We've just returned from a 15 day cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. We did not take a single ship excursion nor did we use any independent tours. Yet, we saw every sight we were interested in. I thought it might be helpful to share how we did it.
First, a disclaimer. I'm not nearly smart enough to have come up with all of this on my own. In fact, probably 90% of this information is available on this board or on Trip Advisor. That's where I found it,but it's scattered among dozens and dozens of posts, so I thought I'd consolidate it into one post and maybe help some of you save hundreds of dollars like we did. Also, I'll tell what didn't work, so maybe you can avoid some of our mistakes.
Our cruise started in Valparaiso, so we flew into Santiago. We stayed at the Ibis in Estacion Central. We chose this hotel for several reasons. It's cheap (which will be a recurring theme in this post). It's basic, but clean. Don't expect a 4 or 5 star hotel, but I thought it was pretty good, and the bed was comfortable. The breakfast buffet was also cheap (maybe $6 US), but it was adequate. The main reason we stayed there though was because you can catch a Turbus from the airport directly to the hotel. Turbus has a kiosk just outside the arrival terminal, where you can buy the ticket. It takes a half hour from the airport to Alameda bus station , which is right next door to the Ibis. The cost was about $3 US pp.
We had a day in Santiago before going on to Valparaiso. You can take the Metro from the Estacion Central station (about two blocks away)into the heart of Santiago. We took the free walking tour, which was not particularly good IMO. (Note to self: Cheap does not always equal Good).
Several people have noted that the area of Santiago around the Ibis Estacion Central is not the best, but I didn't see any problem with it. Lots of people including students and business folks walking around. Perhaps it isn't the safest after dark, but we were back in the hotel by 8:00 PM, so we had no issues.
The next morning, we took the short 1 minute walk back to the Alameda Bus terminal and bought tickets to Valparaiso (less than $10 US pp). The buses run every half hour or so and are very nice motor coaches. The hardest part was finding the ticket window, which is on the far left after entering the terminal.
The bus terminal in Valparaiso is a pretty good distance from the port. We also stayed at the Ibis in Valparaiso, which is right by the port, so we had to catch a taxi from the bus terminal. This Ibis looked exactly like the one in Santiago from the inside (I gather that all Ibis are like this). It was perfect for a one night stay. We did another free walking tour with Tours4Tips, who start from PlazaSotomayor, which is just a few minutes walk from the Ibis. I called this the graffiti tour, because it seemed like all our tour guide showed us were examples of graffiti on local buildings. I think you'd be just as happy wandering around Valparaiso on your own if you don't want to book a real tour.
Although the Ibis is next to the port, you do need transportation from the hotel to the port. We took a taxi, but another couple used the metro successfully. It apparently was a bit of a walk from the metro station to the port terminal though.
We rented a car from Norway Rent-A-Car for roughly $120 including gas. They met us at the port, so that saved some time. Roads are well-marked, and we had no problems negotiating the route once we figured out how to get out of Puerto Montt. As with all our stops, I just went on Google Maps and printed out maps of the various towns/routes we planned to take. We drove out to Petrohue Falls and the Green Lagoon (another name for the Green Lagoon should be PondScum Lake – not much there, but it's only 5 minutes off the road to Petrohue, so if you've got plenty of time, you might as well visit)and then went back to Puerto Varas and walked around. There was not much to see in Puerto Varas although all the roses were pretty, but there are some nice views across the lake of the snow-capped volcano. We had planned to also drive up to Fruitillar, but stopping at PondScum Lake ate up just enough of our time that we decided to head back. By the way, the main highway is a toll road, so make sure you've got some Pesos with you.
There is absolutly nothing in Puerto Chacabuco. There is also very little other than pretty scenery anywhere nearby. Don't waste your money on an excursion. You can see almost exactly the same thing as the $150 excursions for about $10.
You can hop on the local bus for 500 Pesos (less than a $1 US) and take it into the next town, Puerto Aysen. To catch this bus, look for the three white domes just outside the port. NCL had a free shuttle from the port to the domes. There will be a bunch of tour guides and buses at the domes. Instead of walking up to the domes, take the paved road to the left. The bus stop (as of 3/17) was about 100 feet up the paved road on the right. It was not marked, but it is right by a short paved drive to nowhere, and there were several locals waiting for the bus when we got there. Even if you can't figure it out exactly, just wait in the general vicinity, and you'll be fine. The bus will come from the direction of town and turn around past the stop, so you'll have plenty of opportunity to flag it down. These are small mini buses and run about every 15 minutes.
It takes about 15 minutes to reach Aysen. When you reach Aysen, you'll cross the largest suspension bridge of Chile (which still isn't that big). The bridge is a reddish orange. The bus will make a left turn two blocks after the bridge and stop at the taxi stand right after the turn. Remember this point because it's where you'll catch the return bus. Now, you'll need to buy a ticket to Coyhaique. There are two bus companies that run the route. Buses Ali is supposedly located right next to the taxi stand (we didn't use them, but another poster said they are there). Another bus company (Buses Suray) is located on the same street as the bridge, just past the street you're on. You'll buy the bus ticket in the office and specify the time you want to travel. It was about $5 US one-way. Supposedly, you can buy a roundtrip ticket, but we couldn't figure out how with our limited Spanish.
The bus leaves every hour or something like that(11:30-12:40) so I recommend going quickly to buy a ticket and skip the visit of Puerto Aysen (there is nothing to see anyway).
When you arrive in Coyhaique make sure you buy your return ticket to ensure a seat on the bus and get back in time. It was a 45 minute trip with really pretty scenery. If you can, sit on the left side ofthe bus going to Coyhaique (or the right side for the return). You'll have a good view of the Virgin Waterfall.
Make sure you have Chilean Pesos with you. The bus to Aysen only accepts local currency, and I am pretty sure the bus to Coyhaique is the same.
We visited on a Sunday, so much of Coyhaique was shut down, but it was a nice town to walk around, and we did find a good restaurant for lunch. We spent about two hours there, which was more than enough.
We walked from the port to the cemetery. It took about 30 minutes following these directions.
MaggiorinoBorgatello" (a/k/a SalesianMuseum) is less than one mile from the dock. Definitely worth the walk on a nice day.
1. Walk NE on Av. 21de Mayo until you get to the "Magellan Park" (Hotel Cabo deHornos on right side of street).
2. Walk through the park, grab a photo of Magellan, continue NE on Av. Carlos Bories.
3. Pass "LaChocolatta" on your left in 1½ blocks
4. Continue, cross very small stream (which we never saw), another 4½ blocks to museum on your left.
- 5. Punta Arenas cemetery is another 2 blocks, on opposite side of the street, and one of the three most beautiful in all of South America.
We strolled around the cemetery for about half an hour, then caught a taxi out in front to the Museo Nao Victoria -- a short cab ride north of the city. Full scale replicas of Magellan's ship, HMS Beagle, and others. You can climb all over the ships. This was pretty interesting and worth the $7 or so admission. We probably spent about an hour here. They have an audio tour in English (as well as others) available for a couple of dollars, but we didn't find it particularly useful. They have some good information, but aren't triggered by location, so it's basically a history lecture rather than an explanation of what you're seeing.
Our original plan was to catch a local bus or Colectivo out to the Museo Nao Victoria(as other posters have suggested), but after walking up and down Ave.Carlos Bories from the cemetery, we never found a Parada (bus stop),so we opted to flag down a taxi. Just a suggestion if you don't want to waste time and don't mind spending a little more.
So that you'll sound cool and not like a typical American, the town is pronounced Oosh-why-ah. Naturally we learned that after the fact.
We rented a car fromAlamo and drove to Tierra del Fuego. We picked Alamo because it was the first car rental agency I could find online that was near the port and didn't require pre-payment (important because this is one of those ports that is sometimes skipped due to weather). Alamo is about 6 blocks from the pier. There are several agencies in town that might be a little cheaper. We passed one on the way to Alamo called Localiza. Our car rental was about $130, including refueling.
It was an easy 15 minute drive to Tierra del Fuego. We parked in the lot at the end of the park and walked several trails. It was pretty, but I guess I was expecting some sort of WOW factor, and that was missing for me. Most of the trails were just that – trails through the woods. Every now and then there would be some view of distant mountains or the abandoned beaver dams or the water, but for every view, there was a lot of hiking with nothing much to see. I think we walked 7 or 8 miles of trails.
We then drove back toward the park entrance and visited the Post Office at the end of the world. Boy, the guy who came up with this idea has a gold mine. It's a small shack (for lack of a better word) where this guy will stamp your passport for $3 saying that you've visited. There are also postcards (with his picture on it) available for sale, and, of course, you can mail said post cards from there as well. From what I've read, it can take months for those postcards to arrive at their destinations, which makes me wonder if this is a post office in name only. But, virtually every tour bus stops there, so he does a steady business.
Leave yourself some extra time to fill up the rental car on return. There was really only one gas station we saw near the port, and there was a line of cars waiting to get gas. It probably took 15 minutes to fill the car up.
One other note: If you want to visit the prison museum (which some of our fellow passengers said was decent), you don't need a tour to get there. It's only about a 10 minute walk from the port.
We passed on Volunteer Point because we planned to see penguins at our next port. Instead, we caught a shuttle ($20 US RoundTrip pp) to Gypsy Cove to see....penguins. Basically, we were just killing time in Port Stanley. There are not a lot of penguins in Gypsy Cove, especially in mid March when we visited. I think there might have been 15 or 20, but this was our first view of penguins, so it was still fun. Gypsy Cove is about a 15 minute ride from the port, or you can walk it in about an hour and a half (confirmed by a couple who did it). The walk did not look very pleasant (not much to look at), even though our weather was outstanding. It took about an hour to walk around Gypsy Cove and introduce ourselves to the few penguins. It is a pretty cove with some decent photo ops. You can catch any shuttle bus back to the port, not just the one you rode in on. You just que up into one long line and wait for the next one to arrive. We probably waited 15 minutes or so before getting on.
After lunch on the ship, we went back and walked around Port Stanley. Not a lot there,but there were several monuments, small cafes, gift shops, etc.lining the waterfront. They'll give you a free map at the information booth as you exit the pier which tells you where everything is.
We rented a car and drove to Punta Tombo. Obeying the speed limit, it was 2 hours and 20 minutes from the airport where we rented the car. The airport was a 10 minute taxi ride from the port, so figure 2 and a half hours each way if you rent a car downtown.
We rented from Hertz at the airport for several reasons. Despite two of us trying for months to get quotes from agencies in-town, we came up blank. A few had rates posted online, but all had 200 km maximums before extra charges kicked in. Hertz at the airport offered unlimited miles, and I was able to book it online without any prepayment. The airport is also on the way to Punta Tombo, so we didn't lose any time. It states online that the Hertz counter opens at 8:00 AM, but it was open when we arrived at 7:45, so I would suggest if you have an early 7:00 ship arrival, that you go ahead and grab a cab.
Speaking of cabs inPuerto Madryn, when you exit the port, you'll see a line of taxis parked by the main road with a pseudo-dispatcher controlling things. He quoted us $40 US for a ride to the airport. Not knowing any better, we agreed. Well, you have to pay him $5 to yell to Fred to bring up his taxi, then $35 for the ride. Coming back from the airport, it cost us $12 on a metered taxi. My suggestion is to walk past this line of taxis and see if you can flag down a taxi on the street and pay a metered rate. It may not work. Every taxi in Puerto Madryn may be waiting in this rip-off line, but it might be worth wasting 5 minutes to see. By the way, this is a really small airport. When we returned the car, the only people in the airport were the Hertz guy and a couple of security guards. You can ask the Hertz guy to call for a taxi (which involved him trying to reach the airport administrator who had apparently left for the day, and then finally having one of the security guards call for the taxi). It still only took about 10 minutes for the taxi to arrive.
To get to PuntaTombo:
You follow the main road to Trelew (Ruta 3) and then keep going south on that main road until you get to a sign pointing the way to Punta Tombo (there is a giant billboard as well as a small road sign). This is Ruta 75. This leads on to Ruta 1 (turn right on Ruta 1) and you eventually get to a gravel road with a big sign saying Punta Tombo. This road takes you the final 20km of the journey. You can print out maps of your route on Google Maps. Make sure you print out a good detailed map of Trelow for the route Ruta 3 takes through the city. There are a couple of roundabouts you have to negotiate to stay on Ruta 3. Coming back, we purposely got off Ruta 3 to take a look at Trelow. This is a pretty big town, and it is easy to get lost in it. You do not want to make a wrong turn at one of the roundabouts and get off Ruta 3.
The first thing you see on arrival at Punta Tombo is a car park. This is not the main attraction but the visitor center. You need to stop here and buy the entrance tickets.The visitor center has information about the penguins along with a restaurant and toilet facilities. It's not obvious that you haven't arrived at the final destination, but you don't need to get all your stuff out of the car at this point. You'll then drive about 1 km down to the start of the walkway.
Although a long drive, this was worth it. Thousands of penguins, even in mid March. Supposedly, there were a million of them earlier in the season. You walk right among them. One even stood in front of a bench for a tleast 15 minutes as tourists moved in and out to sit on the bench for pictures.
Leave yourself enough time to fill up the car when you return. The closest gas station is past the airport (the Hertz guy will give you directions),or you can do like we did and drive into Puerto Madryn to find a station. Either way, it adds some time to the return, so don't cut it too close.
We had planned to do another free walking tour, but changed our plans after arriving. You can get a map with a walking tour plotted out at the small visitor center at the port. We just followed the map and walked the town on our own. Although we didn't buy anything, it appeared that most places accepted US dollars as well as charge cards.
Let me start by suggesting what not to do. Don't attempt to walk to or from the port. It looks close to the city, but there are a lot of confusing turns, and it's a much longer walk than it appears. We, of course,attempted just that and ended up in a section of town that wa sapparently dangerous enough that a couple of really nice police officers felt the need to escort us back to civilization. At the end of the day, we then attempted to walk back, got lost again (albeit not in the bad part of town), and eventually grabbed a taxi.
Taxis are very cheap if you catch them on the street. If you take one from the port, you will pay through the nose. So, how do you get out of the port if it's not really walkable? One option is try to walk at least a little way from the port. How far, I don't know. Just don't walk to the right because those nice officers might not be on duty. Another option that I wish we'd taken is that there was a local jewelry company offering free shuttles from the port to the end of Florida Street. We passed on it because there was a line, and it appeared that they only had a few shuttles. But, if you're willing to wait a bit, it will get out into town where you can catch a taxi for a metered rate. Getting back to the port by taxi will also be at the cheap metered rate. It's only the ones originating at the port that will cost an arm and a leg.
Getting back to our itinerary, after surviving our walk, we eventually got to Recoleta Cemetery, which is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. We spent about an hour there and then walked across town to the National Congress Building. We stopped for lunch along the way, and it wasn't a bad walk at all. We had planned another free walking tour, but it was so bad, that we left it after half an hour. It was hot and sticky, and the tour guide seemed to find every spot possible out in direct sunlight to stop and give a 15 minute oration that was so detailed that even my wife, the history major, was bored. So, we toured on our own for a while (all we really had to see was the Pink House and the Obelisk), before making the aborted attempt at walking back to port.
If your cruise ends in Buenos Aires, and you have to make it to the airport, I can give you an option other than the rip-off taxis. Ar-Bus has a booth in the port building. They provide bus transportation to both the domestic and international airports. The rate to the domestic airport (for those of you travelling to Iguazu Falls) was $10 US pp, compared to the taxi rate for the 3 km journey of $30 (I told you taxi rates was absurd in the port). I believe they have the same rate to the international airport. At least that's the rate between the airports (which we took after returning from Iguazu), and it's a similar distance.
I hope this helps someone. As I said at the beginning, most of this info has been previously posted (and I thank each and every one of you who posted originally). There is more detail out there, but maybe this will at least give you a starting point.