Though Chile may look small on a map, this is very misleading. In fact the flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, southern Chilean Patagonia, was more than 3hours. Getting off the plane we noted there was a definite chill in the air.
While still at the airport, we explored options on how to get back and forth between Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina. The answer is: not many. One airline, LAN Chile flies 3 times per week (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) each way. And various bus companies combined make the the 10-12 hour journey (either direct or changing buses) every day of the week. Aerovias DAP no longer flies between these two destinations. The limited options make the connection quite expensive. The flight on LAN Chile is $211 for one way or $274 round trip. The bus is approximately $50 one way. We arrived in Punta Arenas on Tuesday and had to get to Ushuaia by at least Thursday morning, therefore both options were available to us. Our decision came down to, its much cheaper to take the bus and we’d heard the scenery on the bus journey was spectacular.
A 15-minute, $10 taxi ride from the airport brought us into town and dropped us off at our B&B, Hostal Maipu Street. The B&B was set up in a local home which had extra rooms after the kids went to college. The proprietress was very friendly and helpful, including preparing breakfast extra early in the morning before our bus ride and calling us a taxi to take us to the bus terminal in the morning.
After we settled in, we headed off to the bus station to buy the following morning’s bus tickets and have a wander around town. There are a handful of museums in Punta Arenas, however, like so many things in Chile they close quite early, about 5 or 6 pm. Therefore despite my efforts to see all the museums, we only saw 1: Palacio Sara Braun. This house was the home of a prominent local family who imported the marble, fabrics, furniture, and architectural styles from Europe. Part of the house is maintained as a museum and the other part has been converted into a hotel. We also wandered around to Plaza de Armas which had numerous crafts booths set up selling everything from hats and scarves to lapis penguin pendants. (I later regretted very much not buying one)
At dinner we drank pisco sour, the typical Chilean appertif, except this time is was made with Calafate berries. The legend goes, whoever consumes Calafate berries will one day return to Patagoina. After dinner we headed back to the B&B to get an early night’s sleep since we had to be at the bus station at 7:45 in the morning.
The next morning we ate a quick breakfast mostly consisting of bread provided at the B&B before jumping in a taxi to get to the bus station by 7:45 for an 8am departure. The first 7-8hours of the bus journey was characterized by seas on one side and large open plains with sheep, cows, horses, and guanacos (a llama or alpaca-type animal) grazing on the new spring grass. Early in the ride the bus pulled onto a car ferry where we crossed from one island to the next. We had 4 stops including lunch, exit border control, inbound border control, and gas/snack After the gas stop, the scenery changed to be wooded with stunning snow-capped mountains. We arrived at the Ushuaia bus station at about 7pm then caught a taxi to the B&B.
This B&B, Alba’s House, also had very friendly, helpful owners who really wanted to ensure we maximized the short time we had in Ushuaia. But by that evening everything had already closed so we just went to dinner and had a little wander around town, including catching a gorgeous sunset.
The next morning had us researching post-Antarctica options including transportation connections and accommodation. The problem we faced was this: the ship arrived back in Ushuaia on a Sunday and Mom flew out of Punta Arenas on Tueday, therefore if she wanted to skip the long bus ride she’d have to fly out the day we arrived and spend nearly 2 full days in PA by herself, as I was not going back to Chile, but rather planning to go north in Argentina. After doing a lot of research and mulling over the options, Mom decided to take the bus on Monday therefore allowing us to spend the rest of arrival day in and around Ushuaia. To maximize our use of this 1 day we signed up to rent a car for our return Sunday. I also went to the Aerolinas Argentina office to book my flight from Ushuaia to El Calafate for the Monday Mom leaves and from there continue on to Buenos Aires.
After finishing all that, we went to the famous Prison and Naval Museum which was very extensive and entirely contained within the old prison. Exhibits included information on prison life, the natives of the area, expeditionary missions by European colonial powers to this part of the world, an art gallery, Antarctica and penguins. The museum was not cheap, about $11 per person (35Arg Pesos).
In fact we found Ushuaia to be not very cheap at all: no private ensuite rooms available for under $40 (although, granted, cheaper than PA) and meals for no less than $15-20/person.
The main street in town, San Martin, is cute but touristy. Nonetheless, its very useful in that all the travel agents were located along this street, or within 1 block, as were shops, and many restaurants.
After lunch we headed down to the pier for embarkation and the trip to ANTARCTICA!!!!