Out of Patagonia

The last days in Patagonia, Chiloé Island, and some tourist hotspots in Chile’s and Argentina’s Lake District. Then the long drive thru the pampa to reach Mar del Plata on Argentina’s east coast. Finally, to Tandil on the way to Buenos Aires.

Chaitén 2 Tindal

Castro, 17th January

Early morning in Chaitén. Our last village on Carretera Austral. We take the ferry crossing to Chiloé Island. 6 1/2 h to arrive.

The guys insisted that we have to be at the pier at 6am to make sure that the ferry will not leave without us 2h later. 

Arriving there, the ferry is nicely anchored a few 100 m offshore. At 7.30am we can finally board. No problem at 8am we leave on time. They just had a dozen of cars to load.

The trip – not too interesting. Just a few hilly islands we pass and the narrow entrance into the Fjord of Castro.

Castro – the rather small hub of Isla Chiloé. A bit of wild west feeling. Ok to sneak around, observe the Chilois’ understanding of urban lifestyle, and marvel at their famous church Iglesia de San Francisco.

Finally, not to forget these eateries where you can munch on all kinds of incredible monsters from the sea.

We’d like to see a little bit more of Chiloé. Of course, you don’t expect incredible landscapes. It’s hilly farmland, some lakes, and some national parks with next to no trails.

We’re heading to the west. There’s a short hike to the coast. To a place well-known to insta-selfie-addicted guys: la Muelle de La Alma.

Finally, the hike is not really thru pristine nature. The trail is just on a dusty farm road. Nevertheless, the coastline is pretty nice. A little less appreciated are the countless horseflies. A real plague in Patagonia in summer.

Then on to the small town of Chonchi. Supposedly the nicest settlement on Chiloé.

As in many other places on the island in the town center, there’s 1 of these famous wooden churches. Since 2000 an UNESCO world heritage.

Ancud, 18th January

Next morning – new adventures. On our way to the northern part of Chiloé – to Ancud – we plan to visit a few more of these World Heritage churches. To start with we cross with a ferry to the Isla de Quinchao where most of the churches are found. Straight to its proud capital of Achao. A cluster of houses around the church. Still, it’s the island’s largest settlement.

Then on to the island’s southernmost point. On the way a look at the church in Quinchao. Unfortunately, it’s only accessible on 2 afternoons a week. And we’re on a wrong day.

On to Matao. Far in the south. Another closed church. It’s under renovation. Looks like it takes a few years to finish.

So, we drive back to the ferry to Chiloé Island. And hope we can see there a little more.

The church in Dalcahue. Just on the other side of the ferry. By chance, it’s open. They also apply strict opening times. Of course, without any harmonization to all other localities.

On to the village of San Juan. Just a few houses on the shores of the sea. And a huge church. No idea what the urban planners expected to happen to this place some 150 years ago.

At the beach quite a number of fishing boats under construction.

On to Tenaún. The last church – promised. And probably the most famous 1. Famous for its 3 towers.

It’s afternoon. We’re on our way to Ancud. On the way a short stop at the village of Quemchi.

Ancud. A pretty nondescript town. Maybe except for the walkway along the beach from our sleepery to the town, a very nice eatery –  the Club Social Baquedano , and the sunset.

Neltume, 20th January

Next morning we’re on our way to see the penguins at the Islotes de Puñihuil. This short boat tour is sold as the ultimate must-have-seen-sight in northern Chiloé.

The drive: pretty nice landscape – some wetlands and along the coast.

Arriving there it’s pretty visible how commercialized the penguin tour is. Every 15′ a boat leaves for the 45′ trip to see the penguins. Everything is super efficiently organized to make sure that the maximum of people is channeled thru.

Strangely, as they never have installed a pier the visitors are pushed in a kind of trolley to the boats. 

After 1h we’re already back on the road to Puerto Varas on the mainland. A little over 100km.

Well, the tour – is it worth it? Probably yes if you won’t see penguins somewhere else. For all others probably not really. There are a few 100 animals on these islands. And every 15′ a boat passes by to see them.

About 30′ to reach the ferry crossing from Chiloé to the mainland. Of course, we’re slightly concerned when we discover a queue nearly a km long waiting for the ferry. Nevertheless, it just takes 1/2h and we’re on the way.

Definitely, we didn’t expect any Chilean ferries to be so well organized.

Arriving in Puerto Varas Prado asks politely if we could not go to the guy of this lubricenter we’ve been last time when in town. Looks like Prado develops some preferences on car docs.

Of course, we can. True, the oil has to be changed. Still, more important is the cleaning of the air filter and the 1 of the ac. Especially as replacements are out of stock.

Then it’s already time for some beers and the world’s best ceviche at Peru Austral’s.

Next morning. After a nice cup of coffee and exchange with Conny’n’Simon we drive on towards San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina. Today we plan to reach Neltume. Nearly 300km, shortly before reaching the border to Argentina.

The hell of a lot of traffic. All local holidaymakers on the way to their ultimate adventure, or showing grandma Juanita the beauty of the Lake District.

Weather in the morning is definitely Patagonian style, but later it improves considerably.

Arriving in the late afternoon in Neltume we make some pretty strange experiences.

It’s definitely difficult to find accommodation here. Not because there’s none, all is booked, it’s too lousy, or too expensive. No, it’s simply because nobody wants to accept a credit card. What the hell, we just have a few Chili Pesos left for this evening’s dinner and tomorrow’s ferry we need to take.

Whatever, finally we find a very nice tiny house. Once the guy has charged his card reader we can even pay him.

Then he tells us, that at the ferry they will accept CC only. Absolutely no cash. And a little later we discover that all restaurants in the village are already closed. 

Again – what the hell. Suddenly we could pay for any accommodation available with our cash we cannot spend as planned. Knowing that it’s absolutely not worth changing any Chili Pesos in Argentina, we buy with the whole amount expensive Chilean fuel.

Finally, we cook some pasta and empty our last bottle of Chilean wine.

San Martin de los Andes, 21st January

The next morning, we have to be quite early at the ferry in Puerto Fuy. As the rules of the ferry company do not permit to buy tickets in advance, nor to reserve within less than 48h of departure we have to queue up today.

As experienced several times, the Chilis seem to like optimizing or converting simple issues into a bureaucratic nightmare. Probably the Puerto Fuy ferry is just another proof of this tendency. 

Finally, after queuing up for 1 1/2 h we can buy the tickets. Anyway, the ferry is even not occupied by 50%.

Then, we’re on our way to cross Lago Pinhuelco. About 1 1/2 h to reach the other end.

Just a few km left to the border. Despite its reputation to be 1 of the quietest border posts in this area, we have to queue up. Many Chili tourists on the way to the Argie’s Seven Lakes. Yeah, high season at its best.

Then a few km to the Argie’s border post. There the big surprise for the Chili drivers: they engaged the police to check everybody’s car insurance for Argentina. Most Chilies don’t have 1.

After 20′ we’re done. Now just 50 km of a rough gravel road to reach San Martin. The next tourist hotspot.

Last time – some 2 months ago – we experienced the town as an extremely crowded tourist hotspot. Not really worth staying any longer than necessary. 

That impression has not really changed. Even if we’re pretty lucky to quickly find a sleepery with parking for Prado. 

A stroll thru the village. Masses of local tourists sneak around, admire the numerous posh shops, and search constantly for some overprized handcrafted chocolate.

More interesting is what they offer along the beach: an official show car event. All kinds of vehicles, most of them over-tuned, rebuilt to dysfunctionality and equipped with music systems any rave parade would dream of. Others just oldtimers in any degree of decay.

And dinner in such a crowded tourist hotspot? Easy, don’t head for a gourmet menu carefully prepared by a 5* cook. You’ll only pay a lot for that, even if your succulent meal got directly from the supermarket’s deep freezer into the restaurant’s microwave.

So, the better alternative? 1 of Argentina’s excellent tablas in a streetside bar. Of course, with an even better IPA from the local brewery.

Bahia Blanca, 23rd January

Next morning we’re ready to cross Argentina’s Pampa. This huge area between the Andes in the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. A mostly arid, or semi-desert landscape – famous to be not really too interesting. Nearly 1500km to drive.

Today we’re just heading for Neuquén. Some 450km to the east. The 1st part along Rio Limay, then thru flat land.

Neuquén – a pretty animated and lively town. And the self-declared gateway to Patagonia. True coming from the north or the east it’s the place where you enter Argentina’s Patagonia. Nevertheless, due to the temperature of 35° in Neuquén you rather don’t have the impression to be in Patagonia.

In the evening some action organized to keep non-holidayers happy. They even offer some alternatives to Tango – Argentinian belly dance.

The next morning further eastwards – now definitely out of Patagonia. 600km to reach Bahia Blanca at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. A drive thru the pampa: pampa left, pampa right, pampa in front, and pampa behind us.

Late afternoon we reach the town. Time for a stroll thru its center. Very quiet, not too much to see. Still, Monika takes the opportunity to grab the world’s best ice cream – at least according to her taste.

Mar del Plata, 25th January

Then we’re on our last leg to the east coast. To Argentina’s famous sea resort Mar del Plata 450 km away. A town with an incredibly bad reputation due to the masses of local tourists during the peak of holiday season. Well, let’s see what to expect. We’re currently in the highest season.

Often a lot of traffic. The landscape changes to the east. No longer this desert-like bushland. Now green fields and a lot of sunflower fields.

Arriving in beautiful Mar del Plata in the afternoon we quickly learn what means local overtourism in Argentina. Really a lot of hotels and apartments. Mostly rather rundown. As usual in a bigger town some problems to find parking high enough for Prado.  We even experience a nice receptionist changing every 2’ her mood and accordingly the price of the rooms. Whatever, finally we find a reasonable sleepery – even not far from the famous beach. And a secure place for Prado. Well, we suppose that’s the introduction to Mar del Plata. Let’s see how it goes on.

Time for a beer. Then dinner. Surprisingly good seafood. Fortunately, we discover the queue in front of the eatery only when we leave the eatery.

Notwithstanding, the next morning we have to see the town’s famous beach. The beach on each’n’every Argi’s bucket list. The beach they’re dreaming of the whole year. And now we’re there as well.

To enter the beach area, you have to queue up a little bit. Simply because you’re not the only 1 having this great idea.

Then you have the opportunity to pass thru a quite big beach supermarket. There you may purchase beautiful counterfeit sunglasses, sun cream having spent months in the hot sun, Chinese towels, toys with lots of plasticizers harmful to the health of your nasty kids, etc. You won’t be disappointed about all these opportunities to spend your hard-earned money, Then, finally you reach the sea, sand, and sun area on the beach. Of course, now it’s time to get into your beautiful swimming suit. You’re just ready to put on your bikini. After some intense search, you remember that your bikini is still on the table in your room some 2km from the beach. No worries, even for that they have a solution in Mar del Plata. Just don’t care about anybody eventually observing you, jump out of the changing room, and quickly run to the bikini beach shop next to you. There you’ll even find a bikini more beautiful than the 1 you forgot in your room.

After that, you’re ready for your unforgettable day at the beach. Just need to rent an umbrella with a chair or 2, and ask the beer’n’burger seller to provide you with enough supplies. And take all chances you have to socialize with your ever-changing neighbors. What else do you wish for a dream day at the beach?

Just a last point: spending your day at the beach you don’t need to stare the whole day at the sea. For a change – just turn around to admire for hours Mar del Plata’s wonderful skyline. All these slightly decaying buildings they erected in the 60ies and 70ies to accommodate 100 000s of tourists. All these buildings are just next to the beach, behind the beach-shop alley and the big highway.

Of course, there are as well some nice old buildings in Mar del Plata. You’ll find them in between these apartment blocks. They still remind you of a time when Mar del Plata was an elegant and posh beach retreat for well-heeled Argies in the 20ies and 30ies of last century. Long time before it became Argentina’s top destination for cheap beach holidays.

Well, let’s no desperate. Time for a draft IPA. In a street-side bar.

Yeah, that’s Mar del Plata. Argentina’s most famous sea resort. Maybe you’ve already heard of life in Spain’s Benidorm, or Italy’s Rimini some time ago before tourism declined due to terrifying conditions, environmental disasters, and other visitors difficult to support by brave tourists on a beach trip. Well, let’s add Mar del Plata to this list. Just to complete it. 

At least in Mar del Plata, we’ve organized our trip back to Swizzyland: nice parking for Prado in Uruguay and our flights back from Montevideo in February.

Tandil, 27th January

Having stayed in Argentina’s most infamous sea resort for 1 1/2 days is more than enough for us – even if it’s fun in its very special way. We’ve seen all the infrastructure for the cheapest package holidays, we’ve experienced the beaches so full you wouldn’t know where to place your towel, and we’ve seen 10 000 Argies more than happy to spend their well-deserved holidays at this wonderful place. What else to expect?

We’re on the way to Tandil. Some 200km to the west. A small town famous for its salamis.

Tandil – a pretty small’n’quiet place. What a relief after Mar del Plata.  True, there’s not too much to see or to do. Just an opportunity to sneak around and relax a little bit.

And the place to sort out everything Prado carried during the last months on its way thru South America. Just to make sure that everything we wanna take back to Swizzyland will be with us on our way back. Of course, also the opportunity to throw away a few things we purchased a long time ago – and never used them.

Well, there’s more to enjoy in this town – a visit to 1 of the town’s nice watering holes.

Guys, that’s it for today. Soon more – to keep your jealousy alive. In the meantime, we wish a nice onward journey for those on the road – and some beautiful socializing with your boss for those imprisoned in salary slavery.



Chile's Carretera Austral
Out of South America