Visiting South America had been on our to-do list for quite a long time. We took the pretour to Patagonia and this was really one of the highlights. We ended up as part of a group of 23 and it led to bonding for the entire cruise. One drawback to the pretrip, however, was we left the Viking hotel, The Singular Santiago (a very nice hotel) for the airport at 3:00AM to get a 6:00 AM flight to Patagonia. Surely some improvement can be made to the schedule to address this time of day. Note: there was political unrest in Chile and we had read about it in the paper before leaving the States. We called Viking a few days before leaving and they really did not have much to say about it. A little disappointing. The hotel was only a few blocks from the main square where political protests had been taking place. In fact about 6:00 PM while at the Singular protesters marched right past the front of the hotel. Unrest continued well into the night.
After about a 3 hour flight we got onto vans for another leg of the adventure. The van ride (two vans for the size of our group) to the Rio Serrano Hotel was about 4-5 hours with a stop at a decent restaurant for a casual lunch - good sandwich and great latte. The Torres del Paine National Park was beautiful - great mountains, lakes and overall scenery. We even saw a puma shortly after entering the park the next morning ( a guide we spoke with afterwards said in the 16 years she had been a tour guide she never saw a puma!). The Rio Serrano Hotel, just 10 minutes or so outside of the park was excellent.
It was another 4- 5 hr bus ride to El Calafate. This included a 45 minute stop at the border between Argentina and Chile to get paperwork cleared. We stayed at the Xelena Hotel in El Calafate which was also very nice. We had an included late lunch at the hotel (more like steak dinner) and then things went "south" for a while. We took a short bus ride to a horse ranch about 1.5 hours after eating lunch where we were to pick up a fancy 4x4 for an excursion up an adjacent hillside to overlook a lake. When we got there they had pastry and coffee / drinks for us. We had just finished eating less than 2 hours before - wasted time. The 4x4 ride was Ok but was nothing out of the ordinary other than the wind was fierce at the top of the hill - dress warmly. By the time we got back to the ranch it was about 7PM. The sunset was great as we sat down to eat again, but the meal was essentially inedible - tasteless soup, lamb stew that was marginal at best and dried bread that should have been used for bread crumbs. The (negative) highlight had to be dessert - something that resembled a fruit tart but that could not be cut. It was just so overcooked it could have been used as a doorstop. At that point in the meal we all just looked at each other and shook our heads.
We got an unexpected upgrade. Thanks Viking!!