Further afield – South America 2015 Highlights

I’ve captured three weeks worth of travel around Argentina, Chile and Ecuador in seven posts, so thought I’d provide a summary of the highlights, and learnings, from visiting Buenos Aires, Argentinian Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales & Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego, Quito, and the Galápagos Islands.

Highlights

Natural beauty
Patagonia is an outstandingly beautiful place, vast swaths of nature at its very best, in particular looking back towards Torres del Paine, the epic Perito Moreno Glacier, reflections on the (sewage filled) lagoon in Ushuaia, and the play of light and cloud on Nordenskjold Lake in Torres del Paine National Park.

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Walking
The main purpose of the trip, walking through spectacular scenery in all weather conditions (strong sun, sleet, snow, strong winds, often during the same walk), though they confirmed that walking in New Zealand is hard to beat. Two walks in particular stood out for me, the Base Las Torres in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, and the Cerro Guanaco Track in Tierra del Fuego National Park, as these photos hopefully demonstrate.

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Man made beauty
Not the main purpose of the trip but Floralis Generica was a delightfully unexpected find in Buenos Aires, as was the waterfront sculpture and charming bin / man in Punta Natales.

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Architecture
I have sweet spots for the exteriors of the Planetario Galileo Galilei in Buenos Aires, and the totally out of place Galapogas Renewal Energy Centre, while the interior of the churches in Quito‘s Old Town were stunning, particularly Iglesia de San Francisco.

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Culture
Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires was the best art gallery, both as a building, and for the replica of an art event from 1965. Museo Maritimo y Presidio in Ushuaia was the best museum, hugely evocative. Quito‘s Casa del Alabado had the best collection.

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Wildlife
The Galápagos Islands predictably, in particular crabs, iguanas, and frigate birds.

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Lupines
Some of my favourite flowers, seen throughout Patagonia, but the best backdrop was in Torres del Paine.

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Learnings

Food
You’ll have a hard time finding anything in Argentina that isn’t meat, pizza or pasta, and meal quality is seemingly random, more dependent on the meal ordered, than the restaurant. The fish in the Galapagos Island is as good and fresh as you’d expect. Sandwiches in Argentina are white, thin, filling light and crustless.

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New Year
Is taken seriously with hardly a restaurant open (or if they do their head chief might go AWOL), or taxi available in Ushuaia on New Year’s Eve, despite the large number of tourists with few other options. A missed business opportunity!

Extreme weather
Though El Niño and climate change are probably to blame for thick snow in El Calefate on Boxing Day (should be summer in the Southern Hemisphere!), the heaviest rainfall for years in the Galapagos, and balmy weather in Ushuaia, the most southernly city in the world.

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Infrastructure
Is generally much better than I expected, particularly the airports, and the quality / age of vehicles on the road. Plumbing however remains somewhat suspect in most places, though bizarrely Ecuador was way better than Argentina.

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Taxi drivers
Tend not to speak any English, don’t follow the two second rule (I.e. leave more than a three foot gap between you and the vehicle ahead), and treat road markings as optional guidance.

Dedicated cycle lanes
Seemingly a global trend, with new lanes found in Chile’s Punta Arenas, the most second most southerly city in world, and Puerto Ayora, the main town in the Galápagos Islands.

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