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Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers

14 days from £3962pp

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Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers

14 days from £3962pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in the capital. Afternoon walking tour of the historic centre.
 

Transfer from the airport to you hotel in Santiago. It’s in the pleasant residential and commercial quarter of Providencia.  Santiago is set in a broad valley between ranges of the Andes, with majestic snow-capped peaks, and a smaller coastal range with a distinctly Mediterranean feel.

Santiago is a huge metropolis, a mix of the old and the contemporary, with quarters of tree-lined avenues and affluent tranquillity and others full of commercial bustle. Poorer districts sprawl on the outskirts.  In the afternoon you’ll have a walking tour of the historic core which, although small, has some notable buildings of cultural significance. The museum and former residence of Chilean poet laureate Pablo Neruda is close by.

Santiago

Day 2

Full day visit to the Maipo valley vineyards with lunch.
 
Visit the sunlit vineyards and cellars of two of the Maipo valley's celebrated wineries. In fact it is considered one of the best wine-producing areas in the country. The scenery is lovely, with a rugged Mediterranean feel, and the peaceful tranquillity a great contrast to the atmosphere in many parts of the congested capital. You’ll enjoy lunch out of town too.
Chile Vineyards

Day 3

Fly to Calama; on by road to San Pedro de Atacama. Sunset excursion to Moon Valley.
 

Transfer to Santiago airport and fly to Calama in the Atacama Desert (2hrs). Continue by road for an hour or so to the agreeable little tourist resort of San Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama’s inhospitable desert landscape is harsh and rugged, but it isn’t an empty wasteland. Volcanoes and geysers steam and hiss into life. Pink flamingos haunt the featureless white salt flats, cacti stride towards the horizon and oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation, especially after rare flash rainfall.  The culture and settlements echo with the legacy of the desert’s pre and post Columbian inhabitants, with ruined temples and dusty colonial villages.

Afternoon guided excursion to Valle De la Luna (Moon Valley) where, especially in early-evening light, the lunar landscape is astonishingly photogenic. Huge sand dunes sweep across a panorama of salt-encrusted canyons, gullies and eroded rock sculptures such as Las Tres Marias. Walk up to the top of the impressive 'Gran Duna' - a popular venue for extreme sports such as sand-boarding - and take your position for arguably the most memorable experience of today's excursion: the valley's appearance at sunset - a dazzling artist's palette of gold and reds.

Day 4

Guided visit to natural features and attractions in the Atacama Desert.
 

Scenic full-day excursion to the high altiplano above San Pedro de Atacama reaching an altitude of over 4,300m above sea level. The road heads south, passing the distinctive cone of Lincancabur volcano and cutting across the eastern corner of the Salar de Atacama before reaching the village of Toconao, typical of the small oasis villages of the area. Figs and quinces and a handsome whitewashed bell tower help give the village its own distinctive character.

It's another 50km to the village of Socaire with its 18th century church set against a field of sunflowers and market. Next, drive up to Minique and azure, high altitude Miscanti lagoons. Finally cross the Salar de Atacama, the third largest expanse of salt flats in the world, home to colonies of Andean, Chilean and James flamingos.

Atacama Desert

Day 5

Early morning excursion to Tatio geysers with breakfast.
 
Rise early for the drive to Tatio geysers, at 4300m - the highest geyser field in the world. Upon arrival, enjoy a picnic-style breakfast and explore with your guide. The geysers are a memorable, surreal sight at sunrise - blow holes send jets of water and steam into a cloudless sky and, as the sun rises, the pools of water turn to shimmering silver. 
Tatio Geysers

Day 6

Fly to Puerto Montt in the lake district.
 
Return to Calama and fly via Santiago to Puerto Montt in the southern end of the lake district. From there it’s just a 30 minute drive to Puerto Varas.  The town is set amid lush, green, rolling countryside on the shores of Lake Llanquihue 20 km north of Puerto Montt. It was colonised by Germans at the turn of the 20th century and its architecture and sedate style reflects this, but it is now a fast-growing tourist resort. The town's main attraction is an alpine green lake framed by tree-clad hills and beyond, one of the most perfectly shaped snow-capped volcanoes in the world - Osorno. 

Day 7

Full day guided excursion to Osorno Volcano and Petrohue Falls with lunch.
 

Full day guided excursion to the Osorno volcano and Petrohue Falls, From Puerto Varas the road takes you east along the edge of Lake Llanquihue, to the small and picturesque village of Ensenada.   Set in the shadows of the Osorno Volcano, and surrounded on three sides by forest and overlooking the lake, it looks like a sleepy rural backwater.

As the forest becomes increasingly dense, continue to the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, to visit the Petrohue waterfalls. Formed by a lava flow of volcanic rock and set amongst a 1,000 year-old forest, the falls make an impressive site. The drive continues towards the almost perfectly conical shaped Osorno volcano. As the road climbs, you'll have the chance to get out to enjoy the crisp air and wonderful views.

Puerto Varas

Day 8

Full day guided tour to Chiloe Island with lunch.
 

Full day guided discovery of Chiloe Island. Drive via Puerto Montt (1hr) for the ferry ride through the Chacao Channel to the emerald isle of Chiloé. Ancud is a lively fishing port which was the Spanish Crown's last possession in South America. Here you visit the fortress of San Antonio, where the treaty was signed for the withdrawal of the Spanish from Latin America. From Huaihuén Hill there are sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

Drive inland, through a landscape of valleys and rolling green pastures towards the island's rugged west coast with its deserted beaches, quiet farmlands and coastal forest. Visit the penguin colony of Puñihuíl, the only place in the world where Humbolt and Magallanic penguins nest side by side. Stops are also made at the sweepingly beautiful bay at Mar Brava, on the extreme north of the island and Caulin, a small village of colourful fishermen’s houses which is known for its oysters.

Chiloe

Day 9

Fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia.
 
Return to Puerto Montt airport and fly to Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia (2hrs).  The substantial city is an atmospheric and often blustery Patagonian outpost. Its centre is lined with elegant mansions (built on the wealth of sheep farming and mining during the late 19th century) and buildings with colourful corrugated iron roofs. It also has some interesting museums and several penguin colonies nearby (Oct-Mar).  

Day 10

Transfer to luxury Patagonia Camp on the border of Torres del Paine National Park.
 
Scenic drive to Patagonia Camp just outside Torres del Paine National Park.  The park is dominated by a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment. Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the area is a natural habitat of over 150 species of birds (including flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).
Guanacos, Patagonia

Days 11-12

Guided excursions from the camp in Torres del Paine and its environs.
 

You have a choice of guided excursions to explore this wonderful wilderness environment from the camp. Some are more energetic than others, but all are immensely rewarding. You might choose to walk uphill to the base of the dizzying perpendicular “torres” or towers, hike to the jade green Laguna Verde or to one of a number of scenic look-out points.  You might visit the beach at Lago Grey and survey the steep walls of the Grey Glacier, from which blue-tinged icebergs the size of motor launches break off and drift around in the icy waters.

Torres del Paine National Park

Day 13

Transfer to Punta Arenas and fly to Santiago.
 
Transfer back to Punta Arenas airport (5hrs) and fly to Santiago (4hrs). Overnight near the airport for final stay of the holiday.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

14 days from £3962pp

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