How people are travelling is changing. Previously if you wanted to see sights in a foreign country you either had to go it alone or for those not comfortable navigating on their own, join a large bus tour. Those aren’t the only options anymore. With new standards in place for travel and the desire to be in a group of your own for health reasons - private tours have become that much more popular. There are so many companies that offer personalized, private tours. These are some of the benefits:
EXPERIENCE: Travelers are now looking for a more authentic experience that can be achieved with a private tour. If you are in a small group of your own or even travelling solo, having a personal, local guide makes all the difference. Guides will share their culture, customs and background with anyone who is interested. This makes for a far more fulfilling tour. Of course you see all the sights and main highlights but you see them from a local’s perspective with all the interesting folklore and insider facts included.
FLEXIBILITY: Being in a small group or on your own gives you far more flexibility. Is the weather not cooperating at the beginning of your tour – then you can ask to leave something on the itinerary until later in the day when the weather is improved. See something along the trail that interests you – you have the option to make changes to your plan based on your own interests.
CUSTOMIZATION: Many tour operators will have suggested itineraries however if your tour is private it can often be customized to include other areas of interest. Since you are not dealing with a large bus load of people, it is much easier to visit additional locations where you decide how much time at each spot.
If you are looking to understand a destination at a deeper level than think about booking private tours. It really can change your entire vacation experience. I specialize in creating customized experiences so contact me to ask about what options may be available for your next trip. Reach out for a complimentary travel consultation.
Many people have ideas of places they want to visit or bucket list destinations that are on that “some day” list. The only way to make those dreams come true is through planning and hard work to make it actually happen.
It is never too early to start planning a dream vacation. Particularly if the trip is costly. It may require you to start putting aside funds early to reach the goal for making the trip. For instance, my family often decides on our travel goals 2-3 years out. We begin the preliminary process of understanding what the general costs would be for our family of four to take a specific trip. Once we understand how much money is required, we started putting money in a savings account on a monthly basis so that we have the funds allocated when it comes time to start booking – we also include any extra streams of income such as income tax refunds, part time job income, etc. Having funds available is the #1 reason why people don’t go on their vacations of a lifetime. Just like any other major purchase in your life – you need to plan for it.
Once you have decided on a specific destination. Start collecting data – read travel blogs, gather inspiration from Instagram, Trip Advisor, save magazine articles and talk to people that have already been there. Make sure to keep all this information in one place so that when you are ready to book, you can discuss with your travel agent your ideas for the trip.
Get some professional advice. The best thing you can do when planning a big trip is to work with a travel agent. They are going to know things that you don’t and can help to make sure you have a trip of a lifetime. You don’t typically purchase large items such as a car or house without consulting an expert so why wouldn’t you follow this same process for a signficant trip? They are a wealth of knowledge and can save you both time and money.
It is time to stop thinking about it and start putting the wheels in motion. The world is a big place and there is no time like the present to start planning.
Call me to start the discussion about your dream vacation.
With the internet providing a vast amount of knowledge about destinations and many tour operators selling direct to consumers, some people are feeling confident that they can book their own vacations. Why should you use an agent? There are many reasons.
VALUE: The best value for your travel dollar. Agents inform you about all your choices, let you know about special promotions and can advise on the quality of a particular product. We work for you, not the supplier. Our only objective is to get you the best value and satisfy you completely.
PEACE OF MIND: Experience problems during or prior to your trip? Agents assist you in resolving concerns. They are your advocate and can help with navigating vendors and understanding your options. Agents can resolve issues so you can continue on your trip.
ONE STOP SHOPPING: An agent can create a full package for you and work within your outlined budget. They will also provide costs in your currency (or identify upfront if they aren’t) so there will never be surprises with exchange rates. They will think of all the necessities and ensure you never have anything left undone.
PROFESSIONAL: Travel Agents work with people to understand their individual needs and desires. Our job is to make sure you get to where you need to go, at the best price and in the most pleasant way possible. We get to know you and what you value in your travel experience.
EXPERT GUIDANCE: Agents can provide assistance with understanding a destination – best times to visit, when you will have challenges with weather, is there a major festival taking place, will things be closed due to holidays? These are all important factors to understand to make the most of your holiday.
Next time you are planning a vacation, discuss it with an agent. With travel becoming more complex nowadays why not work with someone who knows the industry, vendors and promotions available. Your time is precious and your money is valuable – ensure you put both in good hands.
Reach out for a complimentary 30 minute travel consultation:
After cruising from Montevideo overnight, we had arrived at our final port of call on the Celebrity Eclipse - the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. While this was the last port we would be visiting from the Eclipse, our disembarkation would not be until the next day, so we had the benefit of one final dinner and night about the ship.
The Port of Buenos Aires is the largest and busiest in Argentina resulting in a considerable amount of congestion around the port. This meant that we needed to take a shuttle from the ship to the main terminal building which resulted in having to wait around 20 minutes before an empty shuttle was available. At the terminal, we met up with our driver and guide Valeria, who would be taking us on a private city tour of Buenos Aires.
Leaving the terminal on route to our first stop of the day, the Recoleta Cemetery, we passed through the Retiro neighbourhood and the famous Floralis Generica, a steel and aluminum sculpture in the shape of a giant silver flower. What is unique about this sculpture, that was erected in 2002, is that the petals of the flower open and close depending on the time of day. Typically, the flower opens at 8:00am and closes at sunset when it emanates a red glow from inside. Unfortunately for us, the flower had not been working for the last 3 months and the petals were partially closed.
As we continued our drive to Recoleta, we passed by spacious parks with magnificent, mature trees and green space. Valeria told us that the city provides free exercise classes in the parks and we were able to see small groups of people practicing yoga and other activities as we drove by. The city has a very European feel and we were immediately reminded of Paris.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived at the Recoleta Cemetery. We have seen some pretty amazing cemeteries in our travels, including the St. Louis Cemeteries in New Orleans, the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery in Jerusalem and a little known but remarkable one in the town of Sete in Southern France. The Recoleta Cemetery is often referred to as “the World’s Best Cemetery”, and after spending more than an hour walking through the labyrinth of marble tombs and monuments, I can see how it got its moniker. It is unlike any cemetery we have ever visited. While the tombs are all above ground, like the famous cemeteries in New Orleans, Recoleta is far from gloomy. It resembles an elaborate city with stately pillars and elaborate carvings that is home to nearly 10,000 deceased patrons. Each mausoleum contains 7 to 14 people descends 2 levels underground.
The cemetery is the burial site of some of the most famous figures in Argentina, including the iconic Eva “Evita” Peron, who was Argentina’s First Lady while her husband, Juan Peron was President of the country. Eva Peron died of cancer in 1952, but because of military upheaval in Argentina at the time, her body went missing and was not buried in Recoleta until 1972. Her tomb is simple compared to many others in the cemetery, but it is one of the most visited. Her final resting place is 5 metres underground in a fortified bunker that is presumed to prevent her remains from ever becoming disturbed again. Recoleta is definitely a “must see” on any visit to Buenos Aires.
Leaving the Recoleta Cemetery, we passed by the Obelisca de Buenos Aires - a National Historic Monument, and the symbol of Buenos Aires. We also had a chance to see the Palace of the Argentine Congress which was constructed at the end of the 19th century and is currently being restored.
Not far from the National Congress we stopped in front of the Teatro Colon (Columbus Theatre), which is the main opera house in Argentina where Kim had booked a tour for us. I have to admit, I am not much of an opera person, but was willing to do the tour nonetheless. I was more than pleasantly surprised. This theatre is an architectural marvel, which was refurbished from 2005 to 2008 by more than 1500 workers at a cost of $100 million dollars. It has elaborate decor with carved columns, stunning stained glass windows and skylights and spacious ante rooms. The main theatre is horseshoe shaped and rises 6 stories above ground and 3 below. It is considered to be one of the top 5 performance venues anywhere on the globe and has hosted the top singers and conductors in the world. The acoustics are so precise that Luciano Pavarotti, the renowned tenor, found it the most challenging theatre to sing in because it amplified every mistake.
Following our tour of the theatre we stopped to walk around Plaza de Mayo which is surrounded by some of the most impressive buildings in Buenos Aires including the Casa Rosada (Pink Palace) which was originally the old Customs House, but now houses the offices of the Argentine President. We also got a chance to see Cabildo de Buenos Aires, a colonial style building that houses a museum of the Cabildo (post-colonial administrative council) and the May Revolution. Before leaving the plaza we visited the Metropolitan Cathedral, home of the Archbishop of Argentina, the most famous being Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis.
We left Plaza de Mayo and drove about 10 minutes to another plaza in San Telmo. This area is the birthplace of Tango and the most famous market in Buenos Aires, a sprawling indoor and outdoor market. We meandered through several aisles of the market taking in the smell of fresh vegetables and fruits along with cooking dishes that were being prepared in the various bars and cafes. We stopped at tiny cafe called El Hornero that had a stand up bar in front of a brick oven. Valeria told us this was the best place to try an empanada. The place was fairly busy and after ordering we waited about 10 minutes for ours to be freshly prepared and baked. It was well worth the wait. The empanada crust was hot and flaky. The beef filling was steaming and full of rich, tangy flavour.
After our visit to the market, we continued on our city tour and drove into La Boca neighbourhood which was originally settled by Italians. One of the major venues in La Boca is the football (soccer) stadium - Bombonera. It is unique because the stadium, and the area surrounding it is all blue and yellow, the team colours. La Boca is a lively area. The Italian influence is evident everywhere with colourful buildings, shops and restaurants, many decorated with artistic graffiti and murals. People are chatting and walking and even dancing tango in the streets.
After finishing our tour with Valeria, she dropped us off in a popular area with restaurants. We stopped at a restaurant called La Abuela, an outdoor cafe where we had a meat and cheese lunch (and some wine). After lunch we visited the Generica Artisnal market in Plaza Francia before taking a cab ride back to the ship where we relaxed for a bit before our last night on the ship.
We went to our usual dinner seating for our final dinner and enjoyed succulent Prime Rib of Beef. We were somewhat sad when we bade farewell to our attentive servers Marino and Pinto who had kept us fed and amused for last 13 nights. Returning to our stateroom we packed our bags and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on balcony.
As we had arrived at the port in Montevideo late the afternoon before, we were able to disembark the ship at our leisure. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe and then walked off the ship onto the terminal pier just before 9:00am. Kim had booked a private city tour of Montevideo, and our driver, Herman, was waiting for us at the entrance to the pier.
I have to say that one of the most enjoyable things for me about travel is discovering the unexpected. Prior to our trip, the two of us had our own special things that we were looking forward to seeing in South America. For me they were (ranked in order) Iguazu Falls, the penguin colony in Puerto Madryn, the Patagonia (and passage around Cape Horn), Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. Montevideo was not on that list. In fact, I knew nothing about Montevideo prior to our trip, and only read some cursory information in the ship’s daily update on our last sea day. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and boasts a population of 1.5 million, about 1/3 of the country’s total population. It is a sea port that is located in the southern part of Uruguay, on the Atlantic Coast. Interestingly, it is the southernmost capital in all the Americas. Like most South American cities, Montevideo’s Spanish roots go back to the early 18th century. Since then, it has grown in economic stature and has been rated first by the Mercer report as having the best quality of life of any city in Latin America. This became evident to us as we began our tour of Montevideo.
Our first impression of the city was how European it looked - an eclectic mixture of neo-classical and art-deco, with countless markets and Spanish style squares. Modern buildings fit in seamlessly with the historical architecture and what is particularly noticeable is that there are no towering skyscrapers (unlike most other capitals) that would otherwise obscure the views across the cityscape and horizon.
After a quick driving tour along the main boulevard (more about this later), we headed towards the downtown area where Herman found a parking spot next to a hotel close to a pedestrian street lined with shops where he dropped us off. This gave Kim and I a chance to meander down the bustling street, lined with tall palm trees, and browse the tiny shops on our way to one of the markets where we would meet back up with Herman. The shops on both sides of this street were small but modern and clean.
Since the national stone of Uruguay is Amethyst, there were quite a few jewelry stores along the route. Kim was struck by a particular piece in a storefront window, and we walked into this shop to have a look. The pieces of jewelry that had been crafted from the amethyst were exquisite and after much deliberation, Kim eventually landed on the necklace that she had admired in the storefront.
One of the unique features of this store is the small, but impressive Amethyst Museum that was cordoned off and tucked away in a tiny, elevated alcove to the side of the store. To be honest, I hadn’t noticed it at first, because the alcove was dimly lit. The owner pointed out the museum after we had made our purchase, and invited us into the alcove to view the magnificent giant, jagged, raw Amethyst stones that stood like statues on the carpeted floor. He turned up the lights so we could see the dazzling colour of the rocks. They were huge! When we finished gazing at the stones and were leaving the alcove, I tripped on the carpet as I was descending the slight step to the main floor. At the same time, I knocked over one of the monstrous pieces that stood guard to the alcove and tried to stop it from crashing to the floor. I was successful in saving the piece as I was falling, but it landed on my lower arm and gashed my hand. The proprietor and his staff immediately came to my aid and seemed overly concerned that I might be hurt. While nothing seemed to be broken, my wrist and hand were bruised and numb (as was my ego), my biggest concern was that the piece was not damaged as I couldn’t imagine how much that would have cost us. I did suffer some soreness and swelling over the next few days but nothing that impacted our trip.
After our minor drama in the jewelry store, we continued our walk down the street and through a small market where we eventually met back up with Herman who guided us to Plaza Independencia, Montevideo’s most important plaza.
This is a large rectangular plaza with rounded corners that is circumvented by the beginning of the 18 de Julio Avenue, the most important avenue in Montevideo as it commemorates the date of the first Constitution of Uruguay in 1830. The plaza is dominated at its centre by the Artigas Mausoleum which is identified by a monument that sits on top of the mausoleum beneath. The mausoleum contains the remains of the Uruguayan hero and father of the nationhood, Jose Artigas. We descended the steps into the sombre and dimly lit mausoleum that was respectfully quiet and advanced to an elevated glass case that contained the urn with the remains of Artegas. A pair of Uruguayan guards stood motionless and at attention on either side of the enclosed sanctuary.
Leaving the mausoleum we walked through the square and crossed over to the Solis Theatre, Uruguay’s most renowned and prestigious theatre that was opened in 1856. From here, we drove about 10 minutes to the impressive Palacio Legislavtivo del Uruguay, the austere Greco-Roman style Parliament building. The building’s construction began in 1908 and spanned 3 decades. We had missed the morning visiting hours, so we were not able to go inside, but Herman told us that the interior walls are covered in marble from different parts of Uruguay.
We left the area around the palace and drove a short distance to Mercado de la Abundancia. On the way, we passed by an interesting piece of Montevideo architecture, the telecommunications company, whose building is shaped like the bow of a ship rising up from the earth.
Reaching the market, Herman parked the car and Kim and I went inside the sprawling indoor facility. We wandered through the many aisles, stopping for juice and coffee at one of the food booths. We managed to pick up a few amethyst necklaces to take home as gifts.
We left the market and began the final leg of our city tour, passing by the Holocaust Memorial, dedicated the victims of the Jewish genocide. Our drive took us along the Ramblas de Montevideo, the main avenue of the city that goes all along the coastline of Montevideo. It is also famous for having the longest continuous sidewalk in the world with a length of 22. 2 kilometers! What was most notable about this part of the drive was the amount of green space with large, treed parks on either sides of the boulevard. We passed through quiet, upscale neighbourhoods, dotted with beautiful homes. Closer to the coast we passed along the endless beaches that separated the Ocean from the modern, but understated condos and hotels.
Arriving at the port, Herman told us that we could recover the taxes that we paid on all of the purchases we made, provided that we kept the receipts. He pointed to a building in an industrial part of the pier that we were able to walk to before going back to the ship. We took his advice and managed to receive 18% off of our purchases.
Boarding the ship, we changed for dinner and went to the main dining room where enjoyed one of our most anticipated meals on any cruise - the famous lobster dinner. I topped that off with the feature dessert, which tonight was baked Alaska. Following dinner we were entertained in the theatre by a talented group of Motown musicians called the Horizons.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I knew very little about Montevideo before we arrived here. It turns out this is one of those secret little gems that is well worth the visit.
Continue to Day 15 - click here
After leaving Puerto Madryn, we continued sailing up the coast of Argentina on our way to Punta del Este in Uruguay. As the distance was over 1500 kilometres, we had a scheduled sea day before our arrival into Uruguay. After breakfast, I attended the Alan Riles lecture on Climate Change. If you have read the previous blogs on our Eclipse Cruise, you will remember that Alan Riles is the guest lecturer that Celebrity had engaged to provide unique insight into the geography, geology and environment of South America’s Patagonia. Today’s lecture highlighted the global impact of climate change on the environment, particularly the receding ice caps in the Andes ranges and the vanishing glaciers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. It was a very sobering lecture that left me wondering about the future of the spectacular area that we had been exploring over the past several days.
In the early afternoon we attended the Captain’s Club wine tasting and food pairing which we had pre-booked. This event took place in the elegant but modern Blu Restaurant, which is one of the Eclipse’s specialty dining venues. Our sommelier, Fabrice, led us through the tasting of 5 distinct and exclusive wines that were matched perfectly with a variety of foods comprising cheeses, vegetables, olives and chocolate. This was a wonderful way to enjoy a relaxing meal away from the busyness of the buffet.
We left the Blu Restaurant in time to attend this afternoon’s matinee in the Theatre. Alejandro, the Cruise Director, was hosting a rendition of the Tonight Show. The guests included an entertaining performance by Bryony, a crew member; an acrobat (Max) who delighted us with gravity defying antics; and an interview with the Captain who related a number of his experiences and time with the Eclipse.
Our evening started with dinner in the main dining room where one of my favourite entrees, steak, was the featured menu item. Afterwards we went back to the Theatre to enjoy a production of Show Toppers that was put on by the Celebrity Eclipse dancers and singers. We headed off to our stateroom and looked forward to our first day in Uruguay after a good night’s sleep.
As I stated at the beginning of this entry, our destination was Punta del Este on the South Eastern tip of the country of Uruguay. Because of high winds and rough seas, we were not able to stop at Punta del Este, so instead we continued on to our next port of call, Montevideo, also in Uruguay. We had been expected to dock at the downtown pier at 12:00pm, but because of apparent congestion issues in the port, we weren’t able to disembark the ship until 3:00pm.
Kim had pre-booked some tours for our stay in Montevideo, but due to the change in arrival time, she had to improvise and rebooked a private tour and lunch at a local winery. We were picked up at the pier by a driver who spoke no English. He had been informed by the tour operator where to drop us off, so we drove out of the city and into the countryside with no idea of where we were going and no way to communicate with the driver.
After 30 minutes of driving, passing through several villages along the way, we turned onto a gravel road and proceeded about a kilometre before turning into the entrance of the Pizzorno Winery.
Our driver indicated that this was our stopped pointed to a small parking lot across the gravel road. This is where he was going to wait for us while we had lunch and a tour of the vineyard. We entered the foyer of the winery, where we were greeted by a pleasant hostess who took our names and led us through a small dining room, where a young family were seated at a table, to a private tasting room, separated from the main room by a glass wall. We were seated at a table which had been reserved for us and the hostess explained the process for the tasting menu.
Our lunch consisted of several different courses including shrimp and mango salad, lamb, pumpkin stuffed ravioli and finished with a dessert of flan with dulce de leche mousse and berries. Each course was paired with a different wine, carefully selected to enhance the flavour the dish. My favourite wine was the Tannat, which originated in the South West of France, but was brought to Uruguay by Basque settlers in the 19th century. It is the most prominent grape in Uruguay and is considered its national grape. This wine goes very well with rich meats and fatty cheeses, probably another reason that it was my favourite!
After lunch we toured the family-owned winery, which has been around since 1910. The vineyard covers 21 hectares of land and produces about 160,000 bottles of wine using 12 different types of grapes. The winery produces ice wine by freezing grapes after they are picked - an interesting twist on how ice wine is produced in the Niagara region, where the grapes are picked at just the right time when the they are frozen on the vine. The winery also produces a light and fresh sparking wine. When we finished walking through the vineyard, we returned to the winery where we were taken through the production area, below ground level, and were introduced to the various types of hardwood that are used to barrel the wine.
It was after 6:00pm and we summoned our driver who picked us up at the entrance to the winery. By the time we got dropped off at the pier and back on the ship it was 7:15pm. Since we had missed our dinner seating in the main dining room, we went to the Sky lounge for a drink then got some food at the Oceanview Cafe which we took back to our stateroom. We had a casual but enjoyable dinner on our balcony.
Continue to Day 14 - click here
After 2 full days of sailing north from Cape Horn along the Atlantic coast of South America, we finally arrived at Puerto Madryn, an important coastal town with a population of 100,000 in the Argentine Patagonia, which was founded in 1865 by a group of Welsh immigrants.
The contrast in weather between Cape Horn and Puerto Madryn could not have been more significant. We had left Cape Horn battling high winds and heavy seas under overcast, misty skies with temperatures hovering around 10 degrees Celsius. We arrived into Puerto Madryn at 8:00am under calm, cloudless, bright blue skies and a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. This was going to be a beautiful day!
After a quick breakfast, we disembarked from the Eclipse and boarded the air-conditioned tour van that would take us out to the Valdes Peninsula where we would be spending most of the day. The Valdes Peninsula is a mostly barren nature reserve which protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean and provides a natural shelter for Puerto Madryn. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 because of its significance for the conservation of marine mammals and waterfowl. It is home to endangered species such as the Southern White Whale and is also an important breeding sanctuary for the Magellan Penguin, Southern Elephant Seal and Southern Sea Lions. We would be spending the day observing most of these species.
Our first stop on the 170 kilometre drive (2.5 hours) from Puerto Madryn to our end point in Punta Norte was at a rest stop just after a mandatory check point. The province is checking that tourist groups are travelling with certified guides. The rest stop had interesting displays with skeletal remains and information about the wildlife of the region. The ride to Punta Norte is on gravel roads with the last hour being extremely bumpy. Our driver Pedro did his very best to make it as smooth as possible even driving in the middle of the road at times to avoid as many bumps as possible. But this may be a consideration for those that have back problems or suffer from motion sickness. Our final destination was an Argentinian estancia (ranch) for lunch. The ranch was a couple of miles off of the main gravel road that runs through the Peninsula. On our way to the ranch we spotted herds of wild guanacos, which are related to the llama, grazing on the dry pampas grass and brush that is prevalent in the area.
We finally arrived at the ranch which was surrounded by a fenced enclosure and consisted of several outbuildings for the sheep and one main low-slung ranch house. We entered through the main door into a large open room with high ceilings and tiled floors. To the left of the entrance were 2 massive wood-burning fireplaces, each stoked with burning embers, cooking whole lambs stretched across upright steel racks. A pungent smokey barbeque aroma permeated the air throughout the main room. Several large, wooden tables were setup for lunch in the middle of the room. We ordered wine and waited as the various lunch dishes were brought to the table in large platters. As we had become accustomed to in South America, lunch usually starts with empanadas, and this place was no exception. We were also served mixed salads and the succulent, carved lamb that had been grilling in the fireplace. To finish off, we were offered a dessert of dulce de leche flan.
After lunch, we got back into the van and drove another 20 minutes to the Nature Reserve in Punta Norte where we would be spending most of the afternoon. We were quite excited about this particular destination, and it was one of the highlights that we had earmarked when we were planning the trip. This is home to nearly 1 million penguins and we were fortunate enough to be here just after breeding season, which meant that there would be plenty of chicks and young penguins in the mix.
We parked near the entrance of the sanctuary and followed the delineated rocky path that meanders through the breeding grounds all the way to the Ocean. The area is rather dry and consists of hard packed earth covered in small rocks. The main vegetation is scraggly, dense brush that serves to cover the burrowed nests that have been prepared by the male penguins in the dry ground. Each female lays 2 eggs, but usually only one bird survives to maturity. Both the male and female share feeding responsibilities, walking up to several kilometers across the reserve to the Ocean shore to fetch squid and anchovies for their young.
It was hard to leave this area, even after walking around for more than an hour and a half watching the penguins march around, seemingly aimlessly. The penguins were everywhere and it didn’t seem to bother them that we were walking in their midst. They would often stop and stare at us, only a couple of feet away, and then eventually lose interest, turn away and lumber off in another direction.
After leaving the penguin reserve we drove another 6 kilometers up the coast to another reserve to visit the sea lions and elephant seals. Unlike in the penguin reserve which was at sea level and where we were literally walking among the Magellans on the beach, we observed the sea lions and elephant seals from a distance standing on top of a bluff while they lay stretched in small groups on the beach below. While penguins are monogynous, male sea lions are polygamous often having multiple female partners. The females lay close to their young and tended to them, while the males lazed a short distance away. It was quite loud as the elephant seals and sea lions would occasionally burst into bouts of barking as if shouting at one another.
As the midafternoon sun began its journey westward, it was time for us to head back to the ship. We still had more than a 2 hour drive and the all aboard was at 5:00pm. As it turned out we just made it back in time, but had to stand in a long queue to get back on the ship.
Our evening dinner consisted of an appetizer of sundried tomato soup with chicken pasta and rib brisket as the entrees. After dinner we dropped in to the Captain’s Club cocktail where we were greeted by the Ship’s Officers and offered martinis, wine and delightful canapes, including shrimp and sushi.
It had been a long, wonderful day and we settled back in our stateroom looking forward to our next day on the Eclipse.
Continue to Day 12 & 13 - click here
After leaving Ushuaia we sailed through the night towards the southernmost part of the journey - Cape Horn. Cape Horn is located in southern Chile at Hornos Island where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet and is considered the northern boundary of the Drake Passage. It is significant because, prior to the building of the Panama Canal, it was the major marine trade route around South America for sailing ships carrying goods from the Far East, Australia and New Zealand to the Western World, taking advantage of the strong westerly winds. Unfortunately, the waters through the Drake Passage are often quite hazardous due to the strong winds, buffeting waves and occasional icebergs.
Cape Horn is approximately 600 kilometers from the coast of Antarctica. We arrived at the Cape Horn Memorial which is on the southwestern tip of Hornos Island at 7:15 AM. The skies were heavily overcast with a heavy mist being driven by gusty winds. It took a bit of skillful navigation for the Captain of the Eclipse to position the ship so that we could get a relatively close view of the memorial. We stayed in our stateroom and viewed the site from our balcony, bundled up in our coats and scarves. We were able to make out the monument which commemorates the countless sailors who perished attempting the voyage around the Horn. A short distance from the memorial is a very small Chilean Naval station that consists of a residence, a chapel and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is maintained by a keeper who spends six consecutive months here before being replaced for six months by a fellow keeper. In total we spent just over an hour with the Captain maneuvering the ship so that passengers on both sides of the ship would get a view.
Below is a video with some details about Cape Horn and also footage of what the island looks like.
After 7 days of sailing south on the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Chile, we were about to begin our journey north on the Atlantic. Our next port of call, Puerto Madryn in Argentina, approximately 1500 kilometers from Cape Horn, would take us a full 2 days and nights of sailing. Since we had spent more than an hour in the frigid winds and driving mist on our balcony as we circled Hornos Island, we were happy to come back into our stateroom to change and enjoy a hot breakfast at the buffet restaurant.
We spent most of the rest of the morning just resting and relaxing then went to the Tuscan Grille which was having a special lunch event to commemorate “rounding the Horn”. We had booked a window table a couple of days ahead of time so that we could take in the views of our sail through the Drake Passage. Due to the overcast skies and heavy seas, there really was not a lot to see. On the other hand, the surf and turf offered for lunch was spectacular, featuring mouthwatering filet mignon, lobster tail and jumbo shrimp.
In the afternoon, we had reserved spots to do a backstage tour of the main theatre. This was a surprisingly interesting tour for me. Considering how elaborate the sets and performances are, it was a revelation to see how little there is to work with back-stage. There is a tiny, common dressing room for each group of performers, and in some cases, they are doing costume changes in closet sized storage rooms. Personal effects for the performers are stored in wall mounted cubby holes. Costumes are recycled and retrofitted by a seamstress (and sometimes, by the performers themselves). It is amazing that despite the limitations of the backstage area, the challenges of performing on a bobbing vessel in a variety of sea conditions and the restrictions of being confined on a ship for months at a time, that these professionals are able to excel at their craft.
In keeping with the surf and turf lunch that we enjoyed earlier in the day at the Tuscan Grille, we chose more sea and land fare for dinner. The appetizers and salad menu featured Lobster Bisque, Caesar Salad and Steak Tartar, so that is what we opted for and decided to forego the heartier choices on the entre menu.
After a good night’s sleep and our usual breakfast fare, we settled in for another sea day. Celebrity had engaged Alan Riles, a noted geologist and earth scientist, to provide timely lectures based on our current locations on various topics that included Plate Tectonics (the theory describing large-scale motion of rocky plates that make up the earth’s continents), Glaciers of South America, the Falklands and today’s topic, Super Continents - their formation and break-up. I had attended all of the previous lectures and decided to take this one in as well.
We met up after the lecture and decided to try out the Oceanview Cafe, a market-style, casual restaurant that offers an international cuisine. We both opted for Italian and selected a combination of made-to order pasta and oven made pizza and capped that off with refreshing gelato. We finished just in time for the start of the afternoon game show - Latin America versus the Rest of the World - hosted by the Cruise Director, Alejandro. Latin America won (but this might have been slightly rigged).
Our evening meal in the main dining room was Beef Brochette, Spring Rolls, Lobster Ravioli and Veal. Needless to say, after 2 full days at sea we were looking forward to getting to a sea port so that we could walk off the countless calories that we had been storing. We were really looking forward to getting to our first Argentinean destination - Puerto Madryn.
Continue to Day 11 - click here
After 3 days at sea, we were excited to be finally getting into a port of call. We woke up early and headed up to the top deck with our cameras at 4:30am. We were sailing through the calm waters of the Beagle Channel on our way to Ushuaia and the pre-dawn twilight cast an eerie glow on the snow-capped mountains and glaciers on our starboard side. We stayed out on the deck for about half an hour watching the landscape slide by and then decided to get a few more hours of sleep as our arrival in Ushuaia was not scheduled until 10:30am.
After a hearty breakfast, we disembarked the Eclipse which had docked at the base of the town. We found our driver at the entrance to the pier who introduced himself and then we drove into the town to pick up our guide.
Ushuaia is a quaint little town with a population of approximately 60,000 people that is located on the southern shores of Isle Grande de Tierra del Fuego and overlooking the Beagle Channel to the south. It claims to be the southernmost city in the world and is situated just 1,100 kilometers from the Antarctic coast. Being a principle stopover for tourists rounding Cape Horn or heading to Antarctica, it thrives from tourism but also generates much of its economy from fishing and natural gas. Recently, it has generated a considerable income from manufacturing electronic products and has the largest electronics factory in Patagonia.
Following a quick tour of Ushuaia, we drove westward along the Pan American highway for 30 minutes towards the Chilean border and eventually arrived at the End of the World Post Office, a small metal structure that sits on stilts overlooking the Beagle Channel. People from all over the world stop in at this post office to mail postcards back to themselves that are postmarked “End of the World Post Office. We walked along the beach by the post office where the skies were bright blue with billowing clouds hanging over the mountains and the brisk breeze was creating frothy caps on the water that was lapping against the shoreline.
We left the Post Office and drove a short distance westward to the end of the Pan American highway, which covers a distance of 17,000 kilometers from its starting point in Alaska. The road ends at the tip of Lapataia Bay where we exited the car and walked around to take pictures of the breathtaking landscape.
Driving back towards Ushuaia, we stopped briefly at the Tierra Del Fuego National Park Information Centre to use the facilities and have a light lunch.
Upon arriving back in Ushuaia, we pre-purchased tickets for a catamaran cruise on the Beagle Channel and then walked around the picturesque downtown for an hour before the cruise was scheduled to depart.
We boarded the catamaran and found an empty table by the window on the upper deck. I purchased a glass of wine for each of us to enjoy as we sailed away from Ushuaia and into the Beagle Channel.
Our first stop was at a small island that was covered in hundreds of cormorants. We paused long enough to get some pictures and then continued sailing to another small island where we docked and disembarked. We had a chance to walk around this great rock that was remarkable for the extensive fauna that covered its surface. After reboarding the catamaran, we continued sailing further into the channel and stopped beside a small, flat island to view the sea lions that rested on the cold rock at the edge of the water.
A short distance from the sea lions was another small island that is totally barren except for the red and white brick lighthouse that protrudes skyward from its base. This is Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse otherwise known as “The End of the World” Lighthouse, which was built in 1920 and is still functional today. Although it is uninhabited, it is fully automated and remote controlled and generates electricity for its light via solar panels. After visiting the lighthouse, our catamaran made the return journey to Ushuaia which took about 45 minutes. We took one final, brief walk around the plaza by the pier then made our way back to the Eclipse.
We boarded our ship and then returned to our stateroom for a quick change before going to the dining room for dinner. After dinner we went to the main theatre to enjoy a concert that featured a skillful pianist and a variety of accompanying singers. We then retired to our stateroom to relax on the balcony and chatted about our day. We did not stay up too late as tomorrow at 6:00am we would be passing one of the key points on our South American cruise - Cape Horn!
Continue to Day 9 & 10 - click here
After leaving Puerto Montt, we were supposed to have 2 sea days sailing approximately 1300 kms south through the Chilean Fjords (Tierra del Fuego) and then through the Strait of Magellan on our way to Punta Arenas. Due to high winds and heavy seas after leaving Puerto Montt, our captain opted to wait out the storm for approximately 12 hours to avoid the 30 foot waves that we would have encountered. This resulted in an additional sea day and also meant that we would be forgoing our port of call at Punta Arenas. Although we had planned to celebrate a significant birthday for Kim at a local restaurant in Punta Arenas, we appreciated the captain’s focus on the safety and comfort of the passengers and crew.
While we were at sea, there was still lots to do on board the Celebrity Eclipse. We actually slept in a bit on first sea day after leaving Punta Montt, not waking until just after 8:00am. We arrived at the Oceanview Café for breakfast at 9:00am and had to circle the eating area a few times before we could find a table. The restaurant was unusually busy this morning and we took turns going to the buffet for fear we would lose our table. We kept this in mind as we would be having several more sea days before we finished our cruise.
We always enjoy a few sea days on a cruise as it gives us an opportunity to rest and relax and to enjoy the various amenities on the ship. This particular cruise had contracted a guest lecturer who gave relevant talks about the geography of South America with a particular focus on the glaciers, fjords and climate of the South American Patagonia. I attended all of the lectures and found them quite informative as they gave me a real appreciation for the areas that we were visiting. They were organized such that a given lecture described the area that we would be sailing through the following day. This included descriptions of the glacier formations sliding between the mountain peaks that we would see as we passed through the Chilean Fjords as well as the islands and inlets of the Strait of Magellan, which was widely used as the main sea passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans before the Panama Canal was built.
As well as attending the guest lectures on our sea days we spent time exploring different parts of the ship. One day we took a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship’s galley located on the 3rd deck. What was most amazing is how small the galley is given the 2850 passengers and 1270 crew that it feeds. Equally amazing is how organized and pristine the area is. The galley is divided into sections that are dedicated to specific dishes and/or menus (breakfast/lunch/dinner). All of the counters and appliances are sparkling stainless steel; a must in order to maintain sanitary conditions as the galley is inspected on a regular basis.
We also visited 2 of the specialty dining rooms aboard the Eclipse - Q-Sine and Tuscan. Q-Sine is a very eccentric animated dining experience, reminiscent of something you might see at a specialty restaurant on a Disney Cruise. The dining room itself is cheery and brightly coloured, but the main feature is the table setting. As the experience begins, the luminated table becomes an animated 3D seabed complete with coral, flora and sea critters. Your dinner plate becomes a solitary island where a lobster and little chef perform a tug-of-war which the chef eventually wins. While we didn’t get to eat at this restaurant, this seems like a great place to spend an evening that would be enjoyable for the whole family.
The second restaurant that we toured was the Tuscan Grille. This is a totally different experience from Q-Sine, being much more traditional and with wooden arches, large wine cabinets and a wonderful sea view at one end of the restaurant. The menu is distinctly Italian, with a focus on mouth watering steaks and a great wine list. We did end up eating at this restaurant a couple of times. We booked a table to celebrate Kim’s birthday (on the day we were supposed to be in Punta Arenas). Kim selected the lamb in phyllo for her meal, while I enjoyed a deliciously marbled steak with side of potato. The restaurant was featuring a Surf and Turf lunch on the day that we would be sailing through the Drake Passage, so we decided to book a window table for that as well.
One of the other unique experiences aboard the Eclipse was the opportunity to participate in a glass-blowing class. While this was an add-on cost, it was a one-on-one experience with a glass blower who would assist you through the process. You also got to keep the product of your hard work! Kim booked a session, which takes place on one of the outside decks. Since we were sailing through the Strait of Magellan at the time, the outside temperature was quite cold. She persevered through the chilly winds and the endless blowing and turning of the glass in the furnace and produced a beautiful blue glass water tumbler.
By the end of our 3rd sea day, we had explored most parts of the ship, attended the nightly live entertainment in the theatre and were well rested and ready for our next port of call - Ushuaia, the most southern city in South America.
Continue to Day 8 - click here
After leaving Santiago on the evening of January 5th, we sailed for a day and a half (more than 1,000 kms) south along the Chilean coast, arriving at Puerto Montt just after 8:00am on January 7th. After our usual buffet breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe, we went to pick up our tickets on Deck 4 at 9:00am for the tender that would take us to the port pier. We thought we had given ourselves plenty of time as the ticket distribution was scheduled to start at 9:30. We were shocked to find an endless line of waiting passengers that extended the entire length of the ship! It seemed like forever before the line in front of us finally started to move.
We received our tickets for tender number 19 and waited for nearly an hour before we were finally able to disembark. We had booked a tour of the area that was scheduled to depart at 10:00am. We didn’t arrive at the pier until 11:00 and still had to wait for 2 other couples to join our group of 10 before our 12-passenger van was able to leave. Our group was accompanied by a driver and a local guide who admitted to us that this was her first tour. While she was very nervous at the beginning, she persevered through her initial jitters.
Puerto Montt is the capital of the province of Llanquihue and has a population of 250,000. The main industry is salmon farming followed closely by agriculture and tourism. It is strategically located at the southern end of the Chilean Central Valley and is a gateway to the Andes mountains and Western Patagonia. The sky was overcast and the air chilly as we drove away from Puerto Montt and headed 45 minutes to the northwest. Our destination was a viewpoint beside Llanquihue Lake in order to observe the peak of Osorno Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the Chilean Andes. The volcano was discovered by Charles Darwin and last erupted in the 1869. Unfortunately, the low-lying cloud obscured Osorno’s summit so we were only able to see the base of the volcano. This part of Chile is known as the “Magic of the South” because the nearly 200 days of annual rainfall contribute to the lush vegetation and greenery that blanket the countryside.
We continued another 20 minutes west to Petrohue Waterfalls situated between Llanquihue Lake and Todos Los Santos Lake. Our driver parked the van and we walked the short distance to the falls, following a boardwalk and lava rock path. Petrohue appears more like a rapids than a traditional waterfalls. The fast moving Emerald green water flows through craggy lava rock formed by the volcanoes. The brilliant emerald colour is caused by a weed which is reflected through the water.
After spending some time walking along the falls and observing the birds and wildlife, we walked back to the parking lot where we boarded the van and drove another half hour to an observation deck overlooking Todos Los Santos Lake, also referred to as the Emerald Lake. We were served a light lunch of empanadas and wine. The area around the lake is surrounded by 3 volcanos, Cerro Tronador which is dormant, as well as Osorno and Calbuco, both of which are considered active. Calbuco has the most recent eruptions, occurring in 2015.
On our way back to Puerto Montt, we stopped at a small town called Puerto Varas. The town, with a population of around 40,000, was founded by Germans in the 1850’s as part of a colonization project and their influence is evident in the architecture and food throughout the area. It is referred to as the “City of Roses” because of the abundance of plants and flowers lining the streets, boulevards and parks.
We arrived back at the cruise terminal in Puerto Montt at 5:15pm and were tendered back to the Eclipse in time to drop our day bag in the stateroom and proceed to dinner. During dinner, the captain announced that there was a severe storm approaching and as a result we would be staying in port for the next 12 hours. This meant that we would miss our next port of call - Puerto Arenas. As disappointing as it was to miss out on a visit to Puerto Arenas, allowing the storm to pass would mean not having to endure 80 km winds and 30-foot waves. We spent the evening attending the live show in the theatre and relaxing with a glass of wine on our balcony.
Continue to Day 5, 6 & 7 - click here
We started our last day in Santiago with a buffet breakfast at the hotel just before 8:00am. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and got ready for our 8:30 departure. Our bags were loaded into the luggage compartment of the coach since we would be dropped off at the cruise port at the end of our day.
We would be spending most of today in the coastal part of Valparaiso Region, but before heading out of the city, we did a quick panoramic tour of downtown Santiago. The downtown comprises of beautiful Colonial architecture, with magnificent detailed porticos on many of the older buildings. Sadly, the political protests that had occurred over the past few months did not exclude these historic structures as many of them were covered in graffiti. Because some of the traffic lights had also been destroyed, there were volunteers at several of the intersections who were directing traffic.
We finally made our way out of Santiago and headed Northwest towards the coastal port of Valparaiso approximately 130 kms away. There are two key agricultural valleys on the route between Santiago and Valparaiso. One consists of avocado plantations, apple orchards, peach orchards and walnut plantations. The other, Casablanca Valley, is considered the “Napa Valley” of Chile, as vineyards border the highway on both sides for many miles.
We arrived in the port city of Valparaiso at 11:00am under mostly overcast skies. We drove through the town on the narrow winding road that follows the coast. Valparaiso was once considered the “Jewel of the Pacific” because of its importance as a major sea port. Prior to the building of the Panama Canal this port was the main stopover for ships crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Straights of Magellan. Because of its historic quarter and colourful buildings stacked along the cliffsides, it has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are no major job-producing industries in Valparaiso other than the port and the naval base, so tourism has come to play a major role in the city’s economy.
As the coach wound its way up the steep hillside towards the crest of the town we marveled at the narrow houses stacked all along the hillside, many protruding over the cliffs and supported on one side by stilts. The coach stopped at the top of the hill and we disembarked to take in the brilliantly painted houses and myriad murals that decorate the streets. We walked back down the hill towards the centre of town snaking back and forth through narrow streets and alleyways.
Partway down the hill we stopped at a small cafe to have a light lunch and then took an ancient funicular the rest of the way to the main square at the port. We spent some time wandering through the market inside the square that was filled with vendors and artisans selling handmade crafts, fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of other sundry goods.
Finally, we reboarded our coach and headed out of Valparaiso, passing by its prosperous sister town, Vina del Mar. While Valparaiso is a historical city with no sustained industry other than the port, Vina del Mar boasts an oil refinery and casino and is resplendent with beautiful gardens, beaches and high-rise apartments. Despite the close proximity between the twin cities, they do not share resources, so they are economically divided.
Leaving Valparaiso and Vina del Mar behind, we headed back to the Casablanca Valley where we stopped in to visit Casona Veramonte, one of the many wineries in the area. Being on the main highway between Santiago and Valparaiso, this was a more commercialized winery than the one we had been to in San Estoben. There were quite a few tour buses that had stopped here when we arrived and the expansive wine store sold a plethora of non-wine items and souvenirs. Nonetheless we sample some Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon before we reboarded the coach and drove the 45 minutes on our final leg to the port of San Antonio and our awaiting cruise ship.
We boarded the Celebrity Eclipse around 4:00pm and enjoyed a welcome champagne in the Martini Bar before heading to our cabin on the 8th deck. We just managed to drop off our carry-on bags before we were summoned to the Muster Station in the Murano Restaurant for the standard briefing on safety procedures. We then went back to our stateroom to unpack our suitcases then proceeded to the dining room for our 6:30 seating. Kim ordered prime beef and I had the Celebrity Spaghetti Bolognese. After dinner and an exhausting day we made ourselves comfortable on the balcony of our stateroom and enjoyed a glass of wine under the Chilean skies.
Continue to Day 4 - click here
Our 2nd day in South America was filled with bright sunshine and clear, blue skies. We were picked up at our hotel just after 9:00am and climbed into a 14 passenger van where we were greeted by our driver Jorge and our guide Hector.
As we made our way out of the downtown area, the evidence of the political protests which had been going on for months, and which we had witnessed the day before at Plaza Italia, were on full display. Block after block of beautiful Colonial architecture had been defaced with anti-government grafitti. Hector explained that while the protests had been going on for months, for the most part they started out peacefully and would gradually turn violent in isolated places, like Plaza Italia, after the police arrived. While the protests were primarily aimed at the sharp increase in transit costs, there was also general unrest regarding the inequality of wealth in Chile. According to Hector, because voter turnout in Chile is low, the President was elected by a small group of the population who represented the upper class. Compounding the unrest is that much of the infrastructure in Chile - roads, water, electricity - is privately owned by the same people who elected the President.
The graffiti became less pronounced as we travelled out of the downtown area and we soon found our way on the main highway heading north, out of Santiago in Chile’s Metropolitan Region and towards the north eastern part of the Valparaiso Region. Our drive took us along the foothills of the Andes which is one of the reasons that this area is typically very dry. Apparently, the humidity from the Pacific, about 130 kilometers west of our route, is blocked by the coastal mountains. The area has an abundance of acacia trees which thrive here because their long root system can absorb what little water there is in the ground. As we approached San Estoben, Hector pointed out the peak of Anconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Andes (6900 meters) about 60 kilometers to the east in Argentina.
Our morning excursion was to a winery and archaeological site in the town of San Esteban. As we turned off the main road and onto the local road leading up to the winery, we passed through an old neighbourhood consisting of houses constructed from adobe - mud and straw covered in plaster and paint. The dusty road led us up an incline bordered by vineyards on each side. The vineyards were separated from the road by a row of rose bushes. The roses attract bees and keep bugs away from the vines while allowing natural pollination to occur. Owls nesting in burrows throughout the vineyards help to control rodents that might otherwise damage the plants.
Our van pulled into a small, empty parking lot protected from the sun by large, leafy trees. After leaving the van, we walked up a meandering dirt path that led us through the vineyard which blanketed the side of a steep hill from the base to the peak. Patches of dry brush and tall, prickly cacti were scattered throughout the vineyard, a reminder of the dry climate that dominates the area. As we reached the crest of the hill we had wonderful views of the Aconcagua Valley. This is also the main site of the Paidahuen National Monument and an opportunity to see ancient petroglyphs that date back nearly 1000 years. These petroglyphs are scattered about the hilltop all along the path leading from the vineyard.
After spending some time taking in the views and admiring the petroglyphs, we retraced our steps back through the vineyard to the winery. In a secluded clearing beside the winery, a large table had been set up for our small group to enjoy a lunch of fresh made empanadas and taste some of the fine wines of the area. Our wines consisted of 3 varietals - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Carmenere. All of the wines were very good but my favourite was the Carmenare, a wine for which Chile has become renowned. Carmenare is a dark-skinned grape that was imported from France in the 1850’s before the phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vineyards in France. While nearly all of the other grapes recovered in France, Carmenere did not, and was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in Chile in 1991 and has become one of that countries premier wines.
We finished our lunch and wine tasting then loaded back onto our van for the 1 1/2 drive through the scenic Andes mountains. Our drive took us along the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the main transport route out of Chile into Mendoza area of Argentina. The drive has spectacular views of the mountains and valleys with breathtaking hairpin turns (29 of them!) as we approached the Portillo Ski Resort and Laguna Del Inca near the Argentinean border.
The resort hotel seems to be the only structure in the area and sits at the southern end of the lagoon. The lagoon itself is a serene lake, bright blue in colour and surrounded by a backdrop of magnificent mountains. We walked down to the lagoon and sat on the bank admiring the peaceful calm that permeates the area. After spending some time at the lagoon, we walked back up to the resort where we had a light lunch at a lakeview table in the hotel dining room. The hotel is at 2875 meters above sea level and provides panaromic views of the lake and mountains that surround it.
Following our lunch, we drove back to Santiago which took roughly 2 1/2 hours where we were dropped off at our hotel. After freshening up, we walked to the Eladio Restaurant which was about 1 kilometer from our hotel. Kim enjoyed Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to complement her breaded steak stuffed with cheese and ham. I enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignon and a delicious strip loin steak with frites. We walked back to our hotel and prepared for our departure from Santiago the next day.
Continue to Day 3 - click here
The first day of our South American journey was a bit of a whirlwind. It started just before midnight which was an hour later than the scheduled departure time of our flight from Toronto’s Pearson Airport. The 9 1/2 flight aboard the Air Canada Boeing 777 to Santiago, Chile was a bit choppy due to turbulence but the seats were quite comfortable, even in Economy class. We landed in the Chilean capital of Santiago just before noon on January 3.
Having passed through immigration and collecting our luggage, we hailed a cab to our hotel. The 1/2 hour cab ride to the NH Collection Plaza Hotel in the Las Condes area of downtown cost 27,000 Chilean Pesos ($45 CDN). The hotel’s location is in a great spot with a modern indoor mall just over a block away and dozens of restaurants and bars within walking distance.
We checked in at the hotel and after organizing our bags, we relaxed for an hour before a quick tour of the city. We purchased tickets for the Turistiko Bus (hop-on, hop-off) at the mall and boarded the bus just outside the hotel. Perched on the second floor of the double-decked bus, we toured through several districts along the Mapocho River, which flows from the Andes and divides the city in two.
The hop on hop off bus eventually took us to a second bus before arriving at the gates of the Metropolitan Park of San Cristobal Hill where we took the Teleferico de Santiago (cable car) to the top. A late afternoon haze hung over the Andes in the background but afforded great views of the city lying along the valley. The prominent Gran Torre Santiago, the 2nd largest skyscraper in Latin America, towers above the cityscape like a giant obelisk. Leisurely walking around the observation deck at the top of San Cristobal Hill and taking in the magnificent views while enjoying ice-cream seemed like the appropriate way to unwind after our long journey from home. After spending about an hour at the top, we took the cable car back down the mountain in order to make it to our 6:00pm restaurant reservation.
We looked for a cab at the entrance to Metropolitan Park where we had been dropped off, but to no avail. I ended up walking a couple of blocks away through the mostly residential area before I located one and then we drove back to the park to pick up Kim. As we navigated the busy streets towards the restaurant, our driver indicated that there were major protests happening at the Plaza Italia. The protests had been going on for a couple of months and were driven in response to increasing Santiago Metro fares. Plaza Italia, which we had to pass through to get to our restaurant, is centrally located and is a demarcation point between the affluent neighbourhoods to its’ East and impoverished neighbourhoods to its’ West. It is a gathering point for celebrations, festivities and, in this case, social protests.
Our driver told us it would be too dangerous to cross through the plaza to get to our restaurant and he needed to bypass it, suggesting we find a restaurant closer to our hotel. We agreed and as we passed by the Plaza, we could see hundreds of people shouting and carrying placards and banners in the Square. The traffic was backed up significantly as we inched along passing the Plaza on our right. At one intersection, a fist fight broke out between a couple of protesters who seemed to be part of the same group. We finally made our way around the chaos and arrived safely at our hotel.
After paying our fare and exiting the cab, we walked across the street to a casual Italian Restaurant with an outdoor patio. We enjoyed a delicious pizza and shared a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, while we chatted about our eventful day. Having been on a plane for nearly 10 hours prior to our arrival, we happily had an early night and sound sleep at the hotel, anticipating our 2nd day in South America.
Continue to Day 2 - click here
Our final days in Egypt were spent resting and relaxing by the Red Sea. After many busy days of touring the country our next 4 days were spent laying by the pool and enjoying the sun. The hotel that we stayed at was an all-inclusive property so all our meals and drinks were included which made it easy to make decisions each day and we could really just relax, sleep and read books.
The food at the hotel was a buffet setup. After a few days it does tend to become a little bit repetitious. One evening we did have a made to order dinner at the Italian restaurant which gave us a bit of a change. The service was very good and the food tasty so we were generally happy. One evening we also took an Uber to a small town about 30 minutes from Hurghada to have a change of pace. We enjoyed a stroll on the shoreside boardwalk and dinner on the patio. Everything was super fresh and it was a wonderful evening.
One day we planned a half day excursion with one of the companies that roams the resort offering activities. We chartered a private boat for a morning of snorkeling. The water in the Red Sea is crystal clear and has amazing shades of blue. We were taken for a ride, approximately 30 minutes out, to a reef where we were given snorkel gear. We popped into the water from the back of the boat with a guide. He slowly worked his way through the water showing us so many kinds of fish, coral, plant life and other sea creatures – it was amazing. Below is a video that shows our highlights from Hurghada but also includes footage from under the water while on the snorkeling trip. It is some of the best snorkeling we have ever done.
One day Denis also went golfing at a course in the area. In Egypt starting early is really necessary due to the heat. He enjoyed a morning of golf and had the course almost to himself. The scenery is pretty spectacular.
At the end of four days, it was unfortunately time to return home. Our adventure in Egypt was everything we hoped it would be – an education in history and culture, awe inspiring due to the incredible structures and a truly magical experience that should be something everyone enjoys. We know we will definitely be back.
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.