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Untouched Aisen: Little-known Patagonia

15 days from £2618pp

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Untouched Aisen: Little-known Patagonia:
Trip Dossier

There are surely few areas of Latin America of such outstanding natural beauty, yet, owing to its remoteness, Aisén in Chilean Patagonia is relatively unvisited. Lying between the justifiably popular volcanic lake district to the north and the windswept granite peaks and glaciers of Torres del Paine to the south, this remarkable region reveals a wilderness of cool rainforest, glaciers, and sweeping vistas across stunning mountain peaks.

Not all that long ago, finding comfortable transport and accommodation in the region was a challenge. Now, as the area opens up with new roads and begins to develop its tourism potential, a number of reasonable and good hotels and lodges have been established.

A sense of adventure is vital, as is an understanding of the nature of journeys which explore remote areas.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart Saturday arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the following morning.

Day 1

Day at leisure to rest, explore or take an optional excursion.

Day 2

City tour of Buenos Aires.

Day 3

Fly to Esquel in Argentine Patagonia.

Day 4

Board the Old Patagonian Express or visit Los Alerces National Park.

Day 5

Cross into Chile to Futaleufú. Walking or white-water rafting.

Day 6

Drive down the Carretera Austral to Puerto Puyuhuapi. Visit the thermal baths.

Days 7-8

Travel on down 'the southern highway' to Coyhaique. Stop at Queulat National Park to view the blue-tinged hanging glacier.

Day 9

Venture further south through glacial valleys to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.

Day 10

View Exploradores glacier and visit the Capillas de Marmol by boat.

Day 11

Continue south to Puerto Bertrand on the shores of a glacial lake.

Day 12

Day at leisure to fish, kayak or walk.

Day 13

Return to Coyhaique and fly to Santiago.

Day 14

Optional visit to a vineyard or the port city Valparaíso.

Day 15

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Monday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart Saturday arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the following morning.
 

Day 1

Day at leisure to rest, explore or take an optional excursion.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the tour leader or a local representative and transported to the group hotel.

The day is then free to rest, explore the city or take an optional excursion.

Day 2

City tour of Buenos Aires.
 
Today you have a guided city tour. Buenos Aires is an elegant city famed for its museums and the arty port district of La Boca with its cobbled streets and brightly-painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and that Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The historic centre is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic, Parisian feel.

The Bohemian district of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and extravagant restaurants. Adjacent to the centre is the Gallic influenced Recoleta district where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

After the tour, you have free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in a salon de thé, peruse the items on display in one of the many markets and boutiques or visit one of the city’s museums.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Day 3

Fly to Esquel in Argentine Patagonia.
 

A southbound flight (2.5 hours) takes you to the beginning of your journey through Patagonia. Arrive at Esquel in the foothills of the Andes. The backdrop of the town is starkly beautiful with dramatic mountains to one side and open grasslands to the other. Flight time permitting, there will be a chance to explore the sleepy settlement.

Day 4

Board the Old Patagonian Express or visit Los Alerces National Park.
 

La Trochita, the Old Patagonian Express, no longer crosses the continent. Nowadays there is just a short journey north along the narrow gauge tracks. The train runs a very infrequent program that changes from month to month so in the increasing likelihood the train journey is not possible, or for those who prefer not to ride, we will organise a visit to the Los Alerces National Park, which has countless beautiful lakes and lagoons, which can be seen from beautiful walks and various view points. The park was established to protect the alerce conifer tree, which can grow to over 60m and survive for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

La Trochita, Esquel, Argentina

Day 5

Cross into Chile to Futaleufú. Walking or white-water rafting.
 
Today we travel by private vehicle across the Andean range to the Chilean town of Futaleufú, in the remote Aisén region of Chile. This is a fractured territory of islands and fjords. The mainland here is covered by snowy volcanoes and sapphire-tinted glaciers. Out of these, vivacious rivers tumble and crash through deep valleys fringed by ancient temperate rainforests; 73% of the territory is now protected land.

Border formalities permitting, it is around a 2 hour journey along a beautiful valley hemmed in by towering mountains on either side. Close to the town of Futaleufú is a raging river where the foaming rapids and white water attract rafters from all over the world. If you fancy a paddle yourself, this can be arranged locally. Alternatively, enjoy a relaxing afternoon, including a stroll along the river bank.

Day 6

Drive down the Carretera Austral to Puerto Puyuhuapi. Visit the thermal baths.
 
We continue west and join the Carretera Austral. This isolated road winds its way from Puerto Montt in the north to its southerly limit at Villa O'Higgins, carving its way through a variety of breath-taking landscapes, fording rivers and almost slicing glaciers in two. In the early 20th century there were attempts to colonise this rugged region, however the road was only constructed much later by General Pinochet in a bid to increase the population and to safeguard Chilean territory.

Nowadays, in the Chilean summer months (January and February), more adventurous Chilean families may come here, but otherwise tourists are confined to adventure-seekers, back-packers and enthusiastic, curious travellers like us. Public transport along the road is still very scarce and so you'll travel by private minibus. We'll be able to stop along the way to drink in the views of the awe-inspiring scenery.

The northern part of the road (predominantly unpaved) passes settlements nestled in the thick temperate rainforest, fast flowing rivers and lakes. We stop in one such village, Puerto Puyuhuapi sitting at the head of a fjord. There are thermal springs nearby which you can visit in the evening and soak your rattled bones while enjoying the peaceful setting.

Days 7-8

Travel on down 'the southern highway' to Coyhaique. Stop at Queulat National Park to view the blue-tinged hanging glacier.
 
Today we continue south to Coyhaique, the capital of Aisén. The first stop however, is just a short distance from the village of Puerto Puyuhuapi to visit Queulat National Park, famed for the hanging glacier beyond. Those who wish may make a 3 hour return walk through the forest to a vantage point of the glacier, where you can watch glacial waterfalls tumble onto the rocks below and form a river which meanders through the valley.

From here it's only a short distance till you reach the smooth paved road for the remaining 3 hours drive to Coyhaique. In this modern, planned town, set against a backdrop of snowy peaks. This pleasant town has a large central plaza, and you can relax and unwind here for a day, or explore the nearby hills and lakes.

Day 9

Venture further south through glacial valleys to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
 
Today, the scenery of the Carretera Austral changes dramatically. We leave behind the damp, evergreen forest and the scenery is transformed into sweeping open valleys, with snow-capped mountains, fast flowing rivers and forests of deciduous beech trees.

After a few hours you'll stop just outside the village of Cerro Castillo where it is possible to see some fascinating rock paintings, before continuing on a further 3 hours to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. This part of the drive is sensational, as the road winds its way up and down the valleys, passing soaring mountains and through dense forests. However the final approach to Puerto Rio Tranquilo is the most impressive, as the expanse of the lake General Carrera with its shimmering turquoise waters lie below us. Puerto Tranquilo is a small town where tourism is in its infancy and accommodation is relatively basic.

Day 10

View Exploradores glacier and visit the Capillas de Marmol by boat.
 
Driving though the Exploradores valley you travel through the Andean mountains towards the glacier. Take a walk through the forest and up wooden walkways to a vantage point over the ice, one of the few glaciers which are accessible - an expanse of some 4,200km of ice. The most famous of the glaciers in this region is the vast San Rafael Glacier, although due to limited road access, a visit cannot be guaranteed.

For the more adventurous of you (who are relatively fit), there is an option to trek on the glacier; though this must be booked in advance. After returning to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you'll have a guided excursion on Lake General Carrera. After navigating across the cobalt blue waters in a small motor boat, you reach the Capillas de Marmol, a series of rocks which have formed and eroded over time to resemble 'marble caves' rising out of the water.

Marble caves

Day 11

Continue south to Puerto Bertrand on the shores of a glacial lake.
 
We continue south along the shores of the lake, with superb views of the valleys and mountains, before arriving at Puerto Bertrand - a little village sitting on the bank of Rio Baker, a fast flowing white water river. The hotel sits on the bank, and the sound of the rushing water is a constant reminder of its power. It is under threat of being dammed (among others in the Aisén region).

Our hotel has its own restaurant and hot tubs, where you can sit under the stars listening to the sound of the river, and enjoying a freshly made pisco sour cocktail.

Lake General Carrera

Day 12

Day at leisure to fish, kayak or walk.
 
There are plenty of activities to choose from at the lodge, including fly-fishing, kayaking, zip-lining, white-water rafting, horse riding and trekking - or like many before you, you may wish just to enjoy the vistas with a leisurely stroll along the river bank.

(Please check you are insured for any of the activities you wish to do, before advising your tour leader in time to put your name down for those which need pre-booking).

Day 13

Return to Coyhaique and fly to Santiago.
 

We return north to the airport (at Balmaceda, 1hr south of Coyhaique) and take the 3.5 hour flight to Santiago, arriving late afternoon/evening. The busy, sprawling capital is set in a broad valley between the snow-mantled range of the Andes and a smaller coastal range with a distinctly Mediterranean feel.

Day 14

Optional visit to a vineyard or the port city Valparaíso.
 
Whilst in Santiago you can choose to visit one or two of the small museums; or, for a panoramic view of the city, head to the central hilltop park of Cerro Santa Lucía. For even more dramatic views, take a cable car to the summit of San Cristóbal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. We recommend a coffee, beer or glass of wine at one of the pavement cafés in Bellavista. This is the bohemian district: an Italian quarter of narrow streets peppered with bars and shops selling local semi-precious lapis lazuli at reasonable prices. The museum and house of Chilean poet laureate Pablo Neruda is close by, and its unusual interior with an eclectic collection of paintings and bric-a-brac is well worth a visit.

Alternatively, you can visit Valparaíso, Chile's second city which is only 2 hours away 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 Viña del Mar. You can wander along the sombre streets behind the port, and among the residences and office buildings built for British and German merchants, or take a ride in one of the wooden funiculars which link the cliff-top communities. These have been recently enlivened with brightly coloured façades, new boutique hotels and chic restaurants.

You may also choose to take a leisurely visit to one of the wineries located in the fertile valleys close to Santiago. The region's viticulture has gained an excellent reputation and you can sample some of the wines and take a tour of the cellars and bottling plants.

Santiago Chile

Day 15

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day, Monday.
 

Essential information

Transport

2 flights (longest 3.5 hours); 6 road journeys (longest 6 hours - note many days are spent travelling, yet the journeys are in stages with frequent stops).

Accommodation

On our Discovery Journeys the standard of accommodation varies. We aim to keep the price competitive while ensuring the basic comforts. Hotels/guesthouses are comfortable and attractive in most places, and you will be pleasantly surprised. Where these do not exist, accommodation is necessarily purely functional. All properties are well maintained and all will have a private bathroom with hot water. (If you prefer greater comfort please see the Classic Journeys or Private Journeys on their respective pages on our website).

On this journey we stay at simple hotels and guesthouses (generally with private bathroom yet in the more remote places a shared bathroom may be necessary). The nature and size of the accommodation means that we use a number of properties depending on availability.

Examples of hotels used on this journey include:

• Buenos Aires: Hotel Bristol for 2016
• Esquel: Plaza Esquel
• Futaleufú: Hosteria Rio Grande
• Puerto Puyuhuapi: Casa Ludwig or Hostal Alemana
• Coyhaique: Tehuelche or Diego de Almagro
• Puerto Tranquillo: El Puesto
• Puerto Bertrand: Green Baker Lodge
• Santiago: Hotel Torremayor Provendencia

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Included excursions

• Buenos Aires: City tour
• La Trochita train journey or Los Alerces National Park, Esquel
• Queulat National Park and glacier
• Puerto Rio Tranquilo: Glacier Exploradores and boat trip to Capillas de Marmol

Summary of nights

15 days 14 nights, Buenos Aires 2, Esquel 2, Futaleufú 1, Puerto Puyuhuapi 1, Coyhaique 2, Puerto Rio Tranquilo 2, Puerto Bertrand 2, Santiago 2.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader.
• All land and domestic air transport.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions

Optional excursions

There is a range of optional excursions available throughout this holiday which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. A budget of around $250 USD should cover participation the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so cannot be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest:

• Buenos Aires: tango show
• Buenos Aires: boat along the River Plate
• Futaleufú: Reserva Nacional
• Futaleufú: white-water rafting
• Puerto Bertrand: floating down the Rio Baker
• Puerto Bertrand: zip lining
• Puerto Bertrand: horse riding
• Santiago: Valparaiso visit

Travelling alone

There is no extra charge for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with another same-sex member of the group who is also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to have their own room there are a limited number of single supplement places available, which carry a surcharge. In some places single rooms may not be available in which case you’ll share with another member of the group of the same sex.

Currency

The unit of currency in Argentina the peso Argentino and in Chile is the peso Chileno.

Budget

A budget of around $35 USD per day should cover the cost of meals, drinks and the odd souvenir. If you choose to participate in all optional excursions you should budget an extra $250 USD. Excursions should be paid for in local currency, and your tour leader will give you details of current and exact prices for the individual excursions.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so a debit or credit card with a PIN 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 you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. These bills should be in good condition as soiled or torn bills may be refused. Travellers’ cheques are increasingly less favoured by travellers who find them difficult to exchange as well as offering a poor rate of exchange. If you do decide to carry some with you they should be US dollar cheques only (American Express are by far the most accepted brand).

Tipping

Tipping is welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $3 USD per person per day for guides and drivers. This may be given individually or your tour leader may collect it on behalf of the group.

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.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6 USD per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

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

International and domestic departure taxes are normally included in the price of the ticket.

Journey grade

This is a reasonably active trip and there will be several opportunities for walking. Walks will vary in length and cover steep and sometimes slippery terrain. Consult your tour leader if you need any advice about the specifics of the walks. Throughout the Journey there is time to relax and explore on your own if you wish. Be prepared for some early mornings, long days driving and for extreme weather conditions in Patagonia.

Climate

In Santiago and Buenos Aires February-March and November sees temperatures between 15 and 25°C and a good deal of sunshine, although in Buenos Aires rain is not uncommon. The weather in the south is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. Be prepared for everything from a blizzard to a heat wave. Strong winds and rain are possible at any time and it can get extremely cold.

Clothing and special equipment

A daypack is essential for carrying rainwear, snacks, books and a water bottle. Those who feel the cold should take thermal underwear. To ensure your comfort while walking in Patagonia, you should bring good waterproof walking boots as well as a good water- and wind-proof (not just shower-proof) jacket and trousers, a warm hat and a scarf.

You should bring your personal effects in an easy-to-handle duffle bag, soft holdall or rucksack. A hard suitcase is not appropriate for this journey.

The sun can be strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sun block. Some walkers find hiking poles helpful, and binoculars are useful for wildlife spotting. Bring a torch (a head torch is recommended), a penknife and a small towel for your stay in the more remote locations.

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: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP. 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. Clients with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulates. Even where visas are not required, there may be a reciprocity fee to pay (e.g. USA and Canada).

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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