Day 1 Hotel Cumbres, Puerto Varas, Chile
From Santiago, you will take an internal flight (included and timed to fit with your international arrival) of 1½ hours down to the port city of Puerto Montt, the capital of the Lakes District and the northern entrance to Chilean Patagonia. At the airport, we will greet you and transfer you (30-minute ride) to the starting point of our adventure, the quaint lakeside town of Puerto Varas, with its amazing view of the Osorno Volcano (the “Mount Fuji of South America”) across Llanquihue lake. We will get you checked in at your hotel, after which you will have the remainder of the afternoon free until we meet for our Welcome Dinner.
Day 2 Hotel Cumbres, Puerto Varas, Chile
This morning we will pick you up from the hotel and take a day trip around the lake. First, we will pass through the town of Llanquihue, a working class town known for meat processing. There, we will take the scenic road along the lake to the German colonial town of Frutillar, where we will see the music theatre on the lake (Teatro del Lago) and then visit an open-air colonial museum, dedicated to the original German settlers in the area. Frutillar has a privileged view across the lake of several volcanoes, including Osorno, Calbuco, Tronador and Puntiagudo. Continuing our loop around the country's 2nd largest lake, we will drive up to the ski center on the Osorno Volcano (total height of 2,652 meters) where we will have our light lunch in the cafeteria and then have an hour free to hike or to take the first chairlift. We will make a side trip to Petrohue Falls, a unique waterfall system formed as the power of the Petrohue River has carved into lava formations from previous eruptions of the Osorno Volcano. We then drive back to the hotel in Puerto Varas, where you can have dinner at your leisure at the hotel (set menu).
Day 3 Caleta Gonzalo Cabins Pumalin Park, Chile
Early this morning we will pick you up from the hotel to begin our Patagonian Odyssey. Because of the steep terrain between the Andes Mountains and the fjords and resulting limitation of roads, today we will take 3 ferries through some of the most impressive fjords in southern Chile. We will begin by heading down to Puerto Montt and make a stop at a lookout of the city and port, the point being "Kilometer 0" of the Carretera Austral, or Southern Road through Chile. Then we will drive along the ocean, passing numerous fishing villages and muscle farms just offshore. Upon reaching the Reloncavi Estuary, we will take our first of 3 ferries today, this one being around 30 minutes. The estuary stretches nearly 70 kilometers to the east and northeast, with numerous trout-filled rivers flowing into it, including the Petrohue, Cochamo and Puelo rivers. Take advantage of the bathroom on the ferry. Upon reaching the other side, we will continue on a dirt road around 1½ hours, passing by the volcanoes Apagado (1,210 meters) and cone-shaped Hornopiren (1,572 meters) to the town of Hornopiren, where we will board a larger ferry for the 4-hour navigation through the Comao Fjord, the northermost fjord in the southern hemisphere, and the closest fjord to the equator. The ride offers asounding views of the Andes to the east, along with other fjords branching off towards the mountains. We will sail between the coast and islands such as Isla de Los Ciervos (Deer Island), Isla Llancahue and Isla Lilihuapi, where we can see the Ancud Gulf through the Comao Channel. We will be witness to diverse marine wildlife such as the Chilean dolphin (cephalorinchus eutropia), the Dark dolphin (lagenorinchus obscurus), the Tonina overa (cephalorinchus commersoni), cormorants, kingfishers, seagulls, geese, falcons, etc. We will have our box lunch on the ferry. We will then drive for 10 kilometers through the dense forest on the southern end of the Huequi peninsula already inside Pumalin Park, and take our last 30-minute ferry to arrive at Caleta Gonzalo, where our private cabins will be waiting for us. For those wishing to hike some before dinner, there is a moderate-level trail nearby, with ups and downs, leading to a waterfall in the forest. At 7:00 pm we will meet for dinner at the main dining room.
Day 4 Caleta Gonzalo Cabins Pumalin Park, Chile
Today we will drive south through Pumalin Park, towards the Michinmahuida Volcano, the tallest peak in the park at 2,400 meters, stopping after roughly 30 minutes to take an easy walk to witness groves of Alerce trees (fitzroya cupressoides), the tallest of the southern beech trees and related to the California redwood, reaching heights of more than 150 feet and many of them more than 3,000 years old. Because of their resistence to insects and their tall, straight trunks, these trees were nearly forested to extinction. Pumalin is one of Chile's parks dedicated to preserving these natural monuments, known in the indigenous language simply as "our grandfathers". We will also be surrounded by the temperate rain forest with tree species such as Coihue (nothofagus dombeyi) Manio (saxegothaea conspicua), Guindo (nothofagus betuloides), Tepa (laureliopsis philippiana), Ulmo (eucryphia cordifolia), Canelo (drymis winteri), etc. Then we will drive another few kilometers to a campsite where the trailhead to a more difficult hike is located: the trail to the Hidden Waterfall. This hike is moderate-level, through thick forest with some steep climbs, including a steep wooden stairway leading down to the base of the falls. One of us will stay in the campsite to enjoy the beautiful surroundings with anyone not wanting to take the hike. Then we will have our box lunch at the campsite (with bathrooms) and return to our cabins in Caleta Gonzalo, where you will have the remainder of the afternoon free at leisure before dinner.
Day 5 Espacio y Tiempo Mountain Lodge, La Junta, Chile
This morning we will drive through Pumalin Park, passing by Lago Blanco, Lago Negro and numerous camping areas. Then we will continue driving through the park, passing by forest devastated from the 2008 eruption of the Chaiten volcano, where if weather permitting we will take a hike of around 2 hours roundtrip up the Chaiten Volcano (962 meters), enjoy our box lunch and then continue driving into the port town of Chaiten, hoping to see the Corcovado Volcano (2,300 meters) across the Chaiten Ensenada. The town of Chaiten was nearly washed out to sea by diverted rivers after the eruption. We hit a paved road for awhile up through a glacier-carved valley, drive by the shores of Lake Yelcho, through the town of Santa Lucia (named after the wife of Agusto Pinochet), and cross from the Lakes Region into the Aysen Region. Then we continue south to the town of La Junta where we will stay at a mountain lodge, arriving with time to relax before we meet for dinner. You can either take a moderate to difficult-level hike up to a lookout over the valley, or walk through this fast-growing town with a nice new main square just a few blocks from our lodge.
Note: Tonight we recommend packing just a day pack for the next night, as we will leave the van parked in a safe location and take a small boat across the fjord to our hotel. Don't forget to pack your swimsuit if you want to enjoy the hot springs tomorrow!
Day 6 Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa, Glacier Sound, Chile
After breakfast in the lodge, we will continue south by the Rosselot National Reserve and alongside Lake Risopatron for our relatively short drive today, through rolling hills where local ranchers have lived and worked for generations, for the most part in isolation from the rest of the country. We will pass through the town of Puyuhuapi at the northern end of Glacier Sound, then leave our van and take a 20-minute boat ride across the water to our lodging for the night at a remote location in the middle of the Chilean temperate rain forest. We will have our lunch at the snack bar near the outside pools, then you will have the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy the various onsite hot springs or take a hike into the rain forest. For any hiking, the lodge will provide Wellington boots, as the trails could be slightly muddy. Dinner at your leisure at the hotel as of 8:00 pm (a la carte dinner).
Note: Use of internal pools and spa services, including a variety of massages, is available, at an extra charge.
Day 7 Hotel El Reloj, Coyhaique, Chile
Breakfast is served beginning at 8:00 am, then we will take the first boat back across the fjord to join our van and continue down the Carretera Austral, passing through what many consider the most beautiful park in Chile, Queulat National Park. We will make an early stop to take a hike to see the Hanging Glacier. The hike is easy, relatively level, and 30 minutes each way. Continuing our drive through the forest, this section of the trip is packed with scenic beauty so varied and breathtaking, your cameras will get a workout! We will climb a windy road up the Queulat Pass, stopping at the top for photos. Then we make our way down the other side and meet up with a paved road, stopping for our box lunch at Lago Las Torres National Reserve. Then we will drive through the last section of temperate forest along the Manihuales National Reserve and then the Rio Simpsion National Reserve. After entering the Simpson Valley and passing by verdant green lands with waterfalls in all directions, we arrive in Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysen Region, and the largest city we'll see until the end of our trip. Tonight we will walk a few blocks for a good BBQ dinner in town. After being in remote areas for nearly a week, we can take advantage of the fact that Coyhaique has ATM machines, a Post Office, supermarkets and souvenir shops.
Day 8 Terra Luna Lodge, Puerto Guadal, Chile
Leaving Coyhaique, we head south through the Simpson Valley where we will see some farms and Patagonian ranches. Then we will enter into the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, making a stop at Devil's Pass to see the Ibanez river valley with Cerro Castillo (2,675 meters) and Cerro Campana (2,194 meters) to our right. We come to the end of the paved road for a few days at the town of Villa Cerro Castillo. Then we drive along the Ibanez river and into a valley that became a river of flowing lava after the 1991 eruption of the Hudson Volcano, leaving behind a “Rio de la Muerte” (River of the Dead), a riverbed of scorched tree trunks as a reminder of nature’s power. The entire area was covered in up to a meter of ash. The road turns south again and heads towards the western shores of General Carrera Lake, the largest in Chile, and the second largest in South America. We will stop for our lunch at a local restaurant for a home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients grown on site. Then we will drive through the town of Puerto Tranquilo and take a boat ride to see some unique Marble Cave formations on the lake. The boat is open, but you will be provided with life vests and ponchos. The bathrooms here are primitve, but necessary! We then drive our last 60 kilometers of the day, taking a detour off the Carretera Austral through the town of Puerto Guadal and to our cozy, well-equipped complex on the south shore of the lake. Our view is of the Northern Ice Field across the lake, including Patagonia's tallest peak of San Valentin (4,058 meters).
Day 9 La Posada Inn, Lago Posada, Argentina
After breakfast in the main lodge, we return to the Southern Road (Carretera Austral), and continue south, as we drive along the incredible glacier-blue waters of the Baker River. This river has the largest discharge in Chile, and is the center of a controversial dam project to provide electrical energy to Santiago and the surrounding area, thousands of kilometers to the north. Then we make a turn east into the Chacabuco Valley which used to be the largest sheep ranch in the area and was bought by Dougles Tompkins to preserve one of the most remote and rare lands in Patagonia, hardly seen by other travelers, even Chileans. This unique piece of land supports an amazing quality and diversity of wildlife. Today is our Safari day, where we will share this land with the Guanaco (lama guanicoe), Zorro Colorado - Fox (lycalopex culpaeus), Zorro Gris - Grey Fox (lycalopex gymnocercus), Zorrillo Comun - Common Skunk (conepatus chinga), Pichi (zaedyus pichiy), Nandu - Lesser Rhea (rhea pennata), Condor (vultur gryphus), Flamenco Chileno - Chilean Flamingo (phoenicopterus chilensis), Cisne de Cuello Negro - Black- necked Swan (cygnus melancoryphus), Cauquen - Upland Goose (chloephaga picta), Garza Blanca - Great Egret (egretta alba), Bandurria - Buff necked Ibis (theristicus caudatus), and many different varieties of ducks, hawks, eagles & falcons. We will drive along the Chacabuco river, and at the eastern end of the valley we cross into Argentina (in the Santa Cruz Region) and the scenery changes as we enter the Pampa, or steppes. After going through the Chilean and later the Argentinean border crossings, we make our way into the small dusty town of Lago Posada for our comfortable accommodations for the night at our most remote destination during the trip.
Day 10 Hosteria Kaulem, El Chalten, Argentina
After an early breakfast, we will hit the road for our longest drive of the trip. After heading east for a little more than 1 hour, we will make a bathroom stop, fill up with gas and then meet up with the famous Route 40 to begin our adventure down this "wild west" road. There has been an ongoing discussion between various factions about whether to pave this road or leave it as is, as many locals (as well as avid bicyclists and motorcyclists) prefer to maintain the long, seemingly endless stretches of dirt road through the heart of Argentinean Patagonia, but as you will see, sections are already paved or are being prepared. We will have to let you decide! We will make another stop for bathrooms and gas outside the town of Tres Lagos (if you see any lakes in the area, please let us know!). Then we approach Lake Viedma, and stop at a lookout to see if the weather allows us views of the Mount Fitz Roy range, in the northern section of Glaciers National Park. This range of mountains, including Fitz Roy ( meters), Poincenot ( meters) and Torre ( meters) attracts climbers from around the world to test their skills on these challenging granite spires. We continue to the town of El Chalten, the trekking capital of Argentina, and to our cozy lodging for the night.
Day 11 Hotel El Quijote, El Calafate, Argentina
This morning we can take a hike to the Condor's Lookout on the outskirts of town, which offers great views of the Fitz Roy range. This hike is moderate but short, slightly steep in parts, and roughly 1½ hours roundtrip. Then we will have lunch, and for the afternoon you will have the option of either relaxing and strolling through the town, or we can take a longer hike to the Torre Lookout, with views of the steepest granite spire in the park, Mount Torre. This hike is easy to medium level, with some ups and downs, and will take around 3-4 hours roundtrip. We will all meet at the hotel, then make our drive of slightly more than 2 hours to El Calafate, where we will have dinner and check into our hotel.
Day 12 Hotel El Quijote, El Calafate, Argentina
After breakfast in the hotel, our local representative will take you on a full day tour for a close-up view of the Perito Moreno Glacier, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and one of the most active glaciers on the planet, often with sections of ice calving off every few minutes. This glacier is not receeding, but actually grows around 2 meters per day. The almost constant sound of ice cracking, popping and shifting inside the glacier is something you will never forget. The drive to the park is roughly 90 kilometers, after which you will take a boat trip to get a close-up view of the massive southern face of the glacier. Then you will continue to the modern walkways in front of the glacier, offering stunning views of both faces. Late afternoon transfer back to El Calafate where we will meet for dinner. We will provide your box lunch for today's excursion.
Day 13 Cerro Guido Estancia, Torres del Paine, Chile
This morning we will visit an "Ice Museum", known as the Glaciarium, giving us more insight into the formation of glaciers in this part of southern Patagonia, then leave town around noon, making a stop at a lookout for our box lunch. Then we continue along the road and make a bathroom stop at a tiny gas station truly "in the middle of nowhere" before arriving at the Argentinean border. We cross into Chile (in the Magellan Region) and make a coffee stop in the border town of Cerro Castillo. This might be your last chance for souvenir shopping during the trip. Then we will make our way to our “Boutique Estancia” for the night at the region's largest remaining sheep and cattle ranch at Cerro Guido, at the base of the Sierra Contreras mountains. After getting settled into our rooms we will meet in the dining room for a hot meal with a view of Torres del Paine National Park.
Day 14 Cerro Guido Estancia, Torres del Paine, Chile
After breakfast in the main dining room, we will drive to enter Torres del Paine National Park. The park was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978, being the home to at least 25 species of mammals, including guanacos, pumas and foxes, as well as more than 115 species of birds. Today we will visit the eastern section of the park, which is the best place to view the North, Central and South Towers (2,850 meters, 2,800 meters and 2,650 meters, respectively). On our way into the park, we will first stop at a lookout on the shore of Lake Sarmiento, then drive through the Valley of the Guanacos, stopping to see a waterfall. Then we will make a detour to Laguna Amarga which is a favorite lagoon for Chilean Flamingos. We enter the park at the Laguna Amarga entrance, which has bathroom facilities, and then we head north to Laguna Azul, or the Blue Lagoon. In the afternoon we will return to our ranch, where tonight we will have a lamb barbeque, cooked on a leaning spit as done for generations in these southern lands.
Day 15 Hotel Indigo, Puerto Natales, Chile
Today we will re-enter Torres del Paine to visit the western section of the park. As we continue westward, the Cuernos, or Horns come into view, which are probably the most photographed spires in the park. We will take a 2-hour roundtrip hike to reach the best view of the Horns. Then we will have a box lunch before continuing through the western section of the park, passing through areas burned recently by an out-of-control fire started by a careless backpacker. Passing by the tallest peak in the park, Cerro Paine Grande (3,050 meters), we will continue driving through the park, stopping at different viewpoints, before going down to Puerto Natales, a small town in an unbelievable setting on the Last Hope Sound. After checking into our hotel by the water, we will have some free time until we meet for our Farewell Dinner.
Day 16 Santiago, Chile / Home
Today you will have free in Puerto Natales until around 4:00 pm, when we will take you to the airport for the 5:50 pm flight, arriving in Santiago at 9:30 pm. If that flight conflicts with your international air ticket, we will provide a shared bus transfer using a local bus company for the 3-hour ride down to the larger airport in Punta Arenas, where you can take an earlier flight back up to Santiago. Have a safe trip home!
Confirmed Departures: November 10 and January 5.
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South America Chile Nature & Wildlife National Parks Hiking & Trekking