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Penguin: Extremes of Chile

14 days from £3,498pp

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Penguin: Extremes of Chile:
Trip Dossier

Transposed to Europe, Chile would stretch from Norway to Tunisia. It extends some 4,000 kilometres, down a ribbon of land that clings to the western flank of the Andes, with a staggering variety of landscape, vegetation and climate. This comprehensive tour will take you from the lunar landscape of the Atacama Desert in the north, through the patchwork vineyards that surround the cosmopolitan capital, Santiago, and the forested volcanoes of the lake district to the Straits of Magellan, where stormy waters lash the broad, windswept landscapes and snow-capped peaks of Patagonia.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart Friday arriving in Santiago, Chile, the following day.

Day 1

Walking tour of the colonial centre.

Day 2

Optional visits to Pacific port Valparaiso or nearby vineyard.

Day 3

Fly north to San Pedro

Day 4

Explore the Atacama desert.

Day 5

Optional excursions

Day 6

Fly via Santiago to the lake district and waterside Puerto Varas.

Day 7

Excursion to Petrohué Falls; boat trip on Lake Todos Los Santos.

Day 8

Optional full-day visit to Chiloé Island.

Day 9

Fly south to Punta Arenas in Patagonia.

Day 10

Explore Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 11

Boat trip to the Lago Grey Glacier.

Day 12

By road to Punta Arenas

Day 13

Continue to Punta Arenas and fly back to Santiago.

Day 14

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Saturday.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart Friday arriving in Santiago, Chile, the following day.

Day 1

Walking tour of the colonial centre.
 

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 your guided walking tour of the colonial centre of the city, and later you may be able to visit independently one or two 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, 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).

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Santiago Chile

Day 2

Optional visits to Pacific port Valparaiso or nearby vineyard.
 

Today there is an optional visit to Chile's second city, Valparaíso (2 hours 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 north to San Pedro
 
Fly north to Calama (2 hours) where you will be driven (90mins) to the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is a timeless adobe town with a laid back atmosphere and an erratic electricity supply. Its dusty streets are lined with bars, cafés and tour operators offering various excursions into the surrounding desert.

On the guided excursion you arrive late in the afternoon at the Moon Valley (its name tells it all) to explore shady gorges and canyons formed over centuries by the erosion of salt mountains. Just before dusk, climb to the ridge of a vast golden sand dune to see the landscape lit up in different shades of pink, crimson and mandarin cast by the setting sun.

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Moon Valley

Day 4

Explore the Atacama desert.
 

Explore the region's other-worldly landscape on a full day excursion to the Atacama salt flats and surrounding lakes. Across the dazzling, pitted surface of the salar, you'll see pink-tinged flamingos feeding, reflected in the glimmering pools. A dusty drive takes you through some tiny hamlets where Atacameños eke out a living in these harsh conditions, before continuing to Lakes Miscanti and Miñiques. Here you're left literally breathless - at over 4,000m the air is thin and cold. Take a walk around the lakeshore and picnic with a view of the volcanic cones perfectly reflected in the turquoise waters.

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Day 5

Optional excursions
 
Should you choose to take the morning optional excursion to El Tatio Geysers, be prepared for a very early start. But it's well worth it. You arrive on the pitted, craggy geyser field just before dawn, and as the sun rises and warms the earth, hot steam projects dramatically out of the crater into the freezing morning air, creating a wall of mist through which you can make out dark silhouettes against the penetrating sunlight.

Alternatively you may want to walk to Pukará de Quitor (3 km). This old Inca fortress has superb views of the mountains and volcanoes bordering Bolivia and Argentina.

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El Tatio

Day 6

Fly via Santiago to the lake district and waterside Puerto Varas.
 

Fly south via Santiago to Puerto Montt, and continue by road 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. 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 serving creamy küchen to while away your free time.

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Day 7

Excursion to Petrohué Falls; boat trip on Lake Todos Los Santos.
 

Today you will visit the Petrohué Falls where you stand on wooden walkways and gaze down in to the glacial turquoise waters. Follow the trails through the forest and along the shores of Lake Todos los Santos, where you will take a boat trip on the gem-clear, emerald green waters. On a clear day, this is some of the most exquisite scenery on the continent.

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Osorno

Day 8

Optional full-day visit to Chiloé Island.
 
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 are piled high in a hole in the ground, buried and cooked among glowing embers.

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Day 9

Fly south to Punta Arenas in Patagonia.
 
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 fly over 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 here we drive towards the Torres del Paine National Park in a private bus, taking in the mesmeric views and diverse wildlife that you pass along the way. You spend 3 nights in Rio Serrano area in a top quality hotel at the gateway to the park with views of the towering, granite massif.

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Day 10

Explore Torres del Paine National Park.
 

On today’s full day guided adventure inside the national park, you’ll head to iceberg-dotted Lago Grey at the foot of the giant granite massif Paine Grande. Embark upon a boat trip navigating towards the wall of giant Glacier Grey. As the vessel navigates its way across the icy waters, you look towards ice fields and precipitous, hanging glaciers. The weather in Patagonia is temperamental to say the least! You may experience four seasons in the space of an hour and the wind blows constantly.

There is also a stop for a short stroll to the waterfall at Salto Grande which offers breathtaking views over the famous Cuernos del Paine.

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Torres del Paine National Park Chile

Day 11

Boat trip to the Lago Grey Glacier.
 

You have time to explore extensively, on foot and by boat, and to enjoy the peace and beauty of this national park, deservedly one of South America's most acclaimed attractions. 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.

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Lago Grey

Day 12

By road to Punta Arenas
 

Journey back south away from the park to Punta Arenas, stopping to visit the Milodon Cave on the way.

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.

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Day 13

Continue to Punta Arenas and fly back to Santiago.
 

Catch a flight back to Santiago (4 hours) which normally includes a stop in Puerto Montt where those wishing to continue with the lake crossing to Argentina will leave the group. Overnight in the capital.

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Day 14

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day, Saturday.

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (longest 4 hours), 4 land journeys (longest 6 hours).

Accommodation

On this tour we use hotels which are of a standard equivalent to good European 3-4 star accommodation. 

Examples of hotels include:
 
• Santiago: Hotel Atton el Bosque
• San Pedro de Atacama: Poblado Kimal (except February departure)
• Puerto Varas: Cabañas del Lago 
• Torres del Paine: Hotel Rio Serrano
• Punta Arenas: Cabo de Hornos

On very rare occasions these hotels can change, however please speak to one of our consultants who can provide full details for each departure if you have any doubts. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 4.

Included excursions

• Santiago: walking tour
• San Pedro de Atacama: Moon Valley and Atacama salt flats
• Lake district: Petrohue Falls and boat trip on Lago Todos Los Santos
• Torres del Paine: Glacier Grey boat trip
• Torres del Paine: stops at view points within the park

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: Santiago 2; San Pedro 3; Puerto Varas 3; Torres del Paine 3; Punta Arenas 1; Santiago 1.

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 are optional excursions available throughout this holiday bookable 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 $300 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:

• Santiago: day trip to the Pacific port of Valparaiso; stop at a vineyard
• San Pedro de Atacama: El Tatio geysers
• San Pedro de Atacama: star gazing
• Puerto Varas: excursion to the island of Chiloe
• Torres del Paine: optional hikes

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.

Budget

A budget of between $40 and $50 USD per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday price, 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 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 $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 in 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

In the Torres del Paine optional hikes vary in length (4-10 hrs) and difficulty (some are easy and flat, others steeper and more challenging). All 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. 

You'll need to be prepared for some very early mornings and dramatic changes in temperature and high altitude is also a factor when in the Atacama desert. Please see section on altitude for further details below.

Climate

In Santiago October and November and March and April see temperatures of 15-25°C and a good deal of sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C. The Atacama desert is warm and sunny all year round during the day time but temperatures drop dramatically at night.

In the south of Chile the weather is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. In Torres del Paine during the southern hemisphere summer (October to March) 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 when the wind blows off the ice cap. On the other hand, hot days are not unknown in summer.

Altitude

Some of the excursions in the Atacama Desert are at high altitude, although you spend the night in San Pedro de Atacama which is at a comfortable 2,440m. Symptoms of altitude sickness vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don't exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms. Please refer to out Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

A daypack is essential for carrying rainwear or a spare jumper, snacks or books. Those who feel the cold should take thermal underwear. Be prepared for the cold during nights in Atacama (particularly if you choose to take the excursion to El Tatio Geysers, where temperatures are below freezing). Southern Chile can also be very cold so be sure to pack enough warm clothing. Good waterproof walking boots/shoes as well as a water and windproof jacket are essential and waterproof trousers are also recommended. The sun can be very strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses, sunblock and a swimming suit. Some walkers find hiking poles helpful for the Torres del Paine excursions, and binoculars are useful for bird and wildlife spotting.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: 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 or check with the Chilean 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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