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Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers

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This comprehensive tour of Chile’s natural highlights is jam-packed full of outdoor experiences. Travel from the moon-like Atacama Desert to Santiago and on to the snow-dipped cones and tumbling streams of the lake district. Continue to view Patagonia’s cathedral-high glaciers, icy lagoons and wildlife-filled grasslands.

A skinny coastal strip backed by the Andes mountains, Chile has a variety of climate and landscapes to match its changing latitudes. It’s a peaceful and welcoming place with a good infrastructure, and, in spite of the distances, it’s easy to get around. Excellent hotels, which you can enhance with your choice of fresh sea food and delicious wines are all among the ingredients of this superb holiday.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in the capital. Optional walking tour of the historic centre.

Day 2

Fly to Calama; on by road to San Pedro de Atacama. Sunset excursion to Moon Valley.

Day 3

Guided visit to natural features and attractions in the Atacama Desert.

Day 4

Early morning excursion to Tatio geysers with breakfast.

Day 5

Fly to Puerto Montt in the lake district.

Day 6

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

Day 7

At leisure. Optional guided tour to Chiloe Island.

Day 8

Fly to Punta Arenas in Patagonia.

Day 9

Transfer to luxury Patagonia Camp on the border of Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 10-11

Guided excursions from the camp in Torres del Paine and its environs.

Day 12

Transfer to Punta Arenas and fly to Santiago.

Day 13

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

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Places visited on this holiday

Signature Chile: Atacama Desert to Patagonian glaciers

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Santiago and the vineyards
Santiago and the vineyards
With a backdrop of snow-draped Andean peaks in a sunny fertile valley, Chile’s huge capital lies at the heart of the country. A multi-layered place of contrasting neighbourhoods it is worth getting to know.

There’s a tiny colonial heart which displays an often poignant history, offset by the glittering malls, skyscrapers and shady boulevards of a modern economy. Interspersed are European-style centres for shopping and eating out such as Italianate Bellavista and newly vibrant, villagey localities among which is trendy Lastarría. The surrounding Mediterranean landscape is the perfect setting for vineyards and wineries producing Chile’s well respected wines.
When's the best time to visit Santiago and the vineyards?
Santiago has a hot dry summer and cool winters with some rain and even snow. Spring and autumn (Sep-Oct and Apr-May) are pleasant times for a city visit. The vineyards are at their prettiest in spring (Sep-Oct) but a visit may be most interesting at harvest time (Mar-Apr).
What is the official language in Santiago and the vineyards?

Spanish.

How can I get local currency in Santiago and the vineyards?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling are harder to find and frequently poor.
What's the time difference between Santiago and the vineyards and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep/Oct to early Mar. 

What places combine with Santiago and the vineyards?

Valparaiso, colourful Pacific port growing in popularity among visitors, 106km (2hours by road); a beach wind-down in Chile’s principal resort, Viña del Mar (100km, 2 hours); a few days on Polynesian Easter island (5 hours direct by air); winter skiing in the family resort of Valle Nevado (65km, 1 hour 40mins by road).

How do I get to Santiago and the vineyards?

There are no direct flights from the UK, average flight time is 16 hours; a change of plane is required in Europe, Brazil or the USA.

What are the festivals and cultural events in Santiago and the vineyards?

Feria Internacional de Artesania: Nov; Parque General Bustamente, Centro, Santiago, the city’s best craft festival.

Feria Internacional del Libro: Nov, Machopo station, Santiago. A Hay Festival is imminent for Santiago – watch this space!

Fiesta de la Vendimia: Santa Cruz, Colchagua Valley, An annual grape harvest festival in early Mar. 

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Atacama Desert
San Pedro de Atacama

 

The Atacama’s inhospitable desert landscape is harsh and rugged, but it isn't an empty wasteland. Volcanoes and geysers steam and hiss into life. Pink flamingos haunt the featureless white salt flats, cacti stride towards the horizon and oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation, especially after rare flash rainfall. The culture and settlements echo with the legacy of the desert’s pre- and post- Columbian inhabitants, with ruined temples and dusty colonial villages. There are some top quality hotels and the area is becoming a favourite for adventure activities such as volcano climbing and horse riding. If coming from Santiago or Patagonia, you may notice the high altitude as you explore the Atacama: however, all hotels are in San Pedro - at a comfortable 2,450m.

When's the best time to go to Atacama Desert?

San Pedro de Atacama is all-year destination, although its climate is influenced by the Bolivian Andes. Occasional strong rains in Jan-Feb can close visitor sites for a few days and, between Jun-Sep, snow can hinder the high-altitude crossings into Bolivia and Argentina. For almost all of the year, the sun shines and the night skies can be spectacular.

What's the official language of Atacama Desert?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Atacama Desert?

Chilean Peso. Bring your local currency needs from a larger town, where notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows.

What's the time difference between Atacama Desert and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep/Oct to early Mar.  

What places combines well with Atacama Desert?
The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, usually visited on a 3-day package by 4WD; La Serena and the Elqui Valley, 1.5 hours by air from Calama, a hour drive from San Pedro; Lauca National Park near the northern border, 800 km.
How do I getting to Atacama Desert?

Fly from Santiago to Calama (2 hours) then it’s a 2 hour road journey (104 km) to San Pedro.

What are the festivals and cultural events in Atacama Desert?

The feast day of Saints Peter and Paul:  24 Jun. The entire village of San Pedro joins in the celebrations with processions.

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Chilean Lake District (south)
Lake District

Chile’s lake district is a picturesque region of ancient forests straddling rugged hills lorded over by snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs and crystalline streams, interspersed by flowery meadows and cattle pasture.

The southern part of the region includes the Bavarian-style resort Puerto Varas on the shores of the vast lake Llanquihue, overlooked by the perfect cone of the Osorno volcano. Not far from here are the Petrohue Falls, a popular break in the journey for visitors on the Lakes Crossing route to Argentina. Puerto Montt is a large town with a busy fishing port from where it’s a short ferry ride to the deeply traditional island of Chiloe.

When's the best time to visit Chile south Lake District?
The southern lake district has a temperate climate, with plenty of warm sun but also showers in summer, while winters (May-Aug/Sep) can be cool and very rainy. Dec-Mar is very crowded with local holiday-makers. If you prefer a less lively atmosphere, spring and autumn (Mar-Apr, Oct-Nov) are good choices.
What's the official language of Chile south Lake District?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Chile south Lake District?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash at a lower rate; rates for euros and sterling are harder to find and also frequently poor.
What's the time difference between Chile south Lake District and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep-Oct to early Mar.

What places combine well with Chile south Lake District?

The northern lake district, centred on Pucón or Villarrica (5-6 hours by car); the Argentine lake district via the Lake Crossing from Bariloche in Argentina’s lake district to Puerto Varas; the wilderness Aisén region of glaciers, fjords and islands to the south (drive from Puerto Montt down the Carretera Austral or fly to Coyhaique from Puerto Montt (1 hour 47mins); Torres del Paine in Patagonia (fly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, 2 hours 12mins). 

How do I get to Chile south Lake District?

There are flights from Santiago to Puerto Montt (1 hour 40mins). Drive south from Pucón or Villarrica in 5-6 hours (322km).

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Islands and fjords of southern Patagonia
Chilean Patagoina

The fjords and islands of the far south of Chile are as about as remote as you can get. Punta Arenas, easily the largest and most important town and focal point of the region, where most visitors arrive to explore the Patagonian wilderness, is only accessible from northern Chile by air. Only one, solitary road leads out of it to Puerto Natales, three hours’ drive away and the jumping off point for visits to Torres del Paine National Park and onward into Argentinian Patagonia.    

With its pre-Panama Canal history of affluence based on shipping and sheep production, English-influenced Punta Arenas is interesting enough, but you’ll be keen to heads off into the surrounding wilderness of savagely sculpted fjords and glaciers, at the point where the ice-spiked Andes finally crumble into the sea. There are forest reserves protecting ancient, wind-tortured trees, rivers alive with salmon, and the vestiges of human struggle including forts and churches. Darwin said of Puerto Hambre, (Fort Famine) “looking due southward –-the distant channels between the mountains appeared from their gloominess to lead beyond the confines of this world” .  

The tip of South America is festooned with islands, small and large and many are virtually uninhabited.  The largest, Tierra del Fuego, is divided politically between Chile and Argentina. On the less-populated Chilean side there are huge sheep farms on the plains but also virtually inaccessible ranges of snow-stifled mountains, shadowy fjords,  hidden lakes plugged by glaciers and fringed by dense evergreen forest. Abundant wildlife, including penguin colonies, sea lions, and even condors live alongside shy guanacos.

South of the Beagle Channel the wild beauty of Navarino island  hosts the continent’s most southerly settlement, Puerto Williams, and hundreds of archaeological sites pertaining to the original Yamaná Indians.  Beyond lies Cape Horn, lashed by storms and savage seas, and the most southerly  landmark before Antarctica.   

For the modern day visitor the dangers and challenges lie in the past and you can enjoy these enchanting landscapes on an expedition cruise.

When's the best time to go to South Patagonia?
This far south, you will benefit from long daylight hours and mild temperatures between Dec (when it is light until 1am) and the end of Feb, though you can have snow flurries at any time of the year. In the winter, snowy landscapes are beautiful here but hiking is not practical.
What's the official language in South Patagonia?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in South Patagonia?

Notes in local currency can be withdrawn from the ATMs in the centre of Punta Arenas.

What's the time difference between South Patagonia and UK?

GMT -3 hours.

What places combine well with South Patagonia?

Antarctic fly-cruises, the Chilean lake district, Torres del Paine National Park, Santiago. You can cross into Argentina on Tierra del Fuego, visit Ushuaia and fly to El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier. Most Antarctic cruises depart from Ushuaia; Buenos Aires (3.5hrs by air from Ushuaia).

How do I get to South Patagonia?

Direct flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas take about 4 hours.

What are the festivals, cultural and sport events in South Patagonia?

The skiing season is Jun-Sep.

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Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine

 

Torres del Paine National Park in southern Patagonia is the pinnacle of Chile’s natural landscapes, fast becoming one of the world’s most popular places for walking holidays. Cuernos del Paine is a granite massif which has been sliced apart into needle-sharp spires by glaciers. Beyond are the vertical triple towers of the Torres del Paine. Wind-battered grasslands lead up to sheltered glacial valleys with flowery meadows; torrential rivers surging with ice are interlaced with glassy lagoons. Wildlife abounds everywhere, from geese to guanaco; condors and puma may be spotted, especially in the low winter season from April to October.

When's the best time to visit Torres del Paine NP?
The best months for hiking are Mar-Apr. Many hikers also visit in summer (Dec - Jan) along with non-trekkers so it can be very busy at that time. Days are long and mild then but it can be windy, as in spring (Sep - Oct). For non-hikers, a visit at any time is recommended outside the winter months Jun - Aug when it can be very cold and access routes can be blocked by snow. On the other hand, it is frequently less windy in winter and you have a better chance of spotting wildlife as there are few tourists around. Many facilities are closed then; however, each year, a few more stay open to cater for this off-season traffic.
What's the official language in Torres del Paine NP?

Spanish.

How canI get local currency in Torres del Paine NP?

Chilean Peso. Bring sufficient pesos for your needs from a previous larger destination.

What's the time difference between Torres del Paine NP and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer.
What other places combine with Torres del Paine NP?

Puerto Natales, picturesquely located town on Last Hope Sound which still has a frontier feel, famous for its black-necked swans, 3 hours by roadEl Calafate in the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, Argentina (to visit the Perito Moreno glacier), 425km (7 hours scenic drive); the Aisén Region, a wilderness of little-visited forests and rivers north of the park, 4.5 hours drive to Punta Arenas then 1.5 hours by air the Chilean lake district (2 hours away by air from Punta Arenas).

How do I get to Torres del Paine NP?

Daily flights from Santiago take 3 hours 50mins to Punta Arenas, thence it is 3-5 hours by road to Torres del Paine.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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Chle: Atacama Desert and Patagonian glaciers tour

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