“How far is it? And how do you get there?”
Last year, I noted that those were the main questions that friends and family asked when I traveled to Easter Island. As I planned my trip to Chilean Patagonia, I received the same questions – and provided a similar answer: It’s not how long the journey takes, it’s what awaits you at the end.
Most people scoff when I say that. And I’ll admit that the itinerary I received from LAN Airlines did look daunting. I’d be flying Alaska Airlines from Seattle to San Francisco, then board a LAN nonstop flight to Lima, Peru that would get in around midnight. A red eye flight would get me to Santiago, where I’d have an overnight stopover before traveling another three hours the next day to my final destination.
In total, it took me 17 hours of flying time to get from Seattle to Punta Arenas, the main gateway to Chilean Patagonia. And yes, I was in economy the entire time (although I did luck out with bulkhead seating on the SFO-LIM and LIM-SCL routes). While I took LAN, several carriers fly non-stop routes into Santiago from the U.S., including American (from Miami and Dallas) and Delta (from Atlanta). LAN flies non-stop from New York and Miami.
How did I manage that much time in the air? Simple. As I told fellow travel writer Johnny Jet, I never go anywhere without my noise cancelling headphones, moisturizer for my face and hands and a fully charged iPad loaded with the Kindle app. I also brought along a thicker than usual eye mask and eye drops to counter the dryness of the airplane (While I had a few Ambien pills in my bag for emergency, I didn’t use them).
Most travelers to Chile are coming to the country to experience either Patagonia at the south or the Atacama Desert in the north. Both destinations require flight changes in Santiago. I enjoyed being able to break up my flights with a one-night stopover, even if it was brief (I visited the San Antonio wine region seen in the photo above). I’d tell other travelers to do the same thing (if I go to Chile again, I’d also make sure to schedule time in Valparaiso and some of the inland wine regions around Santiago).
There’s no getting around it: Flights between Santiago and Punta Arenas are pricey. The situation reminds me a bit of Alaska, where it can easily cost $500 to take a 2-hour trip between Seattle and Juneau. The flight between SCL and PUQ is longer, and rarely costs less than $600. Besides LAN, a Chilean carrier named Sky Airlines flies into Punta Arenas, but it makes a stop in Punta Montt (in Chile’s Lake District) and Balmaceda first.
If you are planning to fly between several Chilean cities (and have entered the country on a Oneworld partner), you can save money with the LAN South American Airpass. The pass not only has cheaper fares, it allows you to customize your trip between hubs.
For ex., you could fly one way from Santiago to Punta Arenas to start your trip. Visit Torres del Paine, and transfer from Puerto Natales to El Calafate in Argentinean Patagonia to see the glaciers there. You could then fly up to Buenos Aires before heading home.
A friend at LAN told me that I had to have a window seat on the left side for the southbound flight into Punta Arenas. I’m glad she told me, as I enjoyed a view of the Andes for the entire trip – and felt a chill of excitement when we flew over the Straits of Magellan. For best viewing, choose an A seat when traveling south and an F seat on the way north.
On the way home, I scored a more direct route – and was upgraded too. The 13-hour Santiago to Los Angeles flight seemed to fly by, save for the 45 minute stop over in Lima where we were woken up so we could raise our seats for landing.
One of the nice things about traveling to South American is that you don’t experience the same jet lag/time disorder that you get when you go to Europe or Asia. However, I did find my internal clock screwed up a bit by the seasonal changes. When I went in April, Chile had not switched over to Daylight Savings Time. So the sun rose around 9 a.m. and set around 5 p.m. – far different from the extended spring daylight that we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest. Gives a new twist to the term Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Have you ever been affected by a dramatic change in seasons while traveling? Where did you go?