It’s easy to get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of our busy schedules. I often find myself thinking that everything would be better if I could just freeze time for a moment; to fit everything I needed to into a day then take a deep breath and relax. I found that moment of pause and stress- free feeling during my travels to Chile and Argentina.

With barely enough time for anything in my normal schedule, I had even less time to worry about planning where to go in South America – this is why signing up for a tour was the best option for me.  The other issue was that I only had a week to traverse through both Chile and Argentina. I chose the  Explore Chile & Argentina tour from G Adventures. It is an 8 day trip from Santiago to Buenos Aires and is one of the new National Geographic Journeys. By upgrading to a comfort style tour, time was no longer going to be an issue. Traveling on a comfort style tour was a way to ensure I got the most out of my (very) brief South American excursion. Though this upgraded experience cost more than a shoestring, I thought it’d be worth trading in relying on public transport for a much softer landing.

After checking in to my 13 hour flight from Boston to Santiago de Chile, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feeling a little groggy, an arrival transfer awaited to take me to my accommodation. My usual case-of-the-Mondays grogginess quickly dissipated upon exiting the airport as I stepped into a beautiful sunny day in Chile. As I was one of the first to arrive, our tour guide Veronica was kind enough to leave a few suggested activities at the hotel lobby for me and my new travel mates to do before we had to meet with the rest of the group that evening.

This meant a free day of exploring Santiago on foot with the help of a free local tour guide. The weather was perfect for a stroll through the colorful and artsy city. We made stops at historic monuments to learn about the country’s past, as well as experience the Chile of today, by shopping and dining near the Barrio Lastarria – where we cooled down with one of their popular drinks, a Pisco Sour. The tour ended near San Cristobal Hill where we took in amazing views of the city.  That evening our guide Veronica held an orientation meeting where we got to know our new travel mates for the week over more Pisco Sours.

It was the most relaxing Monday I’ve had in months, and this was just the beginning.

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The next day consisted of scenic drives through Chile’s Maipo Valley; we passed verdant plains, drove a couple of miles on the Pan American Highway, and experienced a surprisingly smooth ride (despite the coach having to wind through a couple of bumpy dirt roads). We hit two of Chile’s popular wineries where we got to put on our sommelier hats and had a proper wine experience. Veronica had arranged it so that we had a private tour of the beautiful grounds complete with complimentary tastings at the end!

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Our group rose early the next morning to catch a quick two-hour flight further south near Patagonia. The quick transport allowed us to maximize our time in the region; at the airport we were met by an additional guide, Hamutt, who is native to the area. He and Veronica took us to Puerto Montt to see the where the fishing industry in prominent. The ride through the countryside was comfortable and as we went along we took in more verdant views of green rolling hills, farmland, and livestock. It is no surprise that the area was as green as it rains 220 days out of the year there. Though the day was overcast, we were lucky to miss the rain. The ride was quiet, but upon our arrival at the Angellmo Fish Markets, the silence was met with the rush of locals scurrying around us as they shopped for groceries for the day. The overcast day was contrasted by the rows of colorful catches of the day, and barrels of fresh produce.

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Not surprisingly, we all worked up an appetite after strolling through the markets. Veronica and Hamutt had arranged a special lunch for us that day at a Chilean family’s home. The family graciously welcomed us all into their space and they cooked us a traditional Chilean meal. As were waiting for the main course, some of the family members were gracious enough to teach us all how to make pebre, similar to a pico de gallo. It was served as our delicious appetizer, and we learned to make our favorite drink of the trip – you guessed it – Pisco Sours. The afternoon was spent getting to know the family and each other and discussing our preliminary impressions of Chile over more Pisco Sours. Finally the main attraction was served, Curanto, a stew that consists of meats, a variety of shellfish and vegetables. Smiles were spread across the tables after the meal, and if this day was perfect enough, we had our lunch with a view. Behind the family’s home, we got a clear view of the Osorno Volcano, which we were told is also a rare view since the volcano is usually clouded by the rain and overcast skies.

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There was a nice blend of days filled with included activities with laid back days, where we were free to spend the day how we wished. Some opted to sleep in and take time for themselves, others opted to go on volcano treks, and then a few of us opted to go into the downtown areas to shop, dine at local restaurants and people watch. We all enjoyed the benefit of being part of group and having everything sorted out with the luxury of getting to experience South America our own way as well. Many days were spent like this – we would all do some sightseeing together, then enjoy some free time on our own before meeting up again for a nice group dinner.

One of the biggest and most memorable highlights of this tour was getting to experience the lakes crossing from Chile to Argentina. It was a 12 hour travel day through the lakes, volcanoes and mountains that lie between the two countries. The transport through the countries consisted of being in our coach for a couple of hours, before hopping onto a ferry which took us through the lake, only to get on another coach. We alternated between the coaches and ferries every couple of hours for the entire day. It had been the most scenic day – the beautiful views never seemed to end. It was on this day that I felt like time had paused long enough for all of us to sit back and appreciate where we were in the world at that moment. The lakes crossing was so serene and peaceful; no one around except our group and a handful of others were present.

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Despite the length of time we spent travelling, we all remained just as amazed and happy when we arrived into Argentina. There was even enough space on our cameras to take a group photo.

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The last few days of the week were spent in Argentina, where we continued to have a wonderful time. We all became close friends in such a short amount of time, and it would be hard to imagine building such strong connections if I was travelling solo. Veronica was a great guide and was there every step of the way to ensure we were all having a good time. Had it not been for this tour, I do not think I would have been able to see so much of both countries in just 7 days. The tour served as a great immersion into the countries and their cultures. It has also opened the door for me for more adventures to South America in the future. Thanks to our guides and my new friends, I was left feeling refreshed at the end of my trip. If I was given the opportunity to travel differently the next time around, I would not change a thing.

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    About Genesis Reyes