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Follow the Route of the Parks by land and sea, from the ancient forests of Pumalín all the way to legendary Cape Horn. Drive the Carretera Austral, hike in Torres del Paine and cruise through Tierra del Fuego. It's a self-drive journey which can be done all at once, or in chapters.
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Arrive in Santiago this morning to meet your guide at the airport. After dropping off your bags at the hotel, you might head out to get to know some of Chile's buzzing capital. Santiago is a thriving modern city, with a lively arts scene, so there’s plenty of vibrant culture to immerse yourselves in if you like. 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.
Fly south to the Chilean Lakes to stay in Puerto Varas, where the snow-capped Osorno Volcano and the turquoise Lago Llanquihue provide the backdrop. You'll pick up your 4x4 vehicle from the airport and head to your boutique hotel - a rennovated wooden house, full of character, just outside the centre and close to the lake. In the afternoon your guide will acompany you on a walk through the town's pretty streets and historic houses. End at a local bar to enjoy tapas and wine looking out over the lake as the sun sets - if you are lucky. This weather in this area is fickle!
Today is yours to explore with your car. The Vicente Rosales Park offers a wonderful combination of open landscapes and woods, with views of Lago Todos los Santos on one side, Osorno Volcano on the other and the peak of Puntiagudo ahead. Another lovely option is to visit the Alerce Andino National Park to walk amongst the oldest trees on earth – some up to 4,000 years old. It's the first of 13 parks from the Route of the Parks you can visit on this trip.
Today you will begin your epic road trip south through Patagonia, travelling by road and ferry through some wonderfully scenic areas. The bulk of the day will be spent on the ferry from Hornopirén with the snowy peak of the same name towering overhead, the beautiful Patagonian fjords stretching out ahead of you. It’s a lovely taste of what’s to come. After five hours you’ll reach the tiny outpost of Caleta Gonzalo, where you find your surprisingly comfortable cabins.
The vast Conservación Patagonia project protects the beautiful virgin forests of Pumalín. Today you can choose to follow any of the well-marked trails within striking distance of your cabins. Our favourite takes you along wooden walkways into gorgeous temperate rainforest to a remote high waterfall. A short drive away is the Alerce trail, a very easy route which allows you to see some beautiful and ancient alerce trees - the most valuable and precious of the trees in this ecosystem.
For most of this morning you will be driving inside the Pumalín park, with several well-marked trails to access. The most emblematic leads to the enormous caldera of Chaitén Volcano, within which sits the new, smaller and active cone of the volcano. Gas and steam constantly flow now making an undeniably dramatic vista and evidence of the destructive power of volcanoes. Having been dormant for 9,500 years, the catastrophic eruption in 2008 caught everyone by surprise. As you reach Chaitén, you will see the destructive power even more. Continue south towards the town of Futaleufú.
The Fú River has been a magnet for serious white-water enthusiasts for many long years, with what are said to be the largest river waves in the world. There are two classic options for rafting here, the first is the 'bridge to bridge' (Puente a Puente) run of 10km generally grade IV waters, just about suitable for people without previous experience. The second is the wild with 18km of grade iv & v including the famous 'Terminator' and 'Throne Room'. Those without experience need not apply. Rafting is to be arranged locally by you.
You might dedicate today to more rafting, or perhaps walking. A 2.5km path zig-zags up to Piedra del Aguila, from where panoramic views across the river valley await. Alternatively, there are walks of varying length and difficulty through the precious Valdivian rainforest in the Reserva Nacional Futaleufú. Hike to a waterfall, past the 'mirror lake' or to memorable lookout points, with few others for company.
Today's drive takes around three hours, though always with lovely views to enjoy. If you want to walk en route, you will pass the El Puma trail in the north of Queulat National Park. Though the upper parts are usually under snow well into December, the lower stretches are well worth the effort at any time of year. Stop for lunch in the charming small town of Puyuhuapi, set up by immigrants from the Sudetenland back in the 1930s. Continue to your friendly and comfortable lodge near the fjord's edge.
Accompanied by your guide, you will cross the river to pick up a trail leading into the heart of the precious temperate rainforest. This is an ecosystem found in only five places on earth. There is a huge variety of tree species and a very rich understory, which tends to be full of mosses, ferns and lichens. A viewpoint up on the side gives you amazing views. Later you will kayak along the fjord or take a boat to an island to observe marine mammals and the rich birdlife whilst enjoying the peace and quiet, as well as a delicious picnic.
The most emblematic feature of Queulat is the hanging glacier. Spilling off the top of a cliff, the glacier contrasts dramatically with the rocky cliff face and surrounding forests. The 3km path up to the viewpoint winds through the forest, but the view from the top is the real star, with more or less eye-level views of the glacier on the far side of the valley. For those who don't feel energetic, there is a boat along the lagoon from where you can see the glacier. Continue by road to your comfortable lodge at Coyhaique, surrounded by mountains.
From your hotel, you are taken up and away from the lowlands of Coyhaique to the higher lands next to the Argentine border. Watch the sun rise over the vast, dry Patagonian steppe and then see the condors gradually come to life as the air warms and they take to the skies. The crags on this particular ranch are a favourite rookery for the Andean condor so it is unusual not to be treated to a close encounter. Return to the farmstead in time for an asado lunch, the most traditional of Patagonian feasts: lamb roast over an open wood fire.
Today you will drive through open valleys and beautiful landscapes and then cross the remarkably blue waters of Lago General Carrera, South America's second largest lake. The ferry ride takes approximately two hours, usually in the late afternoon, and drops you off at the frontier town of Chile Chico, on the south side of the lake. Spend the next couple of nights in this lakeside town with a sunny, and windy, microclimate.
Chile Chico sits in the rain shadow of the Andes which is what gives it a relatively dry and sunny climate. The nearby mountains of Jeinimeini create a second rain shadow which makes parts of the reserve resemble deserts of the north of Chile. The 7km loop in the reserve is a truly wonderful hike, one of the most varied and unexpected you will find anywhere. A rocky gorge leads up to a low mountain pass from where you have lovely views back towards the blue waters of the lake. On the far side of the pass, you find some of the oldest cave paintings in the region. This is an unmissable day of walking, take a picnic, and enjoy the peace and quiet of this great corner of Aysén.
The road along the southern shore of Lago General Carrera is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Patagonia, so take time to stop and admire the views along the way and the extraordinary colour of the Baker River. A little further on are the Confluencia waterfalls, where the heavily sedimented Neff River joins the Baker to create an even more spectacular colour of water. This afternoon you continue to the charming small town of Cochrane.
You will be joined by your guide for the day to go for a walk in the Tamango Reserve, which sits just on the edge of Cochrane. It has a series of well-marked trails for you to explore and hopefully spot a Huemul - Chile's seriously endangered dwarf deer. The reserve is also home to the Cochrane River, one of the clearest in the world. You'll take a boat upriver to enjoy the extraordinary clarity of the waters before hopping out to walk a pretty trail back to the park entrance.
Your destination today is one of the largest private donations of land in the history of conservation. You will be treated to beautiful views over the whole Chacabuco Valley with the Andes beyond. Pass through native forests full of birdlife. The walk is punctuated by a series of beautiful high lakes. You have a decent change to see condors and will certainly see lots of guanacos. Less common are puma, though there is a lot of evidence of their presence.
It’s another wonderful drive south through some of the most beautiful landscapes of your journey. The vegetation becomes incredibly green as you pass through temperate rainforest, reminiscent of the Amazon at times. A right turn off the Carretera Austral takes you the final 22km to Tortel. Since the road only reaches the edge of the village, you'll leave your car and follow the maze of wooden walkways to your charming small hotel. From here, a short walk on a pathway leads to a beautiful viewpoint over the surrounding fjords and mountains.
From Tortel head out across a stretch of open sea to reach a little-visited glacier in one of the strands of the Southern Patagonian Icefield. This is a rare opportunity for you to see a dramatic and remote ice field without anyone else in sight. The boat itself is very comfortable, it even has a stove inside so the navigation is very much part of the fun of the day. Mind you, so is the idea returning to a glass of wine and delicious meal in your lovely lodge.
Today's drive is fairly long, but there's lots of opportunity to stop along the way. You pass Parque Patagonia again, so you can walk for a few more hours in the park. If you missed the Confluencia on the way down then that is something you should see. Equally, your lodge overlooking Lago General Carrera is wonderfully welcoming so there's no shame in making your way straight there.
Today's walk leads you up through the beautiful old southern beech forests above your lodge and onto a treeless plateau. The views are incredible, with the icy Andes to one side, Lago Carrera ahead and the peaks of Jeinimeini off to the east. However, it is underfoot that things are surprisingly interesting - the entire area is a fossil bed. Return downhill for to relax, go horse-riding, or, for something unforgettable, fly over the ice fields in a helicopter
Your lunch buddy today is the remote Leones Glacier, reached via a fast, often bumpy, ride across Lago General Carrera on a jet boat, before heading upriver as far as possible. A gentle walk through dwarf beech forest takes you up to the edge of a 10km long glacial lagoon and a second small boat takes you all the way to the face of the glacier. It spills beautifully down the face of the surrounding mountains to calve dramatically into the lagoon. Settle in for a picnic lunch on the rocks in front of the glacier as you watch this beautiful display of nature in glorious isolation.
Your route for this morning skims the edge of the Lago General Carrera again, so more wonderful views await. Set off in good time to visit the marble caves from Bahia Mansa early in the morning. The caves are beautiful marble formations eroded by the wind and water of the vast lake. The light in the morning, when combined with the colour of the water and the rocks, makes it really very beautiful. Your two nights in the village of Cerro Castillo is spent in a simpler lodge than is the case for the rest of your trip.
Cerro Castillo is still a little-known gem of Chilean Patagonia, so walking here is a real treat with fantastic landscapes and few other people. There are different options for your walk today, including the steep hike up and back to the lagoon underneath the main peaks of Cerro Castillo. However, the best route in the park leads steadily uphill through beautiful southern beech forests into a circus of dramatic high peaks and the Duff lagoon. It is a remarkably comfortable 20km walk considering just how dramatic your surroundings are.
You finish the Carretera Austral leg of your journey as you drop off the car at Balmaceda Airport and fly south to Punta Arenas, capital of the Magellanes region. Pick up your new wheels and drive to the small town of Puerto Natales, where you stay for two nights. Your hotel looks out across the shore, with views to the Última Esperanza Sound and the Balmaceda Glacier. It's a lovely place to go for a walk on arrival.
Within easy reach of your lodge are opportunities to horse-ride, kayak, cycle or go fishing, as well as boat navigations to nearby glaciers. There are also plenty of walking opportunities, with various trail heads a relatively short drive away. One of the best trails leads up Cerro Benítez, from where stunning views to Laguna Sofía abound. Condors can often be seen from the nearby mirador. The Cueva del Milodón offers some insight into the human and geological history of the far south. Go early to avoid the tour groups.
Torres del Paine is unique in being home to all off the different landscapes of Patagonia in one small area. As you drive out of Puerto Natales the landscape changes, becoming increasingly mountainous and dramatic as you approach the Paine massif. The main range is unmistakable when it first comes into view, there are lots of photo opportunities as you travel. Stay in a hotel just outside the park boundary but with amazing views of the mountains.
Today is flexbile as you enter the national park for the first time, but you might like to walk through dwarf beech forests to a spectacular viewpoint over Glacier Grey. The southern shores of Lago Grey are also home to beautiful, mature beech forest. It is a short walk through here to get to the beach, where you might be treated to the sight of icebergs floating close to shore. Another option is take a boat trip up to the surface of the glacier, hopefully seeing huge chunks of ice calving into the lake. There are also routes in the southern foothills of the park, as well as others to waterfalls and viewpoints over the main mountain massif.
After breakfast you will drive across the national park and into the eastern sector of Torres del Paine. En route you can follow the fauna trail across an area of arid open steppe, where you can see guanacos, foxes, armadillos and perhaps, if you're lucky, pumas. The day ends with your arrival at EcoCamp Patagonia; during the summer late sunsets mean you have plenty of light to admire your surroundings.
Laguna Azul is wonderfully off the beaten track. It sits high up on the eastern edge of the park, well north of the road which cuts through the park. It's in this part of the park that you get the best birdlife as well as grazing herds of guanaco. You are also treated to great views of the Torres, this time beautifully reflected in the rich blue waters. The walk itself skirts around the edge of the lake and loops through the surrounding countryside. If you are feeling energetic, you can follow the much longer path across the hills to Laguna Cebolla, a smaller but pretty lake looking out over the valley of the Rio Paine.
As ever, there is no shortage of walks to choose from. If you want to stretch yourself you could take on the most famous hike in the park - the Torres del Paine. Walk steadily uphill through the Ascencio Valley and through beech forests, crossing rivers, to get to the steep glacial moraine beneath the towers. On a clear day at the top you have wonderful views of the small lake, glacier and towers beyond. The famous Torres reach 2,900m, three gigantic granite monoliths, the remains of a great cirque sheared away by the forces of glacial ice.
From Torres del Paine you will drive out of the park and head south until you reach the small town of Cerro Castillo (not to be confused with the one further north). Follow the highway north and skirt around the edges of the shimmering Argentina and Viedma lakes, where the views are rather spectacular. Settle in to your comfortable lodge this evening. El Chaltén village itself is rustic, but what makes it special is its location, at the foot of the spectacular Cerro Fitzroy. While you shouldn’t expect fancy accommodation and restaurants, it really is all about the access it offers to some of the best hiking in South America.
The exact content of the day is flexible, your guide will be able to adjust the route according to your mood and energy levels. Our favourite walk leads below the granite walls of the Fitzroy massif and up to Laguna de Los Tres. The lake is a wonderful turquoise blue colour and sits at the foot of the massif, offering close up views of the spires as they rise up from the surrounding glaciers. Fitzroy is considered one of the most beautiful mountains on Earth.
Spend another day exploring at your own pace. There are many self-guided trails you can follow or you could drive further up the valley to visit the impressive Lago del Desert. Whichever way you choose to go, the birdlife in particular is fantastic and the scenery unforgettable. Return to your comfortable hotel for a final night in El Chalten.
It's a shorter drive today to a beautiful estancia, set in 12,000 hectares of mountains and nature on the shores of the Lago Argentino. This is a working sheep and cattle farm that has been owned by the same family for four generations, and they open their arms to travellers with a warm welcome. As well as visiting the nearby Perito Moreno Glacier, your time here can be spent walking self-guided trails, horseback riding, watching and interacting with the gauchos.
The day begins at the estancia at first light and finishes at dusk, so you can really get stuck in with the gauchos and experience their rural lifestyle first hand if you wish. In terms of walking, the network of trails in and around the estancia provides you with hours of walking time, so if you haven't already, you might like to head out on one of the paths. Drive out to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of only three in Patagonia which is not retreating. Arriving later in the day, or first thing in the morning, helps you avoid the crowds.
The drive back to Chile is a long one, so head out early to give yourself plenty of time to visit to the lovely and little-known national park of Pali Aike, just over the border into Chile. The volcanic rock formations are tinted all manner of wonderful colours by the minerals found here. It's a beautiful, desolate landscape, which you are more likely to share with guanacos and foxes rather than other visitors. Finish the day in Punta Arenas, where you stay for two nights.
With your expedition cruise starting tomorrow, today can be taken at a pretty relaxed pace. It's not every day that you get to wander round at the end of the earth, so we give you time to soak in the surroundings. If you're feeling energetic, there are some lovely walks to be done around Cabo Froward, an hour or so from the hotel by road. Walk along the shorefront to the lighthouse of San Isidro, with lovely views across the Strait of Magellan.
Spend the next four nights on board cruising the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego and on to Cape Horn. Settle into your very comfortable cabin and get to know your way around the ship. The Australis vessels are extremely spacious for their capacity, with a number of lounges and viewing areas.
Wake up early to watch the ship navigate to the Marinelli Glacier. Disembark later to walk through a lovely Magellanic forest as far as a beaver dam. With luck today you will see good numbers of indigenous wildlife. On the beach you will hopefully be able to see a colony of elephant seals, although as they are more active than they may appear, this is not guaranteed. Climbing into the zodiacs this afternoon, you will visit the more reliably located Magellanic penguins and cormorants.
You are headed for the main part of the Beagle Channel today, where Australis will enter the Pia Fjord and visit the Pia Glacier. Walk to a viewpoint ideal for seeing the glacier along its entire length, from mountain to the sea. This afternoon you navigate along the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel through majestic “Glacier Alley” - the number of glaciers in close proximity here is one reason why this cruise is sometimes thought of as a “mini-Antarctic” experience.
Sail through the Beagle and Murray Channels where, weather permitting, you will disembark onto Cape Horn - a sheer, 400 metre high promontory which marks the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans merge. It is a place of legend, which made its reputation on the perilous seas which swirl around it and which claimed countless lives whilst ships attempted to ‘round the Horn’ in centuries gone by. Today, the going is infinitely smoother, but it’s called an expedition cruise for a reason. Precious few get to experience life at latitude 50.
This morning you will disembark at Ushuaia after breakfast and travel the short distance to the airport to fly north to Buenos Aires. You will be met on arrival by your guide, who will help you to settle in to your charming hotel. Today is your’s to relax and stroll to one of the nearby restaurants for dinner tonight. Argentina’s capital is a thriving modern city, with a lively arts scene, splendid architecture. and a wonderful dining scene.
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 you might like to explore the enormous and rather lovely Recoleta cemetery.
After six weeks of poking around in just about every corner of Chilean Patagonia and huge chunks of the Argentine region, it's time to head home. Your guide will collect you from your hotel and take you to the airport in plenty of time for your flight home.
The best experience we have ever had, and we are reasonably well travelled. Great advice and planning before we went, excellent support and service throughout, and an itinerary to die for - 6 weeks in Chile. Just when you couldn't imagine the trip getting any better, it did...and then some. Awsome.
If you are independently minded, don't mind driving on unpaved roads, are not expecting a sun tan or to stumble upon a celebrity chef, but are open to trying new things – give it a go! You will meet genuinely friendly and welcoming locals, in a region where your smartphone will be delightfully redundant.
The Route of the Parks (Ruta de los Parques) is the world's most ambitious conservation project. 17 national parks, covering 11.5 million hectares, are linked together along 2,800km of road and water between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn. 60 communities and 24 different eco-systems fall under its protection. We are proud to be the first non-Chilean tour operator to be associated with the project and share it with you on this Ruta Uncovered itinerary.
From the Lake District at the top of Patagonia, you'll drive along the Carretera Austral and be introduced to the people, places and landscapes that have moved us more than anywhere else. On this road alone you will access temperate rainforest trails, wild river waves, ancient fossil beds, mountain amphitheatres and lonely glaciers that few others reach. You'll stay in some truly wonderful little lodges, run by people we consider friends.
250,000 people tread their way through Torres del Paine a year. So we've worked hard to find ways to take you away from the crowds and give you as much flexibility on the ground as possible, whilst still weaving in some of the highlights that you really shouldn't miss. Jumping over the border to Argentina and cruising the icy channels all the way to legendary Cape Horn round off this most definitve of journeys through Patagonia.
This holiday requires an adventurous spirit, so being active will be extremely well rewarded throughout. There is a lot of flexibility to adapt things, both before you depart and during the trip, to your energy levels and interests. If you are with a guide, they can usually adapt the day to suit how you are feeling. Whilst walking is the primary activity throughout the trip, there are opportunities for kayaking, river rafting, ice hiking and horse riding as you go.
You will also spend a lot of time on the road, but the driving on this trip is largely on good paved roads. South of Coyhaique on the Carretera, they are mainly unpaved roads but surfaces are treated. We include the largest available 4x4 vehicles which are substantial and comfortable. Distances covered on unpaved sections are generally not large - anywhere from 75km - 200km in any one go. The journey from El Chaltén to Punta Arenas is the exception to this, being a full day's drive.
There is nothing particularly high impact on the Australis cruise, with most walks being relatively short and easy, though driving wind can sometimes make things trickier. It is an expedition cruise by nature, so the idea is to approach it with this spirit of adventure.
We use the best small hotels and lodges in each place, so this holiday is very comfortable.
In Santiago and Buenos Aires, you stay in very comfortable city-centre hotels. Down in Southern Chile, you stay in some lovely small hotels in the Lake District before hitting the Carretera Austral. Here the hotels and lodges have reached a great moment whereby we have a wonderful selection of very high quality small hotels for you to stay in. These are not luxury properties but rather very clean and comfortable owner run places where the welcome is as warm as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
In Torres del Paine your first hotel is roughly equivalent to a 4* place, nothing very pretty to look at but with incredible views. The second accommodation is a camp of semi-permanent dome tents, each with their own bathroom, set up against the mountains. This is the most comfortable way to experience Torres del Paine close up.
For Cape Horn you cruise on board a small expedition ship built for 210 passengers, launched in early 2018 she is very comfortable indeed.
The image of Patagonia is usually of lush green forests, sparkling lakes and fjords and huge white glaciers. Of course you will find all this and much more on your travels through the region, but there is a large cultural element that shouldn't be overlooked. It is a source of great pride that we have such close relationships with a wonderful group of partners down here, who we entrust to introduce you to the Patagonian way of life, as well as the amazing scenery. Some of our favourite memories from here are the sharing of an asado barbecue, yerba mate or bottle of red with the locals and hosts.
In Argentina, you stay on a working estancia, with plenty of opportunities to get involved and see their way of life first-hand. The Australis cruise is ostensibly a journey through some of the most remote landscapes on earth, but the reason that stepping onto Cape Horn is so special is the human history associated with it. Tales of 'rounding the Horn' have passed into folklore, providing the context to your expedition.
The holiday price is a guideline based on two people sharing and includes accommodation, days of private excursions and some meals as described in our detailed itinerary. It also includes full size 4x4 vehicle rental with comprehensive insurance for 2 drivers, internal flights, private transfers, and local information. For the Australis cruise, all of your transfers, meals and shared guided excursions are included. 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.
For a more detailed description of the holiday, please contact us and we can send you our detailed pdf itinerary. Should you wish to do this journey in two or even three 'chapters' then please get in touch to discuss.
Whilst domestic flights between Santiago and Patagonia and on to Buenos Aires are included in the price, international flights are quoted separately. Best flight routings are to fly into Santiago (airport code: SCL) and out of Buenos Aires (EZE). Expect to pay between £600 – £800pp for flights except in peak periods.
Departs any day to suit you from October to April.
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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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