TRAVEL Q&A

Patagonia Dreamin'

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2005

Q. I've read that Patagonia is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. What kind of tourist facilities are there?

Steve Grabowski, Pompano Beach, Fla.

A. Patagonia, the thumb of land at the bottom of South America, is an "amazing wilderness area with spectacular mountains and glaciers that fall into turquoise-blue lakes," says Nadia LeBon, director of special programs at Mountain Travel Sobek (888-687-6235, http://www.mtsobek.com/ ), the California adventure travel company that organizes tours to Patagonia. "It's like the Grand Tetons, except you are at sea level and so close to the mountains and the sea."

Besides its mix of ocean and mountain air, the 1,000-mile-long region shared by Argentina and Chile is noted for its national parks, crystalline lakes, glaciers cleaved from the Andes and wildlife ranging from penguins to a rare indigenous deer. There are also jagged cliffs revered by mountaineers and ancient petroglyphs.

Travelers can explore Patagonia by land or sea -- or a bit of both. For terra firma, head for the parks -- Torres del Paine on the Chilean side or Glaciares on Argentina's half -- which are seven hours by car or bus from Punta Arenas, Chile, or Calafate, Argentina, respectively. Lodging is scattered inside and around the parks, including the all-inclusive Explora hotel (011-56-2-206-6060, http://www.explora.com/ ; from $2,028 per person double for four nights) in Paine, mid-range inns, camping and dude ranches called estancias (see http://www.interpatagonia.com/estancias/index_i.html for a list). The parks also have hiking trails, glacier tours, rafting and other activities. Since the region's development is fairly new, towns and the companion amenities are scarce, so visitors often end up dining at their hotels.

Many cruises offers expeditions around Tierra del Fuego that include glacier walks and a visit to penguin-populated Magdelana Island. Cruceros Australis (877-678-3772, http://www.australis.com/ ), for one, has cruises to/from Puento Arenas and Ushuaia, Argentina, from $681 per person double for three nights.

For general info on Patagonia, see http://www.welcomepatagonia.com/ or http://www.interpatagonia.com/ . Or check with the countries' tourism offices: Argentina Government Tourist Office, 212-603-0443, http://www.turismo.gov.ar/ ; Chilean Tourism, 866-YES-CHILE, http://www.visit-chile.org/ .

We are planning a tour of the rock art in South Africa and Mali. Can you recommend tours?

Nereide Ellis, Arlington

Rock art is one of the world's oldest art forms, dating to 21,000 B.C., and the pictographs and petroglyphs adorn cliff overhangs, rock shelters and caverns throughout Africa. However, Christine Mullen Kreamer, curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, writes in an e-mail, "One of the richest regions of rock art in Africa is south of the Zambezi River in southern Africa, particularly Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa."

In Mali, most tours include a visit to the Dogon region, where you can see the designs on the Bandiagara escarpment. Explore! (800-227 8747, http://www.explore.co.uk/worldwide/index.jsp ), for one, has a 16-day Mali trip that includes a five-day foot safari in Dogon; price from $1,960 per person double. In South Africa, the main rock art sites are in the Northern Cape ( http://www.northerncape.org.za/ ) and KwaZulu-Natal ( http://www.kzn.org.za/ ) provinces. At many of the country's parks and preserves, you can hike along trails lined with rock art; cost can range from $17 (park conservation fee) to $32 (guided tour). For example, the Didima San Rock Art Centre in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg offers guided hikes of a rock art shelter with Bushmen paintings for about $9.50 per person (based on four people).

For organized tours, Cedarberg African Travel ( http://www.cedarberg-travel.com/ ), based in South Africa, offers a four-day Cedarberg Rock Art Tour from $900 per person double, while Colorado's Crow Canyon Archaeological Center (800-422-8975, http://www.crowcanyon.org/ ) has a June 2-15 program led by anthropologists and rock art specialists for $7,995. The nonprofit Trust for African Rock Art also plans trips that "are scientific and not tourist safaris." The group is currently leading a 10-day tour of East African rock art; see http://www.africanrockart.org/ for upcoming trips.

My husband uses the wheelchair services provided by the airlines. What is an appropriate tip for these services?

Helen Guest, Herndon

Before you say thanks with a bit of the green, first discern whether the employee assisting with wheelchair services works for the airlines or are contractors. According to David Castelveter, vice president of communications at the Air Transport Association, most airline employees cannot accept gratuities -- though check with the specific airline as each carrier's policy varies. However, contracted workers like sky caps do accept -- and appreciate -- tips. The amount, though, is personal preference. The Emily Post Institute recommends $2 to $5.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@ washpost.com), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and home town.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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