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Journey to the solar eclipse in Patagonia December 2020

Journey to the solar eclipse in Patagonia December 2020:
trip-dossier

The sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the moon, but it is also 400 times further away, so that when the orbits align favourably the moon appears to blot out the disc of the sun. A total eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months - here, we celebrate the event in December 2020. For your diary, the next one, in 2021, will be visible in Antarctica.

This very special one-off holiday departure will be a treat for lovers of the natural world who are keen to discover the huge landscapes of Patagonia while seizing the opportunity to observe this total eclipse of the sun. It's one of only a few places across the globe where, in December 2020,  the moon will totally obliterate the normally blinding orb of the sun, at that moment 70° high in the sky, plunging the landscape around into inky darkness - if only for a fleeting couple of minutes. Visual manifestations of the eclipse will be seen across swathes of South America but the narrow band (90km) of territory where the eclipse is total will fall across northern Patagonia of Chile and Argentina. We have chosen the pleasant riverine city Valdivia, situated on the coast not far from the picturesque volcanoes of the Chilean lake district, as the best base from which to travel to lakeside Pucón to enjoy this remarkable astronomical experience.

This is a fixed, shared departure built around the date of the eclipse, although it is not a Journey Latin America group tour with a tour leader. Accommodation and other services in the area around 14 December, the day the eclipse takes place, will be in great demand so we suggest you book now to avoid disappointment. The city of Valdivia, where your hotel is located, is within the 99% totality zone. On Eclipse day, the objective will be to escort you in a small guided group to observe the spectacle at an optimum location, although traffic and road restrictions will influence access to the zone of 100% totality. Therefore the actual viewing location will be at the discretion of the local operator. A minimum of 4 participants is needed for this holiday to operate.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago, walking tour of the city’s landmarks.

Day 2

Fly to Punta Arenas in the far south, at the tip of South America.

Days 3-4

Outdoor activities and excursions in Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 5

Return to Punta Arenas, overnight.

Day 6

Fly back north to Puerto Montt in the lake district and transfer to Puerto Varas.

Day 7

Full day guided excursion to Osorno Volcano and Petrohue Falls.

Day 8

Full day guided excursion to Alerce Andino National Park.

Day 9

Travel north through the lake district to Valdivia.

Day 10

Observe the total eclipse of the sun.

Day 11

Guided excursion to Parque Oncal and Kunstmann Brewery.

Day 12

Transfer to Santiago airport for international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago, walking tour of the city’s landmarks.
 
Santiago

Arrive in Santiago where you’ll be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the Bellas Artes neighbourhood, close to the leafy Parque Forestal, the colonial centre, and the street art of Bella Vista. You’re soon on the move: head off on a guided tour of this city of modern, high-rise buildings dominating the skyline and, at street level, fine historic buildings alongside eye-catching contemporary structures.  It’s a busy place, but there are some shady parks and quieter streets to investigate in the historic centre.

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Santiago

Day 2

Fly to Punta Arenas in the far south, at the tip of South America.
 
Torres del Paine Chile

On a clear day on your flight to Patagonia  you might be lucky enough to survey the lake district, a green blanket studded with lakes and pin-pricked with snowy volcanic cones, and, as you proceed south, gleaming glaciers snaking their way through remote ice fields. On arrival at Punta Arenas, transfer by road to the wilderness landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park, dominated by glacier-carved valleys, icy pinnacles and wind-scoured steppes. It’s a UNESCO biosphere reserve protecting the habitat of its diverse wildlife: flamingos, ñandus and condors, not to mention the guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas which thrive there.Your hotel is situated in isolation at the foot of lofty vertical granite towers in the vast massif which is the cornerstone of the park.

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Torres del Paine Chile

Days 3-4

Outdoor activities and excursions in Torres del Paine National Park.
 
Torres del Paine

Thanks to its privileged location within the park, Hotel Las Torres is a superb base to enjoy the outdoors with a host of walking opportunities including a rewarding but demanding full-day hike to the peaks of Las Torres as well as easier options to lakes and waterfalls.  As it’s summer, you may opt for a full-day in the French valley and Glacier Grey viewpoint trails. With its stables and resident gauchos, the lodge also offers horse riding to cater to different levels of experience. Meanwhile, excursions by vehicle showcase the Park's mountains and rich flora and fauna visiting waterfalls and windswept lagoons.

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Torres del Paine

Day 5

Return to Punta Arenas, overnight.
 
punta arenas

Punta Arenas is an atmospheric and often blustery Patagonian outpost. Its centre is lined with European-style elegant mansions (built on the wealth of sheep farming and mining during the late 19th century) and buildings with colourful corrugated iron roofs. Its attractions include some interesting museums, including the Museo Regional Salesiano which charts the history of the sadly extinct indigenous population and its education by Salesian missionaries (it also has some stuffed birds and animals and, bizarrely, the odd gruesome shrunken head).

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punta arenas

Day 6

Fly back north to Puerto Montt in the lake district and transfer to Puerto Varas.
 
Puerto Varas

Now you are starting to get into position for the eclipse in a couple of days’ time. Your experience starts in the Chilean lake district. Fly to Puerto Montt and continue by road to Puerto Varas, which was colonised by Germans at the turn of the 20th century and where the architecture and sedate style reflects the Bavarian cultural heritage. Nowadays it is a fast-growing centre for tourism. Puerto Varas is set amid bottle-green pastures and crouches on the shores of sapphire-hued Lake Llanquihue, itself defined by the towering cone of snow-stifled Osorno volcano. 

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Puerto Varas

Day 7

Full day guided excursion to Osorno Volcano and Petrohue Falls.
 
Osorno

Take a guided excursion to the Osorno volcano and Petrohue Falls. From Puerto Varas the road takes you east along the edge of Lake Llanquihue to the compact, picturesque village of Ensenada.  Also set in the shadows of the Osorno Volcano, and surrounded on three sides by forest overlooking the lake, it looks like a sleepy rural backwater. As the forest becomes increasingly dense, continue to the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, to visit the Petrohue waterfalls. Formed by a lava flow of volcanic rock and set in a 1,000 year-old forest, the falls make an impressive sight. The drive continues towards the almost perfectly conical shaped Osorno volcano. As the road climbs, you'll have the chance to enjoy the crisp air and wonderful views. Lunch is taken at the ski centre on the volcano before you return to Puerto Varas.

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Osorno

Day 8

Full day guided excursion to Alerce Andino National Park.
 
alerce national park

Alerce Andino National Park, lying between the Reloncaví estuary and Reloncaví sound was created to protect the temperate rainforest of alerce (larch) trees, the largest in Chile. The alerce is a towering, magnificent, majestic tree, it can grow to 60m at height with a diameter of up to 5m. Although numbers were depleted by logging in the 19th and 20th century, there are individual specimens which are up to 3,000 years old, and they are protected as national monuments.  In their natural setting, together with other Patagonian species, they create a magical sylvan environment.

Head from your hotel past untouched vegetation and small fishing villages where seaweed is harvested from the side of the road. You'll spot the houses of German settlers and reach the Chamiza river, before reaching the entrance to the park. Within the park there's scope for around 5km of walking, during which many endangered species will be identified and a packed lunch provided.  

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alerce national park

Day 9

Travel north through the lake district to Valdivia.
 
valdivia

In the morning, you will be driven north to Puerto Octay, a typical little lake bay-side town of modest, squat red-roofed buildings set around a picturesque main plaza and church.  During the trip, you will have expansive views of  Osorno volcano and Lake Llanquihue. Not far away is the little settlement Puerto Fonck, dominated by a striking white-wood church, very much build in the German style. It has a tawny forest-fringed beach and sheep graze placidly on gentle rolling pastures nearby.

After a stop for lunch you then continue to Valdivia, scenically set at the confluence of three rivers, pausing at a variety of lookout points along the way. Compared with Puerto Varas, this riverine port sees few overseas visitors. It's a workaday yet pleasant modern city on Chile's fractured littoral, where the coast is littered with emerald islands, and renowned withing Chile for the quality and abundance of its seafood. Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, Valdivia was the port of entry for German immigrants 300 years later. This complex history is still reflected in this lively university city's culture, although it was almost flattened by the 1960 earthquake - one of the most powerful on record. Upon arrival, there will be time to explore on foot with your guide. Your base in Valdivia for the next 2 nights is a mid-range hotel, and there's a good choice of restaurants in town.

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valdivia

Day 10

Observe the total eclipse of the sun.
 
Solar eclipse

This is the big day, and activities will centre around the observation of the eclipse. Within the narrow band where the eclipse coverage will be 100% are several good vantage points: we will aim for the area around Pucón, a lakeside resort set amid chocolate-box-pretty, velvety-green landscapes. You'll leave your hotel early in the morning and travel northbound towards Pucón. Head for a suitable spot to observe the eclipse. Just after 1pm you'll experience the phenomenon when, clear skies permitting, the totality is set to be seen at its best. Totality only lasts a couple of minutes but of course the sky will begin to darken as soon as the moon starts encroaching on the sun, with observable effects over a much longer period. On a clear day, an eclipse is spectacular since, using special filter glasses, you can look towards where the moon obliterates the sun, allowing only for a fiery rim.  Below, the land darkens, everything seems suddenly sharp and immediate, as if the globe is standing still, holding its breath. Even if it is overcast, you will be impressed by the all-encompassing, ghostly midday twilight. Your enjoyment of this spectacular moment will be enhanced with a celebratory picnic. Afterwards, head back toValdivia.

Please note, details about the precise location and order of the day are not set in stone: it might be cloudy, things will be hectic and very busy everywhere; road and traffic restrictions will influence access to the zone of 100% totality. To view the eclipse you should bring your own special eclipse glasses (with a CE Kitemark). These are believed to block out more than 99.9% of the sun's light.

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Solar eclipse

Day 11

Guided excursion to Parque Oncal and Kunstmann Brewery.
 
cloud forest

In the morning you will set off on a guided hike through to Parque Oncol, 32 km from Valdivia. The park is blanketed by Valdivian temperate rain forest, itself an enchanting landscape of closely packed bamboos and giant ferns, where the twisty trunks of sometimes huge, ancient trees are smothered by vivid green moss: all this luscious vegetation is fed by glittering streams. From the peak of Cerro Oncol it is possible to see the volcanoes Llaima volcano, Villarrica and even Mount Tronador on the international border of Chile and Argentina. In addition to your walk you will have the opportunity to add an optional activity such as a canopy tour (extra charge paid locally). Afterwards, slake your thirst with a beer-tasting at Kunstmann Brewery. Finally, you will travel by road back to Puerto Montt and fly to Santiago. 

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cloud forest

Day 12

Transfer to Santiago airport for international flight.
 

If you have time before your homeward flight, you might venture out to explore the area around your hotel, where there are some interesting sights within walking distance. The Parque Florestal is a little oasis in a teeming city, favoured by local dog walkers and attractively landscaped by its many gardeners. Nearby is the Museum of Fine Arts. If you prefer your art to be on the street, pop into the adjacent neighbourhood, Bella Vista, where imaginative wall paintings adorns the facades of many of the low colonial-style buildings. 

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Essential information

Transport

hts (2-4hrs); 5 road journeys (longest 5hrs, between Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine).

Accommodation

In towns we use mostly mid-range hotels, choosing accommodation we think is comfortable and well located for exploration of the area. Whatever their style – contemporary, classic or lodge - they have well-equipped rooms, private bathrooms and heating. The hotel in Torres del Paine is both a resort for travellers and a working estancia.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch days 8,10; full board days 3,4.

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

• Walking tour of Santiago.
• Torres del Paine: Guided excursions from Hotel Torres.
• Guided excursion to Osorno volcano and Petrohue Falls
• Full day excursion to Alerce Andino National Park.
• Guided walking tour of Valdivia.
• Excursion to view the solar eclipse, Patagonia.
• Guided excursion to Parque Oncol and Kunstmann Brewery.

Some excursions on this holiday are shared with other travellers.

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Santiago 1, Torres del Paine 3; Punta Arenas 1; Puerto Varas 3, Valdivia 2; 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 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
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.
• Tips and gratuities.

Currency

The unit of currency in Chile is the peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40 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. 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 welcomed 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 fully comprehensive holiday with travel or excursions on most days but none are especially arduous. There are some early mornings and you will travel to altitudes of over 4,00m above sea level.

This holiday is suitable for all able-bodied, reasonably fit visitors. In other cases, e.g. if you have a disability or other special requirements, please call us.

Climate

In the Santiago area expect a Mediterranean type climate. December is hot and dry, around 25-30°C or higher.

December is Springtime in Patagonia, although weather conditions are famously unpredictable in this part of the world and there is a considerable likelihood of cloudy conditions on the day of the eclipse. The Lake District is milder than the far south, with abundant rainfall and daytime temperatures in the region of 12-16°C at this time of the year. In the far south of Chile (Torres del Paine), be prepared for all seasons and much cooler temperatures. Strong winds are common, meaning snow flurries and rain can be punctuated by blue skies and exhilarating sunshine.

Altitude

There is no high-altitude (over 2,500m) land travel on this holiday.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information about altitude.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Dressing in layers is key. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential, and a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex (or similar) 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 umbrella, insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses. You might take swimwear for the odd dip in a natural pool.<br />
<br />
To view the eclipse you should bring your own special eclipse glasses (with a CE Kitemark). These are believed to block out more than 99.9% of the sun's light.<br />
<br />
Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. <br />

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

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 applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be digital e-passports with an embedded chip. 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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