Valparaíso, a City as a Canvas

Graffiti street art, Valparaíso

Grotesque faces glare down at me, others smile angelically and stare into nothingness. Tony aims his camera at a long-necked woman whose Medusa-like hair is a tangle of colorful strokes. I’m bombarded with supersized hummingbirds. Ahead, an ocelot roams through a forest of hot pink trees while a young Indian girl in red performs a tribal dance. No, this is not a dream. We are wandering the narrow alleys of Valparaíso, a city that plays the role of a canvas for urban artists. Imaginative graffiti and politically charged street art cover everything. The effect is spectacular.

Valpo, as locals call it, is just a couple of hours from Santiago. Its labyrinthine backstreets and passageways are spread out across a series of over 40 hilltop neighborhoods. Cerros Concepción and Allegre are the most popular hoods; they bring in Continue…

The Fantasy of Easter Island

Rapa Nui, known around the world as Easter Island, is one of those fantasy destinations that most people recognize from pictures, but few people actually get a chance to visit in their lifetime. The tiny speck of land is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on the planet. Located 3,687 km west of the already isolated coast of Chile and 4,230 km east of the equally isolated island of Tahiti, this literally is the middle of nowhere. Its closest inhabited neighbor is Pitcairn Island located 1,921 km to the east… yeah, that’s isolated.

So how did this tiny chunk of land thousands of kilometers from anywhere develop one of the most monumental and mysterious civilizations in the South Pacific? It’s a riddle which has baffled outsiders since the island was first visited by the Dutch on an Easter Sunday in 1722. These early explorers discovered Continue…

Surprisingly Cool Santiago

Patio Bellavista, Santiago

Santiago de Chile… quick, name one tourist attraction that comes to mind. Nothing? We had exactly the same response. Latin America’s fastest growing city is definitely not the first entry on most travelers’ bucket lists. We certainly didn’t have any expectations when we planned a 3-day stay in Santiago to wait for our flight to Easter Island. The giant metropolis of five million was just going to be another quick stop en route to a more exotic destination. But then something happened. We suddenly discovered we really liked the city.

It’s true, there are no world-famous monuments, no Eiffel Tower, no Pyramid of the Sun, no Taj Mahal, but there’s a subtle attraction to Santiago, a laid-back and easy-going vibe that spoke to us. In some ways, it reminded us Continue…

Puerto Varas

Osorno Volcano

“Aqui Kuchen,” announced the rickety roadside sign in a comical mix of Spanish and German. I started to drool as we drove past the rustic café in our rented Toyota Urban Cruiser. As if the cake sign weren’t distraction enough, the route along Lake Llanquihue was absolutely gorgeous making it more difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road. Snow-covered Osorno Volcano loomed tall across the water, partially hidden from view by giant conifers. I pulled down the visor and stole a glance at the picture-perfect cone we were about to visit. Talk about Fahrvergnügen!

We had arrived in Chile’s spectacular Lake District a few days earlier. The picturesque region, settled by German immigrants in the mid-1850’s, is a sprawling region of glacial lakes and towering volcanoes, quaint German villages and epic national parks. Not surprisingly, it is Continue…

The Llao Llao

The beautiful Llao Llao Hotel

There aren’t too many travelers who arrive at a 5-star luxury resort by public transportation. So when our bus from Bariloche stopped right outside the famous Llao Llao Hotel, Tony and I were the only passengers to get off. It was love at first sight. Without a doubt, this was one of the most gorgeous settings imaginable. The luxury hotel was built on a ridge between two lakes and backed by the sharp granite peaks of Cerros López and Trenador. This was a side of Patagonia we hadn’t seen. Gone were the subpolar forests of the south and the dry desert steppe of the east; instead, we stood in a dreamy Alpine wonderland surrounded by soaring mountains and lush evergreen cypress and coihue forests. We couldn’t wait to Continue…

Punta Tombo and Península Valdés

You’ve seen the videos, a killer whale surfaces behind the waves and slowly approaches a desert beach. Unaware of the encroaching danger, a seal pup strays away from its mother and cluelessly frolics at the edge of the surf. Suddenly, the massive orca lunges up onto the golden sand and tears the pup into the water. This is the wild coast of northern Patagonia!

Yes, Argentina’s southern province is a scenic powerhouse boasting glaciers galore, rocky peaks, powder-blue lakes, and thousands of kilometers of desert steppe, but it also doubles as one of the planet’s best wildlife destinations. While much of the world has its eyes on popular locations such as the Galapagos, Komodo or the Serengeti, naturalists in the know are exploring the lesser-known coasts of northern Patagonia. Two of the region’s more spectacular sights are the famous orca hunting grounds on Península Valdés and the world’s largest Continue…

Expedition Patagonia on the Via Australis

In one of our most incredible travel days on record, we stepped off our 11-day cruise returning from Antarctica, walked across the Ushuaia dock, and checked in for our 4-day cruise through the isles of Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Yes, two adventure cruises in one day does seem a bit over the top to us as well, but – hey – what better way to start our adventure across Patagonia?

Cruceros Australis offers a variety of expedition cruises through the isolated islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago. It’s a vast region of untouched bays, glaciers, mountains and unique subpolar forests. This region closely resembles what Antarctica must have looked like millions of years ago before it was covered with ice. Cruceros Australis is also one of the only options for landing on Cape Horn, the most southerly point in South America. While Cape Horn is a major destination for geography aficionados, most people have no idea just how hard Continue…

The Antarctica Experience

Many visitors to Antarctica say the experience changes you. It’s true, but it’s hard to describe exactly how and why it has such an impact. Of course, it’s beyond beautiful – that goes without saying. The otherworldly panorama of snow and stone backed by the huge slopes of the continent’s ice domes are a sight to behold. But visiting the world’s last great wilderness has an existential effect as well.

It feels a bit like you are an ant standing next to an elephant. It’s humbling. The sheer power and scale of Mother Nature overwhelms you. And yet on some level, you feel connected to it. The continent awakens a long dormant survival instinct born in a world of glaciated extremes. An adventure here reverberates with the collective memories of a world man has not experienced in 10,000 years… of a glacier-covered Europe… of man crossing the Bering Strait. You feel it in your bones: stepping onto the continent is like waking Continue…

Our Crazy Antarctica Family

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An unexpected highlight of our trip way way way down under was the cast of crazy, fascinating, wacky, spectacular, smart, hilarious characters that became our family aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. It had never really occurred to us before, but Antarctica attracts an especially awesome crowd of people.

These are people who value experiences above all else, people who treasure exotic destinations, wildlife, extraordinary landscapes and adventure. These people – both passengers and crew – are living a dream to sail to the edges of the earth. They don’t end up here by accident; they end up here because they think a bit differently from the average Joe. Throw in some zodiacs and a hula-hoop artist and you’ve Continue…

Camping in Antarctica

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If there is one thing that’s guaranteed in Antarctica, it’s that there are no guarantees. We knew this when we booked our trip to the ice continent: all activities are very weather dependent. Mother Nature rules down here with a very raw sense of humor, and she sometimes likes to put humans in their place. Zodiac outings, landings, penguin viewing, hiking, every Antarctic activity listed in the brochures comes with an asterisk next to it clearly adding “subject to weather conditions.”

Everybody on board knew this, and we knew the most weather dependent activity of them all was camping in Antarctica. There were two designated days where the overnight camping excursion was possible. When we were told camping was not possible on the first night due to wind and rain, we all held our breath and prayed for Mother Nature to cut us some slack. Those prayers were answered the second night when it was announced that the camping excursion WAS ON! Cheers Continue…