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Nandu: Peaks and plains of Patagonia

21 days from £3,208pp

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Nandu: Peaks and plains of Patagonia:
Trip Dossier

The Nandú Journey explores the beautiful, remote and sometimes savage scenery of Patagonia in southern Chile and Argentina, and the diverse human and wildlife landscapes of these two very varied countries. 

From the gentle countryside, dense forests and snow-capped volcanoes of the Chilean lake district, the journey heads south to the bleak windswept scenery of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, crossing grassy plains, passing soaring granite peaks and creaking glaciers. By way of dramatic contrast you’ll savour life in the two capital cities; the elegant and European Buenos Aires, and cosmopolitan Santiago.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

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

Day 1

Arrive Santiago. Walking tour of the city.

Day 2

Optional visits to local vineyards or the port of Valparaíso.

Day 3

Fly to Temuco, by road to Pucón, to explore the lake district.

Day 4

Optional visit to Huerquehue National Park or the opportunity to climb Villarrica volcano.

Day 5

Drive to Puerto Varas; visit the Petrohue Falls.

Day 6

Relax in town or visit Chiloé Island.

Day 7

Fly to Punta Arenas, continue to Puerto Natales.

Day 8

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

Days 9-10

Walking in the park to see rivers and glaciers.

Day 11

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

Day 12

Excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Days 13-14

Drive to El Chaltén. Walking in Los Glaciares National Park.

Day 15

Fly to Ushuaia, lively port on the southernmost tip of the continent.

Day 16

Walk in Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Day 17

Optional boat trip on the Beagle Channel or visit Harberton Ranch.

Day 18

Fly to Buenos Aires.

Days 19-20

City tour. Optional tango show or boat trip to Colonia, Uruguay.

Day 21

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Sun.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. This upgrade is subject to availability so please speak to your consultant when booking if this is of interest).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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La Boca

Day 21

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Sun.

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (longest 3.5hrs), 6 road journeys (longest 6 hrs).

Accommodation

On our Discovery Journeys the standard of accommodation varies. We aim to keep the price competitive while ensuring the basic comforts. Hotels / hostels are comfortable and attractive in most places but elsewhere are purely functional. All properties are well maintained and almost all will have a private bathroom with hot water. (If you prefer greater comfort please see our Classic Journeys or Private Journeys on their respective pages on our website).
 
This tour stays in a Refuge for 3 nights whilst in Torres del Paine in order to make it as competitive as possible. This accommodation is based in single beds in dorm rooms of up to 6 people. We understand that this might not to be to everyone's taste so should you wish to upgrade your room for these 3 nights we are happy for passengers to stay at the nearby Hotel Las Torres. There will be supplement to pay and this is of course subject to availability, so please speak to one of our consultants for further information.

Examples of hotels include:
 
• Santiago: Hotel Torremayor Providencia
• Pucón: Hotel Araucarias 2016/Hostal Geronimo 2017
• Puerto Varas: Park Inn by Radisson
• Puerto Natales: Hotel Aquaterra
• Torres del Paine: Refugio Torre Central
• El Calafate: Hotel Kapenke 
• El Chalten: El Paraiso 
• Ushuaia: Hostal del Bosque
• Buenos Aires: Hotel Bristol 2016/Kenton Palace 2017

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, lunch day 16.

Included excursions

• Santiago: walking tour of the city
• Lake district: Petrohué Falls 
• Torres del Paine: stops at the Milodon cave and Salto Grande
• Torres del Paine: guided walks 
• Los Glaciares National Park: guided walks 
• Los Glaciares National Park: Perito Moreno Glacier
• Ushuaia: Tierra del Fuego National Park expedition
• Buenos Aires: guided city tour  

Summary of nights

21 days, 20 nights: Santiago 2; Pucón 2; Puerto Varas 2; Puerto Natales 1; Torres del Paine 3; El Calafate 2; El Chaltén 2; Ushuaia 3; Buenos Aires 3.

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
• Some local airport taxes

Optional excursions

There is a range of optional excursions available 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 $550 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: 

• Santiago: day trip to the Pacific port of Valparaiso; stop at a vineyard
• Pucón: visit the Huerquehue National Park and hot springs
• Pucón: rafting, cycling or horse riding
• Pucón: climb Villarrica volcano
• Puerto Varas: Chiloe Island
• Torres del Paine: boat trip on Lago Grey
• Torres del Paine: base of the towers trek
• El Calafate: glacier trekking on Lago Argentino
• Ushuaia: wildlife spotting on a Beagle channel boat trip
• Buenos Aires: ferry across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay 
• Buenos Aires: train trip to the delta town Tigre 
• Buenos Aires: evening tango show with dinner

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 in Chile is the peso chileno, and in Argentina the peso argentino. 

Budget

A budget of around US$45 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 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 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 visitors 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 $3USD (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 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 departure tax is normally included in the price of the ticket, and you should budget around $5 departure tax on each internal flight.

Journey grade

Although not a walking holiday the nature, location and environment mean that the main activities of the tour do take place on foot. Hikes can vary in length (between 2 and 10 hrs) and difficulty (some with steep ascents or more uneven terrain). Note that most walks are linear and along good paths, (although some can be slippery in wet weather), so you can follow them as far as you feel comfortable. All trekking excursions are optional, but it should also be noted that the location of the accommodation in areas such as Torres del Paine National Park means that the options for activities other than walking are limited. While there are 2 well known longer walks that are done from the refuge or the hotel in the National Park, there are is also other shorter and less strenuous walks available. Your tour leader is always on hand and with the help of the local guides will always try and make sure that all levels of ability can be catered for. In other locations such as Pucon in the Chilean Lake District and El Chalten in Argentina, there is more flexibility as you are within a small town, however, the main purpose of staying in these beautiful locations is the incredibly scenic walks that are accessible within the surrounding countryside.

The optional ascent of the Villarrica volcano is challenging and participants must be physically fit. No experience is necessary for the optional rafting, horse riding trips or for the mini ice trek (under 65 only). The latter is flat and taken at a gentle pace. 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 occasional extreme weather conditions in Patagonia.

Climate

In Santiago and Buenos Aires it can be very humid and temperatures high, frequently over 30°C, during the height of the southern hemisphere summer (Dec-Feb). In these months rainfall totals are also high though rain tends to fall as relatively short, heavy tropical showers. Between then 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 rain showers and stubborn cloud cover can also be a feature of these months.

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

The weather in southern Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. In the ‘season’, from 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 extremely cold.

Clothing and special equipment

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

Those who feel the cold should 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.

In the Torres del Paine hostel bedding will be provided (towels are not included but can be hired. We would however recommend bringing your own travel towel in case there are none available). The sun can be strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sunblock. Some walkers find hiking poles helpful, and binoculars are useful for bird- and wildlife spotting.

A daypack is essential for carrying rainwear, snacks, books and a water bottle. 

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. If extending your trip visit Easter Island a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever is necessary and should be brought with you. 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 visas for entering 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 Chilean and Argentine Consulates. 

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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