Clients on the group flight will arrive in the morning and transfer to the hotel. Those on land only arrangements will meet at the hotel. In the afternoon we take a city walking tour (approx. 4 hours), visiting the squares and streets of the colonial centre and the Presidential Palace. We also visit San Cristobal Hill, on which a statue of the Virgin Mary stands. The summit of Cerro San Cristobal offers a birds-eye view of Santiago, the Andean Mountains and the Maipo-Valley. Without a doubt the best viewpoint in the city! San Cristobal is part of Parque Metropolitano and from here we continue uptown to see some of 'Providencia' - one of the noble parts of Santiago with elegant shops, first class restaurants and some futuristic high-rise buildings.
Today is free for you to explore Santiago at your leisure or enjoy one of the activities on offer in the surrounding region (including wine tours). We recommend the excursion to Valparaíso, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Valparaiso is the oldest port in Chile and has huge historical significance, once known as 'Little San Francisco'. The hilly city is bursting with multi-coloured houses and emits a bohemian vibe, with the upper and lower sections of the city connected by 15 funicular elevators built in the 19th century. On this excursion we take in Valparaiso's unique flair before moving along the coast to the beaches of Viña del Mar. Known as the 'Garden City' for its many municipal parks and green spaces, Viña del Mar has beautiful stretches of sand, modern hotels, first-class restaurants and elegant bars.
In the morning we fly to Calama near the Atacama Desert where we transfer to our hotel in the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Once we have checked in we can visit the archaeological museum of Padre le Paige (entrance fee extra), with its famous collection of artefacts showing the development of the Atacameno society. The church of San Pedro dates from the 17th century and its roof is made out of cactus. At dusk we set out to the Valley of the Moon. This bizarre lunar landscape is set ablaze with colour at sunset, the strange rock formations framed by the Lincancabur Volcano. We'll stay until the sun goes down to enjoy the array of colours before returning to San Pedro.
Today is free for optional activites - explore the Salar de Atacama (1/2 day), visit the Quitor and Tulor acheological sites (1/2 day), the Altiplano lagoons or the Salar de Tara (both full day excursions).
The Salar de Atacama is a salt lake of huge proportions at 3,000 sq km. Its surface is covered by a thick layer of snow-white salt crystals stretching as far as the eye can see, caused by the evaporation of the lake's water. The world's largest lithium deposits are found here, but the salt pan is also home to several flamingo species, including the Andean, Chilean and James flamingo, who feed on the micro organisms found in the saline lagoons. These beautiful birds and other species can be observed in their natural habitat at the Salar de Atacama's Chaxa Lagoon, which is part of the Reserva Nacional de los Flamencos.
We offer an optional star gazing trip this evening. There are few places with a sky as clear as northern Chile and astronomers from all over the world are regularly drawn here. This 3 hour tour will take place outside with an expert guide who will explain the basics of astronomy and point out some of the highlights of the southern hemisphere. Warm clothing is recommend.
We recommend a visit to El Tatio Geysers today (optional). This excursion starts early when the geysers are at their most spectacular. El Tatio is situated at 4,500m above sea level on the Altiplano and there are about 40 geysers, thermal wells and fumaroles. The early morning light striking the water and steam that hurls up from the geysers makes for an unforgettable experience. Alternatively, today is free to enjoy one of the other optional excursions that you may have missed yesterday.
We transfer to Calama airport and fly to Santiago and then Puerto Montt, the capital of the Lake District. We then drive to Puerto Varas where we will be staying (half an hour north on the shores of Lago Llanquihue). Once here we shall enjoy a brief tour of the 'City of the Roses' as it has come to be called because of the tremendous variety of roses all over town. Afterwards, we transfer to our hotel and the rest of the day is free for your own exploration.
In the morning we set out for a full day inside the Lake District. We drive along the shore of Lago Llanquihue and enjoy breathtaking views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Our first real stop will be at the Saltos de Petrohue where cooling lava from the Osorno Volcano formed a series of rapids and waterfalls. Together they form an impressive sculpture of extruded volcanic rock shaped by thousands of years of river flow. Upon arriving at the landing at Petrohue we board a small typical wooden boat for a short cruise of Lago Todos los Santos (All Saints Lake). The lake is surrounded by high mountains and the lower slopes are thickly forested. As we pull away from the landing and the source of the river Petrohue, the view is quickly stolen away by the tremendous size and proximity of snow-capped Osorno Volcano behind us. We return to Petrohue and take an easy hike in the lower lava fields of the volcano. We also visit the Green Lagoon (Laguna Verde) before we return towards Puerto Varas in the afternoon.
After breakfast we transfer to the capital of the Lake District. Puerto Montt and take a sightseeing tour of the city. Puerto Montt was founded in 1853 by German colonists on the site of an indigenous Mapuche community. Downtown we take time to walk about the main squares and historical monuments. Afterwards we visit the port, where there is a large handicraft market full of artisan goods. We then transfer to the airport to board a flight to Punta Arenas, Patagonia - the southernmost city in Chile.
This morning is free for an optional excursion by boat to Magdalena Island, home to over 150,000 penguins and one of the most spectacular wildlife reserves in Chile. In the afternoon, we drive north through the vast patagonian 'Pampa' to Puerto Natales with terrific views on route of the Straits of Magellan and across the chilly Antarctic waters to Tierra del Fuego.
We start early this morning for a full day of sightseeing inside the Torres del Paine National Park. This is a busy day of travelling and walking including unforgettable views of the Towers and the Torres Massif, Lago Grey and Grey Glacier as well as the tremendous wildlife found in this region. We will do some short hikes to reach the most beautiful points of view within this National Park. In the late afternoon we transfer to our cabins for the night.
Another day of sightseeing and short walks in Torres del Paine before we head back to the lodge in Puerto Natales. For those that would like to, there is the possibility (optional) of returning by zodiac. This excursion involves boarding zodiacs to sail through Rio Serrano. The river ends at the Fjord Ultima Esperanza where we must change to a boat to approach the spectacular Balmaceda Glacier flowing out from the eastern side of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. We aim to arrive at our accommodation in Puerto Natales around 5:30pm.
Transfer through the barren Pampa of Patagonia, an impressive road trip as we journey to Punta Arenas airport. We fly back to Santiago and have the rest of the day free for private exploration.
There is a transfer back to the airport for those on group flights. Those on land only arrangements will leave us in Santiago this morning.