(This is part 1 of 4 in our Antarctica series)
The 7th continent is a place that few travelers can tick off their list. It’s remote, expensive, and takes some plotting! However, we made it work for a fraction of the cost and couldn’t be happier to share the penguin pandemonium!
Finding an Antarctica Deal
Much like our Galapagos adventure, you’ll find a lot of blogs touting a last minute deal. These are certainly possible and you can achieve them by either 1) heading to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina and waiting for a last minute cabin berth or 2) writing to many travel agents to get on their last minute deals mailing list. These both require some flexibility as you could wait in Ushuaia for weeks to get that amazing deal or get the email and need to book a trip in the next week. Unfortunately for me, my job needs a bit of advanced planning, so these weren’t viable options. However, we found an incredible deal on a website called VacationsToGo which offers cabins on cruise ships at huge discounts. They have a 90 day ticker so if you can leave in the next 3 months, expect to get a huge bargain. Through possibly a huge stroke of luck (or my obsessive checking on a nightly basis), we scored a 20K cruise for about 5K per person. I am also happy to report that even as we approached our sailing date, the ‘last minute’ deals were not any better than our price, so I think we got an incredible price on a true trip of a lifetime.
We booked on Hurtigruten aboard the Roald Amundsen which is a first of it’s kind hybrid cruise ship reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The journey involved a charter flight to Puntas Arenas, Chile from Santiago followed by 16 days aboard the ship cruising to Antarctica followed by the Falkland Islands and back to Puntas Arenas.
We arrived in Santiago with 2 days before our charter flight to Puntas Arena. This gave us sufficient time for a little city exploration. Fair warning: we did a LOT of walking (approximately 9-10 miles per day) so if you aren’t quite up for that in 90 degree weather, you may want to consider truncating some portions or planning some taxis. Speaking of taxis, the airport arrival can get a little chaotic. It was strongly recommendation to us by our tour operator to use only the official airport taxi desks which we did. Otherwise, there are a lot of “taxi freelancers” aggressively hawking their services via unauthorized vehicles. Typically, we use Uber, but in Santiago that is a bit more difficult as they are not allowed to drive up to the terminals. So, we considered exiting the airport and giving it a try but we were burdened with a bit more luggage than usual considering the length of our trip.
We hit the ground running on Day 1 stopping at the hotel to have them hold our luggage. We felt a bit more refreshed than the usual overnight flight as we had splurged for premium economy and American Airlines. For $70 more per person, you were granted a seat with slightly more width and legroom, a little nicer dinner selection, free alcoholic beverages, and a tiny toiletry bag. The real difference maker though was a footrest and the extra legroom which make sleeping a lot less unpleasant. I thought is was $70 well spent! Our hotel, The Sheraton Downtown Hotel and Convention Center had a gorgeous pool and garden area, though it was a bit outside of downtown which added to the walking mileage.
Santiago is a giant city and we’d consider the following the must see sites for a day or two tourist.
-Plaza de Armas
-Saint Lucia Hill
-San Cristobal Hill
San Cristobal Hill
We started our day by utlilizing the Teleferico which we absolutely recommend! Think large ski gondolas that glide high above the trees giving an incredible view of Santiago. There are a few different boarding stations located within the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago from which you can hop on and each station sells tickets. A roundtrip ticket will cost you about $8 USD. The Parque itself is a sprawling, very well organized greenspace located within the city with numerous walking and hiking trails, water fountains, and excellent signage. We boarded at the Oasis station and took the Teleferico all the way to San Cristobal Hill. Here, you can admire sweeping views of the city and view the famous Immaculate Conception statue watching over the city. There are a lot of snack stations located along this route mostly selling fruit juices, popsicles, and other small treats. As an option, you can combine your Teleferico ticket with a ticket on the funicular which is a cable car that ascends from the Santiago zoo to the top of San Cristobal Hill. Note that the Teleferico is closed on Mondays but open other days from about 10 am to 8 pm. We were warned of potentially long lines but we had no problems hopping off and on.
Later that night, we dined at a local spot located about 10 minutes from the hotel named California Cantina. Very casual but delicious thin crust pizza and a great Sunday Happy Hour with a huge cocktail list. I can personally recommend the berry mojito!
Saint Lucia Hill/Plaza de Armas
Day 2 began by hopping on a long walking trail (part of the Parque Metropolitano) just behind our hotel and walking about 2 miles to the neighborhood of Bellavista. Bellavista is a funky little neighborhood with colorful street murals and lot of little dining spots. From there we made our way to Saint Lucia Hill where we ascended up to another city overlook. This park is filled with peaceful fountains, and lots of greenery interspersed with spiraling stone steps that lead up to a stone turret giving great views. Santiago definitely has some issues with smog so views can be a bit murky but you can still make out the Andes Range and get some incredible pictures. From here we wound our way through the bustling downtown to the Plaza de Armas which is a large city square bordered by the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral and the National History Museum. We had a leisurely lunch here at Barra Chalaca, which had a small outdoor seating area covered by an awning right on the Plaza. There are many vendors just outside the Plaza shouting to visit their tent or blanket and trying to sell an assortment of stuff from small electronics to underpants and toilet paper! Super chaotic and the heat combined with so many people in a tight space could feel a little claustrophobic. We gradually made our way back to the hotel by a long (and very warm!) walk along the river passing many statures and fountains. Unfortunately for the city, many of the statues had been defaced due to protests and civil unrests in the weeks prior to our arrival.
We had our final Santiago meal at the hotel as we had a 4 am wakeup call for the charter flight and had to be to bed early. However, while the dining area downstairs was teeming with our entire cruise ship, we snuck up to the 21 Bar and Lounge located in the tower of the hotel which was empty, had floor to ceilings windows and the same menu as downstairs. Highly recommend this to avoid the crowds and watch the city below while you dine. We were impressed with Santiago…lots of well organized public spaces and parks. If we had more time, we’d sneak out to some of the rumored beautiful vineyards! Next up…we board our ship for Antarctica!