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Signature Northern Chile and Argentina: Atacama Desert to Iguazu Falls

15 days from £4,103pp

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Signature Northern Chile and Argentina: Atacama Desert to Iguazu Falls


Private Journey


Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel. Walking tour of Santiago’s historic centre.

Arrive Santiago and transfer to your hotel in Providencia, a leafy, upmarket residential and commercial district. The cosmopolitan capital, has to its east the immense wall of rock of the Andes - snow-capped in winter.  You have a guided walking tour of the historic heart of the city, which is home to a few notable buildings such as the house of celebrated poet laureate Pablo Neruda. There’s a panoramic view of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía, a hilltop park.

If you have time, a funicular tram or cable car can take you to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. A mixture of chic, residential areas and smart office towers surround a compact colonial centre. Beyond are sprawling working class districts with a crush of more modest homes.

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Santiago Chile

Day 2

Full day excursion to Maipo Valley visiting two vineyards.

Mountain air, haciendas and stately manor houses set the scene for a tour which takes you into the heartland of Chile's wine growing region. Pirque in the Maipo Valley is home to two of the country's most prestigious names in wine; Concha y Toro and Cousiño Macul. A short distance from the capital, these vineyards offer an insight into a wine growing region blessed with what is often referred to as the trilogy: climate, soil and vine-stock.

Visit two vineyards with the opportunity to learn about the wine-producing processes and sample the results. Lunch is usually taken at the atmospheric Tesoros del Chile restaurant, situated in a quaint nineteenth century residence in Pirque.

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Maipo Valley vineyards

Day 3

Fly to Calama, transfer to desert town San Pedro de Atacama. Sunset trip to Moon Valley.

Fly to Calama in the Atacama Desert and continue by road to the little resort town of San Pedro de Atacama. There’s a guided afternoon excursion to the moon-like Valle de la Luna. Drive through the spectacular rock formations of Cordillera de la Sal towards the 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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Moon Valley

Day 4

Visit village of Toconao, Minique and Miscanti lagoons, cross ‘salar’ salt flat to Laguna Chaxa.

This scenic full-day excursion to the high altiplano above San Pedro de Atacama reaches an altitude of over 4,300m. 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 (2,600m). It is 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 a 50km drive to the village of Socaire (3,500m) with its 18th century church set against a field of sunflowers and market. Next, drive up to deep sapphire blue Minique and Miscanti lagoons. Stroll along the shores before crossing the bleach-white Salar de Atacama, salty home to colonies of Andean, Chilean and James flamingos. Arriving at Laguna Chaxa, you should have the opportunity to observe flamingos and a variety of other birds.

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Flamingos in Atacama Chile

Day 5

Full day visit to Tatio Geysers – highest geyser field in the world.
Depart in the early hours of the morning (normally before 5am) for the guided excursion to Tatio geysers. It’s a 98km drive to the highest geyser field in the world (4,300m). At this altitude, sub-zero temperatures are the norm, especially just before dawn. 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, San Pedro de Atacama

Day 6

Public bus to Purmamarca.

Drive down through the eastern flank of the Andes into Argentina. This is a spectacular drive by comfortable public coach over the Andes. It takes 6-7 hrs, including border controls outside San Pedro de Atacama and again at Paso de Jama (4,400m) on the Argentine side, 3hrs hours later. Along the way, enjoy breathtaking wilderness scenery: turquoise lakes backed by high mountains, glistening salt flats and desert strutted by battalions of cacti.

The bus stop in the village of Purmamarca is right outside your hacienda-style hotel Manantial del Silencio.

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Purmamarca Church

Day 7

At leisure.
At leisure in Purmamarca, in the north-western area known as Quebrada de Humahuaca. Purmamarca is at the foot of the famous Seven Colour hill, one of north-west Argentina's most popular attractions. The hill's deeply-defined strata seem to constantly change colour according to the light conditions. Purmamarca is a relaxing place to explore - its dazzling white 17th century church dominates the village square where inhabitants like to relax in the shade whilst visitors wander among colourful handicrafts stalls.
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Seven Colour Hill

Day 8

Discover Humahuaca Gorge, continue to Humahuaca village.

Check out of the hotel and you’ll be driven along the Humahuaca gorge, famous for its deep terracotta rock strata and giant cacti. Even this far into Argentina, there are echoes of Bolivia in the canyon's peaceful towns and villages with their solid-looking colonial churches and quaint adobe-brick houses. Just south of Humahuaca village, the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the village of Uquia.

Meanwhile Tilcara is one of the region's most important settlements where you’ll visit the pre-Inca Pucara fortress which has great views across the town and valley beyond. Continue to Salta (3hrs)

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View from fortess at Tilcara

Day 9

Salta walking tour including cable car up San Bernardo Hill. Fly to Puerto Iguazú.
Walking tour of Salta. The friendly north-western city is renowned for its colonial architecture and claret-red ponchos. This is the only Argentine region where vestiges of indian heritage are still visible.  There is a walking tour of the attractive city including the cathedral, San Francisco church, the Northern Historical museum, San Bernardo convent, and the view of the city from San Bernardo hill reached by cable car. Later, fly to Puerto Iguazú on the border with Brazil in the northeast.
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Day 10

Full day excursion to Argentine side of Iguazú falls.

Excursion to the Argentine side of Iguazú Falls. Stop at the National Park Visitor Centre, where there is a display illustrating the biodiversity of the tropical rainforest. From here, a little gas-powered train transfers you to Cataratas station where the Upper Walk begins. This sequence of causeways and passerelles links dozens of tiny, basalt islands at the top of the rock face. The walkways cross the myriad streams of the Río Iguazú as they cascade over the lip of the precipice. A succession of lookout points allows your gaze to follow the water, as it plunges onto the rocks below.

You can then continue to the Lower Walk, which involves stairs, and gives you a totally different view of these falls. Climb back up to the train and continue, about 20mins, to Devil's Throat station. From here, a kilometre-long walkway leads you across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo, which offers a spectacular vantage point to peer into the thundering vortex below.

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Iguazu Falls, Argentine side

Day 11

Half day to explore Brazilian side of Iguazú falls.

Guided excursion to the Brazilian side of the falls. Cross the bridge which spans the Iguazú river and links the cities of Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçú in Brazil. You'll board a (shared) National Park service here and continue by road for the final stretch to the falls themselves.

There's a walkway of about a kilometre, with viewpoints at strategic intervals - you get a panoramic view of the whole sweep of the cataracts - an entirely different experience from the Argentine side. Towards the end of the walk, there's an observation tower adjacent to the falls, and a walkway at the bottom takes you out for a closer and much wetter experience. 

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Macaw parrots

Day 12

Fly to Buenos Aires, transfer to hotel in Recoleta district.

Fly to Buenos Aires (2hrs) and transfer to your hotel in Recoleta, the smart belle époque/Italianate residential quarter of leafy plazas, pavement cafés and the famous cemetery where Eva Peron was buried. Buenos Aires is probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis in South America. Certainly it looks more European than any other in the Americas: wide boulevards, monumental architecture, art deco cafeterias and designer-label shops.

This seductive city oozes old world atmosphere and nostalgia, with its colonial buildings, antique markets, shady squares and tango halls. That's not to say Buenos Aires is just stuck in its past - it's equally vital and contemporary with a vibrant arts scene, top drawer restaurants, ultra-chic boutique hotels and a pulsating nightlife. The city's passion for football reaches a crescendo during the local derby between Argentina's two biggest football clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate.

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La Boca

Day 13

City tour including visit to Teatro Colon.

Your guided city tour takes you along Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest boulevards in the world and studded by the Obelisk, an emblematic symbol of the city. Along this majestic highway you will also find the 19th century Teatro Colón which, in terms of its architecture and design, as well as its excellent acoustics, is considered one of the best in the world.  On to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed on three sides by the Metropolitan cathedral, the Town Hall and the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

The tour continues to the colourful bohemian barrio of La Boca, which was settled and built by Italian immigrants and has streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses. Drive north to Palermo, an elegant neighbourhood of wide avenues lined with colonial mansions. The city zoo, the botanical gardens and racetrack are all here. Finally, visit the artistic district of Recoleta, stopping at the cemetery where generations of the Argentinean élite have been buried, including Evita.

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Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires

Day 14

At leisure, tango show with dinner at El Querandi.

After a day at leisure there is a visit to a tango show, with dinner. The passage of time has given respectability to a dance once confined to the seedy underworld bars of the red-light La Boca district. Nowadays, a number of 'tango houses' offer a dinner and show as an evening out, where the 1940s orchestra recreates, with professional dancers and singers, the atmosphere of those early days and the history and evolution of the dance to the style, elegance and respectability of the present day.

This tango house in the San Telmo district of the capital occupies an early colonial building, and was founded in the 1920s in the art deco style of the time. Of course, some of the visitors are tourists, but usually the audience is mainly Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) to whom each doleful ballad, each melancholy air, each sensual step, is part of their heritage.

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Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

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