Bonnie Tucker / FST
Several tourist spots or activities that once operated only during the warm or cold months have stretched their seasons in order to increase their revenues, and their “promos” (“promotions,” or bargains that come very early or very late in the low seasons) are the bait with which they tempt bargain-seekers. Unfortunately, the best weather conditions, the number and quality of excursions available, the presence of wildlife, and other items that guarantee visitor satisfaction, do not always coincide with those slots on the calendar. So the “goodness” of a travel deal depends entirely on what you really want to see and do at your destination.
In July we mentioned the risks involved in booking an early winter low-season ski week in the Andes; good snowfalls have of late been coming later than that – in August and September in some cases.
Chilean fjords cruises offered in a September promo regale passengers with fantastic views of mountains that still have a lot of snow, but that time of year is too early to see penguins on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan. There, the season for observing these migratory sea birds extends from October to the end of March (as opposed to September to April along the Chubut coast in Argentina, further north). Those who don’t give a hoot about penguins aren’t bothered by this detail. Those who do, have to pay more in December to be able to photograph thousands of these and other sea birds on their nests or with chicks on this enormous bare island with an old lighthouse.
People who want to see wildlife anywhere in the world should check the Internet for the breeding seasons in the different locations before setting out. For Magellanic penguins in Chubut, the best time is never at the beginning or end of the season, but rather from November, when the chicks hatch, to January, when they are walking around and the rookery teems with birds. In February they begin to molt and look scruffy.
In El Calafate (Santa Cruz), some hotels that remain open all year close their restaurants during the low season. That’s fine if your accommodation is downtown, where the restaurants that remain open are clustered. But if it is out of town, be sure to pack good walking shoes, because you might have to wait a long time for taxis to take you to town and back. It’s best to inquire about this detail when booking.
The attractions included in an excursion, or in a given destination, can also diminish during the off-season.
When booking the Todo Glaciares cruise in El Calafate, try to make sure that on the day of your trip passengers will be able to disembark in Onelli Bay (the place where the Upsala branch of Lake Argentino is separated from Lake Onelli by a spit of land). For many, this landing – the only one during the full-day cruise – is the biggest attraction of the excursion, as it involves following a path through a lovely beech forest and coming out on Lake Onelli full of little icebergs from three glaciers. At times the bay is so full of icebergs that the boat can’t get to the wharf. And if the Onelli Bay restaurant is closed, as it usually is during the low season, you will have to eat a box lunch (made by you or brought from your hotel) elbow-to-elbow with 300 other passengers on the catamaran. (Many people think it is best to bring the box lunch anyway, so as to be able to dedicate the little time allotted to this stop, to looking at Lake Onelli instead of waiting for a place in the restaurant.)
In Pampa Linda, a unique hiking and horseback riding center at the foot of Mount Tronador outside Bariloche, you can ride in the lower valley in the spring. However, experienced riders who want to see the top of the Andes should consider that the snow on the upper reaches of the surrounding mountains takes a long time to melt, so the center’s all-day horseback rides to really interesting lookout points can’t be done until December or January.
In Patagonia, the end-of-season deals are the best with regard to the weather and landscapes. Spring and summer are windier than fall and winter, and the beeches turn fantastic shades of red and yellow in April.
PHOTO CREDITS: Cerro Bayo ski center, Villa La Angostura. Cerro Bayo. Birders on Magdalena Island in December. Bonnie Tucker. Bahía Onelli, Los Glaciares National Park. Bonnie Tucker. Ride to Cerro Volcánico, Pampa Linda. Pampa Linda