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Sandpiper: Atlantic to Pacific in style

18 days from £4608pp

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Sandpiper: Atlantic to Pacific in style:
Trip Dossier

This trip combines the haunting beauty of Patagonia’s glacier-carved Torres del Paine, the Iguazú Falls and the Patagonian lake district with three of the continent's most vibrant and exciting cities: Rio de Janeiro; Buenos Aires and Santiago. Travel in comfort: all your transport is private and the accommodation is among the best locally.

Your journey begins in Rio, a high-rise chaotic masterpiece squeezed between the ocean surf and precipitous forested mountains. Spend a couple of days close to the roaring Iguazú Falls, deep in the rainforest on the Brazilian-Argentine border, before discovering the grand boulevards and cafés of cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. After traversing the Andean cordillera on the spectacular lakes crossing you jet further south to explore southern Chile's jagged snow-dipped peaks, glacial lakes and the ice-carved landscape of the Torres del Paine National Park. Your trip ends with a smooth glass of Carmenère in the lush surrounds of a vineyard just outside Santiago.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart Saturday on direct flight arriving Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same day

Day 1

Overnight overlooking Copacabana beach.

Day 2

Guided excursion to Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Day 3

At leisure to explore Rio; optional excursions.

Day 4

Fly to Iguaçú, cross into Argentina. Visit the Iguazú Falls.

Day 5

Fly to Buenos Aires.

Day 6

Guided city tour.

Day 7

Optional excursions from the capital.

Day 8-9

Fly to Bariloche in the lake district. At leisure; optional hikes.

Day 10

Trans-Andean lake crossing to Puerto Varas, Chile.

Day 11

Optional visit to Chiloé Island.

Day 12

Fly to Punta Arenas; by road to your lodge.

Days 13-14

Explore Torres del Paine, including a boat trip to Glacier Grey.

Day 15

Drive to Punta Arenas.

Day 16

Fly to Santiago, explore the capital.

Day 17

Visit a nearby vineyard.

Day 18

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Wednesday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart Saturday on direct flight arriving Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same day
 

Day 1

Overnight overlooking Copacabana beach.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the Journey Latin America tour leader or a local representative at the airport and escorted to the group hotel.

Rio de Janeiro is the most romantic, intriguing and beautiful city on the continent. Sumptuous apartments overlook sparkling bays against the backdrop of half-built slum dwellings, favelas, which cling precariously to the hillsides. Rio has an awesome bay-side location among near-vertical granite mountains.

Here, tropical foliage swoops down to white-to-toffee coloured sandy beaches in turn battered by the huge waves of Atlantic surf. The drive into the city gives a fleeting glimpse of the docks and commercial centre as you head towards the magnificent stretch of sand at Copacabana; your hotel is right on the beach.

Day 2

Guided excursion to Sugar Loaf Mountain.
 
You have a guided tour by cable-car ride up Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), for expansive views of the city, its beaches, and the mountains beyond.

You might ask your tour leader to direct you towards the new nature trail running around the skirt of the mountain. It’s easy walking and safe. You’ll be accompanied by local families on a Sunday stroll, monkeys and exotic birds flitting between the trees and a plethora of butterflies. After your walk, have a drink in the arty quarter of Urca, crouching at the foot of the mountain, with views over the yacht club in Botafogo Bay across to Corcovado.

Rio d

Day 3

At leisure to explore Rio; optional excursions.
 
Today offers an optional trip to Corcovado mountain. This tour takes you on board a steep rack-and-pinion railway which glides up through tropical Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world dripping with fruit and flowers, to reach the summit of Corcovado. Here the famous 40m art deco Christ the Redeemer statue soars above the city, arms outspread benevolently. On a clear day the views over the city and out across the ocean and outlying islands are stupendous.

Another popular optional excursion is to the Botanical Gardens. Walk along the splendid Avenue of the Royal Palms, and see if you can catch a glimpse of the toucans and marmosets that frequent the park, attracted by thousands of species of tropical and subtropical plants. There are also glass houses sheltering bromeliads and a research institute here.

You might take a drive through old Rio, the arty Santa Theresa district, where colonial houses in pastel hues line the winding, cobbled streets. Football fans might want to travel to the north of the city to visit the Maracanã stadium. Depending on fixtures you might even be able to join the raucous crowds on the terraces.

Day 4

Fly to Iguaçú, cross into Argentina. Visit the Iguazú Falls.
 
Fly to Foz do Iguaçú in the subtropical south-west corner of Brazil (2 hours). The Iguazú Falls are unquestionably one of the most extraordinary natural wonders in the world. A total of 275 falls thunder through dense forest over a 2.5km stretch. The u-shaped Devil's Throat is the main gorge, where the frothy water of the Iguazú River crashes over a 1.5km-wide precipice and columns of vapour are thrown skyward. Elsewhere the river flows decorously through the rainforest breaking up into dozens of smaller falls. You might spot toucans with their outsized bright orange beaks perched in the foliage above the tumultuous waters.

En route to your hotel in Argentina you head out to the Brazilian side of the falls, from where there is a broad panorama of these magnificent cataracts, and there are some excellent opportunities to photograph the full sweep of the cascades. Before leaving the Brazilian side, you could stop off at the excellent and rather quirky bird park just outside the entrance of Iguaçu National Park. The enclosure is home to a huge variety of birds and wildlife, including toucans, trogons and the coatimundi, from the same family as the racoon.

I

Day 5

Fly to Buenos Aires.
 
Explore the Argentine side of the falls. From the National Park Visitor Centre, where there is a display that illustrates the biodiversity of the region's tropical rainforest, a little natural-gas-powered train transfers you to Cataratas Station where the Upper Walk begins. This sequence of causeways and passarelles links dozens of tiny basalt islands at the top of a sheer rock face and the walkways cross the myriad streams of the River Iguazú as they cascade over the lip of the precipice. Your breath is quite literally taken away as the water thunders on to the rocks below.

The train continues to Devil's Throat Station where a 1km-long walkway leads across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo, the Devil's Throat. From this vantage point you can feel the incredible power of the water, and the flow is mesmeric as it plummets into the vortex below.

In the afternoon, fly to the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, an elegant and cosmopolitan city famed for 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.

Day 6

Guided city tour.
 
The centre of the city is the historic 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 excellent restaurants. Slightly further out of town is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of belle époque French and Italianate architecture. During the winter months, wealthy female residents parade the streets in their fur coats and improbable, towering hairstyles, and take afternoon tea in the city's ornate cafés.

Explore these fascinating streets on your guided city tour.

Tango

Day 7

Optional excursions from the capital.
 
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.

Vintage Uruguay - a short ferry ride away

Day 8-9

Fly to Bariloche in the lake district. At leisure; optional hikes.
 
Fly south to Bariloche (2 hours). This resort town is situated on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, and was founded barely a century ago. It has a distinctive Alpine feel to it, and in winter it operates as a ski resort. There is a museum detailing the history of the native Tehuelche Indians and the story of the area's colonisation. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived and ranched not far from here.

Spend your free time in cosy cafés savouring locally manufactured chocolate, or shopping for souvenirs. Out of town, venture along the lake-shore for sumptuous views of the forested mountains. There are some excellent walking trails including one which climbs Cerro Otto mountain. Enjoy the panorama from the windows of the cable car which takes you to the summit (1,405m); here there is a revolving restaurant and splendid views as the sun sets over the mountainous landscape, dotted with forests and shimmering lakes.

Day 10

Trans-Andean lake crossing to Puerto Varas, Chile.
 
Today you cross the Andes on a unique journey which passes through the mountains following a series of glacial lakes along forested roads. You switch between water and land as you head towards Chile, boarding a ferry to cross Lake Todos Los Santos, which straddles the Argentine-Chilean border and is overlooked by towering, snowy peaks. The conical snow-capped Osorno volcano offers a stunning backdrop to the turquoise, glacial waters at Petrohué Falls, where you'll have a chance to wander across wooden walkways on your final stop before arriving at your destination, Puerto Varas, in the heart of the Chilean lake district. On a clear day you won't tire of the vistas of volcanoes, waterfalls and sweeping forests.

Puerto Varas is situated on the shores of Lake Llanquihue (one of the largest natural lakes in South America). 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.

Lake Crossing

Day 11

Optional visit to Chiloé Island.
 
There is time today to wander around the town of Puerto Varas. 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 cafés to while away a day at leisure.

Alternatively, we strongly recommend a full-day excursion to Chiloé. 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 myths 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.

Day 12

Fly to Punta Arenas; by road to your lodge.
 
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 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.

From the airport continue by private vehicle to Puerto Natales, a small town with a frontier feel on the shores of Last Hope Sound, frequented by pelicans, black-necked swans and cormorants. The road journey carries on to the edge of Torres del Paine National Park and your lodgings at the luxurious fixed tent Patagonia Camp.

This is a 5 hour trip and frequent stops are made along the way so you can take in the dramatic scenery.

Days 13-14

Explore Torres del Paine, including a boat trip to Glacier Grey.
 
You have two full days to explore the park, and 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. Keen walkers can hike to Glacier Grey, or to the base of the vertical granite towers (both 8 hours); or there are more leisurely trails through the forest to see other glacial formations. Conditions permitting you have a boat trip included on Lago Grey, dotted with icebergs which have broken free from the glacier which plugs the lake, the looming front wall of which you approach in your craft.

For a different perspective, there may be an optional horse riding excursion; canter through the steppes under the watchful eye of expert local horsemen. Accommodation is in a luxury camp situated just outside the park with some impressive views of Lago Toro and the Central Massif behind. The heated yurts are unique in design and incredibly comfortable.

Torres del Paine

Day 15

Drive to Punta Arenas.
 

From Torres del Paine you head to Punta Arenas on the shores of the Magellan straits. Punta Arenas was an important, British-influenced trading centre before the opening of the Panama Canal turned it into a backwater; the region's 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.

Day 16

Fly to Santiago, explore the capital.
 
Fly north to Santiago (4 hours), the cosmopolitan Chilean capital. Santiago is laid out in a broad valley below the snow-capped Andes.

For a panoramic view over the city, visit Cerro Santa Lucía, a central, rather romantic park. For even more panoramic vistas, a cable car leads to the summit of San Cristóbal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. Afterwards, have a beer at one of the pavement cafés 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).

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.

Day 17

Visit a nearby vineyard.
 

A guided excursion takes you out of the city through a pretty Mediterranean landscape to a nearby winery. An hour's drive from Santiago takes you to the Central Valley, blanketed in a patchwork region of regimented vineyards. Here you will have the chance to sample some of the wines, and learn about the national grape varieties. The Carmenère grape originated in France but has been all but wiped out in Europe. Cuttings of the vine arrived in Chile in the 19th century, and the region's natural boundaries (bordered by the Andes, the ocean, the desert and glacial plains) protected it from disease. For many years it was processed as Merlot, but the distinct properties of Carmenère were recognised in the 1990s. It produces a spicy, fruity red which is deep crimson in colour.

Vineyards Chile

Day 18

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day, Wednesday.
 

Essential information

Transport

5 flights (2-4 hours each); 3 scenic land journeys (longest 6 hours).

Accommodation

Upper mid-range hotels and heated yurts with en suite facilities in a luxury camp in Torres del Paine.

Examples of hotels include: 
• Rio de Janeiro: Hotel Porto Bay 2016/Windsor Miramar 2017
• Iguazú National Park: Hotel Sheraton International 
• Buenos Aires: Hotel Sheraton 2016/Recoleta Grand 2017
• Bariloche: Edelweiss 2016/Cacique Inacayal 2017
• Puerto Varas: Cabanas del Lago
• Torres del Paine: Patagonia Camp 
• Punta Arenas: Hotel Cabo de Hornos
• Santiago: Hotel Atton El Bosque

These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily, dinner days 12-14.

Included excursions

• Rio de Janeiro: guided excursion to Sugar Loaf Mountain 
• Iguazú Falls: Brazilian and Argentinian sides
• Buenos Aires: city tour 
• Bariloche: Argentine lake district walk 
• Bariloche: full day lake crossing from Argentina to Chile
• Puerto Varas: Petrohué Falls 
• Torres del Paine National Park: boat trip to Glacier Grey 
• Santiago: guided visit to a vineyard

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Rio de Janeiro 3; Iguazú 1; Buenos Aires 3; Bariloche 2; Puerto Varas 2; Torres del Paine 3; Punta Arenas 1; 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 insurance
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Optional excursions

There is a range of optional excursions 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 $450 USD should cover participation in most of 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: 

• Rio de Janeiro: funicular railway up Corcovado Mountain (Christ the Redeemer)
• Iguazú Falls: helicopter ride over the falls or a boat ride up to them
• Buenos Aires: by boat across the River Plate to Uruguay 
• Buenos Aires: by train  to the delta town Tigre
• Buenos Aires: tango show
• Argentine lake district: the Circuito Chico route from Bariloche
• Puerto Varas: day trip to the island of Chiloé  
• Torres del Paine National Park: certain hikes and tours of the park

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost 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 rooms available, which carry a surcharge.

Currency

The unit of currency Brazil is the real, in Chile it is the peso chileno, in Argentina the peso argentine.

Budget

A budget of around $45 USD per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir.

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

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $3 USD (or local equivalent) per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size 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 on our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

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

Airport taxes

Departure tax is normally included in the price of the ticket.

Journey grade

Around Bariloche walks are along clear trails, undulating but not strenuous. In Torres del Paine all walks are optional. Hikes vary in length (between 2-8 hrs) and difficulty (some are easy and flat, others steeper and more challenging). Note that most walks are linear and along good paths, so you can follow them as far as you feel comfortable. Your tour leader can advise about which of the trails would be most suited to you. Throughout the Journey, there is time to relax and explore on your own if you wish. Be prepared for some early mornings, and for extreme weather conditions in Patagonia.

Climate

In Rio, Iguazú, Santiago and Buenos Aires, it can be very humid and temperatures high, frequently over 30°C during the height of the southern hemisphere summer (Jan-Feb). In these months rainfall totals are also high, though rain tends to fall as relatively short, heavy showers. Between them there is plenty of sun. October, November, March and April see temperatures between 15-25°C and a good deal of sunshine, although in Buenos Aires and Rio rain showers and stubborn cloud cover are also a feature of these months.

In the lake district, it can be hot (late 20s°C) during the southern summer but not unpleasantly so, with little rain, but rainfall can be copious in July and August there. It is chilly in winter, not unlike a British autumn.

The weather in southern Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (October to March) there may be everything from a blizzard to a heat wave. Strong winds and rain are possible at any time and it can get cold.

Clothing and special equipment

A daypack is advisable for carrying rainwear, snacks, books, tablet if you travel with one, and a water bottle.

In the southern summer you will need light, preferably loose clothing, shorts and sandals for Rio, Buenos Aires, Iguazú, the lakes and Santiago. The further south you go the less predictable the weather so your clothing should be appropriate for all seasons.

Those who feel the cold could bring thermal underwear. To ensure your comfort while walking in Patagonia, you should bring good waterproof walking boots (tried and tested so you don't get blisters) as well as a good water/windproof (not just shower-proof) jacket and trousers, a warm hat and a scarf.

The sun can be strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sun block. 
If you plan to go to good restaurants or out on evening entertainment trips, you might want to bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required). 

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, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets. You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require visas for entering Brazil, Chile and Argentina, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Other nationalities should enquire or check with the Brazilian, Chilean or Argentine Consulate. 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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