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Travelers drive themselves through the most uninhabited stretches of Southern Chile and Argentina on Quasar Expeditions’ new Wild Patagonia program in partnership with Jeep Wrangler. The tour combines bucket-list landmarks and luxuriously appointed wilderness lodges and spas with the spontaneity of a self-drive adventure.
Each of the 4x4 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicons comes equipped with an easy-to-use Garmin Navigational System set up with a smart GPS Ranger that clicks on when you approach landmarks to provide historical and scientific information. Just how much travelers want to rely on the new GPS system is up to them. They can choose one of three options offered at different price points: a completely self-driven option with no guide (the lowest priced), a self-drive option with a guide in the car or a Quasar-guide driven ride (the highest priced). Tours range from $5,950 to $10,450.
Opting for the guide-less, self-drive gives the trip some worthwhile edge, but clients won’t be completely roughing it. Quasar stays in touch via walkie-talkie to help answer any questions, and they monitor the jeep’s progress via GPS to ensure visitors make it to their hotels. They also require a guide at the more complicated stops including the 12-mile roundtrip hike up to the base of Torres del Paine. Though optional, the hike is a must-do for any active traveler in Patagonia. There is an additional $360 charge for up to four guests (the maximum permitted in each vehicle) for this service.
Getting physically lost is not much of an issue since there are not too many roads in these parts and most are paved. But, sometimes, it’s good to feel a little lost in the moment, such as when we careened through a herd of nandu birds (small Patagonian ostriches) that had taken over part of a long stretch of asphalt on the way to Torres del Paine National Park. No one was around but us.
Another favorite moment was on the Argentine road leading to Chile, where we were entranced by the road’s puddles reflecting the sun setting behind the Andes. It was so intoxicating that we decided to pull over to snap pictures, which is something any good tour guide should allow, but then we sat there for a few moments, on our own accord, to let the scenery soak in. In control of our time, we got more than a Facebook picture.
Clients control where and for how long the car stops, though Quasar provides two basic itineraries that cater to either naturalists or active adventurers. Travel agents can also work with Quasar to tailor itineraries to accommodate the personal preferences of the group.
Some of the highlights of the Wild Patagonia itinerary include horseback riding beneath the face of Fitz Roy peak (note that you do not actually visit Fitz Roy); hiking through the pristine beauty of the French Valley in Torres del Paine National Park; summiting the base of the Torres del Paine; exploring a cave once inhabited by the extinct Milodon; hiking on top of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Glacier National Park; and ambling along the cafe- and boutique- dotted streets of El Calafate, Argentina.
Hotels have all been meticulously vetted by Quasar and are among the most notable manmade structures in the area. For instance, The Singular Patagonia Puerto Bories Hotel was once a wool factory at the center of industry in Southern Chile and is now a museum/hotel. Its kitchen is one of the best in the area and is a great place to sample the local delicacy of guanaco.
Patagonia Camp offers nature in the most relaxing way possible: luxury yurts finished with glass ceilings, set before a gorgeous Alpine lake. Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa is an architectural feat and features an interior crafted almost entirely out of beech wood. Views from inside the rooms make getting up the best kind of difficult. In short, Quasar Expeditions’ properties are customer service-oriented lodges that treat travelers who are weary from a full day of exploration.
Somewhere during our drive through Torres del Paine National Park, condors circled above, snow-capped mountains glistened and impossibly aquamarine lagoons rippled in the wind. Sometimes we listened to our iPod; a lot of the time we marveled out loud at the beauty. But mostly, the road trip was quiet. The windows were down and we could hear the timeless call of the Andes, beckoning like it has to adventurers, explorers and wanderers through the ages. And while we may have been in the moment, we never felt astray.