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Nandu: Peaks and plains of Patagonia

21 days from £3208pp

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Nandu: Peaks and plains of Patagonia

21 days from £3208pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart on overnight flight Sat arriving in Santiago, Chile the following day.
 

Day 1

Arrive Santiago. Walking tour of the city.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the tour leader or a local representative. There will be time to relax before exploring the city and visiting a few of the many museums, markets and parks of this cosmopolitan capital. Santiago is laid out in a broad valley below the snow-capped Andes.

For a panoramic view over the city, visit Cerro Santa 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.

Santiago

Day 2

Optional visits to local vineyards or the port of Valparaíso.
 
Today there is an optional visit to Chile's second city, Valparaíso (2 hrs by bus). This lively seaport is built on a series of hills which form a backdrop to the wide bay, with views over the seaside resort of Viña del Mar. You can wander through the steep, winding streets and among the brightly-coloured colonial homes built for 19th century British and German merchants, or take a ride in one of the creaky wooden funiculars which link the cliff-top communities.

Time permitting, you may wish to visit one of the vineyards close to Santiago, to sample some highly respected Chilean wine.

Day 3

Fly to Temuco, by road to Pucón, to explore the lake district.
 
Fly south to Temuco (1 hr); continue by bus to Pucón (90 mins), leisure capital of the lake district. Located on the shores of Lake Villarrica, Pucón is a popular summer resort overlooked by the dramatic peak of the active Villarrica Volcano (2,840m).

During your free time here, you might hire a bike and follow undulating trails into the forested countryside, stopping off at waterfalls, volcanic lakes and natural thermal springs. For something a little more adventurous there is the option of river rafting: gliding across the extraordinarily clear, glacial waters between densely-forested banks, and with a towering volcano as your backdrop, is a wonderful way to see the countryside. The river has grade 3/4 rapids, but no previous experience is necessary.

Day 4

Optional visit to Huerquehue National Park or the opportunity to climb Villarrica volcano.
 
Today offers an excursion is to Huerquehue National Park: follow trails through the mature araucuaria (native monkey puzzle) forests, passing glossy lakes. It's an idyllic, almost fairyland landscape, with buckled roots, vines and creepers. This full day's walk (5-6 hrs) is quite challenging with some steep sections.

There is also the option to climb to the icy peak of Villarrica volcano. This is a demanding trek which requires a good level of fitness. A local agency provides all the necessary equipment. The steep 1,400m ascent takes 5-6hrs through snow and icy conditions. Views down over the surrounding volcanoes, shimmering lakes and bright green deciduous forests are mind-expanding and at the top you are greeted by the sight of the deep, smoking crater.

Or you might explore the area on horseback. This is a 4hr optional trip into the Mapuche countryside originally settled by the Mapuche indians in the shadow of Villarrica and Lanín volcanoes and along the shores of the bright green Curilafquen Lagoon. You can even take a dip in the chilly waters if you dare!

Day 5

Drive to Puerto Varas; visit the Petrohue Falls.
 

A morning bus takes you to Puerto Varas, situated on the shores of Lake Llanquihue (one of the largest natural lakes in South America), in the heart of the lake district. 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.

Puerto Varas

Day 6

Relax in town or visit Chiloé Island.
 
There is time today to wander around the town. 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 mists 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, all piled high in a hole in the ground, buried and cooked among glowing embers.

Day 7

Fly to Punta Arenas, continue to Puerto Natales.
 
After a short drive to Puerto Montt, a 2hr flight takes you south to Punta Arenas. On a clear day you have views of the southern icecap, its fjords, volcanoes and glaciers. Approaching the city you see the rust brown Patagonian steppes, pitted with small lagoons, stretching out towards the Straits of Magellan. On the other side of the water rise the mountains of the windswept island of Tierra del Fuego.

Punta Arenas was an important, British-influenced trading centre before the opening of the Panama Canal turned it into a backwater; the 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.

From here continue by bus 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.

Day 8

By road to Torres del Paine National Park, 3 night stay.
 

An early morning departure in a private vehicle bound for the Torres del Paine National Park (3.5hrs), with stops to visit the Milodon Cave and Salto Grande on the way. The scenery is overwhelming; the granite massif of the Cuernos, milky lakes dotted with icebergs and, soaring above, condors riding against perpetual fierce winds. You are based for the next 3 nights in a walkers hostel. (Accommodation is in mixed dormitories, with hot showers - although we offer the choice of upgrading to a nearby lodge).

Days 9-10

Walking in the park to see rivers and glaciers.
 

Spend your days exploring the national park on foot. Follow a number of different walking trails winding alongside the glacial lakes and rivers with close-up views of tortured rock towers and needles rising 3,000m into a tempestuous sky. The difficulty and length of the available walks in the park vary hugely, and some may not be suitable for all passengers. The most famous hike is to the 'base of the towers', but this is also the most strenuous lasting at least 8hrs. There should however be something for everyone, so consult your tour leader about which hike would be best suited to you or for alternatives such as horse riding. Water and windproof clothing, as well as suitable footwear, are essential as weather can be very unpredictable.

Torres del Paine

Day 11

Travel to El Calafate, Argentina, on the shores of Lago Argentino.
 

Head out across the Patagonian steppe, passing guanacos, ñandús (similar to an ostrich) and flamingos, and with a view of translucent Lago Argentino, the largest lake in the country. It is on these shores that El Calafate, your next port of call, is situated. This is a small town, but it is growing fast, brimming with hotels, cafés, tour agencies, delicatessens, sweet shops and roaming travellers. There's not a huge amount to do in town, but it's a nice place to unwind and a convenient base for excursions into the area.

Day 12

Excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
 
The town is a stopping off point for visitors to the Perito Moreno Glacier, still one of the most dynamic in the world. Driving out towards the glacier (2 hrs) the road follows the lake before turning up a wooded valley, dense with beech and birch trees, and continues alongside shimmering lagoons bordered with bright crimson and heather lichens.

The park authorities have been sensitive about keeping the site as natural as possible, and there are no shops or cafés within close proximity of the wooden viewing platforms, which are landscaped into the cliff. Just looking at the cliff-edge of the glacier, which towers 60m above the water surface and is an extraordinary 5km wide, is awe-inspiring in itself. But after a time you hear the unforgettable sound of the glacier calving a vast wedge of ice the size of a tower block and sending it smashing it down into the lake, where it divides and floats away as an iceberg.

There is an optional mini-trek on the glacier. Walking out on the ice is an extraordinary experience; atop this immense ice sheet you feel exposed to the elements, and you can explore the craggy, desolate landscape, peering into crevasses and deep water pools, squinting against the incredible blue of the ice. It is a 1-2hr walk on the ice led by a local guide, and crampons are provided.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Days 13-14

Drive to El Chaltén. Walking in Los Glaciares National Park.
 
Travel by road through uninhabited wilderness to El Chaltén (3.5hrs). This small town enjoys a wonderful location, surrounded by the spectacular jagged mountains of the Fitzroy range in the Los Glaciares National Park, and is our base for 2 days.

Founded in 1985 in order to settle the area and pre-empt Chilean territorial claims El Chaltén has grown very rapidly as a centre for climbing and trekking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Explore this region of extraordinary natural beauty on foot, along one of the national park's many trails. You hike through dense forest and across glacial brooks with the vertical peaks of the Fitzroy Massif, too steep to shelter snow, providing a mesmeric backdrop. All walks are optional, but some do involve some quite steep ascents and others are can be more demanding due to their length or uneven terrain. Again the tour leader and local guides are on hand to best advise the group on suitable options. Be sure to take warm clothes as the weather in the south is notoriously unpredictable.

Day 15

Fly to Ushuaia, lively port on the southernmost tip of the continent.
 
An early road journey takes you back to El Calafate for the flight to Ushuaia (some domestic flights have a free baggage limit of 15kg, the excess charge is minimal though).

The world's southernmost city, Ushuaia, sits at the foot of a hand of jagged peaks. Thus isolated, it was a penal colony at the turn of the 20th century and a sleepy frontier town until the late 1970s when it was turned into a tax haven to encourage settlers. Immigration has slackened off nowadays as this status is being rescinded but effects of the boom are nonetheless evident, with chalet-style residences, modern hi-tech factories, shopping malls and duty free shops.

Day 16

Walk in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
 

Full-day excursion to the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park, with its bright green deciduous beech forests cascading down to bright lakes and fjords populated by water birds and beavers. Walk along winding, narrow hillside paths to be met with views over the Beagle Channel, and learn about the flora and fauna of the area with your guides, who love the park and have devised their own nature trails. The 4-5hr walk is at a gentle pace, there are plenty of stops and a packed lunch is provided.

Ushuaia

Day 17

Optional boat trip on the Beagle Channel or visit Harberton Ranch.
 
Consider an optional excursion on the Beagle Channel. The boat heads out of Ushuaia Bay to explore the bays and islets, and there are stops to get a closer look at some of the fauna, such as cormorants, albatross and sea-lions.

Those interested in the region’s history will enjoy a visit Harberton Ranch (a half-day excursion, November to February only). You set off on a beautiful 85km journey through Tierra del Fuego's mountainous interior to arrive at the ranch, the first on the island, established by English missionaries. Their descendants still operate this scenic, wind-tussled sheep farm. It's worth reading Lucas Bridge's evocative book 'The Uttermost Part of the Earth' which details the history of the estancia, founded by his father, and the daily life of the now-extinct Yamana and Ona people. The ranch earns more from visitors than sheep-rearing these days.

Alternatively you may choose to travel to Harberton by catamaran along the Beagle Channel, passing a Magallenic penguin colony (in season).

Day 18

Fly to Buenos Aires.
 
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.

The centre of the city is the historic heartland, with 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 antique shops, tango bars and expensive 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.

Days 19-20

City tour. Optional tango show or boat trip to Colonia, Uruguay.
 
Explore the lanes and boulevards on your guided city tour, then make the most of some free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in a tea-room or peruse the items on display in one of the many markets. It’s fun to promenade up and down the quay in the city’s splendidly renovated port district, Puerto Madero, which has trendy loft apartments, a string of open air restaurants and a small marina.

To take a break from the city’s frenzy, you can travel by motor catamaran across the River Plate border to Colonia in Uruguay (don't forget your passport) where you can wander cobbled streets and admire the squat colonial houses from the top of the lighthouse, and have a glass of wine or lunch in the yacht club.

Wherever you are on your last day, if you are an enthusiastic carnivore make sure you have a juicy steak, usually up to a quarter of the price of its UK equivalent. Finally you could catch a tango show for a fantastic farewell to the city.

La Boca

Day 21

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day, Sun.
 

21 days from £3208pp

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