Trip Summary and Itinerary Map
- Walking Tour of Chile's Capital City
- Optional visit to a vineyard, or the Pacific port town Valparaiso
- Visit Torres del Paine National Park
- Opportunities for walking and Boat-trip on Lago Grey
- Visit Perito Moreno Glacier
- Optional trip to the Ice Fields or visit a local estancia
- Visit Tierra del Fuego National Park; boat trip along the Beagle Channel
- Guided city tour of Buenos Aires
- Optional trip over the river plate to Colonia, Uruguay
Those 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 exploring the city and visiting a few of the many museums, markets and parks of this cosmopolitan capital. Santiago is laid out in a broad valley below the snow-capped Andes.
For a panoramic view over the city, visit Cerro Santa Lucia, a central, rather romantic park. For even more panoramic vistas, a cable car leads to the summit of San Cristobal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. Afterwards, have a beer at one of the pavement cafes in Bellavista. This is an Italian quarter of narrow streets peppered with bars and shops selling local lapis lazuli (only Chile and Afghanistan produce the stones in commercial quantities).
Today there is an optional visit to Chile's second city, Valparaiso (2 hrs 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.
A 4hr 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 see 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.
Punta Arenas was an important, British-influenced trading centre before the opening of the Panama Canal turned it into a backwater; the regions fortunes were only briefly revived during a short-lived gold rush. To add to its woes, the sheep-rearing business has never recovered from the catastrophic collapse of the price of meat and wool. No pure-blooded indigenous people are left alive here; having survived for centuries the rigours of the Antarctic climate they were annihilated by the diseases brought in by sailors and missionaries at the turn of the 20th century. Overnight in the city.
An early morning departure in a private vehicle bound for the Torres del Paine National Park (3.5hrs), with stops to visit the Milodon Cave made famous by explorer Bruce Chatwin. The scenery is overwhelming; the granite massif of the Cuernos, milky lakes dotted with icebergs and, soaring above, condors riding against perpetual fierce winds.
Stay in one of the coziest and best located lodges within the park, on the shores of Lago Grey. There are views of the towering granite massif from the property. Your time here allows you to explore extensively, on foot and by boat, and to enjoy the peace and beauty of this 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 rock towers and needles rising 3,000m into a tempestuous sky.
Keen walkers can hike (8hrs return) to Glacier Grey, or to the base of the monumental vertical slabs the Torres (towers). There are more leisurely trails through the forest to see other ice and wind-carved glacial formations. Conditions permitting there is the option of a boat trip on Lago Grey. The vessel navigates its way across the icy waters as you look towards ice fields and precipitous, hanging glaciers.
For a different perspective, you might take an optional horse riding trip. Canter amidst beautiful scenery under the watchful eye of local horsemen.
Drive via the waterfall of Salto Grande and Laguna Amarga as you exit the park and then head towards Argentina across the Patagonian steppe, a bleak and scantily-populated landscape. Keep a look out for guanacos, rheas, and flamingos, as well as for the wonderful views over Lago Argentino, the largest in the country.
It is on these shores that El Calafate, your next port of call, is situated. This is a small town, but it is growing fast, brimming with hotels, cafes, tour agencies, delicatessens, sweet-shops and roaming travellers. There's not a huge amount to do in town, but it's a nice place to unwind and a convenient base for excursions into the area.
El Calafate is a stopping off point for visitors to the Perito Moreno Glacier, still one of the most dynamic in the world. Driving out towards the glacier (2 hrs) the road follows the lake before turning up a wooded valley, dense with beech and birch trees, and continues alongside shimmering lagoons bordered with bright crimson and heather lichens.
The park authorities have been sensitive about keeping the site as natural as possible, and there are no shops or cafes within close proximity of the wooden viewing platforms, which are landscaped into the cliff. Just looking at the cliff-edge of the glacier, which towers 60m above the water surface and is an extraordinary 5km wide, is awe-inspiring in itself. But after a time you hear the unforgettable sound of the glacier calving a vast wedge of ice the size of a tower block and sending it smashing down into the lake, where it divides and floats away as an iceberg.
A day to relax or there is an optional full-day trip to further explore the ice fields, where you pass the still waters of Lago Onelli, dotted with icebergs and with a backdrop of dense forest giving onto impressive snow-capped mountains. Other alternatives include taking a tour of a local estancia, horse riding or even driving for 3.5hrs down the road to El Chalten, in the shadow of the Fitzroy range, a mecca for hikers and climbers.
From El Calafate fly to Ushuaia (some domestic flights have a free baggage limit of 15kg, the excess charge is minimal though).
The world's southernmost city, Ushuaia sits at the foot of a hand of jagged peaks. Thus isolated, it was a penal colony at the turn of the 20th century and a sleepy frontier town until the late 1970s when it was turned into a tax haven to encourage settlers. Immigration has slackened off nowadays as this status is being rescinded but effects of the boom are nonetheless evident, with chalet-style residences, modern hi- tech factories, shopping malls and duty free shops.
Today there is a half-day trip to nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay with its bright green deciduous beech forests, and silvery lakes and fjords populated by water birds and beavers. Walk along winding, narrow hillside paths to discover views over the Beagle Channel, and learn about the evolution of the natural and human landscapes.
Those interested in the region's history will enjoy a visit Harberton Ranch (a half-day excursion, November to February only). You set off on a beautiful 85km journey through Tierra del Fuego's mountainous interior to arrive at the ranch, the first on the island, established by English missionaries. Their descendants still operate this scenic, wind-tussled sheep farm. It's worth reading Lucas Bridge's evocative book 'The Uttermost Part of the Earth' which details the history of the estancia, founded by his father, and the daily life of the now-extinct Yamana and Ona people. The ranch earns more from visitors than sheep-rearing these days. (Please note that this excursion is dependent on the time of the flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires as schedules change frequently).
Explore the lanes and boulevards on your guided city tour, then make the most of some free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in a tea-room or peruse the items on display in one of the many markets. It's fun to promenade up and down the quay in the city's splendidly renovated port district, Puerto Madero, which has trendy loft apartments, a string of open air restaurants and a small marina.
To take a break from the city's frenzy, you can travel by motor catamaran across the River Plate border to Colonia in Uruguay (don't forget your passport) where you can wander cobbled streets and admire the squat colonial houses from the top of the lighthouse, and have a glass of wine or lunch in the yacht club.
Wherever you are on your last day, if you are an enthusiastic carnivore make sure you have a juicy steak, usually up to a quarter of the price of its UK equivalent. Finally you could catch a tango show for a fantastic farewell to the city.
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 £3,268
- Santiago: Walking tour
- Torres del Paine: Salto Grande Falls
- El Calafate: Perito Moreno Glacier
- Ushuaia: Tierra del Fuego National Park
- Ushuaia: Beagle Channel boat trip
- Buenos Aires: City tour
- Breakfast daily, lunch day 11.
- Services of tour leader
- All land and domestic air transport
- Accommodation as specified
- Tips and insurance
- Meals other than specified
- Optional excursions