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Signature Northern Chile and Argentina: Atacama Desert to Iguazu Falls

15 days from £3754pp

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Signature Northern Chile and Argentina: Atacama Desert to Iguazu Falls:
Trip Dossier

The Andean crossing between the Atacama desert and Salta in the Argentine Andean foothills is the highest and most elemental pass, where sun-bleached arid rock gives way to ice-clad skeletal peaks. A friendly, laid-back but cultured colonial city, Salta, with its graceful baroque architecture and stunning, colourful cathedral, is a great contrast to the vast capital, Buenos Aires. Around it are communities and vestiges of the country’s indigenous population, whose crafts and agricultural practices survive to this day. From here you’ll fly to the sub-tropical rainforest of Iguazú National Park and survey and explore the monumental Iguazú Falls; 276 separate cascades thundering over a granite precipice.  At either end of the holiday there’s time in a historically significant, sophisticated city – Santiago and Buenos Aires.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Full day excursion to Maipo Valley visiting two vineyards.

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

Day 5

Full day visit to Tatio Geysers – highest geyser field in the world.

Day 6

Public bus to Purmamarca.

Day 7

At leisure.

Day 8

Discover Humahuaca Gorge, continue to Humahuaca village.

Day 9

Salta walking tour including cable car up San Bernardo Hill. Fly to Puerto Iguazú.

Day 10

Full day excursion to Argentine side of Iguazú falls.

Day 11

Half day to explore Brazilian side of Iguazú falls.

Day 12

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

Day 13

City tour including visit to Teatro Colon.

Day 14

At leisure, tango show with dinner at El Querandi.

Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 
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.

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.
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)

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.
Salta

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Clothing and special equioment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex 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, 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 insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses. You should take swimwear for pools though most hotels don’t have them. 

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.

Transport

Three flights (longest 4hrs); 2 scenic road journeys (longest 7hrs).

Accommodation

This trip features small or mid-sized hotels, traditional or contemporary in style with well equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating.  Some are considered to be boutique hotels with special features and good service.  

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 2, 4; dinner day 14.

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

• Half day walking tour of Santiago’s architecture.
• Full day excursion to Maipo Valley visiting two vineyards.
• Sunset trip to Moon Valley.
• Tour to Toconao village, Minique and Miscanti lagoons, Atacama salt flat and Laguna Chaxa.
• Full day visit to Tatio Geysers – highest geyser field in the world.
• Discover Humahuaca Gorge, on to Tilcara and Humahuaca village.
• Salta walking tour including cable car up San Bernardo Hill.
• Full day excursion to Argentine side of Iguazú falls.
• Half day to explore Brazilian side of Iguazú falls.
• Tango show with dinner at El Querandi.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: Santiago 2; San Pedro de Atacama 3; Purmamarca 2; Salta 1; Iguazú 3; Buenos Aires 3.

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

Optional excursions

There are a number of half, full-day or longer excursions or activities you may wish to consider in order to customise your holiday to cater for your interests. Please contact us to discuss these further or to add them to your itinerary before you depart. A selection of these include:
• Helicopter ride over Iguazú falls.
• Bird Park Iguazú (Brazilian side).
• Guided trip into the River Plate delta from Buenos Aires.

Currency

The unit of currency in Chile is the Chilean peso; in Argentina it is the Argentine peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day should cover the cost of modest 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, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). 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 expected 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 fast-paced holiday suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors, including families.

There are some early mornings and dramatic changes in temperature. In the Atacama Desert be mindful of the high altitude (please see the Altitude section for further information).

Climate

In Santiago and Buenos Aires, October and November and March and April see temperatures between 15 and 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.  

The Salta region has plenty of sun throughout the year but it can be cool in winter (May-October), when the trees and vines have lost their leaves, but it is drier with little rain falling in April-October. The rainiest months are January and February.

In subtropical Iguazú, December to March are the hottest and most humid months, with temperatures reaching 40°C, and rain which falls in brief, heavy showers. From June to September, temperatures are more moderate (20°C-23°C) and there is plenty of sunshine, but cold fronts can usher in periods of up to several days of cloud and drizzle. Temperatures can fall as low as freezing point in mid-winter, e.g. June.

Altitude

Some of the excursions in the Atacama Desert are spent at high altitude, although you stay the night in San Pedro de Atacama which is at a comfortable height of 2,500m. 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 (try to avoid exerting yourself and drinking alcohol) in the first few days after your arrival and you should be fine. 

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; 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.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

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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