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Incredible as Antarctica is to look at, 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 active Antarctic cruise works so well.
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Land in the Chilean capital, Santiago, this morning. Please note: international flights are quoted separately for this holiday. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Today is relatively unstructured to allow you to rest or enjoy a last exploration of the Atacama. Your guide is still with you for further walks. You catch an evening flight south to Santiago where you stay at an airport hotel given your morning flight to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is a professional photographer on-board 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.
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.
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 be one of few who’ve slept on the mainland. Breathing the dawn air as the sun rises over Antarctica will make you feel as though you’re the first person ever to be there.
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.
Today you have one last opportunity to step foot on the Antarctic continent for a hike around Neko harbour or Paradise bay. You could try out any of the activities you haven’t tried yet during your precious time here, or return to a favourite, such as snowshoeing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transfer back to the airport for your flight home. If this quick summary has whetted your appetite for a tailor-made trip to Chile and Antarctica, we'd love to talk to you about tailoring something that is just right for you. See below for various ways to get in touch or request a full PDF itinerary for more details of this trip.
Note: This is just an itinerary idea and we'll therefore tailor everything to you.
This journey from Chile to Antarctica 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.
In Chile you’re out in the great outdoors, with your boots on. In the Atacama your guide leads you on explorations into the surrounding areas, going gradually higher as you get used to the altitude.
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 expedition cruise, there is a distinctively 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.
View our other Antarctica cruise holidays.
The price is per person based on two people sharing and includes:
First-class accommodation with breakfast and some lunches and dinners
10-night ‘Base Camp’ Antarctica cruise with transfers, meals and activities
Private airport transfers throughout
Guided walks and activities in the Atacama and Torres del Paine as described
Chile and Argentina Holiday Guides with personal recommendations
Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout
International flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best routing is into Santiago (SCL) and out of Buenos Aires (EZE).
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. In Patagonia you stay in a first class eco lodge, set in its own reserve on the edge of the national park. This means that you have access not only to the iconic hikes within Torres del Paine, but also to adjacent areas which are exclusive to guests of your lodge, meaning you can enjoy beautiful surroundings without the numbers which you'll tend to find within the park. In Santiago and Buenos Aires, you stay in very comfortable city-centre hotels.
For more details, please get in touch to request a detailed PDF itinerary.
The itinerary as presented is based on the 'Basecamp' Antarctic cruise, which operates on a handful of dates throughout the season (November to March). However, the Chile portion of the trip can depart on any date and is not tied to these specific cruises. We can switch the active Antarctic cruise for a more traditional version, another vessel, or a Southern Oceans cruise taking in South Georgia and the Falklands.
All of the Antarctica cruises that we offer are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), created to promote environmentally conscious and safe travel to the peninsula. Travelling to such a fragile ecosystem can often have a profound impact on visitors, placing the urgency of tackling the climate crises into sharper context. The increased awareness and behavioural changes this can bring about will lead to benefits to the Antarctic region which extend far beyond your time there.
In Torres del Paine you will be exploring one of the 17 national parks protected by the world’s most ambitious conservation projects; the Route of the Parks. This project, officially launched in Europe in conjunction with Pura Aventura, protects 24 ecosystems and 60 communities, across 2,800km of Patagonia, from the Lake District to Cape Horn. Eco-tourism will offer ranchers and local people across 60 communities a more sustainable and lucrative source of income and a sensitive and considered way for us all to experience these wonderful environments.
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.
This is a tailor made trip which can depart between October and March each year with dates defined by the Antarctic cruise you choose.
Contact us today to start planning your own personal adventure
The described itinerary is just a taster of what this trip could involve. We would work with you to tailor your personal trip.