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Just Possibly the Land for Which Coastal Cruising Was Invented
South America Direct – Chile TravelMart Latin America meets this month in the Lakes Region town of Frutillar — an occasion to salute a distant land of excruciatingly gorgeous wilderness, albeit with luxury touches to surprise and delight even those who think they’ve seen everything. MARK ZUSSMAN
or reasons that obviously have everything to do with Chile’s Through-the-Looking-Glass geography, much recent tourism to this land down at the bottom of the world has been via cruise vessel. Chile may in fact be spectacular, dazzling, awesome (every visitor will find his or her own preferred adjective) from virtually any vantage point. Still, there’s nothing quite like having a stretch of chilly blue South Pacific ocean at your feet, then a colorful little fishing village at the edge of a fjord in the middle distance and, for background, a series of peaks of the majestic snow-capped Andes. These cruises, though, come in various colors and sizes, so either be pretty sure you know what it is you’re buying or consult a tour operator specialist. The 64-cabin Mare Australis (built in 2002) and its sister ship the Via Australis (2005), each with 64 cabins, for a total capacity of 136 passengers, cruise up and down and back and forth through the legendary waterways at the very foot of the South American land mass. Go south from here and, except for a couple of islands, there’s no more land until Antarctica. Board one of the two virtually identical cruise ships on Saturday or the other on Tuesday, September through to April, in the Chilean Patagonian city of Punta Arenas on the strait named for Ferdinand Magellan and sail for five days and four nights through inlets, bays and fjords, then into the Beagle Channel (named for the vessel on which Darwin visited, nigh unto two centuries ago) and along through so-called Glacier Alley to disembark at Cape Horn National Park, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans come toe to toe. Disembark again at Puerto Williams, the southernmost regularly inhabited settlement in the world, and wind up on Day Five in the almost equally southerly, but larger, Argentine Patagonian city of Ushuaia. Cruceros Australis, the owner and operator of these vessels, will bring a third and somewhat larger cruise ship, the Stella Australis, on line for the 2010-11 sailing season. In the meanwhile, passengers booking a double cabin (but not on every departure, so check the fine print) earn a bonus two free nights at a luxury Patagonia hotel. Book by December 31 this year and there’s also a 10 percent discount. (Yes, the cruise is available in the other direction, Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, as well, but then you’re opting for a three-night version, not a four-night version, of the experience.) Skorpios Cruises’ M/N Skorpios II sails every Saturday from the Patagonian city of Puerto Montt for a seven day/six night excursion south through picturesque channels and fjords and estuaries to a stunning climax at the San Rafael Glacier whose
Frutillar — where TravelMart takes place this month.
icy fingers rise hundreds of feet above the level of the sea. The ice here is 30,000 years old, and, following an old tradition, passengers are encouraged to toast it, as they slide between icebergs on the ship’s tender, with specially aged whiskey. Cabins have an agreeable luxurious coziness — as if you were in a lodge, not on board a ship — and the dining room features the finest South Chilean seafoods from local king crab to giant mussels, oysters, sea urchins, barnacles, salmon, croaker, sea pike, an eel-like creature called kingclip, as well as, for carnivores, red and white meats, and let’s not forget the curanto. Curanto is the South Chilean signature dish. Combine clams, mussels, sausage, potatoes, various vegetables, chapaleles (look it up in the Wikipedia, if you need to know). Cover each layer with Chilean rhubarb leaves. Stew. The wines available on board are Chile’s best. The M/V Skorpios III sets sail every Saturday from Puerto Natales, some 150 miles north of Puerto Arenas, for a five-day cruise through the channels and fjords of Patagonian Chile’s Southern Ice Field to the Pío XI Glacier, the largest in South America, in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park and then, climactically, to the half mile-long Amalia Glacier, whose spooky towering whiteness appears to hang suspended from the craggy mountains behind it. See for yourself why, by its “Natural Beauty” yardstick, FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index lists Chile among the Top Ten destinations on the planet. With discounts, rates can run as low as $1,120/PAX on the II and $1,600 on the III. During the South American cruise season, which coincides CONTINUED ON PAGE
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with the North American winter, there are also numerous well-known cruise vessels plying Chilean waters all the way up to Valparaíso, the picturesque port city serving Chile’s capital of Santiago, and then, in some cases, continuing even farther north to the fringes of the Atacama Desert, often on their way to Peru or even the Panama Canal and points beyond. Passengers who want to see Chile this way might board in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Rio or Santos (Brazil), or, for those who want a real running start on the Chilean experience, on a repositioning cruise that starts all the way back in Lisbon or Barcelona or Genoa. I haven’t done one of these round-the-Horn cruises myself but I have friends who have. They started off in Rio. They capped the cruise with what they say was a great week in and around Santiago, and they took particular pleasure, they report, in their daily mild stewing in Chilean cabernets, carmenères, merlots and malbecs. (The repositioning cruises, by the way, aren’t necessarily even so very expensive. For many clients, time availability will in fact be more the issue than money.) Also be aware of Antarctic Shipping’s 39-cabin cruise ship Antarctic Dream, which between the months of December and February operates 11-day cruises between the Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica itself, and this is not necessarily an experience only for people who’ve been everywhere else on the planet. Antarctica, to be sure, may not capture the imagination of all. It does capture the imagination of many. Antarctic beauty is different, needless to say, from the beauty of a palmshaded tropical beach, but if you take the trouble to look at some photos of the towering mountains of ice and snow you can bear witness yourself that this remotest of continents, larger than all of Europe, is astonishingly beautiful in its own special way. Its beauty is an awesome beauty. Yes, there are shore excursions to the Antarctic land mass itself — as many as ten of them, weather permitting. The Dream is generally escorted both down and back by albatrosses, storm petrels Whales allow themselves to be observed up close.
Mid-Summer Skiing At publication time, the Chilean ski season is beginning to wind down, but that means only that it’s time to start thinking about the 2010 Chilean ski season — particularly for those skiers who, like certain golfers, will never succeed in wrestling their obsession to submission and the problem in the Northern Hemisphere summer months can be summarized in one very brief lament: Where? Chile’s best-equipped ski resorts include Portillo (with one five-star hotel — this is the only South American ski center ever to host the Ski World Cup); Valle Nevado (with one five-star, one four-star, and one three-star hotel as well as an apartment complex — this is the most extensive ski resort in Chile and it’s a mere 27 miles from Santiago); Termas de Chillán (with one five-star with spa and casino, one smaller and somewhat less grand hotel, 4•
This is the month of August, folks.
and apartments — this one’s a touch harder to get to but it’s got 28 gorgeous runs including one, eight miles in length, that is South America’s longest). Most ski packages are booked directly with the resorts themselves, but both PowderQuest in the U.S. and Chilean Ski.com are good for sorting out the doubts and the uncertainties. Of course, to name Chile’s Big Three ski resorts is just to scratch the powdery surface — both of resorts with good or extravagant infrastructure (lifts, snow-making equipment) and those of modest infrastructure. And there are other places to ski that aren’t resorts at all. Here the solution is heliski (or, so as not to risk confusion with the capital of Finland, heliski). Interested? Read on.
Nomads of Sea and Ski You can in fact get a lift on a helicopter out of very accessible Valle Nevado (see above) to any number of untrodden slopes for prices as low as $720 for a group of four and with an experienced guide thrown in as part of the package. What follows is for people who do not count pennies. For the past couple of years, a company called Nomads of the Sea has been operating a cruise vessel, by name Atmosphere, with 14 staterooms (for a maximum passenger count of 28) and further accommodations for a crew of 32 out of the South Chilean port of Puerto Montt. More than comfortable enough. Excellent food. Fine wine. What justifies the price tag of $8,600 a week/person (plus VAT) for non-fishermen and top prices bordering on $30,000/week for people eager to go full blast is the array of adult toys deployable from the aft decks and still more to rendezvous with at remote locations — an 18-passenger Zodiac Hurricane RIB with engines powerful enough to crank the speed to 55 mph, four inflatable Zodiacs, half a dozen 250 and 400 hp Rogue jet-boats, an equal number of drift boats, ocean kayaks and touring kayaks and, for the cherry on the cake, two bright red six-passenger Bell 407 choppers to carry passengers and equipment alike into otherwise inaccessible rivers and streams for what many people now tout as the world’s best fly fishing. In the months of September, October and November, the www.travelworldnews.com • Travel World News
LATIN AMERICA Atmosphere is available for charter to skiers. Sail typically on a Saturday evening out of Puerto Montt. Early Sunday morning, the two helicopters will start airlifting skiers to unbelievable downhill locations, some quite possibly never previously explored except by Nomads’ own experts, along the mountainsides as far south as Aysén. Says Nomads’ marketing manager Pablo Negri, “You go out and do four or five runs in the morning. Return to the Atmosphere for lunch. Then, if you like, go out and do some more runs in the afternoon.” The pilots are Chilean Air Force veterans with thousands of hours of experience in high mountain flying. Chief guide Bob Echene is a pioneer in Andean heliskiing.
Special-Interest Chile The comprehensive two-week tour of Chile — comparable to a comprehensive two week tour of Spain or a comprehensive two-week tour of Italy — has been something of a rarity to date. (But see the sidebar “Enter Metropolitan Touring.” Things may be changing.) Problem is that, though Chile is somewhat larger than France in total area and roughly one and a half times the size of Spain, it’s France as if squeezed through a sausage machine. Whereas most of Chile has a girth of give-or-take 200 miles, you start off in the other direction, north-to-south, and you’re committing to a trek roughly equivalent to that between Los Angeles and New York. People wonder: What does the top end, which is desert, have to do with the bottom end, which is alpine? Foreigners, as a result, simply haven’t had much drive to know the country top-tobottom as a single coherent unit. Middle-class and even upper-middle-class U.S. tourists typically pass through Chile, if at all, on shore excursions from cruise vessels, sometimes on ski vacations, or maybe on the Grand Tour of all of South America — a little samba and a little Sugar Loaf in Rio, a peek at Iguazu Falls, a little tango and a little shopping in Buenos Aires; then comes the breathtaking high-mountain crossing from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt in Chile, some breath-catching in Santiago and on to Machu Picchu in Peru, not that there aren’t variations. Americans who spend extended time on the ground in Chile, business travelers aside, are for the most part either the very rich or what financial institutions nowadays sometimes call the mass affluent, one notch down from the very rich, and, for these two groups, Chilean tour operators offer special interest tours galore. Puerto Varas-based Protours, for example, makes something of a specialty of what might be called “directed” self-drive programs that include both vehicle and hotel bookings — the latter implying obviously that travelers are not totally free to wander wherever their noses might lead them; when they set out each morning, they already know where it is they’re going to be in the evening. A six-day/five-night program called Volcano CONTINUED ON PAGE
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Country, to take a single instance, has travelers picking up a car at the airport at Temuco, the capital of the Araucanía Region, taking a look at the local crafts market and then driving an easy 78 miles up to the Malalcahuello National Reserve — with great views along the way of the Tolhuaca, Llaima and Lonquimay Volcanoes. After an overnight in or close to the reserve, Day Two is devoted to exploring the native forests, waterfalls, hot springs and lagoons of the Malalcahuello Reserve and the Tolhuaca National Park. Day Three, with a drive of approximately 100 miles, is given over to the Conguillío National Park, with its centerpiece Llaima Volcano. Day Four, with a drive of a mere 35 miles, focuses on the historic town of Villarrica at the eastern end of the lake that bears the same name, and so on. Among the many other selfdrive options: Northern Chile Highlights, Grand Patagonia. AquaMotion, also Puerto Varas-based, offers a ten-day motorcycling tour of the Lake District; an 11-day Patagonian Classic Car tour in which you cross the Andes in a convoy of vintage Studebakers; three days of bird watching in the wetlands and prairies of South Central Chile; a 16-day Chile/Argentina golf tour; a 15-day motorcycle journey in Chile and Peru; a five-day so-called “stardust” tour devoted to archeo- and ethnoastronomy, as well as to astronomy proper (sorry, you’ll have to do your own investigation if you want to understand why Chile is such a privileged location for astronomical observation), and this is not to exhaust it. Cascada Expediciones offers a nine-day rafting adventure on the rugged Futaleufu River. Or, if that’s not enough, why not the same company’s seven days of hiking in the savage Torres del Paine National Park? Sorry, it would just take too many words to describe this. Numerous tour operators offer beautiful and spooky Easter
Island, the Chilean territory far out in the South Pacific, with its ranks of hulking stone monoliths like apishly mannered chess pieces on steroids. Two other categories of specialinterest Chilean tourism merit special mention, below.
The Grape Doesn’t matter if you live in Oregon or New Jersey. If you’re eating fresh asparagus or fresh grapes in the North American winter months, chances are pretty good that the place they’ve just gotten off the plane from is Chile. Chile is one of South America’s great economic success stories and Chilean agriculture is a significant part of it. If you are visiting Chile in person, though, or if you are sending clients to Chile, likelihood is that the agriculture that’s going to be of primary interest to you is viniculture. Chile has risen to fourth place among the countries from which the U.S. imports wines. Concha y Toro, Cousiño Macul and other Chilean labels have come to be widely recognized — and sought after — in the U.S. Chilean wines have consistently taken high honors in blind tastings and other competitions. Chilean vineyards, as it happens, are spread out along a north-south corridor nearly 1,000 miles in length — though, happily for the short-legged, there are more than enough fine ones in the valleys right around Santiago. SportsTour, a Santiago-based company, has a nice program of four days and three nights for people who like both wine and golf. The first day involves a tour of Santiago itself. On Day Two it’s off by car to the nearby Colchagua Valley for a visit first to the Viña Bisquertt with its vineyards, its cellars, its gardens, its collection of old horse-drawn carriages. Then it’s on to Viña Viu Manent for a look at the wine-making process itself — and tastes of reds that have been touted in Wine Spectator,
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LATIN AMERICA Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal and elsewhere. In the afternoon: a visit to the Colchagua Museum with its unusual catch-all collection ranging from 300 million-year-old fossils to colonial liturgical art to modern agricultural equipment and there is much much more. Day Three gets devoted to golf at the Hacienda Santa Martina. Other tour operators — and there are many — offer other sallies, of various sizes and shapes, both fully-escorted and self-drive, into the Chilean wine country. Most tour operators will also be happy to arrange for the Wine Train, which starts off convivially at 10:30 on Saturday mornings on early 20th century rolling stock (and behind a coal-fired antique locomotive) on a 90-minute snail’s-pace crawl through the Colchagua Valley vineyards for an early afternoon lunch rendezvous at the Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel and then yet more conviviality and bibulousness at the nearby Viña Santa Cruz. Another two invaluable resources: The 11 “wine routes” recommended by Sernatur, the Chilean government tourism authority, and the Wines of Chile pages.
The Desert Some visitors to Chile head south to the mountains and the snow and the ice fields. Others head north to the Atacama Desert, supposedly the world’s driest, where the town of San Pedro de Atacama functions in effect as Chile’s Palm Springs. See, for example, the four-day/three-night excursion to the sere landscape that’s offered by Santiago Adventures. Or, just for the visual pleasure of it, take a look at the Web sites of a couple of the local lodgings: Awasi, the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa, the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa, the Kunza Hotel and Spa, the Terrantai Lodge.
ALL-INCLUSIVE TIERRA ATACAMA HOTEL & SPA SERVES UP ADVENTURE AND INDULGENCE Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa sits at the gateway to the Atacama Desert in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, a desert oasis in the dramatic Chilean Altiplano. Positioned in the highest and driest place on earth, Tierra Atacama guests are surrounded by surreal sandscapes, salt valleys, lush river basins, and massive volcanoes. Tierra Atacama is centered on an adventure spa concept and offers guests daily excursions through the altiplano as well as indulgent, locally inspired treatments at the Uma Spa. Garnering exceptional feedback since its opening in February 2008, Tierra Atacama has been named to Condé Nast Traveler’s “Hot List,” Travel + Leisure’s “It List” and has been featured as a Travel +Leisure’s top 10 Dream Trip. Owned by the Purcell family, which operates the renowned Chilean ski resort Ski Portillo, the 32-room Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa is an all-inclusive luxury resort. Rates include accommodations, three meals a day and open bar, Travel World News • www.travelworldnews.com
ENTER METROPOLITAN TOURING There is all of a sudden a major new player on the Chilean travel scene — with official launch, and lots more details to be announced, at the TravelMart Latin America at the end of this month of September, in Frutillar and Puerto Varas. The player is Metropolitan Touring, founded in 1953 in Ecuador and winner of the 2008 Latin American Travel Association’s award for Best Ground Agent in South America. Chile will now become the fourth country in which Metropolitan has established ground operations. Metropolitan’s own native Ecuador came first. Peru followed. Next was Argentina. Metropolitan Touring’s CEO, Mr. Roque Sevilla, emphasized that the move into Chile reaffirms the company’s commitment to provide clients with a Latin America one stop shopping solution, combined with the Destination Management expertise of specially trained hands on local staff in each country and an extremely light and gentle footstep that will always contribute to preserving, or even enhancing, the integrity of ecosystems. Metropolitan’s new Chile brochure features a product that has been in relatively short supply previously, and that is a tour designed to familiarize visitors with this remarkable country as a whole. The 16 day/15 night extravaganza starts off in Santiago, with its mix of modern hotels and restaurants, its old city center, its fascinating museums, and its world-class shopping. There’s a pass through the nearby Casablanca Valley, famous for its vineyards and in particular for its Chardonnays. There’s a visit to the quaint port city of Valparaíso. There’s a jump of 2,200 miles off the coast to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, with its monumental stone statuary. Then its up to the arid Atacama Desert on the border with Bolivia and at last down to the lakes and glaciers of the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. A 12 day/11 night version of the experience leaves out only the Patagonian South. Metropolitan’s manager in Chile will be former LAN Airlines’ executive Critóbal Luna.
Metropolitan Touring, www.metropolitan touring.com daily excursions (either two half-day excursions or one full-day excursion), use of the spa facilities, and transfers from the Calama Airport. In 2009, Tierra Atacama debuted three new themed vacation experiences, pairing photography education, wine tasting and culinary adventure. The “Gastronomic Adventure,” with guest chef Ruth Van Waerebeeck, was highly successful, and hands-on cooking classes as well as visits to local artisan cheesemakers, farmers and restaurateurs were well received. With nearly every traveler seeking cost savings, Tierra Atacama offers a free night at The Ritz-Carlton Santiago, immediately before or after visiting Tierra Atacama, with the purchase of a minimum four-night, all-inclusive package at Tierra Atacama. The offer is valid from November 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010. All-inclusive rates start at $840 ppdo for two nights. Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, 800-829-5325, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.tierraatacama.co •