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Family Patagonia: Glacial lakes and mountains

16 days from £5,321pp

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Family Patagonia: Glacial lakes and mountains:
Trip Dossier

This adventurous family holiday takes you from Buenos Aires to Patagonia in the far south of South America. It’s a land of ice caps, glaciers jagged mountains and lakes at the tip of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. Explorations include a visit to the minty blue, cathedral-high Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, and the wildlife-rich Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

To the delight and awe of youngsters, the south is a true wilderness, where just a few rough roads cut through a frost-bitten landscape of glaciers, luminous lagoons, icy pinnacles and wind-strafed steppe. It is however readily accessible to all visitors, and our explorations are reassuringly comfortable for any older members of your party. You’ll also head north to the Atacama desert: the driest in the world.  Here the scenery has a moon-like quality, with wind-carved rocks, fizzing geysers and pretty oases.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to hotel in the chic Recoleta district.

Day 2

At leisure in Buenos Aires. Optional football matches in season.

Day 3

Guided excursion to a gaucho display at a nearby ranch.

Day 4

Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate.

Day 5

Guided adventure on the Patagonian steppes by 4WD vehicle.

Day 6

Guided visit to Perito Moreno glacier with mini-trekking or boat trip.

Day 7

Scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 8-9

Guided outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 10

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, fly to Santiago.

Day 11

Guided city tour of the capital.

Day 12

Fly to Calama and transfer to San Pedro de Atacama.

Days 13-14

Guided excursions in the Atacama Desert.

Day 15

Fly from Calama to Santiago.

Day 16

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to hotel in the chic Recoleta district.
 

You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the chic Recoleta residential district by one of our local representatives

Buenos Aires is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses.  It’s a city with something for everyone, whatever their age or interest.

It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

Day 2

At leisure in Buenos Aires. Optional football matches in season.
 

At leisure in Buenos Aires.  Stroll around pedestrianised Puerto Madero, the refurbished port district where former dock installations and features have been preserved alongside a string of excellent restaurants and loft conversions. Take a trip out to La Boca, the artists’ quarter filled with gaily painted houses. Beyond the city limits, consider a trip by catamaran across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.  Travel along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, to this peaceful little port, where you can wander among cobbled streets lined by colonial houses, climb the lighthouse tower or have a meal in the yacht club.

Alternatively, venture into the watery delta to the small town of Tigre, set on the banks of the Luján river. Have lunch at one of the restaurants on the shores of the Río Paraná, while watching fisherman at work and river-craft gliding by.

If you fancy taking in a football game, maybe at the famous grounds of Boca Juniors or River Plate, this can be arranged for you – the season runs from August to June, on Saturdays.

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Football match, Buenos Aires

Day 3

Guided excursion to a gaucho display at a nearby ranch.
 

Live a little of the Argentine cowboy’s (gaucho) joie de vivre at this re-creation of a country fiesta held in a ranch on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. You will be able to savour the food and wine of the pampas, including a mouth-watering barbecue, and walk or horse-ride around the property. In the afternoon, there is a show of regional dance and song, followed by a demonstration of the gauchos’ legendary equestrian skills, including horse races. You may also enjoy the scenery in leisurely fashion in a traditional 'sulky' carriage.

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Gauchos on the Argentine pampa

Day 4

Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate.
 

Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate in Southern Patagonia, a small tourist resort situated on the banks of the milky turquoise Lake Argentino. Your first sight of Patagonia is spell-binding: it’s a remote land of endless grassy plains, granite mountain peaks tipped with eternal snows, turquoise lakes dotted with icebergs and immense blue-tinged glaciers. Beyond all imagining for youngsters.

Transfer to your hotel close to the town.  Tourism in the last 20yrs has transformed it into a bustling entrepôt with access to the nearby landscapes of glaciers, lakes and impossibly steep peaks.  It still has a bit of a frontier feel, though it is very busy in summer.

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Day 5

Guided adventure on the Patagonian steppes by 4WD vehicle.
 

Only a 23km drive from El Calafate, Cerro Frias Eco-Adventure Park sits at the foot of the Andes mountains, amongst indigenous beech trees and calafate berry bushes. To observe the plants and animals, and have spectacular sweeping views over the landscape, climb into a 4WD jeep and drive up the eastern slope of the mountain - the first natural viewpoint is at 450m - with stunning panoramas over Lake Argentino.

Continue on to catch glimpses of the Devil's Mouth, climbing to 1,030m. From the highest point, you'll see the dizzy heights of ice-clad Fitz Roy Mountain and the spiky Torres del Paine (Chile) in the distance before descending to the park. On this adventure you will enjoy a typical Patagonian lunch.

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Cerro Frias 4x4 excursion, El Calafate

Day 6

Guided visit to Perito Moreno glacier with mini-trekking or boat trip.
 

Today’s adventure begins with a 1.5hr drive across the Patagonian steppes, leaving El Calafate along the shore of Lake Argentino, and heading for Los Glaciares National Park.   There are not many sights on Earth that are truly awe-inspiring, but the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of them.  A thundering soundtrack, created by shards of falling ice, accompanies a truly breathtaking spectacle: a 5km-wide wall of ice which towers 60m above the surface of an iceberg-dotted lake. Most visitors stick to the walkways and viewing platform which face the glacier, but trekking on the glacier itself can be an unforgettable experience.

Arriving at the national park, there is a short boat trip to the opposite shores of the lake.  After a briefing from the guides, you’ll be fitted with your crampons, ready to spend 90mins exploring the glacier’s surface. The guides accompany you, helping you to pick a safe route, negotiating pools and ice fields, perhaps even getting inside an icy crevasse. Once the trek is over you’ll have time to enjoy your packed lunch. Next, you’ll board the boat again and head back to shore to explore the walkways which face the glacier, Return to El Calafate during the late afternoon.

(Those of your party who are under 10 or over 65 years old, pregnant, or have mobility issues can take the regular excursion with a boat trip instead of the ice trekking).

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Perito Moreno Glacier

Day 7

Scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park.
 

It’s a wonderful scenic drive on a lonely road across the border to Chile and Torres del Paine National Park. The trip to the border crossing takes about 4hrs, crossing over sweeping Patagonian grasslands, remote and sparsely populated. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea. Continue into Chile and Torres del Paine National Park, a further 2hrs along an unpaved road.

The park is dominated by a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment. Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the area is a natural habitat of over 150 species of birds (flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas). 

You’ll be staying in fixed dome tents with proper beds and bathroom facilities. An experience right inside the jaws of nature, but protected from the elements in a cosy family environment.

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Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Days 8-9

Guided outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
 

Choose from a menu of guided excursions and adventure activities from the camp.  There is a programme of activities divided into 'easy' or 'active' tours, which have fixed schedules and are shared with other guests. The excursions included during your stay will vary depending on your arrival day, but the emphasis is on exploring these wonderful surroundings on foot.

Typically, there is a choice of easy trails to the western lakes, Laguna Azul and the Mirador del Toro viewpoint. The more active among you may enjoy the day-long trek to the base of Torres del Paine or a hike in the French Valley. Excursions to Glacier Grey are offered twice a week subject to local conditions and minimum numbers being reached. It might be possible to organise a private excursion locally at additional cost. Horse riding may also be arranged locally.

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Hiking in Torres del Paine

Day 10

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, fly to Santiago.
 

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, another bleakly beautiful route where ostriches and guanacos race across the steppes, and fly to Santiago.

The capital of Chile is set in a broad valley between the Andes, with a row of snow-capped peaks, and a smaller coastal range with a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Santiago is a huge metropolis, a mix of the old and the contemporary, with quarters of tree-lined avenues and affluent tranquillity and others full of commercial bustle.

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Day 11

Guided city tour of the capital.
 

Your guided tour showcases the city's multi-faceted character, contrasting the bustling historic centre, leafy residential neighbourhoods and swish, ultra-modern El Golf, the high-rise business district.

Setting off from the University district, you will see the elegant 19th century mansions of the old aristocracy en route to the Plaza de Armas (main square). Santiago's cathedral, the main post office, the National Museum and the city hall are all historic buildings grouped around the square. Drive along the highway which skirts the Parque Forestal towards the bohemian neighbourhood of Bellavista with its cobbled streets, cafés and jewellery and gift shops. 

From here, visit hilly San Cristóbal park, which has a cable car, swimming pool and other family friendly amenities, for a spectacular panorama of the city.

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Santiago, Chile

Day 12

Fly to Calama and transfer to San Pedro de Atacama.
 

Transfer to Santiago airport and fly to Calama in the Atacama Desert (2hrs). Continue by road for an hour to the agreeable little tourist resort San Pedro de Atacama.

The Atacama’s inhospitable desert landscape is harsh and rugged, but it isn’t an empty wasteland. Volcanoes and geysers steam and hiss into life. Pink flamingos haunt the featureless white salt flats, cacti stride towards the horizon and oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation, especially after rare flash rainfall.  The culture and settlements echo with the legacy of the desert’s pre- and post- Columbian inhabitants, with ruined temples and dusty colonial villages.

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Atacama desert, Chile

Days 13-14

Guided excursions in the Atacama Desert.
 

Choose from an array of complementary guided activities to enjoy this spectacular corner of Chile, such as visits to the salt flats, geysers and crumbling desert ruins. Travel to the sand dunes and gorges of Moon Valley, the hot springs of Puritama or take a dawn van trip to the fizzing, hissing, spouting Tatio geysers – among the highest hot springs on the planet. There’s a good choice of experiences for all members of the family.

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Moon Valley, San Pedro de Atacama

Day 15

Fly from Calama to Santiago.
 

Overnight at the Holiday Inn Santiago Airport, immediately opposite the terminal building.

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Day 16

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (longest 5hrs); 2 scenic road journeys (longest up to 7hrs).

Accommodation

This holiday offers good mid-range accommodation, from functional, modern and well-equipped hotels in the towns and cities to a fixed tent camp with cosy furnished en suite domed tents; well located in Torres del Paine National Park with staggering views.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch days 3, 5; dinner day 7; full board days 8-10; 13, 14.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

  • Guided excursion to gaucho ranch, with show.
  • Guided adventure in 4WD vehicle, Los Glaciares National Park. 
  • Guided excursion to Perito Moreno glacier and mini-trekking or boat trip on the lake.
  • Excursions and activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
  • Guided city tour in Santiago.
  • Guided explorations in the Atacama Desert.

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: Buenos Aires 3; El Calafate 3; Torres del Paine 3; Santiago 2; San Pedro de Atacama 3; Santiago 1.

Included in the journey price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office.
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
  • All land and air transport within Latin America.
  • Accommodation as specified.
  • Meals as specified.
  • Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America.
• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso, in Chile it is the Chilean peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of US$35-50 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential.

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are several flights and some long drives but the road surface is generally good. 

This holiday is suitable for all able-bodied, reasonably fit family members.  If any of you have a disability or other special requirements, please call us.

In Torres del Paine National Park all walks are optional. Hikes vary in length (between 2 and 8 hours) and difficulty (most are easily followed and relatively flat).  

The glacier mini-trekking is limited to those over 10 years of age and under 65 years; and is not appropriate if you have mobility problems or are pregnant. In the case of those excluded we will offer the regular Perito Moreno excursion with a boat trip. 

Be prepared for some early mornings, and for extreme weather conditions in the south.

Climate

Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is between May and September. In Buenos Aires and Santiago, temperatures can be cool (5°C – to 15°C). While sunshine is possible, so is rain. Spring and autumn temperatures, October to November and March to April respectively, are between 15 and 25°C and there is a good deal of pleasant sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C, and while mostly dry in Santiago there can be tropical downpours in Buenos Aires. 

The weather in the far south is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (October to March) there can be blizzards or heat waves.  The adage “four seasons in a day” is very apt here. In winter, days are short and snow is not uncommon, but it is rarely much below freezing, because of the moderating influence of the sea.

The Atacama Desert is hot (18-30°C) and dry for much of the year, though temperatures fall substantially at night when it is clear and the mornings are chilly. In January and February the region can be susceptible to heavy rains coming from the Bolivian Andes.

Clothing and special equipment

Even in stylish Buenos Aires, dress is casual or smart casual except for the classiest restaurants. For the holiday as a whole you will need a variety of clothing, from light trousers, shorts, cotton dresses, skirts or T shirts through to fleeces and waterproof outer shells. A hat and gloves are advisable for the far south.  Good comfortable footwear is essential.

A day pack is advisable, for carrying rainwear, snacks, books and a water bottle.  The sun in summer can be strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sunblock. Some families find hiking poles helpful and binoculars are useful for wildlife spotting. 

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health wesite.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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