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Untouched Patagonia

Chile's Southern Highway by convoy | View photos »

Travel Chile’s Carretera Austral by road, boat and air as part of this one-off small group journey led by Pura Aventura guides. From walking in the forests of Queulat to flying over the Northern Patagonian Icefields by helicopter, we share some of our favourite places and experiences in this beautiful, hidden corner of Chile.

Small group holiday for 14 days » i

Price £3,450 per person

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Map of the area

Sample itinerary

Arrive in Santiago

Land in the Chilean capital, Santiago, where we head out to explore in the company of Pura's local guide. Being a Saturday, it should be a nice and lively day in the parks and streets of the old centre of the city. If it’s clear, we may head up Cerro San Cristobal for lovely views over the city and surrounding mountains. Rest this afternoon before we head out into Lastarria for dinner together.

South to Patagonia

Fly south to the Aysén region of Patagonia, where we pick up our comfortable 4x4 vehicles, and set off in convoy to the nearby town of Coyhaique. The plan for this trip is that we have up to four large vehicles, each with four of us. We'll need a few people willing to help out with the driving as we travel Chile's beautiful Southern Highway. This arrangement gives us flexibility, comfort and adventure - there would be not much worse than bouncing around this area in a bus.

Andean condors & an asado

Our first full day in Patagonia is dedicated to seeing the Andean condor and learning about the region's ancient cultures. From Coyhaique we head up to the higher lands next to the Argentine border, to watch the sun rise over the vast, dry Patagonian steppe, before the air warms and the condors take to the skies. The crags here are a favourite rookery for the Andean condor, so it is unusual not to be treated to a close encounter. Return to the farm in time for an asado lunch, the most traditional of Patagonian feasts: lamb roast over an open wood fire.

Forests, fjords & glaciers of Queulat

Only a couple of hours north of Coyhaique, the paved road ends and the road north turns to gravel. The landscape changes from the open steppe to dramatic forested mountains and fjords. We stop to hike into the 'bosque encantado', one of the loveliest paths along the entire Carretera. A well maintained path leads you through a magical forest with water flowing everywhere before it climbs, eventually coming out at a river with spectacular views, which are ours to enjoy in peace.

See the Hanging Glacier

The most emblematic feature of Queulat National Park is the Ventisquero Colgante or 'hanging glacier,' which spills off the top of a cliff, contrasting dramatically with the surrounding forests. We plan to hike the 3km path up to the viewpoint, though for those who don't feel energetic, there is a boat along the lagoon from where you can see the glacier. The forest trail is lovely, but the view from the top is the real star, with more or less eye level views of the glacier across the valley. Later we hope to drop by Puyuhuapi for a soak in the hot springs.

Into the southern Carretera

Today we turn back south to drive past the dramatic mountain landscapes of Lago General Carrera and on to the village of Cerro Castillo; a very modest place, but with an anything but modest mountain range towering over it. We stop off to see a quite remarkable set of ancient Tehuelche hand paintings before taking the afternoon ferry over the strikingly blue waters of Lago General Carrera to the frontier town of Chile Chico. Spend the next couple of nights in this charming town with a warm and sunny, though windy, microclimate.

Walk Jeinimeini's desert landscapes

Today we walk in the remarkable Jeinimeini National Reserve though strange rock formations, cave paintings and lunar desert. This is an astonishing environment, and the 7km loop in the reserve is a truly wonderful hike, one of the most varied and unexpected you will find anywhere. Crossing the spiky grassland of the steppe, we reach a rocky gorge leading up to a low mountain pass with lovely views back towards the blue waters of the lake. This is an unmissable day of walking for which we will take a picnic to fully enjoy the peace and quiet of this great corner of Aysén.

The future Parque Patagonia

The road along the southern shore of Lago General Carrera is one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Patagonia. Our destination today is what will become the Parque Patagonia, one of the largest ever private donations of land. Right now, the 10-year project to rewild the Chacabuco Valley is really starting to show results. Herds of guanaco roam the hillsides, flamingos and other migratory birds make the lagoons their home, and evidence of the elusive puma is all around.

Walk on a glacier

The peaks of San Lorenzo are visible from central Cochrane, so the drive to get to the mountains takes under an hour, along a beautiful valley. The road leads you almost all the way to the glacial lagoon which you cross by boat. Getting crampons on almost straight away, this exciting activity is remarkably accessible. We spend several hours on the glacier, hiking up the slope to reach the 'big ice' - the stunning blue ice which you find away from the sides of the flow.

Tamango Reserve & river rafting

On the edge of Cochrane is the Tamango Reserve, one of the last places you might see the rare Huemul deer, and is home to the Cochrane River, one of the clearest in the world. We'll take a boat upriver to enjoy the extraordinary clarity of the waters before hopping out to walk a pretty trail back. Later we can enjoy a spot of fun rafting along the incredible blue-grey Baker River. The rapids are usually around grade III+ i.e. bumpy and fun, but not scary. Our day finishes in the beautiful surroundings of the Mirador Guadal.

Beech forests, fossils & relaxation

The hills above your lodge are covered in southern beech forests up to the tree line around 1,000m. Today's walk leads you up through these beautiful old forests and out into a treeless plateau. The views are incredible as you have the icy Andes to one side, Lago Carrera ahead, and the peaks of Jeinimeini to the east. However, it is underfoot that things are surprisingly interesting - the entire area is a fossil bed. Descend for a relaxed afternoon, perhaps having a go at riding horses, or simply reading a book while admiring the views.

Fly over the northern Patagonian Icefields

Having walked on the glaciers of San Lorenzo, today is your chance to see the Northern Patagonian Icefields from high in the air on this optional helicopter ride (additional payable - please enquire for details). Our plan is to have you flying for around 45 minutes, enough time to get to some incredibly remote corners of the ice field. Of course, this excursion is highly weather dependent, so we may re-jig things over the course of this couple of days in order to give ourselves the best chance of a full over-flight.

See the marble caves

We will set off in good time today to visit the marble caves early in the morning when the light is best. 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. We continue north towards the airport in Coyhaique and drop off the cars. We'll be back in Santiago in time for a last bit of shopping or celebratory glass of wine.

Fly home from Santiago

Travel back home from Santiago. Again, international flights are quoted separately for this trip.

About this trip

Summary

This trip is my chance to share some of my favourite places and experiences in Aysén. From the rainforest of Queulat to the deserts of Jeinimeini and glaciers of the Northern Patagonian icefield, we will travel in a small convoy of very comfy 4x4s, driven by members of the group. We'll be staying in some lovely small hotels and lodges along the way because we all want to put our feet up after a day of exploring on foot. As a treat, the journey ends with a very special helicopter flight over glaciers and mountains - weather permitting.

I hope you can join us next November on this relaxed, informal and fun journey to my favourite part of the world.

Thomas Power
Pura Aventura

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 a small group trip with flexibility built in. We expect those who join us to enjoy the great outdoors and walking, but this is by no means a frenetic trip. Walks can be tiring, but are generally of around 7-10km with no time pressure, so sensible for any reasonably fit person.

Because of the different vehicles, we have flexibility to split up as a group if some prefer to opt out of a particular day's activity. As well as walking, you will potentially be rafting and ice hiking. Neither require you to have had previous experience to any particular level, and all necessary specialist equipment will be provided.

Level of comfort

We use the best small hotels and lodges in each place, meaning this holiday is comfortable throughout, starting and ending in some style in Santiago. The hotels and lodges in Aysén 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. You should expect 3-4* standard, but given how remote all of these places are, that generally feels very comfortable indeed.

The driving on this trip is largely on unpaved roads but surfaces are treated. Distances covered are not huge, anywhere from 75-200km in any one go. We include the largest available 4x4 vehicles, which are substantial, and comfortable for up to four passengers per vehicle. The total group size is to be limited to 16 (including two guides) travelling in four vehicles.

Level of culture

This trip has it in spades. Note that people here do not commonly speak good English, if any at all. You may well find that communicating with your local hosts takes patience on both sides.

When eating out in restaurants you will likely have to rely on whatever Spanish you have or on a translation app. Maté is the daytime drink of choice.

When you are driving, you need to be careful because cows quite often wander into the road. Gauchos ride their horses along the road, usually with their dog trotting along behind.

Everywhere you go you will see evidence of very simple rural living. Small brightly painted houses in the most incredible surroundings, often with the windows facing the road - rather than the million dollar view out back.

This is Patagonia. It is unvarnished, but for those of us who like our travels to ignite the exploring spirit in us – there can be few better places in the world.

Practicalities

The holiday price is per person, based on twin share rooms in accommodation with meals as specified in the summary section above. Domestic flights in economy class within Chile are included, as are private transfers to/from the airports.

Your trip includes all activities and excursions as set out above and will be led by Thomas Power or one of the other founders of Pura Aventura if reasonably practicable. For groups of over 8 people in total there will be a 2nd Pura Aventura guide.

This holiday includes travel in full size 4x4 vehicles (Toyota 4 Runner or similar). It is expected that members of the group will be willing to drive sections of the trip - we would want at least two named drivers for each vehicle.

Naturally, on each and every one of our holidays, we include Pura Aventura’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 pdf itinerary.

International flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best flight routings are to fly in and out of Santiago (airport code: SCL). Expect to pay between £700 – £900pp for flights except in peak periods.

Departs

18th November date sold out.

4 November 2017 - £3,450

18 November 2017 - £3,450

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 » Driving the Carretera Austral The lively barrio of Concha y Toro in Santiago Driving the Carretera Austral Condors at their rookery close to Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral, Chilean Patagonia Looking out over the Hanging Glacier Ancient hand paintings near Cerro Castillo Walking the Valle Lunar in Jeinimeini A male guanaco assuming a dominant position The Callequeo glacier near Cochrane Rafting the Baker River Fossil beds in the highlands Helicopter over the northern Patagonian Icefield General Carrera’s chapel of marble Chilean flag