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Ski & Desert Reverse

Winter adventure in Chile | View photos »

Chile’s most splendid winter adventure. Ski the Andes right from the wood panelled elegance of Portillo, ride bikes across salt flats to a flamingo filled lagoon from your beautiful, modern Atacama spa hotel.

15 day trip described, guide price £5,450pp i

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"A great holiday"

"A great holiday"

Just a note to thank you for arranging what was a great holiday in Chile. Everything went to plan. That we managed to keep an 8, 6 and 4 year old continually entertained, happy and active is perhaps the greatest testament to success! Jeremy H

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Sample itinerary

Fly to South America

Travel overnight to Chile, this will normally be on a Friday for you to land on the Saturday morning in Santiago de Chile.

Arrive on the slopes of Portillo

Arrive this morning in Chile. Portillo is a two and a half hour drive to the north of Santiago. You should arrive at the resort before lunch. Since check-in is later this afternoon, we recommend that you pack your ski kit near the top of your bags in order to get out onto the slopes straight after lunch. There is no better way to get over a long journey than a few bracing descents.

Enjoy the near empty slopes of Portillo

The setting of Portillo is exquisite: a high Andean valley with the Laguna del Inca reflecting the surrounding 5,000m peaks. This despite the fact that people’s general reaction, on arrival, is that Portillo is very small. The actual slope infrastructure is 14 lifts serving 23 slopes. Of these 10% are for beginners, 70% for intermediate-advanced and 20% for experts.

Share the piste with Olympians

The nature of the terrain makes Portillo particularly well suited to skiers though there are some great fun accessible powder fields for boarders. It is not uncommon to share the slopes with one of the Olympic ski teams as they come here for their summer training. For most mere mortals, the sight of an Olympic standard skier thundering down the impressive ‘kilometro lanzado’ slope is enough to make us stop and watch for a while.

Try out the va et vient lifts

Portillo has four superb ‘va et vient’ lifts – essentially four person drag lifts which take you up the steepest of slopes at something like 30km an hour. It has been described as more like a rollercoaster than a ski lift. The purpose of these lifts is to get you high onto the valley walls from where you can access the large powder fields running down towards the lake.

Enjoy the comforts of the Gran Hotel

The Grand Hotel has been here since the 1940s and that’s the feel of the place. Rooms are generally fairly small, comfortable but not spacious. Windows are relatively small. There are no TVs in rooms. Portillo does have spectacular communal areas - the living room is the hub of the hotel and really does feel like a large family living room.

Enjoy the service and keep skiing!

It is impossible to talk about Portillo without talking about the service. There are over 200 staff looking after the 450 guests, some staff have been here for over 40 years. You will find that each day has a rather lovely settled routine to it. After a fresh and delicious breakfast, head downstairs to collect your gear and ski out for the morning. Lunch and dinner are always three courses with various choices, the standard of cooking is a highlight.

Buddy up to explore further

Enjoy another full day of skiing. If you want lessons, the instructors at Portillo come from the finest northern hemisphere resorts such as Whistler, Vail and Chamonix. Alternatively, buddy up with some of the regulars here and they can lead you off to discover some of the great backcountry areas - as long as you are suitably qualified.

Travel to the Atacama Desert

Set off early today to make the journey through Chile from the snowy centre to the desert north. You fly from Santiago up to the Atacama Desert where you stay in a beautiful lodge on the edge of the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. Enjoy the desert sunset before dinner. The chefs pride themselves on their typically Chilean menu, with vegetables sourced from the hotel’s garden.

Choose from a range of guided trips

A variety of excursions are on offer at the hotel: you can choose from two half-day trips or one full-day guided tour per day. This morning you might like to take a gentle 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.

Explore the moon valley

A number of guided trails of varying lengths and strenuousness are on offer. You could hike into the Moon Valley today, one of the most spectacular locations in the Salt Mountain Range. The landscape here is quite unique, with weird and wonderful rock formations created shaped by extreme temperatures and wind erosion. Sunset is particularly magical, as the rich colours of the rock are warmed by the evening light. Alternatively you could hike through the Cari Gorge to the south of San Pedro.

Climb to a peak or relax by the pool

If you are feeling active you could visit the local petroglyphs, or maybe even hike to the summit of the Toco volcano for views across the Bolivian altiplano. Alternatively just relax and enjoy the facilities at your hotel, which include an outdoor and an indoor pool and a spa.

Visit geysers then travel to Santiago

You travel back to Santiago at the end of today but you could make full use of your remaining time by visiting the world’s highest geothermal field this morning – 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. Fly to Santiago this evening, where you stay for two nights in a lovely boutique hotel in the Providencia area of the city.

Explore Santiago at your own pace

You have today to see some of Santiago at your own pace. Chile’s capital is a thriving modern city, with a lively arts scene, so it would be a good idea to get to a gallery today. 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.

Travel home

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. Again, please note that international flights are quoted separately for this trip.

About this trip

Summary

Chile’s most splendid winter adventure. Ski the Andes right from the wood panelled elegance of Portillo, ride bikes across salt flats to a flamingo filled lagoon from your beautiful, modern Atacama spa hotel.

How adventurous?

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

Best time to go i

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

Level of activity

This is intended to be an active trip for those who enjoy skiing. It is an entirely treeless resort at 2,900m in the Andes north of Santiago. Although the resort of Portillo is fun for boarders, it is skiers who will get the most from the terrain here. The piste infrastructure at Portillo is very small, 35 runs covering 1235 acres - the longest run is 2km. It is really in the off piste areas that Portillo excels - fantastic chutes run down the steep valley sides towards the lake. Access to the high valley sides is by the quite splendidly odd, va-et-vient lifts. They are really slingshot lifts for up to 5 people which get you up the hill fast - something like 20 times faster than a button lift going up a 50% slope. It's exciting! Because these lifts require next to no structure at the top, they can be placed in relatively inaccessible areas to get you up high and off-piste.

If the weather is good and avalanche risk low then there is a huge terrain for you to explore at Portillo. If the weather is closed in then you will find it very small. However, as they say, it's all about quality not quantity here. There is a reason that thundering past you on the slopes will likely be Austrian, US or Canadian olympic ski teams.

What also makes Portillo special is that there is just the one, bright yellow hotel with a maximum of 450 guests at any one time - that's essentially everyone who will be on the mountain. It's not just that you won't see any crowds at Portillo, you'll probably know half the people by name. Inside the hotel, you find yourself being looked after by over 200 staff in the most traditional surroundings imaginable. It's all very comfortable, quite charming and entirely unique. Some people say it is like a large private house party, others describe it as a large yellow cruise ship stranded on a mountain - people do genuinely come back to Portillo year in, year out because of the atmosphere, and the skiing of course.

Up in the Atacama, you stay in a luxury lodge which has a permanent guide staff who between them run a wide variety of activities and excursions each day. Every evening you will speak to the guides to find out what trips are running the following day. Depending on your mood and energy levels, you decide what it is you want to do. This means that you could make this part of your holiday anything from a relaxed bird watching and photography experience to a volcano climbing, horse riding and mountain biking adventure.

Back at base, you are staying in a beautifully designed spa hotel on the edge of the oasis town of San Pedro.

Weather conditions in the Andes are generally stable in mid-winter (July-September). They reckon that 80% of days have clear skies so conditions are often delightful. Being so high, when snow falls in Portillo, it tends to stay put. The snow also tends to be deep, dry powder. Obviously it is a high mountain ski resort so you will know to expect cold nights but from time to time you will be able to ski in t-shirts during the day.

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.

Level of culture

Whilst skiing is not a particularly culturally rich activity, Portillo is a family owned resort and has been since it was built in the 1940s. This does give it a very 'Chilean' feel. And food. The food in Portillo is very, very good.

There is more to the Atacama Desert than picture postcard good looks and fun adventure activities. The southern limits of the Inca empire were around here so you get much more of a sense of the high Andean, Aymaran cultures than is the case further south. Adobe buildings with thatched roofs, brightly coloured clothes against rich blue skies, domesticated llamas grazing in oases. This area feels recognisably, stereotypically, 'South American'. Yet you also have your guides with you to share their insights, perhaps a more complete, nuanced sense of Chile. The world's largest copper mine is nearby, one of the great engines of Chilean economic prosperity. It was up here that the 33 Chilean miners were trapped in 2010 as the world watched and waited for them to be rescued after a staggering 69 days. The greatest concentration of astronomical observatories is here in the Atacama including the world's largest telescope, ALMA.

Practicalities

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

Saying this, it is trip which we will tailor to you. In order to do this, we really need to discuss your plans with you first so please call. The holiday can be run with almost any number of days though please note that Portillo ski resort is strict about only allowing 7 night stays, Saturday to Saturday, for the majority of the season. There are a few select weeks where you can do 3 or 4 night stays, get in touch to discuss these with us. Valle Nevado is another resort nearby with more flexible timetables if that is an issue for you.

In the form set out above, this holiday includes internal flights, accommodation, all meals except in Santiago, transfers, excursions, activities and entrances as set out in the detailed itinerary. It's based on mid-season at Portillo (roughly August); do note that prices vary considerably up and down in high / low season respectively. At Portillo, lift passes are included too though not equipment rental. 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 in and out of Santiago (airport code: SCL).

Departs

Departs from July through September, though departure dates may be fixed by ski resort.

Next steps...

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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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Book Send me exclusive content » Skiing the steep sides of the Portilo resort The skyline of Santiago de Chile The dramatic yellow facade of the Gran Hotel Portillo, Chile Empty slopes to be explored at Portillo, Chile Skiing down Roca Jack run at Portillo, Chile Heading up into the hills at Portillo, Chile Room at the Gran Hotel Portillo, Chile The dramatic yellow facade of the Gran Hotel Portillo, Chile Skiing off piste at Portillo, Chile Still sunset over the Atacama Desert Gentle bike ride across the landscapes of the Atacama Standing on the edge of the Atacama desert The pool area of the Tierra Atacama Lodge Dawn steam at the Tatio Geysers The lively barrio of Concha y Toro in Santiago Traditional cueca dance of Chile, performed on the streets of Santiago