Valparaíso – The paradise valley?

… maybe! For us, not so much, but we heard, that it used to be quite a great place for love-hungry sailors back in the day – maybe that’s where the name comes from!
As you may have noticed by now, we were not the biggest fans of Valparaíso. But to be fair, it has its nice areas: The colorful houses of the UNESCO protected old town are charming and some pleasant time can be spent in roof top cafes and bars, overviewing, well, the “beautiful” port of Valparaíso. Some beers probably would help to increase the city’s flair, however, make sure not to just buy some cans of beer and drink them on the streets – that could earn you a substantial fine as drinking in public is a felony unless its New Years Eve or the major national holiday.
We enjoyed the free walking tour through the town as our guide was able to point out some interesting details about the city’s history. For instance, that prostitution used to be a major business in the city which can be recognized by the meaningful names of some neighborhoods like happy and pleasure hill. Also, we learned a lot about the omnipresent art in Valparaíso: Graffiti. Furthermore, we expanded our culinary horizon once again, when he took us to one of the best Empanada places in town – a stuffed pastry of which we prefer the fried version (we have dumped all our health consciousness by now).
We also went to explore Chile’s supposedly #1 beach town (according to our guide book) – Viña del Mar. We strolled along the beach for a while and decided to like it – at least more than Valparaíso.
Despite really having tried to like this place, we never found out why so many backpackers come here and sure enough we could not help but feel quite happy to board our bus to Mendoza (Argentina).

When in Valparaíso
Where to sleep: Hostal Tricontinental – very friendly host and safe location right across the police station.
What to eat & drink: Try a “Chorrillana” – that’s Valparaíso’s most popular dish and especially great if you like onions and french fries. The healthier choice would be to dine at one of the fish restaurants in Portales and try some Ceviche – raw fish in lemon juice, and again: lots of onions.
What to do: Free Walking Tour – friendly guides make sure you get to see Valparaíso’s nice corners…

The never ending search for the path in Cochamó Valley

If you want to stay in Cochamó Valley, you will have to first earn it: go to Puerto Montt, take a bus to Cochamó, then a cab to the trailhead and then hike for around 4 hours to the camp grounds or the Refugio. If you come with quite some luggage, you can rent a pack horse. We did, mainly because it just sounded really cool to rent a pack horse. We were happy we did in the end, because the trail into Cochamó Valley, which took us through amazingly beautiful rainforest, was quite an obstacle course due to recent heavy rains. The valley, which is surrounded by mighty granite walls, is a paradise not only for trekking, but also for passionate climbers, especially because many of the routes have not been climbed yet. When hiking here, it is wise to bring some kind of GPS device – the paths are not well marked and we ended up getting lost repeatedly in this humongous green labyrinth. However, talking to some fellow hikers and climbers, we found that that happened to everyone. Getting lost was not a bad thing though as it showed us just some more hidden corners of the valley which we had not planned to see. Most hikes here are quite challenging not only regarding finding the path but also because they are steep and often exposed. The most amazing hike we did was up Cerro Arco Iris. This hike lead to a fantastic overview of the whole valley and surrounding mountain ranges, however, it also included some serious climbing which at home would have been categorized as a via ferrata for sure. This place is super remote, and thus, on clear nights, the sky is overwhelmingly crowded with stars. On our last night we thus sat at a camp fire with some new friends, happily glancing at the sky above.
We had a wonderful time here but now, after some of the most intensive hiking of our trip so far, our legs are looking forward to some relaxing days on the coast. Also our clothes are soooo ready for laundry service after all the muddy trails.

When in Cochamó Valley
Where to stay: Refugio Cochamó – family-run mountain hut offering delicious homemade food in a spectacular environment.
What to do: Cerro Arco Iris – rewards advanced hikers with an unforgettable view.

San Carlos de Bariloche – a heaven on earth for outdoor lovers

For everyone crazy about the outdoors, Bariloche is a wonderful place. We LOVED it. If you like hiking, biking and kayaking, prepare for long days!
We started out with renting bikes and doing the Circuito Chico, a 30 km bike trail along the shores of the amazingly scenic lake Nahuel Huapi.
This route took us to some stunningly scenic viewpoints and made us decide to extend our stay for a bit. Once along the route we traded in our bikes for kayaks and paddeled around for a while in the crystal clear but icy cold water. Back in the city, we then had to take the hardest decisions of the day: which should be the first chocolate and ice cream manufactory to pick and which flavors to taste? Sugar shock shaken but satisfied we then continued to explore the rest of Bariloche’s center and eventually some more chocolate stores.
We topped off our first day here with watching the sun set over lake Nahuel Huapi and sharing, once again, a tasty Argentinian pizza. These normally come, like everything else, in huge serving sizes. That’s because people here love to share orders, no matter if it’s pizza, beer or anything else.
The next couple of days we spent mostly hiking, enjoying marvelous views and of course, tasting some more artisanal chocolates and ice creams. We also discovered, that hitchhiking is a great way to get around, as sometimes the buses just won’t come or hardly serve specific areas.
When we left Bariloche, we all agreed: We would be back here! For instance, skiing one of the volcanoes in winter would definitely be an amazing experience.

When in San Carlos de Bariloche
Where to sleep: Punto Sur Hostel – homemade bread for breakfast, free pasta nights combined with a central location and nice staff
Where to eat & drink: Rapanui – just one of the many chocolate stores in town where you can indulge in tasting delicacy chocolate as well as amazing ice cream.
What to do: Circuito Chico – rent a bike to get the big picture perspective on the areas beauty. You can buy a combo package and rent a kayak along the way as well.
And… don’t miss out on the amazing hiking which comes at any level you want. Our favorite one was Cerro Lopez – a steep hike which rewards with stunning views over lake Nahuel Huapi.

Patagonia – a moody paradise at the end of the world

El Calafate. We arrived in El Calafate on an almost sunny and not especially windy day. For Patagonia late season standards this was rather perfect weather. El Calafate is a very touristy but neatly designed town which is equipped with lots of mountaineering shops and plenty of restaurants.
When we arrived in the afternoon, we still had enough time to go see the nature reserve just outside of town on the shores of lake Argentina. Apart from flamingos, a myriad of other birds live here which we clumsily and more or less unsuccessfully tried to identify. But they were pretty birds for sure.
The next day we went to see Perito Moreno, the huge and famous glacier just 80 km outisde of El Calafate (that equals an approximately 1 1/2 h bus ride). We spent an awesome day at the glacier during which we observed some impressive glacier calvings (that is the event of massive pieces of ice breaking off the main glacier into the water undeneath) and went on a boat ride on lake Argentina. The highlight of the day, however, was our little hike on the glacier. Equipped, of course with crampons and ice axes (mostly in the save hands of our guides, but sometimes we could borrow them) we explored the glacier. Our guides were lovely fellows who made sure we only looked down into crevasses without falling in. Our perfect day ended with a glass of whiskey on glacier ice rocks and a delicious alfajor (we have already told you about these awesome cookies in one of our recent blogs).

When in El Calafate
Where to sleep: Bla Guesthouse – friendly and helpful staff at good prices.
Where to eat & drink: Ananda – a lovely situated restaurant overlooking lake Argentina and serving big portions at decent prices.
What to see: Glaciar Perito Moreno – if just seeing it from the distance is not enough for you, opt for tour operator Hielo y Aventura to get a close up and hands on experience.

El Chaltén. Just a three hours bus ride away from El Calafate is the tiny town of El Chaltèn, the undisputed hiking capital of Argentina and also a metropole in terms of capricious and crazy weather conditions. During the 4 days we spent here, we hiked around 20km on average per day and were able to experience 4 seasons to their extremes, sometimes even within a day: We got sunburned while sunbathing on green meadows, fought our way through pouring, almost horizontal rain and eventually even got snowed in heavily on our last day. The views we got, however, especially the ones during the sunny time windows, were uniquely breathtaking and more than enough of a reward. Despite all the experienced beauty, after 4 days of hiking in El Chaltèn, we were exhausted enough to almost look forward to the 24h bus ride to Bariloche*.

When in El Chaltèn
Where to sleep: Apartments Complejo Como Vaca – as chances are high you will have some rainy days, it’s great to have your own little refuge where there is enough space to hang up your cloth to dry – this place will provide you with all that!
Where to eat & drink: Cafe Matilda in El Chaltén – a place to enjoy home made meals and pass the time till the rain stopps or at least lightens up.

* Sadly our thrilled anticipation for the relaxing bus ride vanished and transformed into horrified consternation at the sight of the bus.

Welcome in the capital of steaks, tango and alfajores

Despite the 20 hours bus ride that took us to Bueos Aires, we arrived rather fit and of course already hungry for some Argentinian steaks. On our first day we strolled through the various parks of Palermo, a rather fancy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. This turned out to be quite a hiking training as every time we got out of one park, there was another one waiting on the opposite side of the street. If it hadn’t been for these up to 18 lane streets seperating the parks we wouldn’t even have guessed that Buenos Aires was a city of more than 3 million inhabitants.
The next day we set out to see some more of the city’s “barrios” (neighborhoods). We started our tour in Puerto Madero, a charming part of town, which combines elements of an old harbor with modern architecture. Just a few blocks away we then found our most favorite place of Buenos Aires: the “Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires”. Here crocodiles roam while locals have picnics on the shores of Rio de la Plata.
Eager to accustom to local habits, we went for a late dinner. So by the time we got the menu, we were starving and we were only stopped from ordering 1kg of steak each by the server’s horrified protest. In the end, we shared only 2kg of delicious steaks, grilled to perfection on the parrillada (that is the typical grill every trustworthy Argentinian restaurant must have for any reasonable meatlover to enter it). After dinner, we just had to follow the crowds on the streets to arrive at Plaza Serrano, a square full of busy restaurants, bars and clubs. Despite our late dinner, we were still too early, as most Porteños (that are the locals of Buenos Aires) were just ordering their dinners. Nevertheless, we happily barhopped our way around Plaza Serrano.
The next day, feeling slightly awkward, we went to see the city’s most famous attraction, the cemetary in Recoleta. This used to be THE place to be buried for anyone who could afford to build a little palast instead of a tomb stone and furthermore apprectiated to be “visited” by thousands of people every day. We strolled through the alleys of impressive but sometimes also slightly scary tombs, trying, like everybody else, to find the grave of the famous Evita – Eva Peron Duarte. We had expected this to be easy, however, the guidebook’s advice to “follow the crowds”, turned out not be very helpful. Probably due to the dim weather, we did not find any crowds to follow and everybody we asked seemed to run after someone else until finding out that that person was just as lost. Eventually though, we not only stumbled upon the grave but had also made new friends during our awkward “treasure hunt”. In order to make it easier for you, if you ever look for it, here are the coordinates: -34.588355, -58.393738
As it was Sunday, our next stop was Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, where a weekly market attracts many tourists who, like us, walked through the numerous stands where artisanal work is sold along with an array of antique pots and other stuff which we “sadly” had no room for in our backpacks. Thus, we moved on and for the rest of the day strolled along the “caminito” in La Boca, a purly touritsty but still cheerful part of town. After having a beer while learning some Tango moves, we all were ready for “homemade” steaks – and really, the meat here is so good, even the three of us were not able to mess it up!
Colonia del Sacramento is a picturesque town in Uruguay and luckily only a 1h speed boat ride away from Buenos Aires. Thus, we took our chance to touch down on Uruguaian soil and went there. Apart from cafés, restaurants and bars there is not much there. Nevertheless, we had an awesome, relaxing day just laying in the sun on the shores of Rio de la Plata, the interesting colored body of water shared by Argentina and Uruguay which sparkles in all shades of brown. Furthermore, we not only tried some Uruguain steaks and wine but also, for the first time, some maté. Drinking maté, which is immensly popular in numerous South American countries, is not at all comparable to having a normal cup of tea. It is a highly complicated ritual which we still haven’t managed to conduct to perfection, but we are working on it. Maté itself is a very strong herbal tea which is quite bitter. In fact it is so bitter, that it only starts tasting really good if consumed in combination with Alfajores, the wonderful but super sweet cookies found in every shop in Argentina and Uruguay. These cookies have been an important part of our diet ever since entering Argentina and we are seriously considering to open an import business in Europe. But back to our story: so upon returning to Buenos Aires, we already had to get ready for our next destination: Patagonia!!!

When in Buenos Aires
Where to sleep: Alvear Palace Hotel – here’s a place you can stay in if you have more money than us – we saw it, fell in love with it and hope that one day we earn enough to afford it! 🙂
Where to eat & drink: La Choza – premium steaks and huge portions at fair prices in the heart of Palermo. La Confitería Ideal – good place to enjoy a Tango show.
What to see: Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires – here you can take a break from the big city life of Buenos Aires.