Tucan Travel Patagonia Tour Review
Emily Rodgers went travelling through South America and had no intention of venturing to Patagonia. However every traveller that she came across insisted that you can't miss it for the world so she decided to shift a few things around and booked a last minute tour with travel operator Tucan Travel. Patagonia did not disappoint and here she shares her experience and reasons why you also might want to join a tour to explore this spectacuar region...
- Name: Mara BSC Patagonia Tour
- Duration: 12 Days
- Route: El Calafate to Santiago
- Style: Overland Tours
- Price: B629.00
- Date joined: 19th February
- Would I recommend? Yes
This 12 day adventure will take you from trekking up snow topped mountains to the tiny streets of Swiss infused towns in an overland experience driving you from plush forests to dodging rogue Guanaca's and ostriches by the outback inspired roadside. The extraordinary landscape has something different to offer every day, from the setting and climate to the activities and culture, and this tour certainly packs it all in.
Our tour would be stopping in 6 places: El Calafate, El Chalten, Perito Moreno, Bariloche, Pucon and Santiago. A perfect trip for us to experience the best bits of Patagonia ending in Chile to then continue on our trip. It is easy to get a flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate and both the meeting and ending point are good bases for both domestic and international travel.
At first we were pleasantly surprised with the overall price at just over £500 for the tour, however upon booking we were made aware of a local fee that would be needed on arrival of $600 US. This was obviously a lot more than we expected to pay but with our hearts set on seeing Patagonia we agreed it was a small price for the experience we would get in return. Tip: make sure you have acquired the local payment in advance of your trip to South America, unbeknownst to us at the time, dollars are extremely hard to come by in the country and we had a tough job acquiring that amount. Luckily our tour guide was lenient, with plenty of other travellers experiencing the same problem and so allowed us to pay as and when we could throughout the trip. Lesson learnt: Always read the small print before booking a tour like this, that amount of money would have been hard to come by if we hadn't had our savings at hand for slip ups like this. The local payment covers for the hotels, the food for drive days, entry into the national parks, local guides and included excursions.
We met our trip guide and the rest of our group in El Calafate and were introduced to a mixed bunch of all ages and backgrounds with an average age of 30. It was quite a large group, 18 altogether, including solo travellers, friends and couples, all excited to reap the wonderful sights and visual rewards that this part of the world has to offer.
Please keep in mind, I am not a hiker. I do not own hiking boots, or sticks or a water bottle with a straw, however I love walking amongst nature as well as a challenge, so while there were mainly seasoned hikers on this tour, it is suitable for anybody who likes an active holiday in some of the worlds most famous and beautiful trekking spots.
Despite this, the tour is also not for the faint hearted, it helps if your physically fit and active but if not there are still plenty of activities to do. The tour is mainly focused around hiking but there are also amazing sites, walking tours, cycling, horseback riding and water sports to consider. In other words, don't expect to be lazing around on a beach leisurely reading a book.
We crossed through the countries on a large monstrosity of a truck called Peggy, this will no doubt warrant strange glances from nearby locals as you pass through small towns, as the bus is huge and bright yellow. She stores everything you could need for the few long days on the road, including games, books, plugs, a fridge and speakers.
The main highlights
On the first full day you will visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a small drive away from El Calafate. We had a quick stop along the way to visit some of the local wildlife, managing to snap plenty of selfies with the friendly guanaca's, sheep and cows meandering outside a little wooden coffee shop.
When you arrive at the Glacier park you will follow some metal boardwalks and after walking for about 10 minutes you will be presented with the immense blue wall of ice surrounded by clear water and hills, this is the astounding Glacier. It left us utterly gob smacked at it's sheer size, the intensity of the colours and shapes and the sound when the glacier 'calves' which is the process of large chunks of ice breaking off and falling to the water. Make sure to stand in one spot for about 20-30 minutes to witness this, the sound, the scale and the splash alone is enough to warrant a "wow!".
The next stop in El Chalten holds the famous Fitzroy mountains. The day after you arrive in this lovely little town you will be able to hike the Fitzroy trail. This took us about 8 hours and will take you through enchanted forests, over fresh water rivers, up the snowy trail with views of picturesque rolling hills stretching for miles into the distance until you reach the top, where a crystal blue lake surrounded by mountains awaits you. The sense of achievement when you climb the summit and the postcard worthy views are the best part of this day. Not to mention the cold beer awaiting you in one of the cosy pubs at the bottom after your 24k walk is over.
It seemed each town that we stopped at was more beautiful and extraordinary than the last. One of my favourite parts of this trip was exploring each one. Strolling through the shop filled lanes, dipping in and out of tiny cafes, marvelling at the quaint charm and tasting the culinary delights of Argentina and Chile along the way. Many of the buildings are based around the Swiss and German influence of the immigrants who moved to these parts in the 1940's, so it may feel at times like you have stepped into a European town or the Sound of Music, matched perfectly with stone walls, wooden huts and the lakes and hills surrounding them. This is the perfect chance to take walking tours, learning about the countries rich culture, including the history of the indigenous people. You will always be sure to find a canine friend in one of the lovable neighbourhood dogs which wonder the streets too. (Tip: If you're not a dog person, South America definitely isn't for you.) It's only a shame that we couldn't stay longer in each place.
In one of the last towns, Pucon, lies one of the many active volcanoes in Chile in which you will have the opportunity to hike. This was without a doubt the most challenging but rewarding parts of the tour. Due to Patagonia's extreme changes in weather it may not be possible to do but if you get the chance, make sure you take it. You will see live magma and be able to sled all the way down. It's the perfect ending to such a magnificent tour.
What to pack: hiking gear is not essential and can be bought or rented from the many shops in the towns that the tour goes through. Active wear, warm clothing, waterproofs and layers are a big bonus. Proper walking shoes also help however I got by with some sturdy trainers. Make sure to take or buy a hat and gloves also, as the bus can be extremely cold when setting off early.
Ratings out of 10
Administration and Support: 8
Booking the tour was easy, we received lots of information upon confirmation and throughout the tour, including a welcome pack and access to be able to email the tour whenever we needed, all with prompt response. Going through boarders was always seamless and the guides organisation was always reassuringly spotless.
The hotels were always livable, some ranging from the best we could've asked for (great breakfast, comfy bed and working wifi) to the worst (caged windows, dodgy meals and not even a signal in sight). A happy medium would've been nicer than one extreme to the other however as we only stayed 1/2 nights in each place as well as being out and about doing activities all day, there wasn't enough time to get used to them.
Our guide was knowledgable, always catering to our needs and organised plenty of group meals outside of our activities to get to know the group. We would've liked to have spent a bit more time asking questions about our surroundings on long drive days in which the guide was up the front with the driver but this was the only down fall.
Health and Safety: 8
We were always constantly made aware of the implications and risks for the activities and on tbe bus, mainly to protect us, but also to protect the company from any mishaps and legal hoo-haa.
The experience and excursions on this tour provided endless fun and incredible memories which will be cherished, it was almost faultless, however the drive days (which can last up to 12 hours) can become boring as they are throughout the day. Make sure to bring plenty to do or get really good at sleeping in obscure positions.
Value for Money: 6
Although the experience paid for itself, we did struggle at times to work out where our 900 pounds was going towards. The hotels were often basic, the food on drive days was simple and the adding the rest up still left a large amount unaccounted for. Depending on your budget, this may not be the company for you.
Despite some limitations, this tour was *cringe* once in a life-time. To be able to remove the hassle and stress and just enjoy the ride was incredible and I would definitely recommend a trip to Patagonia to anyone.
By Emily Rodgers
Emily travelled as part of a Tucan Travel tour, you can view more information and book this trip here: www.tucantravel.com/tour/overview/mara/bcs. You might also like to follow Emily on Twitter or check out her travel pictures on Instagram.