Day 2: Santiago to Patagonia National Park

This morning started with a 4:15 wake up call at the Santiago Airport Holiday Inn. We quickly got ready and walked across the street to the domestic terminal. While we know the check-in area can get very crowded later in the day, 5AM is a breeze. We checked our bag and relaxed in the lounge until it was time to board. Like our last flight, we forked over the extra ten dollars for early boarding — this time with the added bonus of exit row seats. The flight left on time and arrived early to the Balmaceda airport.

Early morning start

Exit row leg room for the win

Cloudy and overcast approaching Balmaceda

Not clandestine, but just as pushy

We quickly collected our bag and met our driver, Nelson. Since we were the only guests coming in today, so we got a private five-and-a-half hour drive to Explora. It was raining most of the drive and there were many potholes to avoid on the mostly gravel roads. One tire didn’t make it. But not to fear! Nelson was an expert tire changer and we were back on our way five minutes later.

Pit stop for flat tire

Despite the on and off rain, the views were still stunning. We also got to enjoy a very Patagonian box lunch during the drive.

Brief moment of sunshine over Lago Carrera

Patagonia juice bar

Upon arrival at Explora, we checked in and were shown our room (upgraded to a suite!). Patagonia National park was established in 2018, and the hotel opened only two years ago. Because of this, the restaurant, welcome center/gift shop, and museum are open to the public. The entire park used to be a private ranch and the buildings all existed before Explora opened in this location.

Entering Patagonia National Park

As part of the conservation effort, all of the pens and fences were removed from the park and cattle grazing is no longer allowed. This means that guanacos and pumas roam free in the area. After a few guanacos ran right past us at full speed outside the front entrance, we learned that getting trucked by a guanaco is FAR more likely to kill you here than getting attacked by a puma. So watch out! If a guanaco is running, they DNGAF if you are in the way. Meanwhile, the pumas are pretty chill because there are a million guanaco here for them to eat. By the way, current Puma sighting count still stands at 0.

After introductions and a quick change of clothes, we met our guide Poncho for our first Exploration (AKA, when the guides take you on a walk and assesses your hiking ability). We started the hike from the hotel and walked a 3 mile loop. It was a great first hike and the sun even came out.

Afternoon welcome hike — La Vega

Views from Valle Chacabuco

Heading back to Explora

When we returned, Poncho gave us the welcome presentation and we picked our exploration for tomorrow, along with some good ideas for the next few days. All that was left was to enjoy a delicious dinner.

Casa Vizcacha, a building on the Explora hotel grounds

What you see if you walk into Casa Vizcacha, obviously (thanks Rick!)

3 Comments on “Day 2: Santiago to Patagonia National Park”

  1. Glad to hear you made it safe and sound even with the little ‘hiccups’! The shot of the road entering the National Park is somewhat reminiscent of driving deep into Denali. Not sure what to think about those rabbits – kind of creepy – but the building is neat. Looking forward to your hiking adventures!

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