Fantastic Patagonia Vacation for Four Friends - Feb 23 - Mar 4, 2020
Overall, we had a great trip and with minor exceptions all the logistics and tours went very smoothly. Some notes regarding our specific experiences in each destination:
- Gabriella, our guide for the first two days (Kawen Adventures) was exceptional. She was extremely knowledgeable and provided a wealth of information regarding the geology, flora and fauna, etc. She was very attentive and accommodating to our individual needs and interests.
- Both drivers (Tricky sp?, and Freddy) were very good. Freddy in particular was very attentive and functioned almost as a 2nd tour guide rather than just a driver. He shared Mate with us, helped with lunch, and assisted us in navigating some rough terrain when we hiked to a waterfall near Lake Traful.
- Kawen Adventures was very responsive with including Rupert in our tours when his plans for fly fishing on 24 and 25 February did not work out.
- The gluten free lunch we requested through Mery was not provided for Patricia on the first day. Gabriela made the effort to ensure a gluten free lunch on Day 2, but the lunch providers need to improve their ability to respond to dietary restrictions in a creative way.
- The Design Suites hotel was comfortable and the restaurant at the hotel was very good. However, the rooms did not have good sound insulation, and the showers did not drain properly. The front desk staff were a bit surly and not very customer friendly.
- We thoroughly enjoyed all of the tours and activities in the Bariloche area, including strolling around town.
- The white water rafting was well organized and a fun day. Lack of changing or bathroom facilities at the shore where we began the trip was a challenge. The lunch provided was very nice.
2. El Calafate:
- The Esplendor Calafate Hotel was comfortable and had a good breakfast. The front desk staff was very helpful. We had to arrange our own laundry service in town as the hotel's clothes dryer was broken. I don't understand why the hotel could not have taken our laundry to a private facility, but this was a minor inconvenience. There was a problem with elevator floor not stopping at the same level as the corridor floor, which resulted in Carol tripping and falling. The hotel did take the elevator out of service, and fortunately Carol was not injured.
- The Perito Moreno Glacier tour was spectacular, and our guide Natalya was exceptional. She was fun, knowledgeable and responsive to our interests and requests. The itinerary incorrectly identified the meal to be provided as "breakfast". In fact, we ordered our box lunches to take with us from the hotel's kitchen.
- The bus trip from El Calafate to Puerto Natales was OK, but not the most comfortable bus we have experienced. The bus departed about 45 minutes late. The immigration and customs process to enter Chile was time consuming, and we waited in line outdoors in a very fierce wind.
3. Puerto Natales:
- The Weskar Lodge Hotel was cozy and comfortable, although the rooms are a bit small (challenging when you are traveling with luggage). The Ennos Restaurant in the Weskar Lodge is very good, as were the breakfasts. Nicole at the front desk was exceptionally helpful, and even adjusted the breakfast serving time to accommodate our schedule. They also were very helpful with arranging taxis, and coordinating the pick-up times with Patagonia Planet.
- We clearly did not receive the same level of personal service from Patagonia Planet that we enjoyed with Kawen Adventures and Huellas del sur. When we went to the pre-tour briefing on 29 February, Macerana of Patagonia Planet told us we would be in a group of seven (7) rather than with a private guide as per our itinerary. She also seemed to exaggerate the difficulty of the trek. We worked with Ines of Say Hueque while at the briefing and Patagonia Planet honored the commitment for a private tour.
- The vehicle that Patagonia Planet sent to pick us up at the airport appeared to be a personal vehicle and was too small for all our luggage (so we had to hold some bags on our laps).
- They did not provide the gluten free lunch that we had requested for Pat.
- They required that we travel to their office for the briefing rather than meet us at our hotel.
- It appeared that the first time they really paid attention to the requirements that you had arranged for us was when we showed up for the briefing on Saturday evening.
- The the trek in Torres del Paine National Park with Rosanna (our guide) went very well. Rosanna made adjustments to the pace, and Carol decided to stay at the "refugio" (where the cafe and bathrooms are) while Rupert, Pat and I continued. We did not make it all the way up the the lookout over the lagoon, but we made it onto the moraine. We were tired and it was getting late, so we decided to return. On the way back, Rosanna took us to a 2nd lookout behind the ranger station where we ate our lunch. We got back to the vehicle at about 6 p.m. We had a very good day. A little rain at the end, but otherwise the weather was very good (and not windy), although when we arrived at the lookout the clouds and fog was coming in and partially obscuring the 3 towers.
- Overall, Patagonia Planet seems more focused on the physical logistics of moving bodies to the Park, and not really focused on providing personal service and an experience matched to the needs of the client. That said, Rosanna was very attentive and accommodating to our needs and we had a great day.
- The tour of the Balmaceda & Serrano Glaciers was enjoyable, although a bit crowded due to the size of the group on the boat and on the trail. We very much enjoyed seeing the sea lions, and the interesting flora along the trail to the Serrano Glacier. The itinerary indicated that we needed to get a taxi to town to the 21 de Mayo office, but the Weskar front desk was able to call and confirm that they would pick us up at the hotel on the way to the dock.
4. Santiago de Chile:
- Luis, our driver, was great. It was nice that he did all the transfers for our stay.
- The Cumbres Lastarria Hotel was very luxurious and comfortable, and the staff very helpful. We had a great dinner at BocaNariz just a short walk from the hotel.
5. Regarding the entire vacation, we are very pleased with everything. The only significant issues have been that the tour providers did not provide the requested gluten free meals for Pat (although Kawen Adventures made an effort to provide a gluten free meal for Pat on the 2nd day), and the disconnect with Patagonia Planet regarding the private guided tour to Torres del Paine.