Chile to Antarctica

Atacama, Patagonia, Antarctica | View photos »

Incredible as Antarctica is, we also like time on dry land stretching our legs in the great outdoors. That’s why this combination of our Atacama and Patagonia walking holiday and an Antarctic cruise works so well.

Small group holiday for 29 days » i

Price £10,995 per person

Map of the area

"Just mind-blowing"

"Just mind-blowing"

We couldn't fault anything, it was all just mind-blowing. Barry & Glenda F

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Sample itinerary

Fly to South America

Fly overnight to the Chilean capital, Santiago. You will land early next day. Please note: international flights are quoted separately for this holiday.

Land in Chile and relax after your journey

Land in the Chilean capital, Santiago, this morning. You are collected for the transfer to your comfortable hotel to relax and freshen up before heading out to explore on foot. If it’s clear, and you’re looking to stretch your legs, head up Cerro San Cristobal near your hotel for lovely views over the city and surrounding mountains.You’ll be equipped with our local information and tips for the city, including recommendations for some of Santiago’s particularly good restaurants.

Fly to the Atacama Desert and start exploring

Transfer back to the airport for your early morning flight north to the Atacama Desert. Meet your Pura guide who will be with you throughout your time here in the north. After settling in to your very comfortable small hotel, you will head out to a sandy ridge at the edge of the town. From here walk 7km down a huge sand dune, across a small salt flat and through a narrow gorge in the salt mountains. As the sun sets and the temperature drops, the rocks begin to contract and settle for the night – crackling as they do so. It's a weird and wonderful introduction to the Atacama.

Walk in the high mountains on Incan paths

Today’s walk starts in a small village 4,000m above sea level. The first stretch of the walk is along a wide green Andean valley rich in bird life and llamas. As you come out of the Andes and into the pre-Andes mountains you descend more quickly. The landscape becomes much more arid: dominated by giant cactus plants. At this point you are walking on old Inca roads passing distinctive terraces in the hillsides.

Geysers at sunrise, lagoons at sunset

It’s an early start today as you visit the world’s highest geothermal field – the Tatio Geysers. A very early start is necessary to arrive in time to watch the sunrise. At first light the geysers come to life in a spectacular display of steam. This afternoon set off directly from the hotel on a gently paced bike ride across the compacted surface of the salt flats to a series of lagoons, home to a family of flamingos. Once you get there you enjoy a cool drink and perhaps a swim in the buoyant waters of the lagoon.

Walk to a high volcanic peak

After several days of being active at altitude, today’s walk takes you as high as many of us will ever stand. From the trailhead it is a slow, steady 2 hour walk up to the summit at 5,600m. As well as the Atacama spread out beneath your feet, you can also see into Bolivia and Argentina. Having woken up in a comfortable bed this morning and then walked to the summit of a high Andean volcano, you should be back in San Pedro in time for a late lunch!

Relaxing day before flying south again

Today is relatively unstructured to allow you to rest or enjoy a last exploration of the Atacama. Your guide is still with you and the group. You catch an evening flight south to Santiago where you stay at an airport hotel given your morning flight to Patagonia.

Fly south to the mountains of Patagonia

This is a long though beautiful travel day. Fly south along the spectacular spine of the Andes, over the massive Patagonian ice fields as far as the city of Punta Arenas. Here you meet your Pura Patagonia guide who takes you on a three-hour drive across the open plains of Patagonia to the seafront town of Puerto Natales. Stay tonight in a first class hotel overlooking the Last Hope Sound.

Travel into Torres del Paine by boat

Set off into the beautiful Torres del Paine National Park first on a boat along the Last Hope Sound, enjoying the wildlife as the mountains and glaciers loom ever closer. Transfer to a smaller river boat at the Balmaceda Glacier to travel along the Serrano River into the Torres del Paine National Park. On a clear day, there is no more spectacular introduction to this most emblematic and beautiful mountain range.

Cross Lago Grey to hike alongside the glacier

Set off by boat this morning along the full length of Lago Grey as far as the glacier of the same name. This is the end point of the southern Patagonian icefield so you have 1,000km of ice ahead of you as you travel towards the 40 metre high face of the glacier. For the next four nights you sleep in refugios, mountain huts. This afternoon your guide will lead you on a hike up alongside the glacier.

Start the 'W' hike across Torres del Paine

Set off on the four-day ‘W’ hike across the park from the glacial west to the dry grasslands of the east. Whilst walking you only have to carry a daypack with items such as lunch, waterproofs and cameras. One lovely feature of hiking in the park is that the streams are so pure you can drink the most delicious water straight from them. Porters carry your main bags ahead to the next refugio so you do not tend to see them during the day.

Walk between the mountains and the lakes

Today the scenery is some of the best of the holiday as you walk in the shadow of huge peaks alongside turquoise lakes. Walk under the mountain of Paine Grande then a steady uphill and a steep downhill towards the shores of Lake Nordenskjold. You might also be lucky enough to enjoy a side hike up into Valle Frances for fantastic views out across the glacial lakes to the south of the park.

Cross rivers and hike up valleys

Continue your walk along a good path in the shadow of the mountains throughout today. You should see lots of condors as you pass beneath the high peaks. Stop for lunch alongside a small lake populated with fantastic bird life. The path is intersected by streams at certain points – crossing these can involve stepping stones or the occasional rope bridge. Towards the end of the day you reach the base of Valle Ascencio into which you hike.

Finish the W hike by hiking to the Torres

The day starts off on an undulating path leading through a pretty beech forest. Once you emerge from the forest you find yourself at the foot of the glacial moraine beneath the Torres of Torres del Paine. It is a steep walk to get through this maze of huge boulders but you emerge on the edge of a small lake at the base of the towers. Return downhill to complete your 'W' hike across the park and into Natales for some home comforts.

Cross into Argentina and onto Tierra del Fuego

From Puerto Natales you head over the border into Argentina. This is a bus ride which takes several hours but is actually a nice way to relax after the exertions of the previous two weeks. On arrival in El Calafate, we look after your bags so you can have a wander and lunch before your late afternoon internal flight to Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world and gateway to Antarctica.

Time to relax and explore Ushuaia

The town of Ushuaia is rather touristy but your hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and will be able to help you make the most of your time here. There are good walks in the hills nearby, the museum is also very interesting. In the early 20th century Argentina sent its most dangerous criminals to the prison in Ushuaia, prisoners built the city’s port for instance. The prison is now an excellent museum well worth a visit.

Board your expedition ship, MV Plancius

You have most of today in Ushuaia before checking in at the dock at approximately 16:00. Here you board the MV Plancius which will be home for the next 10 or 11 days. You are welcomed on board by the boat’s Expedition Leader and staff and shown to your cabin. This evening set sail along the Beagle Channel and out into the open seas of the Drake Passage - time to get your sea legs on.

Crossing the waters of the Drake Passage

It takes two days to cross the 500 miles of the Drake Passage. These are the wildest seas on the planet and can be a challenge. However, there are plenty of positives too! From the ship’s bridge you can often see whales and dolphins. Seabirds including petrels and albatross fly alongside the ship. There is a programme of talks while on board given by expert lecturers. By the time you arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula you should be up to speed on the continent’s history and wildlife and know your Gentoo from your Chinstrap.

Complete your journey to the Antarctic Peninsula

The boat operates an open bridge policy where you can go up and stand alongside the captain while he and his crew navigate the ship. GPS cannot always be relied on in the Antarctic so the route is still plotted on charts and maps. Early this evening you should see your first iceberg on the horizon and the coastline of the South Shetland Islands where you will visit on the way back to Ushuaia.

Kayak in iceberg filled Antarctic waters

Arrive at Wiencke Island, to the west of the peninsula. The dramatic glacial landscape of the island along with the secluded calm waters surrounding it make it a perfect base camp for the next two days of activities. Rather than moving on each day, this itinerary tends to spend longer at specific sites on the Antarctic Peninsula – setting up a ‘basecamp’ from where you explore.

Learn to take the best photos with expert help

There is a professional photographer onboard who can go ashore with you along with your guide for a photo workshop. The Antarctic landscapes are a photographer’s dream and even novices find themselves keen to capture the scenery and wildlife in the best possible way. As well as the magnificent scenery of mountains, snow and ice, you can expect to see a wide variety of the native wildlife during the next few days.

Enjoy the wildlife and landscapes of Paradise Bay

Sail south through the breathtaking Lemaire Channel which runs between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island. You will see the beautiful Adeli penguins, skuas and blue-eyed shags. Later this afternoon you start heading north again as you sail into Paradise Bay. Spend the afternoon whale spotting from the boat as you navigate through Dallman Bay.

Explore the icebergs then sleep out under the stars

You remain close to the Antarctic mainland for the next two days as you take part in more activities. Take a zodiac ride to get really close to the huge ice formations or take part in another hike on shore. If you are feeling adventurous you can even try mountaineering. This evening you might like to camp out to give you first hand experience of sleeping in the wilderness, bear in mind that it doesn't get dark at this time of year!

Visit a research station and watch the wildlife

Today you have the opportunity to visit one of the scientific research stations in Antarctica which is one of 30 stations on the continent carrying out important research into glaciology and meterorology. This afternoon navigate past huge glaciers into Neko Harbour. Wrap up warm as you will be in the zodiacs for over an hour as you zig zag in and out of huge icebergs and get as close as possible to the glacier faces.

Enjoy your last adventures on Antarctica

Today you have one last opportunity to step foot on the Antarctic continent for a hike around Neko harbour or Paradise bay. Because there is a rolling programme of activities, you will be making sure to do whatever it is that you haven't yet had time to enjoy during your precious time here.

Set off across the Drake Passage again

This morning you navigate north again via the Melchoir islands and towards the open sea of the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is entirely open water with no land anywhere around the world at these latitudes. This allows for the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which spins around the continent, connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean basins. So this really is a unique experience.

Return to the 'dry land' of Argentina

Today is another full day at sea though you will normally get back into the protected waters of the Beagle Channel and on to Ushuaia harbour some time this evening. During the day you can relax and chat with your fellow passengers about the amazing adventure of the last week or see if you can't spot the last of your marine mammals from up on the bridge.

Disembark then fly to the capital, Buenos Aires

After an early breakfast you will dock at around 9am and bid farewell to your boat. We have to leave a bit of leeway for late arrivals so your flight up to Buenos Aires will be early this afternoon which means you will get to your hotel in one of the city's more relaxed neighbourhoods, such as Palermo, towards the end of the day. Perfect to enjoy a drink on a terrace in the warmth of the late afternoon.

Morning tour with a guide, afternoon to explore

Spend this morning in the company of your own private guide who can take you on and off the beaten track in this lively and beautiful city. You will have a car at your disposal, but we recommend getting out and walking for some of the tour. Rather than follow a specific route, you basically just let them know what sorts of things you like to see and they can take you. This afternoon is yours to explore on your own.

Say goodbye to South America

Transfer back to the airport for your flights home. Please note: international flights are quoted separately for this holiday.

About this trip

Summary

Incredible as Antarctica is, we also like time on dry land stretching our legs in the great outdoors. That’s why this combination of our Atacama and Patagonia walking holiday and an Antarctic cruise works so well.

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How adventurous?

Activity
1 2 3 4 5
Comfort
1 2 3 4 5
Culture
1 2 3 4 5

Physical adventure

This journey is continually active but is resolutely not about frenetic adventure, most of our clients on this trip are in their 50s and 60s. But for anyone who loves the great, truly great, outdoors and being active, this has to be our finest adventure.

The Chilean part of this holiday is a walking holiday which has you out in the great outdoors, with your boots on, most days. Rather than trying to do too much, we concentrate on the two most emblematic and beautiful parts of Chile and allow time to get to know them well. Normally guests on this trip are aged in their 40s-60s.

Up in the Atacama Desert you stay in the town of San Pedro de Atacama in a very comfortable small hotel, a boutique 4* type place. From here your guide leads you on explorations into the surrounding areas. San Pedro is an oasis on the edge of a large salt flat at about 2,000m altitude. Very close by, the Andes surge up with peaks up to nearly 6,000m. Over the course of your days here in the Atacama, your exploration takes you gradually higher and higher as you get used to the altitude.

The first excursion is a relaxed walk of a couple of hours, and a flat bike ride out onto the salt flats. This is followed by a much higher walk starting at roughly 4,000m although you almost immediately start descending. The effects of altitude get less and less very quickly as you walk. This walk is a good 5/6 hour route but all gently downhill. The highest walk comes after you have had time to acclimatise, we drive up to just over 5,000m and walk two hours steadily uphill to the peak of an extinct volcano at an incredible 5,600m. This is a very challenging walk because of the altitude but the views are well worth the exertion!

In Patagonia you walk across the Torres del Paine National Park, following what is known as the 'W'. Starting at the glaciated western side of the massif, you walk for four days between lakes and mountains until you reach the famous Torres, the three granite spires which give the park its name. The walking is at sea level and the walk is classed as moderate, climbs and descents are not huge. Daily distances are generally around 12km.

What makes things more challenging in Patagonia is the highly variable weather - anything from high winds to hot sunshine to rain to snow are all possible on a summer day here. The weather, and the basic accommodation in refugios which are mountain huts. Bunk beds in mixed communal dorms are your home for four nights. The reason to use these is that this is the only way for you to get up close to the mountains and into the heart of this most beautiful of environments.

The weather in the Atacama is likely to be warm during the day, around 10°-20° though being at high altitude, the sun can be fierce. Conversely, nights quickly become cool to very cold as you are in a high desert - it's important to wrap up. Rains can come in February particularly which can affect some roads in the area.
Down in Patagonia, daytime summer temperatures are mild. Remember that you are on the same relative latitude as London or Quebec so on a still summer's day the temperature can be comfortably in the mid-20°s. However, still days are not the norm here. If the wind is coming from the north then it has travelled over the world's largest non-polar ice floe. Which makes it fiercely cold. If the wind is coming from the west, it has had the full width of the Pacific to pick up moisture and the Paine mountains are pretty much the first obstacle they will hit. From the south and the wind has also come over a lot of open sea and Antarctica before that. To the east you have the wide open dry grasslands of Argentine Patagonia.

Nights tend to be cool, verging on cold. A clear, cloudless night in Torres del Paine will be just a few degrees but the stars, the stars are incredible!

Don't come to Patagonia expecting stable weather, it's the weather which makes this place look so beautiful so accept that you need to be waterproof, warm and windproof and join us to explore.

Antarctica is a very physical place, from the wild southern ocean crossing to the massive ice flows and high mountains. However, what is surprising to most people is that on the Antarctic Peninsula, in summer, conditions are relatively benign. You will want to be wrapped up warm and windproof most days but it isn’t unknown for shore landings to happen in light fleeces. On the peninsula, you are at the same latitude (in relative terms) as Iceland.

For this particular expedition cruise, there is a distinct active element. What they tend to do is moor up for a couple of days at a time in order to run a rolling programme of activities nearby. During the cruise, you should be able to get out and about to enjoy sea-kayaking, snow-shoeing, hiking and even some mountaineering. For none of these activities do you need previous experience – well, probably you’ll need to know how to walk.

The kayaking is in calm waters and is at a level suitable for anyone from beginner up. There is little in this world to beat the quiet splashing sound of the paddles breaking the heavy silence of Antarctic waters.

As with all activities and landings in Antarctica, weather conditions define everything. If the waters are not calm enough then the kayaking will not be possible. Rough waters around the peninsula are not the norm but are theoretically most likely towards the start and end of the summer season (November and March respectively).

Whilst all small ship Antarctic cruises involve walking on shore, this cruise allows you greater freedom to hike up and inland. Again, routes and extent of walks are defined by weather as well as the group’s ability. The ship attempts to group people into similar activity bands to allow everyone to get the most from their time on board.

Show shoeing is a very gentle looking activity which actually requires rather more concentration than you might imagine – it’s very easy to tread on your shoes and tip yourself over! Once mastered though, it’s a fantastic sensation to crunch over the top of deep snow.

The mountaineering is probably best thought of as high level roped walking – crampons are worn but this is not Chris Bonnington stuff, more of a human mule train along the ridges of Antarctica. That’s not to make it sound like a trudge, you are walking in the most extraordinary remote place on earth so the views are beyond most people’s imagining.

And a final note on the Drake Passage. It’s a wild stretch of sea which you cross for a couple of days going south and another couple of days going north. It can be very physically demanding and tiring. However, it is part of the journey, part of the experience. It is our strong opinion that Antarctica is a place to be preserved, fiercely protected, and part of that is to make it difficult to get to. To visit Antarctica, you have to ‘earn your stripes’ and that’s the Drake Passage – or it can be when the seas are rough (which they mostly are). That’s to underplay the positives of the crossing, which include time to prepare yourself for Antartica with talks and information as well as enjoying time with your fellow passengers, guides and crew.

Cruises to the Antarctic run between November and March to take advantage of the long summer days as well as the calmer sea conditions in Drake’s Passage. In theory the seas will be calmer in January or February than in November or March. However, this is a journey to the most remote place on earth across its fiercest seas. At any time of the season you can have rough crossings, in fact most crossings are rough to anyone not used to life on a ship.

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Cultural adventure

The focus of the Chilean section of this trip is undoubtedly the landscapes and exploring those landscapes on foot, however, there is much more to Chile than just the great outdoors. We want you to leave Chile feeling like you know the country and, more than anything, that means its people.

In order to give you the best possible insights and connections, you are looked after by one guide up in the Atacama and another down in Patagonia. Physically these two destinations couldn't be more different and similarly their cultures could hardly be more distinct.

The Atacama was at the southern edge of the Inca empire, the villages, the traditions are from the Aymara people - the high Andean communities so much associated with southern Peru and Bolivia. Thatched roofed adobe houses and grazing vicuna stand out against the saturated blue skies.

Patagonia by contrast, is one of the most recently populated parts of our planet - 20,000 years is about the extent of human intervention here. The harsh landscapes were tamed by ranchers who cleared the land. To this day it is a place of gauchos, cowboys, who live solitary lives riding across vast estancias. And yet, hospitality runs deep and sipping mate whilst sitting round an open fire is one of the great memories of southern Chile.

Antarctica is primarily a place to visit for the extraordinary landscapes and wildlife, and rightly so. However, much of what you learn will relate to the amazing human history of the continent. As well as visiting the current research facilities down there, no trip to Antarctica would be complete without an insight into the early days of exploration. Tales of endurance and an unquenchable thirst for discovery paint a very different picture of the first trips to the White Continent.

On a very different note, Antarctic expedition cruises tend to be very international affairs with passengers, crew and guides coming from all over the globe. This alone can make the experience wonderfully enriching.

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Best time to go i

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Practicalities

There is a detailed itinerary for this trip, please get in touch and we can email that to you.

As a small group walking holiday, combined with an Antarctic cruise, this is very much a fixed itinerary. However, there is always the option to extend the trip or indeed switch the active Antarctic cruise for a more traditional version.

If you would like to join us on this holiday, please call for us to check space and discuss any additional arrangements you may want. If it isn’t quite what you are looking for, we would love to prepare a personalised proposal for you to consider so why not call us on 01273 676 712 and we can get started?

The standard trip includes accommodation in twin/double rooms throughout, except for four nights in communal mountain refuges in Torres del Paine, most meals, guiding in Chile, internal flights, activities, entrances and excursions as listed on the detailed itinerary. Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout, along with the reassurance of our financial protection and safety auditing.

Flights are quoted separately for this holiday. You need to fly into Santiago (airport code: SCL) and out of Buenos Aires (airport code: EZE).

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Trip length

29 days

Departure dates & prices

16/02/2015 - £10,530

Next steps...

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01273 676712

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The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.

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