Spellbinding scenery, exotic wildlife provide exquisite experience

By Nan Bauroth

Patagonia is one of those mythical places that seems to rise from the mists of time. Its geographical wonders stretch from snow-capped Andean peaks to the Strait of Magellan where Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet in a swirling embrace near the tip of the earth.

Patagonia icebergs
Boat tours navigate opalescent icebergs. Photo courtesy of “The Eyes of the Condor”

Patagonia is one of those mythical places that seems to rise from the mists of time. Its geographical wonders stretch from snow-capped Andean peaks to the Strait of Magellan where Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet in a swirling embrace near the tip of the earth.

For Ballantyne residents Hank and Ann Del Vecchio and four other local couples who spent two weeks together exploring Patagonia, their odyssey through this legendary land exceeded all expectations. “We never tired of looking at the incredible scenery and pinching ourselves, thinking ‘I’m really here,’” Ann says.

Knowing that within this vast territory spanning Chile and Argentina lie some of the most jaw-dropping panoramas on the planet, the group was determined to take in as much as possible through trekking, horseback riding, climbing and kayaking. Margaret Rossetti, a concierge travel agent in south Charlotte, arranged their 15-day itinerary. “I planned this trip a year in advance because you need time to do it right,” she says. “Many people around the world are now going to Patagonia.” She helped the group obtain visas because rules are constantly changing, but no vaccinations were required. She also provided a checklist of cool-weather clothing and gear.

Within Chile and Argentina Lie Jaw-Dropping Panoramas.

Patagonia mountain range

Glaciers, Towers

The group’s adventure began in El Calafate, Argentina, jumping off point for most Patagonia excursions. A gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, the town sits on Lake Argentino, where boat tours navigate opalescent icebergs. The morning after checking into Esplendor hotel, everyone took a guided climb wearing heavy-duty crampons to navigate the moaning crevasses of Perito Moreno Glacier, a massive ice field that is the world’s third-largest freshwater reserve.

The next evening the group dined at La Tablita, known for its Patagonian lamb. The local soccer team had just won a match, prompting shouts, honking and dancing in the streets. “We sat at a long table soon filled with delicious food and wine,” Ann says. “It was a fantastic start to our food adventures on the trip.”

Next up was Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, where their rooms at Hotel Río Serrano offered an unparalleled vista of the Three Towers, the most photographed landmark in Patagonia. “The view was awesome every day, whether shrouded in cloud cover or (with a) crystal clear blue sky,” Ann recalls. During their five-day stay in the park, the companions split up, some embarking on an all-day glacier trek, others checking out unusual fora and fauna, including the mighty condor. Ann and a few members went horseback riding along the Nutria River, and another day the entire group enjoyed a river cruise in an inflatable boat, stopping for a picnic brought by their guide. “The scenery was gorgeous everywhere we went,” she says.

Patagonia Three Towers
Weather conditions offer interesting, changing views of the Three Towers. Photo courtesy of “The Eyes of the Condor”
Andean condor
The Andean condor is the national bird of Chile, and Torres del Paine National Park is a popular place for condor sightings. Photo courtesy of “The Eyes of the Condor”

Penguin Colony

Magellanic penguins
Magellanic penguins draw tourists to Otway Sound near the Strait of Magellan.

The inspiration behind the group’s Patagonia trip was one member’s dream of seeing the penguins for her 50th birthday; therefore, the third stop was Punta Arenas, home of the Magellanic penguin colony on Otway Sound near the Strait of Magellan. To everyone’s disappointment, though, the army of comical birds had moved, so while several members set off by boat to find them, the Del Vecchios and another couple donned protective wetsuits and braved the strait’s icy waters on a guided kayak trip. “We loved paddling along the coast, seeing the peaceful scenery and being able to say that we were actually kayaking in the Strait of Magellan,” Ann says.

Chile wine country
A visit to Chile's wine country might include a tasting in the Colchagua Valley.

Wine Country

The final leg of the journey was a stay in Chile’s capital city of Santiago at the Hotel Plaza San Francisco, which Ann highly recommends. The first day, everyone was free to wander the winding streets of this historic city that boasts many heritage sites, including the iconic Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception on San Crist bal Hill.

Shopping was also on the agenda, so after Ann researched top spots, they headed to Pueblito Los Dominicos, a walled artisan marketplace, where the women purchased copper jewelry and alpaca shawls as mementoes of their Patagonia trip.

The second day was reserved for lunch and wine tasting at Matetic Vineyards at Pomaire in nearby Casablanca Valley, the heart of Chile’s wine country. “You would think you were in Napa Valley,” Ann says, noting that she and a few companions also visited other notable wineries, including Viña Laura Hartwig at Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley. “My husband and I now have a new appreciation for Chilean wines.”

That evening the travelers experienced the culinary highlight of their trip at Ambrosía, named to Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The meal began with a glass of wine in the garden and then proceeded inside. “The food was so creative and beautifully presented,” Ann insists. “We couldn’t believe how very special one of our last nights in Chile was.”

Looking back, the group feels their Patagonian adventure will forever rank high on their list of getaways. “Our photos are so lovely to look at and bring back wonderful memories,” Ann says. “The visions of Patagonia in my mind are incredibly powerful.

‘The Eyes of the Condor’

Several images in this article are graciously on loan from “The Eyes of the Condor,” a coffee table book produced by Christopher Ladley, general manager of ORCA E.I.R.L. in Santiago, and JJ Bissell, former publisher of Ballantyne Magazine.

The collaborators, both licensed pilots, shot these images to showcase Chile’s spectacular landscape. To view or purchase the newest edition of the book, visit (click on “English,” then “Editions”). A portion of proceeds go to The Baby J Fund (, a foundation at Levine Children’s Hospital created by the Ladley family to honor Christopher’s nephew, who unsuccessfully battled brain cancer.

Los Ojos Del Condor