounded by forests.  One had pieces of ice floating in front if it like mini icebergs. The Zodiacs went out with groups of explorers in life vests.  A couple of hours later they would come back with stories of unspoiled and majestic scenery.

A true highlight was our landing at historic Cape Horn National Park, the official end of South America located in Chilean territory.  The weather was good enough for us to land and walk up the 170 steps to the newly restored monument (blown down in a recent storm).  This was just in time for the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of Cape Horn which was January 29. Our small ship was allowed to let us ashore while a much larger Celebrity ship could only sail by.  No disembarkation allowed for them.

This is the last season for Via Australis in Patagonia as it has been sold to another expedition company for use in The Galapagos.  There will be many modifications needed, particularly air conditioning which was not needed in always cold Patagonia.  In the meantime, Via Australis will finish the season and Stella Australis will be the sole ship for this line next season.  At the end of 2017, a new, bigger ship is expected to join the line to regain its two ship fleet.        

At the end of our voyage, we were back in Ushuaia for a few hours before our flight to Buenos Aires.  In that time, we took a 100 Peso taxi ride 15 minutes up a gravel road to see the newest hotel in Ushuaia, The Arakur Usauaia Resort and Spa.  The hotel is stunning with looks of stone, glass and wood.  It has a sweeping view of the waters down below.  It is not quite where it needs to be yet, with a floor of suites to be ready in about a year.  It is dramatic and if you don’t have to be right in town, this may be the right place for you.

Back in BA, we stowed the ski jackets for more 90 degree plus temperatures.  This time it was another change of scenery with a stay at the Faena Hotel in the modern Puerto Madero area.  This old port and warehouse district has been reborn into an urban setting, far different than Palermo.  The Faena is a happening place with a striking, modern design.  You are assigned an “Experience Manager” and Victor did a very good job for us.  A large gym, spa and outdoor pool and to the playfulness of the atmosphere.

On separate recommendations, we dined one night at Cabana Las Lilas on the legendary Argentinian beef that did not disappoint.  It was a bit overpriced relative to some other restaurants we experienced, but it was very good.  Another night we dined at La Parolaccia del Mare for seafood.  This was well priced and a great value, though the dressing on the salad could have been less generous. 

We also did a lunch at the newly revamped Four Seasons Buenos Aires which is shining anew.  In the Recoleta area, the hotel looks great and very comfortable in this very upscale part of town, more traditional than Puerto Madero.  It is Four Seasons, but you never forget you are in Buenos Aires, which is a plus. Those high end shops will be found here.

This fine pairing of Buenos Aires and Patagonia worked very well and gave us a true adventure of discovery.  Putting aside the challenges of packing, this is an ideal itinerary to fulfill your travel desires in the early part of any year. 

Let me know about your next travel adventure.

Hilton Smith