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Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers

14 days from £4,487pp

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Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers:
Trip Dossier

A skinny coastal strip backed by the Andes mountains, Chile has a variety of climate and landscapes to match its changing latitudes.  This comprehensive tour of Chile’s natural highlights is jam-packed full of outdoor experiences. It’s a peaceful and welcoming place with a good infrastructure, and, in spite of the distances, it’s easy to get around. Excellent hotels, abundant sea food and delicious wines are all among the ingredients of this superb holiday.

Travel from the moon-like Atacama Desert through the vineyards in the Central Valley close to Santiago and on to the snow-dipped cones and tumbling streams of the lake district. Continue to view Patagonia’s cathedral-high glaciers, icy lagoons and wildlife-filled grasslands.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Full day visit to the Maipo valley vineyards with lunch.

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

Day 5

Early morning excursion to Tatio geysers with breakfast.

Day 6

Fly to Puerto Montt in the lake district.

Day 7

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

Day 8

Full day guided tour to Chiloe Island with lunch.

Day 9

Fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia.

Day 10

Transfer to luxury Patagonia Camp on the border of Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 11-12

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

Day 13

Transfer to Punta Arenas and fly to Santiago.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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. 
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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. 
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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.

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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.

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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).  
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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).
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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.

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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.
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Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

4 flights (2-4hrs); 4 road journeys (1-3 4 hrs)

Accommodation

Here in towns we use mostly mid-range hotels  choosing accommodation we think is comfortable and well located. Whatever their style – contemporary, classic or lodge - they have well-equipped rooms, private bathrooms and heating. 

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 8,9;  dinner day 3, full board days 4,5.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Santiago walking tour..
• Torres del Paine: Guided excursions from Hotel Torres.
• Full day excursion to Aiken reserve, Patagonia.
• Excursion to observe the solar eclipse.
• Atacama Desert: Tocanao and Atacama salt flats.
• Atacama Desert: Tatio geysers.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: Santiago 2, Torres del Paine 3, Punta Arenas 1; Coyhaique 3, San Pedro de Atacama 3,  Valparaiso 2.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.
• Tips and gratuities.

Currency

The unit of currency in Chile is the peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking 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 additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

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.

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

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This is a fully comprehensive holiday with travel or excursions on most days but none are especially arduous. There are some early mornings. You will be staying at an altitude of over 2,400m and visiting locations over 4,000m above sea level (Tatio Geysers). Local guides can advise you about precautions against any ill effects generated by the thin air at altitude; most people only feel a little breathless. (See "Altitude" paragraph below).

This holiday is suitable for all able-bodied, reasonably fit visitors. In other cases, e.g. if you have a disability or other special requirements, please call us.

Climate

In the Santiago area expect a Mediterranean type climate. In February  temperatures range between 28°C  and 35°C and there’s a good deal of sunshine.

The weather in southern Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (February falls in that season), be prepared for everything from a blizzard to a heat wave. Strong winds and rain are possible at any time.

In the Aisen region, Coyhaique has an oceanic climate though it is considerably less wet than coastal settlements like Puerto Aisen since the coastal mountains provide considerable shielding from the westerly winds. Temperatures are moderate during February.

The Atacama Desert is hot (18-30°C) though temperatures fall substantially at night when it is clear and mornings are chilly. In February the region can be susceptible to heavy rains coming from the Bolivian Andes.

Altitude

Your stay in San Pedro de Atacama in the Andes is at high altitude (2,407m). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. 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. Tatio geysers, at 4,320m, are at the highest location you will visit on this holiday.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential, and a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex (or similar) outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants in Santiago or Valparaiso, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring umbrella, insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses. You might take swimwear for a dip in the hot springs.

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: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

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 applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be digital; e-passports with an embedded chip. 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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