Trip Summary and Itinerary Map
- Walking tour Santiago
- Explore the Atacama desert
- Visit the Chilean lake district and waterside town, Puerto Varas.
- Visit Torres del Paine National Park
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the tour leader or a local representative. There will be time to relax before your guided walking tour of the colonial centre of the city, and later you may be able to visit independently one or two of the many museums, markets and parks of this cosmopolitan capital. Santiago is laid out in a broad valley below the snow-capped Andes.
Today there is an optional visit to Chile's second city, Valparaiso (2 hours by bus). This lively seaport is built on a series of hills which form a backdrop to the wide bay, with views over the seaside resort of Vina del Mar. You can wander through the steep, winding streets and among the brightly-coloured colonial homes built for 19th century British and German merchants, or take a ride in one of the creaky wooden funiculars which link the cliff-top communities.
Time permitting, you may wish to visit one of the vineyards close to Santiago, to sample some highly respected Chilean wine.
Fly north to Calama (2 hours) where you will be driven (90mins) to the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is a timeless adobe town with a laid back atmosphere and an erratic electricity supply. Its dusty streets are lined with bars, cafes and tour operators offering various excursions into the surrounding desert. The excellent museum here has a comprehensive history of the indigenous population and an interesting display of local archaeological discoveries.
On the guided excursion you arrive late in the afternoon at the Moon Valley (its name tells it all) to explore shady gorges and canyons formed over centuries by the erosion of salt mountains. Just before dusk, climb to the ridge of a vast golden sand dune to see the landscape lit up in different shades of pink, crimson and mandarin cast by the setting sun.
Explore the region's other-worldly landscape on a full day excursion to the Atacama salt flats and surrounding lakes. Across the dazzling, pitted surface of the salar, you'll see pink-tinged flamingos feeding, reflected in the glimmering pools. A dusty drive takes you through some tiny hamlets where Atacames eke out a living in these harsh conditions, before continuing to Lakes Miscanti and Micques. Here you're left literally breathless - at over 4,000m the air is thin and cold. Take a walk around the lakeshore and picnic with a view of the volcanic cones perfectly reflected in the turquoise waters.
Should you choose to take the morning optional excursion to El Tatio Geysers, be prepared for a very early start. But it's well worth it. You arrive on the pitted, craggy geyser field just before dawn, and as the sun rises and warms the earth, hot steam projects dramatically out of the crater into the freezing morning air, creating a wall of mist through which you can make out dark silhouettes against the penetrating sunlight.
Alternatively you may want to walk to Pukar de Quitor (3 km). This old Inca fortress has superb views of the mountains and volcanoes bordering Bolivia and Argentina.
Fly south via Santiago to Puerto Montt, and continue by road to Puerto Varas, situated on the shores of Lake Llanquihue (one of the largest natural lakes in South America), in the heart of the lake district. Towering snow-capped volcanoes punctuate a patchwork landscape of cultivated hills and pastures. The town sits in the shadows of the perfect conical peak of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Originally colonised by German immigrants, it has a distinctive, Bavarian feel, and many inhabitants are fair-haired and blue-eyed. There are some excellent seafood restaurants and cafes serving creamy kuchen to while away your free time.
Today you will visit the Petrohue Falls where you stand on wooden walkways and gaze down into the glacial turquoise waters. Follow the trails through the forest and along the shores of Lake Todos los Santos, where you will take a boat trip on the gem-clear, emerald green waters. On a clear day, this is some of the most exquisite scenery on the continent.
We strongly recommend a full-day excursion to Chiloe. This extraordinary island developed largely independently from the mainland and has a distinct history, architecture and mythology. Alighting on its shores is like stepping back into a time of mists and legends. Half the population works in agriculture, the techniques of which have remained unchanged for centuries; distinctive ox-driven carts are to be seen trundling down the island's unpaved roads past unique wood-shingled churches and there are several folksy fishing ports where you can savour fresh oysters.
November-March you can take a boat trip to spot Magellanic and Humboldt penguins. The excursion ends with a visit to a chilote family, where the traditional curanto is prepared for you; it's a hearty dish of seafood, meat, potatoes and vegetables are piled high in a hole in the ground, buried and cooked among glowing embers.
After a short drive to Puerto Montt, a 2 hour flight takes you south to Punta Arenas. On a clear day you have views of the southern icecap, its fjords, volcanoes and glaciers. Approaching the city you fly over the rust brown Patagonian steppes, pitted with small lagoons, stretching out towards the Straits of Magellan. On the other side of the water rise the mountains of the windswept island of Tierra del Fuego.
You have time to explore extensively, on foot and by boat, and to enjoy the peace and beauty of Torres del Paine national park, deservedly one of South America's most acclaimed attractions. There are excellent hiking trails that wind alongside the glacial lakes with close-up views of the tortured rock towers and needles rising 3,000m into a tempestuous sky.
On today's full day guided adventure inside the national park, you'll head to iceberg-dotted Lago Grey at the foot of the giant granite massif Paine Grande. Embark upon a boat trip navigating towards the wall of giant Glacier Grey. As the vessel navigates its way across the icy waters, you look towards ice fields and precipitous, hanging glaciers. The weather in Patagonia is temperamental to say the least! You may experience four seasons in the space of an hour and the wind blows constantly.
Journey back south away from the park to Punta Arenas, stopping to visit the Milodon Cave on the way.
Catch a flight back to Santiago (4 hours) which normally includes a stop in Puerto Montt where those wishing to continue with the lake crossing to Argentina will leave the group. Overnight in the capital.
Depart for international flight or extension.
Prices, Departures and Inclusions
|Start date||Price (pp)|
* Note: Prices are per person. Paid in GBP (£) - figure above is based on today's exchange rate. Actual cost £3,478
The price of a single supplement varies depending on the departure date, approximately GBP 1,200.
- Santiago: walking tour
- San Pedro de Atacama: Moon Valley and Atacama salt flats
- Lake district: Petrohue Falls and boat trip on Lago Todos Los Santos
- Torres del Paine: Glacier Grey boat trip
- Torres del Paine: stops at view points within the park
- Tour Leader
- All land and domestic air transport
- Accommodation as specified (3-4 Star)
- Breakfast daily, Lunch day 4.
- International flights
- Optional excursions
- Personal expenses and equipment
- Travel insurance
- Any visa, passport and vaccination expenses