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Signature Southern Chile, Argentina and Brazil: Natural wonders of Patagonia and the Iguazú Falls

16 days from £4,857pp

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Signature Southern Chile, Argentina and Brazil: Natural wonders of Patagonia and the Iguazú Falls

16 days from £4,857pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in an upmarket quarter of the capital. Guided walking tour of Santiago.
 

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.

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 two vineyards in the Maipo valley.
 

Visit the sunlit vineyards and cellars of two of the Maipo Valley's celebrated wineries. The valley is considered one of the best wine-producing areas in the country. The scenery is lovely, with a rugged Mediterranean feel, and the peacefulness 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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Winery, Chile

Day 3

Fly to Punta Arenas, by road to Torres del Paine National Park.
 

Return to the airport and fly to Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia (4hrs). On a clear day you have other-worldly views of the swirling meringue of the southern icecap, its fjords, volcanoes and glaciers. Approaching Punta Arenas you see the rust-brown stain of the Patagonian steppes, pitted with small lagoons stretching out towards the Straits of Magellan. On the other side of the water rises the hand of jagged peaks on the wilderness island of Tierra del Fuego.

From the airport, drive into Torres del Paine National Park (5 hrs), with opportunities to take photographs of wildlife (rheas (ñandu) graze prolifically throughout the park), silvery rivers, aquamarine lagoons and savagely wind-carved rocks, cliffs and mountains. The road takes you across inhospitable plains, battered by perpetual winds, which were colonised over a hundred years ago by British sheep farmers and Yugoslavs fleeing the war-torn Balkans. 

The scenery becomes more dramatic as you approach the towering massif of rock towers and icy pinnacles which is the centrepiece of the park.  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).

Your hotel is close to the massive vertical towers of granite that dominate the mountain massif.

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Torres del Paine

Days 4-5

Excursions and activities in Torres del Paine National Park.
 

You have a choice of guided excursions to explore this wonderful wilderness environment from the hotel. 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 6

Transfer to El Calafate, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Argentina.
 

It’s an all-day drive towards and over the frontier to Argentina across the bleak and scantily-populated Patagonian steppe, but the beauty of the mountainous scenery is staggering. In the afternoon you reach the shores of the milky turquoise Lago Argentino, and the little town of El Calafate, where you are based for two days.

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Guanacos, Patagonia

Day 7

Visit Perito Moreno glacier, boat trip on the lake below the glacier.
 

The town is the launch-pad for your visit to the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the most dynamic bodies of ice in the world. Driving out towards the glacier for the excursion, you follow a lakeside road before turning up a wooded valley, dense with beech and birch, and then continue alongside shimmering lagoons fringed with bright crimson and heather lichens. The park authorities have been sensitive about keeping the site as natural as possible, and there are no shops or cafés within close proximity of the wooden viewing platforms, which are unobtrusively landscaped into the cliff.

Just gazing at the front wall of the glacier, which towers 60 frozen metres above the water level of the lake below, and is an extraordinary five kilometres wide, is awe-inspiring in itself. But even more so when you hear the unforgettable sound of the glacier calving a vast wedge of ice the size of a tower block, which crashes down into the lake and divides, and floats away as an Iceberg of battleship proportions. There’s a boat trip right up to the face of the glacier’s wall.

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Perito Moreno glacier ice shards

Day 8

Fly to Buenos Aires.
 

It’s a the three-hour flight to Buenos Aires, an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here where the tango was born, and where Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. 

The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of the French influence, where Evita Perón was laid to rest. During the winter months, wealthy female residents parade the streets in their fur coats and improbable, towering hairstyles, and take afternoon tea in the city’s ornate salons.

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Tango, Buenos Aires

Day 9

Walking city tour of Buenos Aires, visit Teatro Colon. Tango show with dinner.
 

Guided city tour of the capital. Pass along Avenida 9 de Julio, the ultra-wide boulevard studded by the Obelisk, an emblematic symbol of the city. Visit the 19th century Teatro Colón which, for its architecture and acoustics is considered one of the best in the world.  On to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed by the Metropolitan cathedral, Town Hall and the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace from where Juan and Eva Perón addressed impassioned throngs of the Argentinean working class.

The tour continues to the bohemian barrio of La Boca, settled by Italian immigrants with streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses. Drive north to Palermo, an elegant residential neighbourhood as is Recoleta, stopping at the cemetery where Evita was buried.

Evening 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 the 1940s orchestra recreates, with professional dancers and singers, the atmosphere of those early days and the history and evolution of the dance.

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Colourful houses in La Boca, Buenos Aires

Day 10

At leisure.
 

Make the most of your free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in an enticing coffee bar or peruse the items on display in one of the many markets. Take a stroll round Puerto Madero, the refurbished port district where former dock installations and features have been preserved alongside a string of excellent restaurants and loft conversions.

If you’d like to venture beyond the city consider an optional trip across the River Plate to Colonia.  A boat trip along a forest-fringed estuary, dotted with upmarket residences, brings you to this peaceful little Uruguayan port, where you can wander among cobbled streets and admire the colonial houses, or have a meal or drink in the yacht club.

Alternatively you might venture into the watery delta to the small town of Tigre, set on the banks of the Luján river. Pick up some fresh, exotic fruits in the market and dine in one of the restaurants on the shores of the Río Paraná, as you watch the fishermen at work and a variety of river-craft glide by.

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Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires

Day 11

Fly to Puerto Iguazú, guided visit to Argentine side of Iguazú Falls.
 

Fly to Puerto Iguazú in the subtropical northeast corner of Argentina (2 hrs). The Iguazú Falls compose one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena in the world. 275 falls thunder over a rust-coloured cliff surrounded by dense tropical forest. You can usually spot toucans and many other exotic birds perched in the foliage above the tumultuous waters.

There’s a guided tour of the Argentine side.  From the National Park Visitor Centre take a train to where the Upper Walk begins. This sequence of causeways and passarelles links dozens of tiny basalt islands at the top of the sheer rock face and the walkways cross the myriad of streams of the River Iguazú cascading over the precipice’s lip. The train continues to Devil’s Throat station and from here a 1km walkway leads to the thunderous Devil’s Throat. From this spectacular vantage point the water is mesmeric as it plummets into the vortex below.

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Toco toucan, Iguazu National Park

Day 12

Guided visit to Brazilian side of Iguazú falls.
 

Today, on a guided tour, you cross to the Brazilian side. Here there is a broad panoramic view of these colossal falls, and there are some excellent opportunities to photograph the full sweep of the cataracts.

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Iguazu Falls

Day 13

Fly to Rio de Janeiro.
 

Fly to Rio de Janeiro (2 hrs). This is the most beguiling, seductive, intriguing and beautiful city on the continent. But it is a multi-layered place: the gulf between the rich and the poor is the greatest of all Latin American countries. Sumptuous apartments overlook the sparkling bays against a backdrop of half-built slum dwellings, favelas, which cling precariously to the hillsides.

Once lawless enclaves ruled by drug runners and gaming gangs, these are gradually being brought under police control in time for the World Cup and Olympic Games. Rio enjoys a truly awesome location among towering jungle-clad granite mountains, fringed by white-to-toffee coloured sandy beaches that swoop down into the Atlantic surf.

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Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio

Day 14

Guided excursion to Corcovado mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue.
 

There is probably no better place to appreciate Rio's magnificent cityscape, bays and beaches than from atop the 710m high jungle clad Corcovado mountain, part of the urban Tijuca national park. The ascent is in itself memorable: the rack railway which goes almost to the summit has been here since the late 1800s, although since refurbished. Nowadays, an electric-powered cog-wheel train climbs steeply through the lush Tijuca rainforest, with its abundant flowers and fruit trees, to the steps (or elevators) below the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer.

At 30m high, the statue was erected in the early 1930s, has since become part of Brazil's cultural identity and been declared one of the new Wonders of the World. On clear and sunny days, Corcovado offers stunning views of the city of Rio, including the instantly recognisable Sugar Loaf mountain, Niteroi bridge, and the famous beaches. There's plenty of time to take pictures but no amount of time is enough to totally take it all in. After exploring the viewpoints you'll take the railway back down to the base before returning to your hotel.

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Corcovado Mountain

Day 15

Day at leisure in Rio.
 

At leisure during the day. You might take a guided tour of Sugar Loaf mountain, or make your own way to this most famous of Rio’s sights. The cable car ride reveals the southern zone of the city below including Copacabana beach and Botafogo Bay, sheltering the yacht club. Further afield you can see Corcovado mountain and the north zone, home to the Maracanã stadium. Or if it’s a sunny day, stretch out on the beach in Copacabana or Ipanema: but take care, the currents are very strong beneath the Atlantic surf.

In the evening you may consider an outing to a glitzy samba show, where the extravagance of the costumes is matched by the enthusiasm of the dancers.

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Ipanema Beach

Day 16

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

16 days from £4,857pp

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