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Signature Patagonia: The Lake District

16 days from £4,725pp

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Signature Patagonia: The Lake District:
Trip Dossier

This is a comprehensive Patagonia highlights holiday exploring the indigo lakes, ancient woodland and snow-capped volcanoes of the lake district. Further south are the ice caps, glaciers, jagged mountains and lakes at the tip of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. This adventure includes a visit to the minty blue, cathedral-high Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, and Torres del Paine National Park, Chile’s large and well-established reserve.

While the lake district in northern Patagonia has lakeside resorts and many visitors in summer, there are little seen fairyland forests and lonely roads carving their way through a virgin landscape. The south is, in parts, a true wilderness, where just a few rough roads cut through a frost-bitten landscape of glaciers, luminous lagoons, icy pinnacles and wind-strafed steppe, Patagonia is nevertheless readily accessible to visitors.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Full day excursion to vineyards of Maipo Valley.

Day 3

Transfer to Valparaiso.

Day 4

Half day walking tour of Valparaiso.

Day 5

Fly to Puerto Montt, by road to Puerto Varas.

Day 6

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

Day 7

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

Day 8

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

Day 9

Fly to El Calafate.

Day 10

Visit Los Glaciares National Park and Perito Moreno Glacier.

Day 11

Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 12-13

Outdoor activities in Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 14

Transfer to Punta Arenas, fly to Santiago.

Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Torres del Paine

Day 14

Transfer to Punta Arenas, fly to Santiago.
 

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

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Day 15

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

Three flights (longest 3.5hrs); 2 scenic road journeys (longest 2.5hrs); 1 boat and bus lake crossing (10hrs).

Accommodation

This holiday offers good mid-range accommodation, from functional, modern and well-equipped hotels in the cities to agreeable lakeside properties and a larger but excellent, well located lodge in Torres del Paine with staggering views.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 2, 6; dinner day 12; full board days 13, 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 city tour of Santiago.
  • Full day vineyard excursion to Maipo Valley.
  • Half day walking tour of Valparaiso.
  • Full day excursion to Chiloé Island, visiting the Puñihuil penguin colony.
  • Picturesque full day Andean boat crossing to Bariloche, via Petrohue waterfalls.
  • Drive the 60km circuit, passing Lago Nahuel Huapi, Playa Bonita and Lago Moreno.
  • Visit Perito Moreno glacier, boat cruise on the lake.
  • Excursions and activities in Torres del Paine National Park.

Summary of nights

15 days, 14 nights: Santiago 2; Valparaiso 2; Puerto Montt 2; Bariloche 2; El Calafate 2; Torres del Paine 3; Santiago 1.

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.
  • Accommodation as specified.
  • Meals as specified.
  • Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

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

Currency

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

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35-50 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, and possibly some travellers’ cheques (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. 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

In Torres del Paine National Park all walks are optional. Hikes vary in length (between 2 and 8 hours) and difficulty (most are easily followed and relatively flat).  If you find time to walk around Bariloche, trails are undulating but not strenuous. 

Be prepared for some early mornings, and for extreme weather conditions (mainly down South). However, throughout the holiday, there is time to relax and explore on your own if you wish.

Climate

Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is between May and September. In Santiago and Buenos Aires, temperatures can be cool (5°C – to 15°C). While sunshine is possible, so is rain. Spring temperatures, October to November and March to April are between 15 and 25°C and there is a good deal of pleasant sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C.

The lake district has weather not dissimilar to our own, but a bit sunnier in summer and rather rainier in the winter months.

The weather in the far south is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (October to March) there can be blizzards or heat waves.  The adage “four seasons in a day” is very apt here. In winter, days are short and snow is not uncommon but it is rarely much below freezing, because of the moderating influence of the sea.

Clothing and special equipment

A day pack is essential for carrying rainwear, snacks, books and a water bottle.  Outside summer, those who feel the cold might take thermals. To ensure your comfort while walking in Patagonia, you should bring a good waterproof, walking boots (tried and tested so you don’t get blisters!) as well a good waterproof top, trousers and a warm hat and a scarf. 

That said the sun in summer can be strong so take a hat with a visor, sunglasses and sun block. Some walkers find hiking poles helpful and binoculars are useful for bird spotting. 

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

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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