Stretching from the southern end of the Andes Mountains in Argentina and Chile to Cape Horn, the Americas’ southernmost tip, are the storied lands of Patagonia. Carved by centuries of geological movement, the Patagonian wilds harbor more fjords than all of Scandinavia, as well as jutting mountains, steep cliffs, winding waterways, towering volcanoes, and majestic glaciers that combine to form a landscape of rugged beauty. We travel to Chile and Argentina to explore alpine landscapes, to cross the windswept steppes where gauchos roam, to discover the many wonders of Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine national parks, and to experience the timeless culture of the remote island of Chiloé. And we’ll begin and end our wilderness adventure in Argentina’s lively capital, Buenos Aires, where we’ll indulge our senses in all that this compelling and cosmopolitan city has to offer, from its striking blend of classic and modern architecture to the passion of the tango.
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Great Historic Sites: Easter Island
Produced by Ian Sciacaluga, Pilot Productions
This independent film features destinations you can visit on this pre-trip extension.
Explore historic Santiago, then venture to Easter Island, one of the most isolated—and intriguing—places on Earth. Discover the island’s rich Polynesian heritage, dramatic volcanoes and brilliant beaches, and welcoming people. And above all, ponder the mystery of the nearly 900 monoliths—called moai—perched on its seaside cliffs.View Extension Itinerary
Depart the U.S. on an overnight flight to Argentina.
We arrive in the cosmopolitan capital of Argentina this morning, where we'll check in to our hotel and meet travelers who took the optional pre-trip extension to Santiago & Easter Island, Chile and join our local Trip Leader.
We'll slip into the swirl of activity that fills the surrounding streets, joining the flurry of pedestrian traffic, business workers, and fashionistas as we get to know our surroundings during an orientation walk. As we stroll the heart of Buenos Aires, we'll catch a glimpse of the endless options and activities available to us during our stay: sidewalk cafés ideal for people-watching over cortado (coffee with milk) and medialunas (croissants); nearby markets, mansions, and quiet cobbled streets; and wide boulevards showcasing the city's elegant mixture of classic and modern architectural styles.
Tonight, we meet for an informative briefing on our adventure with our Trip Leader before getting our first taste of Argentina's cuisine during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant. With influences from French and Italian to Spanish and indigenous fare, there's no telling what you might order—though Argentina's succulent grass-fed beef (which is less a local specialty than a national obsession) might be a good place to start.
This morning, we discover the rich history of Buenos Aires—an epic tale of birth and rebirth, protests and passions, suffering and triumph set against the placid landscape of the Rio de la Plata—from a local perspective, as we explore it barrio (neighborhood) by barrio during today's excursion.
Startling contrasts await us as we experience the bustle of the city's cultural center. We begin with Plaza de Mayo—site of Argentina's presidential residence, the Casa Rosada, and the heart of Buenos Aires' political life. From there, we wander the wide boulevards of Avenida 9 de Julio, and explore the narrow market-streets of Florida Avenue. Then, we stroll the colorful La Boca artists' district, where the Argentinean tango was born, then visit the resting place of Eva Perón in Recoleta's extravagant cemetery. Afterward, you'll have the afternoon free to explore the city on your own.
This evening, we'll try a few steps of the tango during an included lesson, and afterwards you can further your appreciation during an optional dinner and tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel—one of the most prestigious tango houses in Buenos Aires—where the orchestra will strike up a romantic tune and professional dancers will show us how this dramatic dance should be done.
Today, we trade man-made skyscrapers for a natural skyline as we depart Buenos Aires after breakfast for our flight to Bariloche, during which we can gaze out the windows at the frosted peaks that surround this lakeside city nestled in the foothills of the Andes. Set along the banks of the 40-mile-long Lake Nahuel Huapi, San Carlos de Bariloche—as the city is more formally known—is the gateway to Patagonia's Lake District, and has a distinctly alpine flavor indicative of its strong Central European influence. This is most apparent in the wood and stone architecture of the city center, which—along with its status as an international skiing destination—helps give Bariloche the nickname “Little Switzerland.”
We'll take an orientation walk in the vicinity of our hotel to start getting acquainted with Bariloche. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own at one of the city's many restaurants.
This morning we explore Bariloche, starting with a guided tour of the city before venturing out into the surrounding countryside. At Campanario Hill, we'll enjoy a chairlift ride up this picturesque peak, climbing high above the tree line for a panoramic view of Patagonia's striking scenery. We'll take in the beautiful collage of deep green foliage and snowcapped mountains mirrored in the region's azure lakes. We'll continue to Brazo Tristeza, an arm of Lake Nahuel Huapi, where we'll hike amid lake and forest scenery.
Later, we'll witness how Bariloche's land and culture come together when we see how locally grown ingredients are used to brew beer at a family-owned craft brewery. Considering the strong German influence in Bariloche, it's no surprise that locals are experts at transforming their region's fresh hops, barley, and pristine water into a variety of beers and ales using artisanal methods passed down from generation to generation. We'll have lunch at the brewery. In the afternoon, we'll discuss a controversial aspect of this area's history as a place where some German Nazis fled after World War II. Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we'll experience an older side of Patagonia during a discussion with a member of the Mapuche, an indigenous, agricultural people native to southern Chile and Argentina. We'll learn about their struggle for survival and their current relationship with the government. Then you can join our optional excursion to the Limay River, where we'll enjoy a float trip by raft along this gentle river for a close look at the landscapes of the northern Patagonian steppe. A popular site for fly-fishing, this river is home to an abundance of large rainbow and brown trout. Or spend the morning at leisure in Bariloche.
In the afternoon, we'll visit a local family in their home on the Patagonian steppe, where they live on land they have owned for generations. We'll learn about their way of life, and mount up for a horseback ride that lets us experience this traditional local mode of transportation. This evening we'll savor a lamb barbecue dinner.
After breakfast today, we'll bid farewell to Bariloche and make a motorcoach transfer of 8 to 10 hours to Chile, crossing the Andes Mountains. We'll stop for lunch en route. We'll arrive at our hotel in Puerto Varas in the late afternoon and take a short orientation walk. This evening, dinner is on your own.
This morning, we head towards the Osorno Volcano, whose snowcapped cone towers over Lake Llanquihue, and enjoy a hike in its vicinity (weather permitting). Then we continue to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park and have lunch with a local fisherman and his family who live inside the park. After lunch, we witness the Petrohue Waterfalls—where clear turquoise chutes of water flow over ancient lava from the Osorno Volcano that has been polished by silt over the centuries into a bed of smooth stone. The Mapuche Indians call this area the meeting ground between man and God, and with its mirror-like lakes, cascading falls, and volcanic mountains, it's certainly one of the loveliest regions of Chile. We return to Puerto Varas, where you'll have some free time to explore the town and get dinner on your own.
Today we'll experience A Day in the Life of the Pargua community on Chile's Pacific Coast. We begin by visiting a local school (when in session). We'll meet some young students and get a look at what a small, rural school is like in this part of Chile. Then we'll be the guests of a family in Pargua, where they will prepare a traditional meal called a curanto for us. Curanto is a stew consisting of typical local fare—shellfish, meat, potatoes, and vegetables—cooked in a hole in the ground lined with rocks. As the meal is cooking, we'll help prepare a few popular local snacks, like milcaos (potato pancakes). Then we'll sit down to lunch with our hosts, enjoying the flavor of these local specialties. In the afternoon, we'll take a 20-minute ferry ride to the island of Chiloé Island, where we'll transfer to our hotel and have dinner.
This morning, we'll visit Curaco de Velez, Achao Villages, and Quinchao Island. In Achao, we'll see one of the 16 historic wooden churches of Chiloé that are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begun by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century, these churches represent the blending of Spanish Catholicism with indigenous culture, with some details of their construction showing that they were built by carpenters who had learned their trade building boats. You'll have time for lunch on your own, after which we return to our hotel.
Later, we'll ride to the quaint fishing town of Puñihuil. Weather permitting, we'll board small boats and sail out to observe the residents of a local wildlife sanctuary that is home to both the Humboldt and Magellanic penguin (from approximately October to early-March), as well as sea otters, sea lions, seals and a variety of marine birds. Afterwards, we'll have dinner in Puñihuil, and then return to our hotel.
This morning, you have some free time before we leave Chiloé Island. Then we take a ferry back to the mainland and fly to Punta Arenas, a bustling port overlooking the Strait of Magellan. Founded in 1848, Punta Arenas became prominent in the late 19th century because of its sheep and wool industry and the discovery of gold nearby. On our way into town, we'll stop at the Nao Victoria Museum, which has a replica of one of Ferdinand Magellan's ships, complete with original furniture and hardware. After we check into our hotel, dinner is on your own this evening. Locals recommend seeking out the seasonal centolla (king crab) or trying a local restaurant owned by descendants of this area's original Croatian immigrants.
Today, we travel overland to Torres del Paine, widely considered to be South America's finest national park—and one of the most remote and beautiful places in the world. We'll spend two nights here, giving us time to hike winding trails over rippling currents; witness the ostrich-like rhea (known locally as nandu), condor, fox, and other wildlife protected by this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site; and take in the stunning landscapes of snowcapped mountains rising dramatically over mirror-smooth lakes and flowering fields.
We'll stop for a boxed lunch at a scenic viewpoint en route to Torres del Paine, and check into our hotel in the early afternoon. Then we'll hike to Salto Grande, a rushing waterfall set between Lago Nordenskjold and Lago Pehoe. We'll witness the awesome power of the falls, and have a chance to spot some of the indigenous wildlife—like the guanaco, a cousin of the camel—that comes here to feed on the verdant foliage along the riverbank, before returning to our hotel for dinner.
This morning we'll explore Lago Grey, which is one of the park's largest and most famous lakes, boarding a small boat for a closer view of the enormous icebergs—calved from the Grey Glacier—that float on the lake's surface. Weather permitting, we'll navigate for approximately 3 hours around the icebergs and chart a course for the Grey Glacier itself, where we'll enjoy magnificent views of its jagged blue-white walls rising to the sky.
We then go for a hike along the shores of Lago Grey, where gigantic blue icebergs rest against sandy beaches while the Grey Glacier stretches into the distance through the towering peaks of the surrounding mountains, before returning to our hotel for dinner.
After breakfast, we depart Torres del Paine National Park, with a stop for photo opportunities en route. Then we continue, crossing the Andes once again as we transfer by coach to El Calafate, a town in Argentina that serves as the gateway to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. For 65 million years, the land here evolved from chaotic volcanic eruption and massive glaciers, creating a jagged landscape of interconnected fjords, channels, and mountainside glacial lakes. We'll view the scenery and wildlife of the Patagonian steppe during our drive and make a stop for lunch en route.
This evening we arrive at our hotel in El Calafate, where we'll take a short orientation walk upon arrival. The town takes its name from the calafate bush—locals say eating its berries will ensure your return to this mystical region. Dinner is on your own this evening.
Today, we embark upon a full-day excursion to Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Los Glaciares is the second-largest national park in Argentina, and comprises more than 1,700 square miles and nearly 50 large glaciers. These glaciers are fed by a giant ice cap (the largest continental ice extension after Antarctica) that begins in the Andes and occupies well over a third of the park’s total area.
During our explorations, we’ll discover the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, a pristine marvel towering nearly 200 feet above Lake Argentino. It is named after Francisco Moreno, a 19th-century Argentinean explorer who helped resolve his country’s border dispute with neighboring Chile. The constant, cyclical movement of Perito Moreno’s ice mass often forces the glacier to “calve”—an iceberg “birthing” process in which smaller chunks of ice fracture and break off from the glacier to thunderous accompaniment. This spectacle can occur at any time, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll be lucky enough to witness an iceberg calve as we enjoy a boxed lunch in front of Perito Moreno.
However, ice isn’t the only thing we’ll see today. Just east of the ice fields are areas of southern beech forest and windswept steppe. As we journey overland to and from Perito Moreno, we’ll pass through scenic forests filled with lively birds. We return to our hotel in El Calafate late this afternoon. Dinner tonight is on your own.
We depart Calafate for the airport after breakfast today, boarding our flight north to rejoin the porteños in Buenos Aires. Once there, we’ll check into our hotel and have the day at leisure to absorb more of the culture, architecture, and character of this memorable port city before gathering for a night of reminiscing with fellow travelers over a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we take a boat ride on the Rio de la Plata into the Parana Delta, an exotic landscape just half an hour from the city that seems a million miles away. Traditional houses on stilts (pilotes) are surrounded by lush subtropical vegetation and built on islands that are separated by a twisting maze of waterways. This scenic area is one of Latin America's most unique environments. We'll have an included lunch after this tour. In the afternoon, we transfer to the airport for our flight home. If you are taking the Iguassu Falls Jungle Expedition post-trip extension, you have the rest of the day at leisure and remain in Buenos Aires tonight.
3 nights from only $1395
Explore another side of Argentina’s vibrant capital, as we set sail along the Parana Delta for a unique view of the city. Then experience the roaring and rushing cascades of Iguassu Falls. Cross into Brazil for a panoramic view, then witness Iguassu on the Argentinean side—so close that a cool mist washes over you.View Extension Itinerary