Home » Lapwing: Patagonian Odyssey
Patagonia is a region of stark, haunting beauty in the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina just across the water from Antarctica. Ice fields, glacial lakes, narrow fjords and towering mountain massifs compile an astonishing display of natural attractions. This upmarket escorted group holiday takes you from Chile's capital to the wilderness landscapes of Torres Del Paine.
Duration: 14 Days
If you are arriving on an international flight today, you will be met at the airport by the tour leader or a local representative. There will be time to relax before exploring the city and visiting a few of the many museums, markets and parks of this cosmopolitan capital. Santiago is laid out in a broad valley below the snow-capped Andes. For a panoramic view over the city, visit Cerro Santa Lucia, a central, rather romantic park. For even more panoramic vistas, a cable car leads to the summit of San Cristobal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. Afterwards, have a beer at one of the pavement cafés in Bellavista. This is an Italian quarter of narrow streets peppered with bars and shops selling local lapis lazuli.
Today there is an optional visit to Chile's second city, Valparaíso. This lively seaport is built on a series of hills which form a backdrop to the wide bay, with views over the seaside resort of Viña del Mar. You can wander through the steep, winding streets and among the brightly-coloured colonial homes built for 19th century British and German merchants, or take a ride in one of the creaky wooden funiculars which link the cliff-top communities.
Time permitting, you may wish to visit one of the vineyards close to Santiago, to sample some highly respected Chilean wine.
A 4 hour flight takes you south to Punta Arenas. On a clear day you have views of the southern icecap, its fjords, volcanoes and glaciers. Approaching the city you see the rust brown Patagonian steppes, pitted with small lagoons, stretching out towards the Straits of Magellan. On the other side of the water rise the mountains of the windswept island of Tierra del Fuego.
Punta Arenas was an important, British-influenced trading centre before the opening of the Panama Canal turned it into a backwater; the region's fortunes were only briefly revived during a short-lived gold rush. To add to its woes, the sheep-rearing business has never recovered from the catastrophic collapse of the price of meat and wool. No pure-blooded indigenous people are left alive here; having survived for centuries the rigours of the Antarctic climate they were annihilated by the diseases brought in by sailors and missionaries at the turn of the 20th century. Overnight in the city.
An early morning departure in a private vehicle bound for the Torres del Paine National Park (3.5 hours), with stops to visit the Milodon Cave made famous by explorer Bruce Chatwin. The scenery is overwhelming; the granite massif of the Cuernos, milky lakes dotted with icebergs and, soaring above, condors riding against perpetual fierce winds.
Stay in one of the cosiest and best located lodges within the park, on the shores of Lago Grey. There are views of the towering granite massif from the property. Your time here allows you to explore extensively, on foot and by boat, and to enjoy the peace and beauty of this national park, deservedly one of South America's most acclaimed attractions. There are excellent hiking trails that wind alongside the glacial lakes with close-up views of the rock towers and needles rising 3,000m into a tempestuous sky.
We include the famous boat trip that navigates towards the wall of giant Glacier Grey. The boat will set a course through the vivid blue icebergs that crowd Lago Grey before taking you right up to the face of the enormous glacier. This is a monumental ice field extending almost as far as the eye can see and fronted by a cracking, calving wall of azure pinnacles.
Keen walkers can take the option to hike (8 hours return) to Glacier Grey, or to the base of the monumental vertical slabs the Torres (towers). There are more leisurely trails through the forest to see other ice and wind-carved glacial formations. For a different perspective, you might take an optional horse riding trip. Canter amidst beautiful scenery under the watchful eye of local horsemen.
Drive via the waterfall of Salto Grande and Laguna Amarga as you exit the park and then head towards Argentina across the Patagonian steppe, a bleak and scantily-populated landscape. Keep a look out for guanacos, rheas, and flamingos, as well as for the wonderful views over Lago Argentino, the largest in the country.
It is on these shores that El Calafate, your next port of call, is situated. This is a small town, but it is growing fast, brimming with hotels, cafés, tour agencies, delicatessens, sweet-shops and roaming travellers. There's not a huge amount to do in town, but it's a nice place to unwind and a convenient base for excursions into the area.
The town is a stopping off point for visitors to the Perito Moreno Glacier, still one of the most dynamic in the world. Driving out towards the glacier (2 hours) the road follows the lake before turning up a wooded valley, dense with beech and birch trees, and continues alongside shimmering lagoons bordered with bright crimson and heather lichens.
The park authorities have been sensitive about keeping the site as natural as possible, and there are no shops or cafés within close proximity of the wooden viewing platforms, which are landscaped into the cliff. Just looking at the cliff-edge of the glacier, which towers 60m above the water surface and is an extraordinary 5km wide, is awe-inspiring in itself. But after a time you hear the unforgettable sound of the glacier calving a vast wedge of ice the size of a tower block and sending it smashing down into the lake, where it divides and floats away as an iceberg.
There is an optional mini-trek on the glacier (local regulations enforce a maximum 65 yrs of age policy). Walking out on the ice is an extraordinary experience; atop this immense ice sheet you feel exposed to the elements, and you can explore the craggy, desolate landscape, peering into crevasses and deep water pools, squinting against the incredible blue of the ice. It is a 1-2 hour walk on the ice led by a local guide, and crampons are provided.
Today is free to relax or there is an optional full-day trip to further explore the ice fields, where you pass the still waters of Lago Onelli, dotted with icebergs and with a backdrop of dense forest giving onto impressive snow-capped mountains. Other alternatives include taking a tour of a local estancia, horse riding or even driving for 3.5 hours down the road to El Chaltén, in the shadow of the Fitzroy range, a mecca for hikers and climbers.
The world's southernmost city, Ushuaia sits at the foot of a hand of jagged peaks. Thus isolated, it was a penal colony at the turn of the 20th century and a sleepy frontier town until the late 1970s when it was turned into a tax haven to encourage settlers. Immigration has slackened off nowadays as this status is being rescinded but effects of the boom are nonetheless evident, with chalet-style residences, modern hi- tech factories, shopping malls and duty free shops.
During your stay there is a boat trip along the Beagle Channel, named after the ship carrying Charles Darwin's scientific expedition which travelled these waters. The vessel heads out of Ushuaia Bay to explore the bays and islets of the channel, and there are brief stops for you to get a closer look at some of the fauna, which includes cormorants and sea-lions. If you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of an albatross gliding over the water.
Today there is a half-day trip to nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay with its bright green deciduous beech forests, and silvery lakes and fjords populated by water birds and beavers. Walk along winding, narrow hillside paths to discover views over the Beagle Channel, and learn about the evolution of the natural and human landscapes.
Breakfast and Lunch included.
Those interested in the region's history will enjoy a visit Harberton Ranch. You set off on a beautiful 85km journey through Tierra del Fuego's mountainous interior to arrive at the ranch, the first on the island, established by English missionaries. Their descendants still operate this scenic, wind-tussled sheep farm. It's worth reading Lucas Bridge's evocative book 'The Uttermost Part of the Earth' which details the history of the estancia, founded by his father, and the daily life of the now-extinct Yamana and Ona people.
Fly to the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, an elegant and cosmopolitan city famed for the fascinating port district of La Boca with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills.
The centre of town is home to the historic heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic, Parisian feel. The bohemian district of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and expensive restaurants. Slightly further out of town is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of belle époque French and Italianate architecture. During the winter months, wealthy female residents parade the streets in their fur coats and improbable, towering hairstyles, and take afternoon tea in the city's ornate cafés.
Explore the lanes and boulevards on your guided city tour, then make the most of some free time to shop, have a drink and a pastry in a tea-room or peruse the items on display in one of the many markets. It's fun to promenade up and down the quay in the city's splendidly renovated port district, Puerto Madero, which has trendy loft apartments, a string of open air restaurants and a small marina.
To take a break from the city's frenzy, you can travel by motor catamaran across the River Plate border to Colonia in Uruguay where you can wander cobbled streets and admire the squat colonial houses from the top of the lighthouse, and have a glass of wine or lunch in the yacht club. Wherever you are on your last day, if you are an enthusiastic carnivore make sure you have a juicy steak, usually up to a quarter of the price of its UK equivalent. Finally you could catch a tango show for a fantastic farewell to the city.
Sadly your tour comes to an end today in Buenos Aires.
|16 Feb 2020 - 29 Feb 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|08 Mar 2020 - 21 Mar 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|29 Mar 2020 - 11 Apr 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|25 Oct 2020 - 07 Nov 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|15 Nov 2020 - 28 Nov 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|29 Nov 2020 - 12 Dec 2020||AUD $7918pp||Contact us|
|Santiago||Hotel Atton El Bosque|
|Punta Arenas||Hotel Rey Don Felipe|
|Torres Del Paine||Hosteria Las Torres|
|El Calafate||Kosten Aike|
|Buenos Aires||Recoleta Grand Hotel Buenos Aires|
This tour operates with a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 20 passengers. The minimum age is 12 years. Hotels are subject to change due to availability.