Trip Coach: June 26, 2007

tc_062607_wbernhardsontc_062607_wbernhardson

Wayne Bernhardson, author of the guidebook 'Moon Handbooks Chile (Including Easter Island),' answered your questions on Chile.

New York, N.Y.: Hi! I'm going to Chile in November for a wedding. I'll stay in South America for five weeks. Can you give me a top ten list of places I must see?

Wayne Bernhardson: Sorry I'm on board a little late, but I had a computer glitch.

South America is a big continent--Chile is about the size of Texas and Argentina the size of India, so it's not easy to recommend widespread sights for practical reasons. However, in Chile I would say Torres del Paine National Park, the city of Valparaíso, and the Atacama desert would be the top sights for a first-time visitor.

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Norfolk, Va.: I am planning a round-the-world trip and would like to include Patagonia as a destination. The way I have it planned right now, I'll be there in September. Is that too early to arrive and still have the place comfortable and navigable? Also, the majority of my destinations are going to be in more hot, humid, and tropical places so I won't have the luxury of bringing the technical fleeces and other such gear with me. Any advice or suggestions will be appreciated. Thanks

Wayne Bernhardson: It depends where you're going in Patagonia--September, for instance, is ideal for seeing wildlife at Argentina's Peninsula Valdes. Generally, the weather is drier on the Argentine side than the Chilean side, but it can still be blustery anywhere in Patagonia. In the more remote areas, services can be limited in September--the season really starts in October and runs until April, with the peak in January and February.

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Bremerton, Wash.: I am flying into Santiago, Chile in early January 2008. I will be visiting the Lake District with a group of about 45 seniors later that month. What are the good spots to visit? Afterwards I will be staying to travel around Chile by myself on the way to Peru. What are the sites that should be seen while visiting Chile?

Wayne Bernhardson: Much depends on how much time you have, but I would say that the town of Puerto Varas, on Lago Llanquihue, makes an ideal base for visiting several national parks and the island of Chiloé. Lago Villarrica and the resort town of Pucón are also popularly. Remember that January is peak season, with more expensive prices and hotels often solidly booked.

If you're traveling overland to Peru, try to visit the city of Valparaiso, the wine country of central Chile, and the village of San Pedro de Atacama.

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Castle Valley, Utah: My wife and I are retired with a flexible schedule but not flexible finances. We want to visit Chile for a month or so and find a central location from which we can see different parts of the country. Where should we locate? Which parts of the country should we visit? What time of year should we visit?

Wayne Bernhardson: Given Chile's unique geography, with a 2500-mile coastline, any "central" location will be far from many sights. I prefer the shoulder seasons of November/December and March/April for sights like Patagonia's Torres del Paine, the wine country of central Chile, and the southern lakes. The Atacama desert is good at any time of year, though at high altitudes it gets cold in winter (July/August).

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Jacksonville, Ark.: My husband (60) and I (57) will be finishing a week-long business trip to Santiago, Chile, on Sep. 22, 2007. We have a tour starting Sep. 29 that goes into northern Chile and then to Easter Island. Any suggestions on what to do in the week in between? I would love to see glaciers and penguins but I am fearful to get too far from Santiago lest we miss the start of the tour.

Wayne Bernhardson: You can fly to Punta Arenas, Chile's southernmost city, in about three hours from Santiago, so logistics shouldn't be a problem. The glaciers you can see, by boat or overland, but it's only the start of the penguin season--you'll just see the earliest arrivals.

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Bremerton, Wash.: What is there worth seeing on a visit to the area around Puerto Monttt, Chile?

Wayne Bernhardson: The town of Puerto Varas has real charm and is, in my opinion, a better place to stay than Puerto Montt. You'll be close to the island of Chiloé and several national parks--try Alerce Andino, which has fine hiking trails.

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Fairfax, Va.: I am considering a trip to Chile in December and I was wondering the best way to get from Santiago to the Patagonia area. Is it expensive to travel to Patagonia? If I wanted to camp while I was there, what would be my best options?

Wayne Bernhardson: From Santiago, the fastest way is to fly, but it's also possible to take the Navimag ferry (www.navimag.cl) through the southwestern fjords from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. This is a three- to four-day trip with great scenery when the weather clears. It's easy to get overland to Puerto Montt from Santiago.

Chilean Patagonia is a relatively expensive place to travel because the Chilean is so strong, while Argentina's weaker currency makes it a bit cheaper. There are campgrounds in all easily accessible national parks and also backcountry camping.

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Miami, Fla.: I find southern Chile beautiful. Does anyone offer horseback excursions through the lake country? Any other tips on logistics to this remote region would be appreciated.

Wayne Bernhardson: There are horseback excursions near Puerto Varas through Campo Aventura, whose operators speak very fluent English.

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Madison, Wis.: Where are the best wine regions in Chile? Are tours available? What time of year is best to travel for vineyard purposes?

Wayne Bernhardson: My favorites are the Casablanca valley between Santiago and Valparaiso (www.casablancavalley.cl) and the Colchagua valley near Santa Cruz (www.rutadelvino.cl). The best time is the fall harvest, from February through April, when the wineries are most active and the weather is ideal.

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New York, N.Y.: It used to be that the best way to pay for things in a foreign country was to use a credit card. The amount spent was automatically converted to American dollars, and you simply paid the bill. Now, it seems that all credit cards are charging a fee (I believe it is a percentage of each transaction) to use the credit card. Are there any credit cards that will simply allow you to charge purchases and services in a foreign country without a service fee? If not, which card(s) have the lowest fees?

--Dawn

Wayne Bernhardson: This is more a general than Chile-specific question and banks vary greatly in their policies. I would, however, suggest avoid ATM cards of major US banks, which are now collecting unconscionable service charges. I use my credit union ATM.

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Manhattan Beach, Calif.: Hi Wayne,

I'm an avid fisherman, and would like your opinion on fishing opportunity locations (freshwater and salt water) in Chile.

Thanks,
Greg

Wayne Bernhardson: The Aisén region, around the city of Coyhaique, is probably the best for fly-fishing. Saltwater sportfishing is less common.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brasil: Is it still possible to take a bus & ferry boat trip across the Chile lake region from Puerto Montt to Bariloche Ar (and vice versa) in one day? How can I find info on schedules for this trip?

Wayne Bernhardson: See the Cruce de Lagos website (www.crucedelagos.cl) for details. However, the crossing takes a full-day in either direction.

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Lake Elsinore, Calif.: Do we need a visa to visit Easter Island for a week?

Wayne Bernhardson: American citizens do not need advance visas to visit Chile as tourists. Chile does, however, collect a US$100 "reciprocity fee" at Santiago's international airport--because the US government requires Chileans to pay an identical fee just to apply for a visa (with no guarantees of getting it). The Chilean fee is valid for the life of your passport.

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St. Petersburg, Fla.: I'll be on an overland trip in December, travelling through the Lake District and the fiord region before getting to Moreno and Paine. What places or day trips would I regret not experiencing and which would I regret spending the time and money?

Wayne Bernhardson: This is a pretty open-ended question. I would say to avoid the rather drab cities along the Panamerican Highway, such as Temuco and Osorno, in favor of picturesque towns like Villarrica and Puerto Varas, which are convenient to several national parks.

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Issaquah, Wash.: We'll be in Santiago, Chile in Feb. 2008, at the end of a cruise that begins in Buenos Aires. It looks like a fascinating place, but I keep reading that it can be unbearably hot down there then. Do you think it's still worthwhile to spend a few days exploring the city, despite the heat? Can you recommend any good mid-priced hotels?

Wayne Bernhardson: Santiago has a dry heat, similar to coastal California, and almost always cools off at night because it's 2000 feet above sea level. Try the Vilafranca B&B in the Providencia neighborhood (www.vilafranca.cl). Santiago is an ideal location for excursions to the mountains, vineyards and coastline (including the World Heritage city of Valparaiso).

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Charlottesville, Va.: Since I lived in Concepcion in the mid '70s, I want to share with my husband the diverse landscapes and joie de vivre of the Chilenos on a 2-3 week trip in the near future. Please provide some helpful Chile websites (Spanish ok) for lodging & winery tours? When is an "affordable time" to visit w/ the reverse seasons? What is indep. travel like during Christmas season & June-August? How far in advance to book all aspects of a trip? I would like to use car & train to travel from Valparaiso to Lake District (Osorno -Llanquihue) w/ possible crossing of the Andes to Argentina. Can you recommend any excursions to see fjords and/or hike in a National Park/reserve in the South?

Any tips regarding my queries are welcome. Ciao, as they say in Chile!

Wayne Bernhardson: Please see the other entry above regarding wine routes. The shoulder seasons of November/December and March/April are more affordable and less crowded than the January and February, when Chileans take their vacations. June to August is best in the northerly Atacama desert, though skiers may find it ideal near Santiago in those months.

I do not recommend train travel, as they are few and slow--buses are faster and the best of them resemble business class on an airplane.

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Titusville, Fla.: Hi Wayne,

My husband and I are taking a 12-day cruise March 6-17, 2008. We are both 60 yrs old and will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. The ship will disembark in Chile & we have 5 days in Chile before we fly back to USA. We are looking for accommodations and like to stay & eat with the locals. My husband speaks a little Spanish. We also would like to tour wine country, & other areas of interest, etc. We are not too adventurous, but like to walk. What type of an itinerary would you recommend? How do we find a reputable tour guide company? Recommendations on accommodations, etc. We would like to make the most of our time in Chile. Also, we have cruised/toured parts of Europe and feel comfortable being on our own as long as we are safe.

Thank you.
Judy & Jack

Wayne Bernhardson: I've answered some of your questions at least partially in other entries above. With regard to security, Chile has Latin America's best (and most honest) police force; they can't be everywhere, though, so be aware of your surroundings. That said, I think it's probably also the safest country in Latin America in terms of personal security.

I lack the time to enter names of specific tour operators, but they do appear in my book.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: How are the Native Chileans treated in terms of their civil & political rights?

Wayne Bernhardson: I presume you're referring to indigenous peoples such as the Mapuche of the south and the Aymara of the north. There is much progressive legislation on the books but it would still be accurate to say that, on the whole, they are socially and economically disadvantaged. Many indigenous people now lives in cities such as Santiago, as well as regional capitals; of Chile's 15 million or so inhabitants, about a million are Mapuche while the numbers of Aymara and others (such as the Rapa Nui of Easter Island) are much fewer.

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San Antonio, TX: Would like to travel by train from Santiago to Ushuaia. Any suggestions? Stops? Scenery? Santiago's air departures always seem to be very, very full (returning cruise passengers, I assume). Any suggestions timewise? (My husband is a retired AA Captain so airplane load factors are of prime importance to us!!) Thanks for any advice you may offer.

Wayne Bernhardson: Chile's only long-distance passenger service runs from Santiago to Puerto Montt via Temuco, but I do not recommend it except for the most dedicated trainspotters--it's far slower, far less frequent, and less comfortable than buses, the best of which resemble business class on airplanes.

Santiago's international airport is probably the best on the continent, and the flagship airline LAN is almost unquestionably the region's best. Flying to Ushuaia, however, is complex--there are several flights daily from Santiago to Punta Arenas, but only about three per week from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (Argentina). It would be possible to reach Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, but Argentine air services have suffered frequent interruptions since lightning knocked BA's radar in March. It is supposed to be repaired soon, but meanwhile takeoffs and landings are manual, with many delays and backups.

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Wayne Bernhardson: Well, time's almost up. I do list my email address in my book, so if you have any further questions feel free to contact me.

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