Antarctica & Arctic
Walk through lunar landscapes in the Atacama Desert and Towers of Paine.
a Destinations d > Chile > Hiking in a Thin Country
12 nights accommodation, 12 breakfasts, 7 lunches, all transport and listed activities and Exodus tour leader throughout.
18 Nov & 23 Dec 2017
From the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the glacial landscape of Torres del Paine National Park in the south, Chile is an incredible destination for trekking. Walk on volcanic slopes, past glistening salt lakes and alongside remote, cactus-lined canyons. In Patagonia, where icy waters flow from dramatic mountain scenery, we see giant glaciers and hike in the shadow of the world’s second largest ice field. Four nights are spent staying in refuges, situated in privileged locations inside the boundaries of Torres del Paine N.P.
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Hike in Patagonia and the Atacama Desert
Get up close to the striking granite Torres del Paine
Walk in the shadow of the Southern Patagonian Icefield
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A walking tour of the city tour is organised today (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! If there is time we will also see the wealthy suburbs of the 'Barrio Alto', an area of elegant shops and first class restaurants. Please note that it is common for the city tour to be conducted prior to hotel check in. This is decided depending on the wishes of the group.
The historic World Heritage city of Valparaíso, or Valpo for short, is Chile’s oldest port and home to the country’s National Congress since democracy was re-established in 1989. The Pacific coast is just a short 1.5 hour drive from Santiago and today’s excursion will give us an interesting insight into Chilean culture as well as a chance to stretch our legs on a short walk. The city’s many hills are covered in a glorious sprawl of multi-coloured houses covering every nook and cranny, creating a spectacular panorama which can be enjoyed from a number of vantage points atop the hills. Walking the streets of Valparaíso becomes a great adventure as we encounter the residents of several neighbourhoods and soak up the quirky and bohemian atmosphere, something different to anywhere else in Chile. We’ll visit the former residence of poet and national treasure, Pablo Neruda, called La Sebastiana, and afterwards we’ll have lunch in one of the typical restaurants situated in the port area. Due to the steep terrain, the city is home to numerous funicular lifts that transport residents straight up and down the hillsides rather than them having to zigzag through the maze of buildings. Many of these lifts have fallen into disrepair and sit suspended in time and hidden amid the labyrinth. However there is a drive to restore as many as possible and we’ll be able to see several of the main functioning lifts. Our city walk will involve lots of steps and steep slopes. From Valparaíso we will continue along the coast to the beautiful beaches of Viña del Mar, named the Garden city for its many parks and green spaces. After stopping in the modern and contrasting surrounds of Viña del Mar, we will return to Santiago in the afternoon.
Transfer to the airport for our flight southwards (about 4 hours 40 mins) to Punta Arenas in the Magellanes region of Patagonian Chile. After arriving we will take a private transfer to the bus depot in Punta Arenas, from where we will take a public coach to Puerto Natales (approx. 4 hours). Today involves a lot of travel as we cover a large distance and enter a remote area of Patagonia. The benefit of doing all of this travel in one day is that tomrrow morning we can fit more activities into the day.
After breakfast we’ll depart Puerto Natales and drive on the gravel road to one of the most beautiful national parks on the planet - Torres del Paine. Starting at the Lago Sarmiento park entrance we’ll hike northwards to Laguna Amarga. This introductory outing in the park will hopefully feature some of the park’s unique flora and fauna, including ñandú (a type of large, flightless bird), indigenous foxes, and wild guanaco (similar in appearance to the domesticated llama). Additionally, we’ll see fascinating ancient rock paintings created by the region’s indigenous population. Following the hike, we’ll drive to Laguna Azul. Located in the east of the park, Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) was discovered when the young pioneer Florence Dixie explored this remote area in 1879 and it became the first tourist destination in Torres del Paine National Park. From this glacial lagoon you can walk a path to Las Torres view point to enjoy a picture perfect view of the Torres peaks. Afterwards we will be transferred to the refugio (mountain refuge) in the ‘Las Torres’ area.
During the first couple of hours of today's hike we will climb upwards into the Asencio Valley, stopping occasionally to admire the marvellous views of Lake Nordenskjold and Almirante Nieto Mountain behind us. After resting at Refugio El Chileno, we'll continue along the trail for about an hour and a half, passing through an age-old Lenga (Beech) forest and crossing streams to Campamento Torres. Here, we will turn sharply and climb steeply for about an hour up the side of the valley, through a rock-covered glacial moraine, to the 'Base Las Torres' viewpoint. This magnificent spot rewards us with memorable views of Torre Sur, Torre Central, Torre Norte, and Cerro Nido de Condor, before making our return down the mountain side and back to the refugio.
We transfer to the Pudeto area of the park, boarding a catamaran to cross the icy waters of Lake Pehoe. On arrival, our hike begins towards the Grey Glacier taking the beautiful 'Camino de los Vientos' (the Path of Winds). We reach our first viewpoint after around two hours, with the Grey Glacier in the distance and the giant, deep blue icebergs of Lake Grey below. Depending on weather conditions, the route continues to viewpoints where entire sections of the ice wall can often be seen collapsing thunderously into the lake. Overnight in Refugio.
We set off this morning to hike to the French Valley with the intention of reaching the Italian Camp or the British Camp, depending on the wishes of the group. These names refer to the base camps of famous moutain expeditions that conquered the various rock faces of the Paine Massif. During our hike we should have magnificient views of the French Glacier and see the impressive natural amphitheatre created by the upper valley at the base of the Torres Massif.
Shortly after breakfast we return by catamaran across Lake Pehoe and complete a short hike around the Cuernos del Paine viewpoint. We depart the national park today and transfer to Puerto Natales to board a public bus to Punta Arenas.
We take a morning flight to Santiago and then another on to Calama in Northern Chile. This is a long travelling day, that will likely require an early start depending on the flight schedules. On arrival in Calama, we transfer to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, our base to explore the region of the Atacama desert. En route there are spectacular views of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountains).
The morning is free to spend at your leisure, but there will be a short orientation tour of the town if you want to join, with optional archeological museum visit (entrance fee applies). In the afternoon, we trek in the Cornizas and Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna). 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.
Today we drive to the high plateau of the Altiplano, rising to an altitude of 4,500m. Here we see the stunning blue-black twin lagoons Meniques and Miscanti, edged by a white crust of salt. Wildlife in this area is abundant, with huge numbers of nesting birds (in season) around the lagoons and llamas and vicunas (relative of the llama) wandering in herds along the hillsides. We visit the small town of Toconao, where the houses, church and bell tower are built from bricks of white volcanic stone. Today's final stop is Chile's largest salt lake, the Salar de Atacama. Rich in minerals, including borax and lithium, it is home to various species of flamingos as well as many other birds. The Laguna Chaxa, part of the Reserva Nacional de los Flamencos, offers a terrific opportunity to get closer to these birds in their natural habitat. In the evening we return to our hotel in San Pedro.
In order to experience the El Tatio Geysers we’ll have to get up very early in order to arrival at the geyser field (located over 4300m/14,108ft above sea level) in time for sunrise! The fountains that shoot up to 10m/33ft high occur when the morning sun melts the nightly ice caps that form over the hot springs. The sun’s first rays reflect an array of colours as they mingle with boiling jets coming from the geysers to create strong contrasts of steam and light. On our return we shall go for a trek in Guatin Valley. This valley contains the confluence of two rivers, one coming from the Puritama thermal springs carrying earth and minerals in its warm waters, and the other being the Purifica River which flows down from its origin in the Andes. This extraordinary mixture of hot spring water and clear melt water creates a unique ecosystem in the Guatin Canyon. A hike here is really rewarding, not least for the giant candelabra cacti that grow in the canyon, some of which are already up to 500 years old. This leisurely hike begins in the Guatin Canyon, whose vibrant red rocks provide a wonderful display of colours. The walk along the canyon floor follows a steady incline through unique local flora, before reaching the Puritama thermal springs. Seven natural pools with crystal clear thermal water are ideal for a relaxing swim, before being driven back to San Pedro (optional – approx. US$30).
We transfer to Calama for our flight back to Santiago, where arrangments will end at the airport.
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