Don’t eat the guanaco and go easy on the merlot: two pieces of advice that seem counterproductive to a trip through Chile. However, when you’re staying more than 2.4km above sea level, I advise soaking up all the tricks and tips to avoiding altitude sickness.
Recently, I chatted with Max Vera, the grandly titled Chief of Excursions at luxury lodge Tierra Atacama, about travelling at high altitudes. Based in San Pedro de Atacama, a village in Chile’s Atacama Desert, he helped me acclimatise with short, scenic walks and horse rides through landscapes that have been movie stand-ins for the moon, before I pushed up to the Geysers del Tatio, at 4.3km. To put that all into perspective, Latin America’s most visited site, Machu Picchu, in neighboring Peru, is the same altitude as San Pedro, at 2.4km.
Down the bottom of Chile, looking south toward Antarctica, Punta Arenas is at the confluence of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and has a subpolar, oceanic climate. Its average daytime temperature is 15 degrees and the surrounding ocean water is typically 2 degrees: no wonder no-one is swimming.
It’s the jumping off point north to the popular Patagonian adventures in Torres del Paine National Park and south to the Antarctic peninsula.
Thanks to our fabulous guide with Quasar Expeditions, we managed briefly to slip under the skin of this frontier town – where puffer jackets dominate the fashion scene, guanaco is on the menu, the waterfront wharves are covered in murals and the houses are painted bright pinks and yellows to counteract the heavy, grey skies.
A perfect day in Torres del Paine, Patagonia from sunrise to sunset, starts with dawn with the dirtiest Jeep, and continues with chasing guanacos through the highlands, nose running while clinging to a bolting horse tearing across icy plains, and all day watching snow clouds gather through the towers and teeth of the Paine massif on a winter adventure.
But the real reason we’re here is for the pumas of Patagonia. Nicknamed ‘ghost cats’ because they’re so elusive, they’re the reason we’re braving sub-zero temperatures, snowy afternoons and chill winds that tear down the Patagonian ice fields to claw at our faces.
I’m lucky enough to be able to say that it’s my second time in Torres del Paine national park, and my third time visiting Patagonia, twice on the Chilean side, and once on the Argentinean side.
This time, I travelled with Quasar Expeditions,
If you’re after a chilly, nose-running read on spotting these beautiful pumas, click here and (hopefully) enjoy!
Quasar Expeditions runs five-day Secret Season itineraries from $4300 a person. Puma-tracking itineraries cost from $5540, including a tracking fee and four- or five-star accommodation. See quasarex.com
Last month, I found myself hiking along a section of Chilean Patagonia’s most famous walking route, the W.
The route curls around the Paine Massif, a majestic family of jagged peaks, whose tops were shrouded in cloud and cloaked in snow. Condors hunted between their teeth, and the air jolted to the sound of avalanches, hundreds of meters above me.
It all taps into the recent story I wrote for Prevention magazine, a women’s health publication, about five great hiking holidays. In it, I included the W, but also Tasmania’s new Three Capes Walk and the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory, as well as the Kumano Kodo in Japan and the Spanish classic ultra-long walk, the Camino de Santiago.
Why do we walk? To get fit? To slow down? To go on pilgrimage?
The benefits include better health and spending time in nature, while some walks, like the Kumano Kodo and the Camino, were very deliberately designed to create time to clear your head and sift and sort through the bigger problems in life, says Di Westaway, founder of Wild Women On Top.
“Finishing a trek that takes you outside your comfort zone is a confidence-building exercise. It might be really arduous at high altitude, with plenty of “OMG, what was I thinking?” moments, but that exhilaration and achievement afterwards is a huge personal lift,” Diane adds.
You can read the story online, or you can just pull your hiking boots on now…
the World collection has 24 good reasons to get out of town and head for the wilderness.
The full list of lodges is:
Fogo Island Inn, Canada
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
Kapari Natural Resort, Greece
Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, Costa Rica
Lizard Island, Australia
Longitude 131°, Australia
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, Canada
Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa
Sayari Camp, Tanzania
Southern Ocean Lodge, Australia
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Malaysian Borneo
The Brando, French Polynesia
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana, United
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, Chile
Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, Chile
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Bhutan
information about National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, visit www.nationalgeographiclodges.com.
|A local woman from the Sacred Valley, Peru.|
Take me to… Tahiti! Or Peru. I’m not fussy. Or perhaps one of the fabulous new hotels of the world, including the Sofitel So Singapore or Australia’s own new regional art hotel, The Schaller Studio in Bendigo.
Check out their opening specials, as well as a Kids Do Paris tour, in this week’s international and domestic travel deals.
Ski two days free at Mount Buller with a seven-night package
at Buller Central hotel. Get a seven-day lift pass for the price of five
days, daily breakfast and one dinner. Book by August 31, travel June
28-September 7. From $1405 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 019 130, see
|Moorea Pearl Resort, French Polynesia|
Includes five nights in the Moorea Pearl Resort, five in the Tikehau
Pearl Beach Resort, two in Tahiti and international flights. Travel
November 1-December 10, January 10-March 31, 2015. From $4790 a person,
12 nights. Phone 1300 858 305, see airtahitinui.com.au.
|Bendigo’s The Schaller Studio, Victoria, Australia|
Stay at Bendigo’s The Schaller Studio and save $55 with its
opening special, from $125 a night, until August 30. A Stay & See
package includes tickets to Bendigo Art Gallery exhibitions and midday
checkout. From $195, August 2-November 9. Phone 1800 278 468, see artserieshotels.com.au/schaller.
Check into the new Sofitel So Singapore, pictured, and save
40 per cent with a Weekends@So offer, which includes a Saturday-night
stay in the 19th-century French-style rooms, Saturday champagne brunch
and Sunday all-day breakfast. From $515 until December 31.See sofitel.com.
|Sofitel So Singapore|
Grab a friend and book a South American holiday with flights
and your friend flies free with LATAM, saving up to $2800. Tours include
the 20-day Highlights of South America, from Santiago to Lima, from
$8695 a person, twin share. Book by September 30. Phone 1300 196 420,
Book a two-night midweek stay at the four-star Pelican Waters
resort on the Sunshine Coast and pay half price until November 30.
Includes a free night and a round on a Greg Norman championship golf
course. From $310, quote PEL019. Phone 1800 213 422, see pelicanwatersgolfresortandspa.com.au.
Tourwatch: Life in the Himalayas
Experience mountain life in the Indian Himalayas with a
high-altitude stay in Ladakh. Base yourself in one of six traditional
village houses, renovated to rustic luxury, and walk between local
villages, visiting schools, markets and monasteries.
Raft on glacial rivers the Indus and Zanskar and lose
yourself in a landscape of snowy mountains and serene lakes until end
September. Includes meals, private chef, guides, tours and private car.
From $5670 a person, twin share, seven nights. See shaktihimalaya.com.
Let your kids see what all the fuss is about on Paris’ famous
Left Bank with a three-hour family walking tour. Run by a Parisian
mum, options include pastimes such as sailing toy boats and riding the
merry-go-round in le Jardin du Luxembourg and a visit to the national
history museum. Join your kids or leave them with the qualified guide.
$164 for kids seven-12 years (max five children on a tour) and adults,
$128 for kids three-seven years. Search code 3151_KIDSRIGHT on viator.com.
|Sule Shangri-La, Yangon, Myanmar|
To all ends of the world, from Chilean Patagonia to the new frontier of
Myanmar, in this week’s Sun-Herald travel deals. Closer to home, eat and sleep all
things Manfredi on the NSW Central Coast or snap up the Novotel St
Kilda’s six-bottle special. Enjoy!
Stay two nights at the newly rebranded Sule Shangri-La,
Yangon, and get $40 hotel credit and a one-way airport transfer until
July 31. The former Traders Hotel is in walking distance of the
2000-year-old Sule Pagoda. “Celebration packages” from $265 a night,
deluxe room. shangri-la.com.