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Signature Patagonia: Glaciers of Chile and Argentina

17 days from £4309pp

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Signature Patagonia: Glaciers of Chile and Argentina:
Trip Dossier

This comprehensive Patagonia highlights holiday starts and ends in Buenos Aires. Patagonia in the far south is a land of ice caps, glaciers, jagged mountains and lakes at the tip of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. This adventure includes a visit to the minty blue, cathedral-high Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, and Torres del Paine National Park, Chile’s large and well-established reserve. The holiday includes the magnificent Lakes Crossing through the Andes linking Chile and Argentina, on a clear day one of the most exquisite journeys on the continent.

The south is, in parts, 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, Patagonia is nevertheless readily accessible to visitors. While the lake district in northern Patagonia has lakeside resorts and many visitors in summer, there are little seen fairyland forests and lonely roads carving their way through a virgin landscape. It explores the indigo lakes, ancient woodland and snow-capped volcanoes of the lake district.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

City tour including a visit to Teatro Colón. Evening tango show.

Day 3

At leisure in Buenos Aires.

Day 4

Transfer to airport and fly to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Beagle Channel cruise.

Day 5

Guided excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Day 6

Transfer to airport and fly to El Calafate.

Day 7

Visit Perito Moreno glacier; boat cruise on the lake.

Day 8

At leisure in El Calafate.

Day 9

Scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 10-11

Guided outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 12

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, fly to Puerto Montt, and drive to Puerto Varas.

Day 13

At leisure in Puerto Varas, lake district. Optional activities.

Day 14

Lake crossing through the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina.

Day 15

Excursion to visit local attractions.

Day 16

Transfer to the airport and fly to Buenos Aires

Day 17

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 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.

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Day 2

City tour including a visit to Teatro Colón. Evening tango show.
 

Your guided city tour takes you along Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest boulevards in the world and studded by the Obelisk, an emblematic symbol of the city. Along this majestic highway is the 19th century Teatro Colón (guided tour included) which, in terms of its architecture and design, as well as its excellent acoustics, is considered one of the world’s best.  On to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed on three sides by the Metropolitan cathedral, the Town Hall and the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. The tour continues to bohemian, arty La Boca, which was settled and built by Italian immigrants and has streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses.  Visit the district of Recoleta.

Evening guided visit to a tango show with dinner. The passage of time has given respectability to a dance once confined to the seedy underworld bars of the red-light La Boca district. Nowadays, a number of 'tango houses' offer a dinner and show as an evening out.

This tango house in the San Telmo district of the capital occupies an early colonial building, and was founded in the 1920s in the art deco style of the time. It's a smart and evocative place with effective use of wood, tiles and columns to create atmosphere.  Of course, some of the visitors are tourists, but usually the audience is mainly porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) to whom each doleful ballad, each melancholy air, each sensual step, is part of their heritage. Included is dinner including local specialities such as bife de chorizo steak, and regional wines.

 

Tango show, Buenos Aires

Day 3

At leisure in Buenos Aires.
 

At leisure in Buenos Aires.  Stroll round Puerto Madero, the refurbished port district where former dock installations and features have been preserved alongside a string of excellent restaurants and loft conversions. Beyond the city limits, consider a trip 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, or have a meal or drink 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 fishermen at work and river-craft gliding by.

 

Day 4

Transfer to airport and fly to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Beagle Channel cruise.
 

Transfer to the airport and fly to Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city, on the island of Tierra de Fuego. The city has grown rapidly in recent years, partly as a result of government incentives to settlers, and its establishment as a Free Port, and partly a tourist centre - most Antarctic cruises leave from the port here. The setting is spectacular; jagged mountains hem in the town down to the shore of the Beagle Channel. Transfer to your hotel.

In the afternoon, board a catamaran at the pier and sail along the Beagle Channel, past some of Ushuaia's important buildings - the Maritime Museum and Museum of the End of the World, and its industrial suburbs. Beyond, the scenery is more spectacular, with fine views of the mountains that form a backdrop to the world's southernmost city.

The catamaran then sails to mid-Channel, southwest towards the lighthouse on the Les Eclaireurs archipelago. On one of these islands, you can see remains of the Monte Cervantes, shipwrecked in 1930. Continue to Sea Lion Island, which is circumnavigated for about 20mins to see the eponymous habitat, and Bird Island to see cormorants, giant albatrosses, petrels, and skuas. Return through Paso Chico, which frames the Martial glacier beyond the city of Ushuaia.

 

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Day 5

Guided excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park.
 

Guided tour to Lapataia National Park. 12km west of Ushuaia, the Pan-American highway reaches the end of the road as the Andes disappear into the sea at the southernmost tip of the American continent. 17848km from Alaska, where the highway begins, the Tierra del Fuego/Lapataia National Park mirrors the scenery which the road passes through when it starts its long journey south: mountains, lakes, rivers and deep valleys. Flora includes Patagonian birches, calafates (bush with red berries), notros (dwarf cherry), orchids and violets. It is common to see the majestic caracara, the very epitome of a bird of prey.

The tour usually stops first at the Fuegian Southern Railway station where you'll have the option (at extra cost) to take a 7km ride on the narrow gauge Tierra del Fuego railway. Although these days it is strictly a tourist train, it was originally built a century ago by convicts to give access to the logging of beech forests to the west of Ushuaia.  The excursion continues to Bahia Ensenada, Lago Roca and, finally, Lapataia Bay. There's usually time for a short, guided walk. Some paths scramble over gnarled roots and greenish schist rocks, following the lakeshores, or alternatively, an easier walk winds its ways past beaver dams.

Tierra del Fuego

Day 6

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 milky turquoise Lago Argentino.  Argentina’s Patagonia is a remote land of endless grassy plains, granite mountain peaks tipped with eternal snows, turquoise lakes dotted with icebergs and immense blue-tinged glaciers. Transfer to your hotel in the town.

Tourism in the last twenty years has transformed El Calafate into a bustling entrepôt for access to the nearby scenery of glaciers, lakes and impossibly steep peaks.  It still has a bit of a frontier feel, though it is very busy in summer.

 

Southern Patagonia, Argentina

Day 7

Visit Perito Moreno glacier; boat cruise on the lake.
 

Guided excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s an early morning departure from El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park, a 90min drive to the walkways and viewing platform overlooking the glacier. The thundering shards of falling ice are a breath-taking spectacle as you pass at a safe distance along the walkway in front of the Canal de los Tempanos, which separates Brazo Rico from the main part of the lake. The glacier is a staggering 5km wide and stands 60m above the surface of the lake. Its ice mass is fed by the southern continental ice field from the west, and from other smaller glaciers in the vicinity.

In the afternoon, board the Safari Nautico or Moreno Fiesta for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier, with a commentary. Alternatively, you can just walk and contemplate, away from the other visitors.

Perito Moreno glacier

Day 8

At leisure in El Calafate.
 

At leisure in El Calafate. Walk a little along the shoreline of the dazzling aquamarine lake, take a 4X4 ride across the plains or visit a traditional Patagonian sheep ranch. Wander through the little town, pausing to shop and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine.

Day 9

Scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park.
 

It’s a wonderful scenic drive along a lonely road across the border to Chile and Torres del Paine National Park. The drive to the border crossing at Cancha Carrera takes about 4hrs across the vast Patagonian grasslands, remote and sparsely populated. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea. Pass immigration and drive into Chile. Continue to majestic 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 (including flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).

Guanacos, Patagonia

Days 10-11

Guided outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
 

You have a choice of guided excursions to explore this wonderful wilderness environment from the hotel. Some are more energetic than others, but all are immensely rewarding. You might choose to walk uphill to the base of the dizzying perpendicular torres or towers, which form the backdrop to the hotel; hike to the jade green Laguna Verde or to one of a number of scenic look-out points.  You might visit the beach at Lago Grey and survey the steep walls of the Grey glacier, from which blue-tinged icebergs the size of motor launches break off and drift around the icy waters. There are horse-riding options and tours by 4WD vehicle across the park’s lonely, dusty roads.

Torres del Paine, Chile

Day 12

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, fly to Puerto Montt, and drive to Puerto Varas.
 

Transfer to Punta Arenas airport, another bleakly beautiful journey where ostriches and guanacos race across the steppes. Fly to Puerto Montt in the lake district, northern Patagonia (2hrs). It seems that each of the royal blue lakes in this region of chocolate-box prettiness is overlooked by its own snow-dipped volcano. On the lake shores are resort towns with an Alpine flavour and traditional villages of neat wooden cottages. The region is carpeted with pine forests and studded with youthful streams.

Short drive to Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. The town was colonised by Germans at the turn of the 20th century and its architecture and sedate style reflects this, but it is now a fast-growing tourist resort. Its main attraction is an alpine green lake framed by tree-clad hills and beyond, one of the most perfectly shaped snow-capped volcanoes in the world - Osorno. If you're lucky enough to be in Puerto Varas on a clear and still evening, the sunsets over Osorno's snowy mantle are magical.

Day 13

At leisure in Puerto Varas, lake district. Optional activities.
 

At leisure in Puerto Varas. You can cycle along the shoreline or visit other lakeshore villages, pausing for tea and cake in one of the many cafés.

However, we recommend an optional excursion to Chiloé Island. Drive via Puerto Montt (1hr) for the ferry ride through the Chacao Channel to the emerald isle of Chiloé. Ancud is a lively fishing port which was the Spanish Crown's last possession in South America. Here you visit the fortress of San Antonio, where the treaty was signed, for the withdrawal of the Spanish from Latin America. From Huaihuén Hill there are sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Drive inland, through a landscape of valleys and rolling green pastures towards the island's rugged west coast with its deserted beaches, quiet farmlands and coastal forest. Visit the penguin colony of Puñihuíl, the only place in the world where Humbolt and Magallanic penguins nest side by side. Stops are also made at the sweepingly beautiful bay at Mar Brava, on the extreme north of the island and Caulin, a small village of colourful fishermen’s houses which is known for its oysters.

 

Puerto Varas, Chile

Day 14

Lake crossing through the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina.
 

Travel through the most scenic Andean pass of them all to Argentina’s lake district. It’s a stunning 12hr journey with plenty of variety and stops to transfer between forms of transport. Travel along the southern shore of Lake Llanquihue until you reach the Petrohue river. Visit the spectacular Petrohue Falls, before taking the 2hr ferry journey to Peulla. Lago Todos los Santos, also known as the Emerald Lake, lives up to its name with its almost preternatural colour contrasting with darker hues of the tree clad hills. Marking the horizon is the snow-capped peak of the Osorno volcano and the Puntiagudo and Tronador mountains.

From Peulla, continue by bus to Puerto Frias. Cross the border and continue by boat. A comfortable catamaran makes the final crossing to Puerto Pañuelo, a 30min drive along the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi to Bariloche.

 

Calbuco volcano, near Puerto Varas

Day 15

Excursion to visit local attractions.
 

San Carlos de Bariloche is the main town in Argentina's lake district, on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The town is a centre for skiing in winter (July and August), and walking in summer - set against a stunning backdrop of glacial green-blue lakes framed by the mountains of the Andes.

There’s a 3hr guided tour by car for you to get a general overview of the breathtaking surrounding area. The 60km circuit is all along paved road and begins heading westwards from Bariloche along Lago Nahuel Huapi. The road passes the harbour and beach of Playa Bonita, a popular destination during the summer. After, you head to the viewpoint at Cerro Campanario where a 7min chair ride offers splendid views of the mountains and lakes below. Continue towards St Edward's chapel and Hotel Llao Llao, before entering the Valdivian beech rainforest which surrounds Lago Moreno. Stop at a point for more extensive  vistas of the lake and surroundings before returning to Bariloche.

Bariloche

Day 16

Transfer to the airport and fly to Buenos Aires
 

Day 17

Transfer to airport for your international flight home.
 

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (longest 5hrs); 2 scenic road journeys (longest 4-5hrs); 1 boat and bus lake crossing (12hrs).

Accommodation

This holiday offers good mid-range accommodation, from functional, modern and well-equipped hotels in the towns and cities to agreeable lakeside properties and a larger but excellent, well located lodge in Torres del Paine with staggering views.

Meals

Breakfast daily; dinner day 2; full board days 9-11.

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

  • Half day city tour with Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires.
  • Tango show with dinner, Buenos Aires.
  • Beagle channel cruise, Tierra del Fuego.
  • Excursion in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
  • Guided excursion to Perito Moreno glacier and boat trip on the lake.
  • Excursions and activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
  • Picturesque full day Andean boat crossing to Bariloche, via Petrohue waterfalls.
  • Drive the 60km circuit, passing Lago Nahuel Huapi, Playa Bonita and Lago Moreno.

Summary of nights

17 days, 16 nights: Buenos Aires 3; Tierra del Fuego 2; El Calafate 3; Torres del Paine 3; Puerto Varas 2; Bariloche 2; Buenos Aires 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 drives of up to 5hrs, but the road surface is generally good. The excursions mostly require moderate fitness.

In Torres del Paine National Park all walks are optional. Hikes vary in length (between 2 – 8hrs) and difficulty (most are easily followed and relatively flat).  If you find time to walk around Bariloche, trails are undulating but not strenuous.

Be prepared for some early mornings, and for extreme weather conditions (mainly down South). However, throughout the holiday, there is time to relax and explore on your own if you wish.

Climate

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

The lake district has weather not dissimilar to our own, but a bit sunnier in summer and rather rainier in the winter months.

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.

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.

A day pack is essential 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 walkers 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; typhoid; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

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

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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