Published on January 21st, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
Q&A: The Perfect Argentina & Chile Vacation, from Preferred Hotel Group’s Caroline Michaud
As director of public relations at Preferred Hotel Group, Caroline Michaud is by nature a well-seasoned traveler. But when she took an extended vacation in Argentina and Chile recently, this Chicago-based globetrotter discovered even more reasons to love Latin America. Here are her travel tips for a great vacation in Argentina and Chile.
What made you decide on Argentina and Chile, and how did you divide the trip?
We spent one week in Argentina, split between Buenos Aires and Mendoza – and one week in Chile, split between Santiago and Torres del Paine (Patagonia). The trip originated with plans for a family trip to Patagonia because my mom has always wanted to check “hiking in the Torres del Paine National Park” off of her bucket list. Since we had never been to South America for leisure and didn’t know when we’d get the opportunity to return, my husband and I decided to add another week to our adventure for the opportunity to experience Argentina. Because of my work, I’d read that November was a perfect time to go, and the mix of city and wine country time promised a relaxing, cultural start to the vacation.
Outside the hotel, what did you like best about Buenos Aires on this trip?
My #1 rule for vacations is to walk as much as possible, even if it means walking three miles just to see one neighborhood or attraction. This has allowed me to encounter unique features of every destination I’ve been that would never be found in a guidebook. My favorite thing about Buenos Aires was how walkable it was and how distinct the neighborhoods were. My favorite experiences were cheers-ing to our first day of vacation over a bottle of Malbec and Argentine steak at a restaurant called Don Julio, stumbling upon an impromptu tango show in a deserted lot in San Telmo, exploring the trail of street art along the streets of Palermo to view the beautiful street art, and, in general, speaking with locals. The people were so nice and patient!
You mentioned that you really liked the wine tasting lunch in Mendoza. What makes Mendoza such a special place, and how does it compare with other wine destinations?
Mendoza had a primitive-meets-ultra-modern uniqueness that was really captivating. Unpaved, almost un-drivable roads would lead to the most stunning, pristine settings, and, the views of the Andes will forever be something I cannot properly describe. The wineries were a main reason for us going to Mendoza, and the tours exceeded our expectations. Every winery – Achaval Ferrer, Decero, and Catena Zapata – took the time to make sure we were learning about the history of the region and their wine, and they gave us space to enjoy the entire experience rather than rushing groups in and out. Oh, and the pours in Mendoza are enormous! Above all, the people in Mendoza were some of the most hospitable and interesting people that I have ever encountered.
What did you like best about Patagonia?
Our stay at Tierra Patagonia and the diversity of our daily hikes were the two main highlights. We put the trip in the hands of our guides at Tierra Patagonia – Chris Theobald and Felipe Kovacic – and had the opportunity to see parts of the world that few people ever visit. My top “must-do” hikes would be the 14-mile trek through the French Valley, the hike to the Base of the Torres, and the hike at Los Obeliscos en Las Chinas. The hikes were strenuous but the views were well worth it. If you’re hiking up The Base of the Torres — listen to your guides and avoid looking up until they tell you to. It’s well worth it! (see picture)
What makes Torres del Paine such a beautiful place, in your opinion?
The vegetation and views were so vastly diverse on every hike. It was rugged and barren in some areas, and then lush and vibrant in others. This was mainly because the fire of December 2011 cut the park in pieces, and it was incredible to hike across that line and imagine what the park was like before the disaster occurred. Also, every hike unearthed a different view, but all of the views connected in some way. It’s wild how vast the park is. And, because we were in the park during the springtime, we were lucky to see many new generations of wildlife, ranging from a littler of baby foxes romping near the street to Chulengos (baby guanacos) nustling their mothers. I took more pictures during my five days in Patagonia than during all of my other trips combined. I didn’t want to forget anything!
How cool is it to work for a company like Preferred Hotel Group that gives you insider connections when you travel around the world?
We actually only stayed at one Preferred Hotel Group member property over our two-week adventure. When planning this trip, what was most important to me was that we would only stay at independent hotels that were 50 rooms or less, and I accomplished that with stays at Hotel Club Frances (Buenos Aires, a member of Preferred Boutique), Entre Cielos (Mendoza), The Aubrey (Santiago), and Tierra Patagonia (Torres del Paine). Working for Preferred Hotel Group has made me appreciate the spirit and the mission of the independent operator. Some people see their hotel as the place they sleep, but I like to embrace hotels as a true representation of local culture. My memories of interacting with staff and of viewing local hospitality traditions at each of the properties had a huge impact on our overall experience.
MORE SOUTH AMERICA TRAVEL TIPS:
• Top 5 Things to Know About Visiting Patagonia & Torres del Paine National Park
• How to Tour Argentina Like Pope Francis (Almost)
• Hot Hotels, Cool Culture: 3 Reasons to Visit Santiago de Chile