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Untouched Aisen: Little-known Patagonia

UK clients depart arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the following morning.
 

Day 1

Day at leisure to rest, explore or take an optional excursion.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the tour leader or a local representative and transported to the group hotel.

The day is then free to rest, explore the city or take an optional excursion.

Day 2

City tour of Buenos Aires.
 
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Today you have a guided city tour. Buenos Aires is an elegant city famed for its museums and the arty port district of La Boca with its cobbled streets and brightly-painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and that Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The historic centre is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic, Parisian feel.

The Bohemian district of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and extravagant restaurants. Adjacent to the centre is the Gallic influenced Recoleta district where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

After the tour, you have free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in a salon de thé, peruse the items on display in one of the many markets and boutiques or visit one of the city’s museums.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Day 3

Fly to Esquel in Argentine Patagonia.
 

A southbound flight (2.5 hours) takes you to the beginning of your journey through Patagonia. Arrive at Esquel in the foothills of the Andes. The backdrop of the town is starkly beautiful with dramatic mountains to one side and open grasslands to the other. Flight time permitting, there will be a chance to explore the sleepy settlement.

Day 4

Board the Old Patagonian Express or visit Los Alerces National Park.
 
La Trochita, Esquel, Argentina

La Trochita, the Old Patagonian Express, no longer crosses the continent. Nowadays there is just a short journey north along the narrow gauge tracks. The train runs a very infrequent program that changes from month to month so in the increasing likelihood the train journey is not possible, or for those who prefer not to ride, we will organise a visit to the Los Alerces National Park, which has countless beautiful lakes and lagoons, which can be seen from beautiful walks and various view points. The park was established to protect the alerce conifer tree, which can grow to over 60m and survive for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

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La Trochita, Esquel, Argentina

Day 5

Cross into Chile to Futaleufú. Walking or white-water rafting.
 
Futaleufú river
Today we travel by private vehicle across the Andean range to the Chilean town of Futaleufú, in the remote Aisén region of Chile. This is a fractured territory of islands and fjords. The mainland here is covered by snowy volcanoes and sapphire-tinted glaciers. Out of these, vivacious rivers tumble and crash through deep valleys fringed by ancient temperate rainforests; 73% of the territory is now protected land.

Border formalities permitting, it is around a 2 hour journey along a beautiful valley hemmed in by towering mountains on either side. Close to the town of Futaleufú is a raging river where the foaming rapids and white water attract rafters from all over the world. If you fancy a paddle yourself (more gentle floating options and hike combinations are available), this can be arranged locally for the following morning. Alternatively, enjoy a relaxing afternoon and leisurely morning, including a stroll along the river bank.

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Futaleufú river

Days 6-7

Drive down the Carretera Austral to Puerto Puyuhuapi. Visit the Queulat National Park.
 
In the early afternoon we continue west and join the Carretera Austral (4hrs with stops). This isolated road winds its way from Puerto Montt in the north to its southerly limit at Villa O'Higgins, carving its way through a variety of breath-taking landscapes, fording rivers and almost slicing glaciers in two. In the early 20th century there were attempts to colonise this rugged region, however the road was only constructed much later by General Pinochet in a bid to increase the population and to safeguard Chilean territory.

Nowadays, in the Chilean summer months (January and February), more adventurous Chilean families may come here, but otherwise tourists are confined to adventure-seekers, back-packers and enthusiastic, curious travellers like us. Public transport along the road is still very scarce and so you'll travel by private minibus. We'll be able to stop along the way to drink in the views of the awe-inspiring scenery.

The northern part of the road (predominantly unpaved) passes settlements nestled in the thick temperate rainforest, fast flowing rivers and lakes. We stop near one such village, Puerto Puyuhuapi sitting at the head of a fjord. There are thermal springs nearby which you can visit in the evening and soak your rattled bones while enjoying the peaceful setting.

A short distance from the village of Puerto Puyuhuapi is the Queulat National Park, famed for the hanging glacier beyond. There is a 3 hour return walk through the forest to a vantage point of the glacier, where you can watch glacial waterfalls tumble onto the rocks below and form a river which meanders through the valley.

Day 8

Travel on down 'the southern highway' to Coyhaique.
 

Today we continue south to Coyhaique, stopping on the way to take photos, stretch our legs on short walks and eat lunch (6-8hrs). Coyhaique is the capital of the Aisén region, a modern, planned town, set against a backdrop of snowy peaks. This pleasant town has a large central plaza and is a good place to change money and pick up any supplies.

Day 9

Venture further south through glacial valleys and across Lago General Carrera to stay on the shores of the lake.
 
Lake General Carrera
Today, the scenery of the Carretera Austral changes dramatically. We leave behind the damp, evergreen forest and the scenery is transformed into sweeping open valleys, with snow-capped mountains, fast flowing rivers and forests of deciduous beech trees.

After a few hours you reach the expanse of Lago General Carrera, which you will cross on a small car ferry to reach the southern shore at Chile Chico. We continue alongside the shimmering waters before spending the night in a lakeside lodge.
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Lake General Carrera

Day 10

Day at leisure to relax, stroll along the lake shore or nearby rivers or fish, kayak or raft.
 
The nearby towns of Puerto Bertrand and Puerto Guadal and the Rio Baker river are the bases for plenty of activities including fly-fishing, kayaking, zip-lining, white-water rafting, horse riding and trekking - or like many before you, you may wish just to enjoy the vistas with a leisurely stroll along the river or lake.

(Please check you are insured for any of the activities you wish to do, before advising your tour leader in time to put your name down for those which need pre-booking).

Day 11

Continue north to Puerto Rio Tranquilo on the shores of a glacial lake.
 

Continuing a short distance north along the edge of General Carrera with its shimmering turquoise waters is the small town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo where tourism is in its infancy and accommodation is relatively basic.

Day 12

View Exploradores glacier and visit the Capillas de Marmol by boat.
 
Marble caves
Driving though the Exploradores valley you travel through the Andean mountains towards the glacier. Take a walk through the forest and up wooden walkways to a vantage point over the ice, one of the few glaciers which are accessible - an expanse of some 4,200km of ice. The most famous of the glaciers in this region is the vast San Rafael Glacier, although due to limited road access, a visit cannot be guaranteed.

For the more adventurous of you (who are relatively fit), there is an option to trek on the glacier; though this must be booked in advance. After returning to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you'll have a guided excursion on Lake General Carrera. After navigating across the cobalt blue waters in a small motor boat, you reach the Capillas de Marmol, a series of rocks which have formed and eroded over time to resemble 'marble caves' rising out of the water.
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Marble caves

Day 13

Return to Coyhaique and fly to Santiago.
 

We return north to the airport (at Balmaceda, 1hr south of Coyhaique) and take the 3.5 hour flight to Santiago, arriving late afternoon/evening. The busy, sprawling capital is set in a broad valley between the snow-mantled range of the Andes and a smaller coastal range with a distinctly Mediterranean feel.

Day 14

Optional visit to a vineyard or the port city Valparaíso.
 
Santiago Chile
Whilst in Santiago you can choose to visit one or two of the small museums; or, for a panoramic view of the city, head to the central hilltop park of Cerro Santa Lucía. For even more dramatic views, take a cable car to the summit of San Cristóbal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. We recommend a coffee, beer or glass of wine at one of the pavement cafés in Bellavista. This is the bohemian district: an Italian quarter of narrow streets peppered with bars and shops selling local semi-precious lapis lazuli at reasonable prices. The museum and house of Chilean poet laureate Pablo Neruda is close by, and its unusual interior with an eclectic collection of paintings and bric-a-brac is well worth a visit.

Alternatively, you can visit Valparaíso, Chile's second city which is only 2 hours away by bus. This lively seaport is built on a series of hills which form a backdrop to the wide bay, with views over the seaside resort of Viña del Mar. You can wander along the sombre streets behind the port, and among the residences and office buildings built for British and German merchants, or take a ride in one of the wooden funiculars which link the cliff-top communities. These have been recently enlivened with brightly coloured façades, new boutique hotels and chic restaurants.

You may also choose to take a leisurely visit to one of the wineries located in the fertile valleys close to Santiago. The region's viticulture has gained an excellent reputation and you can sample some of the wines and take a tour of the cellars and bottling plants.

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Santiago Chile

Day 15

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day.
 

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  • Estancia 3 days from £763pp

    Throughout Argentina prestigious rural estates have been adapted to accommodate visitors. La Bamba is a colonial-style property oozing with atmosphere and history, restored to its former elegance in parkland, with a good-sized pool. A few days here will allow you to relax and savour life on the pampa prairies, while feasting off delicious food and wine.

    Day 1:  Transfer by road from Buenos Aires to the gaucho town San Antonio de Areco in the heart of the pampas (90mins). The town has a compact centre of cobbled streets and colonial buildings. The Río Areco cuts through, flanked by parks and linked by a pedestrian bridge leading to Gaucho Museum. Arrive at the Estancia La Bamba just outside town.

    Day 2: At leisure on the estancia. This colonial-style former post house harks back to more opulent times when these establishments were the backbone of a thriving economy. Following its acquisition by French proprietors, it has been renovated to an extremely high standard, and resembles a grand countryside chateau.

    Public areas are cosy and crammed full of plush sofas and old artefacts. The pulpería has a design based on the 18th-century bar which served as an inn for the gauchos, and bristles with atmosphere - open fires, brick walls, flagstone floors and deep sofas. Meanwhile, the  guest rooms offer large shuttered windows and luxurious beds.

    Activities include horse-riding, polo (experienced only), walking and carriage rides in the surrounding pampas.

    Day 3: Return to Buenos Aires to continue your holiday or to connect with your international flight.

    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Dinner day 1, full board day 2, breakfast day 3.

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    One of the continent’s most awe-inspiring attractions, the Iguazú Falls – which straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil – is composed of a vast basalt amphitheatre veiled by a curtain of foaming water which crashes through tangled sub-tropical jungle. Continue to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro, the continent’s most vibrant and colourful city.

    Day 1: Fly from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú and continue to Hotel Sheraton, a luxury resort inside the national park, just a short walk from the falls.

    Day 2: You’ll have a private guided tour of the falls from the Argentine perspective. A little train takes you to the Upper Walk, a sequence of causeways which links dozens of tiny, basalt islands at the top of the rock face. The myriad streams of the Iguazú river cascade over the lip of the precipice, and a succession of lookout points allows you to watch the water as it plunges onto the rocks below.

    The train continues to a passarelle leading you across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo, with a spectacular vantage point over the thundering vortex below.

    Day 3: By road across the border to Brazil with a visit to the Brazilian side of the falls. There's a 1km walkway with viewpoints - 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 and a walkway which leads out for a closer (and much wetter) look. Continue to Foz do Iguaçu airport and fly to Rio de Janeiro; transfer to your contemporary first class hotel, Hilton Copacabana.

    Day 4: The beaches of Rio are legendary. But the city also has a huge urban forest, a restored colonial centre and excellent restaurants. Music and sport are everywhere. A guided tour takes you to the foot of Corcovado mountain; the cog-wheel train journey starts here, climbing through the tropical Tijuca rainforest, with its abundant flowers and fruit trees, to the steps below the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. At 701m above sea level, it offers stunning views of the city.

    Day 5: At leisure to enjoy Rio. Highlights abound – the cable car ride up Sugar Loaf mountain, the serene botanical gardens, the artists' colonial quarter of Santa Teresa, downtown museums and art galleries, and the stupendous Niterói Bridge over Guanabara Bay.

    Day 6: Continue your holiday or transfer to the airport for your international flight.

    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Breakfast daily.

  • Atacama 4 days from £1,215pp

    The Atacama’s inhospitable desert landscape is harsh and rugged, but it echoes the legacy of its pre-Columbian inhabitants, while the volcanoes and geysers hiss into life. Oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation. A few days here will give you a surprisingly varied experience of desert life.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Calama (2hrs) and on to the Andean town of San Pedro de Atacama (2,450m). The town is easy-going, with adobe houses and an accent on outdoor activities. You’ll be staying at Hotel Altiplánico on the edge of town. Here you can take advantage of an outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and terrace.

    In the late afternoon drive past spectacular rock formations to the Valle De la Luna (Moon Valley) where the lunar landscape is astonishingly photogenic. Huge sand dunes sweep across a panorama of salt-encrusted canyons, gullies and eroded rock sculptures. Walk up to the top of one to watch the valley at sunset - a dazzling palette of gold and reds. 

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    Day 3: Depart before dawn for a guided trip to Tatio geysers, at 4,300m the highest geyser field in the world. The geysers are a 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. Later, you have time for a soak in hot springs (40°C). Please note that these can be closed for essential maintenence work.

    Day 4: Return to Calama airport to fly to Santiago to continue your holiday or connect with your international flight. (An overnight stay in Santiago may be required).
    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Breakfast daily

  • Easter Island in depth 6 days from £2,274pp

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    These few days on the island, with private excursions guided by enthusiastic experts in the field, will give you an insight-filled experience to satisfy your curiosity about the unique Rapa Nui culture. Triangular in shape, Easter Island measures no more than 8 miles at its widest point - with a huge, extinct volcanic crater at each of its extremes.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island and continue to the secluded Hotel Altiplánico.  At 3km from the main town, Hanga Roa, it’s just a stone's throw from the ocean. Guest rooms resembling traditional boat houses are scattered over its tropical gardens. Facilities include a terrace and small pool.

    Day 2:  Full-day tour to introduce Easter Island's most iconic moai statues and intriguing archaeological heritage, encompassing the highlights of the island's north and east coast. There’s time to inspect the statues, explore a volcano and its extinct crater, and swim off a white-sand beach.

    Day 3: Explore geological and historic highlights in the south of the island. View 6 toppled statues, with admirable close-fitting Rapa Nui stonework. Continue to the quarry of the topknots, or 'hats', which adorned many of the moai, and on to view a 1km long collapsed lava tube used by early Easter Islanders as a dwelling. Next stop is the inland ahu (ceremonial platform) of Akivi, one of Easter Island's iconic and most photographed sites.

    Later visit Rano Kau, an extinct volcanic crater 1.6km across and 200m deep.  It is Easter Island's most spectacular natural attraction. Continue to Orongo, dramatically perched between the cliffs and the crater's edge, the site of the historic Birdman competition.

    Day 4: At leisure. You might take an optional 11km cliff-top walk which showcases the gloriously rugged coastline and volcanic landscape, with sweeping vistas across the Pacific Ocean. The hike ends at Anakena, a white coral beach.

    Day 5: Witness the citrus-hued sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. This vivid display of an artist's palette of colour can be especially memorable between October and April when the sun rises directly behind the 15-moai platform.Transfer to the airport and fly back to Santiago.

    Breakfast daily.

    You will need a positioning night in Santiago at either the beginning or end of your visit to Easter Island, depending on your itinerary. A stay at an airport hotel has been included in the cost.

  • Easter Island overview 5 days from £1,389pp

    Polynesian Easter Island (Rapa Nui) lies 3,790km off the Chilean coast in the remote sub-tropical South Pacific. Windswept and grassy on one side, lushly vegetated on the other, and with a benign climate, it is famous for the clusters of huge enigmatic stone heads standing starkly against an azure skyline. Experience the unique atmosphere and friendly welcome.

    These few days on the island, with group excursions led by local guides, will give you an overview of the wilderness landscapes and the unique Rapa Nui culture. Triangular in shape, Easter Island is about the size of greater London - each point of the triangle marked by a huge extinct volcanic crater.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island and continue to your hotel, the O'Tai, a guesthouse in the centre of Hanga Roa, the main town on the island. It is a pleasant place set in large well-kept gardens, with a view of the sea in the distance.

    Day 2: Visit Vaihu, where many of the massive carved maoi heads lie before heading off to Akahanga, where a dozen standing moais - backs turned to the ocean - stand on a massive plinth. Move on to the Rano Raraku volcanic crater and Poike quarry where hundreds of Cyclopean heads litter the hillside, some finished others half-carved. It's an easy uphill walk to get to the crater of the volcano. Continue to the pink-sand beach of Anakena, where you can swim and enjoy your packed lunch, returning to your hotel late afternoon.

    Day 3: A bus takes you to the rim of the Rano Kao crater, where you go on foot to the ceremonial village of Orongo. It is here than the annual ceremony of the Bird Man or Tangata Manu would take place here among its stone-built houses and food stores. The object of the ceremony - or quest - was to find and bring back the first egg laid by the seabird manutara, a type of tern. Continue to the caverns of Ana Kai Tangata, where the islanders took refuge during times of war and where there are some pre-historic paintings.

    Day 4: Transfer to the airport and fly back to Santiago.

    Breakfast daily, picnic lunch day 2.

    You will need a positioning night in Santiago at either the beginning or end of your visit to Easter Island, depending on your itinerary. A stay at an airport hotel has been included in the cost.

 

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1 Nov 2019

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15 Nov 2019

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28 Feb 2020

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13 Mar 2020

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