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Signature Patagonia: The Lake District

16 days from £4539pp

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Signature Patagonia: The Lake District

16 days from £4539pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel, afternoon half day walking city tour.
 

Transfer from the airport to your 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.

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. The city is easy to get around by tube, but the bus network can be mystifying.

Santiago

Day 2

Full day excursion to vineyards of Maipo Valley.
 

Visit the sunlit vineyards and cellars of one 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 its tranquillity a great contrast to the atmosphere in many parts of the congested capital. You’ll enjoy lunch out of town too.

Maipo Valley vineyards

Day 3

Transfer to Valparaiso.
 

It’s a couple of hours’ drive through a range of low mountains recalling the Mediterranean from Santiago to the Pacific port of Valparaiso.

Chile's principal port is in effect two towns. The cramped lower part, with narrow streets facing the bay, with heavy, Victorian architecture reflecting its past importance, acts as the business centre. Above, covering the hills, there is an agglomeration of fine mansions, tattered and multicoloured houses and shacks reached by a combination of steps, funicular railways and winding lanes. Galleried walkways and look-out points provide panoramic views of the city.

Day 4

Half day walking tour of Valparaiso.
 

There’s a guided walking tour of the city so you can understand its multi-layered character. It begins at the pier continuing to the adjacent Plaza Sotomayor with its historical buildings and the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique, an underground mausoleum paying tribute to Chile's naval martyrs. Go up the El Peral funicular elevator, just one of 15 ascensores which lead up the hills to the meandering little streets of upper Valparaiso.

Continue to Cerro Concepcíon, one of the city's most lovely neighbourhoods with its colourful corrugated iron buildings with pitched roofs. After further explorations take the Artilleria elevator, which enjoys outstanding views over the city, back down to sea level and numerous arts and handicraft shops.

Valparaiso

Day 5

Fly to Puerto Montt, by road to Puerto Varas.
 

Transfer to Santiago airport and fly to Puerto Montt in the lake district, northern Patagonia (2hrs). It seems that each of the royal blue lakes in this region of chocolate-box prettiness is overlooked by its own snow-dipped volcano. On the lake shores are resort towns with an Alpine flavour and traditional villages of neat wooden cottages. The region is carpeted with pine forests and studded with youthful streams.

A short drive to Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake LLanquihue. The town 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. Its 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. If you're lucky enough to be in Puerto Varas on a clear and still evening, the sunsets over Osorno's snowy mantle can be magical.

Osorno at sunset

Day 6

Full day excursion to Chiloé Island, visit the Puñihuil penguin colony.
 

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 7

Picturesque full day Andean boat crossing to Bariloche, via Petrohue waterfalls.
 

Travel through the most scenic Andean pass of them all to Argentina’s lake district. It’s a stunning 12hr journey with plenty of variety and stops to transfer between forms of transport.

Travel along the southern shore of Lake Llanquihue until you reach Petrohue river. Visit the spectacular Petrohue Falls, before taking the 2hr ferry journey to Peulla. Lago Todos los Santos, also known as the Emerald Lake, lives up to its name with its almost preternatural colour contrasting with darker hues of the tree clad hills. Marking the horizon is the snow-capped peak of Osorno Volcano and the Puntiagudo and Tronador mountains. From Peulla, continue by bus to Puerto Frias. Cross the border and continue by boat.  A comfortable catamaran makes the final crossing to Puerto Pañuelo, a 30min drive along the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi to Bariloche.

Calbuco Volcano

Day 8

Guided 60km scenic drive, passing Lago Nahuel Huapi, Playa Bonita and Lago Moreno.
 

The lake district is a popular yet unspoilt region of sleeping snow-stifled volcanoes, dark sapphire lakes fringed by dense forests, small Alpine-style towns and scenic drives. Its multitude of national parks offer outdoor activities from hiking to fishing and cycling to horse riding. There’s a European-style cuisine of fondues, creamy cakes and cool blond Bavarian-inspired beers.

San Carlos de Bariloche is the main town in Argentina's lake district, on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The town is a centre for skiing in winter (July and August), and walking in summer - set against a stunning backdrop of glacial green-blue lakes framed by the mountains of the Andes.

There’s a 3hr guided tour by car for you to get a general overview of the breathtaking surrounding area. The 60km circuit is all along paved road and begins heading westwards from Bariloche along Lago Nahuel Huapi. The road passes the harbour and beach of Playa Bonita, a popular destination during the summer. After, you head to the viewpoint at Cerro Campanario where a 7min chair ride offers splendid views of the mountains and lakes below. Continue towards St Edward's chapel and Hotel Llao Llao, before entering the Valdivian beech rainforest that surrounds Lago Moreno. Stop at a point for breathtaking vistas of the lake and surroundings before returning to Bariloche.

Argentina's idyllic lake district

Day 9

Fly to El Calafate.
 

Transfer to airport to fly to El Calafate in southern Patagonia. Transfer to your hotel in this resort town on the southern shore of turquoise Lago Argentino.  Tourism in the last twenty years has transformed it into a bustling entrepôt for access to the nearby scenery of glaciers, lakes and impossibly steep peaks.  It still has a bit of a frontier feel, though it is very busy in summer.

Day 10

Visit Los Glaciares National Park and Perito Moreno Glacier.
 

Guided excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s an early morning departure from El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park, a 90 min drive to the walkways and viewing platform overlooking the glacier. The thundering shards of falling ice are a breathtaking spectacle as you pass at a safe distance along the walkway in front of the Canal de los Tempanos, which separates Brazo Rico from the main part of the lake.

The Glacier is five kilometres wide and stands 60m above the surface of the lake. Its ice masses are fed by the southern continental ice field from the west, and from other smaller surrounding glaciers. After lunch (not included) in the nearby cafeteria, board the Safari Nautico or Moreno Fiesta for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier, with a commentary. Alternatively, you can just walk and contemplate, away from the other visitors.

Perito Moreno

Day 11

Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park.
 

It’s a wonderful scenic drive on a lonely road across the border to Chile and Torres del Paine National park. The drive to the border crossing at Cancha Carrera takes about four hours across the vast Patagonian grasslands, remote and sparsely populated. Wildlife to look out for includes guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea. Pass immigration and drive into Chile. Continue to majestic Torres del Paine National Park, a further two hours along an unpaved road.

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 (flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).

Torres del Paine

Days 12-13

Outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
 

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

Day 14

Transfer to Punta Arenas, fly to Santiago.
 

Transfer back to Punta Arenas airport (5hrs) and fly to Santiago (4hrs).

Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

16 days from £4539pp

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