Chile: Santa Cruz to PuconDe Santa Cruz a Pucón

Following the previous night’s New Year’s ‘festivities’, we got up fairly early, had breakfast, checked out and hit the road around 9:30 a.m. for our 750 km drive south.  Unsurprisingly, the roads at this time on New Year’s morning were pretty much deserted.

Santa Cruz is about 40 km west of Chile’s main north-south road 5 which is part of the Pan American highway.  Rather than taking the shortest route back to this road, we allowed our GPS to direct us along some country lanes to join the main motorway further to the south.  We drove past many more fields of grape vines, but also corn and other crops.  I imagine that these crops were Chile’s main produce before Chile’s wine industry really started growing 20-30 years ago.

About an hour later, and only one small error in our GPS’s directions, we were on the main highway heading south at 120 km/h but still with a good 7 hours drive in front of us and no hotel reservation at our intended destination.  We had read that this road was good, but I was sceptical, to say the least having got used to Brazilian roads.  However, the descriptions were right, the road was excellent and easily up to european standards.  From Santiago to Puerto Varas/Puerto Montt it is at least 2 lanes in each direction.  The only ‘problem’ were the tolls.  There is a toll booth about every 80-100 km and the cost for the whole one-way trip (Santiago to Puerto Varas) was something in excess of 20,000 Chilean Pesos (£25/US$40).  Apart from comfort/petrol/gas/food stops, we only stopped once to see an attraction described as a ‘small Niagra Falls’ in our guide book.

Salta del Laja

Salta del Laja is a waterfall about half way between Santiago and our southernmost destination of Puerto Varas.  We had read about it a little before travelling and had been considering it as a possible overnight stop on the way back.  However, we decided to stop on our way south.  It was a good decision as the town is very small and extremely touristy.  Despite this, the falls were quite impressive but nowhere near on the scale of Foz de Iguacu or even Niagra.  For anyone taking a similar journey as us, I would suggest stopping, but only for a short break to stretch the legs etc.  It is only a very short diversion from the main road and even used to be visible from the old road before construction of the motorway.

A view of Villarrica volcano from Pucon towncentre

After our stop, we drove straight to Pucon eager to find accommodation.  We arrived at Pucon early evening and set about finding a hotel.  The first place we enquired was fully booked so we started to get concerned.  However, we walked around the main square and found the Hotel Huincahue which had a room.  It was quite a nice place with the exception of breakfast which was put out (covered) the night before!

Pucon is a town on the edge of a mountain lake and in the shadow of Villarrica volcano.  It is in a really beautiful location with some stunning scenery around.  It is reportedly one of Chile’s main holiday destinations.  Perhaps consequently, Pucon has a good range of restaurants.  We chose an Italian, but found it disappointing.  This was not unusual in Chile.

An early evening on Pucon's beach

Apart from the beautiful scenery, Pucon also offers a beach.  However, as you’ll note from the picture above the sand isn’t golden, instead it is black from the volcanic rock.  We didn’t feel tempted to go for a swim, but there were many who do.  The other principal attraction in Pucon is an arts market where locals sell all types of things.  It is found on the main square and was open the evening we arrived, but closed the next morning as we left too ‘early’ (about 11 a.m.).  In fact, we discovered (different to Brazil) that the Chilean day starts late and ends late perhaps as a result of the daylight hours and being on the western side of South America.

Villarrica volcano at the end of the dirt road near Panguipulli

After a quick walk around the town to take some pictures (the ones with sun!), we drove the remaining 250 km or so to our ultimate destination: Puerto Varas.  However, once again we decided to start the journey with a scenic detour via Conaripe and Panguipulli.  About 40 km of the road was on a dirt road around a lake which we didn’t realise when embarking on it.  I don’t like dirt roads much, but this one was suffering just for the views and in truth the road was in very good condition.  However, once we were back on the main highway, the stunning scenery was nowhere to be seen.  We got to Puerto Varas mid to late afternoon.

As before you can see more photos here and you can read Eneida’s account in Portuguese.Santa Cruz está 30 km a oeste da Ruta 5 (em direção ao Pacífico), em uma estrada de mão única que liga a cidade de San Fernando ao litoral. O nosso hotel estava localizado nesta estrada secundária, a poucos metros da entrada de Santa Cruz. Para voltarmos à Ruta 5 e seguirmos para o sul, resolvemos tomar um caminho diferente  por uma estrada vicinal que passa por entre as diversas vinhas da região. Com o auxílio do nosso GPS, a que carinhosamente batizamos de Queenie, chegamos à Teño, de volta à Panamericana que nos levaria à Pucón,  620 km ao sul.

A estrada é boa, mas paga-se bem.

A viagem é bem tranquila, e encontramos a estrada especialmente vazia, devido ao feriado do dia 01/01. Como disse antes, a Ruta 5 é super bem conservada, então dá para justificar os váaarios pedágios que encontramos no percurso.  Calculamos que a cada 80-100 km é preciso pagar 1900 pesos chilenos (R$7,00). Fui juntando os comprovantes e, no final da viagem, vi que pagamos mais de 20 pedágios, somando um pouco mais de 40.000 pesos (R$150,00).

Atravessamos o chamado vale central do Chile, a região mais fértil do país, de onde vem grande parte da produção agrícola. Atualmente, a agroindústria toma conta de grande parte da região e, além das vinhas, há plantações de frutas e verduras na maioria do percurso.  Durante a viagem até Chillán, especialmente, vê-se enormes galpões de estocagem e processamento de produtos agrícolas.  A cordilheira dos Andes, neste trecho, não apresenta montanhas tão altas quanto na região de Santiago ou mais ao norte, mas vez ou outra é possível avistar um pico com neve.

No meio do caminho tinha uma cachoeira…

340 km ao sul de Teño, a poucos metros da Ruta 5, fizemos uma paradinha para conhecer  Salto Del Laja, uma cachoeira que, segundo nosso guia de viagem (o livro Rough Guide to Chile, 2006), era uma miniatura de Niagara Falls. Well, me desculpe a cachoeira e o guia, mas tendo estado em Foz do Iguaçu recentemente e conhecendo Niagara Falls, posso dizer que a Salto Del Laja é até bonitinha, mas não é assim nenhuma Niagara. Parece que é um programa popular entre os chilenos, há barraquinhas vendendo souvenirs e estava bem cheio de gente. De qualquer forma, é um lugar para fazer uma paradinha técnica na longa viagem até Pucón.

Miniatura de Niagara Falls: Salta del Laja

Pucón

Da cachoeira, fomos direto a Pucón, pegando a Ruta 199, já no chamado distrito dos lagos. A partir da cidade de Villarica, são 30 km de estrada margeando o lago Villarica, que oferece aqui e ali belas paisagens. Estávamos apreensivos quanto ao hotel em Pucón. Era feriado, a cidade cheia, e não tínhamos hotel reservado. Resolvemos estacionar na Plaza de Armas e sair procurando. Nossa primeira opção foi o Gran Hotel de Pucón, o hotel mais tradicional da cidade, situado na beira do lago Villarica. Como estava lotado, contornamos a praça e achamos um quarto no Hotel Huincahué, um hotel pequeno e confortável com um quarto bem espaçoso.

Vulcão Villarica em Pucón

Pucón é uma cidade muito simpática, à sombra do vulcão Villarica, com casas de madeira – um pouco como Gramado.  É um destino ideal para os amantes do turismo de aventura, pois de lá é possível: escalar o vulcão Villarica, cavalgar nas encostas do vulcão no Parque Nacional Villarica, fazer rafting nas corredeiras do Rio Huerquehue, pescar nos lagos e rios ao redor da cidade, e muito mais.  Nós não fizemos nada disso! Fizemos um passeio até as “praias” do lago Villarica e La Poza, e compramos souvenirs na feira de artesanatos na Plaza de Armas.

Praia de Pucón

À noite, a cidade é super movimentada, os bares e restaurantes da Av. Bernardo O’Higgins ficam lotados. Ah! e só tem gente bonita, todo mundo magro, de cabelo liso e sorridente. E como são bonitos e simpáticos, os chilenos! Não cruzamos com ninguém mau humorado no nosso caminho. Sempre falam “ya” pra tudo (no castelhano falado por lá “ya” quer dizer sim, ok, tudo bem!).

Os Sete Lagos

Região de Sete Lagos

Região de Sete Lagos

Saindo de Pucón, voltamos em direção à Villarica e de lá, mais uma vez, tomamos uma estrada secundária pela região dos Sete Lagos, que nos levou às paisagens mais bonitas desta parte da viagem. 30 km ao sul de Villarica está o Lago Calafquén e daí rumamos para a esquerda, com direção a Coñaripe. A estrada de terra é bem conservada, nem o Steve reclamou. De Coñaripe, fomos a Panguipulli e de lá voltamos para a Panamericana, na cidade de Los Lagos. O percurso todo, de Pucón à Panamericana, levou umas 2 horas, de lagos e vulcões e rios azuis.

No meio do caminho tinha um vulcão

De Los Lagos a Puerto Varas, nossa próxima parada, são 180 km, que foram percorridos em menos de 2 horas.  Mas Puerto Varas fica para o próximo post.

Mais da nossa viagem:

Nossa viagem ao Chile (1a parte)

Para ver mais fotos, clique aqui.

Para ler o relato do Steve, escolha a opção “inglês”.



17 January, 2010 | Written by Steve | Comments: 1 Comment

Must see places in Brazil

I’m often asked by friends and students “What do British people think of when they think of Brazil?”.  I have to say beautiful beaches and women, carnival, the amazon rain-forest and crime.

Dealing with the last first, there is undoubtedly serious crime in Brazil, particularly in the big cities.  However, and I hope it stays this way, I haven’t personally had experienced this.  In fact, I’ve been told several stories about people going to the UK and having things stolen that weren’t stolen in Brazil.  I think with some common sense and staying away from certain neighbourhoods, then there isn’t a huge amount to worry about.

Devil's Throat, Foz de Iguaçu

Devil's Throat, Foz de Iguaçu

With regards my other answers, they are true, but there is so much more that Brazil has to offer.  For example, the beaches aren’t just Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon in Rio de Janeiro.  Brazil has about 2800km of beaches and, in my experience, most of them are spectacular and many exceed the beaches I’ve seen in other parts of the world.

So, apart from the beaches, where would I suggest visiting.

Foz de Iguaçu/Itaipu

Itaipu Dam with spillway open

Itaipu Dam with spillway open

Foz de Iguaçu (or Iguazu in Argentina) should, in my opinion, be considered as one of the natural 7 wonders of the world, however, Itaipu Dam is considered by American Engineers to be one of the engineering world.  Where else, within a few kilometres travel, can you see TWO such sites.

Foz de Iguaçu is a huge waterfall which is over 270m long, consists of upto 275 individual falls with a drop of approximately 82m.  It is on the Iguaçu river which delimits the border between Brazil and Argentina.  The Devils throat is quite spectacular.  On the Argentinian side you can get almost to the very top of the falls, whilst from the Brazilian side you can take a boat and travel to the base of the falls.

The Itaipu Dam was ‘jointly’ built by the Paraguayan and Brazilian governments but was mostly funded and constructed by Brazil.  It dams the Paraná River just above where it meets the Iguaçu River.  The convolution of the 2 rivers marks the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, which is unique in the world as well!

The dam generates 20% of Brazil’s total electrical needs and all of Paraguay’s.  It is possible to take a tour of the dam which includes the control centre, a drive over the top and base of the dam.  If you are lucky, like we were. you can see excess water being released down the spillway, but this is only about 10% of the days.

For more pictures of both these sites, please see our photos.

Ouro Preto central square

Ouro Preto central square

Colonial towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes

These are historic cities founded by the Portuguese colonizers which are in the state of Minas Gerais (where we live). They give a glimpse into early life of Brazil.  In my opinion, many of these towns and cities are quite similar but a visit to one or more is a must.

Ouro Preto (black gold) is today on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.  It was the focal point of Brazil’s 18th century gold rush and gold can still be seen today decorating many of the numerous historic catholic  churches.  It is set in a valley and was once the state’s capital until Belo Horizonte was built.

Rio de Janeiro

Most people know of Rio so this is very brief.  It is really beautiful city and has many attractions such as the harbour, the lagoon, Sugar Loaf, beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema and of course Corcovada (where the famous Christ the Redeemer is to be found).  There are many many other attractions, great restaurants.  I currently rate Rio as my second favourite city in the world.

The above are all places we have visited.  The ones below come highly recommended and are on our list of places to visit.

Fernando do Noronha

Fernando do Noronha is an island archipeligo about 350km off the northeastern coast of Brazil.  In many ways it is the Atlantic’s Galapagos with the upwelling of water drawing much marine life.  However, it doesn’t have as large a diversity of terrestrial animals as does the Galapagos Islands.  It is regarded as the best diving in Brazil, a fact I have yet to test.

Bonito

bonito2

A river in Bonito

Bonito is famous for its crystal clear rivers that are a result of a natural filtration.  It is being preserved to keep its pristine natural beauty.  Activities include walking/treking and swimming/snorkeling/diving in the rivers and caves to be found in the area.

Amazonia

The amazon is a river basin surrounded by rainforest and is located in the countries of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana.  The region and diversity is so varied that I’ll mention only a few things that I’d like to see and do.  In no particular order, see the confluence of the Rio Negro and Amazon river, swim with the river dolphins and experience the rainforest and jungle.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland covering an area of around 140,000 sq km.   It is renowned for its bio-diversity.  It is also easier to spot the wildlife in the Pantanal than in the Amazon as there are less hiding places.  As Bonito, it is predominantly located in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.  There are thousands of different vertebrate species to be found there.

Lençoís Maranhenses

Lençoís Maranhenses

Lençoís Maranhenses

This is a region covering 1000 sq km of in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão.  Despite heavy rainfall, it is a region largely devoid of vegetation with many discreet sand dunes and lakes.

As and when we visit these places, we’ll write more.

So you see Brazil isn’t just Rio, beautiful people and crime.  It has far more to offer.



6 December, 2009 | Written by Steve | Comments: 1 Comment

A Brazilian Beach in Winter – Trancoso

What is a beach holiday during winter like in Brazil?  Following our 1 week’s trip to Trancoso in the state of Bahia, let me try to explain.

Praia dos Coqueiros looking towards Praia Rio Verde

Praia dos Coqueiros looking towards Praia Rio Verde

Firstly, in the state of Bahia at least, the temperature is very very different to the British (oops nearly wrote English!) winter.  The temperatures were in the mid to high 20′s during the day and high teens at night much like our summer.  The only downside at this time of year is that it can rain and be a little windy.  It rained most days, but not for long and it was always possible to spend some time in the sun on the beach.

That is not all, there are something over 33,00 kilometres of beach in Brazil and a population of about 185 million so the beaches are not crowded especially in ‘winter’ holiday.  There are of course exceptions to this, but with a little searching it isn’t hard to find some space.

Trancoso church - the nearby city of Porto Seguro is where Europeans first landed in Brazil

Trancoso church - the nearby city of Porto Seguro is where Europeans first landed in Brazil

However, the deserted sections of beach are lacking an important facility.  Here it is customary for bars/restaurants, or private individuals in the case of Rio de Janeiro for example, to layout chairs, tables and parasols for their customers.  There is usually a waiter just a ‘moço’ (boy) call away.

The beach also has its entrepreneurs who walk up and down between the bars selling their merchandise such as costume jewellery, suntan lotion, sunglasses.  In Rio you can find almost anything on the beach!

With regards Trancoso, it is a smallish community that was once described as a beach for ‘hippies’, more recently as a beach for chic hippies, and now as a beach for the chic.  In truth, I would say, as is often the case in Brazil, it is a mix of the poor and the rich.

To get to Trancoso, you either need to fly, as we did, or take a bus.  A flight from Belo Horizonte to Porto Seguro is about an hour long.  From Porto Seguro, it is an hour’s drive either by road (about 45 miles) or by ferry across the river ? from Porto Seguro to Arraial d’Ajuda and from their a drive of  about 25 miles.

The historic town is built around the ‘Quadrado’ with the church at the ocean facing end and shops/restaurants running down either side.  The shops mainly sell hand made things from the local artisans.  The restaurants serve mainly local Bahian/Brazilian food with lots of seafood.  We did however eat at an Australasian restaurant called ‘Masala’ where I had my first curry in Brazil.  It was surprisingly very good and well worth a visit.

<Craft shops on the side of the Quadrado, Trancoso

Craft shops on the side of the Quadrado, Trancoso

The accommodation is mainly ‘pousadas’.  They are a bit of a cross between a small hotel and a bed and breakfast.  The >one we stayed at was lovely and very close to the centre.  The other option is to stay at pousada on the beach which is a 10-15 minute gentle walk downhill.  If you feel like something more luxurious, there is a Club Med on the coast between Arraial d’Ajuda and Trancoso.

In summary, Trancoso is a lovely small town with huge amounts of character and a great place to spend a week relaxing on the beach or by a pool.  It isn’t a place I’d suggest if you want a lively place.  We are already considering a return visit!

If you want to see some more photos from our trip, you can see them here.

With regards the website, it is still very much underdevelopment, but I hope to have the design finalised fairly soon and then I’ll start adding content to the various sections.



23 July, 2009 | Written by Steve | Comments: 2 Comments