Tag Archives: City

Cusco, Peru – Impressions

Cusco in Southern Peru is the historic capital of the Incan Empire from its establishment in the 13th century until the Spanish invaded in 1534 and sacked the place, destroying many of the Incan buildings so they could create their own city in its place. There are still a few Incan structures left, some temples and some think stone walls. Cusco was supposed to have been built in the shame of a Puma, a sacred animal of the Incans.

Like La Paz, Cusco is build in a bowl, although it’s nowhere near as large, only one or two of the bowl walls have housing built on them. And unlike La Paz, which is totally built using clay bricks, there’s not a single clay brick house in sight.

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Cusco is high in the Andes at around 3400m above sea level and has a lot of old spanish architecture dotted around the city…

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There are also many plazas around the central city and most have fountains. There are more fountains here than any other single place I’ve been to in South America. There are also more tourists here in Cusco than I’ve seen in one place elsewhere in South America. There’s good reason for this, Cusco is 71km away from the number one tourist site in South America; Machu Picchu. When walking around the city, there are groups of tourists 20-30 thick walking everywhere.

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There are quieter places in Cusco, many of the roads around the city central are cobbled and rather quaint.

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Then, while in Peru, one must try one of the delicacies, deep fried Guinea Pig. I compare it to dark duck meat, and while it was nice, it’s not something I’ll be eating all the time.

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On the streets of Cusco, around the central plazas, are lots of hawkers trying to sell different tours and the like. they go along with the many, many tour operators stores everywhere. But tours aren’t the only thing they’re hawking, they also push massages, suggesting you’ll need one after climbing to Machu Picchu.

My next stop is a small town called Aguas Caliente, literally ‘hot waters’ or hot pools. It’s only 4km from Machu Picchu and other than the Inca Trail is the only way to get there. My aim is to be up at 4am to make the climb to the hidden city to be there at sunrise and to miss most of the tourists. And while I love to hike, I plan to not do the Inca Trail as I call it Disneyland, there are just so many people walking it that it goes against why I like to hike, the serenity and quiet of nature. There are plenty of other places in Peru to hike and I have a couple planned.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

La Paz, Bolivia – Impressions

Nuestra Señora de La Paz (Our Lady of Peace) is Bolivia’s second largest city – after Santa Cruz de la Sierra – and is set high in the Andes mountains on the Altiplano (high plains in spanish). The city is built in a bowl, almost like a crater, with the rich and middle class living towards the lower areas in the centre. When the city began to expand the only way it could go was up, so in all directions the houses were built up the sides of the bowl. The poorer people of La Paz live in the brick buildings that span all visible walls. At night, the lights of the city are a marvel to see, both from the centre looking up and from the rim looking down.

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On the southern horizon of La Paz is Bolivia’s 2nd tallest mountain, Illimani, at just over 6,400m. Illimani is only the 18th tallest mountain in the Andes.

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As you arrive in La Paz by bus, you will no doubt travel around the top of the bowl and be amazed when you look down at the sprawling city below. However, for the first couple of days, the central city – no doubt where you’ll be staying – seems a little dirty and run down, with the calls of Bolivians trying to sell you whatever they can or the beggars silently holding their hands out to you. As you slowly explore the city over the first couple of days, it grows on you very quickly. There’s a certain charm about La Paz.

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La Paz has plentiful markets and shopping areas, but there’s a strange thing that I’ve found about Bolivia in general is that they don’t have just one store selling something, they have an entire block of small stores selling the same thing. As an example, I spent 2 days in the city of Santa Cruz before coming to La Paz and found a three story mall with about 100 shops in it, 95 of them selling mobile phones. Most of the stores were selling exactly the same models too. This is the same in La Paz, I walked through the hardware sales section of the central city and there were shop after shop selling exactly the same thing, with even smaller booth shops set up in front of the other shops selling the same thing also. It did make it easier when I was looking for a new sleeping bag, all the adventure stores were grouped together as well.

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The location of La Paz enables it to be a hub for many different activities, with plentiful hikes across the altiplano, the Death Road, and busses leaving for the jungle to the north or the salt flats to the south. In the city there are a couple of parks and miradors, but most things are just outside the city. When walking around the city, you will note a plentiful small plazas and the occasional piece of architecture. On one day, I caught a taxi to The Megacentre, a multi level mall with large movie theatre. When you enter the centre, you wander if you’ve left Bolivia.

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Lastly, unless you have come from the high areas of Peru or the salt flats, you are going to have to deal with the altitude. The lowest point of La Paz is 3,500m while the highest is 4,200m. So, for the first day in the city, you might have a serious headache and it will be hard work climbing the numerous hills or stairs, as the lack of air will have you gasping like crazy. There are plentiful ways to deal with altitude sickness, pre dosing with altitude pills, chewing on coca leaves, buying special coca powder (no, not cocaine, although that is derived from the leaves) or similar. After a few days it gets easier, although you may still have issues climbing steps.

My time in La Paz has been most enjoyable and I would recommend a visit if you are in the region.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Adventures

Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s second largest city. There’s so much going on in Rio that it’s one of the more interesting and entertaining cities I’ve been to in South America. Rio is nestled among some monolithic hills on the edge of the bay similar to the Glasshouse Mountains on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.

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The city is rather spread out with a pair of small national parks nestled within the city. And, unlike elsewhere in South America, there’s a decided lack of dogs in Rio. Which means there’s a lot less dog crap on the streets and that cats reign supreme in the city.

My 24 hour trip to Rio was my longest bus ride to date. Most buses I’ve travelled in have been semi-cama (half bed) – similar to many air line seats – while there have been a handful of full-cama – almost full bed. The bus to Rio was all full-cama and quite comfortable but it didn’t have a food service. This turned out well though as for al meals the bus stopped at buffet restaurants that charge by the kilogram .

When I arrived in Rio, I found it to be the dirtiest city that I’ve been in so far, with graffiti covering the majority of the buildings. It didn’t give me the safest feeling. I quickly caught a taxi to my hostel, which turned out to be a very small place with people jammed into 3 small rooms and very little else. One bathroom for 18 people is just not enough. The hostel was also in a central area of town and not in the more famous beach areas. It was very cheap, so I guess you get what you pay for.

A couple of days later, I did a walking tour around the city to some of the more prominent sites in the central city and Lapa, the famous samba party suburb next to it. The city has many well designed buildings, churches, museums and municipal theatres.

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The cathedral is like no other cathedral I’ve seen.

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It holds 10 thousand and has amazing acoustics. Looking up from the inside…

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Then, from the central city you can look out across the bay to the suburbs on the eastern shore.

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Next, I booked a full city tour, to do some more of the touristy things. It took me to the Lapa Steps built by a Chilean artist…

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… to the Lapa arches, Maracanã stadium before up the mountain to see the most famous of attractions in Rio, Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer.

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The hill it stands on gives great views over one part of the city and the peninsula that ends with Sugarloaf Mountain.

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Lasty, we were delivered to the end of the peninsula and took cable cars up to Sugar Loaf mountain. The views from both mountains are amazing.

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Getting to the top of the monolithic Sugar Loaf is a two step journey, the first up to Morro da RCA then up via the cable car another 1500m to Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain).

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We stayed up there until sunset and watched the lights of the city appear below us. Definitely a spectacle to be seen.

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After a week in a tiny hostel in the city, it was time to move to the beach, so I booked three nights at a Copacabana beach hostel. On the second day, I hired a bike and rode the length of the busy Copacabana and Ipanema beachs.

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While it’s the middle of winter, it’s a beautiful 27ºC here and the beach has plentiful sun bakers, kite surfers and beach sports. The classic brazilian bikini is everywhere…

Rio de Janeiro has been an awesome experience. It feels more like a group of very different cities all merged in together.

Next I head towards Bolivia, stopping off in the Pantanal, the worlds largest wetlands…

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Buenos Aires, Argentina – Take 2

After several months travelling around the southern portion of South America I returned to my starting point of Buenos Aires. On my initial visit, I’d only spent 3 days there and hadn’t seen a lot of the city. On my return visit, I stayed 10 days to hang out with a group of locals I’d arranged to meet and to see some of the sights of the city, like the main courthouse.

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On my second visit I staying in the central suburb of Palermo at a hostel chain called Hostel Suites Palermo, which had an above average but nothing to rave about. Palermo is described as an up and coming suburb, but with homeless people living at the end of the block perhaps ‘slowly up and eventually coming’ is closer to the mark.

Buenos Aires has 3 million people and is quite spread out. Because of its size and with the lack of national parks in the province, walking around the city was where most of my exercise came from. One afternoon, I made plans to catch up with a new friend and walked an hour along one of the main streets lined with shops. When I finally got to the meeting point, the shops continued off into the distance.

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The next day, I walked in the opposite direction along the same street.  An hour later I arrived in the city centre and again shops had covered the entire distance and stretched on into the distance.  On my walk I stopped in at El Ateneo Grand Splendid, the bookstore to end all bookstores, an old theatre that had been converted into a book store. It’s the most famous bookstore in Argentina but has very few books in english.

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Near the centre of town is a large group of parks and on the next sunny day I wandered around a pond full of geese and sat reading on a bench as skaters and cyclists went by.

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On the next day it was forecast to rain, so together with a girl I’d met at the hostel, we checked out some of the more cultural features of the city centre, several monuments which we called ‘boob monuments’, as they all contained carvings of topless women.  Then when it began to rain, we looked around several museums and galleries in the area.

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With Uruguay on the far side of aptly named Rio Uruguay, I caught a ferry across to Colonia on the next sunny day to tick that country off my travel list.

Overall, Buenos Aires felt different to my previous visit. But during that earlier I’d been suffering culture shock. The ever-present doggie doo was still a major problem in Buenos Aires. I did see a handful of people pick up after their mutt only to find the bags of doggie doo left in the middle of the footpath. Progress is slow…

Next I headed to my final Argentinian destination, Puerto Iguazú and the country’s other major attraction, Iguazú Falls.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Córdoba, Argentina – Impressions

Córdoba is the city in the centre of northern Argentina. It’s the capital of Córdoba province and is the second largest city in Argentina.

After a short 12-hour bus ride from Mendoza, I arrived in the late afternoon and was promptly upgraded from a dorm to a private room by the owner. Thanks to both Turning Point Hostel and quiet season! The hostel had many outdoor areas, as much of the northern Pampas region of Argentina is desert, and had several travel inspired murals on its walls.

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Córdoba is a large city and while it was more bustling than quaint Mendoza, it was quieter than hefty Buenos Aires.  A walk around the central city streets found a city full of churches and old architecture…

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And more…

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But the further afield you walk, the more interesting the buildings become…

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Every Saturday and Sunday evening in one particular set of streets is a fair, with a massive array of stalls strewn everywhere. It’s insanely popular, meaning the place was utterly crowded and has stalls selling all of the usual home-made market style goods.

Lastly, I took a bus out into the country to Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito for a day hike in Condor Gorge.

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After Córdoba, I returned to the country’s big smoke, Buenos Aires, to take another look at the city I’d begun my journey in 3 months earlier.

Things to do in Córdoba:

  • Visit Jesuit temples
  • Hang out in Sarmiento Park
  • Catch a bus out to Parque Nacional Quebrada de Condorito

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Mendoza, Argentina – Adventures

My bus trip from Bariloche took 19 hours. For such a long trip there are two different seat types on the bus: semi-cama, similar to airplane seats, and cama, which means ‘bed’ in spanish. For the overnight trip I went for the more comfortable cama seats, although while better than the semi-cama was nothing like a bed.  Comfortable as it was, I only got half a night’s sleep I arrived in the desert city famous for its wine.

Mendoza is a city of 850,000 people and my hostel, Hostel Lao, was a few blocks from the bustling city centre. After spending so much time in Patagonia, with its small towns and cities, to come to a big city bustling with people was a shock to the system. But once I got used to it, the jewel that was Mendoza began to sparkle.

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Still exhausted from my bus trip, I went out clubbing with a group from the hostel until 6am. The night life of Mendoza on a Friday night was certainly good, although beyond the smelly fact that smoking is allowed in their clubs, there were few issues for our little group of ‘gringos’ and an awesome night was had.

After spending Saturday quietly recovering, on the Sunday a small group of us headed out to Auga Termas. 45 minutes from the centre of town, the thermal hot pools were set in a beautiful location, hidden in a gorge between rocky ridges…

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There were many different pools of varying temperatures. Inside, there was a mud pool where you cover yourself, let yourself dry before washing it off in the blast showers. Included in our visit was a huge buffet lunch, Argentinian style. We ate and ate then enjoyed a couple of bottles of fine Mendoza wine outside in the sun, before heading back to the pools. Before we left, three of us had full body massages. A fantastic day.

A couple of days later I moved to Hostel Mora, a cheaper hostel just around the corner. While Hostel Lao was supposed to be the best hostel in Mendoza if not the continent, in my opinion, Hostel Mora did it better. Pretty much all hostels in Mendoza offer a free glass of wine each night, while Hostel Lao offered it five nights a week, on arrival Hostel Mora opened this 4.75 litre bottle of Malbec…

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The weather in Mendoza was brilliantly sunny. It is the desert after all and after 3 months in the colder south, it was nice to feel warm again.

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On the western side of the city is the massive Parque General San Martin and on the far side, another 45 minutes walk, is Cerro de la Gloria.  After a rough ten minute climb I made it to the top for good if not a little hazy views across the city. All trees in Mendoza are hand planted and watered using an irrigation system based on the snow melts of the Andes.

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You can’t come to Mendoza without going on a wine tour. Some choose to be driven around but for the keen, bikes can be hired for next to nothing and a self-guided tour done.

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I’ve been particularly enjoying the Malbec, a type of red wine that is very popular in Argentina. Riding bikes around the roads of the wineries after many glasses sounds dangerous, but it was actually rather refreshing. So too was sitting at the bodegas drinking wine and enjoying the view…

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After eight days in Mendoza it was hard to say goodbye. I had such a fun time, drank an awful lot of wine and met some great people from all over the world.

Things to do in Mendoza:

  • Walk through Parque General San Martin
  • Climb the towering Aconcagua, highest mountain in The Americas
  • Cycle a wine tour around Maipu wine region
  • Cycle a wine tour around Luján de Cujo region
  • Visit one of the other 12 wine regions
  • Explore Witches Cave
  • Have a steak dinner in the city

Next I bused to Córdoba, the city at the centre of Argentina.

The Wine Cycling Trail Wanderer.

Osorno, Chile – Impressions

Just an hour by bus north of Puerto Montt is Osorno, a small city in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia. Osorno sits under the volcanic cone of Volcán Osorno, is home of the National Cattle Ranch of Chile and has a heavy german influence.

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Collage courtesy of Wikipedia

Osorno is typical Chilean city with some very spanish markets, far too many stray dogs and cheap beer. I stayed at Hostal Vermont, 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal in the city centre. The main streets and shopping malls are characteristic of larger cities with many bustling shops and people.

I came to Osorno for one reason, a hike in the neighbouring Parque Nacional Puyehue called ‘Baños del Caulle’. The hike climbs the side of Volcán Puyehue to the rim, walks around the side and down to a set of hot springs, the ‘baños’. This had originally a 4-day hike but I discovered that two years earlier, an eruption on the baños side of the volcano had destroyed the hot springs. I decided to do the hike anyway, climbing to the volcanic crater and camping further down.

As I prepared for the hike, the hostel owner informed me that one of her previous guests hadn’t returned from the hike. Three other’s had seen him there and had returned, but he had not. This didn’t worry me, and it turned out two other guests at the hostel would be doing the hike also.

To get to the national park in low season I had to catch a bus to a point about 20km from the trailhead and hitchhike the rest of the way. I was finally picked up after walking 12km and dropped off at the hike’s registration point where I could see the cone rising into the clear blue sky. On arrival I was told the police had closed the hiking trails as they were conducting a manhunt for the missing man.

That night I stayed at a small hotel next to the National Park called Anticura.  Close by was the river and several waterfalls.

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By morning, they still hadn’t located the missing hiker and park was still closed  as they were continuing the search. The weather had also turned, so I decided to head back. I flagged down a bus heading from Bariloche, Argentina to Osorno and an hour later was back in town.

The next day, I boarded a bus to Pucón, the party capital of Chilean Patagonia, where I was planning a 6-day hike around a pair of volcanoes.

The missing walker did eventually turn up on day three of the man hunt.  He’d gotten lost on the route.

Things to do in and around Osorno:

  • Visit Lago Puyehue
  • Climb Cerro Pantoja
  • Relax in the Termas Aguas Callientes – Hot Springs

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Puerto Montt, Chile – Impressions

Puerto Montt is a large port city in the Lakes District of northern Patagonia, in Chile.  It’s also the northern port for the Navimag Ferry, on which I arrived in the city.

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Puerto Montt is large and bustling compared to Patagonia and stretches around the top of the harbour. On a clear day, rising above the city to the north is Volcán Osorno, but as it’s late autumn, clear days are rare. Here’s what I would’ve seen at a different time, thanks to the magic of Wikipedia:

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I arrived at the ferry terminal and collected my bags before heading up the hill towards the hospedaje. A hospedaje (pronounced: os-pe-da-hey) is someone’s home that’s been converted into a hostel or Bed & Breakfast. They have a more homely feel, but being run by local families, they can struggle as much with english as I do with spanish. On this occasion, we got by with a mix of both. This was also the first double bed I’d slept in for some time, so it felt divine.

I was only in Puerto Montt for a couple of days, so I only explored the city centre. Ten minutes from the hospedaje is the main road and after spending so much time in small towns, small cities or at sea, I was a little unnerved by the sheer number of people crowding the street. In fairness, it was market day and the footpaths were filled with street vendors and local shoppers. Civilisation can be intense when you’ve been away from it for so long.  In comparison, Patagonia was very quiet.

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This above only shows the beginning of it. I walked through the masses and eventually, near the other end of the long main road, I found the first western fast food restaurants I’d seen in South America: McDonalds and KFC, of course! After months of cooking in hostels or eating local cuisine, I couldn’t resist but found that KFC doesn’t have that same KFC taste in Chile. At the very end of the main road I found a large shopping mall, another symbol of my return to civilisation.

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…and from the same spot, taken of the harbour…

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While I didn’t do a lot of exploring, here are a few things you can do out of Puerto Montt:

  • Climb Osorno Volcano
  • Walk around Parque Nacional Alerce Andino
  • Take a scenic drive along Seno de Reloncavi

After my couple of days, I caught a bus north to the city of Osorno.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

El Calafate, Argentina – Impressions

Just one border crossing and a five hour bus ride north from Puerto Natales is El Calafate, nestled on the edge of Lago Argentino. Named after the yellow-flowered, blueberry plant found everywhere in Argentina, El Calafate is the major access point to all ends of the vast Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

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El Calafate was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. I stayed at I Keu Ken hostel slightly up the hill with excellent views of the lake. Having the new La Anonima, Argentina’s biggest supermarket chain, only two blocks away was a bonus. I was also lucky enough to arrive the night of an asado, an Argentinian BBQ, something they have every Friday night. They served the best blood sausage I’ve ever tasted and the meat just kept coming.  There was so much, in fact, I just couldn’t eat it all. It was a great dinner and cheap at 90 Argentinian Pesos (AU$18), which included beer and wine. I Keu Ken also had the best internet in Patagonia, allowing me to post the backlog of my blogs and photos.

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While the streets around the hostel aren’t sealed, the lower portion of the city has a certain beauty. In a bare countryside with yellow, over sheep-farmed fields, the garden town was filled with trees and flowers. The main street had the usual adventure stores and tour operators seen so commonly throughout Patagonia.

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My trip to El Calafate was merely a two-day stop off on the way to El Chaltén, a township at the northern end of the national park. After 12 days in Antarctica, and 9 days of hiking around Torres del Paine, I enjoyed a restful couple of days.

Things to do near town are:

  • Walk across the 30km long Perito Moreno Glacier
  • Sail through icebergs on Lago Argentino
  • See the rock paintings in the Walicho Caves
  • Explore the petrified forest of Bosque Petrificado La Leona

A lovely place to spend a few days and with an airport, it’s a centre point of travel through lower Patagonia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Puerto Natales, Chile – Impressions

Three hours by bus north of Punta Arenas is the port city of Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales was originally a beef producing fishing port, but over the years has embraced tourism based on its proximity to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the most popular and most expensive national park in Chile.

Because of the number of people coming to walk the ‘W’ trek – the most popular hike in the national park – the city has expanded rapidly. While it still has a small town feel, the plentiful hostels, tour operators, adventure stores and restaurants makes it feel bigger.

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There are multiple main streets crisscrossing the city, a restaurant square, a tourist triangle and a brand new supermarket. Along most of the north and eastern horizons are the fantastic mountains of the Andes, including Torres del Paine Massif, while along the north and west of the city is the harbour.

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Puerto Natales is all about Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Every hostel and many convenience stores – not to mention the adventure stores – hire out equipment, arrange tours and organise bus trips to the national park. And every day at 3PM at a bar called Base Camp there is an hour-long free lecture about the hike.

The hostel where I stayed, Backpackers Kaweskar, was set up specially for the hike and can provide everything you could need, even discounted transport fees. While its owner, Omar, is crazy (in a good way), is very knowledgable about the hike and definitely loves his football. While I was there he spent two solid days playing FIFA 2012 on the X-box with one of his friends. It was the low season and he did pause when needed by someone, but it made the place feel down to earth. Definitely a recommended place to stay.

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Puerto Natales is also the southern port of the Navimag ferry. The ferry wends its way through the Patagonian fiords for five days to Puerto Montt in the lakes district at the northern end of Patagonia.

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Puerto Natales is in a class of its own and should be on everyone’s visit list if they wish to hike anywhere in Patagonia.

From Puerto Natales:

The Lone Trail Wanderer